Seahawks Counting on ‘Exciting’ Rookie Class to Take Giant Leap Forward in 2020
Still dealing with the finality of Sunday’s season-ending loss to Green Bay, there was lingering sense of disappointment in the air as members of the Seahawks organization met for one last time before parting ways on Monday.
After spending months working together seeking the same prize – a Super Bowl ring – players were cleaning out their lockers, with some such as defensive tackle Jarran Reed unsure of whether or not they’ll be back next season. Coaches were also packing their bags, gearing up for a long offseason to contemplate how to take the team to new heights in 2020.
But as always, coach Pete Carroll found a way to quickly switch gears, turning his attention away from a disheartening defeat to the future with positive vibes about the 2020 campaign. As one of the main reasons for his optimism, the 68-year old coach loves the upside of Seattle’s latest crop of rookies moving into their sophomore seasons.
“I thought they were really positive. It’s a really positive assessment. All of them found a way to contribute at some time… We counted on them early, and they factored in.”
For much of the 2019 season, injuries hindered the Seahawks 11-player draft class. First-round pick L.J. Collier missed all of the preseason and couldn’t catch up once he returned from a severe ankle sprain. Second-round pick Marquise Blair also missed time in August and struggled to find consistent playing time in the secondary.
Guard Phil Haynes, a fourth-round pick out of Wake Forest, as well as sixth-round selection Demarcus Christmas, each opened training camp on the PUP list. Haynes eventually made it back onto the active roster, but he didn’t play a single regular season snap, while Christmas remained on the PUP list for the entirety of the season.
For most of the year, receiver DK Metcalf was the only rookie making substantial contributions in Seattle’s push for an NFC West title and playoff berth. At one point, he was on pace for a 1,000-yard season and finished among league leaders for receptions, receiving yardage, and touchdowns by a rookie.
After producing 219 receiving yards and a touchdown in his first two playoff games, the Seahawks are banking on Metcalf elevating his game even further in his second season catching passes from Russell Wilson. But with several other 2019 draft classmates being forced onto the field late in the year, he’s far from the only player the coaching staff has high expectations for next season and beyond.
Starting role for an injured Mychal Kendricks in the playoffs, third-round pick Cody Barton looks to be the future at strongside linebacker. He displayed excellent coverage skills in limited snaps, and while his run defense needs refinement, there’s plenty of potential for him to be a long-time starter and he's drawn praise from star linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright.
Sixth-round pick Travis Homer stepped up in the backfield after season-ending injuries to Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, and C.J. Prosise. Working in tandem with Marshawn Lynch, the rookie running back produced 134 all-purpose yards in the final two regular season games and could play meaningful snaps next year with Carson and Penny recovering from substantial injuries.
"Homer really helped us out with the playing time he got," Carroll said. "A classic example, what does a guy have to do when he doesn’t need to play? Homer did. He showed us what he could do."
Carroll also has high expectations for Haynes, who performed well in Sunday’s defeat after replacing Jamarco Jones at left guard. Handling the adverse situation far better than Seattle could’ve possibly hoped for in his first real game action, he’s expected to compete for a starting job next season.
“What we’ve seen in Phil is that he’s really strong and he plays real square. He did it in that game. He did very well. Was really pleased to see him. He has had such little playtime since he’s been here. It was great to see him do well.”
After being a healthy scratch for 13 regular season games and making just one catch as a rookie, Carroll also believes receiver John Ursua will be a far bigger factor for Seattle’s passing game next season. “Looking terrific” at practice in the second half of the season, he’ll be in the mix for significant snaps out of the slot moving forward.
But for Seattle to truly build off an 11-win season and position themselves for a deeper run next year, Collier and Blair will need to take massive leaps forward this spring.
Several veteran defensive linemen, including Jarran Reed and Quinton Jefferson, will be set to test free agency in March. There’s a chance the Seahawks won’t re-sign some of those players, opening the door for the 283-pound Collier to earn more extensive playing time after producing just three tackles in 11 games.
Looking at his development, Carroll indicated the key for Collier will be staying healthy throughout the offseason and taking advantage of his on-field reps. He’s counting on a second-year progression similar to Rasheem Green, who led the team in sacks this year after a rough rookie season.
“I think he just needs to be in there. Get his play time, get going, get all of camp, get everything organized, he’s got it all together. We would like to play him inside and out, move him a little bit. I hope – I already talked to him about it – he can make the kind of jump that Rasheem [Green] made from year one to year two.”
As for Blair, his route to a substantial role on defense isn’t quite as clear. Quandre Diggs will return for his first full season with the Seahawks at free safety and veteran Bradley McDougald is under contract through the 2020 season, putting two road blocks in front of him to potentially prevent him from seeing the field.
Regardless, the next several months will be critical for Collier, Blair, and all of Seattle's other rookies eager to play a bigger role in the team's success moving forward. If the group as a whole improves collectively as Carroll envisions, it'll go a long way towards closing the gap on other elite teams in the NFC.