There are two things that need to happen this season in order for the Seahawks to reach their first NFC Championship Game since 2014.
For starters, Shane Waldron must be the guy. He must be in lockstep with Russell Wilson and get Seattle’s offense humming for the full season. There’s no excuse for the Seahawks to not have a top 10 offense, and it’s not a stretch to say the unit should be top five.
The second is that a handful of “good” players, all of whom occupy significant roles on the roster, must be “great” this season. That’s because there wasn’t one singular acquisition this offseason that significantly moved the needle in and of itself. Thus, key role players will be required to take marked steps forward toward reaching their potential.
In order to make this list, each player had to have a realistic ceiling that would qualify them as a difference-maker. Here’s who I came up with, starting with a few honorable mentions. Feel free to find me on Twitter (@joe_fann) to let me know where you agree and how your list would look different.
CB Ahkello Witherspoon
Witherspoon has good-to-elite traits but is yet to put a consistent season together. Let’s start there when setting expectations for the man who is likely to replace Shaquill Griffin on the left side of Seattle’s secondary.
Witherspoon staying healthy for 17 games without ever being a liability would make for $4 million well spent by the Seahawks.
DL L.J. Collier
Collier proved he’s a capable NFL defensive lineman in 2020. He should be a fine rotational piece for many years to come. But he’s not in the top five here because I’m just not sure his ceiling is high enough to qualify. Collier will be 26 in September.
DL Darrell Taylor
Taylor has remarkable traits, but I want to see him play in a game before even toying with the idea that he may reach his ceiling and become a cornerstone in Seattle’s defense. He’s the biggest wild card on the entire roster.
G Damien Lewis
Lewis just missed the cut. He had a solid rookie season, particularly as a mauler in the running game, but he needs to find consistency as a pass protector. There’s no reason why he can’t do so in 2021, especially considering the tutelage of Gabe Jackson.
5. TEs Will Dissly and Gerald Everett
Both of Seattle’s top tight ends are included here because the Seahawks only need one of them to pop. In addition, it’s safer to bet on these two than second-round pick Dee Eskridge, who is already dealing with a foot injury.
We’ve seen both Dissly and Everett produce in the NFL, we just haven’t seen it consistently over the course of a full season. Injuries have been Dissly’s bugaboo while Everett was never able to outshine Tyler Higbee in Los Angeles. Those two, along with Colby Parkinson, should be more productive than last year’s trio of Dissly, Jacob Hollister and Greg Olsen.
4. G Gabe Jackson
Jackson is the only newcomer to Seattle’s offensive line, even after Wilson’s plea for better pass protection. The splash trade with the Raiders netted the Seahawks a veteran guard who should be a stabilizing presence along the interior of Seattle’s line.
Jackson must be a marked improvement over Mike Iupati while remaining healthy for the full season. In addition, being a positive influence on Lewis and Ethan Pocic at center would only add to his value. Jackson will turn 30 on July 12, but that shouldn’t mean his best football is necessarily behind him.
3. CB D.J. Reed
Reed was sensational in 2020. He played all three corner spots and thrived at each while keeping the secondary afloat amid a myriad of injuries. Now he figures to be “the guy” for Seattle at corner following Griffin’s departure in free agency.
The 5-foot-10 corner will matchup against superstar wideouts with equally capable quarterbacks trying to beat him. I am willing to believe in Reed given his mental makeup and overall competitiveness. Corners need to be supremely confident in their ability, and Reed is a player who wants all the smoke all the time. That said, just because he was impressive in eight starts last season doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee he’ll be a stud once again in 2021. He needs to be, though, that much is certain.
2. DL Poona Ford
The unnecessary squabble between the Seahawks and Jarran Reed is the most disappointing happening of Seattle’s offseason. The interior of Seattle’s defensive line is thin, particularly when it comes to pass rush ability. Ford posted 2.0 sacks in 2020 and showed more as a pass rusher than we’ve ever seen from him.
The Seahawks will need those skills to continue to develop this season. Guys like Kerry Hyder and L.J. Collier will provide some push on passing downs, but Ford is Seattle’s best bet for an interior pass rush in base. He’s the star of the show at defensive tackle now, leading a group that consists of Bryan Mone, Al Woods and Cedrick Lattimore.
1. LB Jordyn Brooks
There’s immense pressure on Brooks this season. That comes with the territory of being a first-round pick, of course, but the expectations of Brooks are exponentially higher given he’s replacing a Seahawks legend.
Not only is K.J. Wright an all-tie great in franchise history, but he is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. Seattle has no choice but to roll with their first-rounder in order to justify the investment, but an in-his-prime Wright leaves massive shoes to fill for Brooks.
I think he can do it. Let’s make that clear. Brooks developed wonderfully at the end of his rookie season and flashed the traits that made him a coveted piece by the Seahawks front office. However, we can’t bank on elite play from him until we see him in a three-down role.