Lefko: National perception of Seahawks reveals ‘great unknown’ for 2023

Jul 21, 2023, 12:24 PM

Seattle Seahawks San Francisco 49ers...

DK Metcalf of the Seattle Seahawks makes a catch against Charvarius Ward of the San Francisco 49ers on Jan. 14, 2023. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Training camp is just days away, and the Seattle Seahawks head into the season full of optimism, with the expectation that last year was simply a taste of what’s to come.

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There has been an exodus of talent out of the NFC and the Seahawks seem poised to ascend towards the top tier of contenders in the conference. To do that requires closing the gap on the San Francisco 49ers, who have established themselves as the kings of the NFC West and one of the best teams in the NFL.

Our perception is that the Seahawks have made significant strides toward that upper echelon. But the reality might be different.

Here is the disclaimer before we dive into this (and predictably will get as responses by people who don’t take the time to read this article and simply look at the headline): Rankings are inherently biased. No matter the credibility of the people ranking players or teams it comes down to personal experience and observation.

Yet, the larger the sample size the better chance of showing a true representation of what is being conveyed – in this case the best players in the league right now at each position. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler outlined the process to me and Brady Henderson Tuesday morning on Brock & Salk Show.

That is why ESPN’s positional rankings hold so much weight. Coaches, GM’s, league execs, and players are the ones making the picks, along with additional film study and interviews conducted by ESPN’s NFL staff.

Like it or not, this is the mindset of the league at large and when laid out alongside the 49ers the results are especially jarring:

Seattle Seahawks

• DK Metcalf: No. 8 wide receiver

• Bobby Wagner: Honorable Mention linebacker

• Tariq Woolen: Honorable Mention cornerback

• Quandre Diggs: Honorable Mention safety

• Noah Fant: Honorable Mention tight end

• Ken Walker: Honorable Mention running back

• (Jordyn Brooks, Geno Smith, Tyler Lockett, and Dre’Mont Jones in the “received votes” category)

San Francisco 49ers

• Trent Williams: No. 1 offensive tackle

• Christian McCaffrey: No. 2 running back

• George Kittle: No. 2 tight end

• Nick Bosa: No. 1 edge rusher

• Fred Warner: No. 1 linebacker

• Dre Greenlaw: No. 10 linebacker

• Javon Hargrave: No. 5 defensive tackle

• Talanoa Hufanga: No. 9 safety

This is why banking on potential and expected growth can be dangerous. Logically, the Seahawks SHOULD be better. It’s the second full season as a starter in this offense for Geno Smith, there are more weapons around him, and on defense the secondary depth is the envy of many teams around the league.

And yet…it isn’t always as easy as we make it out to be. Unfortunately, a cross-sport comparison seems appropriate right now, and we don’t have to go far to find one.

The Mariners and Seahawks had nearly identical 2022 seasons, right down to losing to a hated division rival in the playoffs. The expected leap hasn’t occurred for the Mariners this season and they have watched nearly all of their key young contributors regress this year. The Seahawks also had an unexpected surge to the playoffs, fueled in a large part by rookies. That is the great disparity that these rankings highlight: The 49ers are a low-risk mutual fund, the Seahawks a volatile stock.

To reach that next level the Seahawks will need their draft class to replicate what their 2022 counterparts did and for the core of established veterans they do have to play at a high level. Luckily, these positional rankings seem to have ignited a fire within the leaders of this team. Oh, you think these are meaningless rankings that have no effect on the field? Don’t tell that to Metcalf or Diggs, who has on Brock and Salk on Wednesday.

“End of the day we we’re a playoff team, and we just added more talent this offseason,” Diggs said. “For us, I mean maybe it’s not just about one person, two people, it’s about a whole team and that’s the way we’re going to look at it.”

What does Quandre Diggs think about top-10 lists snubbing Seattle Seahawks?

Perhaps this is the motivation they need, the “bulletin board material” that drives a team to find uncommon ground, beyond the limits of what even elite athletes can push themselves to do. The NFL is built on teams finding competitive edges wherever possible and for the Seahawks to reach the next step in getting back to a Super Bowl the will of the team could help players reach their full potential, become greater than the sum of its parts, and turn expectations into reality.

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Lefko: National perception of Seahawks reveals ‘great unknown’ for 2023