Analyzing Seahawks Defensive Positional Groups at Start of Offseason Program

Up front, the Seahawks won't look much different than a year ago personnel-wise, but the linebacker and safety positions will be near unrecognizable entering the Mike Macdonald era.
Nov 12, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Seahawks cornerback Devon Witherspoon (21),
Nov 12, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Seahawks cornerback Devon Witherspoon (21), / Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
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Ushering in a new era under coach Mike Macdonald, who was tabbed as Pete Carroll's replacement on January 31, the Seattle Seahawks returned to work on Monday by initiating Phase One of their offseason program.

Under terms of the league's collective bargaining agreement, the first two weeks of Seattle's program will be limited to meetings, strength and conditioning, and rehabilitation only, so Macdonald and his staff will have to wait a while to begin evaluations on the practice field. Still, these first few weeks will be crucial as they begin to implement a new scheme on both sides of the football and develop rapport with their new players.

As the offseason officially gets underway and the 2024 NFL Draft rapidly approaches, how does Seattle's defense look from a positional standpoint? Here's a close look at each position group with projected starters, backups, and what moves may come next gearing up for a new season:

EDGE/Outside Linebacker

Projected Starters: Uchenna Nwosu, Boye Mafe

Backups: Darrell Taylor, Derick Hall, Levi Bell, Joshua Onujiogu

After missing the final 11 games last season, the Seahawks will gladly welcome back a healthy Uchenna Nwosu.
After missing the final 11 games last season, the Seahawks will gladly welcome back a healthy Uchenna Nwosu. / Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Opting to sit pat so far at the position, the Seahawks will be counting on the return of Uchenna Nwosu, who landed on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle in Week 8, to provide an immediate jolt for their edge rushing stable. Prior to the injury, the team had allowed just 87 rushing yards per game and 3.5 yards per carry, but everything unraveled without him in the lineup, as the defense fell apart surrendering 166 rushing yards per game and five yards per carry the remainder of the season. Bringing him back healthy with a budding star in Mafe, who tallied 9.5 sacks in 2023, they hope to have a formidable starting duo in Macdonald's system.

Behind them, rather than give him a restricted free agent tender, Seattle re-signed Taylor on a restructured one-year deal with incentives and minimal guarantees. The fourth-year veteran had only 5.5 sacks last year, but in a new scheme, the team will be hoping to coax more production out of him as an all-around defender. Hall will also vie for snaps after seeing limited playing time as a rookie and the organization remains high on his potential, while Bell and Onujiogu will be wild cards to watch due to their size and solid fit scheme-wise. It wouldn't be a surprise if another name is added to the mix in the upcoming draft, as early as potentially round one.

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Leonard Williams, Jarran Reed, Dre'Mont Jones

Backups: Johnathan Hankins, Mike Morris, Cameron Young, Myles Adams, Matt Gotel

Largely sticking to status quo in the interior as well, Seattle put out all the stops to make sure Williams returned after coming over via trade from New York last October, signing the veteran to a three-year, $64.5 million deal. The ex-USC star will once again join forces with a resurgent Reed and Jones, who will be looking to bounce back to an extent after only producing 4.5 sacks in a disappointing first season with the organization. Those three players could see extensive action up front together while also rotating in four-man fronts, potentially forming one of the better trios in the NFC.

Adding much needed beef in free agency, the Seahawks reeled in Hankins, who produced a career-high three sacks for the Cowboys last season while being coached by new defensive coordinator Aden Durde. The former Ohio State standout will be paired with Young and Gotel as the three primary nose tackles competing for snaps in training camp. Reuniting with Macdonald, who coached him in 2021 at Michigan, Morris will seek a rotational role coming off a shoulder injury that limited him to one game as a rookie. Like the edge spot, this is another position where more reinforcements likely will be coming later this month in the draft.

Inside Linebacker

Projected Starters: Jerome Baker, Tyrel Dodson

Backups: Jon Rhattigan, Drake Thomas, Patrick O'Connell

Undergoing a substantial reboot in the middle, the Seahawks weren't able to re-sign Jordyn Brooks with the Dolphins swooping in to sign him early in free agency and future Hall of Famer Bobby Wagner reunited with Dan Quinn on the Commanders, leaving two huge holes in the starting lineup. Though the market at linebacker went faster than anticipated, general manager John Schneider still found a way to sign two quality veterans in Baker and Dodson, with the former offering six years of starting experience and the latter flashing in his first extended starting audition with the Bills last season. Signed to one-year deals, both players off plus-athleticism with blitzing ability and Macdonald believes each will be a positive asset in coverage.

Behind them, Seattle doesn't have any proven inside linebackers, at least from a defensive standpoint. Rhattigan has cut his teeth on special teams and has 19 NFL defensive snaps to his name, Thomas played four snaps before suffering a season-ending injury as a rookie, and O'Connell logged 17 special teams snaps in one game last season. Given the lack of experience with three formerly undrafted linebackers filling out the depth chart and both Baker and Dodson being free agents again next spring, this still feels like a position where the team has to be in attack mode early in the draft to add further reinforcements and likely pursuing a future starter.

Cornerback

Projected Starters: Riq Woolen, Devon Witherspoon

Backups: Mike Jackson, Tre Brown, Coby Bryant, Artie Burns, Lance Boykin, Andrew Whitaker

Following an impressive rookie season, Devon Witherspoon will look to take his game to new heights in Mike Macdonald's scheme.
Following an impressive rookie season, Devon Witherspoon will look to take his game to new heights in Mike Macdonald's scheme. / Michael Chow/The Republic / USA TODAY

As has been the case for the last couple of seasons, an argument can be made Seattle's most talented positional group on the entire roster sits at cornerback with a pair of rising stars in Witherspoon and Woolen anchoring the unit. Macdonald has raved about Witherspoon's versatility and playmaking ability several times since accepting the coaching job in January and the ex-Illinois star should be primed for a dominant sophomore season. As for Woolen, missed tackles and diminished ball production led to a bit of a regression in 2023, but the franchise remains fired up about his long-term trajectory as he continues to grow at the position.

Short term, the Seahawks have strong depth with Jackson returning on an original round tender, Brown entering the final year of his rookie deal, and Burns re-signing as a depth piece. All three of those players offer extensive starting experience, while Bryant may be back in the mix for snaps on the outside or in the slot after taking a swim at safety last year while dealing with persistent toe issues that landed him on injured reserve for a big chunk of the season. From that group, only Bryant is under contract beyond 2024, so it wouldn't be a surprise at all if the team looks towards the future by picking one at some point in the draft.

Safety

Projected Starters: Julian Love, Rayshawn Jenkins

Backups: K'Von Wallace, Jerrick Reed II, Ty Okada, Jonathan Sutherland

Similar to linebacker, the Seahawks went back to the drawing board and trimmed fat at safety, cutting long-time starters Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams to free up cap space. Seeking versatility as a prioritized trait, the team replaced the two departed veterans by signing Jenkins and Wallace, who each have played significant snaps at both free and strong safety positions. Jenkins has been at his best playing in the box over the years, but he showed far more skill as a split safety with the Jaguars than expected and should be a fine defender to pair with Love as the two starting safeties. Wallace has played some nickel corner as well in his career and with Macdonald using three safety sets quite a bit in Baltimore, those three players should see field time together in sub packages.

From a depth perspective, Reed's recovery from a torn ACL suffered midway through his rookie season will be one worth watching. Seattle still views him as a possible starter in waiting and depending on when he returns to the field, he shouldn't be ruled out to push Jenkins and Wallace for snaps while being a focal point on special teams. Okada got his feet wet suiting up for five games last year as an undrafted rookie and after suffering an injury late in training camp last August, Sutherland will look to get his helmet back in the ring as a dark horse to battle for a roster spot as well. With Love and Wallace being free agents next spring, this position also stands out as one that is a bigger long-term need than most and drafting a safety early may be on the table.


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Corbin K. Smith

CORBIN K. SMITH

Graduating from Manchester College in 2012, Smith began his professional career as a high school Economics teacher in Indianapolis and launched his own NFL website covering the Seahawks as a hobby. After teaching and coaching high school football for five years, he transitioned to a full-time sports reporter in 2017, writing for USA Today's Seahawks Wire while continuing to produce the Legion of 12 podcast. He joined the Arena Group in August 2018 and also currently hosts the daily Locked On Seahawks podcast with Rob Rang and Nick Lee. Away from his coverage of the Seahawks and the NFL, Smith dabbles in standup comedy, is a heavy metal enthusiast and previously performed as lead vocalist for a metal band, and enjoys distance running and weight lifting. A habitual commuter, he resides with his wife Natalia in Colorado and spends extensive time reporting from his second residence in the Pacific Northwest.