NFC West
Photo Credit: USA Today

The 2018 Seattle Seahawks proved many doubters wrong by overperforming their season win total of eight and earning a postseason berth. Some might point to a hard-nosed run game and strong defense as the reason why they were able to surpass expectations, but a quick look at their season numbers will tell a different story.

  • 12th Pro Football Outsiders Adjusted Line Yards
  • 30th Pro Football Outsiders Adjusted Sack Rate
  • 7th points per game (26.8)
  • 15th yards per play (5.6)

How did they finish top-10 in scoring yet just 15th in yards per play? You can thank Russell Wilson for that. Wilson averaged 8.1 yards per attempt (6th in the league) and had 8.2% of his throws result in a touchdown, good for second behind Patrick Mahomes. Our own Brett Yarris’ offensive share metric (OSM) echoes this sentiment that Wilson was irreplaceable, ranking third according to his numbers. Despite the exceptional play of Wilson, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was persistent in establishing the run.

They had the second most rush attempts in the league, and while they were successful (5th in yards per attempt, 7th in Pro Football Reference’s expected points by rushing offense), it was (at the very least equally) Wilson‘s hyper-efficiency that was the heartbeat of the offense and the whole team.

The defense was also pretty mediocre across the board. They were 21st in interceptions (12), 13th in sacks (43), 15th in passing yards per attempt (7.5) and 29th in rushing yards per attempt (4.9). Where they made their money was in 3rd down conversion rate (5th at 35%) and scoring defense (4th in red zone percentage at 49%). Below are where they finished in other defensive categories.

  • 22nd Pro Football Outsiders Adjusted Line Yards
  • 14th Pro Football Outsiders Adjusted Sack Rate
  • 11th points per game (21.7)
  • 25th yards per play (5.9)

The bottom line is that this team was mostly average in a lot of aspects. With only four draft picks in the upcoming draft, any improvements will most likely come through free agency, which bodes well seeing as they have an estimated $52.9 million to work with.

Free Agency

Sorted by offense and defense, here is a list of key free agents on the Seattle Seahawks with their Pro Football Focus ranking in parenthesis. No number means they didn’t qualify for a ranking.

  • OG J.R Sweezy (71/77)
  • OG D.J. Fluker (68/77)
  • RB Mike Davis (25/62)
  • CB Justin Coleman (54/112)
  • CB Niko Thorpe
  • DE Dion Jordan (56/103)
  • DE Frank Clark (18/103)
  • DT Shamar Stephen (98/112)
  • FS Earl Thomas
  • SS Maurice Alexander
  • OLB K.J. Wright (27/92)
  • OLB Mychal Kendricks

Considering how important Wilson was to the team’s success, upgrading his protection should be one of the priorities this offseason. The Seahawks’ tackles played well this season, but the entire interior of the offensive line needs to be upgraded. It works out that both starting guards are also free agents. I highlighted both Matt Paradis and Mitch Morse in my Arizona Cardinals team needs article.  Seattle should look to sign one of those centers if they can. There are also several premium guards the Seahawks can target, including Rodger Saffold (Los Angeles Rams), Ben Garland (Atlanta Falcons), Ramon Foster (Pittsburgh Steelers), Michael Person (San Francisco 49ers) and Matt Slauson (Indianapolis Colts). Some of those players will probably be franchised, but a few should hit the market and Seattle should attempt to sign one.

RB Mike Davis finished with a high PFF ranking, but I wouldn’t exactly call him a priority this offseason. According to Pro Football Network’s exclusive offensive share metric, Chris Carson outperformed his expected duties earning him a grade of 36.6 (highest being 42.2). Considering Carson and last year’s first round pick Rashaad Penny still being on the roster, it wouldn’t surprise me if they let Davis walk.

Other than being a potentially sneaky suitor for Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receiver Antonio Brown, I don’t think the Seahawks need to do much with their WR corps. Doug Baldwin was never fully healthy last year so having him at 100% will be an upgrade. Eastern Central’s own David Moore showed some flashes so they could stick with him in a starting role. The biggest contributor was Tyler Lockett, who had a ridiculous touchdown per target rate (1/6.2) and was the biggest benefactor of Wilson’s hyper-efficient 2018. He had an OSM grade of 40 (on par with Michael Thomas) and was above average in separation and catch rate. John Brown would be a great fit for Seattle, but given their run-first philosophy, I doubt they’d attempt to sign him if they are happy with the trio of Baldwin, Lockett, and Moore.

Safety Earl Thomas is pretty much gone after suffering a season-ending injury amidst sitting out practices and making it clear he was putting his career first. There are some appealing targets in the market such as LaMarcus Joyner (Rams), Haha-Clinton Dix (Washington Redskins), Landon Collins (New York Giants), Tre Boston (Arizona Cardinals) and Kenny Vaccaro (Tennessee Titans) to name a few that the Seahawks can look to for a play-maker on the back end.

Their cornerback group graded out reasonably average for the most part, as impending free agent Justin Coleman (54/112) finished as the highest graded player. I would attempt to keep him just for continuity purposes and continue to groom Tre Flowers and Shaquill Griffin, who are entering their second and third seasons, respectively. If they do want to pursue a free agent, the class is headlined by Jason McCourty (New England), Bryce Callahan (Chicago), and Pierre Desir (Indianapolis) who ranked 6th, 7th, and 18th/112 respectively.

Other than retaining K.J. Wright I wouldn’t worry too much about the linebackers. Bobby Wagner is a stud, so any additions would be primarily for depth.

Having finished 8th in both sacks and quarterback hits, Clark should be at the top of the priority list for Seattle. His 13 sacks were good for 30% of the team’s total output, and at just 26 years old, it would be foolish not to emphasize returning him for next season and beyond. Finding a guy to pair with him would be nice, and one name I find intriguing is Ezekiel Ansah (Detroit Lions). Ansah has had an up and down career due to injuries, but I’ve read many times before that as far as raw ability goes few can stand up to Ansah. He could be brought in on a one year “prove it deal” and bolster a pass rush that was already a respectable 13th in sacks this past year.

Improving the run defense should be on the list as well, though most of the impending free agent defensive tackles are over 30 years old. It isn’t a death sentence, but it might be an area they look to the draft to improve, considering the dearth of defensive talent that this draft is supposed to offer. One player who is just 28 years old is Sheldon Richardson. Richardson finished 47th out of 112 qualifiers according to PFF and considering the lack of funds the Minnesota Vikings possess (highlighted in PFN’s own Tyler Olson’s Vikings offseason outlook) he has a real chance to hit the open market. 

Danny Shelton is another player the Seahawks could have a lot of interest in. He finished 27/112 DT’s according to PFF and graded out superior in run defense when compared to Richardson. It wouldn’t surprise me if New England decided to franchise him, but if he does hit the market, it‘s a name the Seahawks should heavily pursue.

Surprisingly enough the free agent DT who had the highest run defense grade was Ndamukong Suh, but I doubt Seattle wants to take on his personality considering they have recently gotten rid of Richard Sherman and (it appears) Earl Thomas.

Draft Strategy

Listed below are the draft picks available to Seattle come April:

  • Round 1 Pick 21
  • Round 3 Pick 84
  • Round 4 Pick 117
  • Round 5 Pick 148

With just four picks available, there isn’t much the Seahawks can hope to accomplish in this year’s draft, which is why the emphasis should be put on free agency. I did not cover tight end above because this draft is supposed to have an abundance of TE talent. One of the top prospects (T.J. Hockenson Iowa) is slated to be available right around where Seattle picks in round one, and considering there are opportunities to improve other areas of the team via free agency, Hockenson is a guy they could heavily consider at 21. If they get word Houston is not interested in Hockenson they could even try and trade down to 30 and still potentially land the prospect from Iowa. Other than Hockenson, I would try and trade down where I can, given the lack of picks the Seahawks possess.

I think it is a massive mistake for Seattle to remain run heavy and not take advantage of Wilson’s arm. Yarris sums up the offense based on his research:

“Overall, this offense is reliable but lacks dynamics. Wilson is asked to do a lot in terms of difficulty, and his receivers do the best he can. Lockett stands out as being the dynamic play-maker with 10 touchdowns and leading the team in yards but saw way too few targets. Players are doing the best with what they’re asked to do, but in my opinion, this offense’s shortcomings, the few there are, are on the offensive coaching. A shift in focus from Baldwin to Lockett is in order.”

I agree that the philosophy needs to change to take advantage of Wilson’s immense ability better. Seattle overperformed their expectations in 2018, but with some key signings and a healthy Wilson, they’ll have a chance to be a serious contender in 2019.