After leading the NFL in sacks over the final 10 weeks of last season, the Seattle Seahawks:
Factor in strong safety Jamal Adams (who set the NFL’s sack record for a defensive back with 9.5) as well as other returning players, and the Seahawks are as deep off the edge as they’ve been since their 2013 Super Bowl team.
No one, however, will confuse their current group of cornerbacks for the Legion of Boom.
After taking stock of their offense last week, here’s a position-by-position look at the Seahawks’ defense, with a verdict on whether each is better, worse or the same as last season.
Better, worse or the same: Better
At least on the edge. They downgraded at one of their starting defensive tackle spots after releasing Reed under bizarre circumstances. Woods, in line to replace him on early downs, is 34 years old, opted out of last season and is solely a run-stuffer.
That means the Seahawks need Ford to continue to grow as a pass-rusher like he did last season. Playing Collier at tackle more often — Seattle’s bigger defensive ends typically move inside in passing situations — would be another way to help make up for Reed’s absence. It would also make sense with a surplus on the edge in Dunlap, Mayowa, Hyder, Robinson, Green, Taylor and Smith — if he makes the team. It’s no sure thing given Smith’s minimum-salary contract (only $137,500 in guarantees) and his latest legal troubles.
The Seahawks want to manage Dunlap’s snaps to keep the 32-year-old fresh throughout a 17-game season. Having a deep rotation of edge players will help.
Robinson is a young player to watch. Last year’s fifth-round pick finished second among rookies in sacks (4.0) and third in pressures (16) despite playing the 47th-most defensive snaps (324), according to ESPN Stats & Information research. There is some thought within the organization that he should have played more.
Better, worse or the same: The same
This is the toughest position to call.
Will younger, more athletic and more versatile mean better? That’s what the Seahawks are hoping by replacing Wright in their starting lineup with Taylor. But that’s not a given considering they’re going from Mr. Reliable to an unproven and inexperienced player in Taylor, who spent his entire rookie season on the Non-Football Injury List.
That swap could make them better if Taylor becomes a playmaking, pass-rushing threat like Irvin did when he started playing strong-side linebacker in 2013. It could make them worse if Taylor doesn’t stay healthy or doesn’t make that transition as well as Irvin. So we’ll split the difference for now and call it the same.
Brooks, last year’s first-round pick, could also make this group better since he’s in line to play more than he did during his quietly strong rookie season.
Losses: Lano Hill
Better, worse or the same: The same
There were no notable changes here, with the Seahawks returning their top five safeties from last year. Even then, there’s a case to be made that this group is better by virtue of Adams being healthy after he dealt with one injury after another last season, including one to his groin that sidelined him for four games.
Blair’s return from a torn ACL could also make this group better depending on how close to top form he can get coming off a torn ACL. He looked like a breakout candidate until he got hurt in Week 2. The silver lining in going down so early is that Blair is on track to be ready well ahead of this year’s opener. He and Amadi are expected to handle nickelback duties again.
Better, worse or the same: Worse
The Seahawks don’t regret letting Griffin walk for a three-year, $40 million deal with the Jaguars, believing they would have had to overpay to keep him. But they know that his departure leaves cornerback as their iffiest position group.
They identified Witherspoon as their top target in free agency if they had to replace Griffin, then signed him to a one-year, $4 million deal. He looks the part of a long, athletic Seahawks corner but was up and down over four seasons with the 49ers. There’s a reason he got paid a fraction of what Griffin did in free agency.
Witherspoon and Reed seem like the most likely candidates to start on the outside. There’s enough experience between those two and enough quality depth behind them. But there isn’t an obvious blue-chip player in the group.