Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright's coaches and teammates have been praising his play for years, and especially during a 2016 season that was the most productive of his six-year NFL career.
On a star-studded defense, however, Wright's standout play sometimes got overlooked, with him not receiving the recognition he deserved outside of Seattle, but that changed Tuesday with Wright being named to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career.
Tight end Jimmy Graham was also added to the NFC Pro Bowl team Tuesday. Wright replaces Washington outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan and Graham replaces Washington tight end Jordan Reed, who are both unable to participate in the game due to injuries. They join teammates Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Bobby Wagner and Richard Sherman on this year's NFC Pro Bowl roster.
"It feels really good," Wright said Tuesday not long after Seahawks coach Pete Carroll called to deliver the news. "I got the news from Coach Carroll, he called and broke the news to me. It felt great, man. I called my family, they were all excited. This is something I was hoping would happen this year and I'm glad that it happened."
Wright, who came to Seattle as a fourth-round pick in 2011, had career highs in tackles (126), sacks (4.0) and tackles for loss (12) this season, and matched a career high with five passes defensed, prompting him to joke earlier this month that, "I guess I'm kind of like a fine wine, the older I get, the better I get."
Added Wagner: "K.J. has been amazing. He had career bests in pretty much everything—tackles, sacks, TFLs—he has just been all over the place. He deserves a lot more respect, a lot more attention than he has been getting. He's definitely one of the best linebackers in this league. He just makes plays. Every time you watch film, you see number 50 shooting his spider webs. He has been amazing."
Wright is excited not just to be going to the Pro Bowl, but also to be going with so many teammates, especially Wagner, alongside whom Wright has played for five seasons.
"He was one of the first people I told," Wright said. "He called me up, he's excited. He said, 'Five-four and 50 back at it.' That'll be exciting to be out there with my teammates doing something we all have dreamed of."
With Wright added to this year's Pro Bowl roster, the Seahawks now have seven defensive starters with at least one Pro Bowl on their résumés—Wright, Wagner, Avril, Bennett, Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. This is also the sixth consecutive season the Seahawks have had at least five Pro Bowlers.
This is Graham's fourth time earning Pro-Bowl honors and first with the Seahawks. He bounced back from a serious knee injury that ended his 2015 season to catch 65 passes for 923 yards and six touchdowns in 2016. Both the reception and yardage totals are franchise bests for a tight end. Coaches and teammates have also praised the strides Graham took as a blocker this season.
"I thought Jimmy had a terrific year," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He was explosive, dynamic, he blocked like he's never blocked before, he became a factor on the perimeter blocking stuff. He's a highlight film, he's got so many big plays that he made during the year… I'm excited for him to come back, imagine how much better he'll feel. Look what he had to undergo this offseason to get back and be in the phenomenal shape that he was. This will allow him to come back again, he should be stronger this year and more fit this year. He's got a great work ethic about him, he's naturally built and physiqued and all that. I think nothing but really cool stuff for us as we go forward."
Defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, cornerback Richard Sherman, and linebacker Bobby Wagner have been voted to the 2017 Pro Bowl, while linebacker K.J. Wright, tight end Jimmy Graham, and receiver Doug Baldwin have been named to the game as injury replacements.