Crazy to think that we’re still 58 days away from the season opener, and yet here we are, debating and picking apart team rankings (Seahawks or 49ers?) and player rankings (Should Jaws have ranked Russell Wilson the 12th-best QB in the league?).
The point is, there’s never a time that isn’t right to talk about the NFL, and on that note Sports Illustrated released its preview of the NFC West on Friday. Here’s what Chris Burke, the writer of the piece, had to say about the Seahawks followed by my thoughts:
Burke: Where they got better: Wide receiver. Drop the mic and walk away. The Seahawks paid a pretty penny, including their 2013 first-round pick, for Percy Harvin. He will be worth it, provided he can put his recent injury history behind him. Few players in the league are capable of changing a game like Harvin, who sure feels like the piece Seattle was missing. Rookie Chris Harper could be one to watch eventually, as well. He’s a physical receiver who will make catches in traffic and might battle for playing time as the year progresses.
My thoughts: I can’t disagree much here, although I think you could make a legitimate argument for the defensive line. The Seahawks could have used a more explosive, big-play receiving threat heading into this offseason, but Pete Carroll highlighted the defensive line, particularly the pass rush, as the team’s greatest need. To address it, the Seahawks added veterans Cliff Avril (a true pass rusher), Michael Bennett (a versatile veteran capable of playing inside or out) and Tony McDaniel (a solid veteran in the middle to help replace Alan Branch). Plus, when you throw in draft picks like Jesse Williams and Jordan Hill, the Seahawks suddenly made the defensive line a strength — and a deep one at that. I’ll take the defensive line over the receiving corps, but both are solid choices.
Burke: Where they got worse: Outside linebacker, if anywhere. The Seahawks did not lose many contributors off their 2012 team, and where they did — like at defensive tackle, with Alan Branch — quickly replaced those parts with multiple options. But at outside linebacker, they need third-year player Malcolm Smith, he of three career starts and 22 tackles in 2012, to take over for Leroy Hill, a starter in Seattle since 2005. Hill hit free agency this offseason, then was arrested for an alleged domestic violence incident. Seattle could mix and match here, with guys like Bruce Irvin or Mike Morgan. It’s one of the few spots, though, where the answer is not obvious.
My thoughts: Initially, my gut reaction was to disagree with him. His answer doesn’t address what I think the most likely option is at this point: Play newly acquired CB Antoine Winfield predominantly in a nickle package instead of relying on three linebackers. GM John Schneider said Winfield will see a lot of playing time, and I think it makes the most sense to play a proven veteran like Winfield in a nickle package ahead of guys with more question marks like Malcolm Smith or Bruce Irvin. (Side note: Bruce Irvin is not undergoing a complete position change, at least not from my understanding. The Seahawks are simply looking at him there and evaluating what they have. They have a ton of options along the defensive line and will have to get creative to mix and match in order to get the most out of all the pieces. This is one avenue they’re going to look at. Cliff Avril is another guy who could play outside linebacker, but he made it clear during mini camp that he sees himself as a pass rushing defensive end). In that case, I don’t think the outside linebacker position is that big of a weakness, which Burke obviously acknowledges by saying “outside linebacker, if anywhere” when talking about where Seattle got worse. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I couldn’t find a position where they really got worse. That’s not to say they don’t have some potential holes — depth along the offensive line, for example — but those are pretty much in the same shape as last year. I can’t really argue with Burke here, but I do think the Seahawks have put themselves in a position to play more nickle with Winfield on the roster.
Burke: Breakout player: Christine Michael, RB. The path to playing time has one big hurdle in it, in the form of Marshawn Lynch. That said, Michael very well might knock Robert Turbin from the backup role, giving him some looks — Turbin had 80 carries from that spot last year.
My thoughts: Not a bad pick. Michael gives the Seahawks a potential breakaway threat out of the backfield. But I’m going to go with Jordan Hill, Seattle’s third-round draft pick out of Penn State. Hill, a defensive tackle, looked to have quick feet and good athleticism during the team activities this summer. He’s viewed as a defensive tackle who can create a little pass rush up the middle, and I think he’ll find his way onto the field plenty as a rookie.