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Top 10: The biggest breakout performances of the season

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Top 10: The biggest breakout performances of the season
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks have closed the book on a remarkable season. After getting dragged through the mud for nearly six months, they made the playoffs, turned a 10-year backup into a viable starter, and boasted the best draft class of 2022.

Several teammates stood out above the rest, as the most unexpectedly awesome contributors. Whether because of previous resumés, new positions, or guys whose names we didn’t even know, these are the stories that make you smile.

The 10 biggest surprises on the 2022 Seahawks (positive)

Geno Smith

It’s the most obvious choice of the century to start things off. His overall win/loss record after this season still won’t move the needle, but he did something that extraordinarily few pro athletes have ever done.

But Smith had a longer career as a backup than the NFL average career, before turning in a handful of elite stats in a full, competitive season. His completion percentage was nine points higher than career average. He threw almost half of his career touchdowns this season. His interception percentage plummeted from 4.2 with the Jets to 1.7 this year.

Quarterback was the primary reason cited by many around the league that Seattle would be a bottom-five team. Instead, the words “Geno Smith” and “MVP” were discussed unironically for a month and a half.

Tariq Woolen

It’s been 10 years since John Schneider did the thing that made him famous; unleashing a 4th/5th rounder Pro Bowl ferocious monster.

Woolen started this track from almost day one, and the progression has been as consistent as any new player I can remember. First it was speed, then it was an ability to learn. Then suddenly he’s hanging with DK Metcalf in training camp. Then he’s making plays in mock games, and never gave Coby Bryant or Tre Brown a chance to take his spot.

Then they tested him and he won, then they tried trickery and he still won.

Now he’s either first or second for defensive rookie of the year, and he won’t be talked about as just a good rookie next season; he’ll be placed among the best defensive backs in the NFL.

Uchenna Nwosu

Nwosu will end the season a bit banged up, but for much of it he dominated. If it hadn’t been rough going to finish the year, he probably would have reached 10 sacks.

Nwosu hit career-high marks in QB hits, tackle for loss, total tackles, sacks, fumble recoveries, and forced fumbles.

Schneider has not often hit at this position and this was an incredible find, with Nwosu coming back next season as well.

Abe Lucas

When the Seahawks wisely and necessarily took an offensive tackle in the top-10 of the draft, few people expected the second tackle they drafted to be the more impressive rookie.

Lucas has balled out all season, coming in as a third-rounder and playing every snap of the season until an injury in Week 16.

He’s faced many of the best pass rushers the NFL has to offer, and won more often than any Seattle rookie lineman would ever hope anyone might dream.

Shane Waldron

2021 left a lot to be desired with Waldron’s new offense. In short, it felt too much like all the other years, and now we know with certainty the majority of that had little to do with the play caller.

Geno Smith found immediate success in the intermediate game, in the deep game, with tight ends, and both starting running backs put forth some big rushing games.

It’s a relief that this hire not only wasn’t a disaster, but also wasn’t inextricably tied to Russell Wilson’s skillset. I think Waldron has a strong ability to make things happen and a promising future at coordinator as the talent pool continues to grow.

Kenneth Walker III

For me, the big surprise here is that Walker shaped out to have even more of Rashaad Penny’s extremes than Rashaad Penny. In short, he at times looks like he will score or cost you the drive.

In Week 12 alone, Walker had six carries that ranged from a one-yard gain all the way down to a 13-yard loss.

On the other hand, he hits explosive plays at an even higher rate than Penny has managed thus far. As a rookie, he leads the NFL with three runs of 50 yards over expected. That accomplishment is the result of both his top-end speed (1mph faster than Penny) and elusive tackle-breaking (better than Penny, by six attempts per broken tackle).

It makes the offseason decision with Penny more difficult, in the best way possible.

Ryan Neal

This is two seasons now in which Neal has been a surprise integral piece of the defense. This year, his contribution was so solid that he ended up with 14 All-Pro votes and is a vital piece of the secondary with two other safeties who’ve suffered significant injuries in consecutive seasons.

Al Woods

I don’t know what to say here except Woods is 35 and for like half the season was the only guy on the field capable of tackling the running back. He just set a career high in solo tackles, and missed three games so you can’t blame the extended season.

Tyler Lockett

The only surprise with Lockett is that he continues to do what he’s done never gets the recognition he deserves. Lockett now has surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in his 27, 28, 29, and 30-year-old season. This comes after several significant injuries he’s sustained, all the while barely missing any time.

There might be a handful of better steals than Lockett on the contracts he’s signed in Seattle franchise history. Alongside both DK Metcalf and Doug Baldwin, he’s turned in scores of explosive plays and 3rd-down conversions and is among the most reliable receivers in the NFL.

Marquise Goodwin

Similarly, Goodwin came on as a somewhat overlooked pass catcher but turned in an impressive season. He still finished the year with 9.2 yards per target, a great guy to have as a somewhat deep threat. Seattle is Goodwin’s fourth team, and who knows what he wants to do next but it was a pleasant surprise in a year when Dee Eskridge did absolutely nothing.

Honorable mention: Godwin Igwebuike

What a revelation. A kick returner! Igwebuike ended the year by getting elevated from the practice squad in three consecutive weeks.

It’s fun to actually return a kicked ball for a change, and Igwebuike has a knack for this.

A season with next to no expectations turned into yet another phenomenally stressful one, and promises yet another pivotal draft in a couple of months.

Next up: the top surprises going the other direction, unfortunately. Disappointments coming out soon.

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