The Seahawks season ended in disappointment, but despite a tough playoff loss, players and coaches head into the offseason very optimistic about the team's future.
"I love this team, I love where we're going," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Monday. Carroll later said of his team, which finished 10-6 after winning six of its final seven games, "You can tell that the nucleus and the core of the team that you need to be a championship club is here. These are the guys that we're going to build it around. I couldn't be more adamant about that right now. That's where we are."
And one of the biggest reasons for Carroll's optimism is that much of that nucleus he talks about consists of young players who should be part of the team's future moving forward. Yes, there are veterans who were vital to Seattle's 2018 success, players like Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Doug Baldwin, Duane Brown, K.J. Wright, Tyler Lockett, Bradley McDougald, Justin Britt, Frank Clark and Jarran Reed, but the 2018 Seahawks got bigger contributions out of rookies and second-year players than they have in a number of years.
Seattle's 2018 draft class produced a starting cornerback who exceeded expectations in fifth-round pick Tre Flowers, a converted safety; a first-team All-Pro punter in fifth-round pick Michael Dickson; an explosive running back who showed big-play ability and a ton of potential in first-rounder Rashaad Penny; a starting tight end who looked like the complete package before a season-ending injury in fourth-round pick Will Dissly; a pass-rusher who made a difference late in the season in sixth-rounder Jacob Martin; and a linebacker who was a key contributor on special teams in fifth-rounder Shaquem Griffin. Add to the mix undrafted rookie defensive tackle Poona Ford, who played a big role in the defensive line rotation late in the year, and the Seahawks have the makings of a very strong 2018 rookie class.
"I think it's a really good group," Carroll said. "I think it's a group that's going to be here for a long-time factoring in. They have special qualities that we love. The punter was phenomenal. Will was terrific starting his season off. We missed the heck out of him, but he's coming back. We're thrilled to get him back. All the way through the ranks. All the play that we got from Tre—Tre had a fantastic season. Played all the way through the stretch of the season where you might see a guy get worn down, he wasn't. He fought through it and was very competitive. I think you could see Jacob Martin helped us a lot.
"A couple of the young guys we acquired—Poona had a great finish to the season. Poona is legitimately going to play for starting time when we come back, and he'll be competing to do that. He warranted it with the activity. Everything was positive. Rashaad is going to be a big factor. It's a really exciting group. I think the depth of it and the consistency throughout is what's really good about it."
Defensive end Rasheem Green, a third-round pick out of USC, might have had the least impact of the healthy members of the draft class who made the 53-man roster, but the Seahawks still have high hopes for him, and it's worth noting that he is still only 21 years old and plays a position that often proves to be a difficult one for making the transition from college to the NFL.
"Rasheem Green will come back and be a big factor in the competition of it all," Carroll said. "He showed tons of good stuff during the course of the season."
The Seahawks also expect fifth-round pick Jamarco Jones to factor into the offensive line competition after spending his rookie season on injured reserve.
"He looks great," Carroll said. "He's in great shape, he's gained weight, he's stronger than he's ever been. Now, he's already raring to go. He'll be back and there should be no hesitation with his return."
But it's not just the 2018 class that has Carroll so excited about the team's future. Seattle also got big contributions out of its 2017 class, which produced starting left cornerback Shaquill Griffin, starting free safety Tedric Thompson, and starting running back Chris Carson, who rushed for 1,151 yards and nine touchdowns. The Seahawks also got significant contributions from safety Delano Hill, who started two games at strong safety and saw significant playing time in other games in sub-packages; Ethan Pocic, who started four game, playing both guard positions; and David Moore, who caught 26 passes for 445 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
"Those guys are really worth talking about," Carroll said of the 2017 class. "They're hugely instrumental in what's moving forward here. Look at the difference between Delano and Tedric's play a year ago and how they contributed now. I think Delano is going to be really good. He's just getting started. Tedric, we've been excited as can be about and he's just getting going too, really. Chris Carson had a fantastic season for us. What a player he is and what a contributor he is. What a great draft pick that was. Those guys are a big part of it. David Moore, he was a guy I pointed out yesterday, maybe one of the guys that can improve the most from Year 2 to Year 3 because of where he has come from, the sparks that he showed during the season, a fantastic competitor on this roster to play a factor a year from now. If you've got four guys like that, and Naz (Jones) has been moved to five-technique. We're excited about that. We did that in the middle of the year to see him contribute out there. That's a tremendous statement about that class.
"That's why it feels like it feels. There's two solid years of young guys that are right in the middle of the start of their career, and they're with us and they're good dudes and they work hard and they care and all that. I can't talk any more positive about how we see the future. Those guys are the reason. They are the future. That's the guys I'm talking to in this room. That's probably ten draft picks at least, maybe it's twelve draft picks, in the last couple of years that are right in the middle of everything so it's exciting."
If the 2018 draft class in particular ends up being as good going forward as this year indicated it could be, one reason will be the way the Seahawks refined their draft process last offseason, heading into the draft with fewer names on their board.
"I think one of the things we've done is really cleaned up," general manager John Schneider said before the 2018 draft. "There aren't as many names on our board. You have to have certain criteria to be on our board and we're making less excuses for players, I would say."
Part of that, Schneider said, was finding more players who "are ready to compete with (established veterans) and not just be happy to take a second seat or a backup chair."
And in both the draft and free agency, the Seahawks made it a priority to identify players who love the game and play with a chip on their shoulder, something that showed itself both in the draft class and a group of free agents like D.J. Fluker, J.R. Sweezy, Ed Dickson and Barkevious Mingo.
"If you look at all the guys we've signed and re-signed, we know they all have a chip on their shoulder, they have something to prove, and they're all football guys, so we're excited about it," Schneider said last spring at the annual league meetings.
That focus on bringing in players who are not just great athletes but who fit in with culture of Carroll and Schneider's program is a big part of why the Seahawks are so excited about the young nucleus they see forming.
"It's so important, the mentality. So important, the competitiveness and the chip on the shoulder that the guys bring and the attitude that they've got to prove something," Carroll said. "Those guys, we've just lived with those guys. They've been the core of this team for years and I think it's the element for any team in any sport anywhere. It's that grit that they bring that makes them uniquely stand out and uniquely hang tough and persevere and all of the stuff that that stands for. We're going to continue to try to evaluate even more deeply to understand our guys more so that we can count on what we're going to get from the guys – and it's not always about how fast they are or how big they are. I mean, a great example, let's just talk about Poona. Poona's 5-11 and he was player of the year in his conference because he was a great player in college and he got overlooked to the point where we had a chance to get him in free agency and we got him. That's a classic example. He's a baller and it'll be really tough to keep him down because he's just such a good football player and it means so much to him and he cares so much about it. It's a great attribute of a guy. Hopefully, that's consistent throughout."
Go behind the scenes with team photographer Rod Mar as he shares moments from the Seattle Seahawks Wild Card game against the Dallas Cowboys.