As far back as last summer, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll felt like his team might have built up as strong of a roster, in terms of overall depth, as he has had during his time in Seattle. Of course, it could be noted that summer is the time for unbridled optimism in the NFL, so proclamations made in July or August don't always look great a few months later.
In the case of the 2017 Seahawks, however, it's looking more and more like Carroll might have been onto something in August when he said that "this has been one of the deepest groups that we've had."
Seahawks general manager John Schneider built a reputation as one of the league's top general managers in part because of the ridiculous haul of talent he drafted from 2010 to 2012, a group that includes current Seahawks Pro-Bowlers Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson, as well as several other players who became high-end starters either with Seattle or elsewhere. But what this year has shown is just how good Schneider and his player personnel staff are at finding talent in every way possible, be it free agency or waiver claims or trades, both attention-grabbing and under-the-radar.
The Seahawks opened the season with most of the same big-name players who have been around for several years highlighting their roster, plus one notable addition in defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who was acquired in a trade just before the start of the season. But as the season has gone on, and as injuries have taken their toll, what has become very evident is just how good Seattle's roster is from top to bottom, thanks in no small part to moves that might not have generated a lot of buzz at the time.
"It has been instrumental," Carroll said of the depth built up by Schneider and the player personnel department. "We've been able to see the benefits of that late in the season over the years. John just will not stop, he just keeps relentlessly going after evaluations, putting guys in the order so if the opportunity comes up we know right where to go and make our decisions. We don't always do them all right but we hit a high average of getting guys that can fit, will help us. I don't know how you can do any better than he does. He's great at it."
The Seahawks have had success with some of their more marquee acquisitions, including the trades that added Richardson and left tackle Duane Brown, and the signing of Luke Joeckel, who has helped upgrade the line. But they also are set up well for a late season run, even after losing Sherman, Chancellor and Cliff Avril to season-ending injuries, because of some moves that might have seemed less significant at the time.
"I think (the roster depth) is absolutely showing itself," Carroll said. "And it's even held up with special teams too… We are feeling pretty strong that we can just keep getting better. We will see what happens."
So how is that depth "absolutely showing itself" for the Seahawks? For starters, take a look at all the newcomers who are making big contributions on defense.
Bradley McDougald was a starter in Tampa Bay the last two seasons, but his signing last spring didn't get a ton of attention because he was joining at team with two Pro Bowl safeties already on the roster. Yet McDougald has started five straight games, two for Thomas at free safety and three for Chancellor at strong safety, allowing the secondary to function well even when Thomas or Chancellor has been out; Byron Maxwell was brought back midseason and is playing well in place of Sherman, while Seattle's nickel corner for most of the season has been Justin Coleman, a preseason trade acquisition who has played very well both in that role and on special teams; Michael Wilhoite and Terence Garvin have both given the Seahawks strong play at strongside linebacker while also becoming key special teams players; and the defensive line has managed the loss of Avril not just because of top-end talent at defensive end like Michael Bennett and Frank Clark, but also because of moves like the signings of Marcus Smith, Branden Jackson, Dion Jordan and Quinton Jefferson.
On offense, the Seahawks are just getting production not just from the likes of Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson—though they've all be great—but also from players like Mike Davis, a May waiver claim who opened the season on the practice squad, who has become their top running back; and from J.D. McKissic, a late-season addition last year, who has been a dangerous weapon as a third-down back.
Add to that increased contributions from 2016 rookies like Germain Ifedi, Jarran Reed and Nick Vannett and strong play from 2017 rookies like cornerback Shaquill Griffin, defensive tackle Nazair Jones and guard Ethan Pocic, and it's easy to understand why Carroll is so excited about the work Schneider and company have done building this roster.
"I know you guys probably think that sometimes we just say, 'Oh yeah, the next guy is going to be great,' and all that and we tell you we aren't worried about it," Carroll said. "But I'm telling you what we feel. I think Bradley is showing you that he is a legitimate football player and he can step in and do stuff. Whether it is the rotation where Frank has taken over for Cliff, but you are seeing the depth come through. We're very fortunately picked up Byron, and he has done a nice job and given us the experience wherewithal that helps. When (Jeremy) Lane plays, he did well, Shaq came back (from a concussion) and did good again and, so we feel pretty good about it.
"That has happened in the offensive line a little bit too, now that you can see the mix of Luke working with Duane over there. That has worked out fine and Pocic has been able to move and do that and all of those things have worked out OK. Nick Vannett is playing really good football for us and filling in. We're OK. We're still growing though. I wish it was a done deal and we knew exactly how everything fits together, but we can only go with what we have, but we feel positive about it. We are fairly healthy and we are entering the fourth quarter of this season with hopes of really doing some good work."
Talking to media at his locker this week, it was brought to Wright's attention that with injuries to Avril, Sherman and Chancellor, he is one of just four starters on defense, along with Bennett, Thomas and Wagner, who is still around from Seattle's Super Bowl teams, other than Maxwell, who was away from the Seahawks for two and a half seasons. Just like his head coach, Wright says the fact that the Seahawks defense can still thrive minus those key players—Seattle just held Philadelphia, the highest scoring team in the league, to 10 points on Sunday—is a testament to the work done by the front office.
"They are one of the best in the NFL as far as putting the right fits in here, the right talent, the right mindset," Wright said. "They're one of the best at putting it together, and it has paid off in the way they've drafted and free agency. You see that we haven't really taken a big dip, so we're able to sustain a solid defense and win games, they do pretty good."
Take a look back through history at the Seahawks' matchups against the Jaguars as the two teams ready to face off during Week 14 at Everbank Field.