Analysis: 3 Defensive Dark Horse Candidates to Make Seahawks' 53-Man Roster

Which back-of-the-roster players should Seahawks fans keep an eye on in the preseason? Here are three dark horse candidates who could etch out a role for themselves on defense.
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Teams with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations typically don't have many open roster spots heading into training camp. Even in Pete Carroll's ultra-competitive domain, folks can get a good idea of who will make up most of the Seahawks' 53-man roster.

The key word there being "most," because there is, naturally, some uncertainty towards the back end of each team's roster. And for the Seahawks, that even extends to their starting lineup, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. 

Because of the competition that Carroll breeds, it's anyone's game for the few spots that remain. Going through each level of the defense, we'll be taking a look at three players who, with a strong preseason and some good fortunes, can crack the team's active roster this summer.

DT Walter Palmore

Defensive tackle is an interesting spot for the Seahawks. At face value, it appears they have a solidified group of four with Poona Ford, Al Woods, Bryan Mone and Robert Nkemdiche. But that group also doesn't inspire a ton of confidence, with Seattle banking on quite a bit of projection towards the back end. If one of Mone or Nkemdiche struggle in camp and the preseason, that could open the door for players like Palmore and Cedrick Lattimore to stake their claim. Palmore has as much NFL game experience as Lattimore does, but he also has a cup of coffee in the XFL under his belt and a history of stout rush defense dating back to his days at Missouri. While it's going to take some help in front of him, he has the tools to edge out Lattimore and put himself in prime position to steal a roster spot. 

For more on Palmore, check out our offseason primer

LB Aaron Donkor

It doesn't look like K.J. Wright and the Seahawks will be sticking together after a long, drawn-out free agency process for the former, so there may be one spot up for grabs in this group. Bobby Wagner, Jordyn Brooks, Darrell Taylor, Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven are all but locks, but Seattle has historically kept six linebackers on its past rosters. For now, the favorite to nab that theoretical spot is undrafted free agent Jon Rhattigan, but don't rule out the German sensation Donkor. Allocated via the International Player Pathway Program, Donkor presents some unique athletic traits and the Seahawks' coaching staff has been fired up to have him thus far. Though it makes more sense to utilize the practice squad exemption the program affords them for his first year in the NFL, which would prevent him from playing in 2021, he could force their hand if he outshines Rhattigan on special teams. 

For more on Donkor, check out our offseason primer.

CB Gavin Heslop

There are plenty of names to comb through at cornerback for the Seahawks, with most of the focus being placed on who starts opposite D.J. Reed on the outside. But while there are at least five players competing for that role, only one or two are virtually locked into a roster spot no matter what happens. Heslop is a special teams stud with an All-CAA background for his work as a corner at Stony Brook. Assuming players like Pierre Desir and Damarious Randall are as equally on the proverbial roster bubble as he is, a solid outing in the preseason could favor the younger Heslop. And things could get even more interesting if the team decides to move on from Tre Flowers. So while it's easy for him to get lost in Seattle's crowded room of defensive backs, this battle could easily play to Heslop's strengths. It'll likely take some impressive work on special teams and he can certainly oblige on that front.

For more on Heslop, check out our offseason primer.