Seahawks Position Review: Offensive Line in State of Flux
Nearly a month after their season ended at Lambeau Field, the Seahawks have put the 2019 season in the rear view mirror and have transitioned focus to fortifying the roster for 2020.
Revisiting a successful 11-win season that culminated in advancing to the NFC Divisional Round, we’re going to look back at each of Seattle’s positional groups with player grades, top plays, and a key question that will need to be answered during the offseason.
Continuing our position review series, let’s analyze Seattle’s offensive line, a unit that struggled to meet expectations due to injuries and inconsistent play.
Prior to the start of the season, starting left tackle Duane Brown proclaimed the Seahawks offensive line had a "chance to be the best in the league," and given the fact four starters were returning from 2018, few batted an eye at the comment. But from the outset, the group couldn't meet its own lofty standards, in large part due to injuries. Brown battled through knee and bicep issues for most of the season and eventually underwent surgery, center Justin Britt suffered a season-ending torn ACL in Week 8, and reserve Ethan Pocic landed on injured reserve twice with neck and sports hernia ailments. As a result, the projected starting lineup heading into the season only played five games together as a unit, and even the backups struggled to stay healthy.
Duane Brown: B
Grinding through two painful injuries, Brown managed to start 12 games for the Seahawks and returned from minor knee surgery for the divisional round against the Packers. Playing at well below 100 percent, he wasn't able to replicate his Second-Team All-Pro performance from 2018, but he still earned a respectable 74.1 grade from Pro Football Focus after surrendering just one sack against Russell Wilson and committing two penalties.
D.J. Fluker: C+
Rebounding from a slow start and a hamstring injury that cost him two games, Fluker resumed his role as Seattle's enforcer in the trenches, helping the team finish fourth in the league in rushing yards. After playing in only 10 games in his first season with the Seahawks, he started 16 games, including both postseason contests. However, he also struggled in pass protection, giving up six sacks in 2019, tied for third-most by a guard in the NFL.
Justin Britt: C+
Before succumbing to injury, Britt wasn't necessarily having his best season. He gave up two sacks in Seattle's first seven games, equaling his total from 16 games in 2018. But he remained one of the team's unsung leaders in the locker room and thanks in part to his run blocking, Chris Carson averaged over 100 yards per game on the ground in his final four starts before landing on injured reserve.
Mike Iupati: B-
Though he missed both of Seattle's playoff games with a neck stinger, Iupati's first season in Seattle should be considered a success primarily because he played in all 16 regular season games for the first time since 2012. Like Fluker, Iupati excelled as a run blocker and wasn't near as effective protecting Wilson, surrendering five sacks in 15 starts. He also struggled with penalties, committing eight of them, third-most by any guard in the league.
Germain Ifedi: B
Penalties still remain a major problem for Ifedi, who finished tied for fifth in the NFL with 13 of them this season. But he was the only starting lineman on the Seahawks to start all 16 games and after a sluggish start, he played fantastic football down the stretch. After giving up three sacks in Seattle's first five games, he surrendered only three in the final 11 games, showing marked improvement in pass protection heading into free agency.
George Fant: B
Fant served an important role as a pseudo tight end both in the run and pass game for the Seahawks. Combining four starts in place of left tackle Duane Brown with his tight end duties, the ex-Western Kentucky basketball star played 472 offensive snaps and played at least 20 snaps in eight games. His value as a sixth lineman may help his chances of landing a starting tackle job in 2020, whether back in Seattle or with another team.
Jamarco Jones: B-
Forced into action at guard, a position he had never played at any level prior to the NFL, Jones impressed in spot starts filling in for Fluker and Iupati during the season. While he couldn't generate the push off the line of scrimmage as a run blocker, he actually may have been an upgrade over his peers in pass protection. The only thing weighing down Jones' final grade was a dismal start at left tackle in Week 16.
Joey Hunt: C-
Undersized at 299 pounds, Hunt was challenged by stronger, more talented defensive tackles each week and struggled mightily at times. He gave up three sacks in just eight starts, which tied for the fourth-most by any center in the league. But the former sixth round pick out of TCU deserves major kudos for playing through a stress fracture in his leg during the final two months of the season.
Ethan Pocic: D
For the second straight season, injuries prevented Pocic from making much of an impact, as he played in only four games. When he did suit up, he was often overmatched against stronger defenders and received a poor 43.3 grade from Pro Football Focus. Heading into the final year of his rookie contract, there's no guarantee he will be on Seattle's roster next September.
Phil Haynes: D
Undergoing sports hernia surgery before training camp, Haynes opened the regular season on the PUP list and didn't play any regular season snaps after being activated in November. But the rookie avoided receiving an F grade by filling in admirably as a replacement for Jones in the second half of a divisional round loss at Green Bay. As long as he stays healthy, he will be in the mix for a starting role at left guard in 2020.
Top Play of 2019
Rashaad Penny makes a 58-yard house call to silence the Philly faithful on the road.
There's nothing flashy about this play, but a strong argument can be made this was the best execution by Seattle's offensive line as a unit all season long. The Seahawks run a trap out of shotgun and Iupati does an excellent job squaring up on the unblocked defensive tackle, who takes the bait and penetrates too far upfield. Fluker and Ifedi both successfully get to the second level, creating a seam for Penny to explode through. Even Jacob Hollister gets in on the act by briefly getting hands on Malcolm Jenkins, springing the back for a game-clinching touchdown.
Will the Seahawks fill gaps along the offensive line with veteran signings? Or will the team look to a deep draft class to address these needs?
Coach Pete Carroll would like to keep Seattle's offensive line together as much as possible heading into 2020, but that may not be easy. Ifedi, Fant, and Iupati will all be unrestricted free agents, while Britt will be coming back from a severe knee injury and carries a cap hit exceeding $11 million next season. Tough choices will need to be made, including the possibility Britt could be a cap casualty.
Based on how teams have thrown money at even average offensive linemen on the market the past few years, there's a good chance Seattle could lose both Ifedi and Fant. Signs already point towards Fant's departure, while Ifedi's youth and improvements under Mike Solari could net him a lucrative deal elsewhere. As for Iupati, he's going to turn 33 in May and the team may want to go younger at left guard.
Seattle has enough cap space to potentially reel in a big fish such as guard Brandon Scherff or tackle Jack Conklin in free agency. But would signing either be the wisest use of financial resources? Though both players would fill big holes up front, that may not be the case given the depth at tackle and center in this year's draft class.
Picking at No. 27 overall, the Seahawks could have several capable tackles to choose from as replacements for Ifedi and Fant, including Josh Jones out of Houston, Mekhi Becton out of Louisville, and Prince Tega Wanagho out of Auburn. Even if Britt remains on the roster, quality center options such as Lloyd Cushenberry out of LSU could also be available for consideration.