A lot can happen between picks 1-31 to influence a teams plan, but here’s my best guess at what the Seahawks will be thinking going into Thursday’s draft.
Can they get a starting offensive tackle?
Michael Bowie is currently slated to be the starting right tackle. I like Bowie. He was put in a difficult situation last season coming up against the likes of Houston, Arizona and St. Louis. In some games he got pushed around (Cardinals on the road) but hopefully that experience will only benefit him going forward.
Yet I can’t help but feel like if they can get a day-one starter at right tackle, they’ll take that opportunity. No disrespect to Bowie, but he looks a lot more appealing as a backup than he does starting against the defenses in the NFC West. There’s also the Russell Okung factor. He missed another eight games last season. They can’t have another year using someone like Paul McQuistan at left tackle. They need a right tackle who can move across — either on a temporary basis or for the long haul if Okung can’t stay healthy (or if they can’t get him re-signed after 2015).
Unfortunately, finding a plug-in-and-play tackle with a late pick in round one isn’t easy. There aren’t many Joe Staley’s out there.
I’m convinced they had their eye on Ja’Wuan James. He has the length, footwork, experience and character to play left or right tackle and start immediately. He made 49 starts at right tackle for Tennessee in the SEC, featuring as a true freshman too. Tom Cable went to work him out at the Vols pro-day. He would’ve been just the ticket for a team that values long arms (35 inches) and size (6-6, 311lbs).
He seems to be the latest in a growing list of post-season risers at the position. In 2010 Trent Williams shot up boards after an excellent combine. Last year Lane Johnson wowed at the Senior Bowl and combine to move into the top five. And now James — who also shone in Mobile and Indianapolis — appears destined for the top-20. Miami will likely be his worst case scenario at #19.
If he somehow fell to #32 I think this could end up being a no-brainer.
Is there another player who fits the criteria?
I’m torn on Morgan Moses. He also has the length (+35 inch arms) and size (6-6, 314lbs) but he’s nowhere near as polished or comfortable as James. How much of an issue is conditioning? He looked gassed against Vic Beasley and Clemson. He can be inconsistent. He can also be dominant — as he showed against Jeremiah Attaochu. He also has starting potential on the blindside and could easily be off the board to Carolina at #28.
So that really only leaves Joel Bitonio. I suspect he’ll be there at the end of round one, unless Baltimore trades back into the late first round. Call it a hunch, but I think the Ravens would not only be interested in moving down — I think they’ll also rate Bitonio quite highly. I’m almost expecting a deal where San Francisco moves up to #17 for a receiver and Baltimore drops back before adding an offensive lineman.
He doesn’t have the length Seattle craves but neither does Taylor Lewan or Jake Matthews — and I think they’d consider either of those two. He has the athletic upside they’ll like and he can work on his upper body power. He has an excellent attitude and he’s versatile. If they seem him as purely a guard I’m not convinced they’ll be interested. If they see him as a legitimate starter at tackle — and plenty do — he has to be a very realistic option. Perhaps the only one if they intend to scratch this particular itch in the first round.
I don’t see the team drafting a guard in round one. They’re starting a converted defensive lineman at one guard spot and used a rotation to fill the other in 2013. This doesn’t look like a position they value highly enough to spend a first round pick. And the options aren’t good enough to make an exception this year.
Out of reach: Ja’Wuan James
Possibilities: Joel Bitonio, Morgan Moses
Which receivers are left on the board?
The Seahawks do need to add another receiver at some point. Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Sidney Rice are all free agents in 2015. Rice and Percy Harvin have both missed considerable time in the last two seasons to injury. Golden Tate is now in Detroit. On paper there appears to be both depth and top-end talent at the position, but they’ll be relying on a degree of luck in terms of injuries.
The crucial thing for me will be to develop a player over the next year to potentially take on a bigger role down the road. They will be paying Russell Wilson a new contract next season, having already paid Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman (inevitable). They might have to try and re-sign or replace Cliff Avril. Drafting a wide out who can contribute in year one and turn into a featured receiver next season would be good planning.
The need pairs up with the talent available. It’s a rich class of receivers. If they don’t take one at #32, they may well take one at #64.
Whether they take one in the first frame will surely depend on who’s left. Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans will be gone in the top ten. If we see the next cluster going in the mid-teens the well may run dry by the end of round one. I think we’ll see pockets where the wide out’s are drafted. The first group (in my opinion) includes Watkins and Evans plus Odell Beckham Jr, Marqise Lee, Brandin Cooks, Kelvin Benjamin and Cody Latimer.
I have a feeling they’d love to grab Latimer. He has the size and speed. He’s a terrific athlete (4.3/4.4 runner) with tremendous leaping ability (39 inch vertical). He doesn’t drop the football, he competes for everything. He’s an excellent and willing run blocker. He won’t fit every team because separation is an issue. He won’t fit a timing offense. But Seattle is happy to take 1v1 shots and let their guys compete. The ability to get open with a crisp route just isn’t as important when you’re taking shots at the sideline off play action.
I’m aware my take could differ quite dramatically from Seattle’s, but if Latimer and the rest of the top group are off the board they might be forced to wait until round two if they want value. Unless they want to take a chance on a brilliant athlete — and this is where we come back to the development side of things.
Martavis Bryant and Donte Moncrief are quite incredible athletes. Bryant ran a hand timed 4.3 at the combine (official 4.42) at a shade under 6-4 and 211lbs. Moncrief also had a hand timed 4.3 and an official 4.40 at 6-2 and 221lbs. Both managed a vertical jump of +39 inches. Moncrief also managed an 11-foot broad jump (Bryant had a 10.4).
It’s not often you find players with that combination of size and explosion. In terms of pure upside, they’re on a different level.
They also need time and coaching. They can both improve. That doesn’t mean you redshirt them, it means you bring them along gradually. And by 2015 you might have a player ready to do what Josh Gordon did in his second season.
There’s a catch though — and a reason why both could potentially be available at #32. Bryant appears very talented but immature. Having almost destroyed his career through sheer complacency, he recovered to have a solid 2013 season. And yet he was still doing stupid things like this. He wouldn’t be the first receiver to carry baggage — and it could be manageable. But it’s out there.
Moncrief’s 2013 was just incredibly underwhelming. Part of it’s down to the schizophrenic Ole Miss offense. Part of it’s on the player. His Missouri performance is tough to forget — he was very poor. Then you watch the Texas or LSU tape from 2012 and get excited. This team drafted Tharold Simon so they’ll know about Moncrief and how he destroyed Simon that year.
I wouldn’t expect either to be there at #64 and we know the Seahawks love to take a chance on rare athletic ability. They love to develop players. These are two prospects to watch at the back end of round one.
Out of reach: Odell Beckham Jr, Marqise Lee, Brandin Cooks, Kelvin Benjamin
Possibilities: Cody Latimer, Martavis Bryant, Donte Moncrief
Which defensive players are still on the board?
It’s not until you write down the depth chart that you realise it isn’t all that ‘deep’.
Here are Seattle’s established, veteran defensive linemen:
Here’s the rest:
I appreciate the Seahawks feel positive about this young group. But there’s a heck of a lot of unknown here. Greg Scruggs has added weight and is coming off a serious knee injury. Jordan Hill didn’t really contribute as a rookie. Benson Mayowa had a productive pre-season in 2013 but can he take the next step? Will Jesse Williams ever contribute? And it’s very difficult to talk about the final three names who we know almost nothing about.
If several of those players step up to the plate — excellent. But you’re relying on that at the moment because they didn’t sign any veterans to make up for the loss of Chris Clemons, Red Bryant or Clinton McDonald. Hill should get a chance to replace McDonald. But they failed to lure Jared Allen to Seattle and Henry Melton chose Dallas. This actually looks like a pretty thin group right now with a lot of uncertainty.
The main issue could be the pass rush. Unless they plan to move Bruce Irvin back to defensive end, there’s a lot of responsibility on Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. It’d be good to add at least one more rusher to the group.
If Anthony Barr drops he will be intriguing. But even his most staunch critic doesn’t expect him to fall to #32. Dominique Easley would be ideal if you can see beyond the knee injuries. Adding Easley’s ability to destroy the pocket from the interior would create a different looking but still intimidating pass rush for the Seahawks. Ra’Shede Hageman is another option — although his lack of consistency is a concern. Easley is a much more explosive pass rusher when healthy.
The other two options and wildcards for #32 are Marcus Smith and Demarcus Lawrence. Smith might be the more intriguing option — he ran a 4.6 at the combine with a 1.57 ten yard split. He’s a former quarterback and needs time — his arms lack muscle definition and he can get stronger. Yet the potential is there.
The nagging doubt I’d carry would be the unpredictable nature of edge rushers transferring to the next level. For all the scaremongering about taking receivers early — pass rushers are the ones to worry about. Look how many surprising busts there have been over the years. The speed isn’t quite as effective at the next level and you have to be able to battle — hand use, strength, counter moves and speed-to-power are crucial. Smith’s a nice athlete, but he’s not a rare player. As good as he looked in college, he’d be a risky pick at #32.
Stephon Tuitt is a popular pick among the national media — and he has the unique size and length Seattle likes on both sides of the line. He’d also be an obvious replacement for Bryant if they wanted another big five-technique who plays early downs. I’m not overly convinced though that the Seahawks would add a player like this in round one. It’s hard to see his 2012 pass rush production translating to the next level — and I think any D-liner taken in round one better be able to get after the quarterback. You can find run defenders later.
I wouldn’t have drafted the overrated Timmy Jernigan even before news broke of a failed drugs test at the combine. Ditto Dee Ford or Kony Ealy. First round? Not for me.
Out of reach: Aaron Donald, Ryan Shazier, Anthony Barr
Possibilities: Dominique Easley, Marcus Smith, Ra’Shede Hageman