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How will rookies impact the Seahawks 2022 offense?
Seaside Joe 1213: Charles Cross, Ken Walker, and Abe Lucas enter the chat
July is the seventh month of the season and there are seven rounds in the NFL Draft. And also very little football news happens in July.
So July is Rookie Month here at Seaside Joe. Subscribe for a rookie-themed newsletter in your inbox everyday. Tell a Seahawks friend that it’s rookie month!
Last season, the Seahawks only had three draft picks and they had little impact on the team during their first season. Tre Brown only played in five games but still had the most snaps of the three, while Dee Eskridge appeared in 187 snaps on offense over 10 games. Among the undrafted free agents, Jake Curhan made five starts at right tackle and Jon Rhattigan played 250 snaps on special teams.
On a technicality, Darrell Taylor was a rookie in 2021, but so too was Malik McDowell, making his first NFL appearances with the Cleveland Browns four years after he was drafted by Seattle.
How will 2022 rookies impact the Seahawks offense?
LT Charles Cross
Let me start with a bit of a red flag that I see with an increasing number of NFL writers year after year: If all you can say about an offensive lineman is their PFF grade, you admit a total lack of research.
How is it that I’ve managed to do this for 11 years without citing PFF grades as my only form of evaluation of any player? And hardly any mention of PFF grades in general, other than moments like this one where I’m asking the very reasonable question: What’s the difference between PFF grades and Madden ratings?
Madden ratings have more transparency.
And yet, any amount of research that I attempt to do on the quality of Duane Brown in 2021 or the potential impact of Charles Cross at the next level will now bring me back to PFF grades over and over again. Similar to when I ask for accountability with spreading rumors, I also want to know why writers choose to be willfully ignorant of the methodology and quality of PFF grades because the path we are heading down is making it easier for ProFootballFocus to say and publish any grade they want.
The amount of faith I have in PFF to be fair and honest, with no self-interest in creating content that will only serve their own clicks, to manipulate the audience for greater exposure, is the same as my own PFF grade:
In the case of Brown, I don’t even necessarily think that anything speaks louder than his current status as a free agent who hasn’t announced any plans to retire. If anything, Brown was clear after the season that he was hopeful to stay with the Seahawks after an “up and down” campaign.
I had also completely forgotten that Brown did a hold-in last training camp in the hopes of getting an extension, eventually returning to practice after Seattle restructured the final year of his deal. If the Seahawks had given into his demand, they likely would have had to release him anyway and been left with useless dead cap.
It’s not as though Brown was bad during his 14th NFL season and the most likely impact of switching him out for Charles Cross will be a difference in how often Seattle will run to the left side and how effective those plays will be.
At 36, Brown seemed as agile and effective as would have in most any of the other 13 seasons. He did, however, have five penalties, the same amount he had total from 2018-2020, four of which were false starts. Brown had only posted three false starts over his previous five seasons combined.
The decision to not extend Duane Brown came last offseason and the decision to let him leave in free agency came early this year, all well before the Seahawks knew that they could draft Cross. But obviously Seattle had some sense that Stone Forsythe and Jake Curhan wouldn’t be the team’s only options headed into training camp and there must have been some influence here to get younger and cheaper at the position while the Seahawks were making a transition at quarterback.
It is also possible that Seattle will be getting an upgrade in pass protection at left tackle by getting lucky with the availability of Cross in the 2022 draft. A 37-year-old Brown facing off twice against Nick Bosa, or Joey Bosa, Maxx Crosby, Frank Clark, J.J. Watt, Brian Burns and the rest of the expected opposing pass rushers this season, could be less appealing than giving Cross a chance to test the waters while protecting Geno Smith and Drew Lock instead of the future franchise QB or Russell Wilson.
We don’t need PFF grades to tells us that Charles Cross was an elite pass blocking tackle at Mississippi State. Every form of research will lead you to that conclusion. We also know that Cross had limited run blocking reps but that he often looked the part during those opportunities. Seaside Joe’s first round of Cross tape against Georgia’s elite defensive line was as exhilarating as any chance to watch an SEC left tackle could be.
Are the Seahawks better off at left tackle in 2022 with Charles Cross? Nothing will clue us into that answer before the season begins. What we do know is that the majority of rookies struggle in the NFL and that offensive tackle has a bigger learning curve than most positions, even if Rashawn Slater, the Chargers’ first round pick in 2021, may have been the best left tackle of the season.
Slater went six picks after Penei Sewell, who played on the right side and then improved as the year went on after some early bad games. The Raiders selected Alex Leatherwood, also a right tackle, and he had 13 penalties, including seven holding calls. Cross had nine penalties in 2021, so that could be something to monitor.
Expect: Exciting flashes of pass protecting dominance, growing pains, decrease in runs behind left tackle, a few more penalties, relative stability in overall value at the position
RB - Ken Walker III
What more needs to be said other than me finishing the Kenny on Kenny series? It’s been fantastic getting to watch Walker play in every college game of his career and to see the consistency in which he provides explosive touchdown runs, broken tackles, burst, patience at the line of scrimmage, football IQ, vision, and fancy “Dance Dance Revolution” footwork whether he was in the slow-mesh offense at Wake Forest or a more traditional west coast scheme at Michigan State.
I think if you follow the wrong people on Twitter, you might fall for this myth that the running back position requires no brains, no hard work, no special skills, and that it is a plug-and-play job that any dolt who runs a 4.4 at 220 lbs can do.
And yet there is practically no evidence that the running back position is any easier for a rookie than it would be to play left tackle (where Slater dominated like a plug-and-play player) or wide receiver (Ja’Marr Chase had no issue with the transition) or linebacker/pass rusher (Micah Parsons).
Dating back to 2014, only 12 running backs have rushed for at least 1,000 yards during their rookie seasons. Only five had at least 1,200 yards, including Najee Harris in 2021. And only Ezekiel Elliott had more than 1,330 rushing yards as a rookie. You would think that for such a plug-and-play “anyone can do it” position, that rookies would excel more than any veterans, because they have the freshest legs.
You would also think that the best ones may even be those highly requested “value picks” and yet six of the 12 were first round picks, including four top-10 picks (Elliott, Saquon Barkley, Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette). Another three were day two picks and only three would be considered “late rounders”, with James Robinson and Phillip Lindsay barely crossing over 1,000 yards.
I point this out because I want to caution people against expecting Ken Walker to rush for 1,000 yards with the Seahawks this year and not only because Rashaad Penny will be ahead of him on the depth chart when the season begins. And if Walker isn’t this immediately dominate and explosive player, that’s going to be okay, even if those people on Twitter will jump on any opportunity to criticize Seattle for making the pick during the season.
Walker loses one fumble? “Bad pick!”
Walker has one game with 10 carries for 15 yards? “Bad pick!”
Walker finishes the season with 15 catches? “Bad pick!”
There won’t be any real evaluation from those people. It’s just waiting for the moments to say it was a bad pick, and ignoring everything else.
All told though, I believe Walker is a better prospect than Penny was in 2018 and I would put the odds just over 50-percent that Walker is the Seahawks number one back before the end of this season. You will have plenty of chances to retort… “Great pick!”
Walker’s impact will be felt this year, but the Seahawks might also have one of the worst run-blocking offensive lines in the NFL, if not the worst. In a similar situation but tasked with being the immediate starter, Najee Harris had 1,200 yards as the Steelers’ biggest offensive threat and often facing a stacked box. Penny and Walker should see a lot of stacked boxes and that could make it difficult for Pete Carroll to run the ball like he would want to this year.
Expect: A shared backfield that may take some time to feature Walker for more than 10-20 snaps per game. I think he will catch more passes than most expect. Please give Ken Walker the same amount of patience that you would give any other rookie.
RT Abe Lucas
Offensive line coach Andy Dickerson is encouraged by what he’s heard from Cross and Lucas, but cautioned to expect too much after only minicamps and OTAs. The real picture of how they are doing will come with full pads in training camp.
My expectation right now is for Jake Curhan to start at right tackle. That could definitely change after the hitting begins and it would be the best thing for Seattle to find out that they can throw Lucas into the fire right away. But it was barely more than six months ago that Curhan was facing off against NFL defensive linemen (and doing fairly well) while Lucas was still having his sore moments against Pac-12 competition.
It could also be Forsythe.
Just playing the odds a little bit here, I’d look for Lucas to spend 2022 to work towards beating out those other tackles for the 2023 right tackle job. He has the athletic abilities to be a great right tackle in the league and it would be fine if he spent his rookie season earning it over the course of the year in practice and spot duty. Very few non-first round offensive linemen end up starting as rookies.
Expect: A learning curve.
Others: WR Dareke Young, WR Bo Melton, WR Kevin Kassis (UDFA), OL Shamarious Gilmore (UDFA), OL Liam Ryan (UDFA), TE Cade Brewer (UDFA)
We’ve heard on multiple occasions now that Pete Carroll was not happy that Young and Melton weren’t “in shape to get in shape” at OTAs. And the road for them to make the 53-man roster is not easy. We can practically guarantee four receiver jobs are taken, meaning that Marquise Goodwin, Penny Hart, Aaron Fuller, and Cody Thompson are among those looking to keep Young and Melton on the practice squad.
Can either of them win a roster spot through special teams? They would appear to be on the outside-looking in there too.
Maybe the most interesting guy in this group of Liam Ryan. While Abe Lucas got the draft attention at WSU, Ryan got attention for other things.
And I like his stance on NIL deals, saying “I’m just here to get my degree.”
But it would be surprising (and concerning) if Gilmore or Ryan were tasked to start at any point this year. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen, as Curhan was not the first UDFA offensive linemen to start for Carroll and he may not be the last.