K.J. Wright earns top grade among Seahawks' linebackers, Bobby Wagner not yet playing up to expectations

Next up among the position-by-position midseason grades is the linebacker corps, which has "surprisingly" been led this season by K.J. Wright.

Each position is assigned a classic "A-F" grade as is each individual player. A's are rewarded for exemplary Pro Bowl-caliber play. B's are given for very good to good play - better than the league average. C's are given for average play and D's for significantly below average play. Failing grades are reserved for players who, frankly, shouldn't be on the roster. 

Completed Grades:

Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Fullbacks | Tight Ends | Wide Receivers | Offensive Line | Defensive Line

Next up, the linebackers

Linebackers:  Throughout much of the Pete Carroll-John Schneider era, the Seahawks have featured one of the league's fastest and most productive linebacker corps. Dating back to his time at USC and in previous NFL stops, Carroll's defenses have always featured an instinctive "plugger" at middle linebacker and athleticism on the outside. That's the strategy he and Schneider have applied in Seattle, as well, and its paid off with back to back Super Bowl appearances due, in part, to the steady and versatile play of its linebackers.

A year ago, Bobby Wagner emerged as the Seahawks' top overall linebacker, earning his first Pro Bowl nod and a massive contract that, when at the time of his signing, was the largest in NFL history for an inside linebacker.

Due in part to a strained pectoral which has limited his ability to shed blocks and drag ball-carriers to the ground, Wagner's game has taken a step back this season. The most obvious difference is that Wagner is missing more tackles this season than in previous years in the NFL.

Just as notable is that he hasn't shown the runaway freight train-like explosiveness in his collisions that he did a year ago. It wouldn't be fair to Wagner to pin blame on him for the significant receiving yardage Seattle has allowed to running backs this season, but the 25-year old inside linebacker simply hasn't been as intimidating over the middle so far this season - his third consecutive with at least one game missed due to injury.

Fortunately for Wagner and the Seahawks, his replacement in the middle and normal weakside outside linebacker - K.J. Wright is by all accounts enjoying his best NFL season in 2015. Much longer than the 6-0, 240 pound Wagner, Wright boasts an unusual combination of size (6-4, 246), agility, straight-line speed, instincts and reliable open-field tackling skills.

Carroll talked about Wright's stellar 2015 season earlier in the year.

"I think he's played terrific, Carroll said on October 26. "I think he's having a great season, probably his best season, just in general. It's the most consistent that he's been, jumped in at mike one week and I think he's just done a great job."

Wright wasn't as effective as a healthy Wagner may have been against the Carolina Panthers. While his height and long arms make him very effective in coverage and in lassoing ball-carriers  in the open-field, he loses the leverage battle at the point of attack and may have played a role in the miscommunication which allowed Seattle to lose track of Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen in Seattle's disappointing home loss to the Panthers. Wright's 58 tackles, however, currently lead the club and he's proven to be Seattle's most effective linebacker in coverage, not surrendering a single touchdown so far this season.

While Wright has been Seattle's steadiest linebacker in 2015, the flashiest has undoubtedly been Bruce Irvin, who has not only improved his own coverage ability but provided a consistent speed threat off the edge as a pass rusher.

With less than half of the tackles that Wright (58) or Wagner (51) have so far, Irvin's production (25 tackles) isn't eye-popping. The numbers do, however, put Irvin on a pace to eclipse his previous career-high in tackles (40 in 2013) and he's on track to set a new personal best in sacks, as well, with 4.5 thus far in 2015.

Irvin's greatest asset remains his ridiculous athleticism, despite the fact that he's added approximately 20 pounds of muscle this season, checking in at a defensive end-like 6-3, 260 pounds. Irvin does lose his run fits, on occasion, but he possesses the speed to catch ball-carriers from the behind and is lightning off the edge on the few occasions in which Seattle asks him to rush.

Irvin's contract is up at the end of the year and because of his versatility and explosiveness (and perhaps still-untapped potential as a pass rusher) he's going to get a massive deal. Whether that's from the Seahawks or another NFL club, of course, remains to be seen.

The Seahawks have been fortunate health-wise this season, including at linebacker and therefore Seattle's reserves have seen minimal action.

Speedy but undersized outside linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis got the start on the weakside against Carolina (with Wright sliding inside in Wagner's absence). Affectionately known as KPL, the 6-0, 236 pounder responded with a career-high 11 tackles against the Panthers, showing off agility, awareness and acceleration. Pierre-Louis isn't particularly long or strong, however, and has missed tackles this season. His athleticism fits in nicely in Seattle's aggressive scheme, though KPL's relatively small frame lead to questions about whether he'd be able to withstand a full season.

Pierre-Louis has accounted for just three tackles in the five other games in which he's been active this season, tying him with inside linebacker Brock Coyle and putting him one ahead of Mike Morgan among Seattle's chief reserves. Nick Moody was signed off of the practice squad while Wagner was out but hasn't yet seen playing time. 

Bobby Wagner: B-   

K.J. Wright: A-

Bruce Irvin: B+

Kevin Pierre-Louis: C+

Brock Coyle: C

Mike Morgan: C

Nick Moody: Incomplete

Overall Position Grade: B

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