The Seahawks no longer are the clear-cut favorite to win the NFC West, despite the fact they overcame periods without Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander last season to make the playoffs and come within an overtime field goal of the conference championship game. Pundits are pointing to Alexander's age (30), the trade of Darrell Jackson to the 49ers and Walter Jones' balky shoulder as reasons why Seattle is on the way down.
But the fact the Seahawks play in the NFC West is reason enough for fantasy owners not to abandon them. Alexander and Hasselbeck will get to face some of the league's most favorable defenses. Deion Branch, who will step in for Jackson as the team's go-to receiver, figures to make a run at his first 1,000-yard season, and D.J. Hackett is a strong sleeper candidate as Seattle's likely No. 2 receiver.
In the offseason, Seattle added end Patrick Kerney, who will help bolster the team's pass rush. So, it's not all bad news for the Seahawks, and you could find some values here as a result of others sleeping on Seattle.
Projected draft round Player Round Matt Hasselbeck, QB 6 Shaun Alexander, RB 1 Maurice Morris, RB 14 Deion Branch, WR 7 D.J. Hackett, WR 10 Marcus Pollard, TE 17-DND Josh Brown, K 17 Defense/special teams 15 Draft position based on a standard 12-team combined scoring and yardage league with a 17-round draft. DND: Do not draft.
Key additions: S Deon Grant, DE Patrick Kerney, TE Marcus Pollard, S Brian Russell. Key losses: S Ken Hamlin, WR Darrell Jackson, TE Jerramy Stevens.
Shaun Alexander, RB. The 2005 touchdown king is falling into the second half of the first round in many fantasy drafts. Critics point to Alexander being 30 years old, not having as strong an offensive line, coming off an injury-marred season and not being a threat as a pass receiver as reasons why you should let him slip. But Alexander still is Seattle's one-and-only option around the goal line and elsewhere on the field, and in a world full of running back-by-committee, that's still worth a lot. If he's there later than the No. 5 overall pick, consider yourself lucky. He's still a threat to score 15 touchdowns.
Matt Hasselbeck, QB. Like Alexander, Hasselbeck is being dismissed after a down year when injuries played a big role. An offseason surgery (to his non-throwing shoulder) draws the most concern entering this season. But provided he's healthy, Hasselbeck should return to throwing for at least 3,000 yards and 20 scores. He has enough weapons in Branch, Hackett and Bobby Engram to be a fantasy starter for most of the season. Opposing defenses still need to account for Alexander, so that should open up some space for Hasselbeck's throws. He'd work well as the heavy lifter in a fantasy platoon.
Josh Brown, K. Brown has scored 109 points or more in all four of his seasons, and the Seahawks slapped a franchise tag on him. That's right, the kicker is Seattle's franchise player. While you won't want to invest that much in Brown, he is worth a final-round pick when the elite options are gone. Brown is pretty good beyond 50 yards and in the clutch, and the Seahawks' offense will be able to move the ball enough to keep him busy.
Lofa Tatupu, LB. Tatupu ranked among the top tacklers at linebacker last season, though he did see a drop in the big-play categories of sacks and interceptions. But he's active enough that those numbers could change in a hurry. Players with Tatupu's skills are difficult to find, but until he makes a few more big plays, view him as a No. 2 linebacker in IDP leagues.
Deion Branch, WR. Branch arrived late from New England last season and never got into a flow with Hasselbeck. But now that Branch has had an entire offseason to master the Seahawks' playbook he will no longer have an excuse if he doesn't reach 1,000 yards. With Jackson out of the picture, Branch becomes the go-to guy for the first time in his career; sorry, but those years in New England don't count because the Patriots spread the ball around too much to rely on one guy. The only thing holding back Branch is his lack of size, which limits him close to the end zone, so take him as a No. 3.
Defense/special teams. Seattle tied with Carolina for sixth in the NFL in sacks with 41 last season. Provided he's healthy, Kerney should help keep the Seahawks' pass rush at a high level. The Seahawks also boast playmakers at linebacker. However, the unit is weak is in the secondary, where the additions of Deon Grant and Brian Russell will try to mask the loss of Ken Hamlin. But there isn't much big-play potential in Seattle's secondary, so the pass rush will have to remain strong in order for this team to be a fantasy starter throughout the season.
Patrick Kerney, DE. A torn pectoral muscle limited Kerney to nine games for the Falcons last season, and for the second straight season his production in sacks dropped. If he's healthy, Kerney could surprise as an IDP player, but it's not worth reaching for him.
Julian Peterson, LB. Peterson posted career highs in sacks and tackles last season, but continuing to get to the quarterback is the key to his fantasy value. With Kerney drawing some of the opposing line's attention, sacks shouldn't be a problem. Peterson has a good shot to get double-digit sacks again, making him worth a pick as your No. 2 IDP linebacker.
D.J. Hackett, WR. Despite a late preseason surge from Nate Burleson, Hackett is listed as the team's starter opposite Deion Branch. At 6-2, Hackett's size gives him an advantage over Branch in the red zone. And with the Seahawks lacking an elite tight end, Hackett could become the team's No. 2 TD threat behind Shaun Alexander. Hackett needs to show he can handle a more prominent role, but we liked what we saw from him toward the end of last season, when he scored three of his four touchdowns in the final six games. If he can carry over that production, you're looking at a potential sleeper for your bench.
Marcus Pollard, TE. The Buccaneers snatched Jerramy Stevens away from Seattle, opening a spot for Pollard, who became a fantasy non-entity the past two years in Detroit. At 35, Pollard isn't going to relive his glory days with the Colts, but he could be a sneaky bye-week fill-in in the right matchup.
Maurice Morris, RB. While filling in for Shaun Alexander last season, Morris had two 100-yard games, but he didn't manage to score any touchdowns. He's worth a handcuff pick for Alexander owners, but he's not powerful enough around the goal line for others to take a chance on him in the late rounds.
Bobby Engram, WR. A thyroid condition limited Engram to six games last season, and his absence was another reason why Seattle's passing game was not running on all cylinders. But he's Seattle's most experienced slot receiver and will likely be on the field for the majority of the team's three-wide receiver sets. Still, that's not enough for him to be added to your fantasy bench.
Deon Grant, S. As the Seahawks' new strong safety, Grant is in position to make some plays. But he never has topped 77 tackles in a season, and his highest interception total (five) came in his rookie year with the Panthers in 2001. Keep an eye on him, but don't draft him.
Ultimate Fantasy Football Tip: D.J. Hackett could be a huge bargain if he solidifies himself as the Seahawks' No. 2 wide receiver. At $2.11 million, Hackett will cost you less than the Vikings' Bobby Wade -- and Wade isn't in nearly as good an offense.
TO KNOW LIST
Coaching: With Alexander injured for part of last season, Mike Holmgren leaned on the passing game even more so than usual. And even with Jackson gone, there's still enough receiver talent that Holmgren will keep defenses from stacking up to stop Alexander. On defense, the Seahawks try to make up for being undersized by being active with blitzes and getting to the opposing quarterback. When it works, they can be a high-scoring fantasy unit, but when it doesn't, you're looking at the potential to give up big plays and big points.
Offensive line: Walter Jones didn't play much in the preseason because of a shoulder injury, but he is expected to be able to go in Week 1. Having Jones back to his all-world level after a somewhat down season in 2006 will be key to Alexander's and Hasselbeck's success. With Robbie Tobeck retired, the team will be breaking in a new center. And, of course, it's still looking to fill the void at guard left by Steve Hutchinson's departure in 2006. So without an All-Pro effort from Jones, it will be a long season.
Schedule analysis: The Seahawks benefit not only from playing in their own division, but they also get to face the NFC South, which doesn't look as imposing defensively as it once did. The season starts with favorable games against the Buccaneers, Cardinals, Bengals and 49ers before a trip to Pittsburgh in Week 5. Look to sell high on your Seahawks after a quick start, because part of their playoff schedule is brutal (at Carolina and vs. Baltimore in Weeks 15 and 16) Fantasy Strength of Schedule: T-6th easiest (or T-25th toughest).