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Seahawks SS Jamal Adams
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Rost: 3 Seahawks players who can take the next step forward in 2021

Seahawks safety Jamal Adams wasn't as good in coverage in 2020 as he was in 2019. (AP)

When it comes to which Seahawks player’s improved performance in 2021 can give Seattle its best shot at a Super Bowl, there’s a number of players who could top the list.

Heaps: To get most out of Adams, Hawks should trade for Xavien Howard

There’s Russell Wilson, who threw 40 touchdowns but also a career-high 13 interceptions. There’s guard Damien Lewis, who could give the O-line a boost with even more consistency following a promising rookie campaign. There’s also Chris Carson, who has a chance to recapture a 1,000-yard rushing season.

Improvement is relative, which is why these three key players – who all impact different areas of the game – can also give the Hawks a boost with a step forward in 2021:

RB Rashaad Penny

Now: Depth piece with unrealized potential

Next step: Reliable RB2

It seems silly to say the next step for Penny is RB2, not just because he’s quite literally second on the depth chart, but also because the Seahawks used a first round pick on the former San Diego State star. But it’s the first part of that description that’s key: reliable. That’s an important next step for both Penny’s career (in or outside of Seattle) and for the health of Seattle’s offense, which has faced a tough stretch of bad injury luck at the position.

Despite Carson’s “injury prone” label, it’s been Penny who has borne the brunt of that missed time. Ironically, durability was a primary factor in the Seahawks’ selection of Penny back in 2018.

At the time, the Seahawks were in a tough spot coming out of the 2017 season. Chris Carson, a promising newcomer, had suffered a broken leg and missed the bulk of his rookie season. Free-agent pickup Eddie Lacy never met expectations, former third-round pick C.J. Prosise couldn’t stay on the field, Thomas Rawls couldn’t tap back into the success of his breakout rookie season, and J.D. McKissic was the only halfback to record a rushing touchdown. The position needed help, and the hope was that Penny’s durability, versatility in the return game, and wildly successful senior season could provide the boost the group needed.

Penny has yet to meet those expectations, and that’s ironically been largely due to injuries. That started with surgery to repair a broken finger in training camp months after he was drafted. Penny rushed for the first 100-yard game of his career, but his opportunities were limited thanks to a breakout season from Carson, who became the first Hawks running back since Marshawn Lynch to surpass 1,000 rushing yards in a season. Penny had an uneven 2019 before suffering a torn ACL in Week 14, which also caused him to miss a large part of the 2020 season.

He enters 2021 as the de facto backup to Carson thanks to potential and a hefty draft investment but taking the next step forward as a productive second option gives the Seahawks relief in case of a Carson injury and provides a safety net for a first-time play caller.

TE Colby Parkinson

Now: Promising second-year depth piece

The next step: Legitimate red zone threat

I’ve written about the Seahawks’ underwhelming tight end usage during the 2021 season before, including here.. At this point, complaining about it has become a top hobby (conveniently less messy than painting and less dirty than camping, so I’m counting it as a win). Gerald Everett has the best chance to make an immediate impact given his experience and familiarity with Waldron, but don’t count out Colby Parkinson on a list of potential surprises this season.

Parkinson spent a good chunk of time his rookie season working his way back from an offseason foot injury. When he returned to the field, he saw limited snaps behind Jacob Hollister, Greg Olsen and Will Dissly. Even then, targets for tight ends were limited; Hollister led the group with 40. Maybe it’s the excitement of a new season or maybe it’s Waldron’s background as a tight ends coach, but it feels fair to expect more from the group in 2021.

The bulk of that action may still be saved for Everett and Dissly, but Parkinson is a particularly intriguing red zone option. At 6-foot-7, Parkinson is taller than either option and boasts sure hands – according to PFF, the former Cardinal didn’t drop a single pass in his final college season.

SS Jamal Adams

Excels: As a pass-rushing defensive back

The next step: An elite coverage safety

It’s hard to find too many flaws with Adams’ game. At any point from training camp through the season Adams looked like one of the best players on the field. He stands out. And now he stands out in the record books, too: the All-Pro proved himself as the league’s best pass rushing defensive back when he set a new NFL record for single season sacks by a DB last year.

Adams’ ability to get to the quarterback as part of blitz packages is exceptional and was a huge part of Seattle’s massive step forward in that category from 2019, but the team’s struggles against the pass mean they’ll need more from him in coverage in 2021, an area where he trailed the league’s top safeties and took a noticeable dip from 2019, according to Pro Football Focus.

It’s hard to make out the root cause of some of Adams’ issues there. Was it being in his first year with a new team? Being around new teammates? Was it injury – he certainly dealt with his share of those last year – or was it a fleeting issue, since at times he played well in coverage?

Whatever it was, returning even to his pre-2020 grade would be invaluable for Seattle’s defense. It’s not just the two first rounders the Seahawks gave up when they traded for Adams – nor the hefty contract extension that awaits him. It’s also the inexperience in the rest of the secondary, where the team will have at least one new starter at cornerback.

Follow Stacy Rost on Twitter.

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