1. Can the Seahawks find a Deion Jones?
He’s listed as the MIKE on Atlanta’s depth chart — but Jones’ versatility, speed and range were on full show in the Super Bowl. Can the Seahawks add another player with this type of skill set?
Haason Reddick and Zach Cunningham appear capable of playing all three linebacker positions. Jarrad Davis might be another. All three are in the 230-240lbs range.
A wildcard suggestion could be Obi Melifonwu. Jones is only listed at 6-1 and 222lbs. Melifonwu at the Senior Bowl was 6-4 and 219lbs. He also has Jones’ range and extreme athleticism.
That’s not to say Melifonwu would likely become a full time linebacker. It is, however, another string to his bow as a hybrid. If you can leave him on the field believing he can cover a TE, play contain, defend the run and occasionally blitz from the SAM you can build a stronger case for taking him at #26.
That’s on top of his potential ability to be a chess-piece in the secondary, offer depth at safety and maybe over time develop into an outside corner.
2. What do we need to consider when projecting a SAM?
The Seahawks run a 4-3 under and previously used Bruce Irvin as the SAM linebacker. This year, Mike Morgan had a varied week-to-week role at the position, with Cassius Marsh also seeing some snaps.
It’d be interesting to definitively know Seattle’s approach to the position — specifically the importance of the SAM to be able to rush the passer.
It’s the same basic alignment but as you can see, the SAM linebacker comes up closer to the line to play hard contain and the weakside LEO is pushed out a bit, maybe a yard off of the weakside tackle. The LEO’s main job is to control the C gap while rushing the passer like a wild banshee and the SAM plays contain against the TE, runs in pass coverage with him, or rushes the passer in some situations.
This suggests that a varied skill-set is possible, it doesn’t have to be essentially a 3-4 OLB (even if that’s the preference). A high degree of athleticism, some length and at least the potential to rush the passer is possibly required though — unless you rotate.
In 2013 the Seahawks rotated Malcolm Smith with Bruce Irvin. I don’t have playoff snap counts but here’s Smith vs Irvin at the end of the 2013 regular season:
Game 13 @ San Francisco
Smith — 79.4%
Irvin — 66.2%
Game 14 @ New York Giants
Smith — 74.5%
Irvin — 65.5%
Game 15 vs Arizona
Smith — 92%
Irvin — 70.7%
Game 16 vs St. Louis
Smith — 92.5%
Irvin — 66%
You can see how Smith’s role grew as the season concluded, culminating in him winning the Super Bowl MVP.
Smith was better in coverage and it showed with the plays he was able to make (four picks at the end of the 2013 season, two touchdowns). He was a 4.51 runner at the 2011 USC pro-day. Mike Morgan, the non-pass rushing linebacker in 2016, ran a 4.47 at his pro-day.
It seems possible they could draft a SAM with extreme speed, coverage ability and instincts and rotate in Cassius Marsh or another player. If they were willing to play Malcolm Smith for +90% of the snaps, they might be willing to use a high pick in that kind of role too.
Haason Reddick would be an obvious solution because of his incredible speed and range, his ability to rush the passer and probably run in the 4.4’s.
Zach Cunningham isn’t the pass rusher Reddick is — but he has the speed, length, range and run defending skills to be a starter.
Jarrad Davis is probably better suited to playing the MIKE or WILL — but he reportedly can run in the mid 4.5’s and might be the type of player who is too good to pass if he’s there.
(Carolina uses Shaq Thompson as a SAM in their 4-3, Davis has been compared to Thompson).
It’s worth keeping Houston’s Tyus Bowser in your thoughts too as we’ve been discussing a lot recently. He’s not the finished article but his ceiling is incredible to do a bit of everything — cover, play the run, rush the passer.
The first round isn’t out of the question for Bowser. We know the Seahawks love twitchy athletes. He’ll likely make a statement at the combine. Plus one other thing to consider is production. Bowser only played in eight games in 2016. If you projected his stats over 13 games he was on for 22.5 TFL’s and 15.5 sacks.
3. What can we learn from Atlanta’s D-line?
Here’s the make-up of Atlanta’s defensive front and their cap hit APY:
Tyson Jackson — $5m
Brooks Reed — $4.4m
Jonathan Babineaux — $3m
Adrian Clayborn — $4.25m
Ra’Shede Hageman (rookie contract) — $1.3m
Grady Jarrett (rookie contract) — $631k
Courtney Upshaw — $1.25m
Dwight Feeney — $1m
The cumulative total salary for this group is just over $20m. It’s a cost-effective, experienced group mostly brought together through free agency but aided by a couple of hits in the draft.
The Seahawks have, for the most part, followed a similar path. If Ra’Shede Hageman has worked for Atlanta, Frank Clark is better. Jarrett only had one sack as a rookie in 2015 and three in 2016 — so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility Jarran Reed can develop into a similar impact player.
Seattle has had success in free agency, adding Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Athyba Rubin and Tony McDaniel control their gaps and really, that’s their job.
The big difference between the two really is depth. The Seahawks rely on Bennett and Avril to play a large number of snaps. Bennett, when healthy, rarely plays less than 90% of the snaps. Avril played 77% in 2016 with Frank Clark at 63%.
Alternatively, Cassius Marsh played just 36% of the defensive snaps. Having a couple more players capable of rotating in and out effectively could be the key to progress in 2017.
Quinton Jefferson might be able to help there after a short-lived rookie season. And while the clamour is to get a big name free agent to take this team over the top, it might not be realistic nor necessarily the best method.
If they paid an outsider like Calais Campbell $12-14m APY (for example) — how will that be received by the rest of the roster? Only two players (Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman) are due to earn more than $11m in 2017.
It might not be the flashy, attractive approach — but increasing the quality of D-line depth might be the way they go.
Dallas’ Terrell McClain could be a relatively cost-effective rotational piece. Jabaal Sheard looks set to leave New England. Can the Kansas City Chiefs afford to keep Dontari Poe? Jacksonville’s Abry Jones is an intriguing free agent-to-be and so is Philadelphia’s Bennie Logan, Baltimore’s Brandon Williams, Denver’s Sly Williams, Carolina’s Mario Addison and Tennessee’s Karl Klug.
Some of these names will get big money because that’s the nature of free agency at the moment. There also stands to be some value in the second wave — and that’s where the Seahawks have had success in the past.
There are also potential cap casualties to add to the pool. Atlanta might release Tyson Jackson to save around $4m, Sharrif Floyd could be cut to save $6.75m in Minnesota and the Jags may wish to trim the fat on their D-line by parting ways with Jared Odrick to save $8.5m.
Connor Barwin could be one to monitor too. He isn’t considered a great fit in Philly’s defense and can save the Eagles $7.75m if he’s traded or cut. It’s easy to forget Barwin is only 30 and ran a 4.47 at his combine. He’d be a nice, veteran rotation piece for the Seahawks.
4. Will the Seahawks do what Atlanta did in the 2016 draft?
The Falcons selected Keanu Neal (safety) in round one and Deion Jones (linebacker) in round two.
The positions might switch in terms of order drafted — but it feels like a safe projection for the Seahawks at this early stage.
It could be one of Obi Melifonwu, Kevin King, Rasul Douglas or Budda Baker to fill the DB need and one of Haason Reddick, Zach Cunningham, Jarrad Davis or Tyus Bowser at linebacker.