Seattle Seahawks Offseason – The Legion Of Who?

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The 2018-19 season was the first time that the Seahawks played an entire 16-game slate without any of the original members of the Legion of Boom on roster. With Kam Chancellor retired, Earl Thomas on the Baltimore Ravens and Richard Sherman still manning the right side in the defensive backfield for Seattle’s most hated rival, the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle had to attempt to find a new identity for its secondary. The identity that developed could’ve been labeled “eh” and followed quickly by a shrug emoji. The unit itself never coalesced as a whole. This was especially true at the safety position, where there were five different starters cycled through over the course of the season.

As one could guess, this interchange of players contributed greatly to the inconsistent play in Seattle’s pass defense. According to FootballOutsiders, Seattle finished with the 26th-ranked pass defense, a far cry from the days when elite quarterbacks feared seeing Seattle on the schedule. Now the Seahawks are one of the leakiest teams in the league, regularly giving up high yardage to any quarterback Seattle faces. If you’re a pass defense that gives up 400+ yards to the corpse of Matt Schaub, you know you are in a dark place. With that being said, Seattle does have room for optimism. The players Seattle is returning to the position were drafted high or have proven to be good players in the league before. We’ll take a look at each one and see who is the most in-line to play regularly this season.

Safeties on Roster:

Ugo Amadi

Marquise Blair

Bradley McDougald

Chris Miller

Josh Norwood

Quandre Diggs

Lano Hill

We’ll start with the free safety position, as the competition for strong safety is much more open. Quandre Diggs began 2019 as a team captain for the Detroit Lions. A four-season starter, he was seen as one of the linchpins in their secondary—until he wasn’t. There were concerns in the locker room about his disagreements with the Lions coaching staff, as well as a nagging injury that kept him out for a few games midseason. That’s when the Seahawks swooped, netting him for nothing more than a 5th-round pick. And his impact was glorious. In his second game as a Seahawk, he hauled in two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. In doing so, he matched the entire output of the Seahawks offense in that week 14 loss to the Rams. He also brought a bit of nastiness that the unit as a whole was lacking, laying the wood on any receiver that attempted to cross over the middle of the field. His overall impact was massive, as Seattle gave up 23.8 points per game in his starts against a tough stretch of the schedule, compared to 24.3 without him. While that half a point may not seem like much, his presence came across in the game film as opponents struggled to move the ball the same way they had without him on the field. He is no Earl Thomas, but Diggs brings a calming presence that has been missing since the dissolution of the Legion of Boom.

The free safety spot is an interesting one, as the players behind Diggs are competing for playing time at other positions as well. The only other person even listed as a free safety is Ugo Amadi, a second-year player out of the University of Oregon. Amadi played sparingly during his rookie season, really only seeing the field on special teams for much of the season (where he absolutely balled out, by the way). He didn’t see snaps on defense until later in the season when Seattle released slot corner Jamar Taylor. That’s where he spent his time, close to the line of scrimmage and lining up against wide receivers rather than patrolling the back end. How he performed will be a subject in the cornerback’s preview, but it stands to reason that Amadi will once again compete there this upcoming preseason. While his college position was safety, Seattle would most likely look for other players to fill in were an injury to occur to Quandre Diggs. Bradley McDougald has a ton of experience at the free safety spot and even Marquise Blair filled in as the center fielder at times in 2019. If Amadi sees the field, it will most likely be at a different position.

Free safety is Quandre Diggs’ domain. The strong safety position, on the other hand, is wide open. The starter over the past couple seasons, Bradley McDougald is coming off a year with multiple injuries and less-than-stellar production on the field (70 tackles, 2 interceptions). That resulted in a steep drop in the Pro Football Focus rankings, placing him among the worst performing safeties in the league. The main area where he seemed to struggle was run defense, as he missed 12 total tackles on the season, 14.6% of all tackles attempted according to pro-football-reference.com. This is an issue in the Cover 3 scheme that Seattle runs as its base defense, as it brings the strong safety closer to the box to provide an extra defender to stop and plug up running plays. If the strong safety is unable to do so effectively, you would be leaving the top of your defense short-staffed without the extra benefit of stopping the run consistently. While McDougald’s coverage skills are some of the best on the team – allowing a team-low 54.4% completion rate – he leaves the Seahawks exposed against running backs.

The guy on roster who could, potentially, be a true difference maker is second-year rookie Marquise Blair. He was drafted in 2018 to do one thing: hit the ever-living BLEEP out of receivers trying to cross over the middle of the field. A true enforcer, he always seems to help lock down the Seattle run defense whenever he is patrolling the box. He only missed four tackles throughout his 14 games played, and he forced two fumbles. A good example of the tenacity he brings is the first turnover he recorded of his career—a strip on running back Devonta Freeman. With the Falcons in the red zone, quarterback Matt Schaub dumps the ball off to Freeman for what looks like an easy five yards to get closer to the end zone. Blair, seeing the pass, comes forward to meet the Falcons running back and stops the powerful runner in his tracks with the aid of linebacker KJ Wright. Freeman, though, attempts to wiggle free of the would-be tacklers to gain extra yardage. Instead of allowing him to go to the ground, Blair twists with the running back and is able to poke free the exposed football. The result was a turnover and the denial of a potential Falcons touchdown. On his best plays, Blair looks like the type of player to bring a real mean streak to the backend of the Seattle defense.

Unfortunately, on his worst plays he looked very much like a first-year rookie. Going back to pro-football-reference, Blair was targeted 17 times in coverage and allowed 11 completions for an opposing quarterback rating of 126.6. The Cover 3 scheme Seattle plays is zone based, relying on the players in coverage to read and react to what is going on in front of them. When it works, it is super effective as it allows players to use their natural IQ and athleticism to execute the play without an over-reliance on scheme. BUT, it is less effective when less experienced players, especially rookies, are expected to execute it. Blair has athleticism to spare, but he has not been in the league long enough to know all that an offense will throw at him. While he has taken his lumps, another year of experience in the Seattle defense could allow him to use his plus-athleticism to make the leap into a full-time starter. Continued struggles in the mental aspect of the game, though, would allow McDougald to remain ahead of him on the depth chart going into 2020.

The forgotten man in this mix is Lano Hill, a fifth-round pick by the Seahawks in 2017. A spot starter throughout his three-year career, Hill hasn’t exactly given much reason that his status should be any different. In his four starts in 2019, he was part of a backend that got carved up by opposing offenses. Seattle gave up 28 points per game in his starts and struggled to get opponents off the field. While the Seahawks played against some strong teams (49ers, Cardinals, Saints, Steelers) there were gaping holes in the middle of the field for teams to exploit in the running game. Pro Football Focus believes that Hill was a major liability in this capacity, giving him a 28.9/100 grade on all running plays he defended. Pro Football reference marked him as missing 16.7% of all tackles he attempted, meaning even when he was in the right place, he struggled to bring the ball carrier down with consistency. Hill just doesn’t have the physical intangibles that Seattle looks for in its strong safety position, lacking a toughness element that the Seahawks need from the position.

There is no equivalent to an Earl Thomas or a Kam Chancellor on this roster, but the outlook seems solid. A full season of Quandre Diggs could put a lid on the top of Seattle’s defensive structure. According to sharpfootballstats.com, the highest percentage of completed explosive pass plays allowed by the Seahawks was over the middle of the field. Diggs has the IQ and versatility to reduce the effectiveness of opposing offenses targeting that area. Whoever his partner is on the field will also have a hand in reducing that play type. As we discussed above, Seattle’s safeties last season struggled to tackle effectively, allowing receivers to rack up yards-after-the-catch stats. If Marquise Blair’s ability to read the game grows enough to allow him to consistently see the field, he could be part of a solution to stop those plays dead in their tracks. If he can’t make that jump, both McDougald and Hill could struggle and leave that part of the field vulnerable once again.

There is one potential wild card here, as Seattle is reportedly one of the teams engaged in talks with the New York Jets about star safety Jamal Adams. The safeties on roster could be good, but the addition of Adams would take the position group to a whole new level. He is a defensive wrecking ball with the ability to play multiple positions at any time. The proof is in his stat line, as he recorded 75 tackles, 1 interception, 7 pass defenses, 10 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, and 6.5 sacks. He covered both tight ends and wide receivers 1-on-1, he played as an extra linebacker in the box against the run and he recorded more sacks than any other defensive back in the league – recording a tally that would have been more than any Seahawk defensive lineman. He could be Kam Chancellor or he could be Earl Thomas in a Seattle Cover 3 defense. Or he could be something else entirely, a multi-faceted wild card that would flummox opposing offensive coordinators due to his versatility. Seattle has the cap space to get him and the reported asking price for Adams is a first- and third-round pick. If Seattle really isn’t going to sign Jadaveon Clowney, I can see no more superior difference maker the Seahawks could bring this offseason.

In summation, the safety room for Seattle has a relatively high floor but what could be an even higher ceiling were some things to break their way. First and foremost, are the players on the roster getting better, Marquise Blair specifically? If he looks the part of a starting-level strong safety, the Seahawks could use their remaining cap space on potential free agents to boost the weaker parts of their roster *cough* defensive line *cough*. Matched up with a fully healthy Diggs, Seattle could feel in pretty good shape about the backline of the defense. If the Seahawks do not feel like he is ready to take that next step, they could look to outside options to fill that need and go after someone like Jamal Adams. For Seattle to have a real shot at going deep in the playoffs, it can’t have its secondary be a liability again.

Projected Opening Day Roster:

Free Safety: Quandre Diggs

Strong Safety: Marquise Blair

Back-ups: Bradley McDougald, Ugo Amadi, Lano Hill

Practice Squad: Josh Norwood

Cut: Chris Miller

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