StrategyAugust 19, 2009


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Daily Preview: Seattle Seahawks

By Matthew Harjo

In 2008, the Seattle Seahawks fell from the perch atop the NFC West, in which they claimed the division title four straight years from 2004-2007, by finishing third with a paltry 4-12 record. Injuries devastated their receiving corps and offensive line, and laid claim to QB Matt Hasselbeck as well. On paper the Seahawks were considered one of the better defensive squads going into the year, however shallow, and proved to be largely ineffective in both run and pass defense and ended the season 30th overall in total defense.

QB: Matt Hasselbeck, Seneca Wallace
RB: Julius Jones, T.J. Duckett, Justin Forsett
WR: T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Nate Burleson, Deion Branch
TE: John Carlson
PK: Olindo Mare

Quarterback: Reports out of camp are that Matt Hasselbeck’s back is 100%, and that he is in better shape than he has been in previous years due to extra offseason conditioning. That said, he’ll be 34 years old in September. Hasselbeck reads defenses well and is accurate, which is key to the Seahawks’ West Coast-style offense, and while they receive a new coach and OC, Jim Mora and Gregg Knapp respectively, reports confirm the offense will run very similar to the one installed by previous coach Mike Holmgren. Hasselbeck has been a Pro Bowl-caliber QB during his career, possesses the skills necessary to compete at a high level and has the ability to run a pass-heavy offense to win, as he was asked to do in 2007. This year, concerns about the offensive line and a possible setback with his health are the major reasons his stock is so low.

Hasselbeck’s injuries last year provided Seneca Wallace a chance to start during Seattle injury-plagued season. He proved capable of running the offense, going 3-5 during those eight games and posting 1,512 yards, 11 TDs and three INTs, mostly with fifth- and sixth-string WRs in the starting lineup.

Ultimately, Hasselbeck is a QB2 on draft day with the upside of being a top-10 QB and the downside of being on your IR. Don’t plan to draft him as your QB1, but he can certainly be had late, and he has the potential you want in a QB2.

Running Backs: In his first year in Seattle, Julius Jones had uneven results; Maurice Morris started the first game of the 2008, but due to injury Julius Jones found himself thrust into the role in only the second game of the season. He responded with games of 127 and 140 yards on the ground along with two TDs, albeit against the lesser defenses of SF and STL respectively. He struggled against better defenses, although he never was asked to tote the rock more than 17 times in those contests, a number hotly debated as it is theorized that Jones produces better with more carries. He eventually lost his starting role back to a healthy Maurice Morris after two costly fumbles put him squarely into Holmgren’s doghouse. The Mora era promises Julius will get the lion’s share of carries after Morris was allowed to leave to Detroit in free agency, but power back T.J. Duckett should continue to vulture TDs from inside the 10.

Julius Jones has some questions surrounding his ability after failing in Dallas and then failing to secure the starting role in his first year in Seattle. While he will have to prove himself on a weekly basis, there is little chance of him being unseated by either second-year back Justin Forsett or rookie Devin Moore — they may merely spell him. Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp’s run-heavy offense brings a zone-blocking scheme that may compliment the one-cut style of Jones and allow an aging offensive line to produce at the highest level they can.

Look for Julius Jones to have a “best-case” value very similar to Warrick Dunn’s 2004 and 2006 seasons, and “worst-case” value close to last year’s totals. He’s a potential value play late in drafts and will likely be the last starting RB off the board. T.J. Duckett should be considered in TD-only leagues but won’t provide anywhere near enough yardage to be useful in any other format.

Justin Forsett should be on your radar if injury strikes Julius Jones; however, he isn’t worth a draft pick–instead just hit the WW should that occur.

Wide Receivers: After struggling through 2008 with their top eight WRs injured, the Seahawks allowed long-time stalwart Bobby Engram’s contract to expire and spent money in free agency to upgrade their WR corps with T.J. Houshmandzadeh. There are questions about whether Housh will be able to be a #1 WR, but his skill set fits nicely with a West Coast-Offense, and rumors out of OTAs have him running deep routes as well as moving into the slot on occasion in three-wide sets. He will certainly be the first option in the passing game and Hasselbeck, when healthy, has been able to carry the team with the passing game. Most “experts” believe Housh will have a serious dip in his numbers and that not being across from Chad Ochocinco will allow teams to double him. Add to this that few WRs move to new teams and have good years and you have a bust potential in 2009. Housh however has found his groove with Hasselbeck early in camp and in a system that uses the pass to set up the run, he’s worth the gamble to be your WR2 with the potential of being a low-end WR1 depending on exactly how he’s used in the red zone.

Two players injured in 2008 return to the lineup for Seattle. Nate Burleson, who some pegged to have a breakout year in 2008, tore his ACL in the first game of the season. He’s currently back in action after spending nearly a year rehabbing and has been at full speed and cutting on his knee in camp. Also returning is Deion Branch, who spent most of last year trying to overcome knee and heel injuries, only playing in eight games. Both players have considerable risk attached to them, and both players have upside above their current average draft position. When healthy, both have shown that they can get open and put up solid numbers and both are currently fighting to play opposite Houshmandzadeh. Given Housh’s possession receiver role with the Seahawks, I expect Burleson to win the job, meaning Branch will only see time in three-wide sets. Further limiting his role is the rumor that Housh will slide inside to play slot, further reducing looks Branch will receive.

If Burleson shows no lingering effects from his 2008 injury, he could be a solid mid-to-late-round pick slotted as your WR4 with potential to be your WR3 if he does win the #2 role in Seattle. If Branch wins he’ll barely be rosterable in anything but the deepest of leagues, but keep an eye on him as the shifty WR can still put up good games in the right circumstances as he did even in 2008 with two games of 88+ yards and two TDs.

Dynasty league players should keep an eye on the progress of 2009 third-round pick Deon Butler. The Seahawks reached for this player because of his future potential as being another Bobby Engram, possession-type receiver. He is raw however and should only be considered in rookie drafts as a late-round pick.

Tight End: John Carlson surprised many, leading the Seahawks in receiving in his rookie year and being the only reliable target in a depleted offense. This year his role is in limbo after the team signed T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who will predictably receive the most looks from Matt Hasselbeck. Still, Carlson is a huge red zone target and has displayed enough to be relied on. He’s unquestionably the starter and will likely be drafted as a starter in your league but can be had much later in your draft. Expect his end-of-year statistics to remain flat or slightly down year over year, with a slight chance he’s worked himself into a role with greater second looks, and expect his red zone looks to remain consistent.

Team Defense/IDP: In the 2009 offseason, the Seahawks signed free agents DT Colin Cole and CB Ken Lucas, traded for DE Cory Redding, retained LeRoy Hill and drafted LB Aaron Curry with the fourth overall pick in hopes of shoring up their defensive woes, although Redding did come at the price of Julian Peterson. On paper the Seahawks look like a solid D/ST again; however, the onus lies heavily on controlling the defensive line on rushing plays and getting good penetration on passing plays. The biggest weakness in 2008 was in getting burned consistently by the pass due to a lack of a pass rush, which can be partially attributed to DE Patrick Kerney’s injury. The hope is that sliding Brandon Mebane into the three-technique slot on the line will allow “The Dancing Bear” to produce at a level as good or greater than Rocky Bernard, who left in free agency to the Giants.

The Seahawks will be headed by new defensive coordinator Casey “Gus” Bradley, who previously worked in Tampa Bay the last three years, the previous two being as the linebackers coach. Monte Kiffin described Bradley as an “A+, once-in-a-lifetime coach.”

Overall, Seattle likely isn’t a D/ST team you will draft in 2009, but keep a very close eye on them early as they could be a strong sleeper candidate with games against both St. Louis and San Francisco late in the season.

Individually, Patrick Kerney (DE) is a strong bet to return to his 2007 stats with a couple less sacks, although he is still an injury risk at his age, which might make him slip a little later than he should. Keep an eye on Daryl Tapp (DE) as well, as he may very well put up as good of numbers as Kerney if he earns enough playing time. Although only elite tackles are usually taken, Brandon Mebane’s (DT) role has shifted into the role formerly occupied by Rocky Bernard, who had decent tackles and a few sacks mixed in during his time in Seattle. Lofa Tatupu (ILB) had a down year in 2008, posting under 100 tackles for the first time in his career and not recording a single sack — expect him to improve on those numbers in 2009. Aaron Curry (OLB) will also put up good numbers in replacing Julian Peterson and should be one of the first rookies off the board, but temper expectations in redraft style leagues. Marcus Trufant also had a down year because of a lack of a pass rush, but with added pressure he may return close to the 2007 level of play when he recorded seven interceptions.

Can they return to the perch at the division’s top? Will the new coaching staff succeed in establishing a run-oriented attack? Will the defense rebound? Only time (60 minutes on Sundays, to be exact) will tell.

 
<i>Matthew Harjo is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Matthew in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of</i> biju.
 
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