Do you take a defensive tackle at #26 or begin to improve the offensive line?
A consensus opinion is emerging that the Seahawks are probably going to focus on the trenches in the draft. It makes sense — it’s a good class on both sides of the ball.
So what are some of the things to consider?
Pete Carroll said the priority was fixing the O-line
In the past when Carroll says they’re going to do something — they’ve gone after it aggressively. He wanted to improve the run-game in 2011 so they drafted the best run-blocking tackle in college football (James Carpenter) and a road grader guard (John Moffitt). In 2012 he wanted to add speed to the front seven so they took Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner in the first two rounds. In 2013 they wanted to improve the pass rush so went and added Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril in free agency.
The Seahawks haven’t had a glaring need since. Now they have. Carroll’s apparent determination to produce a consistently performing O-line could be all the information we need when it comes to the #26 pick.
What about the D-line though?
There isn’t anyone quite as disruptive as Kawann Short (pre-draft scouting report here) but it’s a deep class overall at defensive tackle. In a recent two-round mock draft I put nine DT’s in the first two rounds. Some would argue that’s a conservative projection.
This depth should filter into the early third round but then it starts to thin out. Alternatively, you should be able to find good options for the O-line later on. This is a loaded class at center and it’s possible the likes of Joe Dahl (T, Washington State), Fahn Cooper (T, Ole Miss) and the technically deficient with major upside Le’Raven Clark (T, Texas Tech) could be around in the middle rounds.
For that reason you can make a case for going defense first.
So will they go defense?
It depends on who they like. They haven’t really committed to perceived ‘value’ over ‘need’. They clearly liked Carpenter and Irvin a lot and took them earlier than most people expected. In 2014 they needed a tackle and a receiver but passed on several accomplished linemen (including Joel Bitonio) because they just had to have Paul Richardson. By the time they picked at the end of round two — their options on the O-line were very limited. Without a third round pick (Percy Harvin trade) they felt obliged to reach for Justin Britt to make sure they got a guy they liked. The options at receiver remained strong beyond Seattle’s second pick — Donte Moncrief and Martavis Bryant for example remained on the board and Jarvis Landry was taken just before they chose Britt.
Their desire to take Richardson trumped the fact that draft value was telling them to go OT first and WR second.
It doesn’t guarantee anything but history suggests they’ll judge the best way to upgrade their roster, find a guy they like and take them. If that player happens to be an offensive lineman — they probably don’t think twice. Even if they’re able to fill more needs by going defense first.
What kind of player do they need on defense?
They’d like a pass rusher. It’s not a frightening need with Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Frank Clark on the roster. They are potentially losing Bruce Irvin, however, and didn’t get any production out of Jordan Hill in 2015. Essentially they need the next Clinton McDonald or late-2014 Hill.
That’s assuming they retain Brandon Mebane and Athyba Rubin. With Carroll declaring Rubin as the best three-technique they’ve had in Seattle, it’s safe to bet he’ll be sticking around. Mebane earned $5.7m in 2015 and turned 31 in January. He might be willing to agree a team-friendly deal to finish his career with the only club he’s played for.
Keeping both could be important. While they want to upgrade the pass rush, they don’t want to weaken the run defense. Nobody ran for 100 yards against Seattle in the regular season. That’s a big deal.
They need someone who can work into a rotation and make some plays. It doesn’t need to be an every-down pass-rush DT (those are hard to find). It needs to be someone who can do what Hill did late in the 2014 season or McDonald in 2013.
Will this require a first round pick?
Let’s be real here — probably not. Assuming you keep Rubin and Mebane you’re talking about a rotational defensive tackle who plays a certain percentage of the snaps. Is that a good use of resources?
Alternatively you could argue they made a similar pick in round two with Frank Clark last year. Is that an indication they would be willing to take a role-player early? Perhaps — if they have unique traits like Clark (a genuine SPARQ monster).
There are some options later in the draft that could provide some value. Appalachian State’s Ronald Blair III is incredibly disruptive. If he can add another 5-10lbs he could be an interior rusher. He lived in the backfield against Clemson which is no mean feat. Keep an eye on that guy. Ferris State’s Justin Zimmer is another possible diamond in the rough and South Carolina State’s Javon Hargrave has a nice combination of technique and quicks.
What about free agency?
They’ve consistently found value here. Clinton McDonald, Tony McDaniel, Kevin Williams, Athyba Rubin. All were acquired at a modest price. Are there players who can have a similar impact in 2016? Is there a player who can come in and compliment what they already have?
Looking at the list of current prospective free agents — nobody stands out. Henry Melton hasn’t really been the same since his knee injury. He’s just completed an average season with the Buccs.
There could be a cap casualty or two along the way. A solution might not be evident just yet.
It’s worth noting that when he was asked about adding a pass rusher — Carroll specifically made reference to seeing what the draft provides. Money could be tight in free agency if they manage to keep a large number of their UFA’s. It doesn’t mean they have to take a D-liner at #26 though.
If they were going to go DT in round one, who would they like?
Tony Pauline noted the Seahawks have given a first round grade to Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins. At the Senior Bowl he displayed top-tier quickness, get-off and the ability to use a swim/rip effectively. The top interior pass-rushers in the league have this skill set. He has enough size to be an early-down DT and plays with terrific gap discipline — something the Seahawks value greatly for their run defense. His tape isn’t quite as brilliant as the way he destroyed Graham Glasgow in Mobile — but there’s a skill set and understanding that matches what they like.
Rankins is unlikely to reach the #26 pick. There’s too much talk about him right now. He’s being mocked in the top-10 by some. Pauline also noted Atlanta likes him in round one and they own the #17 pick.
So what about one of the other options?
Today I went back and reviewed three Baylor games to watch Andrew Billings. Yesterday ESPN’s Todd McShay mocked him to the Seahawks at #26.
Clearly there’s a lot to like — I’m just not convinced he’s right for Seattle. He uses his length well to keep blockers off his frame and generally does a good job to disengage. He shows great pursuit — on one play he ran 60-yards to chase down the ball-carrier and prevent a touchdown. Billings gets into backfield quickly and effectively when he finds the space to exploit.
However, therein lies part of the issue. His gap discipline is non-existent. Whether he’s told to or not, he frequently moves laterally off the snap to shift down the line, find a gap and run to the ball. That seems to work against a lot of the spread teams — especially West Virginia, TCU, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. They separate their tackles off the line and almost put them on an island. It’s perhaps not surprising that four of his 5.5 sacks in 2015 came against these teams. Against Oklahoma though he was frequently caught off balance and spent far too much time on the turf.
He seems to use two moves — the bull rush or this lateral movement. Sometimes he’s capable of plowing his way through the LOS with sheer power. That’s what he does very well — and if he wins with initial power he can find the space to explode and finish. Unfortunately there’s little evidence of a quick get-off followed by a swim/rip to burst into the backfield.
At the next level he’s needs to win straight up 1v1. He might be able to do that with power and be an effective force. His use of length, arm extension and upper-body are intriguing. When he isn’t winning with the bull rush, however, he’s going to need to be quick-twitch to be an effective pass rusher and that just isn’t him. Give him space and he’ll finish better than any DT in this class. Finding the space might be the problem — and it did cross my mind whether he might actually be better suited playing the 5-technique to find an angle.
When he’s moving laterally he almost always concedes his gap — allowing running lanes to materialize. I suspect this will concern the Seahawks and will raise some questions — can he be taught to remain tight in-line and can he still be an effective pass rusher in this role? When he’s not able to wing it trying to find a route into the backfield — can he still win consistently? Can he take his game to the next level and learn to win with a get-off and quickness? Or does he end up being a pure one-technique who possibly does all the things Mebane does but doesn’t really provide consistent pressure?
To some extent he reminds me of another former Baylor D-lineman in Phil Taylor. He too was abnormally athletic for his size (he was 20lbs bigger than Billings), had a lot of upper body power and could sprint to the sideline in pursuit. He ended up being the #21 overall pick because of such an enticing skill set. He struggled to adapt to the pro’s and after being released by Cleveland following the 2014 season he hasn’t had another team.
That’s not to say Billings faces the same fate — but Taylor’s skills are reasonably similar. Like Taylor I could easily see him going in the #15-25 range because very strong, athletic nose tackles generally go early.
I’m going to spend time looking at some of the other options too. Vernon Butler (DT, Louisiana Tech) is a player I’m intrigued with because he has shown flashes of winning with quickness as well as possessing great athleticism at 325lbs with 34 inch arms. The comparisons to Muhammad Wilkerson are not ridiculous. I want to review my position on A’Shawn Robinson (DT, Alabama) a player I’m currently grading in round two and feel is overrated. I’ve settled on second round grades for Kenny Clark (DT, UCLA) and Jonathan Bullard (DT, Florida). Clark is a good run-stopper with limited pass-rushing skill. Bullard’s get-off is fantastic and he plays with high intensity — but he looks like an average athlete and appears to have a relatively low ceiling at the next level. Javon Hargrave (DT, South Carolina State) dominated at a small-school level.
I’m not sure there’s a better way for the Seahawks to improve in 2016 than if they sort out the O-line once and for all (particularly the interior). However, the number of good DT’s in the class and the overall depth on the offensive line makes this a debate that will rage on into free agency.