Now that the 2021 season has officially come to an end with Super Bowl LVI in the books, it's time to look ahead to an offseason that will help shape the Seahawks' fortunes in 2022. With free agency kicking off later this month and the draft following in April, Seahawks.com is taking a position-by-position look at where the team stands. So far we've covered the offensive line, the defensive line, tight end, linebacker, receiver, defensive back, running back and quarterback, and today we wrap things up with a look at where things stand on special teams.
As has been the case for much of Pete Carroll's tenure in Seattle, special teams play was a strength for the Seahawks this season. Seattle's punt and kick coverage teams were both strong on a weekly basis, punter Michael Dickson set a franchise record with 40 punts downed inside the 20, and the Seahawks even scored two touchdowns on special teams, both by Travis Homer, who returned an onside kick for a score against the Jaguars, and who scored on a fake punt against the 49ers.
Special teams captain Nick Bellore ranked third in the NFL in special teams tackles with 15 and he also forced a fumble that was recovered by Homer; Cody Barton had 12 tackles; rookie John Rhattigan added 10 tackles and a fumble recovery; Penny Hart chipped in 11 tackles and was also responsible for some of those punts downed inside the 20 as one of Seattle's gunners; DeeJay Dallas not only handled kick return duties, but also contributed 10 tackles and a forced fumble; and Homer had nine tackles and a fumble recovery along with those two touchdowns.
Under the leadership of special teams coordinator Larry Izzo, the Seahawks were the third-ranked special teams performer in the 2021 season based on Rick Gosselin's rankings he does every year for Sports Illustrated, a ranking determined by ranking teams 1-32 in each special teams category, then adding up the totals to get an aggregate score, the lower the number the better. The Seahawks ranked second in Goesselin's rankings a year earlier, making them one of two teams, along with Indianapolis, to crack the top five each of the past two seasons.
About the only negative was that kicker Jason Myers saw his accuracy decline after a standout 2020 season in which he was a perfect 24 for 24 on field goal attempts. Last season, Myers missed six field goals, going 17 for 23, but on an encouraging note going forward, he did finish the year making 8 of 9 field goals.
Question to answer this offseason: Does Dee Eskridge or someone else take over return duties?
The Seahawks used DeeJay Dallas at kick returner and Freddie Swain at punt returner last season, and those two both had some solid returns, while also taking care of the ball—the Seahawks didn't have a turnover on special teams all season—but the Seahawks have not in recent years had the type of explosive return game they had with Tyler Lockett in the return roles, or before him Leon Washington.
One way the Seahawks could look to upgrade the return game could be to use 2021 second-round pick Dee Eskridge, who thrived as a returner in college. The hope was to get him more involved in that phase of the game last season, but multiple injuries kept him from getting very involved. The hope going into 2022 is that Eskridge can challenge for a role in the return game.
"He's really talented, explosive, smart, tough," Carroll said this week at the NFL Scouting Combine. "He will be involved in the return game in time. We didn't quite get to that (last year)."
Cornerback Tre Brown also had success as a returner in college, though if he ends up in a starting role—a very real possibility seeing as he took over the starting spot at left corner before suffering a season-ending injury—then it's less likely he would be in the running for a return job while also holding an every-down role on defense.
Biggest reason for optimism in 2022: The young nucleus coming back.
While Bellore, an 11-year veteran, leads the way for Seattle's special teams units, most of the rest of the production in that phase of the game comes from young players on their rookie contracts, the majority of whom will be back in 2022, a group that includes Barton, Rhattigan, Homer, Dallas, Hart and Ugo Amadi.
Special teams units tend to have a lot of turnover in the NFL as players move into bigger roles that limit their play on special teams, or move onto other teams, so the Seahawks should be in good shape with so many top players back in 2022.
With the 2022 NFL Combine underway, take a look back at some current Seahawks at their own NFL Combines.