The Red Bryant position, the nose tackle, the three-technique and the LEO pass rusher – Seattle’s defensive line scheme is a bit more complex and a little less orthodox than most.
To the eye it looks like a 4-3, but when you consider the roles of each lineman and the strict qualities needed at each position – it could probably be defined as being closer to a 3-4.
We’ve had a year to look at it and using the 2010 season as a basis for my opinion – I’ve come to a few conclusions.
I think the Seahawks will consistently find LEO rushers without spending the top picks. It looks – to me at least – a position designed for production. There’s an emphasis on speed, you put the DE in space and hope to put him in one-on-one situations. Both Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock had double-digit sacks in 2010 despite middling careers before arriving in Seattle.
Given the opportunity to draft an elite prospect in the Demarcus Ware mould, I’m sure the Seahawks would jump at the chance. However, I do suspect it’ll have that ‘plug in and play’ quality to it and that may decrease the likelihood we’ll see a first round pick at the position except in rare circumstances.
In the 2011 class I see only three likely candidates that fit the role.
Robert Quinn (DE, Carolina) has the size and initial burst – but he’s also strong and capable against the run.
I’m a big fan of Aldon Smith’s (DE, Missouri) first step and ability to get round the edge.
Justin Houston (DE, Georgia) screamed LEO pass rusher when I watched the Bulldogs against Florida.
Of the three, I suspect only Justin Houston will be available when the Seahawks are scheduled to pick 25th overall. For those wondering about Von Miller (LB, Texas A&M) – even for a position that values speed and not size, he’s too small at 237lbs and will get flushed out against the run. He’s strictly a linebacker prospect in the Seahawks scheme.
The Seahawks found production at the LEO trading Darryl Tapp for Clemons and a fourth round pick. They grabbed Brock as a free agent. Prospects such as Ricky Elmore (DE, Arizona), Cliff Matthews (DE, South Carolina), Brooks Reed (DE, Arizona), Jabal Sheard (DE, Pittsburgh) and Jeremy Beal (DE, Oklahoma) are clear options outside of round one and may be more likely in 2011.
Part of the LEO’s production is down to the other three defensive lineman. The Red Bryant ‘five technique’, the nose tackle and the three technique need to take up blocks to create the edge one-on-one match ups. It also carries significance against the run, with the right end being a lighter player – you need size among the interior.
Losing Red Bryant had an instant impact on the Seahawks. At 6-4 and 333lbs he’s about 30lbs bigger than the average five technique. His main duty appeared to be setting an edge against the run, essentially making a front-three with the interior lineman and offering some pass rush qualities (Bryant flashed an unexpected quality in this area before his injury).
I don’t expect the Seahawks to move away from that too much. We can look at traditional five-techniques and be fooled into thinking they ‘fit’ this Seattle defensive scheme purely due to position name. That isn’t strictly true – any candidate will either need the size that Bryant has or an ability to offer similar qualities (ability to move inside, stout against the run). I can see the Seahawks compensating on the size to draft a guy who offers a better pass rush – but they’d still need to play above their size.
Cameron Jordan (DE, California) would be ideal in that sense. He’s playing at about 285lbs which is considerably smaller than Bryant. However, he’s strong enough in the upper body and wise enough with his angles to make up for the 50lbs drop. His ability as a pass rusher would be a major upgrade over Bryant’s. As a partnership you could get flexible – moving Bryant inside sometimes on passing downs, disguising defensive calls and spelling Bryant with Jordan to get more out of both prospects.
The only problem is – Jordan’s stock has never been higher. A lot of blogs (this one included) have graded Jordan in the top 10-15 for a good few weeks. He flew under the radar until the Senior Bowl – where he exploded onto the scene. He will not last anywhere near the #25 pick now the secret is out.
What about alternatives in round one? Muhammad Wilkerson is a fast riser who’s moving up many boards. He’s played end and tackle for Temple this year and recording ten sacks has boosted him possibly into top-20 consideration.
There’s a fair chance he could last until the #25 pick and like Jordan – he offers that flexibility to play more than one position. He’s playing at around 305lbs, which is still smaller than Bryant but a step up from the California prospect.
The likes of JJ Watt, Cameron Heyward and Adrian Clayborn are capable orthodox five techniques for 3-4 teams, but the Seahawks scheme is anything but orthodox. I wouldn’t consider any likely options for the Seahawks. Watt and Heyward are not big enough. In particular I’m a big fan of Watt (not so much Heyward) but I can’t see them in this scheme. Clayborn is perhaps more likely due to his pass rushing qualities, but he’s better as a power end in the 4-3 or a pure five technique.
Depth at the position is crucial and I’m not sure the Seahawks will rely on Kentwan Balmer like they did in 2010. Christian Ballard (DT, Iowa), Jarvis Jenkins (DT, Clemson), Lawrence Guy (DT, Arizona State) and Terrell McClain (DT, USF) are possible transition options ala Bryant outsie of the first round.
In my latest mock draft I touted the possibility that the Seahawks could draft a nose tackle. In the right scheme, a good nose tackle can define a defense. While the Seahawks don’t run a pure 3-4 defense, I certainly believe a stud NT can make a huge difference. If he can be a dominating run stuffer and consistently carry two blockers – that’ll free up the LEO and three technique to get into the backfield.
The team felt the departure of Colin Cole through injury and struggled losing his size inside. With Bryant and Brandon Mebane also missing time – the team lacked quality size depth along the interior. The result was a disjointed run defense – a contrast to the team’s early success there.
Phil Taylor (DT, Baylor) is clearly the top prospect in that nose role. He’s 337lbs and carries it like a guy 30lbs lighter. He has the size to play the NT, but also the mobility and agility to maybe even play some three and five technique. Long term – he could even be an upgrade for Bryant. Both could spell each other, mixing up the two roles.
The issue of course with a guy that size is that he may only play 25-30 snaps a game. Can you really add a first round pick who plays so little? You can when you’re not picking in the top ten. If said prospect creates a lot of third and long situations, likewise it’s worth the investment.
“At 6-foot-3½, the thing you notice is how well he carries his 337 pounds. Compared to last year’s class, he looks more like Tennessee’s Dan Williams than Alabama’s Terrence Cody. He has used that weight well, showing a wide base and anchoring against double-teams all week as a run-stopper. He has quick feet for his size and very active hands. He has a deadly club move. Taylor is an adequate run-stopper, gives you some presence as a pass-rusher, and flashes enough lateral agility to get down the line and make tackles outside the tackle box.”
“Taylor is the top two-gap player in this class. There are character concerns (he transferred from Penn State after being dismissed from the team, and he’ll have to answer questions about that), but due to how hard it is to find guys with his strength, size and mobility who can play in the middle of the three-man line, he’s likely a late first-, early second-round pick. If he’s not a first-round pick, it won’t be because of talent.”
Pete Carroll has stressed depthon bothlines is a priority. If the defensive line needs depth at any position – this may be the answer. There aren’t a cluster of alternatives to Taylor – Kenrick Ellis (DT, Hampton) and Jerrell Powe(DT, Ole Miss) are both slated in the mid/late round range and will interest 3-4 teams. If the Baylor prospect is there in round one, it could be tough to pass.
The final position to look at is the three-technique. Brandon Mebane is a free agent, so we’ll have to monitor that situation – not easy given the CBA situation. I actually believe Mebane is better in the one-technique role or nose tackle – and losing weight to play at the three hasn’t had the expected impact. It’s a stretch to expect he’ll be asked to re-gain lost weight – but again it’s something the team may consider.
Nick Fairley and Marcell Dareus are likely top ten picks, but Corey Liuget (DT, Illinois) isn’t too far behind and has the perfect frame and skill set for Seattle’s three technique role. I’ve mocked him to the Seahawks recently and he’s an option depending on Mebane’s situation.
I’m not convinced the team keeps Mebaneand drafts for depth there in round one. Again it may be an area targetted later in the draft. Carroll will know all about Jurrell Casey (DT, USC). Drake Nevis (DT, LSU) is a three-technique but at 290lbs may be considered a bit light inside – without having the necessary height/size to play the five technique. I can see Nevis on a team like Indianapolis that values nimble lineman.
Stephen Paea (DT, Oregon State) similarly has that Nevis-like size, but actually his strengths come against the run. He’d be a good nose tackle for the Colts, but perhaps a better fit at five-technique for Seattle. It’s still a slightly awkward fit.
Overall the depth on the defensive line makes it a realistic proposition with the #25 overall pick. Defining which positions carry the value to warrant the selection and determining the areas Seattle will target remains a work in progress.