With an NFC West title on the line, the Seahawks will roll into Week 17 against the 49ers dealing with a myriad of injury issues throughout the roster.
While Seattle expects to have defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and cornerback Shaquill Griffin back in action after sitting out the past two games and the return of running backs Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin will help a decimated backfield, the team still will likely be without safety Quandre Diggs and the offensive line has been ravaged by injuries.
As the injury bug has continued to bite Seattle, the receiver position hasn’t been immune either. Still in concussion protocol, Malik Turner has officially been ruled out for Sunday, leaving the team with only five healthy receivers following Josh Gordon’s suspension.
Considering the Seahawks recent struggles throwing the football, rookie John Ursua may finally receive his first legitimate opportunity to impress on the biggest of stages.
The 2019 season has largely been a forgettable one for Ursua, a seventh-round draft choice out of Hawaii. Despite playing well in the preseason, the rookie wideout has only dressed for two regular season games and played four meaningless snaps as Russell Wilson took a knee out of victory formation.
As evidenced by the decision to keep him on the roster for Week 1, however, the Seahawks clearly envision Ursua as part of their future plans. Even after claiming Gordon off waivers in November, the team opted to waive fourth-round pick Gary Jennings instead, hanging on to the former Warriors star and keeping seven receivers on the active roster.
Looking back at Ursua’s prodigious numbers at the college level, it’s easy to see why.
Primarily running routes from the slot in Hawaii’s Run and Shoot offense, Ursua exploded onto the scene as a junior in 2018, catching 89 passes for 1,343 receiving yards and led the nation with 16 touchdown receptions. He was named First-Team All-Mountain West, selected to the Associated Press Midseason All-American second team, and nominated as a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award as the country’s best receiver.
Despite that impressive production, Ursua didn’t draw much buzz during the pre-draft process. Already 25 years old, some teams worried he’d already reached his ceiling, while others felt his stats were a product of the offensive system more than his overall talent level.
Still, Seattle held Ursua in higher regard and fearing he wouldn’t sign with them as a priority undrafted free agent, general manager John Schneider dealt a future sixth-round pick to Jacksonville to move back into the seventh round to select him.
"I honestly thought my chances [of getting drafted] were out the window,” Ursua said after the draft. “I kind of just sat there patiently kind of pondering what would be my best fit if I went undrafted, then out of nowhere I get a call from Pete Carroll and they were telling me they were on the clock. I didn't see their name up there, but sure enough they got it done. It was a miracle for me."
After being unable to find his way onto the field battling a numbers game all season, Seattle may have no choice but to cut Ursua loose against San Francisco and play him a significant amount of snaps out of the slot. It’d be a stiff first test for any rookie, especially under the brightest of lights in prime time with so much at stake from a playoff seeding standpoint.
But Ursua has been waiting patiently for this moment, biding his time for a chance to play. Offering great quickness from the slot and smooth route running ability, he has the tools necessary to succeed in the league and simply hasn’t had a chance yet to showcase those skills.
“Johnny is looking great," Carroll said when asked about how Ursua practiced this week. "He’s been battling. He’s ready. He jumped in a couple weeks ago and dressed with us. He’s ready to go. It’s been good for him to know all throughout the week that he was going to get the call."
Calm and collected, Ursua isn’t going to be intimidated if he’s thrown into the fire against one of the NFL’s premier defenses. The Seahawks have always preached “next man up” and with the offense desperately needing help in the play-making department, he’ll be ready to seize the opportunity when called upon.