Now that the 2020 NFL season has officially come to an end with Tampa Bay winning Super Bowl LV, it's time to look ahead to the offseason that will help shape Seattle's success in the 2021 season. With free agency beginning next month, and the draft to follow later in the spring, Seahawks.com is taking a position-by-position look at where the team stands. Yesterday we kicked things off with the offensive line, and today we look at the defensive line. Tomorrow we turn our attention to tight end.
The Seahawks made several changes to their line looking to bolster their pass rush, signing Benson Mayowa and Bruce Irvin in free agency and drafting Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson. They continued adding to the pass rush in-season by acquiring Carlos Dunlap II in a midseason trade. Mayowa and Robinson both proved to be productive additions, while injuries kept Irvin and Taylor from making an impact. Dunlap, meanwhile, was a great midseason addition, helping spark a pass rush that was one of the league's most productive in 2020.
At defensive tackle, Jarran Reed had another strong season with 6.5 sacks while Poona Ford continued his development in Year 3, showing more of a pass-rush ability that made him a three-down player. L.J. Collier's Year 2 growth was another big positive, as he moved into a starting role and made significant contributions.
Biggest question to answer this offseason: Can the pass rush pick up where it left off?
The Seahawks went from having one of the league's lowest sack totals in 2019 to ranking seventh last season with 46, and 34 of those sacks came over the final nine weeks of the season, the most in the league over that span.
The Seahawks obviously hope to maintain that level of play in 2021, but aren't sure exactly what that pass-rush unit will look like. Mayowa is set to become a free agent when the new league year begins, as is Irvin, who is also coming off an ACL injury. Taylor, a second-round pick in 2020, didn't play as a rookie, but did return to practice in January and showed enough for the Seahawks to feel like they have a player who can really help them in 2021.
"I want to put together this pass rush again and see what happens when Darrell comes back and enters into it," Carroll said in his end-of-season press conference. "We'd like Benson (Mayowa) to come back with us and be part of it, counting on Carlos (Dunlap) to be part of it. Elevate our opportunities to get Alton involved more. Alton was really good on the left side, I like to give him some more rushes over there. That's the main focus is make sure that this pass rush comes back intact, and we can grow from there. We saw really good play inside, particularly late in the year from (Jarran) Reed—he had a really good finish to the season, was really a factor. And that's because he's feeding off the rush from the guys outside, as it has to work in complement. So we'd like to really work hard to get that done."
Biggest reason for optimism in 2021: The emergence of young players on the line.
Over the years, the Seahawks have tended to have a lot of success finding veteran free agents to help their defensive line, with players like Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and several defensive tackles taking on big roles. And while veteran additions like Mayowa and Dunlap stepped up in 2020, what's perhaps most encouraging for Seattle's long-term success is the way young players added in the past few years have developed and made big contributions.
Collier, a 2019 first-round pick, started all 16 games in 2020 and made big strides after an ankle injury derailed his rookie season. Ford, who signed as an undrafted rookie in 2018, also started every game and had career highs in tackles, sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hits, while another undrafted defensive tackle, Bryan Mone, also made big contributions in his second season.
Rookie Alton Robinson contributed four sacks and five tackles for loss in a limited pass-rush role, and seems destined for more playing time in his second season. And the hope is that Taylor, after a brief but promising return to practice, can use a healthy offseason as a springboard for a big Year 2.
Veterans like Dunlap, Reed and perhaps Mayowa are still in Seattle's plans for 2021, but the emergence of several young players shows that the future is bright as well on the defensive line. While Irvin is set to become a free agent, he said on Twitter last season that if he is going to play in 2021, it will be with the Seahawks.