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By now you’ve heard about the great depth on the D-line in this years draft. Unfortunately, it’s not a great class for interior pass rushers. You can find size, power, several nose tackle prospects with upside and players with eye-catching athleticism considering their bulk. Pass rushers? Not as good.
Sheldon Rankins is destined to go in the top-20 as the best available interior rusher. After that the options are thin. And it’s why I keep coming back to Ohio State’s Adolphus Washington.
He’s probably the best pass-rushing defensive tackle in the class.
No other prospect has Washington’s skill set. He’s very athletic and quick off the snap, uses a good head-fake to disguise his intentions and has the length (34 inch arms) to keep blockers off his frame. He has a good counter to get off blocks and finish. He uses the swim/rip and he’ll shoot a gap given half a chance.
There are issues too and I’m unconvinced he’ll be an every down starter in the league. Can he play a full game with stoutness against the run? Rankins is built like a tank in the lower body and he’s difficult to move — Washington’s lower body is thinner and more akin to an edge rusher. He’s not a power-rusher and doesn’t have a great bull rush. His play can be streaky — but that’s testament to what he is. An interior pass-rush specialist.
The team that drafts Washington is likely to fit him into a rotation and ask him to produce on the money downs. That’s exactly what the Seahawks need.
I’ve noticed a lot of talk in the comments section about finding an every down defensive tackle that can offer more pass-rush. The problem here is twofold:
1. Those players are very rare and usually drafted in the top-15 (Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Aaron Donald, Sheldon Richardson etc).
2. The Seahawks’ base defense is setup to predominantly stop the run.
The second point is the key one here. In 2013 when Seattle won the Super Bowl, they were starting Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane and Tony McDaniel in base. Take away the running game, make an offense one-dimensional and then tee-off with your pass rushers (McDonald, Avril, Bennett, Clemons) combined with an opportunistic secondary.
It’s a plan that not only won this team a Championship — it should’ve won another the following year. And it probably would’ve done but for an enormous list of injuries on defense by the end of the New England Super Bowl.
The big difference between 2015 and 2013/2014 is as follows:
2013: Clinton McDonald — 5.5 sacks
2014: Jordan Hill — 5.5 sacks
2015: Jordan Hill — 0 sacks
The Seahawks lacked that one productive interior rusher who produced in key situations. Overall Seattle actually had more sacks in 2015 (46) than they did in 2014 (42) and 2013 (44). Yet without that inside rusher on third down or obvious passing downs — they were unable to force as many turnovers or mistakes.
Let’s not get into the mindset that the defensive plan started to fail. I’ve seen it suggested they need to switch things around in base — but really there’s no evidence for that. Which other team starts a 330lbs three technique as Seattle did in 2015? The result? Zero 100-yard rushers against the Seahawks during the regular season. That’s quite an achievement.
Seattle prioritises gap control, discipline and doing your job. T.Y. McGill flashed as a pass rusher in pre-season but received a lukewarm response from Pete Carroll when asked to review his performance. The reason? He wasn’t doing the job he was asked to do. He was cut before the season and landed with the Colts.
By taking away the run you force teams to become one-dimensional against a fearsome secondary. You’re playing to not only the strength of your team but also the identity. Run the ball, stop the run. Force turnovers. Protect the ball.
Until they are in position to draft someone like Sheldon Rankins who could play early downs and control the run — they’re likely to persevere with the current plan. And why not? They just need to find a way to replace the production they had from McDonald and Hill in 2013/2014.
Hill is still on the roster and facing a contract year. He might be able to recreate his late 2014 form and provide the answer. Yet much like the situation at running back — the Seahawks are unlikely to just ‘hope for the best’ that they already have the answer. This is a team built on competition.
They also need greater depth on the D-line. In 2013 they had a substantial rotation and it was an underrated part of their success.
If there’s a determination to add another interior-rush specialist — Adolphus Washington could be the best bet. Let’s look at the tape…
I cannot embed the video linked above so you’ll have to watch it on YouTube. This was a close one for Ohio State (they won 20-13). Washington was, without doubt, the MVP on the day. Here are my notes:
0:17 — Washington fakes the B-gap rush with great head-use and then beats the right guard with pure quickness and hands to shrug him off. He explodes into the backfield, hits the quarterback as he throws forcing an interception by Eli Apple. Splash play.
2:16 — Washington shoots through the C-gap, leaving the tackle for dead with great quickness using his length to shield him off, meets the running back in the backfield and misses the tackle. He should wrap-up for a TFL but had the quickness and explosion off the snap to get into the backfield immediately. You can teach tackle form. You can’t teach quicks at 297lbs.
2:48 — Washington explodes through the B-gap on third and 2 to bring down the QB short of the first down marker. This is another example of his quickness and ability to shoot through gaps with natural athleticism.
3:11 — On 3rd and 4 the running back darts up the middle. They bring the centre across to Washington and he just throws him off with ease for a clear path to the running back. He stops him short of the marker and throws the RB to the ground after for good measure. This is all about length and power, with the discipline to fill the gap they were looking to create by pulling the centre. Washington destroys this play singlehanded.
4:00 — Washington rushes the B-gap, rounding the right guard with fantastic speed (similar to an edge rusher). You cannot block Washington 1v1 with a guard like this. He will win every time. He explodes into the backfield for a big sack (loss of eight yards). Look at the hand use here combined with the speed. That’s what 34-inch arms does for you.
4:45 — Washington meets the centre in a run play, shrugs him off with more fantastic hand use forcing the running back to bounce outside right into the arms of Joey Bosa. This is pure power, handling the line of scrimmage.
5:05 — It’s fourth and ten in a one score game. Washington pushes the right guard into the grill of the quarterback forcing an inaccurate throw. Incomplete. Game over. Another splash play.
There isn’t another defensive tackle in this draft with tape similar to this. There’s a lot of good hustle (Austin Johnson), there’s better control of the LOS with power and size (Jarran Reed, Vernon Butler, Kenny Clark). You see power (Andrew Billings) and the athleticism/frame of a Greek God (A’Shawn Robinson). Yet not even Sheldon Rankins has tape where he consistently wins with quickness like this.
There are other games where Washington is less impactful, of course. That’s the very nature of this type of player. Clinton McDonald in 2013 didn’t have a fantastic game every week. Nobody is going to mistake Washington for Aaron Donald and he’s unlikely to have 10-12 sacks in a season. Is he capable of 5-7 to help a defense that emphasises stopping the run? Possibly.
The Seahawks have almost no shot of signing Denver’s Malik Jackson in the open market. After Derek Wolfe signed a deal worth $9.157m APY, Jackson is likely to get something similar. The nearest thing to Jackson in this draft is Adolphus Washington.
Jackson is smaller (284lbs vs 297lbs) but they both win with quickness and have 34-inch arms. That length cannot be underestimated here — it’s a difference maker especially when you’ve got the speed skill-set to shoot gaps and can consistently keep blockers off your frame.
There are some character issues with Washington that need to be investigated. He was arrested for solicitation in a prostitution sting in December and subsequently suspended for the Fiesta Bowl. Assuming he isn’t marked down due to red flags, he has every chance to crack the top-45.
For the Seahawks they might be unlikely to target him at #26 but he could be an option if the trade down or if the red flags move him into the second or third round.
If you’re main desire is to see a dynamic interior pass rusher added to the roster via the draft — Washington is one guy to keep a very close eye on.