Seahawks 2018 team needs

Next up in our offseason outlook is an analysis of the Seahawks 2018 team needs. We ranked the top 10 on Seattle’s roster.

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In case you missed it – we’ve taken a thorough look at Seattle’s offseason direction, exploring potential movement of coaches, veterans and free agents:

Seahawks offseason outlook part 1: team direction

Seahawks 2018 offseason outlook part 2: roster forecast + John Schneider’s future

Offseason outlook part 3: Seahawks 2018 free agents

The articles above provide full context for the Seahawks 2018 team needs highlighted in this piece. Here’s a quick summary of themes discussed which affect the offseason roster needs:

  • The Seahawks will assuredly place a high priority on the running game this offseason to field a more balanced offense.
  • Don’t call it a rebuild – teams with franchise QB’s never truly rebuild. Seattle still has talented players to help the team transition into a new era.
  • It might not make sense to blow up the L.O.B. era defense, as has been rumored. It’s feasible that Earl Thomas, Michael Bennett and Richard Sherman are all back next year. Check out the “Potential Cap Casualties” section of part 2 above for more on that.
  • Most of Seattle’s top unrestricted free agents are unlikely to be re-signed this offseason.

If you were living under a rock yesterday, here’s a summary on what went down with coaching firings:

Thoughts on Seahawks’ firing of Darrell Bevell & Tom Cable

Seattle also apparently fired DC Kris Richard and QB coach Carl Smith. The offseason has now both officially and unofficially started for Seattle. Let’s go. Without further ado, let’s get right into it:

Seahawks 2018 team needs – Top Priorities

Seattle has pressing needs at several positions on the roster this offseason. We’ve identified four critical needs that stand above the rest, all with the same relative urgency:

1) Tight End

  • Under team control: Nick Vannett, Tyrone Swoopes
  • Unrestricted free agents: Jimmy Graham, Luke Willson

Graham is “considered really unlikely to be back,” according to Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. Luke Willson is also a UFA, leaving the young and unproven duo of Vannett and Swoopes as the only TE’s on the roster. That makes the Tight End position arguably the #1 need heading into free agency.

Offseason Options: Swoopes will be no higher than 4th on the TE depth chart going into training camp, given his modest experience and pedigree. Seattle will thus add 2+ competitive TE’s this offseason, with at least one coming in free agency. The Seahawks will surely sign a steady veteran, since rookie TE’s generally need time to adjust to the NFL. The team could cheaply retain Willson (or a similar veteran), making TE a critical need in the draft. Don’t be shocked if Seattle instead takes a calculated risk on Tyler Eifert (injury) or Austin Seferian-Jenkins (off-field). Whether through free agency or the draft, a run-blocking specialist could be targeted to help the run game.

2) Offensive Guard

  • Under team control: Ethan Pocic, Rees Odhiambo, Jordan Roos, George Fant (more of a tackle).
  • Unrestricted free agents: Luke Joeckel, Oday Aboushi, Matt Tobin

The Seahawks have invested a ton into their offensive line over the past two years. Duane Brown and Justin Britt are locked in as steady vets, and Seattle drafted Pocic and Germain Ifedi highly. While the two young starters struggled this year, they’re on long term rookie contracts and have upside.  The Seahawks almost definitely feel set at 4 of 5 starting positions. Depth appears solid as well with Odhiambo, Roos and George Fant all signed for two more years. However, there is a gaping hole at the 5th starting spot (most likely Left Guard) heading into the offseason.

Offseason options: Seattle would love an athletic run blocker at LG, with run-game improvement a top priority this offseason. The first place to look is in-house, but the options are uninspiring. Joeckel is another top free agent who seems unlikely to be back, unless at a discounted price. Odhiambo was perhaps the most overmatched LT in the league this season, and the same could be said about Fant in 2016. It’s asking a lot for either one to suddenly become a competent starter at a whole new position. Free agency isn’t a great option either, since reliable linemen won’t come cheap. The Seahawks may not want to tie up too much money in the 5th OL spot with so much invested already. That’s where the draft comes into play. The 2018 Offensive Guard class is stacked with intriguing talent. There are several athletic, strong and skilled Guard prospects available. Seattle could find an NFL-ready starter (and even an immediate upgrade on Joeckel) on day 1 or 2 of the draft. The stars are aligned in terms of team need and draft value. There are a whopping seven 2018 linemen who are all superior “Guard” prospects to that of Pocic or Ifedi: Quenton Nelson, Connor Williams, Braden Smith, Billy Price, Tyrell Crosby, Will Hernandez & Wyatt Teller. That group will interest Seattle in the first round, or after trading down. I’ll post my initial rankings of the group later this week.

3) Strong Safety

  • Under team control: Kam Chancellor, Delano Hill
  • Unrestricted free agents: Bradley McDougald

Chancellor unfortunately may never play again, while McDougald is a UFA. Safety is certainly an important offseason need for Seattle, but perhaps not as significant as fans think. Earl Thomas is a strong candidate to be back next year and beyond (through an extension or franchise tag). Delano Hill is a complete safety in the mold of Marcus Maye, and was a steal in the 3rd round last year. However, he rightfully didn’t get the opportunity to play behind Chancellor and McDougald as a rookie. The Seahawks therefore won’t go into training camp with him as the presumptive starter at SS. Strong safety is consequently Seattle’s top need on defense as of right now.

Offseason options: It makes sense for Seattle to re-sign McDougald to a short-term contract, but with a well-earned spike in pay. If they can’t get him back on a reasonable deal, I could see them targeting more of a true box safety in free agency. Possibly an affordable veteran stopgap to complement Thomas and compete with Hill in 2018.

4) Running Back

  • Under team control: Chris Carson, C.J. Prosise, Mike Davis, J.D. McKissic, Thomas Rawls
  • Unrestricted free agents: Eddie Lacy

There are a lot of names in the Seahawks RB room, but not much in the way of quality proven talent. Lacy and Rawls will undoubtedly be let go (as a UFA & RFA, respectively) following dreadful seasons. Prosise flashed a dynamic skillset as a rookie, but simply cannot stay healthy. Davis and McKissic filled in admirably off the street this season, but neither are special athletes at RB. Carson is the one truly intriguing RB on the roster. However, he hasn’t proven he can be the lead back yet. Consider that, 1) Carson never played through a full workload at the Division-1 level. 2) His hard-running style is more susceptible to both nagging and serious injuries. 3) For all he showed early on this season, his career production is only 208 rushing yards (4.2 ypc) and 1 TD. The Seahawks prioritize RB like few other positions, making it a top need this offseason.

Offseason options: The draft value matches up with the Seahawks need at RB as well. I wrote back in October that there will be more RB’s picked in the top 3 rounds in 2018 than there has been in a decade. The performance of the 2018 RB class has surpassed even those expectations in college this year. In fact, the class is arguably stronger than 2017’s fantastic group of runners. Potential early round targets include: Derrius Guice, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Bryce Love, Royce Freeman, Ronald Jones, Rashaad Penny and Kerryon Johnson. I also love UW’s Myles Gaskin, who is still deciding whether to declare. Seattle could sign a cheap veteran as well to add some stability and leadership to a young RB room.

Seahawks 2018 team needs – not life or death, but still an important need

5) Defensive End

  • Under team control: Michael Bennett, Frank Clark, Dion Jordan, Cliff Avril, Branden Jackson
  • Unrestricted free agents: Marcus Smith

DE may not be as great a need as some suggest. Yes – Cliff Avril is severely injured and doesn’t figure into Seattle’s plans. However, Michael Bennett is likelier to be back than some reports have suggested. We’ll assume he’s a member of 2018 Seahawks unless proven otherwise. Malik McDowell also figures into the 5-Tech DE rotation if and when he returns. The larger concern is beyond next season. Clark and Jordan are potential building blocks as high upside DE’s, but they only have a year left of their contracts. Bennett is the only DE under contract past 2018. Seattle loves a healthy rotation on the edge, enough to consider DE a top 5 need this offseason.

Offseason options: I imagine that extending Clark is a priority, if the Seahawks have the cap space available to do so. On the other hand, Jordan likely needs to “prove it” over a full season before Seattle considers a long-term commitment. DE could be addressed in the draft, as there are a variety of talented edge rushers available. You can view my mid-season rankings here. Here are some prospects sure to interest Seattle in the early rounds: Harold Landry, Marcus Davenport, Arden Key, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Clelin Ferrell, Duke Ejiofor, Lorenzo Carter, Uchenna Nwosu & Josh Sweat.

6) Outside Linebacker

  • Under team control: J. Wright, D.J. Alexander
  • Unrestricted free agents: Michael Wilhoite, Terence Garvin

It’s time for an infusion of youth and depth at linebacker. Wright only has one year remaining on his contract, and there’s not much else on the roster. Although, LB is not quite an urgent need yet. Seattle essentially only has two starters, since they line up in nickel defenses about 70% of snaps. Of course, Wright and Bobby Wagner are an elite LB duo who don’t come off the field.

Offseason options: The Seahawks are sure to address the LB position in the draft. They likely would have last year if not for the weak class of relatively nonathletic LB’s. In contrast, this year’s group appears deep, athletic and strong throughout. Seattle could use multiple day 3 picks on linebackers as a result. Perhaps an earlier selection is in the cards as well – especially if the LB can rush the passer on 3rd downs like Bruce Irvin. There are a handful of versatile LB/Edge types available this year: Okoronkwo, Sweat, Carter, Nwosu, and perhaps Tremaine Edmunds. It would be a long-shot, but Seattle could theoretically trade Wright for a draft pick to save cap room. And use a high pick to select his immediate replacement.

7) Wide Receiver

  • Under team control: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Amara Darboh, David Moore, Tanner McEvoy
  • Unrestricted free agents: Paul Richardson

As it stands now, the Seahawks have a young group of receivers behind Baldwin. Lockett is a sneaky bet for a bounce-back next season, another year removed from his broken leg. I also liked Darboh coming out of Michigan, and he’ll get a greater opportunity next season. Moore and/or McEvoy will compete at the back end of the WR depth chart. All things considered, Seattle could use another top 3 WR for next season and the future. Lockett’s contract is up after 2018.

Offseason options: In our look at Seattle’s 2018 UFA’s, we covered why Richardson is a strong candidate to sign elsewhere. The Seahawks could use a taller contested catch WR to replace him, since the roster lacks those types of pass-catchers. Don’t be surprised if Seattle makes a run at risk/reward free agents like Allen Robinson and Terrelle Pryor. The likelier scenario is a cheaper free agent veteran addition, with a draft pick to supplement the group.

Seahawks 2018 team needs – lower priority

8) Defensive Tackle

  • Under team control: Jarran Reed, Nazair Jones, Malik McDowell, Quinton Jefferson, Garrison Smith
  • Unrestricted free agents: Sheldon Richardson

Seattle’s offseason plan at Defensive Tackle depends a lot on the status of McDowell. If they think he can return next season, the DT rotation is virtually set for the present and future. Reed and Jones offer upside as the potential starting 1-Tech and 3-Tech (respectively) next season. And McDowell, Clark & Bennett (if he returns) all figure into the nickel interior rush package. Another classic DT would be nice to round out the rotation, but that doesn’t make DT a big need. However, McDowell’s absence would leave the DT spot looking thin.

Offseason options: There are several reasons to believe Seattle lets Richardson go, especially if McDowell’s health improves. The latter’s status with the Seahawks is arguably a more important factor than the former. We’ve covered the 2018 DT draft class in depth, but it’s unlikely Seattle heavily targets the position. Instead, the team may add a more affordable veteran UFA than Richardson to provide depth and experience.

9) Kicker, backup QB, Fullback

These are not high-priority spots on the roster, but the Seahawks don’t have much at these positions. In fact, most of the options are only signed to Futures Contracts. Seattle stands to upgrade all three spots this offseason if they can afford the cap space and draft capital.

10) Cornerback

  • Under team control: Richard Sherman, Shaquill Griffin, Justin Coleman, Mike Tyson, Neiko Thorpe
  • Unrestricted free agents: Byron Maxwell, Deshawn Shead

Cornerback turns into a more significant need if Richard Sherman is dealt or cut. However, that is very much up in the air, and he’s currently under contract with the Seattle Seahawks. Griffin is a long-term building block at CB, and I liked Tyson (6th rounder last year) coming out of college as well. He figures to have a good chance at being the backup CB behind Coleman in 2018.

Offseason options: There seems to be mutual interest between the Seahawks and each UFA (Maxwell & Shead). Seattle could re-sign both to short terms deals, especially if the team moves on from Sherman. The CB draft class is weak this year, and the Seahawks will likely have nice depth at CB after free agency. That said, you can never rule out a late pick for a team that has struck gold on day 3 before.