Seahawks projected rookie roles: What to expect from Brooks, Taylor

Jul 22, 2020, 8:22 AM

Seahawks LB Jordyn Brooks...

How much of Seahawks first-round pick Jordyn brooks will we see on defense in 2020? (Getty)


After a longer layoff than normal due to the COVID-19 pandemic, football is getting closer to a return as the Seahawks and the rest of the league get ready to start training camp in the next week. Before the entire team gets to the facility, though, rookies will get in the door.

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In the case of the Seahawks, the team added eight rookies via the draft and another 17 undrafted free agents.

The eight draft picks will of course get the bulk of the attention when practices begin as they try and carve out roles on the team and deal with various expectations. So what exactly will those roles be for the Seahawks’ 2020 draft class? Let’s look at how things are shaping up for each member of Seattle’s most recent draft class, starting with the team’s first four picks.

Jordyn Brooks, linebacker

The Seahawks surprised plenty of people when they not only stayed in the first round of the draft but used that pick to select a linebacker. After the draft, general manager John Schneider said that the team was looking for a linebacker and was high on Jordyn Brooks, as well as Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray, who went 23rd to the Chargers, and LSU’s Patrick Queen, who went to the Ravens with the pick after Seattle took Brooks.

Brooks was the best player for Texas Tech’s defense and drew comparisons to current Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, a five-time First Team All-Pro. Brooks’ head coach in college, Matt Wells, coached at Utah State when Wagner played there as well. Brooks, who is an even 6 feet and weighs roughly 240 pounds, is extremely explosive, running a 4.54-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine despite not training much beforehand as he recovered from a shoulder injury. He was First Team All-Big 12 and Second Team All-American in 2019 as a senior after recording 108 tackles and 20 tackles for loss.

Now Brooks joins Wagner, K.J. Wright and second-year players Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven in the Seahawks’ linebacker room. Additionally, the Seahawks brought back Bruce Irvin, who played both defensive end and linebacker for Seattle in his first tenure with the team, and it’s expected Irvin will see time at strongside (SAM) linebacker as well as at rushing the passer. But the question is, will Brooks play as a rookie, and where?

Wagner starting at middle linebacker is a given, and to get Brooks on the field as soon as possible, he’ll play outside linebacker. But with veterans like Wright and Irvin on the roster and with Barton starting at SAM late last season (after Mychal Kendricks injured a hamstring and eventually tore his ACL in Week 17), can Brooks do enough in a much different training camp to earn playing time?

Weakside (WILL) linebacker, where Wright plays, is more important to the Seattle defense than the SAM spot is, which begs the question of if Seahawks could have Brooks back up Wright so he can learn that spot. WILL may end up being Brooks’ long-term position in Seattle because of Wagner’s presence, but the team could also have Brooks compete with Irvin and Barton for that SAM spot in order to get him on the field.

For 2020, I’d expect the former over the latter.

Wright set career highs in tackles and interceptions last season and while he’s certainly lost a step, he showed he can still play at a high level when healthy. He turns 31 on Thursday and is on the last year of his deal, and could help groom Brooks to take over for him full-time in 2021. Barton and Irvin have experience in Seattle’s system at SAM, and with the combination of the team aiming to compete now as well as the very different looking offseason, it wouldn’t be surprising if head coach Pete Carroll went with the “safer” option there due to the long-term value it presents. But if they think Brooks can handle playing SAM while learning the ins and outs of WILL, maybe he does start alongside Wagner and Wright.

We’ve seen in the last few years that the Seahawks aren’t starting rookies as much as in towards the beginning of Carroll and Schneider’s tenure (see Blair, Marquise and Amadi, Ugo), however. Expect Brooks to at the very least shine on special teams. Maybe if a starting linebacker is injured or the SAM spot isn’t getting it done, he’ll be the next man up, kind of like how Barton was last year.

Brooks’ projected 2020 role: High-end backup for Wright and a core special teamer

Darrell Taylor, defensive end

In case you haven’t heard, the Seahawks lacked a capable pass rush in the 2019 season, where they had just 28 sacks – tied for second-fewest sacks in the NFL.

Seattle didn’t go out and get a big-name free-agent pass rusher (at least not yet), but the Seahawks did sign defensive end/outside linebacker Irvin and defensive end Benson Mayowa, both players who have played for Seattle under Carroll in the past. Those two combined for 15.5 sacks while playing for the Panthers and Raiders in 2019, respectively.

But addressing the pass rush didn’t stop there, as the Seahawks used two of their eight 2020 draft picks on edge rushers, including the team’s second-round pick, Darrell Taylor, who played at Tennessee. Taylor had 19.5 career college sacks, including 8.5 as a senior while he played through a stress fracture in his shin that required offseason surgery.

The Seahawks loved what they saw out of Taylor, who stands 6-4 and weighs around 260 pounds, so much so that they not only traded the first of their two second-round picks and their lone third-round pick to move up to 11 spots to take him, but Schneider said the team also considered taking him in the first round.

Expectations will be high for Taylor because of how highly the franchise views him, but rookie pass rushers who aren’t top picks typically don’t shine at the start of their careers. That’s been the case for the Seahawks in recent years with top picks like Frank Clark and L.J. Collier failing to make an impact in their rookie seasons.

With that unit severely lacking last year and the team likely to use a pass-rush rotation like they did when Seattle went to two Super Bowls in a row in 2013 and 2014, though, Taylor should get plenty of chances to carve out a role, even with the offseason limiting how much he’s practicing with the team.

Mayowa and Irvin will get plenty of chances to rush the quarterback, as will Rasheem Green, who led the Seahawks with 4.0 sacks last year and is entering his third year. Taylor’s ability to play the Leo spot should help him see the field, and with Collier likely playing a mix of defensive end and tackle like Michael Bennett did years ago, Taylor and Collier likely won’t compete with each other for playing time since they would be in two different roles.

Taylor’s projected 2020 role: No. 4 pass rusher behind Mayowa, Green and Irvin

Damien Lewis, guard

If any Seahawks rookie looks primed to start out of the gate, it’s Damien Lewis, their third-round pick out of LSU, the reigning national champion.

Lewis started his college career at Northwest Mississippi Community College and after two seasons there transferred to LSU where he was a starter from Day 1 at right guard. Lewis started 28 games in his two years with the Tigers, and was part of one of the best offensive lines in football during his senior season, helping the high-powered LSU offense win the national championship. Lewis earned Second-Team All-SEC honors last year as well.

Standing 6-2 and weighing roughly 330 pounds, Lewis has the size that Seahawks offensive line coach Mike Solari favors in his offensive guards, though he’s a little shorter than the team’s two starting guards from 2019. Lewis’ scouting reports from multiple outlets describe him as a mauler in the run game, which is how he describes himself as well. That’s appropriate for how the Seahawks have typically operated on offense under Carroll, and it’s similar to the man he likely will be replacing at right guard in D.J. Fluker, who Seattle released shortly after the draft in a cap-clearing move.

Lewis will face heavy competition for that right guard spot, as the Seahawks currently have 10 offensive linemen listed as guards on the team’s website. Also making matters more complicated is that teams were unable to hold rookie camps and organized team activities this year, which could make it harder for rookies to contribute out of the gate.

In Lewis’ favor is the fact that he showed he can perform at a high level in what is universally seen as the best conference in college football. He’s also the highest-drafted offensive linemen for the Seahawks (69th overall) since guard/center Ethan Pocic was selected in the second round in 2017. When looking at the other names on the roster at guard, it would seem Lewis should have a decent shot at winning that job outright, likely lining up between new center B.J. Finney and new right tackle Brandon Shell.

Lewis’ projected 2020 role: Week 1 starter at right guard

Colby Parkinson, tight end

Colby Parkinson’s pro career got off to a rough start when it was revealed that the 6-7, 251-pound tight end out of Stanford suffered a Jones fracture in his foot, requiring surgery in early June. Jones fractures can require anywhere from six to 16 weeks for recovery, and it’s unclear whether Parkinson will be able to practice when training camp starts – though that’s unlikely – or when he will eventually be able to practice.

If it’s a 12-week recovery, Parkinson would be ready in late August. Sixteen weeks would have him ready around the time of Seattle’s Week 2 matchup with the New England Patriots.

In previous years, an injury like this may have been especially bad for a rookie because it could have meant missing preseason contests. It’s almost a certainty that there will be no preseason games, however, so Parkinson may not be as behind in the learning curve compared to his fellow rookies as he would have say last year, which is what happened to Collier.

The good news for the Seahawks is even if Parkinson was totally healthy, they may not have needed him much in 2020 because of the depth they have at tight end.

Will Dissly is one of the better young tight ends in the NFL when healthy. Jacob Hollister was a surprise player for Seattle last year and Russell Wilson’s No. 3 target down the stretch. Luke Willson is a known commodity and capable blocker. And the team added veteran Greg Olsen, a three-time Pro Bowler, in free agency.

Parkinson may have been able to challenge Willson for playing time, but compared to the other three listed, it would seem unlikely Parkinson was going to surpass them this year. So the Seahawks can take their time with Parkinson’s recovery and have him get up to speed with the playbook and in practices without needing to rush him onto the field. Placing him on the Physically Unable to Perform list may be an option, as it would allow someone else to take his spot on the roster until Week 7 at the earliest.

All in all, don’t expect much from Parkinson in 2020. Look for him to assume a much larger role in 2021 – Willson and Hollister are only on one-year deals for 2020, and Olsen will likely be retired and on to his career in the announce booth.

Parkinson’s projected 2020 role: Redshirt season

We’ll look at the 2020 roles for the Seahawks’ other four draft picks on later this week.

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Seahawks projected rookie roles: What to expect from Brooks, Taylor