The Seattle Seahawks defense once ruled the NFL—literally. Seattle boasted the best defensive unit from 2013-14, ranked in the top five in 2012 and 2016, and ranked in the top two in 2015 (in terms of total yards allowed per game). The Seahawks’ Legion of Boom (LOB) had the biggest and brightest secondary stars, and along with quarterback Russell Wilson, carried the team to its first Super Bowl victory following the 2013 season.
Since then, Seattle’s top unit has had a disastrous fall down the ranks. In 2017, the team’s defense ranked 11th; in 2018, it ranked 16th; and in 2019, the Seahawks dropped to 26th. They nearly matched their lowest point in the Pete Carroll era: a No. 27 rank during his first season as head coach in 2010. The faces in the defensive backfield have carouseled over the years with the latest iteration featuring six-year veteran Quandre Diggs.
Seattle has struggled to try to find a replacement for Earl Thomas, the last original LOB member to leave the team; it was an impossible feat from the beginning since no player can truly fill the hole the three-time All-Pro safety left following the 2018 season. The Seahawks had limited options in Thomas’ immediate departure. Tedric Thompson, a fourth-round pick from the 2017 draft, moved into the starting role in 2018 and again last season, when healthy. Thompson had two interceptions in six games in 2019 but would often get beat in coverage and allowed an 86.8 passer rating when targeted. He was released in March after ending the season on injured reserve.
In the aftermath of Thompson’s poor play and debilitating health, general manager John Schneider pulled off an impressive trade to land Diggs. Seattle gave the Detroit Lions a fifth-round 2020 draft pick in exchange for Diggs and a 2021 seventh-round pick. Diggs didn’t mesh well with Detroit brass; he cited his strong personality and the Lions’ need to “control” as reasons why he was sent elsewhere. The shocking trade, however, worked out in Diggs’—and in turn Seattle’s—favor.
Diggs didn’t start until Week 10 and came from Detroit slightly beat up; he battled hamstring and ankle injuries. But when Diggs did make his debut, during a Monday Night Football game versus the NFC West rival San Francisco 49ers, he quickly flourished under the bright lights. He intercepted 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo after a perfect read. In five games with Seattle, Diggs had three total interceptions, including a pick-six in Week 14 against the Los Angeles Rams, and one forced fumble.
Diggs missed the Seahawks’ last two regular-season games with an ankle injury. When he came back in the playoffs, he played nearly every snap and recorded six solo tackles. Diggs could have, likely would have, made an impact in those final two games of the regular season including a Week 17 divisional title game against the 49ers. His current deal expires after the 2021 season, but Seattle would be wise to secure him before he hits the open market.
Despite the uncertainty with the salary cap—the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the projected numbers, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who reported teams will see a $30-80 million drop—the Seahawks need to close in on the talent they’ve found. If Diggs, who hasn’t had a serious injury up to this point in his career, continues to improve, his new deal could be out of Seattle’s price range.
The Seahawks, often stuck in their ways, still rely heavily on safeties, and they’ve now found a player who can shore up the secondary in a similar way as Thomas. Although Diggs’ sample size in Seattle is small, his play was on par with Thomas’ 2018 output. In 2019, Diggs allowed a 55.4 passer rating when targeted in his five games; in 2018, through four games, Thomas allowed a 47.2 passer rating when targeted, before his season-ending injury.
Diggs isn’t Thomas, but he’s pretty darn close. He turned 27 in January and has only played and started one full season (2018), leaving plenty in the tank. Diggs got the last laugh out of the Lions-Seahawks deal, and while the latter will need to improve in multiple areas if they want to return to defensive dominance, Diggs is a starting point.
He hasn’t yet put up the numbers to be considered a top safety in the game and won’t get paid like one. But as long as the Seahawks put an emphasis on their safety-driven defense, they need to keep what has worked and end the long, tiring search for safety talent.