A Closer Look at Seattle's 2021 Undrafted Free Agents
The National Football League is the league that truly never sleeps no matter the month. Though the 2021 NFL Draft seemingly just ended, on-field workouts and voluntary OTAs are in full swing. Players on more than half the teams in the league have announced their intention to skip voluntary workouts in lieu of their physical and mental health, instead choosing to work out off-site in most cases. This means that workouts & OTAs for many teams have been primarily comprised of rookies, providing invaluable practice time for the newest draftees. This practice time is especially crucial for UDFAs as they are afforded an increased opportunity to capture the eye of coaching staffs and earn a roster spot despite their lack of draft capital.
Throughout NFL history, the vast majority of notable players have been those that were drafted thanks to comprehensive scouting and talent evaluation. However, every year has players that slip through the cracks – Warren Moon, Kurt Warner, Wes Welker, Marion Motley, Antonio Gates, James Harrison, and John Randle are examples of Hall of Fame talent that went undrafted. For a team that has done a masterful job of acquiring talented players with their late round draft picks, it should come as little surprise that the Seattle Seahawks have also had myriad substantial contributors that went undrafted. These success stories include Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Jon Kitna, Jim Zorn, and Eugene Robinson, who have all been key contributors at various stages in franchise history.
Thanks to various trades, the Seahawks had just three draft picks in the 2021 NFL Draft (the fewest picks in franchise history) and picked wide receiver D’Wayne Eskridge, cornerback Tre Brown, and offensive tackle Stone Forsythe. The dearth of draft picks lends an increased likelihood to the possibility of multiple UDFAs making the final roster, particularly when examining the lack of depth at various positions. For an undrafted player to secure a roster spot, opportunity, talent, timing, and luck must all coalesce. Let’s take a look at the five UDFAs signed by the Seahawks with the best chance at making the final roster come August 31st.
Cade Johnson, WR, South Dakota State
The gem of Seattle’s UDFA class, Johnson going undrafted was one of the biggest surprises of the 2021 NFL Draft as he had been talked about as potentially a late Day 2 pick. Dominant at perennial FCS powerhouse South Dakota State, Johnson turned in a dynamic junior season with 72 catches for 1,222 yards and eight touchdowns (his senior season was canceled due to Covid-19). He notably also returned 56 kicks throughout his three-year playing career for an average of 26.7 yards per return. At 5’10”, 180 lbs., Johnson isn’t built like a prototypical outside receiver and doesn’t have blazing speed (4.49 second 40-yard dash). However, his smooth route running is where he earns his keep as he turned a multitude of heads during the 2021 Senior Bowl as he evaded one cornerback after another.
While Seattle has one of the best tandems of wide receivers in the NFL in DK Metcalf & Tyler Lockett, the overall depth at wide receiver is minimal, especially after the departure of David Moore to the Carolina Panthers. This depth, combined with Russell Wilson’s constant request for additional weapons, was the driving factor behind the selection of Eskridge in the second round. Despite analysts pillorying the selection of a wide receiver, it was not only one of Seattle’s biggest needs but needed to be attacked in a variety of ways. Johnson projects as a shifty route runner out of the slot and his ability to return kicks and contribute on special teams lends him the best chance of any of Seattle’s UDFAs to make the final roster and beat out John Ursua (who is a non-contributor on special teams).
An honorable mention goes to another Seattle UDFA wide receiver signee, Tamorrion Terry out of Florida State. At 6’3” and 207 lbs. and with a 1,188 yard and nine touchdown season in the ACC under his belt, Terry appears to be a perfect developmental outside WR for Seattle. However, drops and injuries have been a constant issue throughout his collegiate career. He also doesn’t project to contribute on special teams, an absolute must for a fourth or fifth receiver on a Pete Carroll team. Terry could absolutely put on a show in the preseason to force his way onto the roster but is most likely headed down the same path as previous Seahawks wide receiver preseason darlings Kasen Williams and Jazz Ferguson who failed to parlay their performances into a spot on Seattle's roster.
Johnson’s projection is being published prior to any potential trade involving Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones. If Jones is traded to Seattle, Johnson’s chances of making the roster are minimal.
Jon Rattigan, LB, Army
The structure of Seattle’s linebacking corps mirrors that of their wide receivers – heavy at the top (with future Hall of Famer Bobby Wagner and promising sophomore Jordyn Brooks) and lacking proven depth. Third-year players Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven represent the notable linebacker backups and the thought of Barton replacing longtime starter (and current free agent) K.J. Wright is unappealing at best. Wright could be brought back but as of now Seattle certainly needs additional depth and Rhattigan represents just that.
A second-team USA Today All-American selection, Rhattigan made the most of his senior year at Army. With just six career tackles coming into 2020, he stuffed the stat sheet with 78 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and two interceptions (one for a touchdown). His lack of production can be attributed to being behind current Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Cole Christiansen. Rhattigan was a key part of one of the best run defenses in the country in 2020 and showed the ability to contribute effectively on special teams throughout his career. At 6’1”, 245 lbs. he is built like a typical downhill linebacker and could certainly push Burr-Kirven for the final linebacker roster spot, cementing himself as a core part of Seattle’s special teams from Day 1.
Josh Johnson, RB, Louisiana Monroe
No player in Seattle’s UDFA class presents a bigger discrepancy between the excitement generated by their highlight tape and their most recent statistical production. Soon after he signed, Johnson’s collegiate highlight reel spread like wildfire among ‘Seahawks Twitter’ with fans enamored by his one-cut running style and broken tackle ability. However, his senior year stats were unremarkable – 88 carries for 321 yards and four touchdowns with less than 60 receiving yards to boot. A hamstring injury was partially to blame, and his healthy 2019 season produced a more impressive 1,298 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Matty F. Brown of Sports Illustrated wrote that Johnson produced 23 broken tackles per 100 touches in 2020 which was tied for ninth among all running backs – a remarkable feat. Johnson was also a willing and effective pass protector in college which will be key to securing a roster spot as his 5’9”, 208 lbs. frame should translate well to the NFL.
Seattle’s backfield is headlined by the newly resigned Chris Carson and perennial breakout candidate Rashaad Penny. Neither has been the picture of health as both have dealt with various ailments. Carson missed four games last season with a foot sprain and Penny tore his ACL a mere three games into the season. Of note is that Seattle declined Penny’s fifth-year option, meaning that the only running backs under contract for 2022 are Carson and former Miami Hurricanes Travis Homer & Deejay Dallas. While Seattle would love to see Penny break out, they need to secure additional depth at the position. Homer’s pass-protecting acumen means that his roster spot should be safe but Seattle could opt to keep Johnson over Dallas should the rookie make his case in the preseason. A more likely scenario is that Johnson finds his way onto the practice squad for the 2021 season, especially if his contributions on special teams remain minimal.
Jarrod Hewitt, DT, Virginia Tech
Hewitt is a smaller defensive tackle (6’1”, 280 lbs.) who demonstrated pass rushing upside in his last two years with the Hokies. He had 15 TFLs and nine sacks in his junior and senior seasons combined and was named to the 2020 All-ACC Third Team. Interior pass rush has only become more valuable in the NFL over the past few years and Seattle will be looking to replace Jarran Reed’s production. Seattle’s defensive end room is brimming with talented players but the defensive tackle group is largely unsettled behind the vastly underrated Poona Ford and Al Woods. Defensive tackles Bryan Mone and Cedrick Lattimore provide adequate run defense but little else, while reclamation project Robert Nkemdiche will be hard-pressed to make the roster. However, Seattle does have multiple defensive ends with the ability to kick inside and play 3-technique on passing downs in Kerry Hyder Jr., L.J. Collier, and Rasheem Green. If Hewitt can continue to show flashes of pass rushing upside in the preseason he will present a convincing case for Seattle to keep him as part of the defensive tackle rotation.
Aashari Crosswell, Safety, Arizona State
Seattle’s safety depth chart is a fascinating mix of elite talent and intriguing talent yet is lacking at one crucial spot. The Pro Bowl tandem of Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs form the best safety duo in the NFL, while Ryan Neal showed real potential in extended run as Adams’ backup at strong safety last season. Marquise Blair and Ugo Amadi are both listed as backup free safeties but are set to compete for the nickelback position and neither has sufficient rangy coverage skills needed for the free safety in Seattle’s Cover-1 & Cover-3 schemes. Crosswell arrives in Seattle as a bit of an unknown after being suspended for nearly his entire senior season due to “team-conduct reasons”. Through his first two seasons, he had a combined 93 tackles, six interceptions, and an impressive nineteen pass deflections. These ball skills and coverage skills will be very appealing to Carroll as he continually preaches the importance of turnovers on defense. Crosswell’s 6”0, 205 lbs. frame should also translate well to special teams and if he can do enough to impress in the preseason he could easily nab a roster spot as Diggs’ true backup.