At the conclusion of the Seahawks annual mandatory minicamp, coach Pete Carroll showed particular enthusiasm for one position group: the tight ends.
“They’re going to be a big part of what we’re doing,” Carroll concluded.
How significant a role the tight ends end up playing in the 2022 offense is an interesting question. The idea of heavily using a 12 personnel grouping on offense, two tight ends with one running back and two receivers, is one that often takes off in the depth chart-viewing offseason. Then, as real games start to be played, the reality of the NFL takes hold and the majority of offenses revert to being 11 personnel, three wide receiver-heavy.
12 personnel is attractive because, in theory, the additional tight end gives an offense better run blocking ability and superior options to a third wide receiver, meaning defenses must respond with base personnel, or a front seven of defenders with just four defensive backs.
The real key to living out of 12 personnel, however, is having a second tight end who is a mismatch for the base coverage personnel on a top of a star first-stringer. This then forces defensive coordinators into a horrid dilemma of how to stop the grouping that run blocks at a base-demanding level, yet cannot be guarded in the air by base looks.
If a defense decides to add an extra defensive back to try and cope in the passing game, then more problems can arise. Your standard nickel is likely to be at a significant size disadvantage. This therefore calls for more a specialized, big nickel grouping and game plan specific tight end killer. The move to sub-package football then leads to concerns over whether the defense can still stop the 12 personnel run game.
The NFL’s 12 personnel superlative is the New England Patriots’ duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Watching this cut-up of their passing game targets illustrates the aerial mismatch the pair posed for defenses. Moreover, it emphasizes how rare - and difficult - acquiring two talented-enough tight ends for heavy 12 personnel usage is.
“The position is really strong, and they’ve got some particular strengths, but yet they’re versatile too, so we’ve got a lot of flexibility with these guys,” Carroll assessed of the Seahawks’ 2022 tight end room.
Nevertheless, Will Dissly is not going to bring an Aaron Hernandez-style to the passing attack - and that would be a totally unfair expectation.
“I mean we joke around, he’s not a burner,” quarterback Drew Lock said of Dissly after day two of minicamp. “I mean, he’s not hauling down the field, but he’s super savvy, going to make the catch when it’s coming at him.”
Whatever pass game explosive potential Dissly held appeared to vanish with his consecutive serious injuries in the first two years of his NFL career.
Dissly, signed to a $24,000,000, 3-year contract this offseason, can do everything to an at-least solid level, though. He is the embodiment of the Seattle front office’s “smart, tough, reliable” mantra.
“Will is an all-around guy, we can count on him to do everything,” Carroll said. Additionally, Lock described the 2018 fourth-round pick as “super smart, super intelligent.”
Dissly’s real value arrives in the run and play-fake game as an excellent in-line blocker. Seattle’s 12 personnel run action potency should demand base groupings from all but the most schematically bold defenses.
Seattle, of course, had Gerald Everett last year with Dissly. However, 2022’s second tight end - Noah Fant - is a more obvious No. 1 who brings greater potential. Indeed, Fant, acquired as part of the Denver Bronco’s blockbuster trade for Russell Wilson, has already impressed Seahawks coaches and players.
“Noah probably had one of, maybe the most spectacular camps of anybody,” Carroll said while praising Fant at minicamp. “I just thought he made plays throughout the whole time down the field, short area stuff, understanding the scheme, all of it, he just adapted so beautifully. I didn’t know him other than through the draft process, but he handled himself just impeccably.”
“I think that he is going to do great things,” stated Geno Smith. “He’s a big, skilled guy, he’s fast, can catch the ball, and runs great routes. I don’t see any way that he can’t get the ball. We can get him the ball out wide, in the slot, or in line at tight end, so I think that he’s going to do a bunch of great things.”
The last part of Smith’s description refers to Fant’s ‘move’ potential. If Dissly is going to be the in-line dude with the Seahawks in 12 personnel, Fant being able to line up all over the field is a big deal - like as a power slot or an alternative to DK Metcalf’s size on the perimeter. If Fant is on the field with Dissly, his receiving versatility must be enough to justify leaving the wide receiver No. 3 - Dee Eskridge, Marquise Goodwin, or Freddie Swain - on the bench.
Lock, who played with Fant in his first three seasons in Denver, shared more precise detail of Fant’s route usage.
“I think what’s cool for Noah in this offense is, I think you’re going to get to see a little bit more of just his feel for football in general; his savviness, his whereabouts of bodies around him, how he feels defenses because there’s choice routes,” Lock stated.
“There’s seams that you’re changing your route on depending on rotation, wide safeties. There’s just a lot that tight end room one, needs to know, but two, can make him a lot more versatile in the passing game. And I think Noah is excited to be able to do that. I think we could have maybe pressed the field with him a little bit more in Denver, but he’s going to have the opportunity to do that here. And I know he’s pumped about it.”
Fant being an intermediate-to-deep downfield target who can separate with the size, explosiveness, and speed combined with intelligence to get open based on reads of coverage sounds like serious mismatch potential.
The big deal is that Shane Waldron’s 2022 Seahawks offense is going to look far more “Rams-like” with Smith or Lock at quarterback rather than Wilson. We will see more condensed split usage and more over the middle concepts plus targets. That will leave more tight end opportunities, both in deployment and opportunity.
Colby Parkinson also received hype. Seattle’s 2020 fourth round pick out of Stanford is somewhat of a forgotten man, but it sounds like it is clicking in his third year of NFL ball.
“Maybe the guy that’s most exciting is Colby,” shared Carroll. “Colby Parkinson really became a go-to guy, and he’s got that tremendous frame and catching range, and he runs really well. He’s worked so diligently to build himself up and to gain his power and control of his body that he’s going to come off the ball and be an effective block or two.”
“I think the person that really impressed me was Colby,” Lock said in agreement with Carroll. “Talk about a red zone threat being the height that he is. I’m surprised he didn’t play basketball four years at Stanford, just freak athlete from what I’ve seen. And I’m really impressed with him.”
Parkinson’s 6-foot-7 can’t-guard-me frame was his challenge as a blocker. Yet the first hand accounts of minicamp suggest exciting progress.
Two other names were discussed in pressers: 2020 undrafted free agent Tyler Mabry (“super physical” per Lock) and 2022 undrafted free agent Cade Brewer, who our own Corbin Smith highlighted.
"Cade had a big day yesterday in particular, we were celebrating him yesterday,” Carroll said of Brewer, who played college ball at Texas.
While Dissly will not require special coverage attention and force teams to get out of base, Fant can be lined up in positions and access areas that should force defenses to adjust. It’s clear that Fant is a bad match-up for the majority of linebackers and terrible for corners; he requires a safety. Seattle can then use formations out of 12 personnel to try get Metcalf and Tyler Lockett in a favorable slot battle and/or net a soft edge in the run game.
Waldon has experience with the impact of two tight end sets that he can lean on, notably his 2017 to 2020 coaching stint with the Los Angeles Rams. As the NFL’s defenses adapted to the Rams’ style of attack - as widely seen in Super Bowl 53 where they were held to three points by the Patriots - the Rams upped their usage of 12 personnel, adding Everett to 2016 fourth-rounder Tyler Higbee.
Rams tight end usage per Warren Sharp:
- 2018: 11 personnel 89 percent of snaps, 12 personnel 8 percent, 13 personnel 1 percent
- 2019: 11 personnel 73 percent of time, 12 personnel 21 percent, 13 personnel 2 percent
- 2020: 11 personnel 65 percent, 12 personnel 29 percent, 13 personnel 5 percent
Seahawks tight end usage per Warren Sharp:
- 2018: 11 personnel 72 percent of snaps, 12 personnel 12 percent, 22 personnel 2 percent
- 2019: 11 personnel 73 percent, 12 personnel 14 percent, 22 personnel 2 percent
- 2020: 11 personnel 65 percent, 12 personnel 28 percent, 22 personnel 1 percent, 13 personnel 1 percent
- 2021: 11 personnel 67 percent of the time, 12 personnel 26 percent, 13 personnel 4 percent, 22 personnel 1 percent
The last two seasons have seen the Seahawks use two tight end sets on over 30 percent of their snaps. Seattle’s different style of quarterback in 2022, along with the lesser quality of quarterback play to be expected, surely means we will see that 12 personnel usage figure climb well over the 30 percent mark. The Seahawks will utilize their tight ends even more in the pass and run games. Thankfully, as Lock has already seen on the practice field, Seattle has the skillsets and talent required.
“I think I’ve had some pretty awesome tight end rooms in my lifetime of football, but this room is special."