Boye Mafe was selected by the Seahawks in the second round of the 2022 draft, and after a promising rookie campaign, Mafe reflected on lessons learned from some Seahawks Legends & his upcoming second season.
The Minnesota alum played in all 17 regular season contests as a rookie, starting three, and recorded 41 tackles, 3.0 sacks while also gaining playoff experience in Seattle's 41-23 NFC Wild Card loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Now, with a year under his belt, Mafe looks to take his game to another level. On Thursday, Seattle kicked off the 2023 Preseason with a 24-13 home win over the Minnesota Vikings. In his first game back on the field since January, Mafe combined for three tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. Following Sunday's practice at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, Mafe looked back on his rookie season and what has changed heading into Year 2.
"Yes, it's definitely different," said Mafe. "Especially coming in as a rookie last year, a lot of things are a little bit different for me. I was trying to learn a lot while playing. I was trying to figure it out on the fly, but now that I had the time during the offseason going to watch film and understanding where I messed up last year and what things to look for and how to narrow the game down for myself has helped a lot."
Adjustments are the name of the game, and Mafe's attention to detail and commitment to improvement this offseason hasn't gone unnoticed by the coaching staff. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll beamed about the Minnesota alum earlier this month, calling him the team’s “most-improved player.”
"Mafe probably appears to be like the most improved guy from last year," said Carroll. "It's really early, but he's shown so many bright moments out here [against the] run and pass."
As for his performance in Seattle's preseason opener, Mafe said, "I felt like I had a solid game. There is definitely some things that you got to improve on. You're never perfect. You never have a 100 percent game, but I took solid strides. I definitely felt more comfortable out there. You'll notice the little things in the game and in myself. It felt really good to be back on the field doing a full live rep. I haven't tackled since last season so getting one of those in felt really nice.
For his efforts in Thursday's contest, Pro Football Focus have Mafe a 74.7 overall and 84.6 run defense grade, leading the defense. Mafe discussed what areas of his game he's improved this offseason.
"It's definitely understanding situations and knowing what formations to look for," said Mafe. "And what keys to look for. It's a lot of different things in the game of football that you can key in on or that you can watch for. I definitely noticed that now I can see a lot more than I used to. I used to have one key now I have a lot of keys."
With more opportunity comes more responsibility, and Mafe elaborated on his part in helping Seattle improve from the league's 30th-ranked run defense (151.9 YPG) in 2022.
"For me the biggest thing is understanding my responsibility," said Mafe. "And understanding how guys are fitting off of me. As long as I'm doing my job, I can trust that my brothers can take care of the rest and at the end of the day it makes it all work better for everybody as long as we're on the same side."
But it's up to Seattle's defense as a whole to adapt in order to improve that run defense.
"It's the wingman philosophy," said Mafe. "You can't leave your wingman. You have to be able to be next to them and do your job so that they can trust you and see you doing your job. If everyone does their job, then we should be alright."
Take a look at linebacker Boye Mafe during his time at the University of Minnesota. Mafe was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2nd round, No. 40 overall, in the 2022 NFL Draft.
As Seattle clawed their way to a playoff spot in 2022, Mafe got the chance to learn from veterans like Seahawks Legend linebacker Bruce Irvin.
"Having Bruce (Irvin) with us last year was a big help," said Mafe. "It helped a lot because as a veteran who's been doing it for countless years, it's definitely one of those things I took into account and I definitely learned from him. It's helped me simplify the game for myself."
The 12-year veteran and Super Bowl XLVIII Champion forced 3.5 sacks in his third stint with the franchise, but more-importantly, Irvin served as a positive-influence for Seattle's young edge rusher.
"For me," said Mafe. "He talked to me about how you can't make a game bigger than it is. As long as you lock in, and you know your keys and just focus on those, it makes it a lot simpler. Not overthinking and just playing free, trusting yourself."
Mafe's also found himself in the good graces of Irvin's championship teammates - Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.
"Michael Bennett, he's a good guy," Mafe said. "I mean he preaches a lot of things, but you know the biggest thing he's always going to preach is violence. Having that in your repertoire and making sure that you're using your hands. Making sure that your hand placement is key and using those things to understand that when you have better leverage you can play a better game."
Mafe continued by praising Avril, who Carroll compared the Minnesota alum to last offseason.
"He teaches get off," said Mafe. "We were watching clips from practice and all the things we were watching about getting off and making sure the timing is right. Making sure you're keying the right thing and making sure if it's the ball or the man, whatever is moving first going off on that."
Mafe's work in the film room with the legends and through the offseason has upped his opportunities, including receiving first-team reps.
"It's been nice," said Mafe. "You know understanding that the way the guys move, understand the gel and really getting that comfortability working with those guys. So that when game time happens, it's not missing a beat, and that we can understand that we can work well together. A lot of them especially the veteran guys on that D-line, there's a lot of veteran guys on the backer side, so working with them makes it a lot easier on myself."
With a year under his belt, Mafe looks to continue to be a sponge, learning from the coaches and legends. Mafe also emphasized passing that knowledge to those behind him, starting with the 2023 draft class.
"For me as a young guy coming in, don't make the game bigger than itself," Mafe said. "It's the same thing you were doing in college so just lock in on your keys and understand the role you're given, whatever situation you're in do it to the best of your ability and we got you."
After one season, Mafe has gained self-confidence and some legendary mentors. Now, he'll look to put everything together for a successful sophomore campaign—and pay it forward with helping his younger teammates.
Seahawks get a practice in Sunday morning at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, Wash. on Aug. 13, 2023.