Time is a flat circle. The NFC West is again a two-team race between Seattle and San Francisco. Arizona and Los Angeles are afterthoughts in the division. Nobody could have predicted Seattle would return to the top of the division following the trade of cornerstone quarterback Russell Wilson and replacing him with Geno Smith.
Sure enough, there were the Seahawks in the playoffs again, facing off with the 49ers and Brock Purdy. How were they able to turn it around so quickly? Smith turned in his finest season as a pro, but the draft class in 2022 changed the teams’ trajectory.
Landing four starters in one draft is an accomplishment. Having those four starters be impact players is a different discussion.
Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas are the future tackles for Seattle. Tariq Woolen was magnificent in his first season at cornerback. Kenneth Walker III could have won offensive rookie of the year with a full season of snaps. Coby Bryant is the team’s starting slot corner. Not to mention, Boye Mafe played sparingly at EDGE and has a chance to take a leap in year two.
There is a lot of optimism surrounding Seattle. The team is ahead of schedule and still had high draft capital in 2023.
Seattle possessed four top-100 picks, including pick five, 20, 37, and 52. The draft is the ultimate crapshoot, but these picks represent a chance to improve this roster with blue-chip talent.
Seattle added Devon Witherspoon from Illinois to pair with Tariq Woolen at cornerback with pick five. Seattle’s concerns are pass rush, but having two cover corners can offset those concerns.
Adding Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who many regard as the best OSU receiver (including Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson), adds to the pass-catching weapons that include: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and Noah Fant.
Derick Hall, at pick 37, is Seattle investing in an elite athlete, who can pressure tackles off the edge with his explosiveness.
Sure, investing in two more running backs is an eyebrow-raiser, but losing Rashaad Penny in free agency forced Seattle to replace him with Zach Charbonnet and Kenny McIntosh, from UCLA and Georgia, respectively.
Austin Blythe retired as the starting center this offseason. Seattle addressed his loss with pick 154 by selecting Olu Oluwatimi from Michigan.
Signing Dre’Mont Jones and Julian Love fortifies positions with proven veterans. Returning Jarran Reed and Bobby Wagner is a glove and hand fit with this defense. Jamal Adams should return.
The bottom line is, Seattle has improved from last season to this season. The 49ers’ big addition was the best defensive tackle in football, Javon Hargrave while returning nearly every starter from 2022.
The gap is closing, but the 49ers are still the better team. The biggest question surrounding Seattle is whether Geno Smith can continue his resurgence.
Either way, Seattle and San Francisco are back to the primary contenders in the NFC West.
I hate to admit it, but that is extremely fun.