Seattle’s starting tackles might be on the roster already. Garry Gilliam could be switching to the blindside and J’Marcus Webb could be starting on the right.
With an emphasis seemingly on greater competition this year — nothing is set in stone. It’s at least possible, however, that these two will emerge as the projected starters.
Hidden within a piece of classic football rhetoric (you win games in the trenches) is a feeling that you need a great left tackle to win. The reality might be a little bit different. According to Football Outsiders, these were the top ten teams for pass protection in 2015:
1 St Louis/Los Angeles
3 New York Jets
6 New York Giants
7 New Orleans
Of that group, one team benched their left tackle during the season (Baltimore), the Giants started a rookie, Pittsburgh started Alejandro Villanueva and the Jets had a player (D’Brickashaw Ferguson) that has been touted as a cap casualty for a few weeks.
Only Washington fielded an elite tackle in Trent Williams.
In the NFL’s top 100 list for 2015, only four offensive tackles were listed. Most teams in the league are not starting a great NFL left tackle.
The four offensive tackles starting in Super Bowl 50 were Michael Oher, Mike Remmers, Ryan Harris and Michael Schofield.
It’s an overrated thought that a brilliant left tackle is vital for a successful O-line. Really it’s about creating a chemistry. Knowing what you want to do and finding players that can execute.
In fairness the Seahawks have never hidden what they want to do. Their identity is to run the ball as a priority — so they generally target good run blockers. That doesn’t mean they can’t do a better job consistently pass blocking. And it’s consistency they lacked — nothing more serious than that.
This Tweet shows how productive Seattle’s O-line was in the second half of the 2015 season:
Seahawks gave up the 7th-fewest sacks in the NFL over the final 8 games. Dismiss it if you wish. https://t.co/p02JsY6a22
— Brian Nemhauser (@hawkblogger) March 18, 2016
The key is to produce that level of performance over 16 games, not eight. Having big name or ageing veterans is not vital to achieve that. Better depth and competition — plus an injection of young talent — could be the key to finding the right blend.
In 2015 the Seahawks didn’t do a good enough job stocking the shelves. They had automatic, unchallenged starters at new positions and too many players struggled early — especially at the two guard spots and center.
While many focus on what the Seahawks need to do to replace Russell Okung, the more pertinent question might be — how do they upgrade the interior line?
If they believe they can get by with Gilliam and Webb at tackle (much like the Panthers succeeded with Oher and Remmers) — improving at center and guard could be the focus.
It was often the interior that created issues for Seattle. Certainly against the Rams and Panthers they had trouble inside.
Teams want to contain Russell Wilson by having their edge rushers sit. If the pocket collapses, Wilson will try to scramble and it’s an easy sack for the DE just anticipating the move. If they can protect inside to force teams to attack the edge — it not only keeps the pocket clean but it gives Wilson a better chance to improvise because the edge rushers are committed.
Cris Collinsworth raised an interesting point this week in a mock draft. He had the Seahawks taking Alabama center Ryan Kelly:
The more football I watch, the more I’m convinced that center is a very underrated position. The other thing I’ve noticed is that edge rushers are almost entirely dependent on the interior rushers getting a push that keeps the QB from stepping up in the pocket.
So many teams put a premium on the center’s ability to get to the second level that they sign smaller centers that can move. I would put the premium on strength and size that could hold the point and allow my quarterback to step up. The Seahawks need help along that offensive line, and losing Max Unger in the Jimmy Graham trade last offseason hurt, but combining a talented young center like Kelly with Russell Wilson would give the Seahawks a communication tandem that would last a decade.
There are two thoughts here…
1. Collinsworth acknowledges the importance of interior protection and how it impacts the edge rush.
2. Everything the Seahawks do on offense from here on in will be designed to build long term relationships with Russell Wilson.
Make no mistake, Wilson is the heart of Seattle’s offense now. Drafting Tyler Lockett gives him a target he can grow with for multiple seasons during his peak years. The decision to trade for Jimmy Graham was inspired by a desire to aid Wilson. Any future moves on the O-line will also likely be with Wilson in mind.
Maybe there’s a type of O-liner the Seahawks think Wilson needs? It’s worth considering. Maybe that wasn’t obvious when they drafted him? Perhaps that’s why they’ve allowed the entire starting O-line from the Super Bowl to depart?
Wilson is, after all, a very difficult quarterback to block for because of his improvising quality. Extreme athleticism on the line might be increasingly important — along with mobility and the ability to sustain a block.
They’ve maybe decided he needs greater interior protection too. He has the escapability to see the edge rusher and avoid taking a sack. It’s not quite as easy when the interior O-line collapses.
Building a relationship at center for the long term might also be seen as a priority — as Collinsworth suggests. Whether they make that move in round one remains to be seen — there will be options later on.
They might draft a highly athletic tackle who can move inside and offer competition at a couple of spots. It could mean drafting a pure guard (something they’ve tended not to do — but might be more open to it for the right guy). It could mean a new center.
Athleticism, grit, toughness, physicality and run blocking are likely to be the things to look for. Spending two early picks on the O-line appears inevitable at this stage. Let’s look at some of the players potentially on Seattle’s radar if they try to upgrade their interior line…
Ryan Kelly (C, Alabama)
A powerful, physical player who loves to battle and scrap. He’s ranked in the top eight for SLA and is in the 80th percentile for NFL linemen in terms of size and athleticism. He size in the lower body, plays quite top-heavy and could be jolted back without a firmer base at the next level. He sometimes gets stuck hand-fighting at the line. Some see him as a top-25 talent — but there’s a pretty good chance he’s there at #26. They’d have to take him in round one due to his toughness and athleticism. He won’t last too long.
Germain Ifedi (T, Texas A&M)
An absolute physical freak of nature with better tape than people recognise. He has ideal length, size and mobility. He’s in the 98th percentile for NFL linemen and he’s the top SLA O-liner in the class. Mock Draftable says his nearest physical comparison in the NFL is Kelechi Osemele. He could slot in at left guard and provide a similar impact for a fraction of the cost. This is what he’s capable of. He’s capable of being a future left or right tackle — but could really excel at left guard.
Shon Coleman (T, Auburn)
A terrific football player who’s battled cancer and pushed himself towards a NFL career. He’s a fantastic blocker off the edge but could be a beast inside. He too has ideal size, length and mobility. He’s much older than Ifedi and injury means he’s been unable to test at the combine or the Auburn pro-day. There’s a medical question mark here but if Ifedi’s off the board he’s the best tackle-or-guard option. He’d be a top-25 pick with a clean bill of health.
Connor McGovern (T, Missouri)
McGovern is far less flashy than Ryan Kelly and would need to transition to center — but he has the ideal frame and base for the role. Unlike Kelly, McGovern has tree trunks for legs and he can squat 690lbs. Nobody is shoving him backwards once he sets 1v1. He’s also a terrific athlete — ranked #4 in SLA and in the 87th percentile among NFL linemen. He appears destined for a similar rise to Mitch Morse — who also played left tackle at Missouri before kicking inside.
Joshua Garnett (G, Stanford)
A local player, Garnett suggested it’d be a ‘dream come true’ to play for the Seahawks during his combine press conference. Garnett is massive and powerful and does a terrific job in the run game. That would interest the Seahawks. What puts him at a disadvantage is he’s one dimensional and a pure guard. Coleman, Ifedi and McGovern can play 2-3 spots and that appears to be important as the Seahawks work out this line. There are reportedly some concerns about Garnett’s conditioning and he’s only 16th in SLA, in the 67th percentile for NFL linemen.
Christian Westerman (G, Arizona State)
Westerman is really fun to watch. He didn’t blow up the combine athletically as expected but he’s a gritty battler who moves around freely and gets to the second level. He’s a candidate to play either guard spot or center. He’s in the 76th percentile athletically and is a rising prospect. Some have compared his size, frame and athleticism to that of Alex Mack. He could be a good option at #56.
Cody Whitehair (T, Kansas State)
He played tackle in college and had a lot of success. Unfortunately, he’s a T-Rex with 32.5 inch arms at 6-4 and 301lbs. That means he almost has to play guard or center at the next level. His balance, physicality and natural technique has had people suggesting he could be another Zack Martin. Although he plays guard for Dallas — Martin was Notre Dame’s left tackle but moved inside due to short arms. Whitehair will provide someone with a solid option at guard or center in the #25-40 range.
Graham Glasgow (C, Michigan)
Jim Harbaugh, not that he’s biased at all, labelled Glasgow a first round talent before the Shrine Game. He had a tough week when facing off against Sheldon Rankins at the Senior Bowl but otherwise was terrific. He has similar size to Max Unger and plays with great attitude and ferocity. He might be available in round three but he could be one of the big value picks in the draft. He has the flexibility to play guard. Glasgow ranked 10th in SLA in the 76th percentile.
Nick Martin (C, Notre Dame)
There’s so much to like about Martin’s game. He performed modestly at the combine but that isn’t his stage. His tape is arguably better than Ryan Kelly’s — he doesn’t get stuck in traffic blocking for the sake of it at the LOS. He progresses nicely to the second level, knows how to twist a D-liner to create a crease and he has the bloodlines. He’s not going to blow people away physically but he’ll be a tough, solid pick for someone in the top-50. He can also play guard.
Joe Dahl (T, Washington State)
One of the major highlights of the Senior Bowl was watching Dahl and Nick Martin combine as a center/right guard combo. The two appeared to hit it off and developed an immediate chemistry. It’d be great to see that partnership at the next level. That said, neither player is particularly brilliant physically. Dahl is in the 51st NFL percentile, Martin in the 32nd. They might be overmatched against superior athletes. Dahl might be an option to provide competition at right guard, center or right tackle.
There are others we could include. Denver Kirkland and Sebastien Tretola might appeal due to their size, Evan Boehm and Jack Allen are smaller center’s but offer genuine toughness. Le’Raven Clark is raw but has a high ceiling.
It’s a good enough class for the Seahawks to grab a couple of cornerstone players for their line. Guys they can build and grow with. The strength of the class arguably suggests they take a versatile, athletic tackle at #26 (such as Ifedi) and then focus on the interior with their second O-line selection.
If they can stop the pocket collapsing inside and give Russell Wilson time to make a good decision — this line can succeed in pass protection. We know Tom Cable will prepare them adequately to run the ball.