Heaps: Why Seahawks LB K.J. Wright’s position change has been huge success
K.J. Wright has been a star for the Seahawks for a long time, and over Seattle’s last two wins, he’s played as well as any member of that defense, putting in two straight great performances. Those great outings for the Seahawks’ longest-tenured player have coincided with a recent position change for the veteran linebacker.
Wright, who was drafted in 2011, has played weakside (WILL) linebacker since entering the league, and he and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner have been arguably the NFL’s best linebacker duo since Wagner was drafted in 2012.
Those two have played alongside many strongside (SAM) linebackers in their years in Seattle, such as Bruce Irvin, who returned to the Seahawks this offseason. But when Irvin tore his ACL in Week 2, that prompted a change on the defense, as first-round rookie Jordyn Brooks became a starter for Week 3 and assumed the WILL spot. Even when Brooks got hurt and missed Week 4 and 5, Wright stayed at SAM with Cody Barton taking over at WILL, which lines up on the strong side of the defense, typically close to the line of scrimmage near the opposing tight end.
Former NFL quarterback Jake Heaps said on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Tom, Jake and Stacy that moving Wright to SAM has been the best position change the team has made this season.
“K.J. Wright is the one who has benefited the most from a position change,” he said. “You look at him being at that WILL linebacker moving over to the SAM linebacker position and playing on the edge, I think it suits him very well.”
In Week 4, Wright was a force, getting eight tackles, a tackle for loss and three pass breakups that were all nearly intercepted. In Week 5, Wright had just three tackles, but he recovered a fumble, broke up two passes and recorded this fantastic one-handed interception.
KJ Wright with the one-handed PICK 😱
— NFL (@NFL) October 12, 2020
Heaps said Wright is a natural fit for a SAM linebacker at this stage of his career.
“K.J. is long – he has long arms – and he is a guy who can really hold the edge very, very well in run containment,” he said. “You just look at his ability to play in space, he’s still got that. I think sometimes at that WILL linebacker position, he is put in spots where he has to cover a little too much space whereas at the SAM linebacker position, I think he’s able to use his instincts.”
Wright still has to play in space at SAM, as evidenced in his interception, but Heaps said the move allows Wright to match up with players who he is better suited to defend.
“Really all he needs to do is either play the flat or he’s going to be matched up on a running back, a tight end – someone that is more apt to his skillset at this stage of his career,” Heaps said. “I think K.J. moving to the SAM linebacker position was really, really fun to watch and when Jordyn Brooks comes back, maybe he takes over as the permanent WILL linebacker.”