The Seahawks will set out to fill as many needs as possible. Some are more important than others. They need to bolster the defensive line. They could do with adding another nickel defender having lost the impressive Justin Coleman. Doug Baldwin’s possible retirement increases the need at receiver.
And of course there’s quarterback. It has to be a consideration early if the right player is available and Russell Wilson’s contract remains unresolved by the draft.
There are also lesser needs where some extra competition or forward planning is needed — such as tight end and outside cornerback.
Identifying players in different ranges who can fill these needs is the key. They might spend their first pick on their biggest need (arguably the D-line) but they could also use the extreme strength of the defensive line class to their advantage.
For example — if they want to add a base end to replace Dion Jordan (someone in the 270-285lbs range) there are several strong options. We know the Seahawks like their defensive linemen to have length, quickness and agility. Several of the bigger base ends and five-technique types in this class excelled in the short shuttle. So while they’ve shown interest in two earlier round prospects (Rashan Gary and L.J. Collier) there are plenty of others who could be available in the rounds 3-4 range.
The recent additions of Nate Orchard and Cassius Marsh, coupled with a strong first year for Jacob Martin, could lessen the need for an EDGE. It’s not a particularly deep EDGE class. Not compared to DE and DT. It’s possible someone like Brian Burns lasts longer than many of the media are suggesting and he could be a target. Failing that, they might wait on the position or ignore it all together if they can get a pass rushing base end.
If they wait on the defensive line it opens things up with the first pick. They recently met with N’Keal Harry and are meeting with Parris Campbell. There are other receivers who could be appealing in the #20-50 range. The Seahawks might be inclined to strongly consider taking a receiver first. The depth is weaker than it is at defensive line. Again, this is about adding as many impact players as possible and filling several needs. The draft is a puzzle and you need to work out the right range to target specific positions.
While receiver is a possible early round option, quarterback and nickel could be too. We’ll see what happens with Russell Wilson and not go over old ground there. The one quarterback we’ve latched onto is Will Grier as a fit for their offense. Grier won’t be sitting in the middle rounds. If they want to take him, they’ll have to consider doing it early.
Then there’s the nickel position. It’s similar to the receivers. There are a cluster who could go in round two. If you wait until rounds 3-4 you might miss out. So again, it’s something to consider. If you want a playmaking defensive back with versatility you might need to go in that direction with the first pick.
The Seahawks have visited with a number of defensive backs. While a lot of people think the Seahawks are trying to replace Earl Thomas, I think they’re trying to replace Justin Coleman.
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Juan Thornhill both did a lot of work lined up at nickel. Eric Galko linked the Seahawks to Byron Murphy in a mock draft. Lance Zierlein describes Darnell Savage as, ‘a day-two hybrid defender offering early starting potential as a two-high zone or slot cover talent‘.
All have experience working as a nickel, ‘big nickel’ or hybrid defender.
You might argue — ‘but the Seahawks don’t utilize a big nickel’.
You’d be surprised.
During the 2018 season, Delano Hill played 32.29% of the defensive snaps. He only started two games in relief of Tedric Thompson. Justin Coleman played 67.81% of the snaps. This tells us a couple of things. Firstly, the Seahawks played nickel in base for most of 2018. Secondly, they used Hill as a big nickel in various situations (or at least used three-safety formations).
The Patriots nullified the Rams in the Super Bowl by lining up safeties at the LOS to combat the sweeps and misdirection. The NFL is a copycat league and teams will try to mimic a lot of what the Rams do on offense. Having the personnel to handle this — and specifically the Rams — will be important. It’s even better if you can find a hybrid defender, capable of switching to various positions and roles. One week you might need to match-up against a tight end. The next you might have the responsibility of playing read/react against the Rams. Another week you might have to fill in at safety.
The great thing about the 2019 safety class is many of the players have experienced playing multiple roles and most have the necessary speed for this to translate to the next level.
I’ve said before that I think the Seahawks like their existing safeties more than the fans and media. Pete Carroll in particular seems to really like the potential of Delano Hill. He had a strong end to the regular season. Bradley McDougald has become one of the most important players on the team. Tedric Thompson provides some depth. They traded for Shalom Luani. Competition is required — but forcing Hill to the bench isn’t a gigantic problem that needs fixing.
The Seahawks have to fill the holes left by Justin Coleman and the two departures on the D-line (Shemar Stephen, Dion Jordan). If they can replace Coleman with a hybrid defender and not a one-dimensional player — even better. It’ll only help the defense.
Gardner-Johnson, Thornhill and Murphy have all shown an ability to take the ball away. That’s something else the Seahawks need to replace. There’s an assumption they’ll be able to fill the nickel vacancy with ease, given the way they plucked Coleman away from the Patriots. Yet Coleman made big plays — three interceptions and three touchdowns — during his time in Seattle. Finding someone who can make up for that and maybe add more takeaways would be a plus.
Thornhill had six interceptions in 2018 while both Murphy and Gardner-Johnson had four.
Being a strong run defender is also very important at nickel.
Murphy stands out in that regard, as we noted in our review of him a couple of weeks ago. He hits like a hammer when given the chance, is sudden and quick to the ball-carrier and he can tackle.
Thornhill tested superbly at the combine and I think this best shows up on tape when he’s reading the play, running to the ball carrier and tackling. There are examples where he runs across the line, works through traffic and makes a tackle behind the LOS.
Murphy had four TFL’s in 2018 while Thornhill had 4.5.
But if you really want a player who excels in this area Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is your man.
I watched four of his games yesterday and the one thing I didn’t notice when watching him during the season is the way he sheds or avoids blocks to break to the ball carrier and tackle. He does it time and time again. Any throws to the flat, any screens or stretch runs — he’s very good at either avoiding blocks with agility/speed or simply bench-pressing the blocker and winning with power. College receivers couldn’t contain him.
This shows up in the stat sheet — he had 9.5 TFL’s in 2018.
I’d probably describe the trio this way — Murphy is more sudden and talented, Thornhill the fastest and most explosive and Gardner-Johnson the more complete. Strictly viewing all three as potential hybrid nickel defenders, Murphy is the best player. Thornhill has the most upside. Gardner-Johnson is the most likely to adjust to the league quickly given the way he handles the dirty work at the nickel (taking on blocks, defending the run, making plays behind the LOS). It’s probably not surprising given he made the full-time switch to nickel at Florida.
All three players are strong candidates to be a hybrid defender and all three could go in the top-50.
If they opt to pepper their D-line and pass rush with additions from the middle rounds onwards, adding a playmaking defensive back feels like a possibility. It doesn’t mean it will happen. However this year, unlike last, it feels like there are a few options for the Seahawks.
You can now support Seahawks Draft Blog via Patreon by clicking the tab below.