STACY ROST

Most Important Seahawks: 2 players key to the defense turning around

Aug 6, 2021, 1:02 AM
Seahawks D.J. Reed...
At a cornerback position in flux, D.J. Reed is expected to be Seattle's anchor. (Getty)
(Getty)

As the Seahawks continue to work through training camp, my co-host Jake Heaps and I are counting down the 15 most important Seahawks of 2021. We spotlight a new profile every weekday at 1 p.m. during Jake and Stacy.

No. 15 DE Carlos Dunlap
No. 14 LB Jordyn Brooks
No. 13 TE Gerald Everett
No. 12 OLs Damien Lewis and Gabe Jackson
No. 11 DT Poona Ford
No. 10 S Quandre Diggs

The list continues with numbers nine and eight:

No. 9: CB D.J. Reed

Cornerback might be the most open position battle of the offseason. In addition to Reed and a pair of free agent additions in Ahkello Witherspoon and Pierre Desir, the group also includes Tre Flowers, 2021 fourth-round pick Tre Brown, Gavin Heslop, Jordan Miller, Bryan Mills, Damarious Randall, and Will Sunderland. But it’s Witherspoon and Reed who are the headliners in camp.

Witherspoon, a former third-round pick, may have a high ceiling, but Reed makes this list at No. 9 over any other corner because he had the best 2020 season and Seattle will likely lean into his speed and familiarity of the defense to bolster the position group.

The Seahawks claimed Reed off of waivers last August from San Francisco. Reed missed the first several weeks of the season while he recovered from a torn pectoral but made a midseason debut with Seattle in Week 8 – coincidentally against the 49ers – and quickly nabbed his first interception with Seattle.

His best game of the season, though, came on the road against Washington. Reed recorded another interception and had three passes defended.

He never surrendered the starting role after his debut and ultimately made eight starts, the most of his career. Still, Seattle’s defense had an especially abysmal first half – and some lingering inconsistencies – that made the team one of the worst passing defenses in the league. Part of the burden to improve that this season will fall on veteran safeties Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs, the latter of whom led the team with five interceptions. But that responsibility is also shared by Reed as he enters his first full season with Seattle.

What Jake said (audio): “DJ Reed showed major flashes of being not just a good contributor for your team, but a guy who could be your top corner heading into this year. That means not only being the mouthpiece but also a playmaker. That’s been sorely missing from this group since, honestly, the Legion of Boom days. You had Shaquill Griffin as a part of this group and he obviously was your most talented corner and had a Pro Bowl year a season ago. But the problem is Griffin rarely got his hands on the football. He had four interceptions last year, which was a career-high and really the first time he’d generated those numbers. That’s been one of the biggest critiques of his game. And D.J. Reed, from the moment he stepped on the field, found a way to make plays. He made not just easy interceptions where the ball just fell in his lap because he was in the right place at the right time; he made things happen. He saw things play out in front of him, read and reacted. For a 5-foot-9 corner, he held his own against some of the bigger receivers in the league… (Getting Reed off of waivers) is one of the best jobs that (Seahawks general manager) John Schneider and this front office has done in quite some time in terms of finding a diamond in the rough, an unknown guy, and plugging him in a playing halfway through the season.”

No: 8: DE Darrell Taylor

It’s a defense-heavy first half for this countdown. To be honest, Taylor was originally No. 15 on this list while fellow pass rusher Carlos Dunlap was closer to No. 8, and it’s a fair argument: Taylor is in just his second year and will likely see fewer snaps than Dunlap, who will perhaps be the most talented defensive end on this roster in 2021. Simply put, this pass rush would be in real trouble without Dunlap in a way it wouldn’t be without most other defensive players on this roster.

But consider two other arguments when it comes to Taylor. First, Taylor has big shoes to fill rotating in at strongside (SAM) linebacker, a position held last year by longtime Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright. Second, there’s the weight of Seattle’s draft picks and the potential of a fully healthy Taylor.

Related: Why Seahawks are fired up about Darrell Taylor in training camp

The Seahawks were so high on Taylor in 2020 that they nearly selected him in the first round, opting instead to go with linebacker Jordyn Brooks. But they were clearly excited about his potential. Former pro scout and current Senior Bowl Director Jim Nagy said Taylor “plays like a Seahawk.”

“He’s really put together, he’s powerful, he’s combative, he plays hard,” Nagy said last May. “He’s a Seahawk. He just plays like a Seahawk to me and he fits that profile. I think he brings a little Frank Clark to that team, just with his edge and mentality. Getting to know Darrell a little bit, there’s just something about him that I think is really going to fit there.”

Should Taylor have a breakout season in his debut, that doesn’t just help Seattle’s defense – it also secures a starting pass rusher on a rookie deal.

What Jake said (audio): “It’s odd to list someone at No. 8 when they didn’t play a season ago and is essentially still a rookie. You don’t even know if he’s going to play at defensive end. But they need to find a role for him, that’s clear, and that is exactly what they’re trying to do with Taylor at this potential SAM position. What they’re trying to create is a Bruce Irvin type of role, where it’s not just about playing outside linebacker, it’s about trying to get your best edge defenders on the field at the same time. And they feel like Darrell Taylor can answer that call… With Taylor they have an opportunity to get younger, get cheaper, and get more explosive.”

Follow Stacy Rost on Twitter.

More on Seahawks training camp

Clayton: Numbers show pass rush should be in for a big year
Bumpus: The surprising Seahawks defensive player who is standing out
Seahawks Training Camp: Jake and Stacy’s video reaction
Huard: The most encouraging thing about the Seahawks’ offense
What Pete Carroll said that caught Jake Heaps off-guard

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