With the calendar officially flipping to July, the Seahawks have less than a month until officially reporting for training camp. As anticipated following the departures of Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner amid a turbulent offseason, the franchise enters a new season with low expectations from media and fans alike.
What would it take for Seattle to surprise and contend in the NFC West in 2022? Good fortune would certainly be a key ingredient, as would the emergence of a viable starting quarterback with a looming battle between Drew Lock and Geno Smith on tap. But aside from finding a respectable successor for Wilson, the team will need a handful of veterans to break through with career years to help prove prognosticators wrong and defy the odds stacked against them.
Which players could have the power to keep the Seahawks in the playoff hunt and surpass outside expectations? These six candidates entering make-or-break campaigns could help swing the tide with breakout campaigns:
Considering Penny led the NFL in rushing yards and finished second in rushing touchdowns over the final five weeks of the 2021 season, his inclusion on this list may seem unwarranted. However, the former first-round pick still has never eclipsed 800 rushing yards in a season and injuries have been a persistent problem for him since arriving out of San Diego State in 2018, so he still has much left to prove after signing a one-year, $5.75 million contract in March.
With the Seahawks set to roll out Drew Lock or Geno Smith under center, the run game will be emphasized more than ever before and for the explosive 235-pound back to earn himself a more lucrative contract, he must demonstrate he can not only stay healthy, but handle the workload expected of a bell cow back for the entirety of a season. If he can come close to replicating his performance from last December and January while managing to avoid the injuries that have dogged him to this point, he could be a Pro Bowl or even All-Pro caliber difference maker that keeps Seattle's offense humming even without Wilson and set himself up for a big payday next spring.
Only one year into his NFL career, it would be unjust to tout Eskridge as a bust, especially considering his difficult rookie season centered around a severe concussion that cost him seven of Seattle’s first eight games. Nobody knows how much better his numbers (10 catches, 62 yards, one touchdown) would have looked if not for the injury. But whether fair or not, his trajectory will always be compared to Chiefs center Creed Humphrey, who the Seahawks opted to bypass in favor of selecting the speedy receiver and return specialist at No. 56 overall.
With Humphrey already looking like a perennial All-Pro talent, there’s a lot of added pressure on Eskridge to make a big jump in his sophomore campaign and emerge as a viable weapon complementing DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Whether through screens, jet sweeps, or short crossing routes, offensive coordinator Shane Waldron has to do a better job manufacturing touches for him in the passing and running game to capitalize on his speed and ability to create after the catch. If he becomes a consistent contributor on offense to go along with potential return duties, he could be a significant factor in Seattle exceeding outside expectations.
Few NFL tight ends offer the combination of size (6-foot-7, 265 pounds), speed (4.71 40-yard dash), and soft hands Parkinson does. But the former fourth-round pick out of Stanford has largely been a non-factor in his first two seasons, set back by a pair of of foot injuries that led to him missing extended time in training camp. Behind the eight ball upon his return to action, he hasn't been able to carve out consistent playing time and only caught seven passes for 49 yards in 20 career games so far.
With the addition of Noah Fant via the Wilson trade and re-signing of Will Dissly in free agency, Parkinson won't be a starter for the Seahawks. But as Waldron seeks to employ tight ends as a greater focal point in the passing game, he should see a substantial increase in snaps if healthy, particularly in the red zone where his size and receiving ability should make him a matchup nightmare for opposing linebackers and safeties. A healthy, productive Parkinson coupled with Fant, Dissly, and an array of pass catchers on the outside would give Seattle one of the best skill position groups in the NFL, which could help offset the drop off in quarterback talent.
For the most part, Collier has failed to come close to meeting expectations as a former first-round pick. The ex-TCU standout missed most of training camp his rookie year with an ankle injury and produced only three tackles in 11 games. Though he rebounded with a solid second year and generated 3.0 sacks in 16 start in 2020, a lackluster preseason pushed him out of Seattle's defensive line rotation entirely for most of the first half last season. Despite being healthy, he was held out of seven of the first 10 regular season contests.
Entering the final year of his rookie deal after his fifth-year option was expectedly declined, coming off a dreadful season, Collier is officially down to his final chance to make an impact for the Seahawks and expectations remain low. Bulking back up to around 290 pounds this offseason and looking powerful during OTAs and minicamp, however, he will be playing defensive tackle extensively in a 3-4 scheme, which could cater better to his strengths. Similar to what Penny did a year ago, if he can find his niche as a pass rusher inside and elevate his play hunting down quarterbacks in a new role, he could play his way back into the franchise's future plans and give the defense a surprise boost.
In his first three NFL seasons, Barton has primarily served as a special teams stalwart for the Seahawks, logging north of 300 snaps in the third phase of the game each of those seasons. While he did earn five spot starts as an injury replacement, he found himself stuck behind Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, and Jordyn Brooks without a clear avenue to defensive playing time. Going into the final year of his rookie deal, that has changed with Wagner now in Los Angeles, leaving huge shoes for the ex-Utah star to attempt to fill in the middle.
From an athleticism standpoint, Barton has all the tools to be a quality starter in Wagner's stead. A former safety, he's a smooth mover dropping into coverage and has made a handful of plays against the pass in limited action. He's also been a tackle machine against the run, posting double-digit tackles in three of his five career starts. Since he hasn't started more than two games in a row at any point, questions remain about his viability as an every down starter, if he can play as well as he did replacing Wagner over the final two weeks of the 2021 season lined up next to a budding star in Brooks, Seattle's defense should be able to weather the storm without No. 54 and may be better off despite moving on from an all-time great.
Unlike Collier, who Seattle drafted one round earlier in 2019, Blair has shown flashes of brilliance in his first three seasons when healthy. He dominated in training camp prior to the 2020 season, racking up interceptions and pass breakups in bunches on the practice field and drawing rave reviews from coaches and teammates. He forced a fumble on special teams in a season-opening win over Atlanta and looked primed for a breakout sophomore season. But he tore his ACL the following week and missed most of the 2021 season with a fractured kneecap, causing him to miss all but eight games over the past two seasons combined.
While his status for the start of training camp remains up in the air, coach Pete Carroll and the Seahawks still have high hopes for Blair being a key contributor in the secondary. Assistant head coach Sean Desai used extensive three-safety looks as a defensive coordinator for the Bears last season and with the team expected to play a lot of nickel and dime packages, the former Ute should still have ample opportunities to make a difference due to his positional versatility and physical playing style. The key, of course, will be staying available and avoiding the durability pitfalls that have plagued him thus far. If he can do that, he may finally live up to his promise, which would go a long way toward helping the defense become a top-10 unit.