2018 Draft Class Coming of Age for Seahawks, Plays Starring Role vs. Vikings
Fending off a furious comeback attempt, the Seahawks outlasted the Vikings for a 37-30 victory on Monday Night Football, catapulting the team into first place of the rugged NFC West.
While stars such as quarterback Russell Wilson made their usual share of spectacular plays, the majority of the heroes on Monday night were second-year players from Seattle’s 2018 draft class, contributing in all three phases to help dismiss Minnesota in prime time.
Offensively, running back Rashaad Penny continued his breakout tour, bolting through and around Vikings defenders while rushing for 74 yards and producing 107 total yards from scrimmage. He also scored two touchdowns in a game for the first time in his career, including rocketing to the end zone on a 13-yard screen pass to give the Seahawks a 17-point advantage.
“It’s all about confidence,” Penny told reporters after the game. “I believe in myself. I can play here. And then, of course, opportunities. That’s something that was lacking in the first half of the season, but I understood. I just stayed put and stayed grounded with where I was.”
Over the past two games, Penny has rushed for 203 yards and scored three touchdowns, playing at the level expected of a former first-round pick. With starter Chris Carson adding 102 rushing yards against a normally stout Minnesota defense, coach Pete Carroll loves what he’s seeing from Seattle’s thunder and lighting combination in the backfield.
“It is so much fun to see those two guys battling it out,” Carroll said. “I think Chris got 100 and Rashaad got 70-something. That’s fantastic.”
Penny was far from the only “sophomore” for the Seahawks growing up in front of fans at CenturyLink Field, however.
On the defensive side of the ball, defensive end Rasheem Green forced a fumble for a second straight game, punching the football out of star running back Dalvin Cook’s hands midway through the third quarter. Following Bradley McDougald’s recovery, Jason Myers made a short field goal to give Seattle its first lead of the game.
Last weekend in Philadelphia, Green strip-sacked Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and also registered a tackle for loss bringing down speedy receiver Greg Ward on a jet sweep. He’s been increasingly disruptive as the season has progressed, providing an excellent reserve option to rotate in alongside Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah.
“Going into year two, I feel like the game has slowed down,” Green said after the game. “I feel more comfortable, I’m finally healthy, and I feel like with all those things just coming together I’m finally making progress.”
In addition to Penny and Green shining as of late, Seattle has received outstanding production from a trio of fifth-round picks from the 2018 draft class.
Most notably, cornerback Tre Flowers continues to elevate his game. After a difficult start to the year, the former Oklahoma State safety has transformed himself into a reliable secondary counterpart for Shaquill Griffin during the past couple of months.
Flashing ridiculous hand-eye coordination, he snatched an interception off the hands of Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs on the first play of the fourth quarter, setting up Penny’s touchdown reception. After failing to pick off a pass in 15 starts as a rookie, Flowers now has three interceptions in 2019, including a pair in the past two victories.
Not bad for a player who Carroll indicated was puking in a garbage can between reps at practice earlier in the week.
“He’s playing a more complete game, and his mentality is really strong and he’s really believing in himself,” Carroll remarked. “It’s such a difficult position to play out there, and particularly for a guy that doesn’t have it in his history. He’s really grown into his own.”
Away from Flowers, fellow fifth rounder Shaquem Griffin continues to give Seattle valuable snaps as a situational edge rusher, while Michael Dickson has looked more like his All-Pro rookie self in recent weeks, regularly pinning opponents deep in their own territory to help his team win the field position battle.
Thanks to the ascendance of the franchise’s last two draft classes, particularly the 2018 group, the Seahawks look primed to win their first division title in three years. With the young players developing into legitimate NFL difference makers, Carroll couldn’t be more encouraged going into the final home stretch and believes the best is yet to come.
“I’m thrilled about it,” Carroll smiled. “We’ve not questioned the class at all, we like the heck out of those guys and they’re getting so much play time now, they’re really in the groove.”