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NFL Draft

Will KJ Wright Still Have Same Impact With Seahawks This Season?

  • The Draft Network
  • June 21, 2020
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If the Seattle Seahawks’ defense—if the Seattle Seahawks—are defined in a single way it’s going against the grain or, more frustratingly, not adapting. 

While 31 teams across the NFL see the game is becoming more pass-happy and, in turn, develop their offense accordingly and deploy defensive schemes to combat that, the Seahawks see it and continue to do what has worked for them for so long despite the outcome. As we’ve seen with their offensive attack, what has worked doesn’t always translate well with the ever-changing dynamic of football. 

When just looking at the defense, teams added an extra defensive back on 72.8% of snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus. The use of an extra defensive back would take teams out of base defense and create a nickel defense, a necessary adjustment when facing the Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilsons of the league. However, Seattle, which struggled to bring its secondary to life and had no nickel cornerback it was confident in, only left its base defense 31.2% of the time. When the numbers are flipped to look at the amount of time the Seahawks were in base defense compared to the rest of the league, it’s 68.8% compared to a league-average 27.2%, according to PFF—and the results weren’t promising. 

Seattle dropped to 26th in total defense, compared to its top-20 mark from 2018, and allowed nearly 25 points per game, a small increase from its 2018 total. The Seahawks also gave up more yards this past season, what changed? 

They lost Justin Coleman, who played nickel and was trusted by Seattle. In 2018, before leaving for Detroit the last offseason, the Seahawks played nickel defense 49% of the time, according to Football Outsiders. With Coleman’s departure, the Seahawks, to a fault, trusted what worked for their defense: the linebacker room. They’re equipped with All-Pro Bobby Wagner, who is entering his ninth season with the team; Mychal Kendricks, a strongside linebacker who was essential for their overuse of base defense, and K.J. Wright, the longest-tenured Seahawk. 

Kendricks was the key to this scheme but Wright is the lock, door, joints, surrounding walls, etc. Seattle has gone through a number of defensive transitions through the years, most notably after the “Legion of Boom” (LOB) as we first knew it dissolved. But Wright’s still there; he’s reliable and a constant among four defensive coordinators and more personnel changes.

Wright is entering the last season of his two-year contract after a career-high 132 tackles, 11 passes defended, and three interceptions in 2019; and the defense could look different once again. The Seahawks broke away from their usual draft philosophy and selected a linebacker, Jordyn Brooks. They were heavily criticized at the time and later revealed Wright underwent overseason shoulder surgery; his second in as many years and an obvious reason to bring depth to the position. Wright recently said he was “ahead of schedule” and plans on “being out there game one” of the 2020 season. 

He bounced back after a 2018 knee surgery that forced him to play a shortened season and didn’t miss a single game in 2019. Wright played 93% of the defensive snaps; his most snaps since his 2016 Pro-Bowl season and while showing slight signs of decline, again, remained a reliable player in the heart of Seattle’s defense.

Wright’s impact goes beyond a good bounce-back season. His consistency has, similar to Wilson’s on offense, covered up for some of the flaws the Seahawks didn’t want exposed. Luckily for them, and Wright, he was successful. He really always has been successful. 

After being selected in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, Wright was thrust into action playing all 16 games (with 12 starts) his rookie season. He started every game he was healthy enough to play in since, and got better as time went on and unforeseeable changes happened. Wright was playing in a Super Bowl three years later. During the 2013 championship run, Wright wasn’t even at his peak. 

His best seasons (2015-16) came years later and are still coming despite turning 31 in July. Wright has shown a keen eye for detail and savvy instincts.

When Seattle’s defense boasted the original LOB, Wright was quietly executing at a high level. He’ll remember plays one week and turn around and embarrass teams that try something similar the next. Wagner bragged about Wright’s ability to do this, calling back to two games in the 2018 postseason against the Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys. The week prior to the Cowboys Wild-Card match, Wright was beaten in coverage by Cardinals veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Dallas ran the same play, but this time Wright intercepted quarterback Dak Prescott in the end zone

Wright can do this again, and again, and again. He’s slowly built a top resume, nearly challenging Wagner’s Hall of Fame one, but 2019 was the first full year he’s played and started since 2016—time will tell if he can replicate his success.

“It’s just the older I get the more tough it gets for me,” Wright said in January, via The Tacoma News Tribune. “You know, the team is not going to be the same next year. Guys, they go their separate ways.

“But, it’s just the nature of the game. Just got to take your punches. And just bounce back.”

What’s most valuable to the Seahawks is his football IQ, instincts, versatility, and leadership. Seattle’s executives and coach Pete Carroll are suckers for a strong leader and Wright checks every box. He’s also expandable; he can play any of the linebacker positions, which could help him in 2020 if the Seahawks can reimage their defense. Wright will have to prove it again this year if he wants to stay in Seattle, and up to this point he has.

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