How will rookies impact the Seahawks 2022 defense?
Seaside Joe 1216: Turning to the defense
We started Rookie Month off last Friday with a post about how rookies would impact the Seattle Seahawks offense in 2022. Now the defense.
DE Boye Mafe
Sorting a period between 2006 to 2021, and focusing on defensive ends drafted between picks 25 and 50, these are the following leaders in sacks:
Out of 118 players who qualified under those parameters, only 21 players posted at least 30 career sacks.
One of the main objectives I have with most articles is perspective and I think we gain important perspective with the following statement: Mathias Kiwanuka could be in the 90th percentile for late-first round/early-second round pass rushers.
I wouldn’t blame you for not knowing a lot about Mathias Kiwanuka. He spent his entire nine-year career with the Giants, peaking with eight sacks in 2008 and averaging about one sack every three games over the course of his time in the NFL. If the Seahawks landed the next Kiwanuka with Boye Mafe, wouldn’t that be acceptable?
Kiwanuka wasn’t a star like teammates Jason Pierre-Paul or Osi Umenyiora, but he was a starter during both of New York’s Super Bowl-winning seasons.
I’ve only written one article on Mafe so far, but it’s an in-depth look at his career development in high school and college with the main takeaway being that he has hardly had the chance to settle into any one position or defensive scheme. Pete Carroll’s objective is to utilize his speed on the edge (4.53 40-yard dash at 261 lbs) in a front-seven rotation that will also include Darrell Taylor, Uchenna Nwosu, and Alton Robinson.
But Mafe is the best athlete among them, if not the best athlete on the team.
Even if all goes right for Boye Mafe in his career, with some comparing him to Packers edge rusher Rashan Gary, the odds of him having a dramatic impact as a rookie are low. Even Gary had a quiet rookie season, totaling two sacks in 16 games, then five sacks and 11 QB hits in year two. It wasn’t until Gary’s third season, 2021, that he posted 9.5 sacks and 28 QB hits.
Expectations: With Carroll and Hurtt’s intentions to be more aggressive, Boye Mafe could see the field a lot on second-and-long, third-and-long. But patience is something that Mafe wasn’t afforded at Minnesota with so many coaching changes and it will be fair to give him at least a couple of seasons to develop.
CB Coby Bryant
The name was impossible to ignore during his career at Cincinnati and all draft season. But living up to the Kobe namesake may be nothing compared to battling skepticism that Coby Bryant is on a similar NFL trajectory as Bearcats teammate Sauce Gardner.
Though Bryant won the Jim Thorpe award as the nation’s top defensive back last season, teammate Sauce Gardner’s blend of size, speed, athleticism, production, motor, IQ, etc. (Sauce Gardner is an elite cornerback prospect, for which there can be no doubt) made him a top-five pick.
For years, we’ve had these teammate pairings where it is hard to separate each individual effort from one another in such a team sport. Could Coby Bryant be a hidden gem? He certainly landed in a great spot to find out and Seattle may need him to prove that he’s a value pick right away.
The Seahawks will be starting Sidney Jones at one spot, but I would say everything else has yet to be determined. Though Carroll has seemed impressed with free agent signee Artie Burns, and Justin Coleman is back, and Tre Brown is pulling the “finally healthy again” card, all of this is just talk until the pads are on.
The competition to start opposite of Jones, and to fill a key role in the nickel, should come down to Burns, Brown, Ugo Amadi, Bryant, John Reid, and Tariq Woolen, though Marquise Blair and Ryan Neal could also theoretically compete for the slot.
Not even Richard Sherman started over the first four games of his career and he was certainly the best cornerback on the team during his rookie training camp. But Bryant could be out there immediately and starting very soon.
Expectations: The veterans have an early advantage, but Bryant has a short road to starting for a fourth round pick
CB Tariq Woolen
Between Bryant and Woolen, it would be fair to say that the former should be more ready for the NFL and the latter has the higher ceiling. Woolen has only been playing cornerback for a couple of years and he didn’t face any NFL players while suiting up at UTSA.
As I wrote before in a Woolen profile, it was a position switch that he was vehemently against until it turned out that he might actually have a shot at the pros if he focused on defense instead of wide receiver.
Being a fifth round pick with exceptional size and a position change from receiver to corner, Woolen won’t be able to escape comparisons to Richard Sherman. Woolen has even received a fair amount of praise through minicamps and OTAs. But that’s not what I would expect to see, as Sherman is the best fifth round pick—by any team at any position—over the last 12 years.
The Seahawks should be elated if Tariq Woolen turns into another Byron Maxwell and there’s no need to get greedy about it. There are low odds that he will even get to that level, but the pick was understandable after Woolen made it out of the fourth round and was available on day three because the measurables are that unique.
Expectations: If Tariq Woolen plays more than 100 snaps without looking like he’s completely lost, I would call that a win and a step in the right direction
DE Tyreke Smith
I wrote about Tyreke Smith on Saturday but didn’t make this part clear: Any fifth round pick who excels in the NFL is an anomaly and a miracle.
So while it is true that Smith had an underwhelming, even disappointing four-year career at Ohio State, with expectations that he could be the next Chase Young or Nick Bosa, that doesn’t mean that he would be a “wasted pick” by the Seahawks if he doesn’t turn into anything more than Benson Mayowa.
It’s the fifth round.
Despite the fact that Seattle did make two of the best three fifth round picks of the 2010s (Sherman, Kam Chancellor) that is a statistical improbability and shouldn’t be expected to repeat itself. The fifth round is where teams are taking special teamers, high floor role players, and shots in the dark.
Tyreke Smith is a shot in the dark and there’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s WEIRD that so many fans believe that every draft pick, first round to seventh round, is either “superstar or bust”. But I’ve been observing that trend for a long time and don’t expect it to ever end.
Expectations: Teetering between the backend of the roster and the practice squad
UDFA rookies: DT Matt Gotel, S Bubba Bolden, S Deontai Williams, S Scott Nelson, S Joey Blount, CB Josh Turner, CB Elijah Jones, LB Joshua Onujiogu, LB Levi Jones
It is possible that an undrafted free agent has an impact on the Seahawks again this year, but impossible to know who that will be. Bubba Bolden had the most attention of any undrafted free agent who signed with Seattle, in part because he was once a four-star recruit at USC, and in part because his name is “Bubba”.
What’s really interesting though is that Bolden is one of six undrafted free agent defensive backs signed by the Seahawks, and one of four safeties in that group. It seems likely that Carroll will keep at least one of those players.
Onujiogu, who has been mentored by Vince Wilfork, is someone I wrote about before the draft as a probable Seahawks target.
I don’t have a lot of faith in this years roster offensively or defensively. With a weak young pass rush up front and a very bad secondary on the back end teams will be putting up a lot of points and there is no way we can match them score for score. Look at our division, with offenses like the Rams n Cards and how stacked they are. I don’t see how we can compete, I mean take AZ they have an elite young QB and one of the best WR/TE rooms in the league between Hopkins, Hollywood Brown, Rondale Moore, AJ Green, Antoine Wesley, TEs Zac Ertz, Trey McBride, a healthy Max Williams and they have a stacked RB room with multiple hood pass catching backs. How are we going to contain an offense that loaded with such youth were dependent upon up and down the defensive roster? And with Locks n Smiths penchant for throwing INTs it could get real ugly real quick. And look at our schedule, it’s not just LA n AZ who are loaded we have to worry about it’s several teams. Pete is really going to have to work his magic this year because without a complete miracle we’re in real trouble and will seriously struggle to win games though given the QB class coming out next year maybe tanking is SEAs plan.
I thought the following study supported what you pointed out in your article - late rounders are mostly for special teams purposes. For QB and LT, most come from high first-round picks. It’s good to see that the Hawks gambled on LT with their high first round pick. Don’t get that chance very often.