#1 Offensive tackle
It’s hard to specify whether it’ll be a left or right tackle. The Seahawks are expected to have around $34m in free cap room this off-season. It’s more than enough to re-sign Russell Okung. However, he’s missed 24 games in a six-year career and might command a top-tier salary. If he departs they’ll need to add a new tackle — even if Garry Gilliam is moved to the blind side. Making sure Russell Wilson is well protected for 16 games and not seven has to be Seattle’s top priority going into 2016. If Okung signs a new contract, we can pretty much strike this off the list of needs.
Possible first round OT’s: Laremy Tunsil (Ole Miss), Shon Coleman (Auburn), Taylor Decker (Ohio State), Jack Conklin (Michigan State), Ronnie Stanley (Notre Dame)
Prospect beyond round one to monitor: Adam Bisnowaty (T, Pittsburgh)
Jeremy Lane and DeShawn Shead are both free agents in waiting. Good cornerbacks are hard to find and Byron Maxwell struggling in Philadelphia is unlikely to dissuade teams from adding a former Seahawks DB. Neither of these two are likely to get close to Maxwell’s salary — but they might get offers that are a little rich for the Seahawks. Lane is only 25 and might be best signing a new one-year deal in Seattle to return as a starter with the intention of maximising his stock for 2017. Either way, the conveyor belt of talent is running out of talent and Seattle’s depth at corner is weak. The failed Cary Williams experiment could put them off free agency. They might need to make an early pick at corner this year.
Possible first round CB’s: Eli Apple (Ohio State), Tre’Davious White (LSU), Cam Sutton (Tennessee), Mackensie Alexander (Clemson), Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)
Prospect beyond round one to monitor: Zack Sanchex (CB, Oklahoma)
This is another need based on what happens with a prospective free agent. That’s testament to Seattle’s balanced roster. Bruce Irvin isn’t just a starter — he’s a potential playmaker. He had fewer big impact plays this year (5.5 sacks, one FF, no picks) but there isn’t anyone like Irvin in the league. He can rush the passer, cover, play to the sideline. He’s a unique swiss army knife of a linebacker. By choosing not to take up his affordable 2015 contract option, they made it clear they were willing to risk losing him. He’s 29 next year so what is his value? Is it greater to the Seahawks than anyone else? Maybe. If he walks (possibly to rejoin Dan Quinn in Atlanta) they’ll need a replacement. Kevin Pierre-Louis did an unconvincing job in spot starts this season. If they’re lucky someone like Ohio State’s Darron Lee could be available (unlikely). Oklahoma’s Eric Striker is an option. They could also look to convert an athletic safety in the mould of Deone Bucannon.
Possible first round LB’s: Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame), Darron Lee (Ohio State), Myles Jack (UCLA)
Prospect beyond round one to monitor: Eric Striker (LB, Oklahoma)
#4 Wide receiver
Jermaine Kearse isn’t a big stat guy. He’ll never be considered an elite receiver. Yet he’s made some of the most significant catches in Seattle’s franchise history. He won’t be easy to replace and could easily wind up being a priority keep this off-season. Doug Baldwin’s contract expires after 2016 and he too is due an extension. The lack of security here — plus Paul Richardson’s injury habit — puts receiver on the need list. College football is consistently producing pro-ready wide outs these days. The idea that it’s a bad position to draft early is a thing of the past. If the Seahawks can add another dynamic pass-catcher with suddenness, explosiveness and the ability to get open — they have to consider it. Especially if Kearse moves on.
Possible first round WR’s: Laquon Treadwell (Ole Miss), Corey Coleman (Baylor), Will Fuller (Notre Dame), Michael Thomas (Ohio State), Tyler Boyd (Pittsburgh), De’Runnya Wilson (Mississippi State)
Prospect beyond round one to monitor: Braxton Miller (WR, Ohio State)
#5 Running back
Marshawn Lynch is due $11.5m in 2016 and it feels almost certain this will be his final season in Seattle. The Seahawks have an heir-apparent in Thomas Rawls at a much cheaper cost. They can use the draft to find a supporting runner. It’s time for both parties to move on, hopefully after one more fruitful playoff push together. This looks like a good draft for runners. Seattle could target rounds 2-4 (as they have in the past) to look at the position. UCLA’s Paul Perkins and Arkansas’ Alex Collins are personal favourites.
Possible first round RB’s: Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State)
Prospect beyond round one to monitor: Paul Perkins (RB, UCLA)
So what do they do?
The Seahawks have recently looked to draft and develop athletic offensive linemen in the mid-to-late rounds while adding dynamic athletes in the early rounds. They could easily go receiver or linebacker first and offensive tackle later.
That said, the entire 2015 season was influenced dramatically by the state of Seattle’s O-line. When they struggled earlier in the year, so did the Seahawks offense. Badly. As this young group developed and found some chemistry — Russell Wilson was able to play at an elite level.
The absolute number one priority for the 2016 season has to be to create an environment where Wilson can prosper for a full 16-games. This could happen in a number of ways. They might re-sign Okung and J.R. Sweezy. They might choose to replace Okung in the draft and move Gilliam across. They might upgrade the interior line in free agency by signing someone like Alex Mack. They might even look into the possibility of trading for Joe Thomas.
Whatever they do, they can’t have the same growing pains next year. They don’t have to go O-line in the first round — but the line generally has to be the key.
Highlighted prospect at each position
Shon Coleman (T, Auburn)
Still the best tackle in college football for me in 2015. Coleman is a complete tackle. He kick-slides with ease and has ideal length and size. When he locks onto a defender it’s over with excellent hand placement and upper body power. Coleman loves to finish — driving pass-rushers off the ball and usually onto the turf. He matched up well against the best the SEC had to offer (Myles Garrett). He also frequently gets to the second level and seeks out linebackers to smash. His stock could be impacted by age (24) and the fact he’s battled cancer. If he lasts until the late first round, more fool the rest of the league.
Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State)
I’m a big admirer of Apple, Tre’Davious White and Cam Sutton. All three have the upside to be special at the next level. I’m highlighting Apple because he might be the best fit for the Seahawks. He has the size, length and athleticism to be a star — but it’s his on-field savvy and game-smarts that are most intriguing. Apple doesn’t get beat over the top, keeps everything in front and manages the explosive play. He’ll give up 5-6 yards to avoid giving up 50. That’s OK. He’s a solid open-field tackler, he will make the occasional break on the football and he’s fundamentally sound across the board. Compare that to the streaky (and overrated) Vernon Hargreaves — a corner that is a hopeless open-field tackler and inconsistent in coverage.
Darron Lee (LB, Ohio State)
There’s just something really fun and unique to Lee’s game. He’s not a stunning athlete like Ryan Shazier but he’s well above average. He could run in the 4.4’s. His natural instinct and flair for the game shines through on tape. Lee knows how to disguise and time a blitz — but he also has the acceleration and closing speed to be effective. He’s very good working in space and making tackles despite a lack of excellent size. He’s a well spoken, intelligent individual destined to be a leader at the next level. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he went in the top-12 picks. Not in the slightest. He’ll be a fine addition to any roster and a genuine safe pick.
Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame)
Russell Wilson appears to be more comfortable throwing to sudden receivers who create obvious separation. It sounds like a fairly obvious thing to say — but it’s arguably partly why he seemed unwilling to trust Jimmy Graham in tight coverage at times. Graham has never been a guy who gets open per se — he wins match-ups. I’m not sure it’s in Wilson’s psyche to throw passes with a high degree of perceived risk. Fuller is a thoroughly dynamic, sudden athlete who creates separation in the short game with crisp breaks. He also has the deep speed to get downfield and be an X-Factor. Imagining adding him to the offense, especially with Paul Richardson’s injury history, is a salivating thought. If you need more convincing, click here. He could be a big riser over the next two or three months.
Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)
I’m not convinced the Seahawks have much interest in a genuine two-headed monster at running back. They need a supporting cast for Thomas Rawls. Some competition — but really someone who can work third downs and the two-minute drill and provide some relief. Are you going to take that type of back in round one? That’s not taking anything away from Elliott — who looks the part of a dynamic runner. He explodes through an open lane and has the sprinter-speed to finish runs. He’s tough to bring down, keeps his legs moving and doesn’t flop over on contact. Elliott consistently makes things happen even when the blocking isn’t perfect or the defense finds an edge. He has a shot to crack the top-25.