With Seahawks training camp set to kick off later this month, Seahawks.com is taking a look at 12 of the team's most intriguing storylines, position battles and players heading into the 2020 season. Today we look at last year's rookie class and how that group will be expected to contribute more in 2020, and tomorrow we'll look at what veteran tight end Greg Olsen might bring to the offense.
Pete Carroll was asked at the NFL Scouting Combine about DK Metcalf exceeding expectations as a rookie, and the Seahawks coach started his answer by jokingly suggesting that the reporter should have had higher expectations.
But playful teasing aside, it's hard to imagine too many people outside of the Seahawks organization expected the type of season Metcalf had in 2019 when he produced one of the best seasons by a rookie receiver in franchise history.
Metcalf's 58 catches for 900 yards both rank second all-time among Seahawks rookies behind Joey Galloway's 1995 season, and his 7 touchdowns tied for third most by a rookie pass-catcher. Metcalf capped a great regular season by setting a Seahawks postseason record with 160 receiving yards against Philadelphia, a total that was also most by a rookie in the postseason in the Super Bowl era.
But as good as Metcalf was as a rookie, there's every reason to believe he'll be even better in 2020 as he gets more comfortable in the offense, particularly because receiver is one of the tougher positions for a rookie to make the college-to-NFL adjustment.
"There's a number of ways that he'll get better," Carroll said at the combine. "He's a really diligent worker, and because of that, he already made consistent progress through the season. He will come back, I would think, with a new level of confidence after getting through the year and having a successful rookie season. Consistency, taking advantage of his opportunities with the matchups that he has and the calls that we have, really getting more opportunity to build the chemistry with Russ. It's so important, just the little fine-tuning stuff. He's got such a great example to work with in Tyler (Lockett) showing him all of the ins and outs of all of the stuff it is to work with Russell."
Yet as fun as it will be for Seahawk fans to watch Metcalf continue his ascent, what will probably be more meaningful for Seattle's hopes at a successful 2020 season is not how much better Metcalf can be, but how much more the rest of the rookie class can contribute.
For a number of reasons, be it injuries or depth at certain positions, most of Seattle's 2019 draft class, aside from Metcalf, was not able to earn regular playing time outside of special teams duty. Safety Marquise Blair, defensive back Ugo Amadi, linebacker Cody Barton and running back Travis Homer all took on significant roles at various points in the season, but only Metcalf was a regular contributor throughout the season outside of special teams play.
For the Seahawks to be at their best, they know they'll need at least some members of the 2019 class to thrive in bigger roles this season, starting with first-round pick L.J. Collier, who never really got going after missing training camp and the preseason due to an ankle injury that nearly landed him on injured reserve.
"It's just situations, you know," Carroll said at the combine when asked about rookie contributions. "I think Cody Barton could have been a bigger factor. He had fantastic work for us. He was the top special-teams player, when he wasn't playing (defense). When he was playing he had some of his (special-teams) reps taken away; he wasn't able to maintain his impact on teams. But he did show us that he could be there. L.J., you know, he had that terrible injury right at the wrong time to get us started. And he had to battle his way back from it. We are expecting him to play a good deal, be competitive guy for the starting spot for the 5-technique spot, and all the rest. Ben Burr-Kirven, injury. Marquise, injury. They had injuries early on in the process, when we develop our confidence in them and they develop their confidence in themselves. They kind of got held back. So, unfortunately, they didn't get off to a great start. And then when we are in a competitive season sometimes it gets a little—you get a little more reluctant to break a guy in. When 'Quise had his chances, he did some good stuff. I think he is going to have a big impact. He's an exciting football player, coverage-wise, hitting-wise, covering ground, all that kind of stuff. So a couple of those guys, all of those guys I mentioned had injuries that stifled them all kinds of ways early parts of the season, the development part of the year. We just didn't get them over the hump and in part of the flow of it. But I can't imagine that not happening. So all of those guys should help us out. It should be a really exciting second year for those guys."
So what kind of roles could last year's draft class take on in 2020? With Quinton Jefferson leaving in free agency and Jadeveon Clowney still a free agent, there will be every opportunity for Collier to win a significant role in the defensive end rotation at the least, and perhaps a starting job as the five-technique end.
Continuing down the list, Blair could have a tough time unseating veterans Quandre Diggs and Bradley McDougald for a starting spot—though on a Carroll-coached team, he'll always have a chance to compete for it—but even if he doesn't start, Carroll has discussed the possibility of using him in three-safety nickel packages, something the Seahawks have done in the past when McDougald joined the team with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor entrenched in starting roles.
Barton, a third-round pick, got better late in the year after taking over a starting spot for an injured Mychal Kendricks, but will have a lot of competition if he wants to keep a starting job thanks to the addition of first-round pick Jordyn Brooks and the signing of Bruce Irvin, who plays both strongside linebacker and defensive end. Those factors will also make things tough for fifth-round pick Ben Burr-Kirven, but again, he'll get every chance to compete for his spot, and both of those second-year linebackers showed last year they can be big contributors on special teams.
Fourth-round pick Phil Haynes did not play as a rookie after starting the year on the physically unable to perform list due to sports hernia surgery, but Seahawks general manager John Schneider mentioned Haynes as a contender for the starting job at left tackle. Fellow fourth-rounder Ugo Amadi took over the nickel defensive back job late in the year, and at the combine Carroll named him as the leading candidate for that job heading into camp, though as mentioned earlier, Blair could compete for playing time at that spot.
Sixth-round pick Travis Homer took on a big role after injuries left the Seahawks thin at running back late last season, and while he'll be facing some stiff competition when Seattle is at full strength, the late-season injuries to Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny mean Homer, as well as rookie DeeJay Dallas, will get a ton of opportunities to shine along with veteran Carlos Hyde when camp opens.
Sixth-round pick Demarcus Christmas missed last season with a back injury, but with veteran defensive tackle Al Woods leaving in free agency, and with Seattle not making any additions at that spot in veteran free agency or the draft, there will be an opportunity for Christmas to compete for a significant role in the D-line rotation.
Seventh-round pick John Ursua was a preseason fan favorite, but the receiver out of Hawaii struggled to get on the field in the regular season. Ursua said earlier this offseason said that he took longer than he had hoped to pick up the offense, but said that by late the season he was much more comfortable in the offense. Ursua will face tough competition at receiver, but can't be ruled out as an option for the slot receiver role.
Will every one of those second-year players step up and seize a big role in 2020? History says no, but for the Seahawks to reach their potential this year, at least some of those players will need to join Metcalf in being big contributors on offense or defense.