Sheldon Richardson, Star Lotulelei, Sharrif Floyd, Kawann Short, Sylvester Williams.
Five defensive tackles, all of which could be on Seattle’s radar with the #25 pick — especially if they’re unable to address this need in free agency. But how likely is it they’ll be available? Which are the teams capable of making life difficult for the Seahawks?
It seems like Jacksonville’s pass rush has been terrible for a long time, but it has to be Gus Bradley’s first port of call as he improves this team. A big trade up for Derrick Harvey in 2008 didn’t solve the problem. They claimed Jason Babin towards the end of the season but he turns 33 in May. Rookie Andre Branch didn’t feature much in 2012 and had just one sack. They need a pass rusher. The question is — do they look at the interior rushers (Richardson, Lotulelei, Floyd) at #2 or do they target an edge rusher like Bjoern Werner or Damontre Moore? Improving the edge is a greater need, but the interior talent might be superior.
One of the few strengths Oakland had in 2012 was the defensive line, particular at tackle. Desmond Bryant developed into an effective force while much maligned Richard Seymour did a better job than most are willing to give him credit for. The problem is, both are free agents in 2013 and the Raiders are $4.5m over the salary cap. If they manage to keep Bryant they have the option of moving the talented Lamarr Houston inside and letting Seymour walk. In that scenario, they’ll almost certainly target edge rushers, a quarterback or a left tackle. If they lose both Bryant and Seymour, it increases the chances they’ll consider drafting one of Lotulelei, Richardson or Floyd.
Chip Kelly appears set to switch to a 3-4 defense and it opens up the possibility of looking at the defensive line. If Luke Joeckel goes before the #4 pick, the Eagles could go in a number of directions. They could draft a quarterback. They could draft another left tackle, such as Eric Fisher (much depends on the health of Jason Peters). They could draft a much needed cornerback like Dee Milliner. Or they can anchor the 3-4 by going big up front. They don’t have an obvious nose tackle on the roster and could also use some help at the five technique. Lotulelei is more than capable of manning the nose at 325lbs and his excellence against the run makes this a great fit. Richardson and Floyd can both play 3-4 defensive end.
The Titans ranked ninth for sacks and have bigger needs, but they don’t have a great defensive tackle. It really depends what they want to get out of the draft because at the moment they’re drifting into obscurity. They fired Mike Reinfeldt as vice-president but kept the man he appointed to be GM (Ruston Webster). They’re bringing in disgraced defensive coach Gregg Williams to support likely lame duck Mike Munchak. Surely they need an impact player? That could lead them to the tackle class. Chance Warmack plus any of the defensive ends or cornerbacks should also be an option. This could go either way, but ultimately there are people trying to keep their jobs in Tennessee. So which position will provide the greatest return in 2013?
Randy Starks and Paul Soliai created one of the more dynamic defensive tackle tandem’s in the NFL in 2012. The only problem is, Starks is a free agent. There will be greater priorities for the Dolphins — Jake Long is a free agent and appears set to leave Miami, getting better receivers for Ryan Tannehill is crucial and improving the secondary is also important. This will really depend on who’s left on the board at #12. There’s every chance Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher are gone by the time Miami picks, so do they take Lane Johnson? Do they draft a receiver here or wait until round two where they have a couple of picks? If Starks leaves and one or more of Lotulelei, Richardson and Floyd remain on the board, they could come into play.
The Panthers have two big needs — cornerback and defensive tackle. There’s a lot of talk about Desmond Trufant and Xavier Rhodes being first round picks and teams do love to draft corners in round one. Dee Milliner will be off the board by the 14th pick. With all due respect to Trufant and Rhodes, they’d have to see corner as a pretty significant need to pass on one of the defensive tackles. Expect one to leave the board with this pick.
In reaction to sporting the worst total defense in the NFL last year, Sean Payton is switching to the 3-4. Defensive tackle was a need for the Saints anyway, but it becomes even more crucial now that they’re switching schemes. No — they don’t have any obvious candidates to play OLB and get to the quarterback. But they also lack an obvious nose tackle. That’s usually the starting point for any team switching to the 3-4. This pick shouldn’t impact the Seahawks too much given Lotulelei will likely be off the board at this time, meaning the Saints will either draft a big body like Jonathan Jenkins or Johnathan Hankins — or they’ll take an edge rusher instead.
Dallas going tackle is more likely following the addition of Monte Kiffin, the switch to a 4-3 scheme and the recent arrest of Jay Ratliff. It’ll come down to Jerry Jones’ faith in Kiffin to work with what he’s got. The interior offensive line needs rebuilding and should be a bigger priority for the Cowboys, but the dramatic scheme-switch is a curve ball. They could draft a power end to play across fro DeMarcus Ware (Ziggy Ansah?) or they could draft a pure three-technique to provide interior penetration. It’s worth noting Kiffin came very close to recruiting Sheldon Richardson to play for USC. Richardson played JUCO football in California and almost switched his commitment from Missouri to the Trojans. He cited Kiffin’s influence as the reason he almost made the change.
Kevin Williams turns 33 in August and the final bricks in the ‘Williams Wall’ are starting to crumble and break away. The Vikings are unlikely to prioritise defensive tackle in round one, especially with bigger needs at receiver, linebacker, cornerback and guard. The concern will be Minnesota picks right before the Seahawks and if one of the upper-tier tackles does suffer a slight drop, they could steal in for value purposes. However, they could have their choice of the receiver class and if Jonathan Cooper slips to #24, the Vikings would be wise to pair him with Matt Kalil on the left side of the offensive line.
When you see reports suggesting Sharrif Floyd could be a top-ten pick, you start to wonder if NFL scouts and GM’s view the likes of Loutlelei, Richardson and Floyd as superior to the edge rushers and other defensive players in the draft. If they’re rated near the top of most boards, you could see all three go in the top 10-15. It wouldn’t be a ridiculous proposition.
In 2011 the Seahawks benefited from the first offensive tackle (Tyron Smith) not leaving the board until the ninth overall pick. The second (Nate Solder) was the #17 pick. Danny Watkins was drafted two places before the Seahawks took James Carpenter. A rush on the position early could’ve put Seattle’s front office in a position where they had to look elsewhere. Carpenter could’ve been the ‘tipping point’ in terms of drafting an offensive tackle in round one.
I listed nine teams above and name-checked five tackles. If Seattle wants to address this position they’ll probably get the opportunity to do so. It’s a stretch to think Lotulelei, Richardson and Floyd will make it through all nine, however. Not impossible, just unlikely.
Seahawks fans need to hope other teams prioritise quarterbacks and offensive tackles — as has been the case in the past. Whatever anyone says about this quarterback class, the new CBA makes it much less of a gamble taking a chance to find a franchise signal caller. Every team picking in the top ten except Detroit has a question mark at quarterback. In 2012 Justin Blackmon, the #5 pick, signed a contract worth $18.5m over four years. The #10 pick Stephon Gilmore agreed a deal worth $12.1m over four years. Compare that to the #5 pick in 2010, Eric Berry, who’s deal was worth $60m over six years, or the #10 pick Tyson Alualu who signed a $28m contract.
Teams picking in the top ten these days can take more risks. In a year without obvious top-end talent, there’s a chance we’ll see multiple teams reaching for quarterbacks. Seven of the top ten are also breaking in new Head Coaches or GM’s. Will they be looking for ‘their guy’? Do players like Matt Barkley, Geno Smith, Mike Glennon and Tyler Wilson become more attractive on contracts worth around $12-20m?
In that scenario you could be looking at the first defensive tackle leaving the board as late as #14 to Carolina. That’s the best case scenario for Seattle. It’s also probably wishful thinking. Yet there’s enough uncertainty surrounding the early picks that pretty much anything could happen — a rush on quarterbacks, defensive tackles, defensive ends, offensive lineman. This years draft more than any other is going to be completely unpredictable. And it wouldn’t surprise me if a number of unexpected players make it into the 20’s.
I’m going to do a bigger piece on Kawann Short tomorrow. He might be Seattle’s best bet if they want to draft a three-technique with the #25 overall pick. One thing I noticed today though — Short will be 24 in February. Star Lotulelei will also turn 24 during his rookie season, while Sylvester Williams will be 25. On the other hand Sharrif Floyd doesn’t turn 21 until late May. Sheldon Richardson’s birthdate is unknown but he graduated from high school in 2009. That’s quite a difference and I wonder if age will impact how teams approach this group.