Seahawks’ 3 draftees picked around DK in 2019 can make their marks on D
DK Metcalf is a certified NFL star and last week, the Seahawks rewarded his success with a three-year, $72 million contract extension.
Since entering the league in 2019, Metcalf ranks 11th in receiving yards (3,170), is tied with Cooper Kupp for the fourth-most touchdown catches (29) and is just plain incredible to watch.
The Seahawks could not be happier that Metcalf was somehow still available when they made the last selection in the second round of the 2019 draft. But what about the rest of that draft class?
There were two players selected before him and one immediately after that the Seahawks are still hoping to see reach their full potential.
The reasons those three have not yet reached that potential are varied, but this year feels like a fresh start for all of them. Whether it’s finally being healthy, being given the reigns following a veteran’s departure or a more fitting role in a new defensive scheme, there is still excitement for the potential of the 2019 draft class in 2022.
D-lineman L.J. Collier
The Seahawks selected the big defensive end with the 29th pick of the first round out of TCU. Head coach Pete Carroll noted after the draft that they loved his length, versatility and the fact that he has a chip on his shoulder.
Unfortunately, L.J. Collier suffered a severe ankle sprain in training camp and missed valuable preseason time. He ended up only playing 152 snaps his rookie season. Collier turned it around in 2020, playing a career high 49% of the Seahawks’ defensive snaps, but his numbers didn’t exactly jump off the page as he had three sacks, 22 combined tackles and seven quarterback hits. But he was praised by Carroll for being a steady force on the line and was a factor in their fourth-ranked run defense.
That'll do it ❗️ pic.twitter.com/SQR6ndhmnV
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) September 21, 2020
However, Collier could not carry that momentum into 2021 as he found himself a healthy scratch for eight games and played only 17 % of Seattle’s defensive snaps. Collier did end up seeing more consistent playing time in the final seven games of the season.
Carroll spoke about the progress Collier made in December.
“He’s found his way to help us in the pass rush. He’s done some nice things in the run game. He’s really played with really good effort and a good motor and it really showed up as part of complimenting the other fellas,” he said. “I’m really pleased that he’s been able to make that statement. We’re happy to be bringing him into the rotations.”
Now, Collier finds himself in a position to really showcase the chip-on-his-shoulder mentality the Seahawks loved when they drafted him.
The team declined his fifth-year option this offseason and this is likely his last chance to prove himself. Collier will get to do so in defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt’s new defensive scheme that will have more of a 3-4 emphasis. Collier showed up to camp looking bigger (in a good way) and ready to hold his own on the interior.
Hurtt explained to reporters on Saturday what the differences will be for Collier in this system.
“There are more single blocks now for him, he just has to understand where they’re coming from,” Hurtt said. “He doesn’t have to play as many double teams as people think, depending on front structure and what not. So, now when he’s in it he can play more vertical and be more disruptive. He doesn’t have to sit down and try to play blocks like (Bryan) Mone and Al (Woods) do.”
So far, so good. Hurtt singled Collier out as having one of the best springs of any defensive player, but told reporters Saturday to ask him for updates on the big guys once the pads go on “because that’s when the facts come out.”
Safety Marquise Blair
The Seahawks selected Utah safety Marquise Blair with the 47th overall pick in the second round. Blair had a reputation for being one of the hardest hitters in college football and he showed it in game one of preseason with a memorable hit on Denver Broncos wide receiver Nick Williams that got Seahawks fans excited, but drew an unnecessary roughness penalty.
Blair started his first training camp on the PUP list with a hamstring issue and injured his back in the second preseason game. He made it back in time for the regular season opener, but only played on 24% of the Seahawks defensive snaps. Carroll pointed to Blair’s missed time and inexperience as a factor when he explained why they traded for Quandre Diggs in October and again when he explained why Lano Hill was starting over Blair in December:
“He just has experience on him, he’s been with us longer,” Carroll said. “If you remember, Marquise missed a lot of time in the spring and then throughout camp. He’s just behind from where he should be. He’s a really, really good ballplayer. He had a great hit, forced a fumble in the game, did a great job on special teams. He’s been our top special teams guy for a month. He’s really gaining ground. Given the full opportunity to compete and get all the background nailed and all that stuff, he’s going to be right in there.”
MARQUISE BLAIR ‼️
Gotta love a defensive touchdown 😏 pic.twitter.com/4lqdoL1wEf
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) August 29, 2021
Unfortunately, Blair’s next two seasons would not provide that opportunity as major injuries cut both short.
In 2020, Blair suffered a torn ACL in Week 2 on a play where then teammate K.J. Wright accidentally drove his helmet into Blair’s knee while attempting to tackle Patriots running back Sony Michel. In 2021, Blair fractured his kneecap six games into the season in a Monday Night Football matchup with the Saints.
Now, Blair is a man on a mission to show what he can do and Pete Carroll would love nothing more.
“I’m thrilled that he’s out there,” Carroll said after day one of training camp this year. “We’ve missed him. He’s really…he’s determined man, he’s got a great spirit about him and he loves this game and he wants to show it. So, we’re going to work him to get ready and make sure that we don’t go too far, too fast because we get excited about him. If you remember, he was starting in the sub packages and stuff and really an exciting part of the future so we’re thrilled to get him back.”
If Blair can stay healthy, Brock Huard painted a pretty picture on the Mike Salk Show last year of how the Seahawks can use him to shut down the things that some of their NFC West rivals do best.
“With the systems that they’re facing, the (Kyle) Shanahan system with Deebo Samuel, with all the jet sweeps and all the little Rams guys, that bubble screen and jet sweep you and run little option routes, I think there was a belief from Pete and his staff that Marquise Blair was that system’s kryptonite,” Huard said. “Physical off the edge, twitchy enough in space to cover option routes and long enough at 6 foot 2, 6 foot 3. And then finally, just explosive.”
Linebacker Cody Barton
The Seahawks selected linebacker Cody Barton with the 88th pick in the third round out of Utah. Barton’s path to proving himself has not been derailed by injuries but rather stalled by the talented depth ahead of him.
Wright and Bobby Wagner saw the majority of the snaps at linebackers in Barton’s first two seasons with Mychal Kendricks and Jordyn Brooks carving out roles as well. When Wright moved on to the Raiders in 2021, it was Jordyn Brooks who stepped into the role opposite Bobby Wagner, playing 87% of the defensive snaps. Barton played more than he ever has in 2021 and was still only out there for 15% of the defensive plays.
So it’s a big jump to suddenly be a starting linebacker opposite Brooks, but it’s a task Carroll believes he’s ready for.
“He has positioned himself where we’re counting on him to do a ton of playing,” said Carroll. “Everything he’s ever done, he’s done well. He’s been a big-time leader on special teams, been a big playmaker, big hitter. When he’s had his chances, he’s done fine. He’s the best he’s been. He’s the most settled in his reads. He’s always been an excellent pass defender, which we need him to be. We’re going to try to allow him to play to his strengths and count on him to do a bunch of playing for us.”
Fellow linebacker Darrell Taylor gave Barton a vote of confidence, too.
“Oh my God, that dude flies around. That’s what I’ve seen from the first day I got here,” he said. “With him stepping up and everything now it’s exciting to see because everybody’s flying around and all of the excitement we’ve got going on around our program, all the young guys coming in, I mean what more can you ask for? We’re excited and if you don’t see that, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.”