Before we get onto the usual draft talk, today was a big day for Seahawks fans with the introduction of the team’s new uniforms. We might not know who the team are going to draft later this month, but we do know what they’ll look like when they eventually take the field in September. Opinion is mixed, but I think it’ll be a look that grows particularly when fans get to see the new uni’s live rather than in studio-based photographs. I’m also interested to see how Seattle will use the possible combinations of navy, grey and white. I’d recommend watching the video below to get a taste for the enthusiasm within the team for the new look and to also get a feel for what they look like in person.
Hawthorne moves on to New Orleans
David Hawthorne today agreed a 5-year contract with the New Orleans Saints. I think it was apparent Seattle wanted to move on at the position using the draft. Even when the market dried up and reports suggested both parties were talking, Seattle’s interest in keeping Hawthorne appeared lukewarm. Many will now speculate on the increased likelihood that the Seahawks will draft Luke Kuechly, perceiving this as a ‘blow’ with a new hole that must be filled. I strongly disagree with that line of thinking.
I’d guess it was always the team’s intention to move on unless Hawthorne’s market was so limited he could be re-signed on a modest one-year deal, making him expendable. The team appears to be going in a different direction at linebacker, I suspect emphasising speed and coverage ability. Win the war in the trenches at the LOS and have the kind of physical, rangy coverage that will allow such an aggressive approach up front. Hawthorne was always more of a hitter and he became a fans favorite for those talents. But as this team is shaped over time, we’re starting to see new wrinkles emerge.
I expect the Seahawks will draft a linebacker in the first three rounds and I think that player will have ‘coverage’ firmly at the top of his list of positives. For those reasons, I imagine they’d love Zach Brown to fall into round two. A lot of people don’t like that idea, but the guy can flat out cover. He’s not a great pass rusher who delivers fierce hits, but he can go toe-to-toe with a receiver or tight end even on a deep route. Brown plays sideline-to-sideline, he can shift laterally and he covers a ton of ground. He truly is a rare athlete at the linebacker position, and that’s something a lot of teams are looking for these days. Don’t be surprised if he goes earlier than most people expect.
In my mind that’s the kind of prospect the Seahawks will be eyeing, rather than the Luke Kuechly’s of round one. A lot of people ask about Kuechly and he continues to be a hot projection in many mock drafts. Here’s why I don’t buy it. I think the Seahawks intend to be dominant at the LOS, which is why they’ve emphasised size up front and re-signed both Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane as priorities. I expect the team will use it’s first pick on a further compliment to the pass rush and run support, giving Seattle the opportunity to consistently win battle’s up front. Pete Carroll talks a lot about controlling possession, turnovers, and I think he’ll see pressure up front and a suffocating defensive line as a means to create that. It also means having players in the secondary and at linebacker who will allow such an aggressive approach.
Kuechly is pretty good in coverage – a little stiff which isn’t a big surprise (or a big deal at linebacker), but overall he’s sound in that area. However, he’ll always be at his best when the play is developing in front of him. I’ve not scouted a linebacker before with his instinct to track the ball carrier – he gravitates to the ball with such ease and was a great ‘safety net’ in the second level for Boston College after the almost inevitable initial penetration. As good as he is, I’m not sure the Seahawks want that kind of linebacker. As I mentioned above, I think they’ll look for an athlete who’s primary talent will be coverage ability. Using Kuechly in that way is probably a waste of what he’s good at – you don’t want him tracking a TE or WR most of the time because he’s so good at read/react and playing the ball carrier.
Neither do I think the Seahawks will plan to spend the #12 pick on a player who will predominantly make second-level tackles and not improve the pass rush. If they are looking for a linebacker with plus coverage, do you really need to spend a first round pick? Especially with greater priorities such as the aforementioned pass-rush compliment? Whatever your views on the 2012 group of pass rushers, the options are much weaker beyond the team’s first pick. There could actually be some healthy alternatives to Kuechly beyond round one that fit the criteria suggested above.
Sure, there’s an element of guesswork involved here – but that’s just how I view the Seahawks approach to this. Hawthorne moving on does guarantee linebacker will be a target position in the draft, but that was always likely to be the case. Not much changed today and I wouldn’t presume this paves the way for Luke Kuechly at #12.
Seattle looking for late-round gems?
A lot of teams use their allocation of pre-draft visits on the top prospects. Whether it’s designed to cause a smokescreen or just take a look at the premium players, every year you’ll hear a lot about a high-profile quarterbacks schedule. Since John Schneider and Pete Carroll moved to Seattle, they’ve done things slightly differently.
Although there have been meetings with higher profile players (most notably last year with Ryan Mallett, a player not included on the team’s board), the Seahawks tend to use these visits to look at priority UDFA’s and mid to late round gems. I get the impression that tape wins out a lot with Schneider when it comes to the evaluation process, and that combine meetings and subsequent visits are designed to learn more about the person or give the hard sell for those frantic moments after the draft. It’s paid off for Seattle – last year they claimed Doug Baldwin, Ricardo Lockette, Josh Portis and Jeron Johnson as free agents. They’ve also found value in the later rounds of each draft, with Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and KJ Wright becoming key starters.
I’m not sure if there’s any validity to this next suggestion, but I wonder if the Seahawks almost put an uneven amount of time into those late rounds at this stage in the process? Everyone knows about the top-guys by now, but there’s always bargain’s to be found in the mid to late rounds. Maybe one of the ways Seattle has tapped into that talent pool is by dedicating itself to the quest of finding starters in unconventional areas of the draft?
Tony Pauline revealed today that Seattle is meeting with Boise State safety George Iloka and Boston College cornerback Donnie Fletcher. Iloka is 6-3 and 216lbs, while Fletcher comes in at 6-1 and 195lbs – no surprises there given Seattle’s penchant for size in the secondary. Jeremy Lane (CB, Northwestern State) will also visit, he’s another 6-1 cornerback while Ron Brooks (yep, 6-1) is also expected to meet with the Seahawks. Other prospects that have been speculated to be visiting the team include Adrien Robinson (TE, Cincinnati), Derek Carrier (TE, Beloit College), Danny Trevathan (LB, Kentucky) and Matt Conrath (DE, Virginia). The one big name that has been speculated about a visit to Seattle is LSU’s defensive tackle Michael Brockers.
Below I’ve included game tape for Donnie Fletcher and Ron Brooks, and a highlights package for George Iloka: