Following the conclusion of a challenging season in which they finished 7-10 and missed the playoffs for the first time in five years, there's plenty of pessimism surrounding the Seahawks heading into a critical offseason.
After trade rumors swirled around the star quarterback last spring, speculation once again is running rampant about Russell Wilson's future with the franchise. The team doesn't have a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft as a result of the blockbuster trade to acquire safety Jamal Adams from the New York Jets. A number of key veterans such as safety Quandre Diggs and running back Rashaad Penny could bolt in free agency, creating more holes on the roster needing to be filled.
Additionally, whether fair or not given their track records, many fans question the decision to maintain status quo with general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll with the team winning a single playoff game in the past five years.
But if there's a reason to be bullish on the Seahawks turning things around and rebounding next season, a good starting point would be the emergence of their 2020 draft class. Led by linebacker Jordyn Brooks, the eight-player class is shaping up to be the best group Schneider and Carroll have picked since Wilson and perennial All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner came to town as part of their famous 2012 class.
Playing his first full season as a starter alongside Wagner, Brooks did his best to emulate the future Hall of Famer, starting all 17 games and racking up an NFL-best 184 tackles. Along with breaking Wagner's single-season franchise tackles record, he also tied him with 20 tackles in a single game during Seattle's Week 18 victory in Arizona. Pro Football Focus credited him with 48 stops, tied for 10th most in the league.
In addition, Brooks registered a team-high 10 tackles for loss and produced nine pressures, a sack, and three quarterback hits on just 56 blitz attempts, generating a respectable 16 percent pressure rate. Making an impact in a variety of ways for the Seahawks, he earned the first of what should be many All-Pro votes following in Wagner's footsteps.
If there's an area Brooks must make significant strides moving forward, Pro Football Focus charged him with 92 receptions for 1,010 yards allowed in coverage. He also surrendered seven touchdown receptions, the most for any linebacker in the NFL in 2021, while yielding a league-worst 129.6 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks.
Still, those raw numbers undersell clear improvements made by Brooks as a cover linebacker in his sophomore season. There were plenty of times he found himself well-positioned, only to be beaten by outstanding throws, and he did produce four pass breakups. Adjusting as the season progressed, he did a much better job of recognizing and reacting to screens down the stretch as well.
While Brooks stands out as Schneider's best first-round selection since Bruce Irvin nearly a decade ago and could take the torch from Wagner as the new face of the defense in time, he's not the only potential building block on that side of the football heralding from Seattle's 2020 draft class.
After missing the entirety of the 2020 season recovering from surgery to repair a stress fracture in his leg, defensive end Darrell Taylor enjoyed a promising pseudo-rookie season while playing in 16 out of 17 games for the Seahawks. Exhibiting excellent burst and explosion off the edge mixed with surprising power to complement his speed rushes, the former Tennessee standout produced 36 pressures on 326 pass rushing snaps for a respectable 11 percent pressure rate and finished second on the team with 6.5 sacks.
In order for Taylor to take a giant third-year leap for Seattle, he must shore up his tackling. PFF credited him with 11 missed tackles and a 33 percent missed tackle rate, the highest on the team for any player with 500 or more defensive snaps. A number of those misses came after he found his way into the pocket, as he struggled to bring quarterbacks to the ground after doing the dirty work to position himself for sacks.
If he can clean up his tackling and be more efficient finishing as a pass rusher, Taylor has a chance to evolve into the second-coming of Cliff Avril, which would provide a major boost for the team's inconsistent pass rush.
On the offensive side of the football, guard Damien Lewis endured a 2021 season to forget. After being named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team, injuries were a problem for the former third-round pick from the outset, as he missed three games with shoulder and wrist injuries and sat out a fourth due to testing positive for COVID-19. For most of the year, he played at well below 100 percent and it showed on the field.
Transitioning to left guard with veteran Gabe Jackson's arrival via trade, Lewis wasn't near as consistent as a run blocker compared to his rookie season. More notably, per PFF, he allowed 75 percent of the pressures (21) he did in 2020 on over 200 less pass blocking reps, struggling to keep Wilson and backup Geno Smith upright.
Still, Lewis exhibited great promise as a rookie and played well down the stretch helping open up holes for Penny. After drawing a league-high 12 penalties in 2020, he also played far more disciplined football with officials flagging him only five times. With a cleaner bill of health and a second year playing on the left side, his future remains bright and he should be a fixture in the trenches for years to come.
At the skill positions, fourth-round running back DeeJay Dallas hasn't received extended work on offense - he only played 16 more snaps in 2021 than he did as a rookie. But there was far more to be encouraged by than his rookie year on that side of the ball. He rushed 33 times for 138 yards and a healthy 4.2 yards per carry while forcing six missed tackles and added 21 receptions for 133 yards out of the backfield. He also showed notable growth as a pass protector after struggling with blitz pickups in his first season.
At worst, Dallas has been a competent rotational back offering special teams value as a returner and coverage ace. Depending on what happens with Penny and Alex Collins in free agency, he could see a substantial uptick in offensive playing time next year.
Receiver Freddie Swain also turned in a solid second season, doubling his production across the board with 25 receptions for 343 yards and four touchdowns. While his two biggest plays resulted from busted coverages, he displayed the ability to create after the catch in spells and proved effective enough on jet sweeps with five carries for 32 yards. Though he made some questionable decisions as a punt returner, he made great progress as a sixth-round pick and could be an even bigger focal point in 2022.
What truly makes Seattle's 2020 draft class intriguing, however, are the two players from the group who haven't done much on the field to this point but have tantalizing traits and skill sets.
At tight end, with injuries holding him back, Colby Parkinson has yet to become a factor in the passing game as envisioned. The athletic 6-foot-7 target got off to a fantastic start in training camp, only to re-injure the same foot he broke prior to his rookie season and start the year on injured reserve. Once he returned, he rarely saw the field and the Seahawks inexplicably used him primarily as a blocker, limiting him to two catches in the first 10 games he played in.
But late in the season, while he only caught three passes in the final two games, Wilson started to look for Parkinson more often and targeted him in the red zone three times. He only converted one of those opportunities into a catch, but he picked up a first down on the reception and with more chances, he will turn those targets into production. He just needs more chances and has the upside to be a difference maker down the road, particularly inside the opposing 20-yard line.
The same can be said for defensive end Alton Robinson, who tantalized as a rookie with 4.0 sacks in limited action. Unfortunately, that play didn't translate to the former fifth-round pick's second season with the Seahawks, as he registered just four quarterback hits and a sack on 371 defensive snaps in 2021. He simply wasn't able to get anything going after registering a strip-sack in a Week 2 loss to the Titans and left too many tackles on the field.
However, Robinson may have been more effective than realized amid limited playing time. Per PFF's data, he still produced a 10 percent pressure rate on 173 rushing opportunities, suggesting he could have played more. Armed with good size, athleticism, and a quality motor, he could still develop into a quality complementary rusher to Taylor, but his third year will critical to see if he can become a bigger fixture in the team's defensive line rotation.
Looking at the 2020 class as a whole, the Seahawks could have as many as seven players contributing as starters or key reserves on offense and defense next season. Several of those players will continue to excel on special teams as well.
At least two of those players - Brooks, Taylor, and possibly Lewis if he can bounce back - already have cemented themselves as starters and have Pro Bowl or All-Pro ceilings. Others such as Dallas, Parkinson, Swain, and Robinson have enough upside to make an impact as role players and potentially even develop into starters, offering similar day three value to players such as cornerback Jeremy Lane and guard J.R. Sweezy from the 2012 class.
Given the looming uncertainty around Wilson, the lack of draft picks, and prevailing questions about the direction of the franchise from a coaching and front office standpoint, it's not difficult to paint a bleak picture about the state of the Seahawks. But a young foundation built around Brooks, Taylor, and a deep 2020 draft class should inspire optimism better days lie ahead for the franchise.