Every day between now and the start of Seahawks training camp, Seahawks.com will take a look at some of the team's most intriguing storylines, position battles and players heading into the 2018 season. Today, we take a look at the competition at tight end with last year's top two tight ends leaving in free agency. Tomorrow, we look at what free-agent additions could make a big impact in 2018.
When the Seahawks take the field for the start of training camp next week, few position groups will have seen more change since the end of last season than tight end. But while we know the Seahawks will be different at that position, what still needs to be sorted out in camp and beyond is what those changes will mean for Seattle's offense in 2018.
Over the previous three seasons, most of Seattle's playing time and pass-catching production at tight end came from Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson. Both players moved on to the NFC North in free agency, however, with Graham signing with Green Bay and Willson signing with Detroit, which means Nick Vannett, a 2016 third-round pick, is the only returning tight end with any significant regular-season experience.
To restock at tight end, the Seahawks looked both to free agency and the draft, first signing veteran Ed Dickson, then selecting University of Washington product Will Dissly in the fourth round of the draft.
In Dickson, the Seahawks are adding what Pete Carroll described as "a real versatile football player… He's an all-around player, can play the Y position as well as the X position where he moves around. Good athlete, good downfield catcher. A guy you can go to in regular situations and normal ball control situations and also down the field so he's a really, really interesting addition."
Dickson has had times in his career where he has primarily been used as a blocker and has had success in that role, but he has also been a productive pass-catcher, particularly last season when he had 437 receiving yards while averaging a career-best 14.6 yards per reception.
Dissly, meanwhile, is a player the Seahawks considered to be the best blocking tight end in the draft, and his selection was yet another move towards accomplishing Carroll's stated goal of re-establishing the running game after two down seasons in that phase of the game.
"It was right on the mark, it was exactly what we hoped to do," Carroll said of drafting running back Rashaad Penny in the first round and Dissly in the fourth. "We wanted to see if we could factor it in. We were thinking there was a good chance that we might have a shot at a running back because it was a great draft for those guys, and then Will was exactly in tune to that. Even in the offseason and the things that we've done, there are a number of things that are leading to that. We gave ourselves a chance to get better, there's no question."
It should be noted, however, that Dissly is not just a mauler who will only help in the running game. He has also shown soft hands and strong route-running skills in his first offseason with the Seahawks, and is a player general manager John Schneider compared to Zach Miller, a former Seahawks tight end known for his well-rounded game.
During rookie minicamp after getting his first look at Dissly, Carroll noted the rookie, "probably looked better in the passing game than we expected. We saw him catch the ball well but he just looked really clean running routes and all, so that was great."
Competing with the two newcomers for playing time is Vannett, a player who has shown flashes in each of his first two seasons but who was unable to break through with Graham and Willson ahead of him. With those two gone, Vannett will have every chance to carve out a bigger role. Carroll noted following the end of last season that, "Vannett made a really good jump this year for us," and both Carroll and Schneider have pointed to Vannett as a player they're expecting to see take a big step forward this year.
Rounding out the competition at tight end is Tyrone Swoopes, who spent most of last season on the practice squad after joining the team as an undrafted rookie free agent, and Clayton Wilson, a Northwest Missouri State product who signed with the Seahawks after competing in rookie minicamp on a tryout basis.
Swoopes arrived in Seattle last year as a former college quarterback attempting to learn a new position, so a full year of practicing at tight end and an offseason to prepare his body for that position should help him take a big step forward this year.
"Tyrone, he has had a really good offseason," Carroll said in May. "He's really strong, a lot stronger. He has never really prepared to be a tight end for an offseason; this year he was dedicated to it, and I think it really shows. So he's going to have a chance to really battle for a spot here."
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