The Seattle Seahawks stirred the league by dealing multiple first round picks in a blockbuster trade for strong safety Jamal Adams in July of 2020. This move was supposed to elevate the Seahawks and enable them to take the next step but the exact opposite happened. The Seahawks started the year as the worst defense in NFL history and fell short of the Los Angeles Rams in the wildcard round, one round earlier than their previous playoff exit. Now, they find themselves in a tricky situation as Adams’ flaws become glaringly visible for opposing teams to exploit.
While it may be easy for many to assume Adams played terrible and was not worth the compensation given to the Jets, it’s important to take multiple things into account: His health and scheming of the defense. Adams, traded one month before the start of the season, was quickly thrown into the scheme of the defense with limited training camp, no preseason games, and very little time to learn. The effect of this was seen immediately. To say Adams struggled in coverage is an understatement. In the Seahawks week two game against the New England Patriots, Adams allowed six receptions on nine targets for 124 yards and was constantly exploited by Bill Belichick’s offense. Keep in mind that he was fully healthy in this game.
The following week however, Adams suffered a groin injury that kept him out for five weeks. After his return against the Buffalo Bills, Adams was once again taken advantage of in coverage and he seemed to lack a step as he tried to piece his way back into the defense while still learning the scheme and battling his injury. The following week, Adams suffered a right shoulder injury and it became apparent that it was greatly restricting his play style as a physical box safety. To finish off the season, just as he seemed to be getting healthy and in the midst of things, Adams tore his right labrum and suffered two broken fingers. Unfortunate is an understatement for what happened to Adams in the 2020 season.
As the 2021 season looms in the near future and Adams’ role and reliability remains undetermined, I believe he would prosper greatly in a role similar to the all time great strong safety Troy Polamanu. Polamalu entered the league as a defensive back with 4.3 speed, a 43 inch vertical leap, and incredible football instincts. Yet, similar to Jamal Adams, scouts around the league questioned his ability to play in pass coverage and let him drop to the mid first round. While Polamalu initially struggled in pass coverage and schemes, the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to use his blitz tendencies and box skills to confuse opposing offenses. In his role, Polamalu had the ability to be the wild card of the defense and improvise using his amazing understanding for offensive alignments. On third downs or obvious passing downs, Polamalu could line up in basically every position on the field to confuse the offense. Whether it be rushing off the edge as a linebacker, spying the quarterback, playing coverage, or containing the quarterback, Polamalu did it all because he relied on his raw talent and instincts. Something that few players have but him and Adams share in common.
As described in 2006 by Judy Battista, a football reporter for the New York Times, “Polamalu is listed on the roster as a strong safety because he has to be given a position. But the versatility and the skill he brings to the Steelers’ secondary make him difficult to categorize.” One could merely replace Polamalu’s name with Adams’ and the statement would still be correct. There are an abundance of similarities within both players’ skill sets and I’m sure it’s something that Pete Carroll, head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, recognized while initially trading for Adams.
As a matter of fact, Carroll was Polamalu’s coach at the University of Southern California during his college career. When asked about coaching Polamalu, Carroll stated “When I watched Troy play, there would be times when he controlled the game, he could make plays that weren’t even within anywhere near the realm of the concept that we were playing. He could see things and feel things”. Box safeties are something that Carroll loves to incorporate into his defenses as Kam Chancellor also built a legendary career using his instincts in the box.
The plan to use Adams in an instinctual role similar to Polamalu seemed to be carried out until his injuries held him back. In his season debut, Adams flew across the field and finished with 12 tackles, one sack, two pass break ups, two QB hits, and two tackles for losses. The difference between this game and the rest of the season? Adams played 74% of snaps in the box or slot compared to 56% for the rest of the season. As each week passed and Adams began to get more beat up, the Seahawks began to move him further away from the line of scrimmage, and rightfully so. With a torn labrum and multiple injuries, it’s unreasonable to play him in such a physically demanding position.
While currently Adams seems a bit lost in the Seahawks defense and has been constantly exploited in coverage, I believe we have only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of the impact he can have on the team. In an injury riddled year, Adams broke the defensive back record for sacks with 9.5 in a single year. It also seems like Carroll has a clear understanding of what he wants to do with Adams inside the box. However, we were unable to see this thought process translate into production as Adams struggled with multiple shoulder injuries and was forced to play far deeper on the field than usual. As the 2021 season approaches and Jamal Adams heals up, be on the lookout for him to make an immediate and controlling impact similar to Troy Polamalu’s role on the Pittsburgh Steelers. With similar skill sets and instincts, there is no reason that Jamal Adams won’t be able to prove his worth on the Seahawks and possibly state his defensive player of the year case.