Why Will Dissly Could Be Seahawks Biggest X-Factor Entering December

Even before Greg Olsen went down with a potential season-ending foot injury, there have been signs of Dissly returning to form in recent weeks. As he further distances himself from Achilles surgery, will the third-year tight end take on a larger role down the stretch?
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While the Seahawks should be healthier overall on offense with Chris Carson and Ethan Pocic set to return from injuries to face the Eagles in Week 12, the team potentially lost tight end Greg Olsen for the season after he suffered a plantar fascia rupture in his left foot in last week's win over the Cardinals.

Having already rehabbed from the same injury in his right foot a few years ago, Olsen and coach Pete Carroll have both remained optimistic the veteran will be able to return before the end of the season. According to Carroll, Seattle hopes he will make it back in 4-6 weeks, but there isn't a clear timetable at this point and it's still possible he won't return at all, depending on the severity of the injury and how quickly it heals.

With Olsen out at least three weeks and most likely longer, his absence creates a void his statistics may not suggest exists. After signing a one-year deal worth up to $7 million in February, the 35-year old has only caught 23 passes for 224 yards and a touchdown, but those numbers still lead Seattle's tight end group through 10 games played.

Before the season kicked off in September, many expected the Seahawks would incorporate their tight ends more heavily into the passing game with Olsen, Will Dissly, Jacob Hollister, and rookie Colby Parkinson on the roster. But despite the talent and depth, the position hasn't been utilized as frequently in the passing game as envisioned due to the collective success of DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and David Moore. With those three receivers all turning in strong seasons, tight ends have had to settle for the scraps so to speak.

When it comes to the overall lack of targets for tight ends this season, there have been other variables at play too. In the case of Dissly, who returned from his second severe injury in as many seasons, it's worth wondering how healthy he truly was when the season kicked off.

Sure, Dissly managed to avoid landing on the PUP list and participated in training camp from day one on after making what Carroll accurately termed a "miraculous" recovery. But Seattle understandably practiced caution with him only 10 months removed from surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon and with his workload limited throughout the month, he had a pretty quiet camp.

Achilles injuries rank among the most challenging for professional athletes to return from. Already far from a speedster at the position, Dissly looked noticeably less explosive running routes on the practice field in August, suggesting he wasn't quite all the way back even if he was healthy enough to be cleared to play.

In the first month of the season, while he excelled as a blocker in the run game, Dissly proved to be a relative non-factor for Seattle as a receiver, catching five passes for just 22 yards and averaging under five yards per reception. These numbers were a far cry from his dominant first five games before injury in 2019, when he yielded All-Pro caliber production with 23 receptions for 262 yards and four touchdowns.

Since those first three games, Dissly has yet to catch more than two passes in a game and hasn't come close to approaching his pre-Achilles injury production. However, there have been signs of a potential breakout looming even before Olsen went down.

In a Week 5 win versus the Vikings, Dissly finally found the end zone for the first time, beating linebacker Eric Wilson on a wheel route for a 19-yard touchdown. It was a milestone accomplishment for the former Washington standout following nine months of grueling rehab in southern California amid a pandemic.

Over the past six games, including the victory over Minnesota, Dissly has only been targeted 10 times by Russell Wilson. But all but two of his seven receptions during that span have gone for at least 17 yards and he has averaged 18 yards per reception, more closely resembling the budding star he was emerging as before crumpling to the turf in Cleveland last October.

Though it's a limited sample size to work with, Dissly has looked more spry as the season has progressed and he's been picking up yards after the catch in bunches. He's moving more fluidly as a route runner and now that he's more than a year removed from his Achilles injury, his explosion has nearly rebounded to pre-injury levels, a timely development given the uncertainty surrounding Olsen's fascia tear and his potential return.

With six games left to play, Dissly likely won't replicate his 2019 numbers, at least in terms of receptions and yardage. Wilson will understandably continue to feed the football to Metcalf and Lockett on the outside, while Moore and rookie Freddie Swain have also been reliable targets. As has been the case all year long, there won't be a ton of targets left to pass around, especially if Seattle puts more emphasis on running the ball moving forward.

But as the Seahawks battle for an NFC West title and one of the conference's top seeds, Dissly has a chance to take on a much more significant role entering the home stretch. As teams do their best to try to neutralize Metcalf and Lockett as downfield threats, he should provide Wilson a security blanket in the short-to-intermediate passing game while also remaining a sneaky good weapon down the seams and in the red zone.

If Dissly can recapture his 2019 form and pitch in a handful of touchdowns in the final month, he could be the difference maker Seattle needs to land one of the top seeds for the postseason. After being unable to contribute to the franchise's playoff push the past two seasons and enduring non-stop rehab away from the team, there isn't a player on the team who deserves the opportunity more.