Why I wish 2014 was a better draft for the D-line

December 19th, 2013 | Written by Rob Staton

One of the main reasons this team has taken such a major step forward this year is the improvement of the pass rush.

An eight-sack outing against Green Bay inflated the 2012 stats. Seattle wasn’t pressuring the quarterback enough, simple as that. Bruce Irvin had a niche role, but the entire pass rush was dependant on Chris Clemons.

That was too much responsibility for any man not named J.J. Watt.

Clemons’ ACL injury and age (he’s 33 next October) put a lot of things into perspective.

It’s no surprise that the Seahawks attacked this area and found more options. Clemons and Irvin are still there, but the additions of Cliff Avril and Michael Bennet cannot be overstated.

They’ve turned a one dimensional pass rush into a monster.

Bennett in particular has been a crucial signing. He’s given the Seahawks something they haven’t had under Pete Carroll to date — a player who can rush from all angles, including the interior. He doesn’t just rely on speed. He can match up to any team, any offensive line in the league and get it done.

While all the focus has been on Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas — make no mistake — Bennett is just as much a MVP for this defense.

He’s also a luxury. He signed a one-year deal quite foreign to the NFL. Not many top free agents can’t find a market and are willing to play on a ‘prove it’ contract like this. Bennett took a gamble and it’s paid off.

He proved it. And now he will get paid.

Now it’s going to be incredibly difficult to keep him beyond 2013. Not unless you want to risk losing one of Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Golden Tate — three players I’d expect to get extensions in the off-season.

Bennett is just as much of a priority, but could be the hardest to keep. Sherman and Thomas aren’t going anywhere. Period. They will be paid this off-season. 100% guaranteed. It’s about rewarding the guys that helped turn this around from the start. Tate comes into that category too — and I suspect they’ll want to maintain some consistency with Russell Wilson.

If those three re-sign it’ll take one hell of a creative strategy to get another big contract in there, twelve months before Russell Wilson cashes in.

In an ideal world there’d be a solution (and cheaper replacement) in the draft. There may well be a gem hidden away somewhere that we don’t know about. Bennett himself was an UDFA, after all.

But those gems are hard to identify without thoroughly researching multiple college conferences.

Even when you think you’ve found a prospect who would work, it’s hard to tell whether they’ve got ‘it’.

There aren’t many guys in the NFL who do what Michael Bennett does, with his range of pass rushing skills, technique and raw athleticism. We wondered a year ago whether Datone Jones could do this role in Seattle. He’s an athlete with all the size, speed and college production you look for.

He has just 3.5 sacks in Green Bay this year. He’s not been awful, but he hasn’t been anything like Bennett.

Yet we have to look at what’s out there and try again, just like the team will be out there looking for that guy who might just save them a small fortune.

Right now, I’m struggling to find players that could be early picks for Seattle and fit the bill.

Florida’s Dominique Easley would’ve made sense, but his injury history is a major red flag. Ra’Shede Hageman at Minnesota has the upside and physical ability to ‘be a Bennett’ but his upside will likely secure a fairly high grade. Missouri’s Kony Ealy has the same kind of size, and is someone I’m going to spend some time looking at this week. Not many people see him as a round 1/2 guy though.

If anyone else has any suggestions, I’m all ears…

It won’t just be about replacing Bennett either. The Seahawks can’t re-sign every player on the roster. Not with the way they’re playing right now. Sherman and Thomas will be protected. Others will, sadly move on.

The likes of Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, Clemons and Avril will eventually need to be replaced with cheaper alternatives. Tony McDaniel and Clinton McDonald — two impact players this year — are free agents.

After taking such a major step forward in 2013, we don’t want to see the defensive line go back to the dark days of relying on one guy to get it done. Or worse…

We also shouldn’t write off the front office and their ability to find value late in the draft. After all, they found a franchise quarterback and a shutdown corner with 3rd and 5th round picks respectively. They plucked McDaniel and McDonald from obscurity and had the foresight to do the deals with Avril and Bennett.

But this is going to be a major challenge for the Seahawks if they really do want to ‘win forever’.

One to keep an eye on could be Benson Mayowa. He’s been stashed and protected as a redshirt player this year, only featuring in the first game or two due to injuries. He flashed enough in pre-season to warrant some time to grow and he could blossom into a productive pass rusher.

They’ll also need to go and bring in some proven talent, which made me consider the option of trading up in 2014.

If maintaining the pass rush is a priority by May next year, do you do what it takes to keep it rolling?

A few mocks, including Todd McShay’s, have Jadeveon Clowney dropping a little. I think it’s unlikely he falls beyond the top two, but let’s run with this for a moment.

Would you move up to grab a player like that? Knowing he has just about the most upside you could wish to have from a defensive lineman? Whatever you want to say about his 2013 season, he has the potential to be a superstar.

You’d have to pay a kings ransom. Two first rounders, maybe a second thrown in too. Major investment for an unproven, albeit talented, rookie.

Ziggy Ansah, last years #5 pick, signed an $18m contract in Detroit over four years. His biggest cap hit comes in 2016 at $5.9m. As a rookie he’s costing just $3.3m and next year it only jumps to $4.2m.

That’s the benefit right there. It’s not costing you a fortune to get a minimum of four year out of a good young player. By the end of the deal, Seattle would likely have seen off the Percy Harvin contract — maybe even Richard Sherman’s deal — plus one or two others. An extension if warranted, even a big one, wouldn’t be out of the question.

So salary cost and impact could be interesting to a team like the Seahawks if they do want to move up.

Now here’s the downside…

It’d better work out. Seattle isn’t just replacing one player, as discussed. It could be a few guys. Spending future first round picks puts a lot of eggs in only one basket. So if you go all in for Clowney, he’ll have to be worth it.

It’s a risk. The kind of risk Atlanta took with Julio Jones, who also lacked amazing production at Alabama but had great character and insane physical attributes. They were comfortable enough to take a chance.

Clowney’s disappointing 2013 season shouldn’t put a team off taking him early next year. But maybe it should make you think twice about moving up and blowing future picks on the guy? Does he want to be as good as he can be? Is he saving himself for the next level? Can he be coached into the next big thing?

Is a trade even likely or possible?

If there are a lot of teams in the top ten focusing on a quarterback and sensing the best value for a QB is in the late first or early second — there might be a few willing buyers. Teams that are rebuilding like Oakland or Jacksonville might appreciate the extra picks.

Would a division rival like St. Louis consider a deal? They’d swap a top-five pick this year to ensure a third consecutive year with two first round picks through to 2015.

There could be more buyers than ever looking to deal down in the next draft, so it’s not impossible to consider.

But it’s still way too early to say whether it’s likely or at all plausible.

And yet so much fun to consider…

36 Responses to “Why I wish 2014 was a better draft for the D-line”

    • House says:

      great write-up. I want us to keep Bennett… I hope his “love for SEA” stays legit and he doesn’t chase a BIG contract elsewhere (I wouldn’t blame him if he did).

      Kony Ealy is a guy whose name keeps creeping up into the 1st rd in several mock drafts. I think he could be in play for us in the late 1st. 2 other names I have seen associated with SEA in mocks are: Trent Murphy (not to high on him myself) and Scott Crichton. Of the 3, I think Ealy has the best “fit” for our unique style.

      Trading up for Jadeveon Clowney would be a ballsy move. Pete/John have done wonders with mid round picks and IF we were able to pull that trade off, I personally think that it would push us over the top for quite some time and we’d still find quality depth with our picks.

      The ideal scenario in my eyes would be us re-signing Bennett, moving on from Clemons this season, grooming a rookie DE and Mayowa this year and Avril walking after next season.

  1. Michael M. says:

    The kind of risk Atlanta took with Julio Jones*

    • Michael M. says:

      What about Michael Bennett from Ohio State? Someone over at Fieldgulls did an article about him and he sounded like a potential gem, and then I saw a story about him after their win over Michigan:

      http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/nfl-draft-scout/24305427/nfl-draft-dt-michael-bennett-plays-key-role-in-buckeyes-big-win

      Had a chance to see him play Rob?

    • House says:

      Totally agree. I was just pointing out the fact that our FO has amazing eyes for underappreciated talent and finds guys in the mid-rds. The main difference between us and ATL is we are a COMPLETE team. ATL went all in on Julio and had no depth in several critical areas.

      I had an ATL fan tell me yesterday that us grabbing Percy and giving up what we did for him was much more than what they did for Julio… My answer was “We’re 11-2 without Harvin… We had the luxury to go out and grab a PROVEN game-changer.”

      IMO Julio Jones will continue to stay a Top-5 WR barring any serious medical issues. ATL got their WR, but WRs don’t win teams championships (Ask Calvin Johnson)… a COMPLETE team does…

  2. Stuart says:

    No doubt it’s fun to ponder all the what if scenarios for specific players, in the end it never happens. Last year was the very first time JS has ever moved up and that was in the 5th round for Tharold Simon.

    PC/JS are quantity over quality and have a fantastic track record. I cant ever remember having this type of trust in a front office before. Some will argue they are not perfect, no one is perfect. We did have 8 rookies on the opening game roster. We also probably set the record for most players released being picked up and signed immediately by other teams.

    I think Clowney will be a very good player but if Houston is smart and drafts Clowney, he will become a great player with the mentoring by JJ WATT.

    I remember last year how badly we needed a DT. Michael Bennett has been everything PC/JS could have hoped for. It will be tricky, but I have great confidence that no matter what happens, we will be in fine shape again next season with our Defensive front line.

    Mayowa will be much improved and we also get Greg Scruggs back too. Maybe even Jesse Williams?

    • House says:

      Stuart,

      I get what you’re saying. I think Hill and Scruggs both will bring an interior pass rush and Williams will strictly bring the run-stuff.

      I also completely agree with you that if HOU took Clowney, he’d be real scary on the same line as Watt

      • Colin says:

        Pete didn’t sound particularly optimistic when talking about jesse Williams in a press conference a few weeks ago. Sadly, it wouldn’t surprise me if he ends up retiring soon because of his knee.

  3. John_s says:

    How about Scott Crichton? Do you think he could fill the Bennett role? I don’t remember seeing any film of him playing inside, but he has the same motor and quickness as Bennett.

    Also, do you think Scruggs is someone they are counting on to make a big contribution in 2014?

    • Kenny Sloth says:

      I would disagree about his quickness. He looks like a jag to me. Doesn’t have the get-off to excel in an attacking defense. His motor is definitely great, though. He’d also probably get run over inside.

    • Rob Staton says:

      Crichton’s more of an orthodox 4-3 edge rusher for me.

  4. Stuart says:

    I forgot all about Hill.

    • bigDhawk says:

      He played the entire garbage time defensive series at the end of the Giants game, the one that had the forced fumble that was overturned and ultimately ended in the Sherman tip to ET3 in the endzone for our final pick of the day. I paid close attention to him because it was the only time I can remember seeing him in a game all year. He flashed some quickness at times that seemed derived more from a good motor and effort rather than natural athleticism and agility. He pressured Eli once or twice but also seemed to get pushed around a lot and did not look like the strongest of guys on the field. Perhaps it says something that he played the entirety of the only drive of the game the Giants crossed the 50 yard line and drove deep into our territory. Perhaps not. Either way, he looked at best to be servicable DL depth but no one I would want starting for us next year. Of course I’d be just fine if he prove me completely wrong.

  5. Ben Harbaugh says:

    Scruggs is the guy I keep coming back to. He’s a similar mold to Bennett with the ability to play either outside or in. He showed some decent pass rush as a nickel DT last season. He’s also an impressive athlete with both strength and speed. But it’s impossible to know with him missing this entire year.

    • House says:

      Very true. Scruggs showed promise in the final 4 weeks last season. I hope Scruggs studies tape like other guys on this squad. Learning my Bennett could greatly help him

      I think McDonald will take an offer elsewhere and that McDaniel is more likely to stay on the cheap.

      • Austin says:

        I remember reading that Pete Carroll really likes Scruggs creativity when it comes to finding way’s to get to the Quarterback, so at least he’s somewhat similar to Bennett in that regard. Here’s hoping he gets healthy and blossoms into the Bennett we drafted and never let walk.

  6. Tim says:

    You know, at this point – I agree. Re-signing Michael Bennett should be an absolute priority, and if we have to let go of our best edge rusher to do it, then do this we must. Heck… maybe get rid of our best two (Avril, AND Clemons). I’m saying that for the simple reason that I think it’s going to be harder to get as impact a player as Bennett is on the inside as it will be to get a Mayowa, Irwin, or similar gentleman to play a high quality Leo.

    It’ll be a rough off-season to be sure. But maybe another fascinating year next year, to see if we have any more scrubs who turn into stars.

  7. Patrick says:

    Long time reader, first time poster. Love your work.

    2 guys that have piqued my interest are Randy Gregory from Nebraska and Zedarius (sp?) Smith from Kansas. Both fit the athletic but raw mold the hawks lust after.

    Gregoary’s body type looks like Aldon Smith actually

  8. Nolan says:

    Wow mind blowin, getting a guy like Clowney would be insane. Particularly if it just cost this year and next years firsts. The hawks haven’t really done that well in the first round any way. Plus it will most likely be late round firsts any way. We have shown the ability to gather starters with mid and late round picks as well so we could probably live with out a first. It is however a huge gamble if Clowney doesn’t work out we would need to strike it big in other parts of roster building to find talent. I’d love to do it but I don’t think it happens.

  9. Kenny Sloth says:

    Rob, you scoundrel.

  10. UKhawk says:

    Both agree and disagree which is probably the point of your post. Would love to trade up esp because Clowney would be a difference maker. Bonus would be if JS/PS kept the track record of great late round additions

    Maybe the draft isn’t great for top end dline talent. But with a ton of good QBs and OTs coming out, some decent dline prospects will get drafted lower. More importantly I think the dline depth in this draft works in the hawks favor esp as none of their current dline are high picks. Take your pick on to our depth at any position all the way down the draft; there are long players like tuitt, ealy, Kareem Martin, Aaron Lynch; one gap guys like the Lsu pair, Sutton, Donald, Easley, Whaley; undersized guys like Beasley, Sam, Van Noy, & Lawrence to name a few. It’s gonna be fun to watch what happens

  11. Cameron says:

    Hey Rob, as long as we’re considering LEO types, why not Vic Beasley? I’ve seen him mocked into the late first round? Thoughts?

  12. Garrett says:

    Rob, I’d say that Hageman sounds like the ideal guy for the Seahawks. I don’t watch Seattle much, but I’m really on Hageman, and would rather trade up into the 8-12 range for him instead of the 2-4 range for Clowney. A few other suggestions of guys who would be in the Seahawks range–

    Calvin Barnett, Will Sutton, Kareem Martin and Stephon Tuitt are guys who come to mind. Martin is a little smaller and better on the outside, Barnett is more of an interior guy, while I think Sutton and Tuitt will be versatile options.

  13. Jake says:

    Bennett is just as important as Sherman in my honest opinion. Sherman has a year left on his deal, so if we have to prioritize – I say pay Thomas, then pay Bennett.

    I love Sherman, he’s the best CB in the NFL, hands down, but he’s a Seahawk in 2014 regardless – Bennett is a UFA and is the lynchpin for this passrush. He’s our best defensive lineman, we can’t let him go.

    I trust the FO to find defensive backs a lot more than I do interior pass-rushers. I mean, look at the track record. We have yet to “hit” on a defensive lineman. Hill is a question mark, Williams is injured, Irvin’s a linebacker (still a good pick IMO), Scruggs has promise, but is injured.

    I don’t think I need to point to the FO success at finding DBs…

  14. AlaskaHawk says:

    I’m going back to what I’ve said in some other posts about trying to cap the salaries of excellent players to around 6-8 million per year. We can’t pay Sherman 10-12 million that he is worth because every other corner will expect the same when it is their turn. Just like every other wide receiver will want Harvin’s money. It causes too much dissent in the team ranks. Yes Sherman is worth a lot, but so are Lane and Maxwell and Thomas and Chancellor. Just my two cents.

    • Rob Staton says:

      That strategy I’m afraid is just going to end up in Seattle losing good players. As good as the other corners have been, Sherman is among the top 2-3 players in the league at his position — and deserves to be paid to represent that. I’d rather have to replace Maxwell and Lane because their demands are too high, than replace Sherman because we were capping ourselves at $6-8m.

      • LadyT says:

        Agree. There is no way Sherm is not getting paid. What they could do, and probably will, is buy out his last year under contract with a reasonable deal then it bumps up to full pay the following year. Similar to Harvins contract. If thats the case they could give Sherm an extension next year, but it doesnt really kick in the big money until the year after. Sign Bennett next year and Avrils contract expires right when Sherms kicks in.

  15. LadyT says:

    Still gonna have to cut Rice and possibly Clem either way.

  16. dave crockett says:

    Watch Kony Ealy. You are going to see a lot that you like I bet. Given that he declares, I bet he starts to climb boards once the workouts start.

    Ealy is exceptional vs. the run, which is easy to overlook in DEs.

    I think he’ll be all over teams’ boards based on whether they value a well-rounded DE, or look for pure pass rush. Ealy is a good pass rusher, just not exceptional off the edge. He is a very good interior rusher, with the versatility to play a legit 3-tech. One of the Missouri beat writers counted snaps at different positions after each game. It was not uncommon for Ealy to play 15-20 snaps at DT. (Keep in mind that Missouri rotates in a LOT of defensive linemen.)

    Not only did Missouri move Ealy inside to take advantage of his interior pass rush, they also dropped him in coverage to take away slants and some screens. Ealy’s pick six before halftime vs. Indiana demonstrates his versatility, length, and hands.

    He does remind me a little bit of Michael Bennett when he came out of A&M, undrafted. However, the better NFL comp I see is former Raiders, Saints, and Rams DL La’Roi Glover. Glover played much of his career in the 290# range at 3-technique, but he came out of school as a lighter versatile guy who could play some end.

    Ealy has played DE for Missouri at 275# and has the frame to add 10-15#.

    • bigDhawk says:

      I’m really high on him as well. The first time I saw his measurables he just screamed MICHAEL BENNET to me. Check out this youtube interview he did before the start of the 2013 Mizzou season that shows what kind of physical specimen he is as well as what appears to be a head that is screwed on straight.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNJh1E0QYyM

  17. CougHawk says:

    In the second round, DE Jackson Jeffcoat from Texas would be an interesting selection. He’s around 6’4 250 lbs, the body type that Pete looks for in his Leo/Sam. He had 12 sacks this season, good for 3rd in college. His teammates say he’s one of the hardest workers on the team, and is a team first guy. Father also played in the NFL and won 2 superbowls. Could be a difference maker down the road. Highly rated out of high school. Alos, Chris Clemons is only getting older, Bennett might be gone, and Avril will only have one more year under contract. Thoughts?

    • bigDhawk says:

      I live in Texas and have seen a fair amount of Jeffcoat. I’m not terribly impressed with him. The first part of his Longhorns career he actually had the rap of being lazy and unmotivated. To the eye, he does not look like a quick twitch athlete and it would not surprise me if he puts up mediocre SPARQ numbers at the combine, which PC’s gold standard. I don’t see him as being the type of explosive player or exceptional playmaker that PC covets at the skill positions.