Why Shaquem Griffin will make Seattle roster and where he could play

RENTON, Wash. -- During the span of a few practices early in Seattle Seahawks training camp, rookie linebacker Shaquem Griffin picked off Russell Wilson, forced a fumble and found himself running with the starters while K.J. Wright nursed an injury.

Griffin's nice start doesn't have him thinking he's arrived, though. He shot down that idea faster than his 4.38 40-yard dash at February's NFL scouting combine.

"Definitely not," he said. "Definitely not. I got a lot to prove."

But Griffin, the first player with one hand to be drafted during the NFL's modern era, is proving he belongs. That was apparent even before he led all players with nine tackles in his first preseason game.

Griffin's blazing 40 time, which tied the mark of his twin brother and Seahawks teammate Shaquill Griffin at the 2017 combine, was the fastest by a linebacker in more than a decade. That speed has been evident to anyone who has watched him during training camp or played against him.

"Shaquem is fast, man," said rookie tight end Will Dissly, Seattle's fourth-round pick. "That 40 was no joke. He's a special player."

While the Seahawks drafted Griffin in the fifth round to help them on the field, there's a belief inside the Virginia Mason Athletic Center that his presence alone can be beneficial. Think of what he's overcome to get to this point as a nice dose of perspective for teammates -- particularly during the grind of August -- in the same way it was three years ago when the Seahawks gave former Army Green Beret Nate Boyer, a veteran who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, a tryout at long-snapper.

"One thing that I appreciate about him is that he's always coming with a positive attitude," Dissly said of Griffin. "This whole thing is all about energy. Camp gets long and hard and you see him over there, he's got a big smile on his face. It's a good time."

While Dissly was a player the Seahawks felt they absolutely had to draft, Griffin's selection wasn't as straightforward despite his speed and production. A popular belief among draft analysts was that Griffin would, at the very least, be an excellent special-teams player even if he never became a regular contributor on defense. But there was an obvious question of how he'd survive in the pro game without a left hand.

Part of what made the Seahawks comfortable in taking that gamble was that their analytics showed he didn't miss an inordinate number of tackles in college compared to other linebackers, which is perhaps how a physical disadvantage such as his might show up the most.

The question right now isn't so much whether Griffin will make the Seahawks' 53-man roster but what kind of a role he can he carve out as a rookie beyond special teams.

The Seahawks like Griffin at weakside linebacker, where his speed and relatively smaller frame -- he's listed at 6 feet and 227 pounds -- are best suited. But Wright is Seattle's starter at weakside linebacker and will be through the end of this season, when his contract is set to expire. That means barring injury, Griffin's playing time this season will be limited to a handful of substitute-package snaps each game.

One way to take advantage of his skill set would be matching him up man-to-man with athletic tight ends. The Seahawks occasionally brought Bradley McDougald in as a third safety for that purpose last season -- most notably against Evan Engram in October against the New York Giants -- before injuries to Earl Thomas and then Kam Chancellor forced him into the starting lineup.

Another possibility is taking advantage of Griffin's skills as a blitzer, something Seattle tried to do several times Thursday night against the Indianapolis Colts. Generating a pass rush is the biggest question facing Seattle's defense now that Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are gone and Dion Jordan is out indefinitely with a leg injury. Griffin had 18.5 sacks during his two seasons as a starter at Central Florida, albeit in a different role as a strongside linebacker. Now he's playing behind the line of scrimmage and in space, whereas in college he was setting the edge and rushing from a two-point stance.

"He was a blitzer," coach Pete Carroll said when asked about Griffin's potential to help Seattle as a pass-rusher. "A little different than a guy that puts his hand in the ground. He's coming off the edge every time. His size, it doesn't allow him to really be a defensive end-type of guy. He's a linebacker, a former DB more so than anything else. He's the kind of guy you like to move around, you like to take advantage of his speed.

"He's very instinctive [and] he's been a very aggressive player so far in his chances. It gives us really a good feeling about him and we're already starting to gather information and get a sense of what he can do. He's doing very well and he's picking things up beautifully."

It certainly showed Thursday night.

"It's a testament to hard work and it's a testament in terms of anything is possible," Wilson said after Griffin's preseason debut. "He's playing in the National Football League, playing linebacker, tackling people with only one hand. And he's not just tackling people, he's making plays. He picked me off in practice, and I know he's making plays and he's just done it the whole time. He does it the right way, he's professional and he's got a good twin brother to look up to ...

"Just to think about that, it's pretty cool."