Heaps: 3 young Seahawks defenders who must step up in 2021

Jun 2, 2021, 2:56 PM

Seahawks LB Jordyn Brooks...

Seahawks LB Jordyn Brooks will likely have a major role on defense in 2021. (Getty)


The Seahawks’ offense has gotten plenty of attention this offseason due to a new offensive coordinator and new weapons for star quarterback Russell Wilson, but the defense is certainly intriguing entering the 2021 season.

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After starting 2020 as one of the worst defenses in the NFL, if not the worst, that group turned things around in a big way. Over the second half of the season, the Seahawks actually boasted one of the very best defensive units in football.

But will the Seahawks be able to have more overall success on that side of the football this year? In order for that to happen, Jake Heaps thinks three young defenders need to step up. He broke down his picks on Wednesday’s edition of Jake and Stacy on 710 ESPN Seattle.

“I’m going to give you a player for every level of the defense,” Heaps said to kick off the Four-Down Territory segment.

His first pick was a first-round selection back in 2019: defensive lineman L.J. Collier. After barely playing as a rookie in 2019, Collier started in all 16 games for the Seahawks in 2020, making three sacks and four tackles for loss while playing in roughly 50% of Seattle’s defensive snaps.

“The reason I’m picking L.J. Collier is because if they do not bring on another defensive tackle, that means they’re really relying on L.J. Collier to really utilize his skillset as both a five-technique (defensive end) as well as a defensive tackle, a three-technique, to be a backup to Poona Ford,” Heaps said.

Collier was the Seahawks’ starter at that five-technique defensive end spot last year, but he also played inside at defensive tackle at times. Heaps thinks that’s a role that Collier will be in more this upcoming season.

“I believe there’s going to be even more expectations, more opportunity for L.J. Collier to see the field in that expanded role that he will play with Kerry Hyder Jr. (also) being able to flex and do some of those things,” Heaps said. “L.J. Collier I believe has to step up this season and continue to keep improving. If he can improve and keep making those strides the way he did in Year 2, I’ll be really encouraged by what he can eventually do in Year 3.”

Heaps’ next pick was another first-round pick: linebacker Jordyn Brooks. Brooks started 2020 as a backup but quickly became a starter due to Bruce Irvin injuring his knee in Week 2. Brooks had 57 tackles and two tackles for loss in 14 games last season while playing just 32% of the time on defense.

This year, Brooks is expected to take on a much larger role.

“Jordyn Brooks replacing K.J. Wright at that (weakside) linebacker spot full-time, no questions asked about it now, can Jordyn Brooks replace a legend, a stalwart of this defense and do it right alongside Bobby Wagner and play at a high level?” Heaps said. “He showed he’s capable of doing so in the second half of the season.”

Brooks was someone who definitely improved as the 2020 season went along, making more and more impact plays. He had five games with six or more tackles, including an 11-tackle performance against the New York Giants.

“I love the way that he was triggering and firing downhill and using his speed to attack the line of scrimmage, and he got better in pass coverage,” Heaps said. “If he can improve and he can show he is worth that first-round pick and can play next to Bobby Wagner at a high level, this will make the defense significantly better.”

Heaps’ first two picks were recent first-round picks, but his selection for the secondary is a player who Seattle acquired off waivers last offseason. That would be cornerback D.J. Reed, who emerged as a starting outside cornerback. He started eight games and made two interceptions for Seattle in 2020.

In 2021, he is expected to be a full-time starter on the perimeter for the Seahawks, but he will have a lot of pressure on him due to Seattle losing a key player in free agency.

“D.J. Reed flashed last year and it was exciting to see him play with the type of energy, the type of swag, the type of confidence and the play-making ability that he displayed in the second half of the season,” Heaps said. “But D.J. Reed is going to have to show and prove to the Seahawks that it was a smart move to walk away from Shaquill Griffin and that he can hold down one of the cornerback spots and let the competition play out on the other side of the ball.”

Follow Brandon Gustafson on Twitter.

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Heaps: 3 young Seahawks defenders who must step up in 2021