Only two years ago, the Seahawks spent a second-round pick on LSU offensive lineman Ethan Pocic, but now his status on the roster looks more tenuous by the day.
After losing his job to J.R. Sweezy following an ankle injury in Week 2 last season, Seattle’s decision to create a physical one-two punch by re-signing right guard DJ Fluker and adding former All-Pro left guard Mike Iupati yesterday leaves Pocic once again battling for a backup job.
What went wrong for the former All-American?
A decorated player at LSU, Pocic started nine games at guard, one at left tackle, and 27 games at center for the Tigers. When the Seahawks used a high pick to draft him, there was confusion among the Seahawks fan base. Adding a highly-regarded offensive lineman to that struggling position group made sense, but why center? Justin Britt had just signed a lucrative three-year extension and looked like the long-term solution at the pivot.
But Pocic’s calling card was his impressive versatility. He was going to take reps at both guard spots, but also compete with 2016 first-round pick Germain Ifedi for the right tackle job. Unlike Ifedi, who struggled at guard his rookie season, Pocic had a reputation as a technically sound player with surprising athletic ability for his size. ESPN 710 radio host and former Seahawks quarterback Brock Huard touted Pocic’s potential the day he was drafted.
Pocic looked promising as advertised as a rookie, starting 11 games between both guard spots after injuries to Luke Joeckel and Oday Aboushi. He struggled in the run game at times, but excelled in pass protection, allowing only two sacks in 2017. Heading into his first offseason as a pro, he needed to add functional strength, and indeed coach Pete Carroll talked at length about the 20 pounds of additional “good weight” Pocic added heading into his second season.
But 2018 saw a change of the guard in Seattle, as longtime offensive line coach Tom Cable was replaced by Mike Solari, and with this switch came a change in philosophy as well. Whereas Pocic may have been more well-suited to Cable’s outside zone blocking running scheme, Solari's system places a premium on power. As a result, newcomers Sweezy and D.J. Fluker thrived as the starting guards as the Seahawks revived their dormant rushing attack while Pocic mostly watched, although he did start four games as an injury replacement.
With Fluker back in the fold and Iupati joining the fray, what does the future hold for Pocic? Presumably there is still an opportunity for him to earn a roster spot as a valuable backup capable of playing both guard spots, as both Fluker and Iupati come with durability red flags. Yet, when talking about his offensive line this offseason, Carroll has been quick to mention Jordan Simmons, who played well in three starts last year, as an an option at guard. He’s yet to bring up Pocic’s name.
This could be telling. Sometimes, Carroll can provide key information in the form of what he doesn’t say, such as excluding recently-departed running back Mike Davis's name when discussing the state of the backfield at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Pocic’s future may still be safe. His results on the field have been mixed at best, but he’s still just 23 years old. His history of playing center in the SEC could make him a hedge against the possible release of Britt, who could be a cap-casualty candidate in 2020. But the team is also high on Joey Hunt, who started in place of Britt and played well in a Week 3 home win against Dallas last year. Jordan Roos will also be back to compete at guard after spending his second full season on the Seahawks practice squad and may fit Solari's system more effectively.
Ultimately, Pocic could still emerge as a future starter for the Seahawks. With Iupati’s age and injury history, the opportunity to compete for the left guard spot may present itself this year, while the possibility that he’s the eventual successor to Britt is also still feasible.
But given his draft status, age, athletic ability, and college pedigree, one has to wonder if Pocic could be a trade possibility. Would a team in need of an interior offensive lineman be willing to part with a late round pick for a player with Pocic’s youthful upside?
This could be the ultimate example of a good player who simply isn’t a system fit anymore. If the Seahawks see an opportunity to gain a late-round pick for a player who doesn’t figure prominently in their plans, they may just take it.