As the Seattle Seahawks enter the final stretch of the season, it's becoming easier to see where the team could use some help when the draft comes along April 25-27, 2013.
With the team continuing to show improvement, at this point in the season it would be easy to question the need for changes and hope they continue to grow with the current roster. But just as free agents come and go every season, there will be the inevitable departures and areas where the general manager and coaches will attempt to improve.
One difference head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider will face, compared to drafts in the past, is that they are going to have a lot more flexibility. Where the Seahawks were drafting to fill needs in the past, they now have the opportunity to build depth focusing on Carroll's mantra of competition at every position.
For anyone who has followed the Seahawks in the draft over the past few years, Carroll and Schneider have shown they aren't going to rely on “expert” projections from guys like Mel Kiper, Jr. Apart from taking Russell Okung with the sixth pick in the draft back in 2010, it's been difficult for anyone to correctly guess who the Seahawks would pull from the college ranks.
Areas of offensive need for the Seahawks are at right tackle, depth at each guard, and additional depth at tight end and wide receiver. By bringing in Kellen Winslow Jr. at the beginning of the year, the team showed there is a desire for a versatile tight end opposite Zach Miller, who they'll continue to look for.
Defensively, Seattle could use some help in the middle for Brandon Mebane or help on the end when they're expecting the offense to run. Depth at corner is an option, and additional depth at linebacker would be ideal.
On special teams, I'd expect a kicker to come in to challenge Steven Hauschka if he is re-signed, and a kick/punt-return specialist to try to take Leon Washington's job.
It's a bit early to speculate on the Seahawks' draft position, but it's likely they'll be drafting in the second half of each round.
Just like Carroll, I'm going to avoid relying on Kiper for where I think players will ultimately end up. Instead, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller recently updated his college football player rankings, and the following slides offer players who may be available when it's time for the Seahawks to draft.
Jason Jones and Alan Branch are unrestricted free agents after this season, and it's possible that neither could come back. If they don't re-sign, that would leave rookie Jaye Howard and Clinton McDonald, a restricted free agent, to fill in next to Brandon Mebane.
In either case, the Seahawks could use a big defensive tackle who is tough against the run and who could help to plug up the middle.
Alabama's nose tackle Jesse Williams looks like he would be a great fit. He even backs up his game off the field. He tells his coaches he wants the ball, he can bench 600 pounds, his Twitter handle is @ThaMonstar, and though I'm not a guy who is real big on tattoos, he might just be my favorite athlete ever after reading about his recent tattoo.
Williams has a tattoo on his right hand that says, "I stopped checking for the monster under the bed when I realised the monster is me."
Before you think the word “realised” is a typo or that Williams can't spell, you might want to check the native country of the 6'4”, 320-pound senior. He hails from Brisbane, Australia, where I think they also play “defence” instead. This isn't a guy I'm going to argue about grammar with though.
His play has helped Alabama to continue to dominate on a defense that is allowing only 2.3 yards per carry, and a total of 832 yards over 11 games.
Alternate: WR Robert Woods, USC
I also want to throw USC wide receiver Robert Woods into this slot as a potential option. This is sure to be a popular speculative pick, considering the Seahawks' need for depth at receiver and the tie to Carroll's former college team.
Woods is coming off a huge 1,292-yard, 111 reception season as a sophomore, which he has followed with a 721-yard, 66-reception season. He has 31 touchdowns in his three years at USC.
It seems so obvious it probably won't happen.
After Coby Fleener left Stanford for the NFL, Zach Ertz has been the one to fill his shoes. He has 15 touchdowns and has eclipsed 1,200 yards during his four-year college career, with more than 700 yards this year alone.
The Seahawks aren’t going to be looking to replace Zach Miller here. Ertz would fill the Seahawks' need to add a versatile tight end—a position the Seahawks were hoping to fill when they brought in Kellen Winslow Jr.
Caroll talked Stanford football before the draft with Doug Baldwin and Richard Sherman last year, so you can bet they will be getting together again, and surely Ertz will be a guy who they’ll take a hard look at.
Alternate: DT Will Sutton, Arizona State
Arizona State has an excellent pass rush, and a big part of that is because of their defensive tackle Will Sutton. With 10.5 sacks, there's not a defensive tackle in the FBS who is better than Sutton at getting to the quarterback, and he's only two behind the top spot overall. If Jason Jones were to leave as a free agent, Sutton would provide the team with a similar skill set at a lower cost.
Running backs rely on a solid offensive line to help them get yardage, and Wisconsin's line deserves recognition for Montee Ball's record-setting performance of 79 touchdowns. Perhaps the best player on that line helping to pave the way for Ball is Ricky Wagner.
Wagner had been projected as high as a top-five pick prior to the season, so his stock has fallen significantly. Apart from missing two games with a sprained medial collateral ligament this season, I don’t see much reason for it. This pick would reunite Wilson with his blind-side blocker from Wisconsin as well as the Seahawks' third-round pick from 2011, John Moffitt.
Although Wagner played this season at left tackle at Wisconsin, Wagner would get moved back to right tackle where he played in 2010.
The Seahawks haven’t had a great player named “Ricky” since Ricky Watters finished his career with Seattle. Those are difficult shoes to fill, but perhaps he could start by helping Marshawn Lynch make as many Pro Bowls as Watters had in his career.
Leroy Hill will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2012 season, and even if the Seahawks decide to re-sign him, they will need to add depth at linebacker. Seahawks linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. has done a great job with his young crew.
I’d like to see Zaviar Gooden added to that squad. With 50-plus tackles over the last three seasons, the 6'2", 230-pound linebacker has shown consistency in a position he had never played until coming to the Missouri Tigers. He was a running back in high school and came to Missouri as a safety before moving to linebacker.
I tend to think a good way to measure the type of effort a player will give on the field is by the effort he puts in off the field. One of the great things about Missouri’s defensive captain is that he can seemingly do it all.
In addition to excelling at changing positions, he already finished his undergraduate degree at Missouri and is currently working on his graduate degree.
Gooden is one of those players who you can expect will continue to grow, especially under the instruction and coaching of Norton.
The Seahawks' first additional pick in the draft comes at about this point. Though it's possible the Aaron Curry trade gave the Seahawks a fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft.
Without knowing the conditions, I'm going to safely assume they have an extra fifth-round selection. In either case, the fourth and fifth rounds are where Carroll and Schneider have found some excellent players.
Seahawks fans who follow the Washington Huskies are very familiar with Desmond Trufant's abilities at corner. Even though the Raiders' pick in this round should be among the top five, I'm still not sure Trufant will be around by this point.
Miller has Trufant ranked 20th among corners and 179 overall, but NFLDraftScout.com is projecting him as high as the second round. A lot can happen leading up to the draft, but he would be hard to pass up if he were available here.
Marcus Trufant looked like he might have been on his way out of Seattle when he was released by the team in March. If Marcus doesn't return, which could happen if Walter Thurmond bounces back from his injury, it would be great for the Trufant legacy to live on in Seattle by drafting Marcus' younger brother Desmond.
Although Robert Woods might be the first guy you think of in the Pac-12 when it comes to a wide receiver wearing No. 2, Markus Wheaton should probably be the second. The 6'1", 182-pound senior easily eclipsed 1,000 yards for the season against their rival Oregon Ducks on Saturday.
With 69 receptions and 986 yards prior to Saturday's game against the Ducks, he already matched his yardage total from 2011. His 10 touchdowns this year are more than his first three years in college combined, and has four career rushing touchdowns with Oregon State.
In an 2009 interview posted on the Oregon State website, he says his speed might just be his greatest achievement.
"When I was 14 and 15 years old I won nationals in track and field in the 400 meter, back-to-back years actually."
Of course that was before piling up more than 2,500 yards in his college career with the Beavers.
With similar size, Wheaton is producing similar numbers as his USC counterpart, without a Heisman-candidate quarterback throwing to him. Taking Wheaton in the later rounds would be a better value than taking Woods earlier in the draft.
When the Seahawks traded away Tarvaris Jackson, it was rumored they were looking for a mid- to low-round draft pick. As much as I'm hoping Seattle was able to wrangle a fourth-round or even a fifth-round pick from Buffalo, I'm going to assume they will get a sixth rounder.
Like Zaviar Gooden, TCU's Blaize Foltz is also finishing his college football career as a graduate student. Foltz has only started two seasons, but just last year he was selected as first-team All-Mountain West in his first season.
If the Seahawks could take Jesse Williams in the first round, they'd need to pick Foltz up here just so they could have bench-press competitions. The 6'4", 310-pound guard was listed among 10 of the craziest college athletes by CBS Sports for his ability to bench 580 pounds.
Another thing to like about Foltz is how he motivates himself through criticism. Throughout his college career, his dad continues to send him texts to remind him of the things he has heard in the past. I'm sure he'd like nothing more than to hear he can't make it in the NFL, just so he can continue to prove people wrong.
Kind of sounds like a guy Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson could relate to.
With Steven Hauschka coming to the end of his contract after this season, it may be time for the Seahawks to consider other options. Of the eight field goals of 50 yards or more that he has attempted with Seattle, he has only made three.
The fact that those misses all came in games decided by less than a touchdown has amplified those kicks. But the great thing about Hauschka is that he rarely misses inside the 50, and it hasn’t happened yet in 2012—apart from a blocked extra point.
One of the top kickers coming out of college this year is Florida State’s Dustin Hopkins. He’s been recognized for the last two years as one of the top kickers in college football. Over each of the last four seasons, Hopkins has continued to improve his field-goal percentage and is 3-for-3 on kicks over 50 yards this year, including a career-long, 56-yard field goal.
Fortunately, none of his three misses in 2012 have altered the outcome of any games. That wasn’t the case in 2011 when he missed a last-second field goal in a 14-13 loss to Virginia. That miss dropped him to 50 percent when kicking to win the game. He nailed a 55-yarder against Clemson his sophomore season that probably would have gone in from 60-plus out.
Despite trading away their seventh-round pick for Kellen Winslow Jr., the Seahawks were able to get a late draft pick by trading linebacker Barrett Ruud to New Orleans. It's possible the pick could be higher than the seventh round, but this is the safest place to assume the pick will show up.
The Seahawks are doing well in terms of their power rushing game, but Leon Washington has not been effective as a change-of-pace back. Washington's best value has always been on special teams, but with kickers regularly kicking it through the end zone following last year's rule change, his value there has diminished.
Before suffering two anterior cruciate ligament injuries in consecutive seasons, D.J.Harper was reportedly running a 4.34 40-yard dash. He still has breakaway speed, evidenced by his 80-yard touchdown run against Colorado State just a week ago.
It should also be noted that this is a guy who was competing with Doug Martin, now of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, just last year. Harper had beaten out Martin for the starting job in 2009 before injuring his knee.
Harper has 935 yards on 188 carries this year and 14 touchdowns.He also has 19 receptions for 152 receiving yards. At 5'9", 215 pounds, he has the potential to be a solid complement to the power running game of Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin.
Brandan Schulze is a Navy veteran and member of the Military Sea Hawkers, the military chapter of the official booster club for the Seattle Seahawks. For more information on the chapter, visit www.militaryseahawkers.com. Membership is free for all military service members and veterans.