Off the field, Shaquem Griffin emerged as the feel-good story of the 2018 season, as the Seahawks made him the first one-handed player ever selected in the NFL Draft.
Amid immense media coverage, Griffin did everything he possibly could to help eliminate distractions on the field as he worked diligently trying to learn how to play weakside linebacker in Seattle’s defense.
Though he struggled to grasp the position and only played nine defensive snaps after a chaotic outing as a starter in the season opener at Denver, he excelled on special teams and coach Pete Carroll saw plenty of growth from him over the course of the year. After leaning on his brother to help navigate a challenging situation, his expectations remain high for the former UCF star.
“I think Griff gave himself a chance to be a factor in a lot of ways on the team.” Carroll said following Seattle’s playoff defeat in Dallas. “He showed up, he played hard, he worked hard, he learned a lot playing his linebacker spot – he’s come miles from where he started.”
Now a year removed from his historic selection, the media circus that unremittingly revolved around Griffin and his brother last summer and into the regular season has long since subsided, allowing him to focus on the only task that matters in this business: becoming a better football player.
Now, the question is – does Seattle think keeping him at weakside linebacker will allow him to reach his full potential? Or should the team contemplate an alternate role for him?
As showcased at the NFL Scouting Combine in February 2018, Griffin possesses rare speed for a linebacker, as his 4.39-second 40-yard dash time was the fastest by a player at the position since 2003. Carroll knows his staff has to do a better job utilizing that speed and maximizing his strengths to put him in the best position to succeed.
Among those strengths, Carroll admitted at March’s league meetings that Seattle needs to do a better job deploying Griffin as a pass rusher, as he recorded nearly 20.0 sacks during his last two seasons starring for the Knights.
“We need to show him more there,” Carroll said. “We need to see more. He didn’t get enough opportunities even in practice as we look back. Just because he had a knack for it, we need to uncover that, make sure we know what we’ve got.”
According to Carroll, Griffin will stay at weakside linebacker for the time being, continuing to develop and learn behind Wright, who signed a new two-year deal to stay in Seattle back in March. He’ll be utilized much differently than his veteran counterpart, however, as the Seahawks plan to devise creative ways to take advantage of his wheels as a blitzer coming from the second level.
And interestingly, despite weighing only 228 pounds, Carroll also didn’t rule out the possibility Griffin could line up as a LEO defensive end in pass rushing situations next season. Given the fact Seattle used two draft picks on linebackers last month, such a bold move suddenly isn’t as far-fetched as it once may have seemed, and past performance shows he could be up to the test.
Along with disrupting running plays in the backfield on a consistent basis, flying off the edge in pursuit of quarterbacks proved to be one of Griffin’s calling cards at the college level. Though his size suggests he’ll have a much tougher time replicating such success in the NFL, Carroll isn’t about to stop him from giving it a shot with the Seahawks.
“He’s going to have to be really unusual because he’s 228 pounds. Not very many guys can rush the passer on offensive tackles at that size.” Carroll said, adding. “I’m not going to put it past him. There’s nothing he can’t challenge.”
To make it to the Seattle in the first place, Griffin beat tremendous odds by evolving into an All-American at UCF and eventually getting drafted. He’s grown accustomed to proving doubters wrong over the years, and after managing to rep 225 pounds 20 times at the combine with a prosthetic, nothing fazes him.
If Carroll’s comments are any indication, don’t be surprised if Griffin receives a legitimate opportunity to pin his ears back and chase the quarterback at the LEO spot when training camp opens in late July.