6 defensive players who could breakout next season

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On Monday, I posted six offensive players who could break out for the Seahawks next season as “internal upgrades” after a free agency period that many deemed “slow” for John Schneider.

Today is the defensive names, obviously.

Dion Jordan, DE

I think if there’s “a guy” on defense that most are anxious to see in a starting role, it’s Jordan. When Seattle signed him a year ago it felt like an “Ok, whatever, that probably won’t work” moment, but patience with Jordan (what else can you do other than have patience with a guy who sat out of the league for two-plus years) paid off to 18 tackles and four sacks in five games. Jordan had one sack in four of his five games and looked significantly better than he ever did with the Miami Dolphins.

He actually kind of looked like the guy the Dolphins thought they were getting with the third overall pick in 2013. I mean, I think we’d all be happy even if he looked like a second rounder and now he’s going to get the opportunity to become a full-timer for the first time in his career.

With Michael Bennett traded to the Philadelphia Eagles and Cliff Avril unexpected to return, Jordan is the favorite to start opposite of Frank Clark. That increased opportunity could result in Jordan approaching the value of Bennett (not easy and not something he has to do to be successful), and perhaps with more sacks. My ideal free agent and draft targets for the Seahawks were more pass rushers and they’ve been relatively quiet in that area outside of retaining Marcus Smith and signing Barkevious Mingo, but they probably felt a little less anxious because they knew they were bringing back Jordan, a restricted free agent.

Chris Carson is perhaps my biggest “internal upgrade” on offense, and Jordan has to be that guy for me on defense.

Nazair Jones, DT

He intercepted Aaron Rodgers in his first NFL game and it was all downhill from there. I don’t think a lot of people were focusing on the potential impact of Jones as a rookie last season because he was the second DT that Seattle drafted after Malik McDowell and one of four third round picks. Since he wasn’t a starting corner (Shaquill Griffin) or wide receiver (Amara Darboh), I think Jones quickly became just “a guy” amid those third rounders, but by the end of the season many of us are seeing him as having the type of impact that we thought McDowell would have before his ATV accident.

It’s just a matter of: How much will Jones play with these new additions at defensive tackle?

Jarran Reed is still an elite run-stopper and sure to be atop the rotation at the position, while Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen were not signed to sit on the bench. We also still don’t know anything about the status of McDowell, but he has to remain well behind Jones for now. Jones ended his season with 19 tackles, two sacks, and three passes defensed, giving him potential as a disruptive lineman on passing downs, which could be where he’s utilized in 2018 and something Seattle absolutely needs.

Delano Hill, SS

Tedric Thompson, FS

It’s tough to know what role Hill and Thompson could play in 2018, or if they’re even good, but these mid-round safeties still qualify as two of the highest-drafted defensive backs in the Pete Carroll era and opportunities always seem to present themselves for guys like that. Surely as it stands now, anything could happen.

We know that Kam Chancellor is not expected to return at strong safety, giving Bradley McDougald an opportunity to win the job and start after re-signing for three more years. We also know that Earl Thomas is the hottest name on the trade market (I guess you could argue OBJ, but … why?) but I would not expect anything to happen there. There are plenty of ways that Hill and/or Thompson could contribute next season:

  • McDougald or Thomas get injured
  • McDougald underwhelms
  • Thomas gets traded
  • Special teams
  • Defensive packages with an extra DB
  • Helping vets carry their pads into the locker room

The other thing that the presence of Hill and Thompson could definitely do: take pressure off of the Seahawks to draft a safety with their limited number of picks in the upcoming draft. Seattle may have been looking ahead too far when drafting two safeties when they already had three good ones on the roster, but this is where that depth comes in handy. They don’t need more safeties and these two backups give them some sort of potential and pedigree with their depth.

As a reminder: Kam Chancellor barely played as a rookie, Byron Maxwell didn’t start until his third season, Jeremy Lane was sparingly used even when healthy, and McDougald went undrafted and bounced around before landing a starting spot in Tampa Bay in the middle of his second year.

And though I didn’t really feel like they qualified for this list because they played too much in 2017, I think that Shaquill Griffin and Justin Coleman are definitely candidates to improve and become “internal upgrades” now that they’re going into their second season as starters.

Quinton Jefferson, DL

He’s managed to be active for just nine games through two seasons, but I still like Jefferson and he’s a guy who Seattle traded up to acquire in 2016. Said Jefferson last preseason: “I’m a baller.”

It’s perhaps some of the confidence that the Seahawks will need to make up for in the absence of Richard Sherman and with the defensive line getting younger amid the losses of Bennett, Avril, and Richardson, Jefferson has a chance to count himself among the veteran leaders. He’s also motivated now that he’s lost most of his first two seasons with injury, but there is also the concern that he can’t stay healthy.

I don’t know if Jefferson will be a part of the Seahawks in 2018, but he was once compared to Bennett and at times (though usually in the preseason) he’s looked the part. Even if they’ve lost those three star veterans, Seattle does seem to have very solid depth on the defensive line.

Marcus Smith, LB/DE

It feels like Smith was a first round pick a long, long time ago, but he only just turned 26 on Saturday. The Seahawks re-signed Smith for one year, not showing a huge amount of confidence that he’ll outplay his deal, but he also hasn’t done much to earn a starters salary: that’s because Smith has zero official starts in his first four seasons.

He also had 2.5 sacks for Seattle in 2017, giving him 6.5 in his career. He did get those 2.5 on 72 pass rushing snaps (h/t John Gilbert) while playing with an injury, so if Jordan and Jefferson aren’t occupying all those empty pass rushing snaps left open by Bennett and Avril, Smith is ready for his shot.

This list is pretty heavy on defensive linemen, light on corners and linebackers, which may or may not be cause for concern. Obviously the Seahawks are happy with their two starters in the middle (Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright) and they signed Mingo to be the third guy in that unit, I believe. The team is likely still trying to retain Maxwell to start opposite of Griffin and Coleman, so it’s hard to refer to that as an internal upgrade at corner; only Mike Tyson, Neiko Thorpe, or DeAndre Elliott seem like ideal candidates for that title and I’m not sure there’s much to be sold on. Thorpe is an excellent special teamer but who knows what the future holds for these guys on defense.

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