(Be sure to check out Rob’s article on Gavin Escobar earlier today where he compares the San Diego State playmaker to Anthony McCoy.)
For months we’ve studied this roster, listened for clues, and scoured the press wires for rumors. We looked into contract situations and tried to determine where Seattle might want to get younger or more cost effective. We worked hard, and I would like to think we were on the right track. The performances at the NFL Scouting Combine helped finally bring the picture into focus. We felt that Datone Jones was probably the favorite in round one, with a receiver (perhaps Ryan Swope) being a likely target in round two, with an outside pass rusher perhaps being a target in round three (Corey Lemonier, Brandon Jenkins, Cornelius Washington, etc). I would have felt very comfortable with that trio of projections.
Seattle had money to spend, but most of it was rollover cash and the team has myriad priority free agents just over the horizon. John Schneider said that he might “dabble” in free agency.
Instead, he posted at least arguably the most electric opening to free agency in the league this year. Had Percy Harvin been a free agent, Seattle would have signed, in my opinion, three of the top five free agents available, with Harvin topping the list. It was a masterful showing that completely shattered the previous draft model we had developed. I doubt there has ever been a more exciting opening to free agency for Seahawks fans than the one that just passed. So much for the “stand pat” theory.
There isn’t much money left to spend, but I have to believe Alan Branch will return. Seattle needs depth for both Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane as well as a defined rush defense oriented 3-tech. If you were Branch, and the money was close, would you prefer to return to Superbowl favorite or play for a rebuilding team such as Jacksonville that probably doesn’t have him in their long term plans? If Branch does leave, there are options in the draft. And if Seattle does retain Branch, adding a well rounded 3-tech or a pure interior pass rusher project still makes plenty of sense in the long term.
I think Steven Hauschka will probably be back. That plus the money for draft picks essentially uses up what money the team has left. After that, it will just be a matter of signing extensions for next year’s players, and figuring out where that money will come from.
Seattle could probably skip the 2013 draft and still win a Superbowl next season. They are set just about everywhere with an average or better starter. This means that the 2013 draft will shift focus to three new areas: drafting for value, drafting for specific roles, and drafting for potential future needs. Here’s how I think the 2013 draft priorities will look after free agency adjusted the team’s big board:
I am a huge fan of the Michael Bennett addition. Letting him leave in the first place was among the bigger mistakes of the Tim Ruskell administration. Having watched him last season, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he took off in production when being moved away from the 3-tech and more towards a Justin Tuck type role. Bennett has enough explosive upper body power to bully tackles and tight ends for cheap sacks, and he’s fast enough to run around an off-balance blocker. If he’s moved inside, he’ll draw a lot of double teams and he won’t capitalize on that power move so much. He also graded very highly by Pro Football Focus as a run stuffer, so it would hardly surprise me if he essentially steals Red Bryant’s starting 5-tech job by next year (along with the money that Red Bryant would be making). I think he can manage as a 3-tech but at just 274 pounds I think he’s probably only a situational player there. And given his obvious value at strong side end, I think it’s wise to get him reps there as often as possible.
This means that Seattle probably shouldn’t consider the 3-tech issue fixed just yet, especially since Alan Branch and Clinton McDonald are still free agents- and Jaye Howard is far from a shoe-in on the next 53 man roster. I personally view Bennett as being half a 3-tech, and we have several 3-tech spots to fill. We still need to add interior pass rush specialist depth and at least one- preferably two- run stopping specialists. We need to always at least have the option of lining up an extra big body with Brandon Mebane to protect Bobby Wagner in obvious rush situations, since Wagner will often struggle with free blockers. It would also be nice if those run stuffers had at least some pass rush ability.
I think Seattle will try to retain Branch and then add one more “Alan Branch type” and one more “Jason Jones type” in this draft. If Sylvester Williams reaches the #56 pick, he could be strongly considered since he is a terrific all around defensive tackle- similar to Alan Branch with more pass rush ability. Bennie Logan is a solid option as a “Alan Branch” type as well, though I view him as more of a mid-round prospect that will be an average NFL player. I think he moves well for his size and defends the run well, but he isn’t a sensational athlete and didn’t dominate at LSU. Abry Jones is an under the radar option from Georgia’s loaded defense who fits this mold too. He might be had in the 7th round. Jordan Hill is a mid-rounder that may not be great against the run but controls gaps very well.
It appears Clinton McDonald might not be back, and if they replace him it will probably be with a pass rusher type who possesses 4.8 forty type speed (since McDonald and the departed Jones both ran the forty in that area). Obviously, if Datone Jones reaches our pick, he would be a terrific addition, but that seems extremely unlikely at this point. Kawann Short isn’t that fast, but he could make sense too, though he’s also highly unlikely to reach us. There are some intriguing projects in the mid rounds, but most of them did not play defensive tackle in college. Lavar Edwards, Malliciah Goodman, and Joe Kruger all possess size and speed similar to Jason Jones, but unfortunately all of them played defensive end in college. John Simon was a end/tackle hybrid in college and might be an option as well.
(Note from Rob — Clinton McDonald was tendered by the Seahawks. This means he’ll be part of the roster in 2013 unless another team signs him to an offer sheet. If that happens, the Seahawks get a 7th round pick as compensation.)
Lavar Edwards’ combine numbers read a lot like Datone Jones with longer arms. Edwards: 6’4″, 277 pounds, 35.5″ arms, 4.80 in the forty, 1.64 ten yard split. Jones: 6’4″, 283 pounds, 33″ arms, 4.80 in the forty, 1.63 ten yard split. Jones is a deserving 1st round pick. Edwards played very few interior snaps, but showed excellent explosion off the snap and good power. He’s not going to blow you away with his tape, but he has the tools to be a high upside pass rush 3-tech. Goodman is a similar story, with measurables that compare to Greg Scruggs. Joe Kruger- brother of Paul Kruger- played mostly as a 3-4 defensive end and excelled with a more physical style of play. I think his conversion to the 3-tech would be more streamlined than Edwards or Goodman. Kruger is 6’6″, 269, ran a 4.83 in the forty, and has the core strength to play inside. He also has a lot of potential to add weight on his frame if needed. There’s also John Simon, who I’ve talked about before. I think Simon will be a star for some lucky team as he plays much bigger than his size. Armonty Bryant might be a possibility if Seattle thinks he can handle a hybrid role. He has the quickness and core strength for it. I expect most if not all of these options be available in the middle rounds of the draft.
Cliff Avril was given Leroy Hill’s number, which means he can play either defensive end or linebacker. If Seattle views Avril primarily as a LEO, that means they are already carrying one more defensive end than they did last year, so adding another seems doubtful. If they view Avril as a linebacker that can sub at LEO, then it’s conceivable that they might draft a LEO if there is a value they just can’t say no to. Perhaps an athletic pass rusher like Corey Lemonier, Margus Hunt, Devin Taylor, or Cornelius Washington. Ty Powell, Trevardo Williams, and Jamie Collins could be potential considerations, but I personally view all three of them as linebackers.
Quite frankly, I think this years’ defensive end class is stunningly weak. The only defensive end I even like as a value pick is Corey Lemonier if he reaches the 2nd or 3rd round. I think that John Schneider would probably agree with me, and I think the spending spree at defensive end shows it. This was a much stronger free agent defensive end class than draft class, and I think John Schneider was absolutely right for getting the Seahawks in the mix there.
I wouldn’t completely rule out a defensive end addition, but I think it’s very unlikely. It would have to be a “too good to turn down” value such as Corey Lemonier or Margus Hunt in the mid rounds.
As I hinted at in my “USC backup crew” article, I don’t think Seattle views linebacker as a pressing need, and since then they’ve added a potential part time linebacker with 4.51 speed in Cliff Avril. Given the quality that Mike Morgan and Malcolm Smith showed in limited looks the last two seasons, I think we are likely to see them starring in a Moffitt/Sweezy type platoon at weakside linebacker in 2013. Avril will likely replace KJ Wright at SAM in some situations and might also see some action at WILL when he’s not lining up as a defensive end. Given that Avril played on the strong side at Detroit and has linebacker experience in college, I could see him being a really nice piece on our defense from the SAM spot, acting a bit like a 5th lineman. I’m actually a little geeked about the pre-draft status at linebacker right now. We have weapons in the linebacker crew. A complete array of them.
That doesn’t mean we couldn’t try to add another. I’m pretty sure Seattle will at least try. Unfortunately, this is a below average linebacker group across the board and it’s particularly unimpressive if you are searching for linebackers that run legit 4.4 and 4.5 type times like Pete Carroll does. Of all the linebackers Pete Carroll has acquired so far, only run stuffing SAM KJ Wright did not run a forty in the 4.4 or 4.5 range. That speed matters when your primary Superbowl threat also plays in your division and is built around a running quarterback who clocked in at 4.53 in the forty.
Zaviar Gooden makes sense, but does Seattle like him enough to spend a third or fourth round pick on him? That’s a big investment for “competition” with Mike Morgan, Malcolm Smith, and Allen Bradford. Maybe AJ Klein later on? He’s a bit on the slow side for Pete, but he’s a good football player and can close in a hurry. Maybe Cornelius Washington, even though he was more of a defensive end at Georgia? Jamie Collins is getting some 1st round hype as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Ty Powell has a lot of burst and thump to his game, but like AJ Klein his speed might be fringe for Carroll. Trevardo Williams is probably fast enough. Most people think he’s a defensive end, but I see him as a linebacker due to his non-aggressive style of play.
I wouldn’t be stunned by a selection of Khaseem Greene or Alec Ogletree, but after running in the low 4.7s, I have to think that’s not going to be fast enough and the investment for either might be too big given the other needs the team has. We’ll see.
It seems extremely likely that Seattle will draft another corner. Seattle drafted a corner in 2010, they drafted two corners in 2011, and they drafted a corner in 2012. It’s been a bit of a tradition to take one every year, not to mention the results of those picks have caught the attention of the NFL.
The Seahawks also appear to be parting ways with Marcus Trufant, so there could be a roster spot to fill. Then there is the rumor about Seattle showing strong interest in Robert Alford, who may not even reach Seattle’s pick in round two.
Pete Carroll has never drafted a corner earlier than the 4th round. Is it possible that he might set a new high water mark for that position this year? It’s been estimated that as many as twenty corners could be drafted in the top 100 picks. It’s a very deep defensive back class- loaded with prospects that ran in the 4.4s and 4.5s. Seattle could probably wait til the late rounds again, but there is the risk that a deep class might be picked dry by then. Seattle’s interest in second round prospect Robert Alford certainly raises questions, as does Walter Thurmond and RFA Brandon Browner’s statuses after next season.
One thing to remember is that Seattle is not exclusively looking for corners over six foot tall. Walter Thurmond is 5’11”. The rumored Alford is 5’10”. Jeremy Lane is exactly six foot. Being over six feet tall helps, but isn’t a requirement. Speed isn’t a major requirement, although I think Seattle will probably prefer players with a well rounded game that can elevate to the football and press well at the line.
A few of my favorites are Iowa’s Micah Hyde, Georgia’s Sanders Commings and LSU’s Tharold Simon. Hyde is a well rounded corner that has so-so measurables but excellent tape. Commings was a consistent difference maker on a great defense, and moves extremely well for someone standing 6 foot tall and weighing a Browner-esque 216 pounds. Simon is a great cover corner despite being 6’2″ and over 200 pounds.
Seattle will almost certainly draft a corner, and that selection might happen anywhere in the draft. My guess is that we’ll see them take one in the round 4-7 range just as they did in years prior, but spending a pick earlier would not shock me.
With Chris Maragos still a free agent, I suspect Seattle will take a long look at a fairly potent free safety group this year. Maragos wouldn’t be expensive to retain, so he might be back after the draft concludes if Seattle doesn’t find an option they like.
I think safety will probably be a late priority. Two safeties I like: Earl Wolff and Jakar Hamilton. While Shamarko Thomas is drawing a lot of attention for his athleticism, Wolff wasn’t far behind in his combine performances. Wolff had a hit and miss tenure during his wolfpack career, but his speed and style are reminiscent of a rookie Earl Thomas. Wolff will probably be a 3rd or 4th round pick, but he could be a player to watch if he slips during the draft.
A more likely late round option is Jakar Hamilton. Once a talented safety for Georgia, he suffered an injury and lost his starting job to two excellent safeties, Shawn Williams and Baccari Rambo. Hamilton faced the prospect of graduating without getting to play, so he transferred and played last season for South Carolina State. Hamilton faced a steep academic hill to climb when he joined South Carolina State and had to take 19 credit hours during the Spring semester and another 18 credit hours over the Summer. His defensive coordinator called it “probably the biggest hill to climb of anybody [he’d] seen come into [SC State’s] program.” Hamilton isn’t just a determined player, he’s also a gifted one. He stands 6’1″, weighs 200, but runs in the 4.4s. He’s very strong in run defense but has the speed to play corner or free safety. Not only could he back up Earl Thomas, he might even be able to free up Kam Chancellor at strong safety to play other positions for a few snaps here and there.
Like corner, it’s really hard to guess who Seattle will draft. It just seems very likely that they will take one, somewhere. They might even take two, if they feel that they want more competition for Winston Guy and Jeron Johnson in the big nickle packages.
Fitting it all together
Here is a rough guess of what John Schneider’s draft pockets might look like on defense right now:
Defensive Tackle: Rounds 2-4; might add an additional DT in the 4-7 range.
Defensive End: Unlikely to be drafted, unless value presents itself.
Linebacker: Rounds 4-7, waiting for UDFA a possibility.
Cornerback: Probably rounds 4-7, but earlier rounds shouldn’t be ruled out given the expected early rush on the position.
Safety: Rounds 4-7.
In summation, Seattle is looking for depth on defense almost exclusively, with the only starter type player being a run stuffing 3-tech that can also rush the quarterback some. Someone like Sylvester Williams or Bennie Logan.