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Midseason Report Card: Grading Seahawks' Defensive Position Groups

After a brutal start to the season, Uchenna Nwosu and the Seahawks have taken an 180 degree turn as the team has rattled off four wins in five games going into their Week 11 bye. Reporter Corbin Smith dishes out his midseason grades for each of the team's five positional groups after 10 games.

Technically, the midway point of the 2022 season passed two weeks ago. But with the NFL schedule now featuring an odd number of games, there's not a true midseason point anyway and the Seahawks will enjoy a much-deserved bye week in Week 11 before entering the home stretch of their schedule.

With seven games left to play, how have Seattle's defensive position groups performed amid a surprising 6-4 start that has vaulted the team to first place in the NFC West? Here's my grades for the first 10 weeks of the season:

Outside Linebacker/EDGE

Grade: B

When the Seahawks signed Uchenna Nwosu to a two-year deal in free agency, they anticipated he would have an immediate impact starring in Clint Hurtt's hybrid 3-4 defense. However, they couldn't have foreseen him emerging as a borderline All-Pro in a breakout fifth season. That's exactly what has happened for the former USC standout, as he leads Seattle with 7.0 sacks and 35 quarterback pressures - more than Von Miller and Khalil Mack - and has consistently come up with clutch plays throughout the season, including forcing a crucial red zone fumble in a season-opening win over Denver. He's been arguably the best free agent signing of the John Schneider era excelling as both a pass rusher and run defender.

Away from Nwosu, the rest of Seattle's edge rush group has been a mixed bag through the first 10 games. Darrell Taylor lost his starting job four weeks into the season due to poor performance setting the stage against the run and has since found his groove in a situational rushing role, generating two strip sacks in his past three starts. Meanwhile, Boye Mafe has surprised with stout run defense since taking over for Taylor as a starter and while he hasn't offered much as a pass rusher to this point, he still has a pair of sacks. Ageless veteran Bruce Irvin has helped pick up the slack with Alton Robinson and Tyreke Smith on injured reserve since signing in October, contributing eight pressures and a sack in four games.

Defensive Tackle

Grade: C+

Boasting an experienced, proven group headlined by Poona Ford, Shelby Harris, Al Woods, and Quinton Jefferson, the interior defensive line was supposed to be one of Seattle's greatest strengths defensively. While that has been the case in recent weeks thanks to adjustments allowing more aggressive, penetrating one-gapping in the trenches, however, the group has been marred by inconsistency, particularly when it comes to defending the run. Chronic issues with run fits and gap integrity plagued the unit early in the season as opponents averaged 170 rushing yards per game in the first five games as well as a Week 10 loss to the Buccaneers in Germany.

Individually, Harris has had an excellent first season as a Seahawk, currently ranking third on the team with 20 quarterback pressures and second with four tackles for loss. Jefferson has been a factor rushing the passer with three sacks and 22 pressures, while Woods has remained an immoveable object in the middle with 27 tackles and four tackles for loss. But Ford hasn't been his typical disruptive self, receiving a subpar 54.0 run defense grade from Pro Football Focus while chipping in 11 pressures and a pair of sacks as a rusher, while Jefferson's run defense has been similarly been underwhelming and Bryan Mone has been a relative non-factor in recent weeks with limited playing time.

Linebacker

Grade: B-

Much like quarterback on offense, the Seahawks had no shortage of questions at linebacker in the aftermath of releasing perennial All-Pro Bobby Wagner in March. Past the midway point of the season, depth remains a huge concern, but Jordyn Brooks and Cody Barton have played fairly well as a tandem and each stepped up their game over the past month as the rest of the defense has dramatically improved. Coming off a record-breaking season where he produced 184 tackles, Brooks is on pace to nearly topple that record again and leads the league with 106 combined tackles. He hasn't made many impact plays this year with only one tackle for loss, no sacks, and no interceptions, but he's made consistent stops near the line of scrimmage to buoy an improving run defense.

As for Barton, in his first year as a full-time starter stepping in with Wagner in Los Angeles, he endured significant growing pains adjusting to a new scheme early in the season and opponents took advantage of him getting blockers to the second level against him. But unlike his teammate, Barton has made more game-changing plays in all three phases, producing a pair of sacks as a blitzer, two tackles for loss, two pass breakups, and intercepting Tom Brady last weekend in Munich. Growing more comfortable in Hurtt's defense as the season progresses, he looks more the part of a viable starter than the first month and his versatility has opened the door for more playing time in recent weeks as a result.

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Cornerback

Grade: B+

Much like last summer when they opened training camp, the Seahawks entered a new season without a true starter at any of the three corner spots. Even after re-signing Sidney Jones, the team put the veteran into a competition against Mike Jackson, while fifth-round pick Tariq Woolen capitalized on Artie Burns suffering a groin injury midway through camp. Helping transform the unit from a perceived red flag into an unlikely strength in the secondary, the hyper-athletic 6-foot-4 Woolen leads all cornerbacks with five interceptions, tying a rookie franchise record, including a pick six against the Lions. He's also recovered a pair of fumbles and blocked a field goal, which Jackson returned for a touchdown in Week 2, emerging as a favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

Opposite of Woolen, Jackson's breakout season hasn't been defined by that special teams score either, as he's been a revelation on the left side and made Jones expendable. Allowing only one touchdown in coverage thus far, opposing quarterbacks have completed just 56.9 percent of their targets against him and he's racked up seven pass breakups in the process. In the slot, rookie Coby Bryant has yielded 410 yards and a pair of touchdowns in coverage while missing nine tackles, second-most behind Brooks, and drawing three penalties. However, he's offset those first-year struggles by forcing four fumbles and has been surprisingly effective as a nickel blitzer with three pressures and a sack. This young group has a chance to get even better with Tre Brown coming off the PUP list following the bye.

Safety

Grade: B-

With a healthy Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs returning and capable spot starters Ryan Neal and Josh Jones behind them, safety appeared to be the least of Seattle's concerns rolling into the season. Unfortunately, Adams' durability woes continued when he suffered a torn quad in the season opener and landed on season-ending injured reserve, once again leaving the team without the defensive unicorn. On top of that, Diggs admitted to playing hesitant coming off injury and along with not registering an interception through 10 games, he's left more tackles on the field than usual and has just one pass breakup after receiving a three-year contract in March.

Still, even without Adams available and Diggs not playing up to his usual standards to this point, the Seahawks have received outstanding contributions from Neal, who has looked like he should be the one receiving All-Pro votes. In his third year with the organization, he stepped back into the starting lineup to replace Jones, who disappointed in Adams' absence with his own missed tackle issues. Since Week 6, he's the only player in the NFL with an interception, a sack, a forced fumble, four pass breakups, and three tackles for loss, showcasing his all-around playmaking skill set. Further helping boost the position group's overall grade, undrafted rookie Joey Blount has been a fantastic addition to Seattle's special teams with six combined tackles on kick and punt coverage.

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