Lefko: Why this is the year Seahawks will finally feature TEs more
It has almost become a running gag at this point – “This year, the Seahawks will use the tight ends more!” – but in 2022, this is the year the Seahawks will not only utilize tight ends more, they will have the tight ends featured in the offense.
The past is not applicable to the present, especially when it comes to a complete overhaul of the Seahawks’ offense. Offensive coordinator Shane Waldron is firmly in charge of playcalling and implementing the offense. You could not unequivocally say that last year, as the clear difference in opinion between Russell Wilson and the coaching staff on how to best execute a successful offense led to an at times disjointed unit that could not move the football and sustain drives.
This year is different. Not to say there was a power struggle in 2021, but of your two quarterbacks who are competing for the starting spot, neither has the cachet to audible out of looks or disagree much with what the coaching staff wants to implement on offense. So, when Waldron says the tight ends will be heavily featured in this system, I’m going to believe that the tight ends will play a big role.
Waldron said as much during Seahawks OTAs last week.
“The good tight ends make any offense tight end-friendly, so I think just having the ability, we’ve got a group of guys right now that can do a little bit of everything,” he said. “So the more tight ends can do, the more chance you can move them around and not necessarily line them up in a static, end-line position and give them a chance to move around and present different looks for a defense.”
Versatility certainly seems to be the emphasis for the tight ends, and that is reflected in who the Seahawks did – and did not – bring back this offseason.
Gerald Everett had a solid year for the Seahawks in 2021, but the third-leading receiver on the team (63 targets, 48 receptions, 478 yards, four touchdowns) wasn’t re-signed. Will Dissly’s ability to run block, plus a projected increase in targets in the pass game, resulted in a three-year, $24 million deal. You don’t make that kind of commitment without knowing exactly what you want out of the position.
Noah Fant’s addition to the roster in the Russell Wilson trade with the Broncos is another strong indicator that the Seahawks want to feature the tight ends more. Seattle Sports’ Michael Bumpus outlined recently that Fant is the logical choice to be the third-leading receiver on the team.
Make no mistake, the high draft picks received were the most important part of the Wilson trade, but Fant is the centerpiece of the players the Seahawks got from the Broncos. He is just 24 years old and coming off consecutive seasons of 60-plus receptions (including 68 in 2021) and at least 670 receiving yards. And that came in a Denver offense that saw a constant churn of offensive coordinators and head coaches during Fant’s three seasons on the Broncos.
Noah Fant FLATTENED him on the way to a 75-yard HOUSE CALL!
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 3, 2019
Even in his brief time with the Seahawks this offseason, Fant has already seen and started to experience what an emphasis on tight ends will look like for this offense.
“I like the way they use the tight ends,” he said after an OTA session last Thursday. “I like the way we get passing concepts down the field. The run game, obviously it’s going to be all built off the run game and obviously the play action is going to be huge. It’s a very balanced offense, which I like, and it’s very favorable to the tight ends, so it’s nice.”
The Seahawks have not had a receiving weapon at tight end like this since Jimmy Graham, and he was 29 when he came to Seattle. Fant figures to be a critical part of this offense, and the Seahawks showed that by picking up his fifth-year option for 2023 even before he had even stepped onto a practice field.
We know Waldron’s background and the heavy Rams influence that shaped his offensive ideas, but keep in mind that he was the Rams’ tight ends coach before taking over as the passing game coordinator. Much like how the expectation on defense is that new defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt, with an inherent knowledge of the defensive line, understands how to best implement that group into the defense, so too can we assume that Waldron understands the importance of tight ends to an offense.
During the three seasons he spent as Rams passing game coordinator (2018-20), here is the receiving breakdown for the Rams top two tight ends:
• Gerald Everett: 50 targets, 33 receptions, 320 yards, three touchdowns
• Tyler Higbee: 34 targets, 24 receptions, 292 yards, two touchdowns
• Tyler Higbee: 89 targets, 69 receptions, 734 yards, three touchdowns
• Gerald Everett: 60 targets, 37 receptions, 408 yards, two touchdowns
• Tyler Higbee: 60 targets, 44 receptions, 521 yards, five touchdowns
• Gerald Everett: 62 targets, 41 receptions, 417 yards, one touchdown
There was a noticeable uptick in receiving production from Year 1 to Year 2 for the tight ends under Waldron, and those numbers came in an offense that also featured wide receivers Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds. That should be an encouraging sign in trying to get a sense of how Noah Fant and Will Dissly fit into the concepts that Shane Waldron and offensive line coach Andy Dickerson, who came to Seattle from L.A. with Waldron, want to execute at the forefront of their offense.
This will be the year for the tight ends. Believe it.