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Team Previews: Seattle Seahawks

Jason Thornbury

Thornbury is a senior editor at RotoWire. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he has also worked in sports television and radio, including co-hosting RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM.

THE SKINNY
Injuries to its two most important players (Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas) and two best running backs (Thomas Rawls, C.J. Prosise) sabotaged Seattle's season last year, even more than its bad offensive line. O-line improvement is necessary, but health is paramount for this contender.

THREE THINGS TO KNOW

LACY, HEALTH KEYS TO IMPROVED RUSHING GAME
The Seahawks posted their lowest rushing average last season (3.9 yards per carry) since 2011 and lowest percentage of rush attempts (39.8) in the Pete Carroll era. It wasn't just the absence of Marshawn Lynch or a bad offensive line. Injuries were a huge factor. Russell Wilson played hurt virtually all year, suffering a sprained MCL in Week 1 and a high-ankle sprain in Week 3, which severely limited his mobility and deleted the read-option from the playbook, leading to career-low rushing numbers. At running back, Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise removed any doubt that they are indeed injury prone. Rawls battled back from a fractured ankle in 2015, only to break his left fibula in Week 2 and miss seven games. Meanwhile, Prosise suffered through hip, hamstring, wrist, hand and shoulder injuries, missing 10 games. Unwilling to rely on the duo, the Seahawks signed Eddie Lacy to a one-year contract. He might not be the workhorse many expect, as health is an issue for him, too, coming off a season-ending ankle injury. Rawls, when healthy, could share carries or at least spell Lacy more than assumed, especially if Lacy's weight is a problem. Prosise will be the pass-catching back, but Lacy will begin the season as the lead runner and be given every opportunity to help the Seahawks rekindle their run-first attack.

O-LINE: JUST DON'T BE HORRIBLE
Seattle's insufficient offensive line went from weighty concern to outright disaster in 2016. The unit lacked both experience -- former college basketball player George Fant hadn't started a football game since junior high, for example -- and skill. The tackles were turnstiles, and the guards were often pushed into the pocket. The lone semi-bright spot was Justin Britt, who found a home at center after flaming out at tackle and guard the previous two seasons. The result was the third-most sacks allowed (42), the 25th-ranked run game (99.4 yards per game) and two leg injuries for Russell Wilson. The line might not be directly responsible for the injuries to Wilson, who was out of the pocket both times, but perhaps with better protection, he wouldn't have been on the run in the first place. The group doesn't look much better this year. The team failed to sign a top free agent, settling for tackles Luke Joeckel and Oday Aboushi, the latter of whom is on his third team in four seasons. Seattle also drafted Ethan Pocic, who can fill in at three positions and may start. Like last season and the year before, the Seahawks don't need top-shelf O-line play. They just need the line not to be horrible. However, even that low bar seems like a high hurdle, which could mean another wasted season for a team with Super Bowl talent at nearly every other position.

FINGERS CROSSED ON GIANT HOLE IN SECONDARY
Rarely during Pete Carroll's tenure have the Seahawks had such a glaring hole at a particular position as they do this season at right cornerback. Last year's starter, DeShawn Shead, is out until midseason, at least, due to a torn ACL. The possible replacements inspire little confidence. So, it seemed obvious Seattle would nab one of the draft's highly rated corners. Except it didn't, waiting until the third round to draft Central Florida's Shaquill Griffin, the 13th cornerback taken. Even if Griffin wins the job -- a huge if, obviously; after all, even Richard Sherman began as a backup -- he no doubt will be tested relentlessly. Considering Griffin's pedigree and Seattle's recent track record with DBs -- since drafting Sherman in 2011, only one of eight drafted (Jeremy Lane) is still on the roster -- it's a big wild card. Earl Thomas' return from a broken leg will be key to holding the defense together while right corner is sorted out. Thomas is unquestionably the key to the defense with range, experience and instincts that allow the Seahawks to play a three-deep zone without fear of being beaten over the top or by four verticals. According to Pro Football Focus, with Thomas on the field, opponents had a 61.6 passer rating on attempts of 20-plus yards in 2016. Without Thomas, that number jumped to 112.

PIVOTAL PLAYER: Russell Wilson
Wilson gutted through injuries last year that would have sidelined most QBs for weeks, but it killed his running threat and also impacted the passing game. He needs better play from an O-line that has allowed 40-plus sacks in four straight seasons to stay healthy, return to a Pro Bowl level and get the Seahawks back to the Super Bowl.

BAROMETER

RISING: Jimmy Graham
Defying expectations about his knee injury and role in the offense last year, Graham finished second on the team in targets (95) and first in red-zone targets (20). He could see more work if Jermaine Kearse's role shrinks.

FALLING: Thomas Rawls
Rawls is a quality running back when active, but there's the rub -- 10 missed games in two seasons. Now he'll at best share touches with Eddie Lacy. For his draft position, though, Rawls likely can only provide upside to owners.

SLEEPER: Paul Richardson
Richardson showed big-play ability late last season, totaling 15/213/2 on 21 targets in four games. With Tyler Lockett coming off a broken leg and Kearse's role likely reduced, Richardson could make an impact.

KEY JOB BATTLE STARTING RUNNING BACK
The most important job battle is at right cornerback where the Seahawks have to find a competent body opposite Richard Sherman to plug what figures to be the only hole in the defense. The job battle with the most fantasy relevance, though, is at running back. Eddie Lacy enters camp as the starter, but he's still overcoming a season-ending ankle injury (and an ongoing weight battle). Lacy was signed in part because Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise have proven injury-prone. Thus, the job could go to the last man standing. If all are healthy, Lacy will start but likely share carries with Rawls, with the touch leader varying game to game depending on who's running well. Unless, of course, one clearly outshines the other in training camp or early in the season. Prosise has the most clearly defined role as the third-down/pass-catching back.

KEY ACQUISITIONS:
Eddie Lacy RB (from Packers)
Not interested in testing the theory, "you don't win friends with salad."

Luke Joeckel OT (from Jaguars)
Total bust since going No. 2 overall in 2013 but still improves the O-line.

Oday Aboushi OT (from Texans)
Might not start, but his presence probably elevates offensive line depth.

Shaquill Griffin CB (Rd. 3, No. 90 UCF)
Not crazy to say the season rests in large part on his ability to play RCB.

Malik McDowell DT (Rd. 2, No. 35 Michigan State)
Adds needed interior pass rush, but his motor is a question.

Nazair Jones DT (Rd. 3, No. 102 North Carolina)
At 6-5, 305, the run stuffer bolsters the interior of the defensive line.

Ethan Pocic OT (Rd. 2, No. 58 LSU)
Versatile draft pick can play all three positions on the O-line.

KEY LOSSES:
Stephen Hauschka K (to Bills)
Paying up for a kicker is not in budget, never mind seven missed PATs.

THE INJURY FRONT
Tyler Lockett, WR Lockett is still recovering from a compound fracture to his left leg late last season, when he broke his fibula and tibia. It's uncertain when he'll take part in training camp and whether he'll be ready for Week 1.

Eddie Lacy, RB Lacy might not be ready for the start of training camp after season-ending ankle surgery that included two screws, wires and a metal plate inserted into his leg. He should be ready for the start of the season, though. Whether he starts is uncertain as he will compete with Thomas Rawls in camp for the job.

Russell Wilson, QB Wilson played virtually all season with a sprained MCL and a high-ankle sprain, which impacted his rushing ability and contributed to Seattle's offensive struggles. He's healthy entering training camp with no limitations in either leg. His health is essential for the team to contend.