As one of the primary explanations for the team’s return to postseason play, the Seattle Seahawks hit a home run achieving their goal of reviving a dormant run game, leading the NFL with 160 rushing yards per game in 2018.
The Seahawks used an active offseason to achieve these means, replacing offensive line coach Tom Cable with Mike Solari while also signing free agent guards D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy to fortify the interior of the front line.
After struggling to establish the run during their first two games, the Seahawks welcomed Fluker back from injury at right guard and installed Sweezy as the starter on the left side. Starting in Week 4 at Arizona, Seattle rattled off seven straight games with 150-plus rushing yards and reached that total in all but one of their final 14 regular season games.
With Fluker and Sweezy both set to become unrestricted free agents on March 13, Seattle now faces the prospect of replacing at least one starter in the interior offensive line. But the organization’s decision-making process could be eased to an extent by the presence of guard Jordan Simmons, who performed admirably in three starts replacing Fluker.
Simmons, 24, signed with the Raiders as an undrafted free agent out of USC prior to the 2017 season. He spent the entirety of his first year in Oakland on the practice squad and the team chose to waive him at the end of the preseason in September.
Seeing some potential in the 6-foot-4, 340-pound guard, the Seahawks claimed Simmons off waivers and added him to the active roster as depth behind Fluker, Sweezy, and Ethan Pocic.
When Fluker was held out in Week 10 due to a knee problem, the unproven second-year lineman was thrust into the starting lineup for the first time. His assignment? Trying to block Rams star defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh.
With only two starts at the college level under his belt due to a plethora of knee injuries, the odds were stacked heavily against Simmons. But despite his lack of experience dating all the way back to high school, he held his own working against the NFL’s best defensive line, helping the Seahawks gash the Rams for 273 rushing yards.
When Fluker went down again in Week 13 against the 49ers, coach Pete Carroll went against norms and immediately declared Simmons as his replacement for a Monday night tilt versus the Vikings, calling him a “really, really viable option” for the Seahawks.
His response? Once again put to the test by a stout defensive line featuring Linval Joseph and Sheldon Richardson, Simmons shined as the Seahawks racked up 214 yards on the ground and averaged north of five yards per carry.
Unfortunately, one of the best stories in a season choked full of them came to a sudden end the following week. Making his third NFL start for the Seahawks, Simmons went down with yet another knee injury in the third quarter, forcing Pocic back into the lineup.
After struggling through a litany of significant knee ailments that ruined his career at USC, Simmons landed on injured-reserve only a few days later, ending his first NFL season with a thud.
Though it’s a small sample size, the Seahawks had to be encouraged by how well Simmons played against several elite defensive lines. Showing no fear or hesitation, he brought plenty of brawn and attitude to Seattle’s front line, helping the group avoid a hangover without Fluker available.
Given his youth and fit in Solari’s system, Simmons could certainly be in the franchise’s long-term plans up front. But can he be trusted to stay healthy? That’s what the Seahawks have to determine as they comb through outside free agents, negotiate with Fluker and/or Sweezy, and evaluate other internal options such as Pocic and Jordan Roos.
Much like fragile running back C.J. Prosise, Simmons has shown he has talent, but he hasn’t been able to stay on the field long enough to truly demonstrate his value. Based on his lengthy history of injuries with the Trojans, it’s worth wondering if the hulking lineman will ever be able to play more than a handful of games before he’s sidelined again.
Keeping his durability struggles in perspective, Seattle simply can’t afford to put all of its chips on the table banking on Simmons being a starter. As much as the coaching staff loves his upside, he hasn't even played half of a season since he graduated high school.
This doesn’t mean Simmons can’t or won’t compete for a starting spot, as he earned that opportunity by how effectively he played last season and he’s certainly a cheaper option who will be under club control through at least the 2019 season.
But regardless of how the Seahawks choose to navigate free agent waters in the next few months, the team cannot march into next season without two other reliable guards on the roster.