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: