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 2017 season. Today, we continue the Top 10 list by looking at which rookies have the best chance to contribute right away. The list continues Monday by focusing on a possible new wrinkle in the secondary.
The Seahawks will open the season with a significant number of rookies on their roster, that's inevitable every year throughout the NFL. And Seattle in particular has been a team that embraces playing rookies early on, a philosophy Pete Carroll brought with him from USC, where he had no problem letting freshmen compete for playing time. Last season, the Seahawks had 15 rookies make the initial 53-man roster, including players who started early in the season like first-round pick Germain Ifedi and second-round Jarran Reed, as well as players like C.J. Prosise, George Fant and Alex Collins, whose biggest contributions came later in the year.
So no matter how good the Seahawks feel about their veteran depth—and they like it a lot—a significant portion of this year's roster will be rookies. The real question, which will begin to be answered during training camp, is which rookies are ready to make a difference right away?
"I think we've got a really complete group now," Carroll said during offseason workouts. "I think these guys from top to bottom are going to contribute to factor in on this team."
Not surprisingly, some of the players Seattle drafted early in the draft have been the standouts in offseason workouts and positioned themselves to compete for playing time. Second-round pick Malik McDowell, Seattle's first pick, may not start in the base defense, but the way the Seahawks rotate linemen, he has a good chance to earn significant playing time. Fellow second-round pick, Ethan Pocic has also impressed early, but as an offensive lineman, he would have to win a starting job to see much playing time, making his path a bit more difficult. Pocic, a center for much of his career at LSU, has looked like a natural fit at both right guard and right tackle, so even if he's competing with more experienced players for a job, he's got a shot.
"Malik has shown really good stuff, he's learned really well, he's been very attentive," Carroll said. "Ethan Pocic has looked really good. We've played him at right tackle and right guard which is awesome. He's had that versatility in his history. But we've already found it's not a big deal for him to go from one to the other so he'll be competing at both spots really to be a starter, see how far he can take it."
One of Seattle's third-round picks, cornerback Shaquill Griffin, will compete for the starting job at right corner, a job that is wide open because of DeShawn Shead's knee injury that is expected to keep last year's starter from being ready for the start of the season. Griffin, who is the highest-drafted cornerback of the Carroll-John Schneider era, will have his hands full to win that starting job, battling veterans Jeremy Lane and Neiko Thorpe, among others. But even if Griffin doesn't win the starting job, there's room for a third corner to have a big role in the defense with as much nickel defense as the Seahawks will play.
"He's got probably one of the best corner minds that we've had for a young guy around here," defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. "That's just in regards to leverage, positioning, the understanding of our coverages and where we need him to be. He has picked it up fairly quickly. We're going to be really excited to see him strap it up and get out there and actually be able to compete for the football while it's in the air. That's going to be the next phase, but his technique has been improving day after day, and he has real strength. He has strength in his hands, you can tell he's a powerful guy, and obviously his speed is there."
Like McDowell, third-round pick Nazair Jones, a big defensive tackle from North Carolina, has a chance to factor into the D-line rotation even if he isn't starting, but that position group is deep, so everyone will be battling for playing time. Another third-round pick, Amara Darboh, should be a factor on special teams at the very least, and has a real shot to crack the receiver rotation as well depending on how quickly he gets up to speed with Russell Wilson and the offense.
And let's not forget about the undrafted rookies. Last year, six of those 15 rookies on the initial 53-man roster were undrafted free agent signings. Among the undrafted rookies to make the team were Fant, who took over the starting job at left tackle midway through the year, receiver Tanner McEvoy, who made a number of big plays, and Trevone Boykin, who served as the team's No. 2 quarterback all year.
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Photos of the 11 draft picks the Seahawks selected in the 2017 NFL Draft.