This article is part of our Team Previews series.
No Seahawks running back notched more than 70 carries or 240 yards in 2017, which will have to change to alleviate the burden on Russell Wilson now that Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson are gone. However, a new-look secondary could lead to high-scoring contests with Wilson constantly heaving the ball instead.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
BATTLE FOR THE BACKFIELD
If the Seahawks could establish a consistent ground game – something they haven't had since Marshawn Lynch first retired in 2016 – it would reduce the strain on Russell Wilson against a rising NFC West. GM John Schneider showed his commitment to improving the backfield this offseason by drafting Rashaad Penny in the first round. The All-American dominated last season by racking up an FBS-best 2,248 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns while catching 19 passes for 135 yards and two more scores. Investing such a high pick in a running back indicates the team intends to give Penny a significant workload, if not the starting job outright, but he'll nonetheless compete with Chris Carson, Mike Davis and C.J. Prosise for snaps. Each of the trio has something working against him. Earning the No. 1 job out of training camp 2017, Carson averaged nearly 67 yards from scrimmage per game before suffering a serious left leg injury Week 4 and missing the rest of the year. Davis, meanwhile, has shuffled between the practice squad and 53-man roster of the Seahawks and previously the 49ers since entering the NFL. Finally, the specter of the oft-injured Prosise hangs over Seattle at all times: the 2016 third-rounder has 21 DNPs in two seasons. Among the group, Penny is the leading candidate to head this backfield in 2018 and beyond.
BUT WHO WILL PAVE THE WAY?
After allowing Russell Wilson to get pressured 209 times in 2017 – more than any other quarterback – there was no doubt changes were coming to the offensive front. Left tackle Duane Brown, who was acquired via trade from the Texans in October, remains on the roster after earning a Pro Bowl bid and appears to be the only sure thing from last season's 27th-ranked offensive line, according to Pro Football Focus. GM John Schneider inked D.J. Fluker to a deal in March, but the guard has been a mediocre lineman, at best, since being drafted in 2013. With gaping holes still evident, it's surprising the Seahawks opted to wait until the fifth round to address the line by snagging Jamarco Jones, a 6-4, 299-pound tackle from Ohio State. However, the most value may have been found in the fourth round, when Will Dissly, thought to be the top run-blocking tight end in the draft, was selected. Along with the signing of veteran Ed Dickson, the tight-end room in Seattle has two bodies that can serve as early-down edge sealers for an untapped backfield. The moves aside, this is far from an overhaul, so a lot of faith falls on new offensive line coach Mike Solari to harmonize this dysfunctional group. If not, 2018 could be another year with underperforming Seattle skill players outside of Doug Baldwin.
PASS DEFENSE AT A CROSSROADS
This offseason, the once-terrifying unit has lost two stalwarts (Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor) to free agency and retirement, respectively, and may be without a third due to Earl Thomas' ongoing holdout. In addition to the primary drivers of the Legion of Boom, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson inked a deal with the Vikings, pass rusher Michael Bennett was traded to the Eagles, and end Cliff Avril was cut loose due to a neck concern. These latter departures will impact the pressure placed on opposing signal-callers, which is particularly key in an NFC West stacked with Jared Goff, Jimmy Garoppolo and either Sam Bradford or Josh Rosen. Therefore, it's next man up in the trenches. Dion Jordan, who accrued four sacks in a reserve role last season, will join elite pass rusher Frank Clark to take stress off a suspect secondary. Second-year cornerback Shaquill Griffin was excellent as a rookie with 15 pass breakups, and he'll be joined in the lineup by free-agent pickup Dontae Johnson (who suffered a broken bone in his foot in June) or holdover Byron Maxwell. If Thomas isn't around in the fall, the Seahawks will have to rely on Bradley McDougald and Mo Alexander to cover the two safety spots. From top to bottom, the group will need to jell quickly to remain a top-eight pass defense for a seventh consecutive campaign.
PIVOTAL PLAYER: Russell Wilson
Despite a poor offensive line, Wilson tossed a league-leading 34 TDs in 2017, and his dual-threat game shined as he led the team with 586 rushing yards. Among his primary targets, Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson were swapped for Brandon Marshall and Jaron Brown, so the four-time Pro Bowler will carve out his own success again.
RISING: Doug Baldwin
Of Baldwin's 116 targets in 2017, only eight of them came in the red zone. With Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson elsewhere, Baldwin will have a better chance to draw Russell Wilson's attention near the goal line.
FALLING: C.J. Prosise
The 2016 third-round pick has fallen short of expectations due to injuries that have forced more DNPs than appearances to date. The struggle to get on the field should continue behind Rashaad Penny and Chris Carson.
SLEEPER: Rashaad Penny
After totaling 289 rushes and reeling in 19 of 26 targets in his senior year of college, Penny looks ready to manage an NFL backfield. Carson will serve as Penny's primary competition for the No. 1 job.
KEY JOB BATTLE – SECOND WIDEOUT
With Paul Richardson accepting respectable money (five years, $40 million) in Washington, the Seahawks are in need of a No. 2 receiver to keep defenses from locking onto Doug Baldwin. Tyler Lockett, who recorded his third straight 40-plus-catch season in 2017, doubles as a return man and has showcased the speed of a deep threat, making him a candidate for the role. The fourth-year pro will face competition from new arrivals Jaron Brown and Brandon Marshall. At 6-3, Brown had the second-most red-zone targets (11) among Cardinals wideouts last year and could leverage his size to his advantage again in Seattle. As for Marshall, he's three seasons removed from a 1,502-yard campaign with the Jets, 34 years old and coming off ankle surgery, but his 6-5 frame will be utilized near the goal line as well. The mix may change on a week-to-week basis, but there's plenty to go around, as the departures of Richardson and Jimmy Graham leave 37 red-zone targets up for grabs.
Rashaad Penny – RB (Rd. 1, No. 27 – San Diego State)
FBS leader in rushing lands in ideal spot to make immediate impact.
Brandon Marshall – WR (from Giants)
Looking to bounce back from the most brief season of his prolific career.
Jaron Brown – WR (from Cardinals)
Skilled pass catcher will fight for depth-chart positioning at wideout.
Sebastian Janikowski – K (from Raiders)
After sitting out 2017 due to back injury, long-time Raider moved on.
Paul Richardson – WR (to Redskins)
Received five targets per game, scored six times last season.
Richard Sherman – CB (to 49ers)
Hampered by torn Achilles, 30-year-old stays in the division.
Michael Bennett – DE (to Eagles)
Averaged 8.3 sacks per 16 games during Seahawks tenure.
THE INJURY FRONT
Chris Carson, RB – Carson underwent surgery on a broken leg and severe ankle sprain in October. The 2017 seventh-round pick was deemed healthy in March, which allowed him to participate in OTAs and have a nearly full offseason to develop. Carson used this time to his advantage, as he put on 10 pounds of muscle, which will help his case to nab snaps in a crowded backfield this preseason.
Brandon Marshall, WR – Marshall, who was scooped up by Seattle after being released by the Giants, enjoyed a relatively healthy career before undergoing season-ending surgery on his left ankle in 2017 and missing 11 games. The six-time Pro Bowler nursed a minor hamstring injury this offseason as well, but he's expected to be ready when training camp commences. However, he could be considered a fragile asset as his 13th NFL season looms.
Dion Jordan, DE – After missing the entire 2016 season and the first eight games of 2017 due to a knee injury, Jordan went under the knife for a cleanup procedure in early June and is expected to be ready for training camp. With Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett no longer on the roster, Seattle will need Jordan's pass-rushing chops. That said, it's tough to count on Jordan, who has played in just five games the last three seasons.