Ranked: Who are Seahawks’ five most irreplaceable players?

May 21, 2024, 6:06 PM | Updated: May 23, 2024, 1:58 pm

Seattle Seahawks Devin Witherspoon Cardinals 2023...

Devon Witherspoon of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates after a tackle against the Cardinals in 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

As the Seattle Seahawks continue their offseason programs under new coach Mike Macdonald, who are the most irreplaceable players on their roster?

Mike Salk delved into that question during the “Ranked” segment of Monday’s Brock and Salk on Seattle Sports.

Huard breaks down why Seahawks’ new defense will look like ‘a blur’

As Salk clarified, these aren’t necessarily the best players on the Seahawks’ roster. Rather, it’s a look at which players are the most indispensable, within the context of their position groups and the team overall. For instance, a decent player at a position with minimal depth might rank higher on this list than a standout player at a position of great depth.

In other words, which players could Seattle least afford to miss time with an injury? Here’s how Salk ranked his top five.

1. CB Devon Witherspoon

As the No. 5 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, Witherspoon lived up to the billing and then some with an exceptional rookie season. Splitting time between left cornerback and the nickel corner spot, the Illinois product showcased his versatility and elite skill set while excelling in coverage and making impact plays around the line of scrimmage.

Witherspoon ranked fifth in the NFL with 16 pass breakups and also had one interception, three sacks and eight tackles for loss. During a breakout Week 4 game against the Giants on Monday Night Football, he became just the 27th player in NFL history with two-plus sacks and a pick-six in the same game. He received a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie and was listed by Pro Football Focus as the sixth-highest-graded cornerback in the league last season.

“I think Devin Witherspoon (is No. 1), just because of his unique talents,” Salk said. “If he were to go out, … I don’t know that they would necessarily be totally screwed, but he just brings a completely different kind of style with him.”

Former NFL quarterback and co-host Brock Huard agreed with Witherspoon being atop this list. As impressive as Witherspoon’s rookie season was, Huard thinks the talented corner can be even better in Macdonald’s cutting-edge defensive scheme.

“This team needs Spoon, and you hired a defensive guy with a brilliant mind that’s gonna put him in new and creative places and is going to demand of him to take another step,” Huard said. “And if Devin Witherspoon goes from good to great, I think he’s got that Earl Thomas-like igniter (in him). … He can be an igniter, an impact player that you’ve got to deal with. Spoon, to me, is just off the charts.”

2. EDGE Uchenna Nwosu

Nwosu had a strong first season in Seattle in 2022, when he totaled 9.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. The Seahawks found out just how valuable he was in 2023 after the sixth-year pro suffered a season-ending pectoral injury. In the seven games Nwosu played, Seattle’s defense allowed 6.6 yards per pass attempt and 3.5 yards per carry. In the 10 games he missed, those numbers skyrocketed to 7.7 yards per pass attempt and 5.0 yards per rush.

“When he went out, things got rough in a hurry,” Salk said. “They are better equipped for that this year by being able to move (defensive end) Dre’Mont Jones outside more. And based on how much depth they have inside, I think they’re better prepared to deal with something like that. But Uchenna is a better player than we realized. Life without him did not look good.”

3. DE Leonard Williams

Williams sure made his presence felt after Seattle acquired the 29-year-old defensive lineman in a midseason trade with the Giants last year. In his 10 games with the Seahawks, the 6-foot-5, 300-pound Williams totaled four sacks, nine tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hits. Seattle then re-signed Williams in March, inking the former No. 6 overall pick to a three-year deal worth up to $64.5 million. And though he’s primarily a defensive end, Williams has the flexibility to potentially move inside at times in Macdonald’s versatile scheme.

“He is the guy in the middle that I think makes this defense work,” Salk said. “… He gets after the quarterback. He’s a monster in the running game. He gets into the backfield. You gotta account for where he is at all times.”

The Seahawks’ defensive line is one of the deeper position groups on the team, with Williams and Dre’Mont Jones at defensive end and Jarran Reed, Johnathan Hankins and first-round pick Byron Murphy II at defensive tackle. Even so, Huard agrees that Williams should be up high on this list.

“People would say, ‘Hold on a second, you just drafted Byron Murphy at No. 16. You drafted, on your board, the best defensive player in the whole draft. And Jarran is in the final year of his deal. And then you bring in big Hankins. You’ve got a lot of depth there,'” Huard said. “But I would absolutely put him in that spot as well. His skill set is different. And if you want to be versatile – and Mike Macdonald’s going to be versatile week to week – you need all sorts of different guys. And that dude can play up and down the line.”

4. LBs Jerome Baker and Tyrel Dodson

Seattle’s linebacker unit will look quite different this fall. The Seahawks parted ways with their two starting inside linebackers from last season, moving on from franchise icon Bobby Wagner and former first-round pick Jordyn Brooks. They replaced them with a pair of free agents, signing former Bills starter Tyrel Dodson and former Dolphins starter Jerome Baker to one-year deals. They also selected UTEP linebacker Tyrice Knight in the fourth round of the draft, but he’s viewed as more of a long-term development project. Due to the lack of depth at the position, Salk views Baker and Dodson as some of the more irreplaceable players on the team.

“Your two new linebackers are going to be tied (here) because of what’s behind them,” Salk said. “I mean, you got a rookie that you just drafted. I love the idea of (Knight), but I don’t know if he’s starting Week 1. Baker and Dodson together are irreplaceable, because there’s nothing behind them.”

5. TE Noah Fant

This was another case where Fant is in this spot largely because of the lack of proven depth behind him, with Will Dissly and Colby Parkinson having both departed in free agency. Behind Fant, Seattle’s two other projected tight ends this season are Pharaoh Brown and fourth-round pick AJ Barner. Brown, who signed one-year deal with the Seahawks in March, is a six-year pro who had just 13 catches for a career-high 208 yards and a touchdown last season with the Patriots. Barner had 22 catches for 249 yards and a TD last year while playing for the national champion Michigan Wolverines.

“It has more to do with what’s after him than what he brings,” Salk said. “Like, I don’t know whether Noah Fant is a great tight end or not. I’m hoping this new scheme kind of opens up some opportunities for him. But after him, you’ve got a fourth-round rookie and a guy named Pharoah Brown who has kind of bounced around the league. So I would say if Noah Fant goes down, you’re worried a little bit about what the tight end position looks like for some time, just because you don’t have a tremendous amount of depth that you are comfortable with yet.”

Fant, a former first-round pick who re-signed with Seattle on a two-year deal in March, had 32 catches for 414 yards last season in his second year since coming from Denver in the Russell Wilson trade. Huard hopes new offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb can help increase the 26-year-old Fant’s production.

“Fant’s got some freakish abilities, man,” Huard said. “He is a talented, talented guy. And if you can unlock him that much more in this system, (that’s a) big benefit.”

Listen to the full conversation from 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.

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