Under-the-radar Seahawks breakout candidates
4 Seahawks who may not get as much attention as their teammates, but might be a key to Seattle's success: Seaside Joe 1633
For the Seattle Seahawks to improve from a 9-8 fringe playoff team to the sort that challenges for a Super Bowl championship this season, it will require significant improvement at multiple positions compared to what Pete Carroll had last season. Setting aside factors like luck and regression, nothing could be more simple than that…
We know where the Seahawks have made their most obvious attempts to “be better”: Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the slot, Zach Charbonnet out of the backfield, Devon Witherspoon at cornerback, Dre’Mont Jones at defensive end, Julian Love in the secondary, Bobby Wagner at middle linebacker to name the most notable changes. And then there’s the hopeful development stories that get the most attention, such as Boye Mafe as “Pete’s most improved”, tackles Charles Cross and Abe Lucas, as well as the game possibly slowing down even more for Riq Woolen and Ken Walker III. We could also add in the potential return of Jamal Adams, that story itself flying under-the-radar despite his usual high-profile.
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I do believe that the Seahawks have done more work to get better in the last 18 months than any other team in the NFL. Whether that amounts to the type of success that Seattle wants to have this season, if they can win the NFC West and then defeat the best that the NFC has to offer in the playoffs, that’s a different question with different criteria.
But the team that had not yet traded Russell Wilson last February was far worse off than the team preparing to make final cuts in eight days to get down to a 53-man roster.
A year ago at this time, people were talking about the Philadelphia Eagles like what we knew them to be at the time: A 9-8 team that also became the last in NFL history to lose a playoff game to Tom Brady. But over the offseason, they added A.J. Brown, James Bradberry, and Haason Reddick, getting better at some of the things that Seattle hopes to have improved: receiver, cornerback, and edge rusher.
The game slowed down for Jalen Hurts, the playbook made more sense for everyone involved, and now we talk about the Eagles like how we talk about the Eagles now.
In a year, could we be talking about the Seahawks then like we talk about the Eagles now?
It will take not one or two breakout seasons, but many and that could include among the players we haven’t spent nearly as much time talking about as those I just mentioned. That’s what I’ll do next.
On Monday morning, I posted a bonus article covering 4 players on the roster who I think—if they were cut—wouldn’t be on waivers long before they were picked up by another team and potentially lost forever. If you want to read that and many more bonus articles, plus just help support a Seahawks newsletter that delivers everyday, join the premium Regular Joes club for $5 per month or $55 per year.
However, I still wanted to post a free episode of Seaside Joe today, which at about the time of publication will make it a “Seaside Joe: After Dark” edition. Put on your reading glasses and get under the covers because we’re going under the radar.
OLB Darrell Taylor
With Boye Mafe stealing the spotlight as a breakout that is being treated as a foregone conclusion, this could be Darrell Taylor’s THIRD opportunity to emerge from the shadows as an impact player.
First, the Seahawks traded up in 2020 to draft Taylor with the 48th overall pick because John Schneider felt he had slipped well past his deserved value:
"From the get-go ... we were on it trying to move the whole way," Schneider said. "We were trying to go up pretty high to get him. Like I said, we considered taking him (in round one)."
Pete Carroll saw him as next in line at Leo after Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril, and Frank Clark.
"He's exactly that," Carroll said. "He's right in that mold. The height, weight, speed thing is there. His aggressiveness is there. His flexibility, his savvy for turning the corner and doing the things that that position calls for, the power he has to finish, he's got speed to power moves and there's enough ability there for him to do some dropping the few times that we do that ... We thought he was an absolute in-the-pocket guy for us. It was an easy evaluation in that regard, so we're very happy to get him and we know he's going to have a chance to contribute early."
But there would be no early contributions. Taylor spent all of training camp on the Non-Football Injury list following January surgery to repair a stress fracture in his leg, which was also the main cause for his draft “fall” to Schneider’s desperation trade calls. Carroll made NFI sound like a casual formality, a way for the rookie to pass the time and study film until coming back in October, but “weeks” turned to “months” and at best there was hope that Taylor could make his NFL debut in the playoffs.
Instead, he missed his entire rookie campaign and didn’t debut until Week 1 of the 2021 season. The immediate returns two years ago made it seem as though the wait was worth it: Darrell Taylor had four sacks in his first five games and eight QB hits in his first seven.
However, if we’re going by “sample sizes” then we could just as easily point out that from October 10, 2021 to November 27, 2022, a period of 21 games, Taylor had just 5.5 sacks, 12 QB hits, seven tackles for a loss, and three forced fumbles.
So the droughts seem to come as easily as the hot streaks, and they last longer.
The good news is that I think Seattle has gotten lucky with regards to Taylor’s injury draft concerns. After missing all of 2020, he has played in 33 games over the last two seasons. He has been out for most of training camp, which isn’t by any means good, but I wouldn’t think his shoulder injury is related to the leg surgery that scared teams away from Taylor a few years ago.
And believe it or not, Taylor’s 16 career sacks ranks second for any player in the 2020 draft class, behind only third round pick Alex Highsmith of the Steelers; Taylor has more career sacks than first round picks Chase Young and K’Lavon Chaisson put together.
Enough time has passed now for people to forget some of Taylor’s red flags coming out of Tennessee, and also to kind of forget about Taylor altogether.
When the Seahawks traded up for Taylor in 2020, it was Pete and John’s gamble: They put all their money on ‘58’ as a hail mary to land a great pass rusher at a discount because that was the year that Seattle only had Bruce Irvin, Rasheem Green, Benson Mayowa, and L.J. Collier on the edges. Taylor actually was the Seahawks best bet.
We went into 2022 thinking of Taylor as either 1a or 1b with Uchenna Nwosu. Now we think of him as definitely behind Nwosu, probably behind Mafe, and most fans have already moved onto Derick Hall, Seattle’s latest second round bet at the position. Going further, certainly Levi Bell and possibly Tyreke Smith have also made more recent rentals in our brains as far as who we expect to see next in the pecking order.
It’s the perfect opportunity for Taylor to say, “You forgot about me and in fact the new guys are only going to make my job—getting to the quarterback—that much easier!”
Even former teammate K.J. Wright sees it that way, predicting as many as 15 sacks if Taylor can fully believe that he’s capable of 15 sacks.
"I look at Darrell Taylor," said Wright. "He hasn't even figured it out yet. He has not figured out how good he can be. Now just look at what he brings to the table. He fell into 9.5 sacks last year. I'm telling you, if it can just click in his brain like, 'I am talented, I am good, I want to take this coaching from Cliff Avril and (Michael Bennett), I'm going to just tap into that dog inside of me,' this guy can be a 13-14 sack type of dude. He can be a three-down player. It's right there for the taking. I swear to you, it's right there for the taking."
When asked by Salk if Taylor can improve in run-support as much as he will as a pass-rusher, Wright declares with more focus, he can become an all-around threat.
"He has the physical ability to do it," said Wright. "But Salk you know how they say the game is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical? He has the physical ability to do it, but he has to tap into those details. He has to train his eyes properly. He has to just watch film and watch his get off… He is a guy that could be a 15-sack guy. And when I watched him last year, some games he's here, some games he's way over there. And so, when I watch Darrell Taylor, he's the guy that I'm really looking forward to seeing this year."
Unlike the logjams we see on offense at receiver/tight end/running back sometimes, there’s no such thing as “too many mouths to feed” when it comes to rushing the passer. Look at the 2022 Eagles defense: Four players had at least 11 sacks, while Fletcher Cox had seven and Milton Williams had four.
That still doesn’t even include the contributions of first round pick Jordan Davis or veteran Linval Joseph.
Not only could the Seahawks get a significant contribution from Taylor, who is still just 26, but they should be able to re-sign him as a 2024 free agent should he break out and if that’s what they want to do. Philadelphia did lose defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, but they’ve managed to keep Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, Brandon Graham, Cox, Derek Barnett, and they just added Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith in the first round.
Taylor’s continued absence with a shoulder injury does complicate the projections. Maybe I’m only being optimistic out of pure homerism, but it hasn’t got me worried yet because even if Taylor only contributes in the second half of the season…it’s not like that’s something new.
Or that it isn’t still something that the Seahawks desperately need.
TE Colby Parkinson or TE Noah Fant
I choose to double dip at tight end for this article because I don’t have a solid grip on why it should be one or the other.
Here’s kind of an unbelievable stat: Since 2010, only two first round tight ends have had a 1,000-yard season.
One of them is Kyle Pitts and the other is Greg Olsen, who did it three times with the Carolina Panthers.
There have been some mini-success stories, like T.J. Hockenson, Evan Engram, Eric Ebron, and David Njoku. But for the most part, it doesn’t appear that there is much of an advantage to being drafted in the first round as a tight end. So even if Fant was picked 20th overall in 2019 and Parkinson was 133rd overall in 2020, at this point they’re both just two guys fighting for snaps on the same offense as they each enter a contract year.
There is, however, hope that one or both of them can breakout despite neither of them doing quite enough yet to prove themselves as a TE1.
Playing tight end could be the second-most difficult position in football because you have to train as both a receiver and as an offensive lineman, therefore some of the best didn’t hit their stride until several years into their careers. Some recent examples would be Dallas Goedert of the Eagles, Darren Waller of the Giants, David Njoku of the Browns, all of whom got a lot better after turning 26 and spending a few years in the league.
Even Olsen didn’t breakout until his sixth year in the NFL. Vernon Davis didn’t breakout until his fourth year. Ben Watson didn’t become a full-time starter until his seventh year and he was better in his thirties than his twenties.
Parkinson is 24, Fant is 25, both are perhaps just one or two ‘clicks’ away from the game being easier than it has ever been before.
Fant had offseason knee surgery and missed a lot of training camp but is back on the field and showed off a little bit of the chemistry he has with Drew Lock against the Cowboys (the two entered the NFL together with the Denver Broncos).
It’s hard for me to put Fant’s negatives into words other than to say he just seems to leave “something” on the field with too many plays. Whether it’s falling a yard shy of the line to gain on third down or missing a block, fans just want to see that “little bit more” from him given that he’s capable of a lot more.
The Seahawks decided to list Fant as co-starter with Dissly for whatever reason and have Parkinson as “second string” on the unofficial depth chart.
Parkinson is three inches taller, a little bit leaner, a little more feistier, and a lot less experienced than Fant. Should Seattle choose to keep Fant over Parkinson in 2024, that’s a move that could end up going either way for the Seahawks because I could see him developing into the best of all three.
He has played 681 career snaps in three seasons (Fant has played 2,931 in four) and would apparently be third in the pecking order in Week 1 against the Rams. It seems inevitable that the Seahawks will want to play Jaxon Smith-Njigba as much as they possibly can, so how many fewer snaps does that mean for Seattle’s tight ends? If Parkinson is third, could he even get the same 34 targets and 441 snaps that he got in 2022?
With the Seahawks tight end room, there’s never a doubt that at some point Pete Carroll will need to dip into his reserves and Parkinson will get opportunities. Whether it’s him or Fant, I could see a scenario in which one of them becomes the fourth receiving weapon who we didn’t know would end up being so important.
For what it’s worth, Parkinson was at least good luck: The Seahawks went 0-5 last season when Parkinson played in less than 35% of the snaps. They were 9-3 in the other 12 contests. (Does this just mean that he plays more when Seattle has the lead?)
(I can’t rule out Will Dissly as being ‘under the radar’ or a ‘breakout’ candidate, I guess I just don’t really see it. I don’t mean that as an insult, only that we basically know what Dissly is and not only is there value in that, he could also be the best tight end on the Seahawks.)
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DT Myles Adams
A player who consistently gets the attention of Seahawks fans during the preseason, Myles Adams also got the attention of Bleacher Report’s Derrik Klassen on Saturday for his speed, strength, and balance.
The defensive line got the most blame for Seattle’s defensive issues in 2022, and that may have been warranted because that group also had the most turnover in 2023. During the offseason, Pete and John essentially said goodbye to every player on the unit except for Bryan Mone (who could be getting an injury-related reprieve) and Myles Adams.
Every single other player on the defensive line is new.
With that, it’s Dre’Mont Jones, Jarran Reed, Mario Edwards, Cameron Young, Mike Morris, and even Jacob Sykes who get the most attention. But should we be betting on Young, Morris, or Sykes on playing a more integral role on the defense this season than Adams?
And from everything I’ve come to learn about offseason and training camp hype, I am not going to be sold on Edwards or the triumphant return of Reed until I see it happen in the regular season.
Adams is now in his fourth NFL season but until last year he had only played 33 career snaps. He got 190 snaps last season, making 16 tackles and recording two pressures over 10 games. For Adams to be a “breakout” the bar should be set much lower than the first three players I mentioned. I don’t need to see Adams develop into Quinnen Williams but I think everyone involved here would be ELATED if he could fill in as the next Clinton McDonald.
And what was McDonald before he got to Pete Carroll? He was a seventh round pick in 2009 who played in only a handful of snaps over his first two seasons and didn’t breakout with the Seahawks until he was 26.
Adams is only 25.
If out of this group of under-the-radar players, the Seahawks could find a Chris Clemons, Clinton McDonald, and a Dallas Goedert (I couldn’t justify going with Zach Miller, so I had to pick a non-Seahawks tight end for this comp), Seattle’s going to make that jump up this season. Because the radar players, we expect. It’s the surprising contributions that opponents aren’t prepared for.
That’s how teams can’t help but be better.
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