INDIANAPOLIS, IN — Working in the red zone for the first time, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson surveyed the short field in front of him. If he was going to fire his second touchdown pass of the afternoon, it was going to be to a tight end—but which one?
"I kinda looked the defense away and [Will] Dissly was really kinda No. 1 looking at him," Wilson told reporters following the Seahawks' 28-16 win over the Colts. "And then, here comes a guy underneath and that was Gerald [Everett], and Tyler [Lockett] was No. 4 in the progression, boom, here he comes around. So, I think that that was just perfect play call and just perfect situation with Gerald. He has great hands, so you just flick it to him and he'll catch it easy."
In his first game in a Seahawks uniform, Everett cut up the middle and snagged a rocket off the arm of Wilson. Diving towards the goal line to avoid the human missile that was All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard, the new Seattle tight end gave his team an early 10-point lead to kick off the regular season.
That score capped off a brilliant eight-play, 61-yard drive led by Everett and Dissly. The tight end duo combined for 48 yards on four receptions—two each—during the drive as the Seahawks effectively mowed down one of the best defenses in the NFL.
It showed some of the different ways new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron plans to utilize the tight end position this year, including the unique versatility Everett offers—particularly in the screen game. The South Alabama alum commenced the drive with an 11-yard gain on a designed screen.
Everett's athleticism is unlike that of many of his peers. Not only can he execute screens, but he can split out wide—something he did twice against the Colts—and even line up in the backfield. His speed makes him a mismatch for most linebackers and his size makes him a mismatch for most nickel corners. There's a multiplicity in his talent that speaks volumes to the multiplicity the Seahawks want to have as an offense overall, keeping opposing defenses from matching up because they simply don't have the bodies to do it.
For four years in Los Angeles, Waldron saw first-hand what an offensive weapon Everett could eventually become. Each season, Everett continued to grow and add new elements to his game and became a bigger piece of the Rams' offense. But for most of his time in L.A., he was, at best, quarterback Jared Goff's fourth or fifth receiving option behind receivers Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks, as well as fellow tight end Tyler Higbee.
Head coach Sean McVay still found ways to get him on the field fairly often, increasing the Rams' usage of 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) from 105 snaps (eight percent) in 2018 to 349 (29 percent) in 2020. However, given the talent around him, it remained difficult for Everett to put up eye-catching numbers, departing L.A. with a modest 1,389 receiving yards and eight touchdowns to his name after four seasons.
Entering a Seahawks organization with established personnel from top to bottom, Waldron hoped to bring along a few familiar faces to help him settle in. That started with Andy Dickerson, the former Rams assistant offensive line coach turned Seahawks run game coordinator. Then followed Everett, who viewed Seattle as a land of opportunity after the team bid farewell to Greg Olsen and Jacob Hollister in the offseason.
In the Pacific Northwest, Everett could finally be a No. 1 tight end. And the Seahawks, at the time, were starved of talent to take the attention off their star receiving duo of Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. It was a perfect marriage in theory, and so far, it's off to a good start.
Everett, of course, didn't post otherworldly numbers against the Colts. In fact, what he did on his breakout drive was it for him: two catches for 20 yards and a touchdown. But his impact was certainly felt and allowed the Seahawks to emphasize their tight ends better than they did at any point last year—in a complementary role that requires the respect of opposing defenses, thus freeing up Lockett and Metcalf to do their thing.
"There's a lot more to see," teased head coach Pete Carroll. "We haven't done all of our stuff, there's a lot to come. Really, Gerald is such a versatile football player. You'll see him do all kinds of things. He got a touchdown pass today and all that. He'll do a lot more. He's got a lot of good stuff in him."
Not to be forgotten in all of this is Dissly, who found himself as a prominent piece to Seattle's passing game on Sunday. The fourth-year man out of Washington hauled in three catches for 37 yards and sent shockwaves through Seahawks Twitter for his highlight-worthy stiff-arm on Colts linebacker Bobby Okereke.
Tearing his patellar tendon in 2018 and Achilles in 2019, Dissly only appeared in 10 games through his first two years in the NFL. But in that time, he put up 418 yards and six touchdowns, quickly becoming a preferred target of Wilson's.
Last year was a different story, however, as he struggled to build trust back in his legs despite playing in all 17 of Seattle's games, playoffs included. He was targeted just 29 times during the regular season, catching 24 balls for 251 yards and two scores—each number, aside from the receptions, falling short of what he put forth in just six games the year prior. Per Pro Football Focus, he ran 20 or more routes just four times in 2020 and was targeted three times or more in a game just thrice.
Though he only ran 19 routes versus the Colts, there was a different feel to his usage—and his ability—than what was seen in his first full campaign. He appeared confident, explosive and more in line with the player fans grew accustomed to seeing in 2018 and 2019. Plus, his role has changed, and so has the state of the Seahawks' talent on the offensive side of the ball. With the addition of Everett and rookie receiver Dee Eskridge, Dissly is naturally going to see less volume in targets. But his number will be called on from time to time, and he looks more than capable of being a legitimate threat through the air again.
"Diss had a great game," assessed Carroll on 710 ESPN Seattle, via Brandon Gustafson. "And we're just starting to see what Gerald does for us."
Towards the end of the 2020 season, the Seahawks became one-dimensional in their passing game approach and teams exploited that. But on Sunday, with the help of Everett and Dissly, they made it clear those woes are long in the rearview mirror. They proved their arsenal stretches well past Lockett and Metcalf, and teams will need to recognize and respect that.
If not, it could be a long year for those who step in their path.