One of the many reasons Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was excited about his team leading up to the 2016 season was the talent and depth of Seattle's rookie class. The Seahawks selected 10 players in the 2016 draft, then signed 13 undrafted rookies immediately after the draft, and throughout offseason workouts, those young players impressed their coaches and teammates.
When the Seahawks set their 53-man roster before the start of the season, it further validated the belief they had in that rookie class, with 8 of 10 draft picks making the roster in addition to six undrafted rookies, meaning 26 percent of the players on Seattle's roster were rookies. Of those 14 players, 13 are still on the current 53, the only change being defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson being placed on injured reserve last week with a knee injury.
Yet for all the excitement the Seahawks had about this year's rookie class, and for as much as those young players figure to be a big part of the team's future, the Seahawks weren't getting a lot out of their rookies early this season. Heading into the season, it appeared Seattle's first four draft picks, guard Germain Ifedi, defensive tackle Jarran Reed, running back C.J. Prosise and tight end Nick Vannett, would all have immediate roles. But thanks to injuries, Reed, who opened the year as a starting defensive tackle, was the only rookie with a big role on offense or defense early in the season.
Ifedi was Seattle's starting right guard throughout training camp and the preseason, but an ankle injury days before the opener caused him to miss the first three games. Prosise was slated to be Seattle's third-down back, but a hamstring injury limited him in camp, then a wrist injury in the season opener caused him to miss four games. And Vannett, who had a chance to see significant playing time as Seattle's third tight end, injured his ankle in the preseason and missed four games to start the year.
Now, however, the Seahawks are starting to see the type of contributions from their rookie class they were envisioning during the summer. Reed has been a solid in the middle of Seattle's defense all season, helping anchor one of the league's top run defenses; Ifedi has started the past four games and continues to show improvement; Vannett has seen his playing time increase the past three weeks and registered his first catch last week; and in his second game back from his injury, Prosise had a big game in New Orleans, catching four passes for a team-high 80 yards while rushing for 23 yards on four carries. The Seahawks have also increasing been getting contributions from undrafted rookies. George Fant started Sunday at left tackle in place of an injured Bradley Sowell, Tanner McEvoy keeps making big plays in limited snaps, and DeAndre Elliott and Tyvis Powell have both made big contributions on special teams.
"With the opportunity last night to see C.J. really get in there—the first game was just kind of a blank, then this game, he had a chance to make some runs, he had a chance to catch the ball, make a big play, that was really exciting," Carroll said. "We've really been waiting for him. Germain played better, again he did a nice, solid job for us. We saw Nick get in there and do some good things. Of course Jarran continues to play. It's a really good group of guys. To go along with that, some of the undrafted guys are starting to show up, and we're pleased with a lot of guys. It's a good group."
And just as Carroll and Seattle's coaches have high hopes for the 2016 rookie class, those players also believe they can be a big part of the team's future.
"We know we can be special," Ifedi said. "… We have a lot of guys who could have been picked a lot higher than they were, so they have chips on their shoulders and are talented. These guys keep coming along, and to have all of us back healthy—me and Jarran were saying a couple of weeks ago, it was the first game we had both played together—so the sky's the limit."
For Ifedi, every game back from his ankle injury is a chance to make a big step forward in his growth. As physically talented as he is, Ifedi also has had to learn a lot having come from a spread system at Texas A&M that he says was "night and day" from what the Seahawks ask of their linemen.
"I'm doing stuff that's the opposite of what I was doing last year," he said. "It's not even comparable. It's a totally different world."
Ifedi has shown improvement in his past two games after a performance against Atlanta that both Carroll and offensive line coach Tom Cable were critical of when talking to media the following week. Ifedi didn't mind hearing that out of his coaches, because he knew immediately after the game that he could have played better.
"They didn't have to say much to me," Ifedi said. "… I've been building my game since then, getting more consistent. That was kind of a wakeup call for me. I've never faced a team like that, never faced a front like that. So it was a wakeup call for me, and I think I've gotten a world better since then.
"It's just getting more consistent. There's always been flashes, but I'm not a person who's OK with flashing potential. I want to do it right every play. I'm getting closer. I want to keep doing it right every play, keep doing my technique right every play to the point that I know that snap after snap after snap, I'm going to be the same guy."
And as well as Prosise played in New Orleans, Carroll said "we're just scratching the surface" when it comes to getting the most out of the former Notre Dame back. Prosise figured to have an immediate and significant role with the Seahawks when the season began, but thanks to injuries, he's just now working his way into the offense.
"It's been a process," Prosise said. "I've just had to stay confident and keep going through the process, keep working, getting better every day. I had to battle through some injuries, I got through them, and now I'm just happy I'm healthy now and out there being able to play."
"I think my role is going to continue to expand and doing the things I've been doing. I think I'll get some carries here and there, and also come out of the backfield making some plays. That's what I'm going to keep doing. Whatever they ask me to do, I'm going to keep doing it."
Team photographer Rod Mar shares exclusive behind-the-scenes images from the Seahawks' Week 8 game against the Saints in New Orleans.