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Seahawks 2023 Offseason Primer: Defensive Line/Outside Linebacker

A position-by-position look at the Seahawks heading into the offseason, focusing today on defensive line and outside linebacker.


Now that the 2022 NFL season is over, it's time to look ahead to an offseason that will help shape the Seahawks' fortunes in 2023 and beyond. With free agency kicking off next month and the draft following in April, is taking a position-by-position look at where the team stands prior to the start of the new league year. So far we've covered, quarterback, safety, running back, cornerback, receiver, linebacker and tight end, and today we focus on the defensive line and outside linebacker. Check back Friday when we turn our attention to the offensive line.

2022 Recap

The Seahawks made significant changes to their defensive front in 2022, both in terms of scheme and personnel. Under first-year defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt, the Seahawks switched to a 3-4 defense, meaning the base defense featured three down linemen flanked by a pair of outside linebackers. While Al Woods, Poona Ford and Bryan Mone were all back to help anchor the middle of the line, the Seahawks added several new players, including starting defensive end Shelby Harris, who was part of the trade that sent Russell Wilson to Denver and Quinton Jefferson, who signed as a free agent, returning to the team that drafted him.

The changes were even more significant on the edge, where Darrell Taylor was the only player returning at outside linebacker with the Seahawks adding Uchenna Nwosu in free agency, drafting Boye Mafe, and bolstering depth with undrafted free agents Vi Jones and Joshua Onujiogu, and Darryl Johnson, who was claimed off waivers, then later, veteran Bruce Irvin, who signed during the season for his third stint with the Seahawks.

One of the stated goals last offseason was to improve the pass rush, and with Nwosu and Taylor leading the way, the Seahawks did that, improving from 34 sacks in 2021, a total that ranked in the bottom third of the league, to 45 last season, tied for seventh most in the NFL. Nwosu and Taylor not only led the Seahawks with 9.5 sacks apiece, they also were the only teammates to each record at least nine sacks and three forced fumbles during the 2022 season.

On the flip side of that improvement was a run defense that went from allowing 3.8 yards per carry in 2021, second best in the NFL, to giving up 4.9 per carry in 2022. Much like the Seahawks defense as a whole, the 2022 season was defined by inconsistent play, with stretches of really strong play surrounded by games in which that unit struggled, particularly when it came to stopping the run.

"We weren't as clean as we needed to be at the line of scrimmage, we didn't fit as well as we needed to, and we made too many small errors that ended up being huge things," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said in his end-of-season press conference. "… There were too many of (big runs), so the inconsistencies, that's the part that I have to really be effective at helping. We have to clean things up, we have to get sharp, and we have to get back to where we can effectively play the running game."

Question to answer this offseason: Can the Seahawks, as Pete Carroll put it, "become more dynamic up front" through the draft or free agency?

When talking about how he wants to see his defense improve and get past some of those inconsistencies, one of the first things Carroll mentioned was improving up front. Some of that, Carroll noted, can come in the form of current player improving or from coaches helping put players in the best position to succeed, but the Seahawks also will very likely make some changes to their defensive front, either via free agency, the draft or both.

"We are going to have to become more dynamic up front, we have to," Carroll said. "We've kind of been in the dame mode, we have to get more production out of the guys, they have to be more of a factor. We need to make the position really competitive, if we can. We will see what we can do… We need guys to be an issue for the opponents, so schematically, we help them, but physically, they have to do their thing too. We are competing to get better."

Finding defensive linemen and edge rushers who can be "an issue for the opponents" is, of course, easier said than done. There's a reason elite defensive linemen and outside linebackers tend to go near the top of the draft and get huge money in free agency, but with four pick in the first two rounds, including No. 5 overall, and with enough cap space to make some moves in free agency, the Seahawks will try to find ways to add some difference makers to their defensive front.

Biggest reason for optimism in 2023: Young talent with a great opportunity to add more.

While there were some inconsistencies, there was also a lot to like about what we saw from the defensive front in 2022, in particular at outside linebacker.

Nwosu, one of the first players the Seahawks added in free agency last spring, was one of the team's best defensive players all season long, while Taylor came on strong late to match Nwosu for the team lead in sacks. Second-round pick Boye Mafe saw his role grow as the season went along and showed a lot of promise, setting him up for what the Seahawks will expect to be a big step forward in 2023. Irvin's future is still up in the air—he said after the season he'd take his time deciding if he wants to keep playing—but that trio, along with young depth pieces like Jones, Onujiogu and Johnson, gives the Seahawks a great starting-off point at outside linebacker before they make any offseason additions.

And whether they want to add to the edge rush or the interior line, the Seahawks are in great shape to add talent up front should they decide to go that route with the No. 5 pick, or with one of their other three picks in the first two rounds.

Take a look back at some of the best photos of Seahawks defensive tackle Al Woods from the 2022 season.

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