Do the Seahawks need a defensive end?

Chris Clemons has four sacks in four starts

What are the Seahawks’ greatest needs? Nearly everyone would say a long term answer at quarterback. I suspect a few people would point to further improvements on the offensive line. Some would suggest cornerback is a big need, especially after significant changes amongst the secondary this year. A decent majority may also point to the wide receiver position. You could probably guarantee a lot of people will also say defensive end.

The team’s trade of Darryl Tapp last March raised a few eye brows. The 26-year-old former second round pick registered 17 sacks during his four years in Seattle and was considered by many to be one of the few potential building blocks on defense. A fourth round pick in the 2010 draft and Chris Clemons were the bounty picked up for dealing Tapp to the Philadelphia Eagles. Clemons – a situational pass rusher and journeyman – gathered minimal attention amongst Pete Carroll and John Schneider’s cauldron of activity. After four games of the 2010 NFL season, Clemons has four sacks – good for second in the NFC behind only Green Bay’s Clay Matthews (7 sacks). He’s on pace for 16 sacks for the year – which seems unlikely – but certainly a realistic aim would be double digits after an excellent start.

Can stats like sack numbers be deceptive? Of course. Seattle’s pass rush has been better when supported by a noisy Qwest Field environment. It hasn’t been as dominant on the road, but it certainly hasn’t been the team’s greatest issue. It’s important to remember also that the Seahawks rank 29th in time of possession. Only Arizona, Carolina and Buffalo have spent less time on offense after four weeks – three teams who have all changed their quarterbacks already and total a current 2-10 record. A pass rush is at it’s best when it isn’t being asked to spend the majority of a game on the field making up for an offensive crisis.

That said, the saying goes you can never have too many good pass rushers. Clemons will be 29-years-old at the end of October and likely isn’t a definitive long term answer at the position, even if his short term play over the next 2-3 years could warrant serious praise. Using a more structured rotation will also help the defense if there’s no drop off in pressure when a guy like Clemons takes a breather. The class of defensive ends for 2011 are a mixed bag of unknowns, under achievers and over achievers. Robert Quinn (UNC) looks like a potential top-five pick, but he remains suspended and might not take the field for the Tar Heels this year. Adrian Clayborn (Iowa) is a great player to watch but has only managed a single sack in 2010 so far and doesn’t own the elite edge-speed perhaps needed to dominate the pro’s like he does in college. Allen Bailey (Miami) is another who looks the part, but doesn’t bring it anywhere near enough. Jeremy Beal (Oklahoma) has 18 sacks in his last 18 appearances for the Sooners, but can that success translate to the next level? DaQuan Bowers (Clemson) is a former #1 ranked overall recruit, but has been slowed by injuries and inconsistency leading up to this year – although he appears to be making up for lost time now and could even break the top ten next April. Ryan Kerrigan (Purdue) is a high motor, big effort guy with five sacks in 2010 but is he a poor man’s Chris Long?

A few weeks ago I had a look at the recent history of defensive ends drated in round one. In the five drafts that took place between 2004 and 2008, there have been four solid-to-elite prospects drafted. Will Smith (2004, Saints), DeMarcus Ware (2005, Cowboys), Mario Williams (2006, Texans) and Tamba Hali (2006, Chiefs). There have been 13 busts – including Lawrence Jackson (2008, Seattle), Jarvis Moss (2007, Denver) and Vernon Gholston (2008, NYJ). During that same time frame Jared Allen, Trent Cole, Elvis Dumervil and LaMarr Woodley were all taken outside of the first round.

What I’d take out of that small sample is that teams clearly value the defensive end position and have perhaps over rated certain prospects in trying to find that elusive edge rusher. Maybe a guy dominated in college and made a lot of sacks but just couldn’t do the same against much greater opponents in the NFL? Being able to record sacks and place such high value on one statistic in CFB may at times be as detrimental as reading too much into a QB coming from a pass-happy offense. Either way, the recent history of drafting defensive ends isn’t great.

Look at the stats for the current NFL season after four games. Amongst the top ten currently leading the sack rankings, there are four undrafted free agents, one fourth round pick and two fifth rounders. There are two first round choices listed. It’s still early in the season and things can change, but it certainly shows that good pass rushers can be found without necessarily spending the top draft picks.

The Seahawks will of course consider every possibility next April – which is still much too far away to accurately project anyway. However, they may be afforded the opportunity to concentrate on other areas of the team – most noticeably on offense – as they continue the climb back to relevancy under Pete Carroll’s regime.


  1. John_S

    Akeem Ayers has been talked about on here, but he seems like the perfect fit. Able to do everything including dropping in coverage plus he has a high motor. Outstanding player.

    What do you think of Kenny Rowe of Oregon and Nick Perry? The games I’ve seen they’ve been all over the place other than Perry in the UW game.

    • Rob

      Hi John,

      I’m a big fan of Ayers. He can be that LEO type rusher in the future. I think his best fit might be at outside linebacker because then you’ll get the most out of him. At LEO he’s mostly going to be used as an edge rusher, but there’s so much more to his game than that.

      I’ve not focused on Rowe yet so will keep an eye out. Likewise, when I watched USC earlier this season Perry was out injured. I’m looking forward to watching him in the future.

  2. Steve

    I see your point Rob, but I agree when you say that we probably wont spend a 1st on it. I truly believe(like your mock comment) that Pete is going to target his QB(Locker-said the best he ever saw) with our first rounder to fix our biggest problem for the future. I then see us going BPA with our other picks. I could see a DE or O-line in the second. But I really believe that Pete is in love with Locker and what Locker brings to the media as the local hero boy.

  3. Guilherme

    Hey Rob. I’m from Brazil (can’t remember if I commented that before) and there are limited oportunities to watch College Football here (mainly Bowl games), so I never watched Travis Lewis. My question is: could he play Leo and would be the Front Office interested in drafting another linebacker with a high pick? And, since I’m a little late about the QB question in Seattle, I’ll ask here: and about Zac Robinson? Any expectations? Thanks

    • Rob

      Hi Guilherme, great to speak to you again,

      In my opinion Travis Lewis is strictly an outside linebacker prospect that will interest orthodox 4-3 teams. He doesn’t play off the edge all that much and he isn’t really used in the pass rush that much. He’s a sure tackler who can stand up against the run but his best value is in coverage. He only has five career sacks but six interceptions. He’s not big enough to be a legitimate, consistent edge rush at around 235lbs and 6’2″, even for the Leo he’s a good 20lbs light. Would they be interested in another linebacker? I’d be surprised. Obviously it depends… if they’re selecting in the late 20’s after a playoff run and a Lewis or Ayers is still on the board, it’s more likely. But even then – there are so many issues accross the team (particularly on offense) and with so much money tied up in Curry and Tatupu, I think it’s one of the positions least likely to see investment via first round draft picks.

      My expectations for Zac Robinson are extremely limited. He was tried out at safety by New England I believe and he’s probably nothing more than a capable scout team quarterback in Seattle.

  4. john_s

    Hi Rob,

    Another question. Do you think Donta Hightower could play the LEO? I know he’s primarily an ILB and he’s coming off the knee surgery, but he looks so strong and explosive when rushing the passer that I kind of think he can.

    I love your work.

    • Rob

      Hi John, thanks for the positive feedback – it’s always appreciated.

      Having seen some of Hightower this year (two games) I doubt it. He’s a good, solid 3-4 ILB who glogs up room and eats up runners. He’s not the most athletic from what I’ve seen and whilst he does a good job charging the middle and pressuring that way, he does almost no edge rush duties and he’s yet to get a sack this year. I think predominantly he’ll only be considered by 3-4 teams looking for an inside linebacker and I think he’ll go in the 3-4 round range based on what I’ve seen. The Seahawks haven’t switched to a 3-4 defense but if they wanted to do that, they’d almost certainly have to get a guy like Hightower. Not sure they will go in that direction though with so many other needs on offense and the DL and LB’s have done well for me so far.

  5. Richard

    Hey Rob. Just who is an ideal Leo anyway? Anyone in the pros now and who projects in College? Not really a DE but bigger than a typical LB? I saw where Carrol referenced the person playing that position needing to be the best (or one of the best), players on the team. I thought maybe they would move Curry over to the LEO but guess not. Ideas? Thanks if so…

    • Rob

      I think you’re looking at a guy who has a quick first step, a good burst on the outside and has the speed to get around the tackle. I suppose the ideal kind of size and abilities for that type of role – you look at a guy like Demarcus Ware coming out of Troy in 2005 who is now with Dallas and one of the elite pass rushers in the NFL. He plays OLB for Dallas in their 3-4, but would be a LEO for the Seahawks.

      Over the years we haven’t really looked at those DE/OLB hybrid’s that 3-4 teams look at because Seattle used an orthodox 4-3. Now we can look at those prospects a little closer because that’s essentially what the LEO is. Really, it’s a pass rush specialist but without the covergae duties expected of a 3-4OLB.

      Curry for me is strictly an OLB. He was never really asked to do much pass rush at Wake Forest and he is best at setting the run, forces backs inside. He gets pressure on a blitz but he’s not got that electric first move to burst into the backfield. He needs to concentrate on becoming a great LB rather than adjusting to a LEO, even if you’d get more bang for your buck if he did pass rush more.

      It is a difficult thing to project though. Chris Clemons is about 245lbs, so you look at guys that big in college (Von Miller for example) and wonder if they’d be too small. You look at the guys who are bigger like Da’Quan Bowers and wonder if they’re too big. Is someone like Akeem Ayers who is used off the edge for UCLA, weighs about 255lbs the ideal fit? Would you waste Ayers by forcing him to strictly rush off the edge when there’s so much to his game?

      I do think this team have a strict view of what they want at DE and it’ll be largely different to most other teams as we’ve seen already. However, it might take some time for us to appreciate exactly what they look for. I’m not completely convinced that will be a priority in round one next April. It may be in free agency. I do think the offense needs much greater consideration.

  6. Richard

    Thanks for the detailed reply, Rob. I just got back into town otherwise I would have responded earlier. One would think that the typical 3/4 linebacker who has pass rush ability and has coverage duties would love to play the LEO. Maybe they’ll find one in free agency after all.

    I agree with you on Curry. It’s not that I don’t like the guy and I do like what he can bring to the team, just not at the current price tag which was why I was thinking LEO for him (well and he has the size). Going back through old scouting reports on the net (not yours), indicated that his only potential short coming was possible awareness/getting out of position problems. Has that held true or what? Lol.

    Rd1 looks to be QB unfortunatley. I say unfortunately because there’s so much risk and training time involved with most QB’s.

    I wonder if Shawn Merriman could return to form at the LEO? It’s always fun to play arm chair GM but usually I have some idea of what to look for….

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