The 2021 Seahawks are better than the 2020 Seahawks — barely, but also scientifically

jamal wants you to believe, yes you | Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Position group by position group, let’s go

Contrary to public opinion, the Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West last season.

Contrary to public opinion, they spent the offseason trying to improve.

Contrary to public opinion, they are in a better place today than they were at the conclusion of their latest successful campaign.

Going position group by position group only confirms it. Sorry* to disappoint the haters, doubters, trolls, click chasers, and party poopers.

*pfffff

QB: Push

Russell Wilson could hardly be better than he was in Weeks 1-7, and should almost certainly be better than he was in the second half. If he reproduces his overall 2020 line, nobody ought to be surprised one way or the other. If he does it more consistently, that would probably help.

(I personally think he’ll be better in 2021, but for the purposes of keeping this exercise as free from bias as possible, tie goes to the status quo.)

WR: Slight uptick

Depth is an issue I won’t paper over. There’s precious little top talent in the receiver stable past Tyler Lockett. However, it’s not obvious that Freddie Swain is a downgrade from David Moore. And there’s no reason for Lockett to be any worse than 2020, while there are all the reasons in the world DK Metcalf will be even better. Like:

A) It’s his third year in the league, so we’re approaching “seasoned pro” status;

B) He took an enormous leap forward last year, so he knows what it takes to make progress;

C) There’s a new set of eyes at offensive coordinator, which can sometimes bring out strengths the previous OC didn’t recognize or utilize;

D) His rapport with Wilson was already good and can become great over time.

If the main argument for “WRs are worse now” is that last year’s WR4 was a little more experienced, color me the deepest shade of unconvinced. The room is at worst flat with 2020, and likely a little improved.

TE: Somewhat improved

Again, this column will concede that depth is an issue, especially if Tyler Mabry is your Week 1 TE3 and you were counting on big things from Colby Parkinson, who has two career receptions and starts the season on IR.

The counterpoint is that Gerald Everett is a known quantity and Will Dissly is another year removed from injury. Loved Jacob Hollister’s moxie, but 12 games out of him and 11 more from the Ghost of Greg Olsen turned last year’s tight end group into a real weakness on the roster. They still lack world-beaters, but most teams do, and solid play will be a step up from what we mostly saw in 2020.

RB: Push

Essentially the same crew as last year, only subbing Rashaad Penny in for Carlos Hyde and bringing Alex Collins along for the ride in case of emergency. If they’re healthier than last year that will be a boost. But the RBs aren’t going to make or break this offense anyway.

OL: Improved, with caveats

Gabe Jackson replaces Mike Iupati, and that’s massive. Especially in the NFC West, where interior pressure seems to materialize on every other snap, plugging in a good guard for a declining one reduces the points of attack for opponents. If Aaron Donald is in the backfield three fewer times per game, that’s enough to save a scoring drive, which is often enough to swing the outcome entirely. Have you ever watched a Rams-Seahawks game? A single possession matters triple compared to every other Sunday showdown.

Center is unsettled but fortunately it’s the least impactful of all positions. Worst-case scenario seems to be the Kyle Fuller experiment fails (a la Drew Nowak from 2015), which causes Ethan Pocic, a known quantity, to return and stabilize the line as well as he can.

Damien Lewis and Brandon Shell are solid, and as a composite should slightly outperform the 2020 versions of themselves.

Which brings us to Duane Brown.

Brown just turned 36, and I’ve been vocal about not extending his contract, because age always wins in the end, and often with a suddenness we don’t see coming but should’ve. That being said, it’s unlikely that Brown will go from 6th in PBWR (Pass Block Win Rate) in 2019, to 4th in 2020, to anything like, oh, 0th this year. If he falls off at all it’ll be likely a small enough amount to keep him near the top of the league. (All bets are off for 2022, after he has another season’s worth of wear on his frame.)

Offense as a whole: Trending up

No component of the Seahawks offense is looking to be worse than last year, when they set franchise records for points scored (459) and finished as the NFL’s eighth-most prolific team.

Again, the health disclaimer applies, as strongly as possible. Should a key member miss significant time — knock on your shoulder with salt wood — then we’re probably looking at a step back for as long as he’s out.

I said there would be science. Charts and graphs are science. Consider yourself scienced.

Specialists: a tricky group to predict, right? Let’s say “push”

Eventually Jason Myers, he of the 35 straight makes, will indeed miss a field goal in the regular season again. Does that make him a worse kicker if it happens in 2021? No. But it does mean the extra inevitable miss may cost Seattle a game. Or not, if they happen at opportune times. Sequencing, it matters. Miss all your kicks in a 35-13 game, Jason, for our sakes.

Since we’re actively trying to jinx him today, here’s a fun fact: Myers hasn’t missed a FG from inside 40 yards since 2018. Second fun fact: He’s a 63 percent career kicker from beyond 50. He’s really good. For now.

Michael Dickson should not be worse. Tyler Ott should not be worse. Why would that happen?

The return game looked like it needed exactly what it got in the preseason: an infusion of Deejay Dallas.

As long as the Seahawks specialists continue to focus on gathering hidden yards on special teams, Dickson acts like himself, and Myers doesn’t go off the deep end (none of those requests are even remotely farfetched), the foot-people and coverage teams should be as solid as we’ve grown to expect.

The cornerback position looms at the very end of the post. Let’s answer every other defensive question first. That’s what we call “a tease” in the radio business.

Pass rushers/DE: Push

Carlos Dunlap remains himself, Benson Mayowa is steady as ever, Kerry Hyder Jr. is welcome depth, and if we count Darrell Taylor here that’s a guy with double-digit sack potential but also the very real chance to be another draft dud. Alton Robinson is a mystery gift we’re waiting to unwrap, and his impressive preseason did nothing but confirm his intriguiosity. Yes, intriguiosity. What about it?

Interior linemen: Also push (which they like to do)

You could talk me into “better than 2020” if you sell the development of Poona Ford. Please feel free to begin talking. Bryan Mone and Al Woods and Rasheem Green and L.J. Collier will do the work every DT must do, without the flash of the league’s elite game disruptors, but without hardly any of the mistakes of the league’s replacement level rotational linemen.

Consistent interior pressure from Ford could take this group a long ways, but that’s a leap of faith doused in sweet-n-salty optimism.

Linebackers: Worse

K.J. Wright had one of the best years of his career in 2020 but legally changed his name in the offseason to Jordyn Brooks. Haha.

I don’t think we can expect Brooks to pick up where Wright left off. There will have to be some downgrade, even if for only one season.

Bobby Wagner could regress a little and still be a top 3 linebacker in the league. The danger is that the 134 games of wear and tear catch up with him. Course he’s only missed one game total in the last five years combined, so this borders on concern trolling.

I’m not a believer in Cody Barton against the 1s — his preseason highlights don’t carry over. Nick Bellore is a great story, chess piece and Swiss army knife, but if he has to play a significant amount of regular-season snaps, the ‘backers have come upon some pretty hard times.

Safeties: Better

Quandre Diggs got his “new” 2021 deal with enhanced cash flow. Jamal Adams got his actually new 2021 deal with winning lottery ticket numbers. Ryan Neal can play once he heals up, Marquise Blair is set to realize the promise invested in him two years ago, and you might even see a little Ugo Amadi on the field in high-population DB sets.

This is a good group, deeper than before and just physical, with all the versatility in the world. They’ll be better than their predecessors if they don’t miss substantial time.

Cornerbacks: Worse for now, but check back at midseason

Out of D.J. Reed, Sidney Jones, Tre Flowers, John Reid and Nigel Warrior, two league average starters must emerge. If not, the corps will take a step back from 2020, when Shaquill Griffin and Reed manned the outside in a better-than average fashion.

Reed remains untested in the long run, Jones hasn’t appeared in a Seahawks uniform, Flowers’ floor is as low as his ceiling is high, Reid could save the group or be a non-factor, and Warrior is only marginally more healthy than Tre Brown, who starts on IR.

It’s not a group to inspire confidence. They’ll need pass rush help and safety help to hold it together at the start. The good news is they’ll often get exactly both those things. Unless they don’t for some reason, and then the defense will be losing games all on its own.

I’ve said this before, but the CBs don’t have to be Richard Sherman — nobody does — or even Byron Maxwell. They just have to not be Kelly Jennings. There’s enough playmaking talent across the rest of the defensive side of the ball to create turnovers and get key stops at key times. The corners merely have to not lose the game for everyone else with abysmal outings.

Entire defense: Kind of a coin flip, kind of a mystery

If Brooks and Taylor are fine, and the LBs are steady, and the CBs aren’t awful, then the defense is as good or better than they let on in 2020. If Brooks and Taylor are overmatched, and the LBs get targeted by smart offensive coordinators around the division and the league, then the D is going to take a step backwards.

That’s a lof of ifs. Not everything will break Seattle’s way.

One final helping of #science and #numbers and #arrows:

The five pluses in our two tables outweigh the three minuses. So it’s okay to believe the roster sits a notch above last year’s. Buttressed by an ameliorated offense, the 2021 Seahawks will be overall improved, and will have a chance to seek their fortune again in the playoffs, only this time maybe without the meltdowns that have cut short everyone’s aspirations the last three postseasons.

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