Because of offseason changes to the roster, as well as injuries to notable players during the season, the Seahawks defense looked drastically different in 2018 than it has in recent years.
One constant, however, has been linebacker Bobby Wagner, a rock in the middle of the Seahawks defense since he arrived in Seattle as a second-round pick in 2012. And while the pieces around him changed, Wagner’s extremely high level of play did not, which is one of the big reasons why the Seahawks are 10-6 and back in the playoffs even after all of that offseason change.
And for his play in 2018, Wagner was again named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press for the third consecutive season and fourth time overall. Wagner fell just short of being a unanimous selection, appearing on 49 of 50 ballots. Wagner, who also earned second-team honors in 2015, was joined on the first-team All-Pro squad by rookie punter Michael Dickson, who like Wagner was also named to the 2019 Pro Bowl. Seahawks left tackle Duane Brown, meanwhile, earned second-team All-Pro honors. Brown, who was acquired in a trade last season, previously earned All-Pro honors twice while in Houston, being named to the first team in 2012 and the second team in 2011.
Wagner was as dominant as ever between the lines in 2018, but just as important as his sustained on-field excellence this season was the leadership he provided for a defense that lost Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, and Cliff Avril in the offseason, and got only nine combined games out of K.J. Wright and Earl Thomas because of injuries.
“I really took a lot of pride in leadership,” Wagner told the Associated Press. “I knew that was going to be big if we were going to be successful. I knew I was going to have to up my role in that, up my mindfulness in that. I was really conscious of that… When it came to getting back to the defense, I looked at it from a different lens. I didn’t look at it from the lens of I played with all these All-Pros and stuff like that. I looked at it from a lens that I’m playing with guys and it’s my first time playing with them and I need to do a good job of communicating with them, and not rely on that communication I had established with other guys. That was something I was really conscious of.”
Reunited with his former position coach Ken Norton Jr., who rejoined the Seahawks this offseason as the team’s defensive coordinator following three seasons in Oakland, Wagner recorded a team-high 138 tackles in 2018, giving him 914 in his seven seasons in the league, the second most in franchise history, as well the second most in the NFL over that that span. He also recorded a career-best 11 passes defensed, one sack, two forced fumbles, and an interception he returned 98 yards for a touchdown to cap what was arguably the most dominant individual performance of his career. According to Pro Football Focus, Wagner missed just one tackle all season long, giving him the lowest missed-tackle percentage since that website started tracking data in 2006.
Asked what he was most proud of about his play this season beyond the aforementioned leadership, Wagner told the AP, “I definitely think the tackling. Something any linebacker prides themselves on is being a sure tackler and not missing. I did my best to go out there and try not to miss a tackle. But it’s a thing that we talk about so much, get the head out of the game. We’ve been talking about tackling so much since I’ve come into the league, and it changes every single year, and to be able to evolve with the change is dope.”
Dickson, meanwhile, spent his rookie season justifying the Seahawks’ decision to trade up in the fifth round to select him in the 2018 draft. A Sydney, Australia native, Dickson grew up playing Australian rules football, and only started kicking an American football in 2015. He proved to be a quick study and earned a scholarship to the University of Texas where in 2017 he won the Ray Guy Award as college football’s top punter. In his first year in Seattle, Dickson became something of a folk hero, not just for his booming punts and uncanny accuracy that allowed him to pin opponents inside the 5-yard line on a surprisingly frequent basis, but also for his bold decision to run out of his own end zone for a first down late in a Week 8 win over Detroit.
Dickson finished the season averaging 48.2 yards per punt and had net average of 42.5, both of which established new franchise records.
“I couldn’t have imagined that he could be so consistent throughout the season in his rookie year,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said last month after Dickson was named to the Pro Bowl roster. “He had a great game (against the 49ers) with the weather, the wind and a little bit of rain last week too—the turf and all that. I just couldn’t have imagined he could be that consistently good. We’re thrilled about the pick and thrilled about having that guy on our team. He’s got a great attitude about it, he’s handled everything well. Really proud of him.”
Dickson and Brown become the eighth and ninth players to earn All-Pro honors as Seahawks after being acquired by general manager John Schneider and Carroll, joining Wagner, Thomas, Sherman, Chancellor, and receiver/return specialist Tyler Lockett, who were all drafted by Seattle, as well as running back Marshawn Lynch and returner Leon Washington, who were acquired in 2010 trades. Dickson is also the second Seahawks punter to earn All-Pro honors, joining Rick Tuten, who earned second-team honors in 1994.