The Seahawks felt pretty good about their nucleus of returning players heading into the 2015 offseason—going to back-to-back Super Bowls tends to be a indicator of a pretty strong roster—but like any team in a league with free agency and a salary cap, Seattle hoped to improve its roster following a second straight NFC championship.
And so far this season, the Seahawks are getting big contributions from players they added via the draft, free agency and one very noteworthy trade. One example of how the newcomers are contributing? Only one Seattle touchdown this season came from a player who was on the team last season—Doug Baldwin's touchdown catch against Green Bay—while the other six have come from receiver/return specialist Tyler Lockett (2), tight end Jimmy Graham (2), cornerback Cary Williams and running back Fred Jackson.
From 2010 to 2012, the Seahawks built the nucleus of a Super Bowl winning team through three very strong draft classes. In 2010 they added Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Golden Tate and Kam Chancellor; 2011 yielded James Carpenter, K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell and Malcolm Smith; and in 2012 the drafted Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, Russell Wilson, Robert Turbin, Jeremy Lane and J.R. Sweezy.
But for various reasons—ranging from draft position to a lack of first-round picks because of trades to improved roster depth—the 2013 and 2014 draft classes have not contributed as much. Tight end Luke Willson, a fifth-round pick, has done the most out of the 2013 class, while defensive tackle Jordan Hill and cornerback Tharold Simon have contributed when healthy, and last year's class so far has been highlighted by Justin Britt starting every game at right tackle last year and is now the starting left guard, though receiver Paul Richardson finished last season strong before an injury, and defensive end Cassius Marsh and linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis have flashed enough to show that they could still have very bright futures in Seattle.
Very early in this 2015 season, however, this year's rookie class looks like it might be the strongest since the 2012 class that yielded, among others, an All-Pro middle linebacker and a franchise quarterback. Lockett, Seattle's third-round pick, already has punt and kickoff return touchdowns, helping him earn NFC special teams player of the month honors, while second-round pick Frank Clark continues to take on a bigger role in Seattle's defensive line rotation every week. While those are the only two draft picks to make notable contributions so far, the Seahawks still are very high on the potential of other picks like cornerback Tye Smith and linemen Mark Glowinski and Kristjan Sokoli, and they also got a huge contribution last week from undrafted rookie Thomas Rawls, who rushed for 104 yards on 16 carries in place of an injured Marshawn Lynch.
"We've kind of thrown our guys out there to see what they can do. Frank and Tyler for sure, we've seen a lot out of them," Carroll said. "It's like Justin Britt last year, if you believe in these guys, they'll develop and they'll show. Thomas was a guy that, like I said, I've been real excited to see what he would be like when he finally got on the field. To see if he would be aggressive and tough like we'd seen, and he showed that. Without the opportunity you wouldn't know to this extent. The limited amount of carries he had in preseason wasn't enough. I'd hoped that we would know more, so we just kind of kept with the thought. When we got the chance, we threw him out there and he came through for us. He's just getting started too. This is the first game, he carried the ball 16 times you know. He'll improve, he'll be more effective I think as we continue to let him get the ball."
For Clark, Seattle's top pick in the draft, and Lockett, for whom Seattle traded multiple picks to select early in the third round, showing what they can do early in their careers was something they discussed from the beginning.
"The biggest things we always take out of those conversations is just, he was like, 'I don't want to be that bust that everybody talks about,'" Lockett said. "He was drafted second, (I was) third round, stuff like that, and then you always have some people that say, 'oh they were a bust why did we use these picks for him, or why did we get him in this round,' and so that's something that we always talked about, and so in order to prevent that from happening, we got to come out here and we have no choice but to get better."
Nothing the Seahawks did this offseason was more surprising than their decision to send center Max Unger and a first-round pick to New Orleans in exchange for Graham and a fourth-round pick. Seattle wasn't going to give up a Pro-Bowl center and a first-round pick if it didn't think it was getting a great player in return, and in Graham the Seahawks knew they were adding one of the best tight ends in the game, a player who had 46 touchdown catches in his last four seasons with the Saints.
Carroll acknowledged that it will take a while until the Seahawks are getting the most out of Graham, but even if Graham, Wilson and the rest of the Seattle offense are still growing together, he has still been very productive in two of three games this season, catching six passes for 51 yards and a touchdown in his first game, and adding seven catches for 83 yards and a score last week.
"It's an obvious factor," Carroll said of Graham before the season began. "He's such a good target and he's such a good athlete that he makes himself available by getting open. And he's open when guys are running with him too. Quarterbacks recognize that. When you start to work with big receivers, you can tell they're open differently than other guys. They're available for your throws and all. Russell knew it coming in, he has just been overjoyed with it, and Jimmy has been great about mixing in, learning the offense, bringing the red zone, bringing the third-down stuff, bringing the clutch catches, bringing the big plays to us. There's no doubt in our minds he's going to be a big factor in helping our offense.
The Free Agents
The Seahawks didn't make a ton of big moves in free agency, but the players they did add have taken on very important roles. Cornerback Cary Williams was signed to replace Byron Maxwell, and after, by his own admission, struggling to adjust to a new technique early on, Williams has played very well in Seattle's first three games. William's most notable play so far has been a sack, forced fumble and touchdown return against St. Louis, but he has also been very solid in coverage.
"He's grown a lot," defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. "Leaps and bounds. Ultimately, what it comes down to, he's really grasped a hold of the technique. He's found a home with it. He's getting his hands consistently on wide receivers at the line of scrimmage and putting himself in positions to be successful. Again, over the past few games, he's looked really good covering."
Ahtyba Rubin was another free agent signing, and one that didn't come with a lot of fanfare at the time, but the defensive tackle has been a big part of Seattle's defense, starting all three games having taken over for Tony McDaniel, who was released prior to the season for salary cap-related reasons. Rubin, who previously was a starter in Cleveland, has 10 tackles through three games, which is tied for second most among Seattle's defensive linemen.
"He has been really good," Carroll said "He's been really good for us, he's tough as nails, you can't knock him off the football. He handles all the double team, the down and dirty work really well. And he's got a motor about chasing the football that I love, for a big man. You just don't see big men get up and get on that high horse as often as he does. I think he's really good at it. It hasn't manifested in a big play on the sidelines, but he's going to knock the heck out of some guys and knock that ball loose a couple of times because that effort is there. The opportunity hasn't really hit yet, but I think we'll see him in the next couple, we'll see something like that. He just keeps going for it."