Seahawks pass rushing woes must be solved
Seaside Joe 1316: It’s been 5 seasons since the Seahawks could pass rush
The last time that the Seattle Seahawks had a legitimate edge rusher of note was Frank Clark in 2018. That season, his fourth in the league and a contract year, Clark amassed 48 pressures and 13.5 sacks. The decision to franchise tag-and-trade Clark turned out to be a win for the Seahawks.
In his first three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, Clark has not totaled more than 29 pressures or eight sacks in any single campaign. It’s not that the Chiefs feel bamboozled, Clark has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last three years and Kansas City won the Super Bowl in 2019. But that doesn’t mean that Seattle should feel bad about flipping their 2015 late second round pick into a 2019 first and a 2020 second. (The teams also swapped thirds.) The move saved the Seahawks a ton of cap space and you couldn’t ask for a better return in draft value.
No, the Seahawks downfall as a defense is not the decision to part with Frank Clark. It’s every choice of edge rusher ever since that trade and the inability to replace him with another impact defensive end or outside linebacker.
After seeing both Clark and Jarran Reed (10.5) get double-digit sacks in 2018—but no other player had more than three—Seattle’s single-season leaders in sacks have been Rasheem Green in 2019 (he had four), Jamal Adams in 2020 (Reed led the front-seven with 6.5), and Carlos Dunlap in 2021 (8.5, but seven of those came in the final four games).
As it is, Uchenna Nwosu leads the 2022 Seahawks with two sacks, while six other players have one each. It will take a monumental effort to have a Seattle player reach double-digit sacks this year.
In 2019, the Seahawks ranked 28th in pressure rate (19.3%) and tied 29th in sacks (28).
In 2020, the Seahawks ranked 14th in pressure rate (24.1%) and were seventh in sacks (46), but remember that Jamal Adams had 9.5 of those and Dunlap was added late in the year to provide the most consistent pressure on the edge.
In 2021, the Seahawks ranked 26th in pressure rate (22.1%) and tied 22nd in sacks (34), but as noted, most of that came in the final quarter of the season.
Seattle did have a reaction to their lack of pressure on the quarterback: Pete Carroll replaced Ken Norton Jr. with Clint Hurtt as the defensive coordinator and the Seahawks are making an effort to revise their schemes to something that might have a greater impact on modern NFL offenses. But Seattle also ripped the Band-Aid off in their mission to be better and to be different:
The Seahawks cut Dunlap and Bobby Wagner for cap purposes, the team also decided not to bring back Green, who had 6.5 sacks last season. That meant that the leading returner in getting pressure on the QB would be Darrell Taylor (6.5 sacks, 22 pressures), followed by….Poona Ford, maybe?
Which brings me back to Seattle’s “plan” at rebuilding their ability to disrupt opposing quarterbacks. I don’t know if the process has been correct or incorrect. I just know that the results are massively underwhelming.
Remember, every Tuesday this season at Seaside Joe, we are keeping things positive! I may have just jumped the gun a little bit by posting this Seaside Bonus article about the offseason on Monday night, so if you want a detour to something nicer, don’t miss this:
The Seahawks used the first round pick from Kansas City to select L.J. Collier with the 29th overall pick. The decision was heavily criticized at the time, but so were a lot of other Seattle draft picks that turned out to be good. The “draft experts” win this round though.
But the problem for the Seahawks that year, and the reason for over-drafting Collier, may have been that Seattle danced with a bad draft class: There wasn’t another defensive end or OLB drafted after Collier until Ben Banogu at 49, followed by Zach Allen at 65. The Seahawks narrowly missed out on Montez Sweat in the first round, at which point they should have raised the white flag and picked the best player available.
In a way, they did raise the white flag: Pete didn’t take one other pass rusher in the entire draft, even though the Seahawks made 11 picks that year.
Pete double-dipped at WR (DK Metcalf, Gary Jennings, John Ursua), S (Marquise Blair, Ugo Amadi), and LB (Cody Barton, Ben Burr-Kirven) but for some reason was not concerned as much with edge rushing help.
Eventually, this led to the Seahawks trading Jacob Martin and a third round pick for a one-year rental of Jadeveon Clowney. Though Clowney led the Seahawks with 30 pressures in 2019, Martin actually had more sacks: 3.5 to 3.
Seattle was also expecting a breakout return from free agent Ezekiel Ansah as an ezekiel answer to their pass rushing woes: Ansah played in 11 games, recording 2.5 sacks and 10 pressures. Trying to plug a leaky faucet with veteran castoffs and Collier proved to be Seattle’s downfall in pressure rate and sacks.
But could Carroll react with an improvement in 2020? Yes, but not a sustainable one.
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The Seahawks double-dipped at edge rusher this time, picking Darrell Taylor 48th and Alton Robinson 148th. Taylor missed his entire rookie season and then posted 6.5 sacks in his “rookie” year. That leaves him with 6.5 sacks through ~2.3 seasons in the NFL. Robinson has five sacks and 20 pressures over 30 career games and he has spent all year on injured reserve.
Adams led the team with 26 pressures, followed by Benson Mayowa and Reed at 22, Dunlap at 18 (in only eight games), Collier at 17, and Ford at 14.
Any fan asking, “Okay, but who is the Cliff Avril or the Frank Clark or the Chris Clemons of this group?” would find that there wasn’t one. At best, the Seahawks were hoping to develop another “Michael Bennett” instead, but that also hasn’t borne any fruit.
With depleted draft resources in a weak draft class, Seattle went WR/CB/OL in the 2021 NFL Draft. No edge help. Instead, the Seahawks relied on the return of Taylor, a full season of Dunlap, and potential development of Green as an answer. Green led the team with 24 pressures, followed by Taylor at 22, Dunlap at 21, and Ford at 15. Kerry Hyder, another shot in the dark low-cost, low-reward signing, had 1.5 sacks and 13 pressures.
Does it matter?
I would say that it probably does.
Aaron Donald has dominated his games against the Seahawks since 2014, helping push the Rams to winning most of those contests and costing Seattle the chance at better postseason seeds multiple times over. I see now way that the Rams make two of the last four Super Bowls without an elite pass rusher like Donald, even if he doesn’t play the “edge” in the traditional sense.
In addition to Clark, the Chiefs have Chris Jones, likely the second-best pass rusher at nose tackle/defensive tackle in the NFL. They’ve made two Super Bowls with that combo. The Steelers are 0-8 without T.J. Watt since they drafted T.J. Watt. The 49ers defense has gone to another level with Nick Bosa, maybe the early leader for Defensive Player of the Year in 2022.
The breakout defense of the year is the Dallas Cowboys. Is it coincidence that Dan Quinn is a head coaching candidate again ever since the Cowboys added Micah Parsons? Is it a coincidence that the Bengals defense surprised the AFC playoff teams in 2021 after adding free agent Trey Hendrickson?
Show me a good team, we can probably find a good edge rusher. The 5-0 Eagles are probably wondering why Haason Reddick (4.5 sacks, 11 pressures) was so readily available. The 4-1 Buffalo Bills can tell you about Von Miller (4 sacks, 12 pressures) and Gregory Rosseau (4 sacks, eight pressures) changing their defensive outlook this season. The 4-1 Vikings have seen immediate returns (3.5 sacks, 9 pressures) from free agent Za’Darius Smith.
I would say it matters.
What to do
There is no reason to lose all hope with Darrell Taylor. The 25-year-old has shown promise and he may be struggling to find his place in the new defense, so giving him another year to figure out won’t cost the Seahawks anything. He’s signed through 2023 and he’s got nowhere to go but up.
Seattle double-dipped again at edge in 2022, taking Boye Mafe in round two and Tyreke Smith in round five. They are much different players and Smith is more of a “Benson Mayowa” than he is a Carlos Dunlap. Mafe was constantly getting new defensive coordinators and position coaches at Minnesota, there shouldn’t be a rush to see results from him this year. But his snap count has gone up in each of the last three weeks, and the Seahawks may see a future star in him by the end of the season.
Finally, Nwosu is Seattle’s best edge rusher right now and the Seahawks can keep him next year if he continues to get better…or cut him for cost savings if he doesn’t. My honest assessment of him, as it would be any player, is that for the most part guys are what they are. Sometimes they improve after many years in the league, usually they don’t. Nwosu is in his fifth season and he’s never been a “number one guy” at the position. I think he can be a part of a rotation, not a star. Given that he’s on pace for roughly six sacks and 20 pressures, the Seahawks have to think on the $8 million they would save by cutting him if he doesn’t eclipse those numbers.
As it currently stands, the Seahawks would be picking 10th and 11th in the 2023 NFL Draft. I know that it is a long time before the draft order is settled, but we could definitely see Seattle’s two first round picks fall in this range. Wherever they land, the Seahawks must strongly consider edge rusher with one of their first two picks. Given what I said on Monday about Pete and the QB position, don’t be surprised if and edge is Seattle’s number one pick.
I already wrote about Will Anderson, the consensus number one edge rusher in the draft. Three other names you will hear a lot next spring are Bryan Bresee (DT), Jalen Carter (DT), and Myles Murphy (EDGE). Bresee and Carter are interior players who seem to be even better than Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt in 2022, and I could see Pete favoring an interior player if one falls into the Seahawks laps. Murphy is a gifted defensive end and probably the leading candidate to be that guy who people say “I actually prefer (HIM) over Will Anderson.”
Here are a few of the nation’s leaders in pass rushing through six weeks of college football, as I’m getting to know them at the same time that you are:
Tui Tuipulotu, USC
I am stunned that NFL Mock Draft Database has Tui with a seventh round grade. Perhaps I am overrating him, perhaps he just hasn’t gotten due credit yet for the incredible season that he’s having as a junior. Tuipulotu’s seven sacks is tied with Drew Sanders (Arkansas) for the most in the country, and his 13 TFL is tied with Ivan Pace (Cincinnati) for the most in the country.
That is aided by the fact that he just dominated WSU last week (four TFL, three sacks) but he has been consistently dominant all year, recording four TFL against Stanford and two sacks against Fresno State. He was also great as a sophomore, recording 7.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks with 2 FF and 2 batted passes.
A three-star prospect in 2020, Tuipulotu is so athletic that he was catching touchdowns in high school from current Kansas star Jalon Daniels:
I just can’t imagine Tuipulotu hasn’t raised his stock into the first round. He’s dominating and he has a consistent track record of being a special player at USC. This isn’t a flash in the pan. Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch noted Tui as the star of the defense and said he can play any position on the defensive line, another reason to suspect he will be a Pete Carroll favorite.
Drew Sanders, Arkansas
Another player seeing his stock skyrocket this year is Drew Sanders, a transfer from Alabama who has found his place on the Arkansas defense. As noted, he is tied for the NCAA lead in sacks this year, with seven. NFLMDD projects him as a third rounder so far.
A four-star prospect in 2020, Sanders was part of a loaded group at Alabama (of course, Will Anderson knows that) but he’s shining as the number one guy for the Razorbacks. Sanders proved that by notching one sack against Alabama two weeks ago.
He also had two against South Carolina and one against Cincinnati, with three batted passes and two forced fumbles on the year.
Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Kansas State
You might as well get used to the name now: Anudike-Uzomah. He had 11 sacks and 14.5 TFL last season, making him one of the most feared pass rushers in the country as a true sophomore who was only a three-star recruit in 2020. That helped him get a first round grade going into this season and he’s still as dominant as ever.
Anudike-Uzomah has eight TFL and 6.5 sacks through six games this season. Two weeks ago, he had three sacks and a forced fumble against Texas Tech.
Laiatu Latu, UCLA
A four-star recruit in 2019, Latu chose Washington over all other schools interested in his services, of which there were many. But a neck injury in 2020 led to many doctors telling him he wouldn’t play football again. He entered the transfer portal this year and was accepted at UCLA, cleared to resume football activities this spring. Now he’s back in the NFL draft conversation.
Latu doesn’t have a page on NFL Mock Draft Database; he came in with only a handful of career snaps. But he has seven TFL, 6.5 sacks in six games this year, including three sacks, a batted pass, and a FF against Colorado in Week 4. The 6’4, 265 lb linebacker is lucky to be playing football. At this pace, an NFL team will be lucky to have him.
Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech
After transferring from Texas A&M to Tech in 2020, Wilson has been one of the best defensive players in the Big-12. He had seven sacks and 13.5 TFL in 2021, and has already amassed nine TFL and six sacks in 2022.
The 6’6, 275 lb end had two sacks against NC State, two against Kansas State, and another last week against Oklahoma State.
Lonnie Phelps, Kansas
Another transfer, Phelps has 8.5 TFL and six sacks in four games. Half of those sacks came against Tennessee Tech, but Phelps has responded with sacks in each of his last three games too. Phelps had 13.5 TFL for Miami (OH) last season. Former Miami (OH) teammate Ivan Pace also transferred this year and he has 12.5 TFL, five sacks at Cincinnati.
Jacoby Windmon, Michigan State
The Kenneth Walker of linebackers? Windmon parlayed a strong final two seasons at UNLV (little action in 2019) into a transfer portal destination of landing with the Spartans in 2022. After recording 119 tackles, 11.5 TFL, and 6.5 sacks in 12 games last year, the 6’2, 230 lb Windmon already has 8.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 2 PD, and FIVE forced fumbles in six games with Michigan State.
However… Four of those sacks came in Week 1 against Western Michigan, and three of those forced fumbles came in Week 2 against Akron. In his last four games, Windmon has zero sacks and two TFL.