Will Seattle Seahawks EDGE Boye Mafe Become Elite Pass Rusher in 2024?

Following a massive leap in productivity in his second season, Mafe may still be on the rise in a revamped Seahawks defense.
Oct 22, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Arizona Cardinals offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. (70) blocks Seattle Seahawks linebacker Boye Mafe (53) during the second half at Lumen Field.
Oct 22, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Arizona Cardinals offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. (70) blocks Seattle Seahawks linebacker Boye Mafe (53) during the second half at Lumen Field. / Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
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Seattle Seahawks edge rusher Boye Mafe made a huge leap in productivity last year in his second NFL season, and the 2022 second-round pick is now one of the top returning players on a revamped defense.

Selected by Seattle as a result of the pick swap portion of the Russell Wilson trade with the Broncos, Mafe’s 2023 season showed marked improvement across the board. However, the 6-4, 261-pound outside linebacker displayed the most improvement in his pass rushing ability and consistency, finishing his sophomore campaign with nine total sacks and a Seahawks franchise record for seven consecutive games in that column of the box score.

Will Mafe make another jump in 2024 to enter the elite edge rusher ranks, or was last season representative of his ceiling?

The Leap

As a rookie, Mafe wasn’t bad, especially for a second-round pick that wasn’t immediately thrust into a full-time starting role. He finished the 2022 season with 41 combined tackles and three sacks on 424 defensive snaps. On 200 pass rush snaps, specifically, Mafe generated a 6 percent pressure rate, 1.5 percent sack rate and a 5.9 percent pass rush win rate, per Pro Football Focus. Mafe received a 53.0 pass rush grade from PFF.

Mafe, 25, was mostly a rotational pass rusher in his first season, seeing the third-most pass rush snaps of Seattle’s edge defenders behind Uchenna Nwosu and Darrell Taylor, and he was narrowly ahead of Bruce Irvin. He was, however, a fairly effective run defender with 23 defensive stops — a tackle resulting in a “failure” for the offense, per PFF — to rank second behind Nwosu (44).

But Mafe changed the narrative in 2023. Combining his freak athleticism with a full year of NFL coaching and training, Mafe exploded 52 total tackles and nine sacks while also batting four passes (none in 2022). His advanced pass rush metrics went through the roof, generating a 13.1 percent pressure rate, 2 percent sack rate and 13.1 percent pass rush win rate, per PFF. Mafe’s total pressures increased from 12 in his rookie season to 58 as a sophomore, and his pass rush grade spiked to 77.8 — 20th among edge rushers who played at least 300 pass rush snaps.

The sample size is still smaller than many other edge rushers in the league, too. Mafe’s 443 total pass rush snaps last season ranked 34th at the position despite him posting the 25th-most pressures among all edge rushers. Mafe’s volume was lower, but he was efficient with his opportunities.

Aidan Hutchinson, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, had the following numbers in 2023, for comparison: 718 pass rush snaps (led NFL), 121 pressures, 14 sacks, 16.9 percent pressure rate, 1.9 percent sack rate and 21 percent pass rush win rate.

The main difference with Hutchinson is the large gap between pressure rate and pass rush win rate, likely due to quarterbacks anticipating a need to get the ball out quicker so Hutchinson’s rushes didn’t affect their throw. Mafe’s gap in that area could widen in his third season also with quarterbacks becoming more aware of his threat.

Mafe had just six more defensive stops in 2023 despite logging 130 more run defense snaps than his rookie season, but he still flashed in that area. With time, he should improve at regularly setting the edge to drive running backs inside toward Seattle’s linebackers.

Seattle Seahawks linebacker Boye Mafe (53) tackles Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) late in the fourth quarter during their game at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023. The Tennessee Titans were unable to make a comeback as the clock ran out and they lost 20-17.
Seattle Seahawks linebacker Boye Mafe (53) tackles Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) late in the fourth quarter during their game at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023. The Tennessee Titans were unable to make a comeback as the clock ran out and they lost 20-17. / Denny Simmons / The Tennessean / USA

Outlook For 2024

Mafe isn’t yet in elite company, but he is trending in that direction. He proved he could win at the point of attack in more ways than one, using a combination of speed, quickness and power to keep offensive linemen guessing. His footwork also improved, becoming more deceptive, which often helped him explode around the edge after faking an inside move. Each of those elements has even more room for growth, which could make Mafe one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL in a year or two.

Interestingly, Mafe didn’t see much of an increase or decrease in his productivity following Nwosu’s season-ending pectoral injury in Week 7 of last season. Four of Mafe’s nine sacks came between weeks 8 to 17, though two came against the Titans in Week 15. He can produce even without another quality edge rusher opposite of him, although both will be double-teamed less if they remain healthy. Seattle’s improved interior defensive line should also help free up Mafe and the Seahawks pass rush in general.

That said, all signs point to an even bigger season for Mafe in 2024, at least in the pass rush department. What was called a “breakout” season last year by some may look like just another development year for the third-year pro if the defense stays healthy and Mafe continues to refine his technique. If he can display improvement in the run game that would be an even bigger plus.

Rest assured that Seahawks head coach Mike Macdonald will have plenty of ideas on how best to utilize Mafe’s skillset, particularly by exploiting opponents’ inability to contain his explosive athleticism.

Predictions For 2024

60 combined tackles, 11 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, 93 pressures

Last season, Macdonald’s most regular pass rusher at the edge spot with the Ravens was Jadeveon Clowney, who logged 545 attempts, per PFF. Macdonald likes to throw different sets and personnel groupings at his opponents, so the above stats are projected based on a pass-rush snap total of 575 for Mafe in 2024 — still not quite enough to get him into top-10 single-season sack totals.

While it may not seem like another massive jump, Mafe would be the first Seahawks player to log double-digit sacks since Frank Clark (13) and Jarran Reed (10.5) each did so in 2018. Additionally, his pressure rate would climb to around 16 percent, making him a legitimate disruptive threat every time he is on the field.

The 15 tackles for loss also represent a dedication by Mafe to improve in defending the run. That total would tie him for 14th among last season's leaders, which seems to fit Mafe's trajectory. With plenty of mouths to feed on Seattle's defense, this type of season for Mafe would be exactly what the Seahawks need to thrive as a unit, assuming others are producing from their spots as well.


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Connor Benintendi

CONNOR BENINTENDI