With Quinton Dunbar Avoiding Charges, Dream Secondary Could Become Reality for Seahawks
For most of the 2019 season, the Seahawks were uncharacteristically mediocre on the defensive side of the football, particularly when it came to defending the pass. Coach Pete Carroll's unit ranked 22nd in scoring defense, in large part due to finishing 29th in success rate and 20th in DVOA versus the pass.
Such meager production doesn't meet lofty expectations in Seattle, where the "Legion of Boom" secondary once dominated opposing offenses and led the franchise to first place finishes in scoring defense four consecutive seasons. While it would be unfair to ask a new group of players to reach those historic heights, the front office aggressively sought upgrades to the secondary this offseason, starting with a March trade for cornerback Quinton Dunbar.
At the time, general manager John Schneider had looked to swindle Washington, sending only a fifth-round pick in exchange for Dunbar, who earned the second-highest grade among cornerbacks from Pro Football Focus last season. Boasting a 6-foot-2 frame with long arms and great athletic traits to work with, he seemed to be the perfect fit to play the position in Carroll's scheme.
Over the past several months, however, Dunbar's status has remained tenuous at best, as he was arrested in May for alleged involvement in an armed robbery in Florida. Only a few weeks ago, he landed on the commissioner's exempt list and with witnesses apparently bribed to change their initial statements, his odds of playing at all in 2020 weren't looking good at all.
But on Friday, Broward County prosecutors opted not to charge Dunbar for involvement in the crime due to lack of evidence against him. Though he still remains on the exempt list for now, this development sets the stage for him to suit up for the Seahawks after all, potentially giving them a top-five secondary in 2020.
How much better will Seattle's secondary look with Dunbar and All-Pro safety Jamal Adams entering the mix?
Starting at the right cornerback position, incumbent starter Tre Flowers performed much better in his second season than most fans want to admit. Starting 15 games, he intercepted three passes after posting zero picks as a rookie, trimmed yards given up per reception by nearly three full yards to 11.6, and allowed a respectable 72.5 passer rating against him in coverage.
In addition, Flowers set new career-bests with 82 tackles, eight passes defensed, and 2.0 sacks blitzing from his corner spot, showing tangible improvements in multiple aspects of his game.
In comparison, Dunbar produced four interceptions in just 11 games for Washington. As a former receiver, his advanced ball skills in coverage are apparent as he produced as many passes defensed as Flowers in four less games on nearly 50 less targets.
Dunbar also proved to be a far more efficient tackler, posting just three missed tackles last year according to Pro Football Reference. As for Flowers? Despite being a converted college safety, he struggled to bring down ball carriers in 2019, missing 15 tackles and posting an unideal 14.6 percent missed tackle rate. In the season prior as a rookie, he missed only 10 tackles.
If there's an area where Flowers holds an advantage, he surrendered only one touchdown on 101 targets last season. While scheme differences and talent around him need to be considered, Dunbar gave up three scores on 55 targets.
Durability also leans in Flowers' favor as well, as Dunbar missed nine games in 2018 and sat out the final five games last year on injured reserve. Flowers has missed a single game in each of his firs two seasons due to minor injuries, but immediately returned to the lineup.
Meanwhile, Bradley McDougald deserves credit for being a reliable starter at both free and strong safety and a leader in the secondary over the past couple of seasons, Adams should be an immediate upgrade in a variety of ways.
Though McDougald holds the edge with five interceptions compared to Adams' two picks over the last two seasons, Adams has produced six more passes defensed in coverage, held opposing quarterbacks to a significantly better 55 percent completion rate, and limited opposing receivers to 8.9 yards per reception in 2019. His superior athleticism allows him to effectively cover tight ends, running backs, and speedy slot receivers in man and zone coverage.
While it's worth noting Adams played the vast majority of snaps near the line of scrimmage with the Jets, McDougald himself acknowledged that was where he found his comfort zone as well. He preferred to play in the box and hit his stride once Quandre Diggs arrived via trade last year to handle center field at free safety.
Comparatively, Adams has been the far more disruptive run defender, producing 28 tackles for loss since entering the league in 2017. Playing in nearly as many games for the Seahawks, McDougald has yielded just eight.
Playing a big role in that discrepancy, Adams has produced 10.0 sacks and 26 pressures, while McDougald has been a relative non-factor with 0.5 sacks and five pressures albeit with far less opportunities. Seattle likely won't blitz him near as much as New York did, but Adams' rare ability rushing off the edge provides him another clear advantage over McDougald and creates additional flexibility for defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.
With Carroll always preaching competition, Dunbar will have to beat out Flowers in training camp once he's been reinstated for the right to start across from Shaquill Griffin. Ugo Amadi and Marquise Blair will duke it out for snaps at the nickel cornerback position. Even Adams himself told reporters he has to earn his spot alongside the playmaking Diggs, though given the ransom Seattle surrendered to acquire him, his name should be inked in at strong safety.
Incorporating new players - even uber-talented ones such as Adams - into a new system can take time. That is especially true this season without the luxury of OTAs, minicamps, and preseason games to get reps in on the field. The coaching staff will have to be patient as the group tries to gel on the fly.
But after disappointing season defensively, adding Dunbar and Adams should instantly bolster the secondary from a talent and depth perspective. It's clear the Seahawks have prioritized cornerback and safety play over paying premium pass rushing talent in an effort to push the unit back into the realm of the league's elite and that philosophy will certainly be put to the test this upcoming season.