What is the Seahawks’ biggest position of need in 2019?
The Seahawks were able to reach 10 wins and return to the playoffs in 2018 even with the loss of several All-Pro veterans in the offseason. But despite their ability to find success in a re-building year, not all depth issues were resolved just as quickly.
In fact, one glaring hole from 2018 remains their biggest area of need heading into 2019: pass rush.
The pass rush isn’t the only area where Seattle can take a step forward. The team ranked 30th in opponent rushing yards per attempt (4.9). The absences of Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas was also felt in the secondary as the year progressed; Seattle led the league in interceptions through the first three weeks, but saw a dip after a season-ending injury to Thomas in Week 4 and nagging injuries to other returning starters, like safety Bradley McDougald.
To be fair, the Seahawks had 44 sacks in 2018, their most since 2013. As elementary as this sounds, though, sack totals alone aren’t indicative of a punishing pass rush. Seattle’s defense was in the middle of the pack last year in sacks, opponent passing yards per game (240.1), yards per completion (10.8) and opponent passer rating (93.7).
Compare those numbers to the top defenses in the league last year. The Chicago Bears, Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills sit atop several defensive categories. The Bills allowed just 179.2 passing yards per game (compared to Seattle’s 238). Quarterbacks facing the Ravens’ defense completed 58 percent of pass attempts on average (Seattle allowed 65.11 percent). The Bears – who finished the season with the same number of sacks as the Seahawks – allowed just 6.3 yards per pass attempt compared to Seattle’s 7.5.
But if we’re going to focus on just one area – just one position that Seattle needs to target – it should be an effective pass rusher. It’s a position made all the more important by the league’s offensive trends, spearheaded in part by a team in Seattle’s division, the Los Angeles Rams. The impact of an elite pass rusher is also reflected in this year’s free agency pool and franchise tag numbers – a team will spend just over $17.1 million to use the franchise tag on a defensive end in 2019, second only to quarterbacks.
Who do the Seahawks have?
The Seahawks aren’t building this from the ground-up; they have plenty of talent there already. Defensive end Frank Clark had the most productive season of his career – his first as a full-time starter. He finished the year with 14 sacks, 41 combined tackles and 27 quarterback hits. Also contributing was defensive tackle Jarran Reed, who had 10.5 sacks (third-highest among defensive tackles behind the 49ers’ DeForest Buckner and Eagles’ Fletcher Cox), 50 combined tackles and 24 quarterback hits.
Seattle has Reed under contract for one more year and is expected to use the franchise tag on Clark, keeping him with the team for at least the 2019 season. (Here’s a bit more information on what that franchise tag process would look like for Clark.)
There are a few returning veterans, including defensive end Quinton Jefferson, who finished with 25 tackles, 15 quarterback hits and three sacks. The Seahawks also have young talent. The team drafted defensive ends Rasheem Green (9 tackles, 1 sack) and Jacob Martin (9 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 3 sacks) in 2018, both of whom had promising rookie seasons.
Assuming Clark returns in 2019 – which is likely – the Seahawks will have a solid returning group of veterans. But they do have one problem: Seattle has just four draft picks.
Seattle can hope that one or both of their younger players has a breakout sophomore season and bolsters the line along with Clark and Reed. Or the team can use one of those picks – currently in the first, third, fourth and fifth rounds – on a defensive end. Or both – why not? The good news is that 2019 is a strong draft class for defensive linemen, with more than a dozen projected to be taken in the first round.
Check 710Sports.com throughout this Seahawks offseason as Stacy Rost looks at one of the 10 biggest questions facing Seattle in 2019.
Previously in the series:
• Seahawks’ potential 2019 free agency departures
• Will the Seahawks move forward with — or without — K.J. Wright?
• How much would it cost the Seahawks to keep Frank Clark?
• Is there any way Earl Thomas returns to Seattle in 2019?