“They wrote me off, I ain’t write back though,” Geno Smith said after the Seattle Seahawks' 17-16 victory over the Denver Broncos to open the season.
The quote, which instantly reverberated throughout the NFL landscape, certainly is true of Smith, but it also applies to the entire Seahawks team. After trading franchise quarterback Russell Wilson to the Broncos and releasing All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner in the offseason, most fans and pundits alike thought Seattle would finish at the bottom of their division and challenge for the No. 1 overall draft pick.
What has transpired instead over the first eight weeks is nothing short of remarkable. The Seahawks currently sit atop the NFC West with a 5-3 record, notching impressive wins over projected playoff teams such as the Los Angeles Chargers and New York Giants. They also look like undisputed winners of the Wilson trade.
The Seahawks received several veteran players in addition to two first-round picks, two second-round picks and a fifth-rounder in exchange for Wilson and a 2022 fifth-round pick. Denver currently sits at 3-5, with Wilson vastly underachieving the lofty expectations heaped on him when the Broncos acquired him. It is possible the Seahawks may make the playoffs and receive a top-10 draft pick in the same season.
The emergence of Smith has been a large part of the Seahawks' success this year. Drafted by the New York Jets in the second round of the 2013 draft, Smith had an unremarkable first two years in the league as a starter before being relegated to a backup role. He had brief but uneventful stints with the New York Giants and Chargers before landing in Seattle in 2019 as Wilson’s backup.
Last year, while Wilson missed several weeks due to injury, Smith filled in as the starter, and played well but not spectacularly. After the Wilson trade, Smith competed with the newly-acquired Drew Lock for the starting job. Despite Lock’s uneven record as the Broncos starter, many expected him to win the job, but after an excellent training camp and preseason, Smith earned the nod.
He immediately burst onto the scene, completing 17 of 18 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone against the Broncos to open the season. The game, nationally televised on Monday Night Football, saw Smith outduel his former teammate Wilson.
His production hasn’t dropped off since then. Smith leads qualified passers in completion percentage and is in the top ten in passing yards and touchdown — significantly ahead of Wilson in each category.
Smith hasn’t done it alone, however: another reason for Seattle’s success is one of the best draft classes in recent memory. The Seahawks boast a surprisingly effective offensive line, anchored by two rookie tackles in Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas.
The success of the offensive line has allowed second-round pick Kenneth Walker III to emerge as one of the league’s best running backs over the last several weeks. Walker has been a force to be reckoned with since Rashaad Penny went down with an injury, thrusting him into the starting role. After averaging under 20 yards rushing per game over his first three contests, Walker has averaged more than 100 yards the past four weeks, including a 167-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Chargers in Week 7.
On the other side of the ball, fifth-round pick Tariq Woolen's four interceptions are tied for the league lead. Fellow rookie cornerback Coby Bryant has also impressed as the team’s nickel corner. General manager John Schneider and his team did an absolutely outstanding job with the 2022 draft and set the Seahawks up for success now and in the future.
Veteran leadership has also been key for Seattle this year. Wide receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are among the best one-two punches in the league, while defenders such as safety Quandre Diggs and linebacker Jordyn Brooks have stepped up to lead the defense. The defense was among the league’s worst over the first few weeks of the season but has improved significantly. While still not a strength of the team, the defense is no longer a liability.
While this year has been a revelation for Seattle, Seahawks fans should keep their optimism tempered for playoff success. The NFC West remains one of the toughest divisions in football. The Los Angeles Rams are the defending Super Bowl champions, and the San Francisco 49ers have one of the most complete teams in the league after the addition of star running back Christian McCaffrey. Don't count out the Arizona Cardinals after wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins returned from suspension.
The Seahawks haven’t played an easy schedule so far by any means, but the only time they played a true Super Bowl contender was a 27-7 loss to the 49ers where they didn’t score an offensive touchdown. Upcoming games with the Rams, Kansas City Chiefs and a rematch with the 49ers will be instructive to see if Seattle has what it takes to go toe to toe with the best and make a playoff run.
Whatever the outcome this year, fans in Seattle have every reason to be thrilled about the direction the organization is heading. Very few teams can trade a franchise quarterback and come out as clear winners, but the Seahawks did just that. Combined with an elite rookie class and solid veteran play, the team appears poised to return to its role as an annual Super Bowl contender sooner rather than later.
Contact Liam Coolican at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.