Rost: Which Seahawks position group has the best chance to improve the most in 2021?
It’s never clear exactly how John Schneider does it, but despite having little draft capital and barely any cap space heading into the offseason a couple months ago, the Seahawks once again managed to improve a few position groups.
This is the part where in typical fashion, having just gotten the celebration underway for Seahawks fans, I issue a quick warning: the Hawks couldn’t outspend opponents on tested veterans in free agency, which means a lot of this year’s ceiling is built on potential. That said, there’s quite a bit to go around.
So, which position group has the best chance to take a step forward this season?
Runner up: wide receiver
It’s hard to improve on 1,000-yard seasons from your top two pass catchers. It was the first time two Seahawks receivers topped 1,000 yards in a single season since 1995, and there’s a chance that neither Tyler Lockett nor DK Metcalf surpass those numbers this year. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though, and it doesn’t mean the position group can’t improve.
Just three teams had two or more receivers finish top-20 in targets last season: Kansas City (Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill), the Los Angeles Rams (Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp) and Seattle. Take that to the top-15 in targets, and you’ve got two teams: Kansas City and Seattle.
The Chiefs finished top-five in pass play percentage, which adds some more context to that workload. Seattle passed significantly more than it had in years’ prior, but still fell out of the top 10 (14th at 59.6%). So, in Seattle, there were fewer passes to go around and still the vast majority of those went to Metcalf and Lockett. The production from those two – while stellar – overshadowed a serious lack of depth.
With David Moore moving on in free agency, the next-closest wide receiver in targets to Metcalf (129) is second-year pro Freddie Swain (21). Swain is also the next closest receiver to Metcalf in receptions (83 for Metcalf, 13 for Swain) and the next closest receiver to Lockett in yards (1,054 for Lockett, 159 for Swain). That’s quite the gap.
Swain is certainly capable of becoming Seattle’s third receiver but adding D’Wayne Eskridge in last month’s draft gives Seattle a boost at what was an under-the-radar need.
Seahawks fans have yet to see Eskridge on the field for their team, but Eskridge’s Western Michigan head coach Tim Lester joined Jake and Stacy earlier this month to give his endorsement.
“He was always fast. He was the best post and go and comeback runner that I’d seen. As far as option routes and being patient, I’ve coached a lot of fast guys, and a lot of them aren’t great route runners. He can control his speed better than anybody and he can accelerate faster than 99 percent of America, so when he went to defense and started having to defend guys who were better route runners, when he came back to offense in camp after spending all of spring ball on defense… he learned patience,” Lester said. “Slower guys have to be great with that stuff, (but) as a fast guy you never need to understand it. And man, he was a totally different player. We went from running two or three routes to running the whole route tree… the whole tree, no one could cover him. I’ll never forget the route he ran when he came back over and ran his first offensive route in about six months. The way he controlled his speed, he turned the defensive back around something fierce, and it was a moment. The light bulb went off and I was like oh my Lord, now you can do anything.”
Best chance: Tight end
Last year’s issues at this position felt like a two-fold problem: personnel, as well as opportunity. It’s why changes at both make improvement here feel inevitable. And that’s great news for Seattle’s offense.
First, there’s a change with receiving targets.
On paper, Gerald Everett may not feel like an upgrade over Greg Olsen. Olsen was a three-time Pro Bowler and was an unstoppable force in Carolina’s 2015 offense. He also finished with 100 or more targets in five consecutive seasons. But he was 35 years old when he came to Seattle and never quite took off. He finished with a career-low 37 targets and just 239 yards and a single touchdown.
Meanwhile, Everett is coming off back-to-back seasons of roughly similar production (around 60 targets for 400 yards) but is just 26 years old and is already plenty familiar with new Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, whom he played under with the Rams.
This summer also brings a chance for second-year pro Colby Parkinson to get regular offseason work for the first time after missing part of last year with a foot injury. It’s a group that doesn’t have as much experience as it did last season, but certainly got younger and healthier.
There’s also Waldron, who may have an even greater impact.
The Seahawks’ lack of effective tight end usage in 2020 was one of the more underrated parts of their offensive struggles. They failed to regularly utilize an intermediate passing game, and often ran into problems if Carson was injured and neither Metcalf nor Lockett were open.
Seattle may have a chance to borrow from their NFC West neighbors here; in their best years under Sean McVay, the Rams used a diversified passing attack, and did so effectively. Granted, part of that may have been to make things easier for Jared Goff as well as utilize the talents of a then-healthy Todd Gurley.
But the hope for Seahawks fans then is that Waldron can give Wilson a broader tool kit with even more weapons – and, most importantly, get those weapons in a position to score.