Why it's not too late to fix Seahawks' offensive line
At this very moment, the Seattle Seahawks’ offensive line may just be the worst position group in the entire NFL. Last season, we ranked the Seahawks O-line as third-worst in the NFL, ahead of only the Dolphins and Chargers. After losing Russell Okung (72.1) and J.R. Sweezy (46.0) in free agency, Seattle is at an even lower point, with Patrick Lewis as their only projected starter that earned a 50.0 or higher overall grade in 2015. The aforementioned Chargers and Dolphins each have at least one player owning 70.0 overall grade or higher (three for the Dolphins, with Branden Albert and Mike Pouncey returning).
To find a glimmer of hope, look very hard at week-by-week data and put the bigger picture of a full season’s worth of grades to the back of your mind. A five-week spell for Justin Britt as a run-blocker around mid-season, some solid games from Patrick Lewis as a run-blocker, and a solid preseason from last year’s fourth-round pick Mark Glowinski are really all this unit has to hang its hat on.
The Seahawks made two minor moves in the opening weeks of free agency to “shore up” the tackle spot with a quantity—if not quality—of players. J’Marcus Webb will be four years removed from his best football by the time the season starts in September, while Bradley Sowell started only one season with the Cardinals and surrendered 59 pressures in 2013, fourth-worst in the NFL.
Though the outlook may be gloomy at present, there are still five months until the season opens—Seattle realistically has time to not only develop current players, but also make personnel moves to give Russell Wilson some protection. Below are the moves I would make to strengthen the Seahawks’ O-line heading into training camp. To give Seattle 16 linemen to carry into training camp on their 90-man roster, I will outline five moves that could take this line from the bottom of the pile to a mid-league unit, providing Wilson and running back Thomas Rawls with a platform to succeed.
[Author’s note: Draft projections are far from an exact science, and to assess a prospect’s availability by day, I used a composite of big boards from a number of draft sites to set draft expectations.]
Currently on the roster: Garry Gilliam, Bradley Sowell, J’Marcus Webb, Kona Schwenke, Terry Poole
The kneejerk reaction to losing Russell Okung would be to say that the Seahawks must engineer a trade for a quality left tackle immediately—Joe Thomas, Ryan Clady, Eugene Monroe, etc. Cap space and injury management are real things in the NFL, however, and after declining to retain Okung on what is in reality a fairly team-friendly contract, I find it hard to believe that Seattle would give up draft capital to bring in an expensive tackle on a less team-friendly contract.
Proposed free-agent signing: The Seahawks do, however, need an immediate upgrade at left tackle, with Garry Gilliam’s form at right tackle last season offering no reassurance of a smooth transition to LT in 2016. A signing that would fit with Seattle’s patient approach to patching up their offensive line would be the acquisition of former Giant Will Beatty on a short-term deal. A strong run-blocker throughout his career (18th-highest run-block grade for a tackle since he entered the league, until 2014) Beatty would be a valuable ally to Thomas Rawls, and only his 2013 season as a pass-protector is anything to be truly alarmed by. Beatty ticks boxes as a player cut by his former team (so he wouldn’t be part of the compensatory picks calculation), and would likely come cheaply on a short-term deal, setting himself up to earn a payday next offseason.
Currently on the roster: Justin Britt, Mark Glowinski, Kristjan Sokoli, Will Pericak
The guard position shows the faith the Seahawks are putting in offensive line coach Tom Cable and their young players to develop. Britt is under big pressure to make huge strides in his third season in the league (second at left guard). The other three players have one regular season start between them (Glowinski), and only 268 preseason snaps between them. This quartet provides both the optimism and the uncertainty of being unproven players, and little more at this stage.
Proposed free-agent signing: The Seahawks may want to keep the faith with the development of their young offensive linemen, but they need some fallback insurance if the current quartet does not develop. Filling this void for me would be Chris Chester, whose experience in zone schemes would blend well with Seattle’s ground attack. He’s also coming off his best season as a run-blocker since 2012 with the Falcons. A second-round pick by Baltimore back in 2006, Chester is a player who the Seahawks could start off with behind their current young players, using him to apply pressure on their development throughout training camp, safe in the knowledge that if their performances don’t shape up, he can step in and be a safe pair of hands for a season.
Possible draft pick: The first lineman I would draft for the Seahawks—on Day 2—would be N.C. State left tackle Joe Thuney. An athletic lineman, Thuney is projected to move to guard in the NFL, but having watched him play, I think he could make a living at tackle in the NFL, and offers the Seahawks valuable position-versatility in that regard. Thuney excelled on the backside of inside zone for the Wolfpack last season—our highest-graded offensive tackle in that area—and is an asset that would work well to limit the impact of Russell Okung’s absence. Thuney would immediately push Justin Britt for the starting left guard spot, but could yet be in the mix to help improve the Seahawks’ group at tackle, as well.
Possible draft pick: Adding more competition at guard would be Oregon State right guard Isaac Seumalo, who finished his senior season in Corvallis with a trio of starts at left tackle, where he didn’t allow a single pressure. Outside of the top 100 on my composite board, Seumalo would be a Day 3 pick, in spite of being one of PFF’s highest-graded guards in the 2015 season, surrendering only four hurries and grading negatively as a run-blocker only twice (at Michigan and home versus Stanford). A quality run-blocker in a variety of schemes, Seumalo would add further pressure on the Seahawks’ young interior players to develop or be surpassed.
Currently on the roster: Patrick Lewis, Drew Nowak
Center was far from the biggest problem on the Seahawks’ offensive line last season, and as a coach who likes to see competition at every spot, Cable should be excited to see Patrick Lewis and Drew Nowak push each other for the starting gig during training camp. Lewis, in particular, was solid as a run-blocker for much of the season, and after surrendering nine pressures in his first four starts, only allowed as many in his next seven, with no hits or sacks. The focus here should be added competition in camp.
Possible draft pick: The Seahawks’ ground attack is centered on the zone read from the shotgun, and they like to hit the backside of this play more than any other team in the league. To do this effectively, they need their center to clear space from the middle of the line against an opposing defensive tackle to open space on the backside of the play. A good fit for just this kind of blocking is Duke center Matt Skura, fresh off a season where he was a PFF First Team All-American. The Blue Devils’ ground attack was not complex, but Skura was integral to their success, clearing a path vertically through the middle of ACC defenses with remarkable consistency, helping Duke to average 5.2 yards per carry on cutback runs last season. Skura could be wildcard in the Seahawks’ center battle and a potential road-grader for Thomas Rawls.
Proposed training-camp offensive line
Offensive tackle: Garry Gilliam, Bradley Sowell, J’Marcus Webb, Kona Schwenke, Terry Poole, and Will Beatty
Guard: Justin Britt, Mark Glowinski, Kristjan Sokoli, Will Pericak, Chris Chester, Joe Thuney, and Isaac Seumalo
Center: Patrick Lewis, Drew Nowak, and Matt Skura
The Seahawks will have their own plans for their offensive line heading into training camp, but with these five additions, I think Seattle would put themselves in a strong position to return the unit quickly to the level it was at in 2014 and 2012, when it broke out of the bottom-12 in our league-wide rankings. This level of performance would, at the very least, give Wilson and Rawls a platform to succeed, rather than forcing them to overachieve in spite of the offensive line in front of them.