Seattle’s greatest need is at the three technique. No doubt what so ever. It’s absolutely crucial for this team that they find a way to create interior pressure. As good as the teams defense has been this season, they’re really only scratching the surface. There’s a lot of untapped potential – for pressure, sacks and most importantly – turnovers. For this team to keep improving even after an 11-5 regular season, they have to upgrade the three technique position.
My vote is still to pursue Randy Starks in free agency. The Dolphins have been unusually lax given that Jeff Ireland’s job is supposedly secure. They haven’t initiated any contract talks with key players such as Starks or left tackle Jake Long.
Presumably Long will be the priority. They’re not averse to big contract extensions – Cameron Wake signed a $49m deal in May. It’ll probably take an even bigger contract to re-commit to a pre-CBA #1 overall pick. Even so, Miami’s offensive line is bad enough without needing to search for another left tackle. As we saw with Mario Williams last year though, the structure of the franchise tag is making it expensive to maintain top-players drafted under the former rookie-structure. If they sign Long, it’s hard to imagine they’d be in a strong position to retain other key free agents.
Starks had an impressive year including five sacks and an interception. He’s the kind of penetrative force needed in Seattle, but he also plays the run particularly well. It’s no coincidence the Seahawks had their toughest day running the ball against the Dolphins interior of Starks and Paul Soliai. A lot of younger three-technique’s struggle to make the transition to the pro’s because by nature they’re undersized. If you’re average guard or tackle is +300lbs, a three-technique usually giving up 10-15lbs. Without the kind of unnatural power a player like Ndamukong Suh had coming into the league, a young, undersized tackle can often get engulfed. It’s no surprise that guys like Geno Atkins and Darnell Dockett play with as much attitude as they do speed.
Starks is 305lbs and has no such issues. He’s big, strong, plays with tremendous pad level and has violent hands. He’ll stunt blockers at the line and win 1vs1 battles against the run. He also has a terrific bull rush and enough explosion off the line to penetrate into the backfield. Starks also has the benefit of experience and it shows – he understands blocking schemes and adapts during games to remain effective (he had no issues against Seattle’s ZBS). He’s almost ideal for the ‘4-3 under’ – not giving anything up against the run while being able to double up on the right side with Chris Clemons to collapse the pocket. He just turned 29 so a big contract seems unlikely. If Starks hits the market, a creative two or three-year deal would make a lot of sense. The Seahawks are unlikely to be his only suitor.
Henry Melton is another option and it’ll be interesting to see what happens in Chicago. Lovie Smith has been fired and that could lead to some schematic changes – although all of Chicago’s defensive talent is suited to an orthodox 4-3 system. If he hits the market he’ll likely command a hefty salary. The question is- how much of his production is manufactured playing with elite defensive talent? Teams constantly have to deal with Julius Peppers off the edge, has Melton benefited from that? Would he be able to replicate his success in a different environment to warrant a big outlay in terms of salary?
There aren’t many high-quality three-techniques in the league. Melton is one of the best, Atkins in Cincinnati is the clear #1. If the Seahawks want to solve this problem with a veteran presence, they’ll likely have to get the cheque book out.
Of course the one thing Atkins and Melton have in common is they’re both fourth round picks. Dockett was a third round pick. It’s a position that lends itself to mid-round value. As we’ve discussed on this blog several times this season, many of the first-round defensive tackles drafted in recent years haven’t lived up to expectations. The Seahawks have been prolific in their ability to find mid-round gems in the Carroll/Schneider era. They may feel confident enough to go down this route again. They took Jaye Howard in round four last year, perhaps believing he could bring similar value and fill this role. That move hasn’t worked out so far, but they could continue the search in the same kind of range in 2013. One name to keep an eye on is Kawann Short at Purdue. He mostly disappointed this year, blowing hot and cold and struggling to dominate games. However, he has the size and unnatural speed to feature in the role. His inconsistent play could lead to a fall – he might be available in the 2nd/3rd round range. Arizona State’s Will Sutton is another mid-round option after a productive 10-sack season. His lack of size and ability versus the run is a slight concern though.
Even so, I still maintain they’d be better off trying to add a Starks or Melton for security. The maximum effectiveness of the defense is at stake here. A legitimate interior pass rush would open up so many opportunities for the LEO (Chris Clemons/Bruce Irvin). It would allow the Seahawks to keep rushing four in base defense. It would create many more turnover opportunities for a talented group of linebackers and defensive backs. As good as Seattle’s defense has been this year, it could be even better. By quite some way, too.
There are other possible ways to improve the pass rush via the draft. Jason Jones is a free agent and it’s unclear whether he’ll be retained for 2013. If the Seahawks want a bigger defensive end who can be flexible while also playing inside on nickel and passing downs, Alex Okafor at Texas could be the answer. He dominated Oregon State at the Alamo Bowl (see tape above) recording 4.5 sacks. He’s about 6-4 and 270lbs but could probably get up to the 275-280lbs range. He’s too big for a LEO, but his upper body power and quick feet could make him ideal for the Jason Jones-role.
The biggest issue with Okafor is consistency. He had 8.5 sacks for Texas during the regular season but drifted in and out of games and struggled to make a lasting impact for a disappointing defense. A lot of big-name Texas prospects have flattered to deceive and prior to the bowl game, it appeared Okafor would go down that route as well. Tony Pauline recently graded him in the 3rd/4th round range, but his performance against the Beevers increases his chances of being a day two pick.
On a slightly different note, take the chance to watch Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins against LSU tonight in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. It appears he’ll be declaring for the draft and he’s a legitimate late first round option for any team looking to add a receiver:
Sources tell me tonight will be the final college game for DeAndre Hopkins/WR/Clemson as he will enter the draft….
— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) December 31, 2012
Meanwhile USC receiver Robert Woods also confirmed he will be turning pro:
#USC WR Robert Woods said he will enter NFL draft.
— Gary Klein (@LATimesklein) December 31, 2012
Happy New Year everyone!