Seahawks final rookie report card: How 2019 draft class graded out
The last time we went through the Seahawks’ 2019 draft class pick by pick, it was during the team’s Week 11 bye after they took down the then-undefeated San Francisco 49ers.
Since then, the team made the postseason and won a playoff game, and it’s now entering the 2020 offseason looking to move forward in arguably the toughest division in the NFL.
The Seahawks got key contributions from a few rookies, especially down the stretch, while some were non-factors or didn’t play as much as some would have wanted or expected.
So let’s take a look at each of the Seahawks’ 11 2019 draft picks and assess how their rookie campaigns went.
First pick: L.J. Collier, DE, TCU, first round (29th)
The last time I did this exercise, L.J. Collier was struggling to find playing time and losing snaps to Shaquem Griffin on the edge.
Over the final stretch of the season, it was pretty much more of the same.
Collier had just two tackles through the Seahawks’ first 10 games, and he added just one more the rest of the way. He was also inactive for both of Seattle’s playoff games.
What makes Collier’s season even more disappointing is that defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah both missed time to injuries and when they were playing, they were clearly not 100% healthy.
The defensive line and the lack of a pass rush was a huge weakness and heavily contributed to the defense’s struggles in 2019. Collier’s inability to even get on the field while healthy is not a good sign for a first-round pick, especially considering the Seahawks don’t typically like to select players in the first round and would rather trade down and accumulate more picks.
Head coach Pete Carroll said Collier needs to get more playing time to get more comfortable as a pro.
“I think he just needs to be in there. Get his play time, get going, get all of camp, get everything organized, he’s got it all together,” Carroll said. “We would like to play him inside and out, move him a little bit. I hope – I already talked to him about it – he can make the kind of jump that Rasheem (Green) made from year one to year two. I thought Rasheem had a terrific season this year to help us out and start to get his career rolling. Hopefully L.J. will make the same kind of advance.”
Collier hurt his leg in training camp and didn’t play in the preseason. He was clearly behind where he should have been, and the injury likely contributed to that. Green was in a similar situation as a rookie in 2018 and ended up leading the team in sacks while showing an ability to disrupt the quarterback.
The verdict is obviously still out on Collier, as the Seahawks saw something with him to warrant a first-round selection, but the early results have been extremely disappointing.
He, Griffin and Green are the only edge rushers under contract for next season, and if the team is unable to re-sign Clowney or add proven talent at that spot, Collier will be under more pressure to perform in year two.
Original grade: D
Current Grade: D-
Second pick: Marquise Blair, S, Utah, second round (47th)
When Marquise Blair got on the field on defense, he was a difference maker.
His speed was evident, and he made some big hits that showed his reputation as a hard hitter in college wasn’t a fluke.
Blair ended the season with 34 tackles and two forced fumbles. Twenty-four of those tackles came in the three-game stretch where he started at free safety.
His last start would come against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 9, as Quandre Diggs, who the Seahawks traded for during the season, would be the starting free safety from that point forward.
The tandem of Diggs and Bradley McDougald was clearly the best safety duo that Seattle could put on the field, but when Diggs went down in Week 15 with an ankle injury, Lano Hill played at free safety, not Blair.
Hill’s play was uninspiring, which made Blair not playing more frustrating, especially as he shined on special teams.
Blair did play a bit on defense in dime situations, but he was mostly on kickoff and punt coverage, where he was easily one of Seattle’s better players.
So, what will Blair’s role be next season?
He’ll likely still be a major contributor on special teams, but will he get on the field defensively?
Diggs is under contract through 2021 and the defense was far and away better with him on the field. He’s not going anywhere.
But what about McDougald? His play rose when he was paired with Diggs, especially in the wild card round against the Philadelphia Eagles when he was the Seahawks’ leading tackler. He has just one year left on his deal, but his play down the stretch would lead me to believe he will be back next season to play strong safety.
Blair will be a good person to have for special teams, as well as to put out there in nickel or dime packages. He can also play both safety spots in case either Diggs or McDougald go down with injury.
I’d expect to see Blair play more next season in his second year, but the Seahawks will likely roll out the veteran safety tandem of Diggs and McDougald.
Look for Blair’s first full season as a defensive starter to come in 2021.
Original grade: B+
Current grade: B
Third pick: DK Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss, second round (64th)
This pick was a slam dunk.
The pick that received the most fanfare for Seattle also turned out to be their best selection of the 2019 NFL Draft, at least by the early results, when they selected Metcalf with the final pick of the second round.
Metcalf finished the regular season with 900 receiving yards and seven touchdowns and emerged as a reliable target for quarterback Russell Wilson.
Then, in his first taste of postseason action, he caught seven passes for 160 yards and a touchdown. The 160 yards set an NFL record for most receiving yards in a playoff game by an NFL rookie.
— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) January 9, 2020
Metcalf, despite being the ninth receiver taken in the draft, showed that he can be one of the best receivers in the NFL. His blend of size, speed and athleticism puts his ceiling arguably higher than any of the other receivers taken in the draft.
He mostly ran vertical concepts and straight-line routes, but showed a more sophisticated route tree than he ran when he played at Ole Miss, which was one of the knocks on him as well as a neck injury that nearly ended his football career.
He and Wilson clearly have great chemistry on the field, and it will be exciting to see how big a step forward Metcalf takes in his second season. A 1,000 yard season clearly isn’t out of the question.
Original grade: A
Current grade: A+
Fourth pick: Cody Barton, LB, Utah, third round (88th)
Like 710 ESPN Seattle’s Dave Wyman, I too am a big Cody Barton fan.
And while I’m not a former NFL linebacker who understands the ins and outs of the position, I was impressed by what I saw out of Barton when he played on defense.
After starting the season as a key special teams contributor, Barton was thrust into a bigger role on defense after Mychal Kendricks suffered two separate injuries that cost him three regular season games and then the team’s two playoff games.
Pete Carroll on Cody Barton:
"He did a nice job. I can't imagine him not being a really good football player." #Seahawks
— Jessamyn McIntyre (@JessamynMcIntyr) January 13, 2020
With Kendricks down, Barton stepped up. While there were some learning moments, primarily against the Los Angeles Rams and the Carolina Panthers and their fly sweeps and running game, Barton filled in nicely for Kendricks and could be the third linebacker for the Seahawks next season.
Kendricks is a free agent and will be coming off an ACL tear, and he is also awaiting a sentence for insider trading charges, which is expected to take place in February.
While Kendricks played well in his second season with the Seahawk, the injury and the sentencing could lead Seattle to move on with Barton slated as a starter.
If that’s the case, the Seahawks should be in good hands as Barton showed he can handle starting in the NFL.
He finished the regular season with 23 tackles and added eight more and a sack in the playoffs. He had a 10-tackle performance against the Panthers.
Barton looked the part of a starter for Seattle, and I’d expect him to take a big step forward during his second season.
Original grade: B-
Current grade: B+
Fifth pick: Gary Jennings, WR, WVU, fourth round (120th)
Gary Jennings not working out for the Seahawks was disappointing, especially as he and Wilson had history dating back Jennings’ childhood, when Wilson coached him in basketball.
The West Virginia star receiver never amounted to anything during his brief time in Seattle, and was ultimately waived when the team brought in receiver Josh Gordon.
Before that, Jennings was a healthy scratch who had failed to shine during the preseason and training camp.
The Seahawks have a trend going of fourth-round receivers that never pan out, and this is another case of that.
Jennings was claimed by the Dolphins but didn’t do anything there before ultimately being placed on injured reserve.
Original grade: F
Current grade: F
Sixth pick: Phil Haynes, OL, Wake Forest, fourth round (124th)
Phil Haynes’ NFL career got off to a rocky start after undergoing sports hernia surgery during the summer. He was placed on the physically unable to perform list before the season began and was activated just before Week 10.
He didn’t appear in any games until the postseason, where he appeared on special teams during the blocked field goal against the Eagles, which looked like it was his fault.
He was thrust into action again the next week in the team’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, as Jamarco Jones, who was starting in place of the injured Mike Iupati at left guard, went down with a concussion.
Carroll said he had a positive assessment of Haynes’ play, and that we could see more of him in 2020.
“Now that he has shown that he is going to be a factor too, I think Philip is going to compete to play,” Carroll said.
Jones and Haynes are both under contract next season, as are injured players like Demetrius Knox and Jordan Simmons. Iupati is a free agent, and with his age and injury history, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Seattle move on.
At right guard, D.J. Fluker is under contract for 2020, but could be a cap casualty if the team is looking to get younger and clear money for free agency.
While it was a brief sample size, Haynes showed he has the can handle his own. He will have a lot of competition for playing time at guard next season.
Original grade: Incomplete
Current grade: C
Seventh pick: Ugo Amadi, DB, Oregon, fourth round (132nd)
One of the biggest takeaways of the Seattle defense in 2019 wasn’t just how bad it was, it was that the team constantly played base defense with three linebackers in obvious passing situations that would normally call for nickel defenses with an extra defensive back.
When the team did go to a nickel defense early in the year, it was Jamar Taylor who was in the slot, not Ugo Amadi. Amadi was instead making plays on special teams, where, along with Blair, was a force on punt coverage.
When Taylor was waived, it was believed Amadi would finally get extended playing time on defense as a nickel corner. Instead, Akeem King was thrust into that role.
Amadi would eventually get playing time late in the year and in the playoffs, and he was fairly up and down.
He looked good in coverage and as a tackler at times, but he also was the man responsible for covering Davante Adams on the first of two third downs the Packers converted to seal the deal against the Seahawks in the divisional round, seen in this play below.
The Aaron Rodgers-Davante Adams connection comes up CLUTCH 💪
— ESPN (@espn) January 13, 2020
Amadi, like Blair, will likely continue to be a big contributor on special teams in 2020. If the Seahawks do play more nickel next season, Amadi will be at or near the top of the depth chart for the nickel corner spot.
Original grade: B-
Current grade: B
Eighth pick: Ben Burr-Kirven, LB, UW, fifth round (142nd)
The Seahawks went local with their eight pick in Ben Burr-Kirven, a standout at the University of Washington.
During his rookie campaign, Burr-Kirven was predominantly on special teams, though he did play defense for a brief period against the Panthers in Week 15 after multiple injuries to the linebacker group.
Burr-Kirven accumulated eight tackles on special teams as well as a forced fumble in the team’s opener against the Cincinatti Bengals, and will likely be in a similar role next season.
If Kendricks is indeed gone, Barton is the presumed favorite to play alongside Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright as the team’s third linebacker. Burr-Kirven would likely be the next man up in case either of those three went down with an injury, but his future may be dependent on Wright’s.
Wright is entering the final year of his deal and if he were to retire or move on to another team, it would give Burr-Kirven a chance to compete for a starting job
That’s a conversation for a later day, however, so expect to see Burr-Kirven exclusively on special teams unless an injury happens.
Old grade: C+
New grade: C+
Ninth pick: Travis Homer, RB, Miami, sixth round (204th)
Travis Homer spent most of 2019 as the fourth running back on the Seahawks’ depth chart. Then all of a sudden, he sat atop the depth chart.
It started in Week 14 when Rashaad Penny, the team’s second back, tore his ACL against the Los Angeles Rams. Two weeks later, starter Chris Carson and third back C.J. Prosise both suffered season-ending injuries.
Homer had five carries for 16 yards and also caught six passes for 26 yards in Week 16 before stepping up in Week 17, rushing for 62 yards and catching five passes for 30 yards in the loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
The next week against the Eagles, he struggled on the ground, gaining just 12 yards on 11 carries.
Against the Packers, the returning Marshawn Lynch took over as the lead back, and Homer rushed just three times for 13 yards. He also caught two passes for 27 yards.
Before getting more time in the backfield, Homer played on special teams and did a nice job, including on a fake punt against the Minnesota Vikings that he ran for 29 yards.
When receiver Tyler Lockett suffered a shin injury in Week 10, Homer filled in as the team’s kick returner and averaged 19.7 yards per return.
Carson is expected to be back to full strength ahead of the season while Penny will have more of a battle to return at the beginning of the year. Prosise is a free agent and the team will likely let him walk as he has not shown he can stay healthy.
With Penny’s injury and Prosise’s free agency looming, Homer could be in line for a bigger role next season.
He has at the very least shown he can be a special teams contributor and a good receiving back, which is valuable to any team, and if the team wants to limit Lockett’s special teams role due to his status as the team’s No. 1 receiver, Homer could take the reins there.
It was a lot of fun to see him and Lynch hang out on the sidelines.
Marshawn needed 21-year-old Travis Homer to sit between him and Robert Turbin to split up the old age of RBs 😂
"You our little youngster."
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) January 9, 2020
Old grade: C
Current grade: B-
10th pick: Demarcus Christmas, DT, FSU, sixth round (209th)
As I wrote in November, the Seahawks won’t really know what they have with sixth-round pick defensive tackle Demarcus Christmas later this offseason.
Christmas was placed on the PUP list because of a back injury that sidelined him for the entire preseason and the team didn’t active him before the eligible window expired, ending his 2019 season before it ever began.
In college, Christmas started 38 games during his last three seasons at Florida State and finished his career with 105 tackles, including 3.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss.
The Seahawks will certainly be needing defensive line help as Clowney, Jarran Reed, Quinton Jefferson and Branden Jackson are all free agents and could find new homes this offseason.
Old grade: Incomplete
Current grade: Incomplete
11th pick: John Ursua, WR, Hawaii, seventh round (236th)
Despite being taken so late in the draft, there was some hope that John Ursua could contribute to Seattle’s offense out of the slot.
Instead, Ursua was predominantly a healthy scratch and couldn’t carve out a role in year one.
When tight end Will Dissly went down with an Achilles tear, the Seahawks needed a reliable third option for Wilson after Lockett and Metcalf. That went to tight end Jacob Hollister and Ursua was still on the bench.
When Josh Gordon got suspended and the team needed another wide receiver to step up, Ursua remained an afterthought.
He did end the season with a big catch on fourth down against the 49ers in Week 17 that, if not for a delay of game and a pass interference that wasn’t called, may have set up a Seahawks victory.
At his final press conference of the season, Carroll said Ursua could get more playing time in 2020.
“I’m really going to be excited about what Johnny can bring playing in the slot for us next year,” Carroll said. “He looked terrific during the second half of the season in all of the work that we did and the more time he got with us. I think he’ll come back really competing for stuff.”
Old grade: C-
Current grade: C