Huard: Why Dunlap — not Adams — needs to lead Seahawks in sacks
After struggling to get after the quarterback in 2019, the Seahawks revamped their pass rush throughout 2020 and ultimately finished the season seventh in the NFL in sacks.
It wasn’t a quick turnaround for that unit, though, as Seattle had only 11 sacks through its first seven contests. But from Week 9 onward, the Seahawks had one of the best pass rushes in the NFL, and it was largely thanks to two players.
The first player is safety Jamal Adams, who led the Seahawks in sacks in 2020 with 9.5 in 12 games. Those 9.5 sacks set an NFL single-season record for sacks by a defensive back. Adams joined Seattle last offseason after the team traded three picks and safety Bradley McDougald to the New York Jets for Adams and a 2022 fourth-round pick. Adams had 7.5 of his 9.5 sacks from Week 9 to the end of the year.
The other player who was key in the Seahawks having a top-10 pass rush was defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who came to Seattle in a midseason trade from the Cincinnati Bengals. He had five sacks in eight games for Seattle over the second half of the season, and his presence allowed other players to get more pressure and sacks. After being cut by the Seahawks earlier this offseason due to salary cap restraints, Dunlap re-signed with Seattle on a two-year deal.
Based on what we saw over the second half of 2020, it seems likely that either Adams or Dunlap will lead Seattle in sacks during the 2021 season. Former NFL quarterback Brock Huard thinks that Dunlap will ultimately end the season atop the Seahawks’ stats sheet when it comes to sacking opposing quarterbacks.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a gigantic number,” Huard said Tuesday on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant. “I think this is going to be a little more by group and by sum of all of the different parts that are going to add (to the total) and contribute.”
What Huard means by that is that the Seahawks have a lot of depth at pass rush entering the 2021 season.
Not only are Adams and Dunlap back, but Seattle also returns Benson Mayowa (six sacks in 2020), Alton Robinson (four), L.J. Collier (three), Rasheem Green (two) and Poona Ford (two). Additionally, 2020 second-round defensive end/linebacker Darrell Taylor will play in his first NFL game this year, and the Seahawks also signed defensive end Kerry Hyder Jr. (8.5 sacks for the San Francisco 49ers in 2020) as well as Aldon Smith (five sacks for the Dallas Cowboys).
With all that depth, the Seahawks are expected to have as deep of a pass-rush rotation that they’ve had since they made back-to-back Super Bowls in 2013 and 2014.
“There are going to be five (sacks) here, six here, seven there,” Huard said. “But I think (Dunlap) can come closest that double-digit mark and should come close to that double-digit mark. So I’d probably put him as the front-runner on that list.”
Not only does Huard expect Dunlap to lead the Seahawks in sacks in 2021, but he would prefer him having more sacks than Adams.
Adams missed four games last year due to a groin injury and later played through shoulder and finger injuries that clearly reduced his impact late in the season. Adams is also looking for a new contract this offseason, and Huard thinks that the amount of money that Adams wants up front in terms of signing bonuses and things “on the front end” are telling.
“Because he can see the writing on the wall,” Huard said. “He’s an incredibly physical player. He’s not going to endure in this league, in my opinion, 15 years of playing on the back end with his savvy instincts and his ball skills. He’s going to endure in this league and has become a star in this league … by being incredibly physical at the line of scrimmage. But that takes a toll and a beating on guys.”
Huard pointed to former star Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor as a prime example of physical play adding up on a player. Chancellor was one of the hardest-hitting players of his generation and made tone-setting hits regularly, but that caused several injuries and he wound up retiring at 29 years old.
“It took a beating on his neck and back and everything else,”” Huard said. “… It was coming up there banging on those tight ends, coming up there and taking on fullbacks, it was coming up there and having to take on pulling guards when you’re put around the line of scrimmage and in the box.”
In 2020, the Seahawks used Adams more as a defensive weapon than a true strong safety. That meant Adams regularly played close to the line of scrimmage and blitzed the quarterback a great deal.
While that worked out well for Adams and the Seahawks as he had nearly 10 sacks, Huard thinks that element of his game needs to be toned down just a tad.
“I would love to see Jamal to continue to be sprinkled in (as a blitzer), especially when he’s a free rusher and can come up there and wreak havoc and not take tackles and tight ends and double teams and chips and everything else on,” he said. “But I think over the long term, if you’re going to have him play at that level for three or four or five years – which you’re going to pay him to – I think a little bit less can be more, especially if Hyder, Dunlap and Darrell Taylor and those guys can take a significant step (forward).”
Listen to Huard on Monday’s edition of Blue 42 from 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant at this link or in the player below.