Seahawks roster battles: Defense to have lots of competition for 2020
May 19, 2020, 3:32 PM
As we continue onward through the offseason, and with some NFL facilities starting to re-open, most rosters are seemingly set and that means, as Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll likes to say, the competition is on.
Carroll says he can fall victim to his optimism — has that hurt Seahawks?
For Carroll’s Seahawks, that will be especially true this offseason, and multiple spots on both offense and defense will be up for grabs.
While it’s not clear when (or where) the Seahawks will be able to practice in person, it’s always fun to look at different spots on the roster that could see the best battles for playing time in the upcoming season.
So let’s do just that, starting first with Seattle’s defense.
Coming off a Pro Bowl season, Shaquill Griffin will almost certainly be starting at the left outside cornerback position. The right outside spot is more of a question.
After the Seahawks traded with the Washington Redskins for Quinton Dunbar, it was expected not only that he would challenge two-year starter Tre Flowers for the other corner job, but that he was actually the favorite for the job. Dunbar has been slowed by injuries throughout his career, but he has been productive when he’s been on the field. This was evident last season when he was Pro Football Focus’ second-ranked cornerback in the entire NFL.
But there are a few reasons that Flowers could keep his starting job when the season rolls around.
The first is, of course, the ongoing legal matter that Dunbar is involved in. He has been accused by Miramar (Fla.) police of engaging in an armed robbery at a cookout alongside New York Giants cornerback DeAndre Baker. Both have denied the charges. Dunbar, after turning himself in days after a warrant was issued, plead not guilty to the charged and was released on bond. His lawyer, Michael Grieco, has said that he expects the case to be dropped because he has sworn statements from witnesses saying Dunbar had no involvement in any alleged incident.
Even if Dunbar is exonerated of all wrongdoing, the Seahawks or the NFL could step in and provide discipline, including a suspension to start the regular season. If it’s proven that Dunbar was involved in the alleged robbery, the Seahawks could part ways with the cornerback, which would save the team over $3 million. Dunbar is on the last year of his contract.
There’s also the possibility that Flowers wins the job outright. Flowers is entering his third NFL season, all with the Seahawks, and has started all but two games since the start of 2018. He has experience in Pete Carroll’s system, and with the offseason in question due to coronavirus, the Seahawks may be more comfortable with Flowers on the field to start.
Flowers has shined at times during his two NFL seasons, but he struggled down the stretch of 2019, leading many to question whether he should be starting. 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton said last week that people were down on Griffin after he struggled in his second year, and he bounced back and made his first Pro Bowl in year three. It’s not out of the question for Flowers to take a big step forward as well.
The Seahawks surprised many by selecting linebacker Jordyn Brooks in the first round, especially as it looked like Seattle had their starting linebacker group set for 2020. But the addition of Brooks and one free agent may cause that trio to look slightly different than originally anticipated.
Bobby Wagner will be back at middle linebacker. That is without question. And it was thought that K.J. Wright would finish out the last year of his contract at weakside (WILL) linebacker while second-year player Cody Barton would start at strongside (SAM) linebacker while giving way to a third cornerback in nickel packages. But will that in fact be how it plays out?
Wright had a career year, setting career highs in tackles and interceptions, but he’s older, on the last year of his contract and had offseason shoulder surgery. Barton had his moments filling in for the injured Mychal Kendricks, but he also had some rookie mistakes as well. Brooks, meanwhile, is someone the franchise was so comfortable with that they kept their original first-round pick for the first time since 2011. He’s one of the faster linebackers you’ll see and has drawn comparisons to Wagner.
If the Seahawks want Brooks on the field as much as possible, he could not only start at SAM, but maybe he takes over for Wright at WILL, lessening Wright’s snaps by shifting him to SAM. This would, of course, leave Barton as the odd man out of the four, though he’d likely be the first guy in if either of those three were injured.
Another guy to watch for? Bruce Irvin. While it appears the Seahawks brought back their 2012 first-round pick to get after the quarterback, he played a lot of SAM during his previous Seattle tenure while rushing the passer on third down. With his experience in Seattle’s system, je could see some time at linebacker over the two young guys.
Carroll insinuated earlier this offseason that the role of nickel corner was Ugo Amadi’s to lose. Amadi, a 2019 fourth-round pick, didn’t play many snaps defensively until late in his rookie season. Part of that was coaches likely thinking he wasn’t ready, while another factor was how much the Seahawks played base defense with three linebackers.
With the NFL passing more than ever on offense, most teams played more nickel defense with three cornerbacks than base defense with three linebackers. The Seahawks played base defense nearly 70% of the time in 2020, far and away the most in the league.
But given the defense’s struggles, Seattle could opt for more nickel defense in 2020 with Amadi or someone else.
If not Amadi, then who?
One guess could be the loser of the Flowers-Dunbar battle trying their luck inside. Dunbar has experience at nickel.
Other options include veteran Neiko Thorpe, who is most known for his prowess on special teams. Linden Stephens could also be an option. He was on Seattle’s roster for a bit last season before being claimed by the Dolphins, where he appeared in three games. He was waived by Miami this offseason and the Seahawks were able to claim him off waivers.
Another option? Safeties Quandre Diggs and Marquise Blair.
Diggs was a cornerback early in his career with Detroit before shifting to safety and he lined up in the nickel a lot. Blair saw some looks in rare nickel and dime packages late in the season, and his size and speed could let him handle slot receivers.
Defensive end rotation
The Seahawks’ pass rush has been well discussed on this site for nearly a year, and there are still a lot of questions that have yet to be answered.
It starts with whether or not Jadeveon Clowney will be back. If not, who can step up for that unit? The Seahawks also lost Quinton Jefferson in free agency.
Rasheem Green is back and he led the Seahawks with four sacks last season. Branden Jackson will also return as an edge rusher, as will Shaquem Griffin and 2019 first-round pick L.J. Collier, who logged a disappointing rookie campaign. Will Green take another step forward? Can Griffin play a more substantial role? Can Jackson be more reliable? Can Collier flush his poor 2019 season and show why he was a first-round pick?
Seattle also added Irvin and Benson Mayowa as veteran pass rush options, and the two combine for 15.5 sacks last year. For reference, Seattle had 28 combined sacks. Can they replicate that sort of success in 2020?
The Seahawks also drafted two defensive ends in second-round pick Darrell Taylor and fifth-round pick Alton Robinson. With an abbreviated offseason and the potential loss of rookie minicamp, can those two make any sort of impact as rookies?
Mayowa, Irvin and Green will likely be first in the pecking order for snaps at least to start, but it will be interesting to see how that competition plays out as a whole.
The Seahawks tied for the second fewest sacks in the league last year. Improving that unit will go a long way towards improving the defense as a whole for 2020.
Look for the second look at roster battles, which focuses on offense, later this week on 710Sports.com.
Follow 710Sports.com’s Brandon Gustafson on Twitter.
Seahawks’ offseason ranked 26th by ESPN writer — Brock Huard agrees