The roster of an NFL team is a constant revolving door. Veterans leave, rookies enter, free agents are signed. Second-year players, after spending a season learning the ropes, are primed to emerge as contributors.
The Seattle Seahawks are no different. There are only three members of the original Legion of Boom remaining on defense. The offense has to replace two of their top three receiving threats from 2017. With training camp set to begin, we can take a step back and look for those individuals who have the best chance at emerging as impact players this year.
Here are four players who could step up and step into major roles for the Seahawks in 2018:
Nick Vannett, Tight End:
Vannett finds himself with the perfect opportunity to break out in 2018. The departures of Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson in free agency leave over 1100 snaps at the tight end spot needing to be filled. Yes, Seattle did sign veteran tight end Ed Dickson from Carolina, but Vannett is five years younger and is viewed as a better run blocker. Dickson was graded as the 56th-ranked run blocking by Pro Football Focus in 2017.
Vannett may also be a better receiver than Dickson. Coming out of college, Nick had a reputation for great hands, catching over 95 percent of on-target throws at Ohio State University. Last year, while playing only 278 offensive snaps for the Seahawks, Nick snared 12 of 15 targets for 124 yards and one touchdown.
Over the past two seasons, Ohio State TE Nick Vannett dropped just 2 of 43 catchable passes
— PFF College (@PFF_College) April 30, 2016
By comparison, despite logging 870 snaps last season, Dickson only managed 30 receptions on 48 targets for 437 yards and one touchdown. The former Oregon Duck is definitely not well known for his hands, having once finished last in the NFL’s tight end group with a 16.67 percent drop rate in 2014.
At the 2016 NFL Draft Combine, despite a sub-par 40-time, Vannett actually was the quickest out of all tight ends in both the 20-yard and 60-yard shuttles. That short area speed and agility, combined with a 6-6, 261 pound frame makes Nick a potential matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Faster than linebackers and bigger than defensive backs, Vannett could be a major target in the redzone this season. After signing a three-year, $14 million contract with the Seahawks, Dickson will undoubtedly have an important role with Seattle, but it’s not likely to be as a pass-catcher. Expect Vannett to be the primary receiving tight end for the ‘Hawks, with 50 receptions and five touchdowns legitimately within reach.
Jaron Brown, Wide Receiver:
Once Paul Richardson left the Seahawks for a big-money contract with the Redskins, Seattle was left without a deep threat. We’re not forgetting about Tyler Lockett, but he is more dangerous as a run-after-the-catch weapon than running down the seam. Enter Jaron Brown, a free agent from the Arizona Cardinals who signed a two-year, $5.5 million deal in the off-season with Seattle. At 6-0, 205 pounds and with 4.45 speed, Brown is an intriguing size-speed player. Though he wasn’t targeted often last year with Arizona, PFF credits Brown with catching six of six “deep balls” (targets over 20 yards) for 178 yards and three touchdowns. It just so happens that Seattle’s quarterback also excels with the deep ball, as Russell Wilson led the NFL with 12 touchdown throws over 20 yards.
Watch Brown use his size and length to haul in a deep pass from Carson Palmer along the sidelines:
In his five seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, Jaron has averaged 13.7 yards per reception with nine career touchdowns. With 19 career special teams tackles, Brown should be viewed as a lock to make the team and will battle with Brandon Marshall and a slew of young players for the third receiver job. Jaron should claim a spot as Seattle’s primary deep threat and could see 70+ targets in 2018.
Delano Hill, Strong Safety:
A box safety with 4.47 speed, Hill played 15 games for Seattle as a rookie in 2017 and logged 32 snaps on defense, totaling five tackles. Now, with Kam Chancellor essentially announcing his retirement, Hill has a great opportunity to see significant playing time in 2018. Throughout OTAs and minicamp, Delano was seen getting starter’s reps at the strong safety spot next to Bradley McDougald, who is expected to play free safety in Earl Thomas’ absence.
At 6-0-3/4 inches and 216 pounds, Hill has the prototypical size and physical demeanor to be a box safety for the Seahawks. A 2016 Second-Team All Big-10 selection, Delano tallied 119 tackles in 26 career starts. Aggressive in run support and a true downhill-tackler, Hill should get a lot of snaps playing near the line of scrimmage in the Seahawks’ strong safety/ 4-4 linebacker hybrid spot. If Earl Thomas does indeed hold out through the regular season or gets traded, Hill will be Seattle’s number one choice to step up and replace Chancellor.
Dion Jordan, Defensive End:
Playing in only five games for Seattle in 2017, Dion posted 18 tackles and four sacks as a rotational defensive end. That effort surpassed his previous total of three career sacks in 26 games with the Miami Dolphins. A reclamation project who spent a year suspended by the NFL in 2015 showed he still has the talent to be a force at defensive end, flashing above-average strength and athleticism off the edge. On 135 defensive snaps with the Seahawks, the former number-three overall draft pick earned a 83.6 grade from PFF.
Entering 2018, with Cliff Avril, Sheldon Richardson and Michael Bennett gone, Jordan has a chance to start and see significant reps on passing-downs for Seattle. If fully recovered from an offseason knee-surgery, Dion should be the starting LEO-end in the Seahawks 4-3 alignment. With the size (6-6, 275 pounds) to hold up against the run and the athleticism to rush the passer, Jordan will have every opportunity to be a three-down player. The Seahawks badly need a boost to their pass-rush and Dion has the ability, and opportunity, to make a major impact in 2018. As long as he can stay healthy, a double-digit sack season is in the cards.