What are the Seahawks’ greatest needs? Nearly everyone would say a long term answer at quarterback. I suspect a few people would point to further improvements on the offensive line. Some would suggest cornerback is a big need, especially after significant changes amongst the secondary this year. A decent majority may also point to the wide receiver position. You could probably guarantee a lot of people will also say defensive end.
The team’s trade of Darryl Tapp last March raised a few eye brows. The 26-year-old former second round pick registered 17 sacks during his four years in Seattle and was considered by many to be one of the few potential building blocks on defense. A fourth round pick in the 2010 draft and Chris Clemons were the bounty picked up for dealing Tapp to the Philadelphia Eagles. Clemons – a situational pass rusher and journeyman – gathered minimal attention amongst Pete Carroll and John Schneider’s cauldron of activity. After four games of the 2010 NFL season, Clemons has four sacks – good for second in the NFC behind only Green Bay’s Clay Matthews (7 sacks). He’s on pace for 16 sacks for the year – which seems unlikely – but certainly a realistic aim would be double digits after an excellent start.
Can stats like sack numbers be deceptive? Of course. Seattle’s pass rush has been better when supported by a noisy Qwest Field environment. It hasn’t been as dominant on the road, but it certainly hasn’t been the team’s greatest issue. It’s important to remember also that the Seahawks rank 29th in time of possession. Only Arizona, Carolina and Buffalo have spent less time on offense after four weeks – three teams who have all changed their quarterbacks already and total a current 2-10 record. A pass rush is at it’s best when it isn’t being asked to spend the majority of a game on the field making up for an offensive crisis.
That said, the saying goes you can never have too many good pass rushers. Clemons will be 29-years-old at the end of October and likely isn’t a definitive long term answer at the position, even if his short term play over the next 2-3 years could warrant serious praise. Using a more structured rotation will also help the defense if there’s no drop off in pressure when a guy like Clemons takes a breather. The class of defensive ends for 2011 are a mixed bag of unknowns, under achievers and over achievers. Robert Quinn (UNC) looks like a potential top-five pick, but he remains suspended and might not take the field for the Tar Heels this year. Adrian Clayborn (Iowa) is a great player to watch but has only managed a single sack in 2010 so far and doesn’t own the elite edge-speed perhaps needed to dominate the pro’s like he does in college. Allen Bailey (Miami) is another who looks the part, but doesn’t bring it anywhere near enough. Jeremy Beal (Oklahoma) has 18 sacks in his last 18 appearances for the Sooners, but can that success translate to the next level? DaQuan Bowers (Clemson) is a former #1 ranked overall recruit, but has been slowed by injuries and inconsistency leading up to this year – although he appears to be making up for lost time now and could even break the top ten next April. Ryan Kerrigan (Purdue) is a high motor, big effort guy with five sacks in 2010 but is he a poor man’s Chris Long?
A few weeks ago I had a look at the recent history of defensive ends drated in round one. In the five drafts that took place between 2004 and 2008, there have been four solid-to-elite prospects drafted. Will Smith (2004, Saints), DeMarcus Ware (2005, Cowboys), Mario Williams (2006, Texans) and Tamba Hali (2006, Chiefs). There have been 13 busts – including Lawrence Jackson (2008, Seattle), Jarvis Moss (2007, Denver) and Vernon Gholston (2008, NYJ). During that same time frame Jared Allen, Trent Cole, Elvis Dumervil and LaMarr Woodley were all taken outside of the first round.
What I’d take out of that small sample is that teams clearly value the defensive end position and have perhaps over rated certain prospects in trying to find that elusive edge rusher. Maybe a guy dominated in college and made a lot of sacks but just couldn’t do the same against much greater opponents in the NFL? Being able to record sacks and place such high value on one statistic in CFB may at times be as detrimental as reading too much into a QB coming from a pass-happy offense. Either way, the recent history of drafting defensive ends isn’t great.
Look at the stats for the current NFL season after four games. Amongst the top ten currently leading the sack rankings, there are four undrafted free agents, one fourth round pick and two fifth rounders. There are two first round choices listed. It’s still early in the season and things can change, but it certainly shows that good pass rushers can be found without necessarily spending the top draft picks.
The Seahawks will of course consider every possibility next April – which is still much too far away to accurately project anyway. However, they may be afforded the opportunity to concentrate on other areas of the team – most noticeably on offense – as they continue the climb back to relevancy under Pete Carroll’s regime.