Alex Okafor an option for the Seahawks?

January 8th, 2013 | Written by Rob Staton

Texas defensive end Alex Okafor had a 12.5 sack season for the Longhorns

Yesterday we touched on the injury to Chris Clemons (now confirmed as an ACL) and how this might impact the Seahawks’ off-season. There’s still no firm time-scale for the injury – it could be seven months, it could be twelve. Adrian Peterson had an impossibly quick recovery from a similar issue and had a season for the ages in 2012. Stem cell therapy and other advances give players a better chance to overcome serious ACL injuries but we’re a long way from knowing how it’ll impact Seattle’s best pass rusher.

By March they’ll know a lot more about the recovery period and what contingency plans have to be made. They drafted Bruce Irvin to be the heir apparent to Clemons at the LEO position. Yet the team has used another rusher of similar stature for certain play calls during each of the three years this scheme has been in place. Clearly this will be a need that has to be addressed if Clemons can’t start the 2013 season.

There’s every chance they could go the Raheem Brock route and look for an ageing pass rusher with a little left in the tank. Osi Umenyiora is a name that comes to mind – he’s coming off a down year (like Brock) and turns 32 in 2013 (as did Brock the year he joined the Seahawks in 2010). He won’t command the kind of contract he was hoping for during several disputes with the Giants in recent years. An incentive-laden 1-2 year deal would make sense at the right price and Umenyiora might entertain the idea of playing for a blossoming contender. Of course, he already has two Super Bowl rings – so he might be willing to just take the best offer whoever puts it on the table.

The draft will provide cheaper, unproven alternatives. It really depends on the teams motivation to use free agency to keep building momentum. Undoubtedly Pete Carroll and John Schneider want to build through the draft, but they’ve also been active in re-signing existing players and making the occasional splash for the likes of Sidney Rice and Zach Miller. While I doubt they make more bank-breaking moves like that any time soon, I do think they’ll search for cost-effective role-playing veterans. Umenyiora and Randy Starks won’t necessarily be prize, expensive free agents. But both could do a really effective job in Seattle and fill a couple of key needs.

The cap situation works in Seattle’s favour here, although they’ll be aware that some big years are on the horizon with several key players needing to be re-signed. Mike Sando wrote a piece today noting the Seahawks have $18.6m in cap space for 2013. Teams are able to carry cap over into future seasons – the reason Seattle would have $18.6m available is mostly down to $13.2m in carry-over from 2012. Not spending too much money during free agency in 2013 could afford the team more space to re-sign 2014 free agents like Kam Chancellor.

Even so, there’s still plenty of room to make a couple of smart additions, especially if the deals are short term and maybe even expire in 2014/2015. The available cap room for 2013 could further increase if Matt Flynn leaves the team or if a player like Zach Miller ($11m cap hit in 2013) is willing to re-work his contract to spread out the salary.

There aren’t a ton of early round LEO options in the draft and I doubt they make a first round pick at this position in consecutive years. At the very least they have to back their judgement on Irvin and improve other areas of the team. It’s one thing to plan ahead and draft a pass-rush specialist with future starter potential. Having two first round LEO prospects means one of those guys will always be consigned to specialist duties unless injuries take over.

Having said that, one player who might interest the Seahawks is Texas defensive end Alex Okafor.

When you look at the tape he’s not an obvious LEO prospect. He’s a little thicker and not quite as lean as Clemons or Irvin. He doesn’t flash an explosive first step and I’m not convinced at the combine he’s going to run a tremendous ten-yard split. These are all things the Seahawks seemingly liked about Irvin. Okafor looks big for a listed 265lbs and could potentially add another 10lbs to become a more orthodox 4-3 edge rusher. At the combine he’ll likely try to lose a bit of weight to max-out his forty yard dash.

There’s no doubting the guy can rush the passer — and what sets him apart from other 265lbs edge rushers is his ability to play stout at the point of the attack and excel against the run. He holds position well, he gets a little push with effective hands and he can make a play in the backfield when it’s stretched to his side. I like his ability to get off blocks even if he hasn’t quite got that explosive edge speed. His effort sometimes runs a bit hot and cold, but he can also be quite deceptive – rounding the edge with good footwork and getting the sack. It’d be nice to see some of that Jabaal Sheard attitude on tape – a crucial factor in my view when you’re playing in the 250-265lbs range at the line of scrimmage.

I touched on his hand use and he flashes ideal technique here. He drives back offensive lineman with an excellent bull rush and understands leverage. He could be a little more aggressive at times to match how good he is at driving his legs and pushing back the tackle. But he’s not going to get overpowered much off the edge and when a player flashes this level of technique and the ability to rush the passer, you’ve got a nice prospect to work with at the next level.

Okafor dominated Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl recording 4.5 sacks. He actually had consistent production all year for a rank average Texas defense. He finished the season with 12.5 sacks. A lot of people will suggest, due to his size, that he fits the 3-4 OLB position more than the 4-3. I’m not convinced he’ll be able to flash strong enough coverage ability and he looks better playing up front in a four than standing up in space. I think you also take away some of his run defense qualities playing him at OLB. The 4-3 teams might want him to add that extra weight, but the Seahawks like to use the under-sized defensive end for their LEO position.

I’m fighting this a little bit (perhaps carelessly) because like I said, he’s not an obvious LEO candidate even at 265lbs. But his ability against the run is intriguing and if the Seahawks don’t trust Irvin on early down due to his run defense, Okafor could be a nice compromise. You won’t get quite as much explosion off the edge, but you probably also won’t get gashed by a left tackle taking on Bruce Irvin to free up running lanes. In the long term, Okafor could still add extra weight and fill the position vacated by Jason Jones. I’m not sure what the future holds for Jones following his injury and free agent status, but Okafor looks to me like he could play that nickel three-technique role who slips inside on passing downs. His body type appears to be suited to that position, but he’s got the flexibility to play some edge rush too and this could make him an attractive option.

There are also some similarities to Brian Orakpo, another former Texas defensive end. Both players entered college undersized (Okafor joined the Longhorns at 229lbs, Orakpo was also considerably underweight with room to grow). During his time with Texas, Orakpo hit the weight room and really maxed out his frame at around 260-265lbs and there were some concerns he didn’t have a great deal of upside. He’s since turned into one of the league’s better pass rushers, despite far from dominating in college (he had 11 sacks in his final season at Texas and ten sacks in the three years previous combined). Okafor has a frame capable of holding more weight and he’s not as fast off the edge. He also had a strong senior year after three seasons of development. He had to get bigger. I’m not saying Okafor is the second coming of Orakpo, but there are some similarities in how they came to develop in college.

Okafor’s stock is a little hard to determine. The brilliant bowl game helps, but prior to that he was receiving tentative grades as a day two pick. If he lasts until Seattle’s second round choice, he could be in play. I’m not sure he’ll drop that far, in fact I think there’s every chance he could be a first round pick. He’s a good pass rusher. If he performs better than expected at the combine, he could end up being a big riser. Whether he’s likely to be on Seattle’s radar that early I’m not sure, but he’s still someone to keep an eye on this post-season.

Below I’ve included tape of his performances against Ole Miss, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Oregon State:

29 Responses to “Alex Okafor an option for the Seahawks?”

  1. James says:

    Rob, I am a Bama alumni, so I am doubly enjoying this week of a Seahawks win and Alabama national championship. I assume you observed how the Bama OL totally destroyed T’eo and the ND front 7. Interesting note that on the insiders websites several sources are saying that the Bama coaches knew they had the game when they first put the ND tape on, and saw a vastly over-rated front 7 which could not possibly hold up against the Bama OL. The coaches felt that they had played 5 or 6 teams tougher than ND. …anyway, it does seem that Clemons injury may force the Seahawks to go Leo in round one or two again, especially if Seattle can land a 3-tech in free agency.

    • Rob Staton says:

      It was a completely predictable destruction of Notre Dame. The Irish are nowhere near the class of Alabama unfortunately. It would’ve been 100% more entertaining and meaningful to see a ‘Bama-Georgia rematch, or the Ducks vs Bama. Bring on the playoffs.

  2. stuart says:

    Rob, “if” both Okafor and Will Sutton fell to our R-2 selection, as of this date who would you choose?
    I am really looking forward to your mock draft tomorrow. It would be so cool if you could list say 4-5 players that could be available in R-3 and R-4 that could be available and really help our team. Everybody that comes to your site really loves to read your thoughts…you too Kip:).

  3. stuart says:

    Tip of the day; proof read before you click submit…

  4. GH says:

    Nice write up.
    Does this evaluation of Okafor change your ranking of the 4-3 defensive ends of the first round? If so, how do you rank them?

    • Rob Staton says:

      I think I’d still rank the DE’s in a similar way but Okafor is better than I first suspected. I’d still go Jones-Werner-Moore as the top three, although the spinal stenosis issue with Jones is a concern.

  5. Clayton says:

    Say the Seahawks take Okafor with their first pick. And then say Chris Clemons makes an Adrian Peterson-like comeback. Now the Seahawks have three good DEs, but could the Seahawks have used the pick more wisely? When Red is out there, two of those guys won’t. Bruce Irvin had a lot of productive playing time this year on third downs and subbing for Clem, so we got a lot of value in the pick. But if Okafor (or any first round pick) ends up sitting, it’s like sitting your brand new car in the garage for the year. Granted it would be hard to predict how Clem will come back, especially in April, so it will be a tough call for the Hawks.

  6. SeaHawk Steve says:

    Here I go for another year. I haven’t commented on the Blog this season but It’s time I jump in. All season we have read (and seen) the need for a 3 Tech. that can stuff the run and get some inside pass rush. While Branch is mostly good at stopping the run he really needs to improve the pass rush. Branch had a better game at Washington but we still need a stellar guy at the 3 that can do both run stuffing and presser up the middle on passing plays. That’s our number one priority!
    Other positions of need are reciever to mirror Rice and a TE to mirror Miller. Sorry, but McCoy isn’t hacking it at the #2 TE (maybe he can stay as a #3). McCoy keeps making bonehead mistakes at crucial times and is 50/50 on the recieving end. We also need to look at an upgrade for aging Hill at linebacker. DE just became a priority with the Clemons injury, but it has to someone who has some techniques. Irvin has the speed and the bull rush, but the other end needs to have some moves (swims, spins and stunts). I was hoping Irvin would develope some of those moves through the season, but it doesn’t look like that happened this year. If they are going to draft another DE it needs to someone with a toolbox of moves more that just speed. Frankly, I don’t see Okafor as that guy. I am not sure who in this draft has it so, maybe your’e right about Uneymora comming in for a year or two until they can find the guy they need.However; you never know Snyder might have his eye on someone the rest of us are overlooking.

    • Attyla the Hawk says:

      At this point, I’d ather take a guy that is worth resigning after his rookie deal ends, no matter where he plays, than take another prospect where 12 months later we’re still talking about getting another one. Seems when we restrict our options (2011 – OL only, 2012 – pass rush only), we’ve not fared as well.

      If you’re winning 11-12 games a year, your ability to get impact players diminishes. And more often than not, there are more journeyman skilled prospects at the end of round 1, than there are impact players. It’s just not likely that the positions you need most have those impact players.

      If we go beyond immediate need, we can see that we are going to need some of the following talents in the next 1-3 years:

      1. WR
      2. TE
      3. 1 tech
      4. DE
      5. S
      6. DB

      I’d just as soon get a guy at any of those positions who is going to really push for quality starter minutes. Rice/Miller were 25 when we signed them 2 seasons ago. Their contracts are heavy and we can keep them but at some point they will need replacing. Replace them early, and you not only get younger at a position of strength but you alleviate cap stress.

      Mebane is getting along. He’s crucial to what we do. Getting 6-7 years younger at that position is worthwhile. Rotating in extends his career and hedges for injury.

      Browner is 30 (?). 6’3″+ CBs don’t grow on trees. God knows we could use a great nickel option. If a top quality CB is available they could have value concurrent to Browners’.

      DE is valuable. Although at this point, I think you have to be thinking non Leo option (rotation partner for Bryant). Irvin is still developing, has produced well at a suboptimal position and really deserves a chance to get a good look at Leo — his ordained position.

      • Turp says:

        Browner is 28. Plenty of time left with him. A starting outside corner is not going to be a need for 2-3 years.

        • Michael says:

          Barring injury, safety is not a need either unless you are strictly talking about 2nd string guys.

  7. [...] given Seattle’s need for more interior pass rush). I did a piece on Alex Okafor earlier today which you can check out by clicking here. Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton has decided to stay at ASU for his senior [...]

  8. diehard82 says:

    Was thinking the Hawks might target DE again in Rd1, before Clem went down. But as Attyla suggested, not LEO. Gotta remember, Carroll never had 300+ lb DE opposite LEO at USC. They simply made lemonade with Red. I was already thinking along the lines of Margus Hunt or Ziggy Ansah to rotate with Red and the 3 tech, provide depth for both. Okafor could fill the roll also, although he’s a bit undersized and doesn’t look to have the long arms they look for. Bottom line is DE/DT are looking like early priorities.

    • Rob Staton says:

      Carroll didn’t run a strict 4-3 under at USC. Bryant’s position is a staple of the 4-3 under. They are extremely unlikely to deviate from it IMO.

      • A. Simmons says:

        Read Carroll’s discussion of personnel in his 4-3 under. Red is the type of DE he looks for. He doesn’t care about pass rush from that position. He wants run stuffing at that position. His main pass rushers are the Leo End and the three tech in Carroll’s 4-3 under.

        Reason he may not have had a player like Red in college because of how rare that player is rather than Carroll didn’t want a player like that. If we can find a stud end to fill Bryant’s role, that doesn’t hurt. But run stuffing is more what Carroll is looking for from Red’s position.

  9. Trudy Beekman says:

    IMO Sharrif Floyd and Kawann Short are both 1st rounders. Floyd might be my favorite has he plays with a high motor, and pursues until the play is over … often making tackles on the sidelines. He is quick out of his stance and penetrates like Fletcher Cox, but he does get too skinny sometimes when he turns sideways. He draws pretty consistent double teams, but he seems to at least hold his ground most of the time in those situations. Kawann Short looks similar with a lower motor but better technique. He often makes getting by blockers look too easy.

    I’ve only seen the one tape against Western Michigan, but Michael Buchanan looked like a monster and a great candidate for LEO. I wouldn’t be surprised if he shot up into the first round as well, but if he could be had in the 2nd I think it’s a no-brainer.

    As far as pass catchers go, I have no doubt that PC/JS go after a big target. They tried BMW, Braylon Edwards, Kris Durham, Kellen Winslow, and Evan Moore. None panned out, but it’s obvious that they do still want a big target. I haven’t seen an option in the draft in the first 3 rounds at WR for that 6’4″ possession guy, and everything beyond that is a flyer that may or may not pan out in 2-3 years. I would like Brandon Coleman, but I doubt that he comes out this year. There are a few more options at TE. Anthony McCoy could continue to develop, you could draft another pass catcher, or you could draft a blocking TE and transition Zach Miller into the pass-catching role.

    • Rob Staton says:

      Floyd has played mainly the five tech in Florida’s 3-4 and I’m not sure he fits into a natural three-technique role. Big time athlete, but not seen a lot of consistent interior pass rush from the inside. He looked a lot more comfortable at the five. Buchanan didn’t have a great 2012 season and he has some other issues – been arrested before, MCL injury in college. That will have an impact. At the moment nobody knows what’s going on with Coleman. I know he’s at least looked into going pro (looked into agents etc). The bowl game should tell him to head for the NFL, his QB aint getting any better at Rutgers. I asked Tony Pauline about Coleman and he said very quiet and no indication either way from the player so far. It’s still 50-50 with a week to go.

  10. Trudy Beekman says:

    Field Gulls just posted some tape of Quanterus Smith, DE, WKU. 6’5″ 250, and he looked amazing against Alabama not just getting after the QB, but also setting the edge and stopping the rush. Do you have any thoughts on him yet?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWCAavZMJBY

  11. Connor Jackson says:

    Why has Mangus Hunt’s name not been talked about on here. He just seems so good to be ignored.

  12. Michael says:

    Rob, you made a great arguement last year for Courtney Upshaw based on his ability to get after the passer while maintaining the high run stopping standards that this offense is based on. From the review of Okafor above it sounds like he is similarly multidimensional. So how does Okafor compare to Courtney Upshaw in your opinion?

    • Chris says:

      I was thinking of that comparison as well. Okafor seems a bit like a poor man’s Upshaw.

      • Michael says:

        The one difference I can think of is that Okafor has the frame (if he can add weight) to play as a true 4-3 DE, where Upshaw might not really fit there because of his lack of “length”. Other than that they seem fairly similar to me.

    • Rob Staton says:

      I think first of all they have very different body types. Upshaw was pure power, he’s a fighter. He almost thrived on having to beat a blocker physically to get home. He had such a strong lower body he would’ve been a tremendous run blocker and I think in time, if used properly in Baltimore, he could be a terrific player for that defense. Okafor is more of a prototype – capable of playing 4-3 end and acting as a pass rusher. I love his hand use but he’s not quite as powerful as Upshaw. He’s a better speed rusher though.

  13. Michael says:

    An article over at fieldgulls just turned me on to Malliciah Goodman. When I looked him up I realized that he was the DE I watched dominate against LSU in the chick-fil-A bowl. I remember the guys calling the game kept talking about how this was by far the best game of his career, but also mentioned several times that this was what Clemson expected to see from him all along.

    He’s listed at 6’4″ 270 lbs, and to my untrained eye, looks to have decent speed. Take a look at a picture of him and you will notice his arms are as long as the average silverback gorilla. Also the bio of him on Clemsons site says that, “his hands were featured in ESPN The Magazine in the fall of 2009; his hands measure 11.5 inches from fingertip to fingertip, a figure that would have been among the best at the NFL Combine in 2009.” Not sure if hand size is important at all to a D-lineman, but I thought it was interesting, and it certainly can’t be a bad thing. Goodman could be one of those guys that didn’t quite figure it out as early as people thought he would, but will play his best football in the NFL.

    Rob, what do you think of him and what round would you slot him for the ‘Hawks?

    • Rob Staton says:

      I was really impressed with his display against LSU but I’ve also seen games where he hasn’t had that level of impact. I’m intrigued to see more.