Ranked: Seahawks’ top 5 position group battles after draft

May 2, 2024, 12:56 PM

Seattle Seahawks Tre Brown Arizona 2023...

Tre Brown of the Seattle Seahawks contests a pass against Arizona in 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Under new coach Mike Macdonald, the Seattle Seahawks have undergone a significant roster overhaul over the past few months. Yet with the NFL Draft and the bulk of free agency in the rearview mirror, there’s now much more clarity on what Seattle’s roster will look like heading into training camp this summer.

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With the attention now shifting to the team’s offseason programs, Mike Salk ranked the Seahawks’ top five position battles to watch this week on Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk.

1. Cornerback

Even before Seattle drafted Auburn corners Nehemiah Pritchett and D.J. James in the fifth and sixth rounds on Saturday, cornerback already appeared to be one of the deepest positions on the team. The group is headlined by 2023 No. 5 overall pick Devon Witherspoon, who earned a Pro Bowl selection last season after a sensational rookie campaign. Riq Woolen received a Pro Bowl nod as a rookie in 2022, but he’s looking to bounce back after a sophomore slump that included a late-season benching. Tre Brown also started seven games last season and Michael Jackson started all 17 games in 2022, providing strong depth at the position. So with Pritchett and James now entering the fold, the battle for starting roles figures to be intense.

“Other than the one guy I think we know about – Devon Witherspoon – I don’t really know who else is gonna be playing cornerback for this team,” Salk said.

2. Defensive tackle

Macdonald should have plenty of options to deploy up front in his versatile defensive scheme. Nose tackle Jarran Reed returns after recording seven sacks last year, 32-year-old veteran Johnathan Hankins comes in on a one-year deal and No. 16 overall pick Byron Murphy II has the potential to be a big-time disruptor who could alter opposing game plans. Cameron Young, a 2023 fourth-round pick, could also be in the mix. In addition, defensive ends Leonard Williams and Dre’Mont Jones have the flexibility to potentially slide inside and play some defensive tackle in Macdonald’s defense.

“No. 2 is defensive tackle just because you have so many people,” Salk said. “It’s gonna be Jarran Reed. You just drafted somebody with the No. 16 pick. It’s Hankins. It’s Dre’Mont Jones, if he ends up being in that spot. It’s ‘The Big Cat’ Leonard Williams – you spent a lot of money there. So, there are a lot of dudes up there. And oh, by the way, you did have two other draft picks from last year that I’m at least curious about. That’s Cam Young, who didn’t get on the field much, and (2023 fifth-round defensive end) Mike Morris, who got hurt right away. So what does that look like at defensive tackle?”

“That’s a good competition,” added former NFL quarterback Brock Huard. “That’s what you want. You want five guys eating at the table.”

3. Outside linebacker/edge

Uchenna Nwosu’s return should be a major boost to this unit after he missed the final 11 games last year with a season-ending pectoral injury. Boye Mafe, a 2022 second-round pick, is coming off a breakout second season with nine sacks. Beyond them, however, there are questions. Darrell Taylor, a 2020 second-round pick, had a strong 2022 campaign but took a step back last year. Derick Hall, a 2023 second-rounder, was largely unproductive in his rookie season. Furthermore, the Seahawks didn’t address the position in the draft.

“I feel very confident that Uchenna is gonna be one side, but what does the competition look like?” Salk said. “Is Darrell Taylor gonna find a way back onto this roster? … Is Derick Hall worth anything after a really disappointing first year and a lot of hype that went into it?”

Huard said this could be one position that Seattle still looks to bolster.

“That’s a place where there are a couple street free agents still out there – guys that have put up some production in the past,” Huard said. “That is a place where you need to get the most out of some pretty high capital. Second round, second round, second round. All three of those guys – Taylor, Mafe and Derick Hall – some premium, premium draft stock invested in them.”

4. Guard

The Seahawks have moved on from both of last year’s Week 1 starting guards, as Damien Lewis signed with the Carolina Panthers in free agency and Phil Haynes remains unsigned. Nine-year veteran Laken Tomlinson, who Seattle signed last month, figures to be the front-runner at left guard after playing almost exclusively at that spot over his 138 career starts. That leaves third-round pick Christian Haynes and 2023 fourth-round pick Anthony Bradford as the leading candidates to start at right guard. Haynes started 49 games at right guard over four seasons at UConn, while Bradford started 10 games at right guard last season while helping fill in for an injured Phil Haynes. Sataoa Laumea, a sixth-round pick out of Utah, could also be the mix.

“They let some guys go here in the offseason (and) they drafted two guards,” Salk said. “… It’s gonna be a battle.”

5. Quarterback

Salk acknowledged that quarterback probably isn’t a true position battle heading into the season. Geno Smith is widely expected to be the starter after finishing No. 7 in ESPN’s QBR metric in 2022 and still finishing in the top half of the NFL last season at No. 14. However, the Seahawks are clearly intrigued by 23-year-old QB Sam Howell, especially since they didn’t select a quarterback in the draft. Howell, who started all 17 games for the Washington Commanders last season before Seattle acquired him in a March trade, will likely open the season as Smith’s backup. But if Smith struggles early on, could the Seahawks give Howell a shot?

“This one is gonna be a little bit of a stretch, but I’m gonna go there anyway,” Salk said. “Quarterback, is it really a position battle? Probably not. There’s probably nothing Sam Howell can do to win the job outright in training camp. But is he battling to show that he is an NFL starter? Yes. Should he be treating it that way? Absolutely. And will the leash be a little bit shorter this year on your starting quarterback, given that the guy behind him has 18 starts over the last two years? Yeah, I would think it probably will.”

Listen to the full conversation from Tuesday’s Brock and Salk in the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post. Tune in to Brock and Salk weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m. or find the podcast on the Seattle Sports app.

More Seattle Seahawks coverage

• Are Seattle Seahawks going to reunite with polarizing Jamal Adams?
• With draft complete, what is Seahawks’ biggest question mark?
• What Bump hopes OC Grubb brings to Seahawks’ WRs from UW
• Huard explains why Seahawks drafted two cornerbacks
• Lefko: The message the Seattle Seahawks’ 2024 draft class sends

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Ranked: Seahawks’ top 5 position group battles after draft