Can Seahawks avoid rookie wall in crucial final six games?

RENTON, Wash. -- As a rookie with the Seattle Seahawks in 2019, DK Metcalf was slightly more productive the second half of the season than the first. Then he delivered a record-setting performance in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

So Metcalf was speaking from experience last week when he said that overcoming the so-called rookie wall is a mind-over-matter affair.

“It’s only a real thing if you allow it to be,” Metcalf said. “I think your mental toughness goes a long way in this league and how you deal with everything … I don’t think the rookie wall is going to be an effect for these guys.”

The Seahawks better hope not. With as many first-year players as they’re relying on from their stellar 2022 draft class, it might be the biggest X-factor that will determine the course of their final six regular-season games and whether they can make any noise in the playoffs -- if they make it there at all.

Consider that the 3,680 combined snaps the Seahawks have gotten from rookies this season (counting offense, defense and special teams) are second-most in the NFL behind only the Chicago Bears (4,291). Also consider that those players are accustomed to college seasons that, with the calendar turning to December, are either over by now or are winding down, with only a bowl game left after an extended break.

With NFL schedules now including a 17th game, there’s roughly another half a college season to go. And that’s before the postseason -- the Seahawks have a 67.5% chance to reach the playoffs, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, despite two straight losses that have dropped them to a half-game out of playoff position.

Coach Pete Carroll said last week that he hadn’t noticed any signs of his rookies slowing down, though he acknowledged the concern and described it as just as much mental as it is physical.

“I think it depends on the individuals, it depends on how worn down they are … but it’s very much an individual thing, how guys handle it,” he said. “This isn’t a place that beats you down. We aren’t beating these guys down mentally. … Our coaches are watching, communicating and looking for the messages and signals that these guys can give us that they’ve been up against and have been overloaded.”

Perhaps none of Seattle’s rookies needed the bye in Week 11 more than tackles Charles Cross and Abe Lucas, given that they’ve played virtually every snap.

“You’re never going to be 100%, but I feel pretty good,” Lucas said last week. “If you think about it, with the three [week] preseason and the 10 games that we’ve played, my college season would’ve been over two weeks ago. We have [six] more. I can handle that.”

Lucas is one of six Seahawks rookies who are either starting or playing significant snaps. He ranked ninth among tackles (left or right) in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate until last week, when he battled both an illness and Las Vegas Raiders Pro Bowl defensive end Maxx Crosby in Seattle’s overtime loss. Lucas fell to 21st in PBWR, but he and Cross (26th overall) still rank first and third, respectively, among rookies.

Cornerback Tariq Woolen has shown no signs of slowing down. He remains a leading candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year after recording his fifth interception of the season in Week 10.

Running back Kenneth Walker III padded his resume for the offensive version of the award with two more rushing touchdowns against Las Vegas and now leads all rookies with nine, but he’s been held to only 43 yards over the last two games.

Nickelback Coby Bryant’s last two games have also been a mixed bag. He allowed a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers via a blown coverage, but would have his league-high fifth forced fumble of the season last week had it not been for an early whistle that blew the play dead.

Boye Mafe remains a regular in the Seahawks’ outside linebacker rotation, but he’s yet to emerge as a playmaker.

Two other rookies -- safety Joey Blount and receiver Dareke Young -- are playing extensively on special teams.

None of them played more than 14 games in any college season.

“It’s a great foundation for years to come in Seattle and those guys are contributing heavily,” said veteran outside linebacker Bruce Irvin. “We’re counting on those guys a lot, so hopefully they can keep showing up.”