If you ask Seahawks fans or pundits, ‘which area of the team shows the greatest weakness?’ a lot of people will say the defensive line. More specifically, it’s the pass rush that is of most concern. Only four teams registered less sacks than Seattle in 2009, with the Seahawks gently reaching a tepid 28 for the year. With Patrick Kerney retiring and others moving on, the team are trying out a number of different bodies this pre-season hoping one rises to the surface.
Unsurprisingly some are already looking ahead to the 2011 draft and forcasting the not-unlikely scenario that Seattle will select a defensive end in round one.
My message to those people? Beware.
Firstly, I want to stress that I’m not the kind of person that believes in trends. How a positional group has performed in recent years will never have a direct impact on an unrelated individual. If 100 guys bust at one position, it doesn’t mean the 101st won’t make the Hall of Fame. I’ll come on to the individuals being highly touted for 2011 in a moment. However, I wanted to lay out the drafts most recent history at the defensive end position.
I’m not going to include the 2009 or 2010 drafts in this study. It’s impossible to review prospects that are one year into their pro-careers, let alone yet to make their first appearance. I do believe, however, that Derrick Morgan and Jason Pierre-Paul (both drafted in round one this year) have the potential to be very good defensive ends in the NFL. Here’s some of the defensive end’s taken in round one in the five previous drafts (2004-2008).
Will Smith (18th overall, NO)
Still with the Saints and enjoyed a career best 13 sacks in their Super Bowl season last year. Has 49.5 career sacks to date.
Kenechi Udeze (20th overall, MIN)
Tragically diagnosed with leukemia in 2oo8 and forced to retire last year. Finished with 11 career sacks
Jason Babin (27th overall HOU)
Former Seahawks journeyman who has bounced around Kansas City, Philadelphia and Tennessee since leaving Seattle. Has 4.5 sacks since departing Houston in 2006.
Draft Steal: Jared Allen was taken with the 126th overall pick (round four) by Kansas City.
DeMarcus Ware (11th overall, DAL)
Pass rush specialist off the edge, sometimes unstoppable and has 64.5 sacks in five years.
Erasmus James (18th overall, MIN)
A free agent since leaving Washington in 2008, James recorded five sacks before leaving the league after just four seasons.
Marcus Spears (2oth overall, DAL)
Has eight career sacks but used predominantly as a solid lineman against the run. Was linked with a trade to Miami this year.
Draft Steal: Trent Cole was drafted in round five by Philadelphia. He has 47 career sacks and two Pro-Bowl appearances. Ranked sixth for sacks in the NFL last year (12.5).
Mario Williams (1st overall, HOU)
Elite size/speed combo and a rare specimen. Has flourished for Houston so far with little help, registering 39.5 sacks in four years. More to come.
Kamerion Wimbley (13th overall, CLE)
Recently traded to Oakland. Had an impressive rookie year (11 sacks) but could only manage 15.5 more in three years after before his trade to the Raiders.
Tamba Hali (20th overall, KC)
Survived the transition to Kansas City’s new 3-4 defense and coped well with 8.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and a safety in 2009. Owns 27 sacks in a decent career so far.
Mathias Kiwanuka (32nd overall, NYG)
Yet to really break out and has missed a lot of game time. Has 19.5 sacks in four years.
Draft Steal: Elvis Dumervil was a fourth round pick for Denver. He led the NFL for sacks last year with 19.5, signed a huge new contract and has 43 total career sacks in four seasons.
Gaines Adams RIP (4th overall, TB)
Tragically died in January after being traded from Tampa Bay to Chicago. Registered 13.5 sacks.
Jamaal Anderson (8th overall, ATL)
Has struggled badly in the NFL and was tried at defensive end last year in an effort to increase production. Has only 2.5 sacks in three seasons.
Jarvis Moss (17th overall, DEN)
Virtually no impact on the league to date. Only 3.5 career sacks.
Anthony Spencer (26th overall, DAL)
Enjoyed a much improved 2009 season with 67 tackles and six sacks after winning a starting role.
Draft Steal: LaMarr Woodley was a second round pick for Pittsburgh and has 25 sacks the last two seasons. Made the 2009 Pro Bowl.
Chris Long (2nd overall, STL)
So far has struggled to have much impact on a poor Rams outfit. Nine sacks in two years probably sounds better than it is.
Vernon Gholston (6th overall, NYJ)
Jets fans cheered when they took Gholston. He’s since become one of the more high profile busts in recent times.
Derrick Harvey (8th overall, JAC)
Part of a Jaguars team that managed a pathetic 14 sacks last year (worst in the NFL). He started every game in 2009 and scored two sacks.
Lawrence Jackson (28th overall, SEA)
Recently traded to Detroit and one of Seattle’s first round flops over the last few years.
Kentwan Balmer (29th overall, SF)
Traded to Seattle after annonymous start to his NFL career.
Draft Steal: It’s tough to find any. Suggestions welcome, but I guess Kendall Langford has done a solid job as a big body at the front of Miami’s defensive line.
As you can see above, teams have struggled to find answers to pass rush problems via the draft. There are success stories – Will Smith has had a solid career in New Orleans and DeMarcus Ware looks a classic steal with the 11th overall pick in 2005. Mario Williams is a big name but he came at a major cost and is yet to hit the really big heights that he’s capable of. The rest are a collection nobody would write home about.
Like I said previously, I don’t like to discuss trends too much. Just because a lot of these guys have failed isn’t a reason to avoid Robert Quinn and co next year. Without breaking down every position over the same time frame, it’s difficult to even gauge if these results are unusual. What it does say to me, however, is that perhaps defensive end prospects have difficulty transferring success in college to the pro’s more than some other positions. People often talk about the bust rate at receiver, quarterback and such but not much is spoken of the number of high profile failures and under achievement at defensive end.
A lot of the names above had an incredible amount of success in college. They also had the physical numbers – size and speed. Jamaal Anderson in particular looked every bit the top ten pick he ended up being, but he’s been disappointing for Atlanta so far.
If you look at a lot of premature draft analysis ahead of the 2010 college season, there’s a lot of hype about the potential draft class of defensive ends. The previously mentioned Quinn of UNC is by far the top prospect and looks the part. He had 11 sacks in 2009 and has the flexibility to play all defensive schemes at 6-5, 270lbs. There’s an obvious fit for Seattle at the LEO position. However, he still has to perform this year and continue to develop. If he does, he can be a top five pick.
After that though, there isn’t as much to mention as some might hope. Adrian Clayborn (DE, Iowa) is a personal favorite, but his off the field red-flags bring cause for concern and could hurt his stock. He abused Georgia Tech’s offensive line in the Orange Bowl last year, but can he do the same in the NFL? I’m not totally convinced he has the necessary edge speed and his full blooded effort and aggression won’t be enough against pro-blockers.
Greg Romeus (DE, Pittsburgh) and Von Miller (DE, Texas A&M) are often talked about in the first round discussions but I would tend to disagree at this stage. Romeus (6-6, 270lbs) hasn’t shown an elite edge burst and has solid, not spectacular production in college. He had eight sacks in 2009 but three came against Louisville and he failed to register any sacks in his teams’ last six regular season games. The 22-year-old must do more this year.
Von Miller is almost the polar opposite in that he’s much smaller (6-3, 245lbs), quicker and more productive (17 sacks in 2009). However, is he that much quicker to compensate for his lack of size? There’s a real danger he’s be flushed out far too easily by superior lineman at the next level. Aaron Maybin was drafted 11th overall by Buffalo in 2009 after a 12 sack season for Penn State. Maybin was 6-4, 236lbs when he entered the league and has struggled badly. It sounds too familiar.
The other thing that lingers on those two – neither declared for the 2009 draft. Lest we forget the potential for either a lockout year in 2011 or a rookie salary cap. Von Miller in particular will never have higher stock after a 17-sack season. It could be they both simply have a dedication to ‘seeing it through’ as seniors for their team. That’s completely plausible. However, it wouldn’t be unfair to speculate that neither received what they wanted to hear from the draft committee who offer advice on prospects’ stock. I need to be convinced in 2010 that these guys are legitimate first round talent, but until then I’m sceptical. It’s the same with Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward, who will play five technique at the next level.
There may actually be greater depth of talent at the defensive tackle position. Is that the answer? Would it create better opportunities off the edge? Either way, my point here is two-fold: the record of highly drafted defensive ends isn’t great in recent years and the position doesn’t hold that greater depth as we approach the 2010 season. The projected positions of strength look to be defensive tackle, cornerback and receiver – with perhaps an honourable mention to quarterback depending on the continued development of 3-4 big names. History shows there are steals to be had (Dumervil and Allen, both fourth round picks, were 1st & 2nd for sacks last season). The Seahawks may need to find a hidden gem themselves.