Skip to main content

Analysis: 3 Seahawks Facing Most Pressure to Perform in 2021

Exiting a drama-filled offseason, the Seahawks will begin their NFC West title defense when they report for training camp next month. Which players will have the most pressure on them to play at a high level in 2021?

After putting a bow on a successful offseason program with the conclusion of their three-day mandatory minicamp last week, school is out for the summer as the Seahawks will now enjoy six weeks off before reporting for training camp in late July.

As the team prepares to defend their NFC West title in one of the league's most difficult divisions, which Seahawks will have the most pressure to perform at a high level in 2021?

Whether replacing a Pro Bowler in the secondary or anchoring the offensive line in front of Russell Wilson, the following three Seahawks will be critical to the team’s Super Bowl aspirations this upcoming season.

Ethan Pocic, Center

Back in February, quarterback Russell Wilson made waves by airing his frustrations about getting hit too much, which helped spearhead trade speculation that persisted up until the draft. Given those comments, many expected the Seahawks to seek an upgrade at the center position to address pass protection concerns.

But while Seattle did trade a fifth round pick to Las Vegas for guard Gabe Jackson, the front office decided to keep the rest of the offensive line from a year ago intact. This included surprisingly bypassing centers in free agency and the draft in favor of re-signing Pocic, who started 14 games at the pivot position in 2020, to a one-year deal.

Looking back at his first season as a starter at his natural position, while Pocic was far from dominant, he proved to be serviceable replacing Justin Britt. Logging 932 offensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus, he allowed only two sacks and a trio of quarterback hits on 607 pass plays while drawing just three penalties. He wasn't quite as stellar in the run blocking department, finishing 23rd out of 30 qualified centers.

By bringing Pocic back, the Seahawks' front office put their faith in the former second round pick out of LSU taking a big leap forward in 2021. If he's able to improve as a run blocker and posts a similar season keeping Wilson upright, the decision not to add competition at the position will have worked out and it's possible he could be re-signed on a longer deal next spring.

But if Pocic doesn't progress as Seattle believes he will or even regresses, the choice to not pursue a veteran upgrade in free agency or draft the likes of Creed Humphrey and Quinn Meinerz in the second round of the draft could haunt the organization for years to come.

Darrell Taylor, Linebacker/Defensive End

While the door for K.J. Wright returning hasn't been closed just yet, the Seahawks seem content with moving forward with a younger, more athletic linebacker corps featuring Jordyn Brooks and Taylor alongside Bobby Wagner.

It shouldn't come as a surprise Seattle has shifted Taylor, who played linebacker and defensive end at Tennessee, to the SAM linebacker role once occupied by Bruce Irvin. Possessing a similar build to his predecessor, he led the SEC in sacks during his final two seasons with the Volunteers and brings a pass rushing element to the position that Wright simply can't provide. Coach Pete Carroll emphasized that versatility when discussing Taylor's progress this spring.

But making the switch from the ever-reliable Wright to Taylor, who has yet to play a down in the NFL after missing his rookie season rehabbing from leg surgery, carries enormous risk for Carroll's defense. While Wright isn't known for his athleticism and has lost a step, that deficiency wasn't an issue at the strongside spot last year and he did a remarkable job using his length and instincts to set the edge as a run defender, helping shore up a problematic area the defense struggled with one year earlier. Can Taylor do the same? That remains to be seen.

Wright also showed in 2020 he could still play coverage at a high level despite his diminishing speed and quickness. He finished with 10 passes defensed and also reeled in an impressive one-handed interception. While Taylor looked comfortable dropping back into coverage during Seattle's offseason program, handling those duties in actual game situations will be a different animal.

Back healthy, Taylor faces immense pressure to succeed for a couple of reasons. After not contributing at all last year, the onus will fall on him to prove the Seahawks were justified trading away a third-round pick to move up in the draft to select him. But most importantly, he will be stepping into the lineup in place of a franchise legend in Wright, who may have turned in his best season in 2020. Those are some massive shoes to fill and if he struggles, fans will lament that the team moved on from Wright.

Ahkello Witherspoon, Cornerback

After coming up short in their efforts to retain Shaquill Griffin, who signed with the Jaguars, the Seahawks wasted little time finding a potential successor by signing Witherspoon to a one-year, $4 million deal.

As the player noted himself, Witherspoon has been on Seattle's radar dating back to his time at Colorado, where he led the nation with 19 passes defensed and produced four interceptions as a senior in 2016. He visited the team during the pre-draft process before ultimately being selected by San Francisco early in the third round. With him off the board, Seattle selected Griffin 24 picks later.

While Griffin battled his own inconsistency issues to an extent, particularly during the 2018 and 2020 seasons, the Seahawks are taking a bit of a gamble by opting to replace the former Pro Bowler and four-year starter with Witherspoon, who lost his starting job numerous times during his time with the 49ers due to wildly erratic performance. He also missed 17 games in his first first four seasons due to injury issues, so durability remains a question mark as well.

This is a classic case of general manager John Schneider taking a chance on a talented young player who fits Seattle's scheme on an affordable, low-risk, high-reward "prove it" deal. Possessing great size (6-foot-3) and length (33-inch arms), Witherspoon also has quality athletic traits, as he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds and posted a 38-inch vertical jump prior to the draft. There's a reason the organization was so intrigued by him before the 2017 draft.

Witherspoon checks off all the boxes Schneider and Carroll look for at outside cornerback, but he has yet to put everything together and if he can't match Griffin's play, the secondary could take a significant step back. Still, he's only 26 years old and Seattle will be banking on a change of scenery bringing the best out of him. Assuming he stays healthy and maintains his confidence, he could emerge as one of the league's best free agent value signings while setting himself up for a big contract next March.