Roster check (for now and future) as playoffs approach

Logo -- At San FranciscoThe Seattle defense is coming off its best game of the season — a dominating performance against Minnesota that showed this unit might be effective against great offenses in the playoffs.

But now it unfortunately has lost another player: Mychal Kendricks is out for the season after suffering a broken leg in his first game back from suspension. With K.J. Wright also out at least a couple more weeks, Austin Calitro will be called on to start again.

Meanwhile, Doug Baldwin is questionable again as the Seahawks face Richard Sherman and the “not middle of the road” 49ers for the second time in three weeks.

As Seattle gets set to clinch a playoff spot, here’s a status report on each position (with a look to the future, too):

Grade: B-
Russell Wilson has been frustratingly inconsistent all season. He appeared to have finally found his comfort zone in wins over Carolina and San Francisco, but then he threw out a clunker against Minnesota (his key 40-yard run saving it from being a total failure). Wilson has had several game-turning negative plays (two pick-sixes, a late fumble) and has rarely looked completely comfortable in Brian Schottenheimer’s offense (at least without Baldwin). Despite that, he has 22 TD passes and three INTs in the past nine games (Seattle is 6-3) and is on pace for career bests in TDs (36), yards per attempt (8.4) and passer rating (111). He’ll need to play more like his numbers if the Hawks are going to advance in the playoffs.
Future: Wilson will be up for an extension after this season, but it remains to be seen whether John Schneider thinks he merits the king-of-the-NFL contract he surely will want. This could be one of the NFL’s top contract dramas of the offseason.

Grade: A
Wilson was the team’s leading rusher last season, but three tailbacks are above him this time as the Seahawks are back in Carroll’s preferred spot as the NFL’s top rushing team. The Seahawks have rushed for 150 yards or more in nine of the last 10 games, including a second 200-yard game vs. Minnesota in which Wilson ran for 61 yards. Chris Carson leads Seattle with 794 yards and is among the league leaders in broken tackles. Rashaad Penny has gotten more action in the past few weeks and has 413 yards (closer to 613, if you count all of his horizontal yards on his weaving cutback runs). Davis, the two-minute back, is fourth on the team with 24 catches and has 418 rushing yards. J.D. McKissic has gotten a few plays since returning in Week 14 and figures to see more action in the last three games, especially if Penny’s knee injury suffered vs. Minnesota forces him out.
Future: Carson and Penny are tied to the team for at least a couple more years, so we can expect lots more debate about who should start and whether Penny was worth a first-round pick. Davis will be a UFA next year and might hope to find more playing time elsewhere.

Grade: B
This group has become very dependable for Wilson despite Seattle throwing the fewest passes in the NFL. Tyler Lockett has been one of the league’s elite receivers this season. He is the most efficient receiver in the league, his nine TD catches are tied for sixth (second in the NFC), and he has a catch rate of 79 percent (second among NFL receivers with at least 50 targets). David Moore is averaging 18.8 yards per catch, with five scores, and Jaron Brown, the forgotten fourth receiver, has scored five times on 17 targets. With Baldwin banged up all season and missing a few games, Lockett is now the No. 1, and Moore has stepped into the No. 2 role. Wilson just needs to learn to trust those guys more (he failed to throw to them, or missed, on several open plays against Minnesota).
Future: Baldwin’s injury-plagued season could well be his last in Seattle. That would open playing time for another young player such as Keenan Reynolds, Malik Turner or Amara Darboh. Brown might be let go as well if the brass doesn’t think he is worth $2.75 million.

Grade: B
The tight ends have been used mostly as blockers this season — and the biggest move there has been lining up George Fant since Will Dissly was injured in Week 4. Fant has been splitting out some — the 49ers’ Richard Sherman had to “cover” him at least a couple of times — and actually got a pass his way against Minnesota. Tight ends have accounted for six of Seattle’s 29 touchdown receptions, with Ed Dickson, Nick Vannett and Dissly each matching Baldwin’s two scores. Vannett is actually third on the team with 25 catches — three more than Moore. Seattle has no standouts here, but Schottenheimer finds sneaky ways to use these guys sometimes.
Future: With Dissly expected to start upon his return next year, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Dickson and his $3.7 million let go. Vannett has one year left and probably will be cheap to keep in 2020, if the Hawks choose.

Grade: A-
Duane Brown, J.R. Sweezy, Justin Britt, D.J. Fluker and Germain Ifedi have become a very good unit since they first lined up together in Week 3 — leading the league’s top rushing team and protecting Wilson well enough in almost every game. Wilson has gone down 39 times (eighth most in the league), but he shares a lot of blame for holding the ball too long and not accounting for blitzers upon occasion. The Hawks actually have been better with Jordan Simmons at right guard, going over 200 rushing yards in both of his starts. With him, Fant, Joey Hunt and Ethan Pocic, Seattle has uncommon depth in this unit. As Carroll said, “We wouldn’t feel bad about any of those guys being in the game.”
Future: Fluker and Sweezy will be UFAs and Fant and Hunt RFAs. The Hawks could go with Simmons and Pocic as the guards in a pinch, so they have no pressure to pay Fluker and Sweezy. But they surely will try to bring back the vets for fairly cheap and keep that depth in place. They probably won’t tender Fant or Hunt since both are backups, doing their usual minimum-salary re-signings if possible (Fant has been a big contributor, but he’s probably not worth $2 million or $3 million). A big return: Jamarco Jones (on IR now) will be back and could replace Fant (and, eventually, Ifedi or Brown).

Grade: B-
Frank Clark and Jarran Reed are the class of this unit, each having the best season of his career. Quinton Jefferson and Shamar Stephen have been OK as the other starters and rookie Jacob Martin has offered a little spark here and there (like the forced fumble against Kirk Cousins that led to a defensive TD by Seattle). Former third-rounders Rasheem Green and Nazair Jones have been major disappointments. UDFA Poona Ford has had a few standout moments recently, and Dion Jordan is back on the field (though not overly impactful). This crew suffered a huge drop in talent when Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett left and has been gashed by the run in a lot of games and has not pressured enough at times, but it seemingly has improved as the season has advanced.
Future: The offseason will feature a lot of action here. Clark needs to be paid before free agency, and Reed should be extended at some point; they should be the anchors of this unit for the next four or five years. Schneider also needs to go find a good run-stopping defensive tackle (a la Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel, et al.) and outside pass rusher (a la Avril and Bennett) to pair with Clark (Stephen and Jordan can move on). The Hawks should end up spending some decent cash on this unit.

Grade: B
Bobby Wagner has gone from consistently good earlier in the season to completely dominant over the past few weeks. Kendricks’ injury is a real bummer — he was a great addition who seemed poised to really help the Hawks in the playoffs. With Wright still out as well, Calitro will start again (he had a season-high 10 tackles vs. the 49ers in Week 13). Barkevious Mingo’s participation on defense has dwindled greatly (under 50 percent of snaps in four of the past five games) as he focuses on being the lead special-teams player (team-high 81.6 percent of snaps). Shaquem Griffin is “ready to jump when we need him. He’s way better schooled now than he was earlier, but he still hasn’t had a lot of playing time. It’s going to be a big offseason for him.”
Future: Like the D-line, so much is up in the air here. Wright is not expected back (unless he gets healthy and plays for pretty cheap), and Wagner — like Wilson — will be up for an extension (but will the Hawks want to pay him?). Kendricks will be sentenced for insider trading on Jan. 24, a ruling that the Hawks will be watching closely. He faces up to 37 months in prison, but he apparently could spend as little as 8-12. If that happens, he could return next season or else in 2020 — and Carroll sounds like he would wait for him. Best case (though low odds): Wagner, Wright and Kendricks are all back next year. Worst case: None are here (if Wagner is traded) and the Hawks have to find some new linebackers. Get ready for some big drama here.

Grade: B-
This crew has had the expected up-and-down season since Earl Thomas broke his leg in Week 4. But Bradley McDougald has played steady, excellent ball all season, and the young guys are playing better — with a boost from Ken Norton’s good game plans in recent weeks. Tre Flowers and Shaquill Griffin both had excellent games against Minnesota, and Justin Coleman scored his third TD in two seasons. This unit will be big-time tested again in the playoffs — likely facing Dallas’ Amari Cooper and then the Rams’ or Saints’ stellar passing attacks. We’ll see how much they really have grown at that point (they could get a pre-playoff test against Kansas City).
Future: Thomas won’t be back, but Carroll sounds like he likes Tedric Thompson. “Tedric has played really solid football for us. … He’s really good back there.” A safety still seems a likely addition, if only to add competition. Meanwhile, Griffin and Flowers are locked in at the corners for the next few years and have gained great experience this season that could make them Carroll’s next star defensive backs. The recent TD aside, Coleman has not had a season worthy of another $3 million payday, so his 2019 return seems in doubt.

Grade: B+
Michael Dickson has been every bit the superstar the Hawks expected, leading the NFL in net punting (44.2) and No. 3 in gross average (48.3). Sebastian Janikowski has not been as good for Seattle as Jason Myers has been for the Jets. Sure, he has hit two walk-off kicks (at Arizona after he missed twice in that game and at Carolina), but he also missed an important kick in a three-point loss in Denver and whiffed on two PATs in the blowout of the 49ers in Week 13. By the numbers, Janikowski has been below average.
Future: Dickson should punt for Seattle for a long time, but the team can feel free to look for a better kicker.


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