SEATTLE — Cornerback Tariq Woolen is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with four.
Coby Bryant has forced that many fumbles in five games at nickelback.
Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas both rank in the top half among starting offensive tackles in ESPN’s pass block win rate.
And now running back Kenneth Walker III is getting in on the action, combining for 198 yards and two touchdowns over the past two weeks.
How’s that for a start for the Seattle Seahawks‘ rookie class?
“That rookie class, they didn’t miss,” quarterback Geno Smith said after the Seahawks’ win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. “They’re contributing, and you can see them growing every single week … And for those guys to be young rookies and to be stepping up the way that they are, I think it speaks volumes to them personally as players and then to the organization and front office and scouts for selecting those guys.”
General manager John Schneider, coach Pete Carroll and their respective staffs drafted what could be a franchise-altering collection of players. After a string of lean drafts, the early returns on their 2022 class suggest the Seahawks might have struck gold the way they did in 2010, 2011 and 2012, when they drafted the nucleus of their two Super Bowl teams.
It isn’t just Woolen, Bryant, Cross, Lucas and Walker who have been regular contributors. Second-round pick Boye Mafe (one sack, 18 tackles) has earned more snaps in the outside linebacker rotation, which makes it six members of the nine-man class who are either starting or filling significant roles for the 3-3 Seahawks, who play the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium on Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox).
Dareke Young, one of the two receivers they drafted in the seventh round, made the team’s 53-man roster but has played sparingly. The other, Bo Melton, is on the practice squad, while fifth-round outside linebacker Tyreke Smith is on IR for the season. Another rookie, undrafted safety Joey Blount, is tied for the team lead in special teams tackles despite missing three games.
There were obvious openings on both sides of the ball, and defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt has been especially willing to play young players. Not even Carroll or Schneider thought they’d be contributing this much, this soon.
“It’s better than we expected,” Carroll said. “It’s what we had hoped for.”
Woolen has surprisingly been the undisputed star of the group. The fifth-round pick was considered a high-upside project with 4.26-second speed in the 40-yard dash and a 6-foot-4 frame but had only two full seasons at cornerback under his belt at a non-Power 5 school, having begun his college career as a receiver at UTSA.
Woolen is showing all that potential right away. His interceptions have come in four straight games, making him only the third rookie to pull off that feat since 2000. He’s made impressive plays on all four picks, undercutting two crossing routes, jumping a comeback route, and leaping to snag a Kyler Murray deep ball on Sunday. Per Next Gen Stats, Woolen’s 36.9 passer rating allowed as the nearest defender is second best in the NFL (minimum of 25 targets).
Woolen blocked a field goal attempt in Week 2 that Seattle returned for a touchdown and also has a pair of fumble recoveries, the latest coming against Arizona. His performance in that game earned him NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
The fumble Woolen recovered Sunday was the fourth this season caused by Bryant, who leads the league in that category. Woolen remains Seattle’s primary nickleback even with Justin Coleman back to full health. And like Woolen, Bryant appears to have shaken the penalty problem that dogged him early in the season. The win over Arizona might have been his best game in terms of coverage and tackling.
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“It’s special,” veteran safety Quandre Diggs said. “It’s like seeing your little brother shine. For me, those are really like my little brothers … Those guys are getting after it, and they have to continue doing it. We have 17 games. We’re only in Week 6.”
Lucas ranks 15th among all starting tackles in PBWR, and Cross ranks 32nd. They became only the third pair of rookie tackles since 1970 to start a team’s opener, according to Elias Sports Bureau data. It was a given that Cross would be Seattle’s left tackle from the jump when the Seahawks drafted him ninth overall with one of the first-round picks they acquired from Denver in the Russell Wilson trade. But as a third-round pick, Lucas wasn’t necessarily expected to start immediately on the right side.
Neither were expected to make this smooth of a transition from their pass-heavy college offenses and Mike Leach systems that never asked them to play from a three-point stance. They’ve handled that challenge well enough for the Seahawks to rank fourth in yards per carry and 11th overall in rushing.
Their run game didn’t miss a beat against Arizona. In their first full game without Rashaad Penny, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5 that elevated Walker to Seattle’s RB1, Walker ran for 97 yards and another score on 21 carries in his first start.
“He’s the real deal in our eyes,” Carroll said.
The Seahawks drafted Walker in the second round knowing that starter Chris Carson’s football future was unsure and that they couldn’t count on Penny to stay healthy. But it was one Seahawks pick this year that drew objection, with some believing that No. 41 overall is too early to select a running back.
Hard to argue with that pick now. Or any of them, for that matter.
“They are the future,” safety Ryan Neal said. “That’s all that I can say, they are the future. So it’s exciting as hell to play with them.”
Is Pete Carroll’s rookie class the future for the Seahawks? – Seattle Seahawks Blog
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