Post-bye review of the roster

As the Seahawks get ready to play their final seven games, they are in a position few (if any) could have imagined – tied for first place in the NFC West at 6-4 and facing a coming three-game stretch that could see them hit nine wins before mid-December.

Geno Smith has been hands-down the most surprising player on the team – stunning everyone by leading the NFL in completion percentage (72.8) in a season that looks very likely to end in an unexpected Pro Bowl.

While Smith has yet to prove he can rally his team in the clutch – he failed in Munich against Tampa Bay – he has been a steady hand for most of the season.

It has helped that the two rookie tackles, Charles Cross and Abe Lucas, have played like seasoned vets almost since the start of the season. Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf have been excellent, even amid injuries; the tight ends have made big contributions at times; and – as expected — Kenneth Walker III quickly became the starting RB and showed his worth after Rashaad Penny was injured.

The defense took a little longer to come together – and required an apparent tweak of the scheme. But the secondary has developed as we expected it to – the one big surprise being the sudden impact of Tariq Woolen. That unit backslide in Germany, but there are plenty of reasons to dismiss that and expect Clint Hurtt’s crew to come back from the bye firing on all cylinders.

As the Hawks get ready to push for the playoffs (they have a 78% chance, per FiveThirtyEight), let’s take a look at the roster:

Quarterback

First 10 review: Smith was the NFC offensive player of the month for October as he led the Hawks to a 4-1 record with nine TD passes, just one pick and a 111.7 passer rating. He is second in overall QB rating (108), sixth in TD passes (17), seventh in yards (2,474) – a Pro Bowl spot likely coming after this season.

Last 7 projection: Coming out of the bye,Smith and the offense face three beatable defenses in the Raiders (32nd in DVOA), Rams (15th) and Panthers (25th). The 49ers (8th) will provide a challenge, and then Smith could have success against the Chiefs (22nd) on Christmas Eve. On New Year’s Day, the Jets (6th) should be a challenge, then the Hawks finish with the Rams. So just two top-10 defenses in the final seven (Smith is 1-1 against top-10 defenses so far). Smith could lead the Hawks to 11 wins.

Future: The Hawks reportedly want to extend Smith after the season. If he sustains this level of play, the Hawks will have to consider whether to pay him $25 million to $30 million. Smith is 32, so it would be a short deal — maybe 2-3 years. Seattle could franchise him at something around $31.5 million just to retain negotiating rights. Or the Hawks could let him shop in free agency and they could draft a guy, as most expected them to do before Smith surprised everyone with his play.

Running back

First 10: It’s no surprise that Penny was hurt again. As sad as it is for Penny and the Hawks (who blew a first-round pick on him), it was predictable after his first four seasons. The Hawks drafted Walker to be their guy no later than 2023 – and they knew there was a very good chance he would take over sooner. He has great feet and speed and has tallied 441 yards in five starts, averaging 4.9 per carry (Penny was even better, at 6.1).

Final 7: The Raiders and Panthers should provide chances at big games for Walker, but the 49ers, Rams and Jets could be tough. Averaging almost 90 yards per game, he should surpass 1,000 yards. We also should see some more breakaway runs. But he needs better blocking – and he needs to pick holes a little faster at times rather than dancing around at the line.

Future: Walker is a rookie, so the Hawks have three more years of his stellar talent. Travis Homer is an excellent special-teamer, so bringing him back for cheap next year would be a secondary priority.

Wide receiver

First 10: Lockett and Metcalf have battled through injuries recently. Both were on pace for 1,000 yards a couple weeks ago. The only better pair of WR teammates is Miami’s Tyreek Hill & Jaylen Waddle, who have 132 catches on 181 targets for 2,026 yards and 10 TDs. Lockett & Metcalf are at 102/148 for 1,221 and 9 TDs.

Final 7: The Seattle duo should return healthy off the bye and have resurgent performances down the stretch. The Raiders and Panthers are both terrible against the pass, and the Rams have struggled, too.

Future: Lockett and Metcalf are both signed through 2025. Dee Eskridge has proven to be fragile, so the Hawks might look to the draft or free agency for a new third receiver – or bring back Marquise Goodwin, who will be 33.

Offensive line

First 10: At the bye, the Hawks were fifth in pass blocking but just 20th in run blocking (by ESPN’s measures). Lucas and Austin Blythe were No. 9 in pass blocking at their positions, and Damien Lewis was the No. 10 run blocker at guard. The unit had given up 24 sacks, 11th most in the NFL.

Final 7: Run blocking needs to improve. The Rams and Chiefs have been stingy in ground gains, but the Hawks should be able to run against most of the other teams on the slate – if they improve. The Chiefs, Jets and 49ers all have good pass rushes, so Seattle’s line will have to be on its toes when passing against those clubs.

Future: The Hawks are set at the tackles, and Lewis has one more year. Blythe has been a solid vet in the middle, but the Hawks certainly could use a long-term center. Gabe Jackson also is signed for one more season, but the team could reclaim $6.5 million in cap space by letting him go and replacing him more cheaply with Phil Haynes and/or another guard.

Defensive line

First 10: This squad was the victim of a poor scheme in the first five games. Once they were allowed to be aggressive, they anchored a very good defense for a month. Poona Ford, Quinton Jefferson, Al Woods and Shelby Harris each have combined for six sacks/tackles for loss. It’s a solid quartet that helped the Hawks climb up to fourth in sacks (27) before they were shut out by Tampa. They have given up over 150 rushing yards in all four losses though and need to stop doing that.

Final 7: The 49ers (124 ypg) are the best rushing team the Hawks face down the stretch. The Rams are terrible (76 ypg), and the Raiders, Panthers, Jets and Chiefs are all average or below in the run game.

Future: Next to Geno Smith, Ford is Seattle’s top pending free agent. Harris is one of seven Hawks with cap hits over $12 million; so, even though he has played pretty well, he could be a cut candidate. Jefferson and Woods are signed through 2023, and Bryan Mone has a two-year extension that kicks in next year.

Linebacker

First 10: Uchenna Nwosu has been stellar – seven sacks, 15 QB hits, 15 pressures. A great signing at two years, $19 million – and a guy who is building big value for his next contract. … Jordyn Brooks is second in the NFL with 106 tackles. He has made few impact plays though. He needs a better inside running mate than Cody Barton – even if Barton has played better in recent weeks after a terrible start. … Other than the expected injury fails of Jamal Adams and Penny, Darrell Taylor probably has been the biggest disappointment on the team. He played so poorly that the Hawks had to bring back 35-year-old Bruce Irvin, who actually has made a few impact plays and played a lot the past three games. Taylor does have three forced fumbles though.

Final 7: This unit will face its biggest tests in Weeks 15 and 16 against the 49ers (on a Thursday night) and the Chiefs (Christmas Eve morning). This crew should hold up well against the four other teams it plays (the Rams twice).

Future: Linebacker is probably the biggest offseason need – an inside guy to play alongside Brooks and a versatile outside guy to bookend Nwosu. The Hawks might want to try to extend Nwosu as well, but that will be much more expensive this time.

Safety

First 10: The Hawks lost Adams early, but Ryan Neal steadied the back end once he started playing a lot in Week 4. … Quandre Diggs has had little impact this season, possibly (or probably) because he is still rallying from the leg/ankle injury he suffered in 2021.  

Final 7: Diggs needs to find another gear, not give up so many deep balls and finally get his first pick of the season.

Future: Adams and Diggs form the second-highest paid position duo on the team, behind Metcalf and Lockett, but injuries have stopped them from earning the big money they have been paid. They both figure to be back in 2023, but 2024 offers no guarantees. In the meantime, Ryan Neal will be an RFA next year and certainly merits the second-round tender.

Cornerback

First 10: Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant have been takeaway machines, helping Seattle tie for fifth in the NFL with 17 takeaways. … Woolen got his fifth interception (No. 2 in NFL) when the Bucs tried a trick pass from Leonard Fournette to Brady. He tied Michael Boulware (2004) and Earl Thomas (2010) for Seattle’s rookie record. Woolen is the third player since 2010 with five or more picks in his first 10 NFL games, according to ESPN Stats & Info. … Bryant is a fumble factory, leading the NFL with four forced. He also had two picks wiped out by penalties.

Final 7: Tre Brown looms large in the last two months; he should push Michael Jackson for the left corner spot.

Future: It’s all set with Woolen, Bryant and Brown. Jackson is an RFA and will merit a tender (he was a fifth-round pick by Dallas in 2019). If the Hawks bring back Artie Burns, Jackson might even be trade bait before the draft.

Special teams

First 10: There were several big gaffes early in the season – four mistakes led to opponent TDs. Seattle recovered from those early miscues and has the No. 6 unit in the NFL by DVOA. Dickson is sixth in average (49.4) and second in net (45.2), with just two touchbacks in 35 punts. Jason Myers, maligned by many fans after an uneven 2021, is back in business in 2022. His 95% field goal accuracy (19 of 20) is second in the NFL, and he has hit all five kicks from 50-plus.

Final 7: Travis Homer’s return from injury was a boost to a unit that had struggled with the aforementioned gaffes. The Hawks face a couple of good special teams right out of the bye – Las Vegas ranks ninth and Carolina 10th. But the Rams are 30th and the 49ers are in the bottom half of the league as well.

Future: Myers will be a free agent in 2023, and the Hawks might choose to go cheaper if they can find a reliable replacement. Dickson is one of four veterans (Metcalf, Lockett, Adams) signed through 2025.

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