Training Camp Preview: Tight Ends

Unexpectedly, tight ends didn't contribute much to the Seahawks passing game in 2020. Will that change with the arrival of offensive coordinator Shane Waldron and free agent signee Gerald Everett joining a healthy Will Dissly and Colby Parkinson?
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Following a long offseason - okay, compared to the nightmare that was 2020, the past several months have been a breeze - the Seahawks will officially usher in the 2021 season by reporting to training camp on July 27.

Continuing our camp preview series, here's a close look at the state of the tight end position, including the depth chart, a key question that must be answered, and a bold prediction for the upcoming season.

2020 In Review

With Will Dissly returning from an Achilles injury, Jacob Hollister coming off a career year, and three-time All-Pro Greg Olsen joining the team in free agency, the Seahawks entered the 2020 season with high expectations for their tight end unit. Unfortunately, the group as a whole largely underperformed, as Olsen produced only 24 receptions for 239 yards and a single touchdown, Hollister caught 25 passes for 209 yards and three scores, and Dissly reeled in 24 receptions for 254 yards and a pair of scores. The team also received minimal contributions from fourth-round pick Colby Parkinson, who missed the first half of the season on the Non-Football Injury list recovering from a fractured foot and only caught two passes in six games.

What's New?

In an expected move, Olsen announced his retirement before the Super Bowl in February, stepping away from the game after 14 NFL seasons. Hollister also departed in free agency, reuniting with his former college quarterback Josh Allen in Buffalo. In response, the Seahawks orchestrated a reunion of their own by signing ex-Rams tight end Gerald Everett to a one-year deal, linking him back up with offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, who coached him each of his first four seasons.

Depth Chart

Starter: Gerald Everett

After primarily serving as a reserve in four seasons with the Rams, Everett's arrival in the Pacific Northwest should give quarterback Russell Wilson an upgrade in the receiving department at tight end. While he's made improvements as a blocker, his greatest assets will be his ability to stretch the field vertically and creating yardage after the catch, an area that has been problematic for Seattle in prior seasons. He also will provide Waldron with tremendous versatility from a formational standpoint, as he can line up as an in-line blocker, run routes from the slot and outside, and previously has seen snaps as an H-back out of the backfield.

Reserves: Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson, Tyler Mabry, Cam Sutton, Dom Wood-Anderson

Though Dissly's production was a bit disappointing compared to his injury-shortened first two NFL seasons and he went long stretches without contributing in the passing game, he managed to play in all 16 games for the first time in his career and remained a quality run blocker. Now more than a year removed from his Achilles injury, he should be primed to a bounce-back season entering the final year of his rookie contract and will continue to see extensive snaps.

As far as wild cards go, Parkinson's size (6-foot-7, 265 pounds), athleticism (4.77 40-yard dash), and soft hands make him a potential matchup nightmare for opponents, particularly in the red zone. Per coach Pete Carroll, he used his extensive time sidelined by injury last year to get stronger in the weight room and if that work translates to improved blocking, the door could be opened for him to push for significant snaps.

While Sutton and Wood-Anderson will be hard-pressed to stick around beyond a practice squad signing, Mabry impressed during training camp last August as an undrafted rookie out of Maryland. A stellar blocker who flashed better-than-advertised athletic traits in mock scrimmages, if he shows substantial improvement coming off a year on the practice squad and contributes on special teams, it's not out of the realm of possibility Seattle considers retaining him as a fourth tight end on the active roster.

Key Question

How much will tight ends be emphasized in the passing game in Shane Waldron's offensive scheme?

While injuries to Olsen and Parkinson impacted Seattle's overall production from tight ends a year ago, former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's scheme didn't consistently cater towards getting them involved as receivers. Wilson also missed out on opportunities to lean on his tight ends as security blankets in the middle of the field, particularly when the offense started to sputter in the closing two months.

But if Waldron follows the footsteps of Rams coach Sean McVay, tight ends should be a far bigger piece of the puzzle for the Seahawks passing game moving forward. Under McVay's watch, Los Angeles primarily utilizes 12 personnel with two tight ends on the field and both Higbee and Everett were productive secondary weapons for quarterback Jared Goff over the past four seasons. Between the two players, they averaged 72 receptions and 807 receiving yards as a tandem during that span.

With Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf starring on the outside, Everett, Dissly, and Parkinson won't be Wilson's primary option. But just as Goff did orchestrating McVay's attack in recent years, when opponents do take away his top two receivers, he should be well-equipped to make them pay by turning to the trio of tight ends as complementary weapons in Seattle's aerial arsenal.

Bold Prediction

Out of Higbee's shadow, Everett will become the first Seahawks tight end since Jimmy Graham to post at least 550 receiving yards and six touchdowns in a season.

Looking at Everett's career numbers to this point, his 127 receptions, 1,389 receiving yards, and eight touchdowns aren't jaw-dropping. The former second-round pick out of South Alabama has never surpassed 417 receiving yards or three touchdowns in a season. But in joining the Seahawks with Waldron, he has an excellent chance to finally be the No. 1 tight end and will be catching passes from one of the game's best quarterbacks in Wilson, which should open the door to increased opportunities for him. Given his ability to win down the seam, break tackles after the catch, and consistently move the chains, he's a strong bet to emerge as Seattle's No. 3 target behind Metcalf and Lockett, setting him up for a possible breakout year and a chance to cash in as a free agent next March.