With organized team activities underway, coaches are getting their first look at this year's roster on the practice field. And for Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, one of the early highlights in OTAs has been seeing the team's depth and versatility at receiver.
The 2022 season was another stellar one for the duo of Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. The pair combined for 2,081 yards and 15 touchdowns, with each hitting the 1,000-yard receiving mark. Metcalf notched a career-high 90 receptions while recording his second 1,000-yard season; Lockett recorded his fourth-consecutive. But Seattle struggled to find a consistent third-option, with new Cleveland Browns wideout Marquise Goodwin stepping in after a broken hand sidelined Western Michigan alum Dee Eskridge. Waldron discussed the versatility Seattle now has at wideout coming into 2023, starting with rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba, the 20th overall pick in this year's draft.
"He's done a good job just kind of blending in with the team," said Waldron. "Getting used to the guys, getting used to the building and the environment here. He's done a great job with the work that he's been able to do so far. You see a lot of his natural talent really showcased, especially in some of the individual drills and some of the individual work. So, excited to work with him and watch him progress throughout this OTA and into training camp."
Another name to watch in training camp will be Dee Eskridge, a 2021 second-round pick whose first two seasons have been limited by injuries.
"I think Dee's done a great job of showing up," said Waldron. "We know he's had some unfortunate circumstances in terms of the bad luck with injuries over the past few seasons. So he showed up again, ready to work, not letting the past affect his current approach right here. So right away out on the grass, you see his twitchiness, his explosion, his feel for the game. And looking forward to seeing what he can bring to the table as we go through the offseason programming and camp."
Quarterback Geno Smith has also been impressed by Smith-Njigba at OTAs so far.
"He's so impressive," Smith said. "Very smooth route runner. Natural hands. Also, the game is not too big for him. You can see he's got that self-confidence that you look for. He's learning; he's picking up his assignments like all the other rookies and new guys. Jaxon's been tremendous so far, and I'm looking forward to seeing him grow."
Smith also discussed his faith in Eskridge, and he expects the third-year receiver to have a rebound year.
"I really see the growth in his mindset," said Smith. "He wants it. He's always wanted it and always had that ability, but I think he's obviously had some setbacks, and I can see just in his mental makeup he's ready to take that next step. It's my job to help. That's why I want to be there with him. He's working his butt off. He's super explosive out here on the field; he's one of the most explosive guys I've ever seen. If we can get him where I think he'll be, it'll help us out a lot."
Waldron finished the presser by talking about a pair of unheralded receivers that have done the work to get better - Cody Thompson and Dareke Young, the latter of whom started taking on a bigger role in the offense late in his rookie season.
"Cody has done a great job," said Waldron. "Obviously another guy that had to deal with an injury and ended his season earlier than he wanted to. Just like last year, he was really going on the rise there with all his hard work. A guy that approached it in trying to do the right thing all the time, and it was showing up on the field. I think he's picked up right where he left off when he went down with the injury. So, really been proud of seeing him battle back and have that resiliency to not let that injury in the past affect how he's approached this offseason. So he'll be fun to watch and get to work. And for Dareke going into year two, last year he was really able to carve out a role starting with special teams. And then finding his way on the field in different roles at receiver. Another guy that the more you can do, especially early on in your career, the more times you're able to make that active gameday roster. So, Dareke now is just keeping improving and getting better and better at receiver and the route-running. And some of the different things. Knowing coming out of college, the different style of offense he was in in his later years. So, he's just going to continue to grow and get better. He's smart, tough and reliable, so he'll keep finding a way to be on the field."
With Smith leading the league in completion percentage in 2022 (69.8%) and throwing for career-highs in every passing category, one can only wonder what the 2022 NFL Comeback Player of the Year will accomplish with his new-and-improved receiving unit.
Seahawks players participated in the first OTA of the 2023 offseason on May 22 at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, Wash.