The Seahawks 2020 season came to an end earlier this month, and while the 2021 season is still a long ways away, it's never too soon to start thinking about the future. And for the Seahawks, who went 12-4 and won the NFC West in 2020, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about that future. Of course there are the obvious big-name players everyone knows will be a big part of next year's team, players like Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Jamal Adams, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, but another reason the Seahawks are optimistic about next season and beyond is that there's a lot of young talent that is just starting to emerge.
And with that in mind, let's take a look at some of the players with breakout potential in 2021:
DB Marquise Blair
Throughout training camp, the three players who continually made standout plays day after day were Adams, Metcalf and second-year defensive back Marquise Blair. Adams and Metcalf both backed that camp hype up with Pro Bowl seasons, but Blair, who moved from safety to the nickel corner role, tore his ACL in Week 2. The Seahawks were fortunate to have a player as good as Ugo Amadi to step into that nickel spot, but whatever role Blair takes on in 2021, he figures to be a big part of the defense.
"Marquise is flying in his return," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said in his end-of-season press conference. "His attitude is extraordinary. He's doing great, and he should be a big factor. This is a great football player. I'm so excited about this guy. He was looking so good. We had positioned him in the right spot, he was going to play right up in there, he'd have played all year long right, he'd have played so much. He should be back by camp and all that and be ready to go. Fortunately, the injury was early enough in the year."
DE L.J. Collier
Collier never got going as a rookie after a serious ankle injury knocked him out of training camp and the preseason, but came back strong in 2020 to win a starting role at defensive end. Collier's stat's weren't eye-popping, but he did a lot work at the line of scrimmage that freed others up to make plays, and he showed a knack for making plays in big moments, most notably a fourth-down goal-line stop of Cam Newton to preserve a victory. Given how much he improved from Year 1 to Year 2, there's no reason to think Collier can't come back even better in 2021 and be an even bigger factor.
LB Cody Barton
The Seahawks have been really deep at linebacker in recent years, limiting Barton's opportunities on defense, but fans might recall that the 2019 third-round pick was a bright spot in training camp as a rookie, and has also gone on to establish himself as one of Seattle's best special team player, recording 16 tackles, the second most in the NFL. If everyone returns from 2020, Barton might again have trouble getting on the field on defense, but if K.J. Wright were to sign elsewhere in free agency, then Barton would likely be competing for a starting spot.
DTs Poona Ford & Bryan Mone
While we're on the topic of defensive linemen, it's worth highlighting two who played big roles last season, and who should do even more next year. Both players went undrafted in 2018, Ford and Mone both made the team primarily as run-stuffers, but in 2020 Ford and Mone both showed flashes as pass rushers to add to an interior rush led by Jarran Reed. If both continue their upward trends, that trio of Reed, Mone and Ford could give the Seahawks a very dangerous interior line next season.
RB Rashaad Penny
Penny's breakout looked like it was coming in 2019, but just as he got going, he tore his ACL late in that season, and injury that limited him to just three games last year.
With a healthy offseason ahead of him, Penny will be looking to get back to that 2019 form, and depending on what happens in free agency, the former first-round pick could be taking on a big role in 2021. Chris Carson, Seattle's lead back for the past three seasons, is set to become a free agent when the new league year begins in March, as is veteran Carlos Hyde. If one of those players leave in free agency, Penny would have plenty of opportunities for touches next season, and if both were to sign elsewhere, Penny could very well end up the lead back next season.
CB D.J. Reed
Maybe Reed's 2020 campaign qualifies as a breakout season, but it will be intriguing to see what the versatile defensive back and return man can do with a healthy offseason with his new team. Cornerback is another position with free agency questions—Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar are both set to become free agent in March—but regardless of who is back, Reed played well enough, while starting in multiple roles, to show he deserves to be in the competition for a starting spot somewhere in the secondary.
OLs Jordan Simmons, Jamarco Jones, Phil Haynes & Kyle Fuller
We're lumping all of these players together because they all could factor into the competition for starting jobs, depending on what happens in free agency. Left guard Mike Iupati will be a free agent in March, as will center Ethan Pocic, and while outside help could certainly come in free agency or the draft, the Seahawks could also turn Fuller as an option at center, or to Simmons, Jones or Haynes at guard if Iupati were to sign elsewhere or retire. The Seahawks' willingness to try Damien Lewis at center for one game this season could also indicate that they'd be willing to look at other guards at center should they want more competition there, particularly with a full training camp to make that transition.
2020 Draft Class
The Seahawks saw their 2020 draft class make some significant contributions last season, most notably from guard Damien Lewis, who started all 16 games, and linebacker Jordyn Brooks, who took over the starting role at weakside linebacker early in the season. Both figure to be starters again next year, and depending on what happens with K.J. Wright, who is set to become a free agent in March, Brooks could become an every-down player next season, but in addition to those two, the Seahawks could get significant contributions out of several more 2020 draft picks next season.
"I really liked the group," Carroll said in his end-of-season press conference. "I thought that they just found a way to be a factor and help us out. Their spirit was really good, they were led well by their teammates, and I say that because their attitude was consistent—they made it through there was no freshmen dip or anything the first time around. They played 17 games and these guys hung throughout the whole thing. There's future to the group from this point… So this is a really good group, and they'll help more next year, they'll be a bigger factor next year."
DEs Darrell Taylor & Alton Robinson
Robinson, a fifth-round pick, didn't have a huge role in the D-line rotations—he played more than half of Seattle's defensive snaps in only three games—but he was productive in limited playing time, recording 4.0 sacks and a forced fumble. That kind of production should lead to more playing time next season, particularly if Benson Mayowa were to leave in free agency.
Taylor, meanwhile, missed his entire rookie season due to a leg injury, but did return to practice prior to Seattle's Wild Card game against the Rams. The second-round pick out of Tennessee looked good in his one week of practice, Carroll said, and the Seahawks will look for him to become a factor as a pass-rusher in 2021.
"We haven't seen Darrell Taylor yet," Carroll said. "He practiced with us for the first time, and he's going to be a real bright spot."
TE Colby Parkinson
Parkinson missed the first half of the season with a foot injury, then played sparingly in the latter part of the season, but given a full training camp to get ready, the 6-foot-7 Stanford product could become a weapon next season. Greg Olsen announced his retirement on Sunday, and Jacob Hollister will be a free agent when the new league year begins, so there figures to be a lot of playing time at that position up for grabs.
"Colby Parkinson you haven't seen much of, but really was impressive to us and is going to be a big factor in the tight end spot as a catcher and a blocker," Carroll said. "A tremendous target, really smart kid."
WR Freddie Swain
Swain is coming off a solid rookie campaign in which he was Seattle's No. 4 receiver behind DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and David Moore. With Moore headed towards free agency, the Seahawks could look to Swain to step into that No. 3 role should Moore leave, or perhaps have him compete for that spot even if Moore is back. There's a good chance the Seahawks will continue to add to that position group in the offseason, but regardless of who's on the team in training camp, Swain showed he deserves to be in the competition for more playing time.
RB DeeJay Dallas
As mentioned with Penny earlier, there's some uncertainty at running back heading into free agency, but if Carson and/or Hyde sign elsewhere, that's going to open up opportunities, particularly if both were to leave. Dallas showed sparks in limited playing time and did score three touchdowns, but will be looking to earn more touches in 2021. Carroll did mention the desire to establish a third-down back role next year so Dallas, a player with a receiving background, could find himself in the competition for that spot.
"DeeJay Dallas had a big impression too how he contributed on (special) teams and all the support work that he did, and remember he was carrying the ball for us in the middle of the season," Carroll said.
Following their 30-20 season-ending loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, the Seahawks cleaned out their lockers at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center.