The Seattle Seahawks still have a rather important game left on the calendar, but that hasn't prevented the team from beginning to prepare for next season. Seattle will have some well-defined needs that will have to be addressed, and general manager John Schneider is already working on a plan to take care of them.
With the Senior Bowl now complete, draft analysts and teams are beginning to finalize their position rankings for prospects in the upcoming draft. The NFL Scouting Combine is the only significant draft event on the calendar before the NFL draft in May.
The Seahawks currently lack a third-round pick in this year's draft after trading it to the Vikings as a part of the trade for Percy Harvin. This leaves them with just two picks in the first two days of the draft.
On the following slides, the best fits in the draft to fill each of Seattle's biggest needs are presented. The players listed are ones that are expected to be available around where the Seahawks pick in Round 1 and Round 2 in the draft.
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
The Seahawks need to add a wide receiver this offseason to add both talent and depth to the position. They also need to add size to the position, as the top three players at receiver on the roster right now are all under 6'0".
The best of the tall receivers that might be available when the Seahawks pick is the lone senior receiver who will be taken in the top of the draft. Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews is a tall playmaker with great athleticism for his size and a large catch radius. He'd be a perfect compliment to line up on the opposite side of the field from Percy Harvin.
Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
Of the three big wide receivers slated to be taken in this portion of the draft, Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin is the most athletically gifted. He also has the most inconsistent hands of the trio. So while Benjamin has the highest ceiling of the group, he also has the lowest floor.
Allen Robinson, Penn State
Penn State's Allen Robinson is on the other end of the spectrum from Benjamin. Robinson is the most consistent of the three big receivers, but his college tape lacks the "wow" plays of the other two receivers. This suggests that Robinson might be the least likely to end up a draft bust, but he also is the least likely to be a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
While the play of their guards was a serious weakness in 2013, the Seahawks aren't as likely to take an offensive guard early in the draft as many of their fans might believe. The team is committed to the long-term development of J.R. Sweezy at right guard, and it already has Michael Bowie on the roster to compete with James Carpenter at left guard.
If the Seahawks do decide to try and fix their problems at guard in this year's draft, they will have plenty of options. The best fit is Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson. Jackson has the best combination of size, strength and athleticism of any of the guards in this draft class.
Cyril Richardson, Baylor
Baylor's Cyril Richardson was the left tackle charged with protecting quarterback Robert Griffin III's blindside in 2012 before moving inside to guard this past season. He is a massive player with a huge wingspan, and he has retained the quick feet that made him a successful offensive tackle.
Richardson is a drive blocker who can dominate in a straight line, but he struggled at the Senior Bowl when he was asked to move laterally. This suggests that there would likely be a difficult transition period if Richardson is drafted by a team that uses a zone-blocking scheme.
David Yankee, Stanford
Stanford's David Yankee is the most polished of the guards in the draft this year. He is technically very sound and rarely makes mistakes. He is also good in space and can locate and engage defenders at the second level as well as any guard in the past few drafts. However, Yankee isn't a mauler, and the lack of ideal strength limits his upside.
Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
Starting right tackle Breno Giacomini will be a free agent this offseason, and rookie Michael Bowie didn't show enough in his seven starts to prove he is ready to handle the spot full-time. The Seahawks could definitely use a new face at the position, especially one with the talent to handle the left side in case of an injury to Russell Okung.
Of the players that could be available for Seattle, the best fit would be Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio. He is a very good run-blocker with the quick feet necessary to block the NFL speed-rushers. Kouandjio also has the athleticism required to succeed in the zone-blocking scheme that Seattle uses.
Antonio Richardson, Tennessee
If Kouandjio is already off the board by the time the Seahawks pick, then Tennessee's Antonio Richardson is another solid option. Richardson is an even better run-blocker than Kouandigo, and he can be a dominant mauler.
Richardson's pass-blocking isn't as well developed, though. He has some technique flaws that will need to be ironed out and is susceptible to the bull rush at times. Overall, Richardson has sufficient upside and could develop into a very good NFL offensive tackle.
Will Sutton, Arizona State
The Seahawks have looked to free agency the last two offseasons in order to find an inside pass-rusher. Both Jason Jones and Michael Bennett were able to provide help in that area, but their one-year contracts meant they weren't viewed as long-term solutions.
Drafting Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton would change that. His explosive first step and solid technique with his hands will allow him to be a low-cost, long-term solution for Seattle as an inside pass-rusher. While Sutton may never become a complete player because he lacks the anchor required to hold up against the run, that doesn't mean he can't be an important contributor at the next level.
Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt is a high-ceiling player with serious upside due to his rare combination of size and athleticism. Tuitt would instantly fill the revolving door the Seahawks have had at the 3-technique defensive tackle spot while offering the possibility he could grow into more than that.
The Seahawks will need to find lower-cost replacements along the defensive line eventually, and drafting Tuitt could be the first step to doing that.
Ra'shede Hageman, Minnesota
Minnesota's Ra'shede Hageman isn't as athletic as his Notre Dame counterpart, but he plays with more strength and more consistency. Hageman doesn't appear to have the same upside as Tuitt, but he is likely to be more productive as a rookie and has the skills to be a long-term solution for the Seahawks on the defensive line.
Trent Murphy, Stanford
Stanford's Trent Murphy seems ideally fit for Seattle's LEO defensive end. He has a quick first step and enough speed to beat the offensive tackle around the corner to get to the quarterback. Murphy also does an excellent job of reading the play, allowing him to get to the ball-carrier or sniff out the screen pass when necessary.
Murphy is also rather lean. He has room on his frame to add the additional bulk and strength that he needs help him as a run defender.
Dee Ford, Auburn
Auburn's Dee Ford was the star of the Senior Bowl last week, and with good reason. His first step and overall speed will make him a very good pass-rusher in the NFL. Ford is also undersized and lacks the strength to hold up against the run as a traditional defensive end.
He will need to either move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense or move into a wider position, like how the Seahawks use their LEO defensive end. Otherwise, he will be a liability as a run defender.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
With Zach Miller and Luke Willson already on the roster, tight end doesn't appear to be a major need for the Seahawks at the moment. However, the Seahawks lack salary-cap space, and Zach Miller's contract will make him a candidate to become a salary-cap casualty.
Fans in the Seattle area probably already know about Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The University of Washington star would be the ideal replacement if the Seahawks decide they can no longer fit Miller under the salary cap.
Seferian-Jenkins has an excellent combination of size, speed and strength. While he lacks the receiving skills of some of the other top tight ends in this draft, Seferian-Jenkins more than makes up for it with his blocking skills. He is arguably the most complete tight end in the draft this year.
Troy Niklas, Notre Dame
Notre Dame's Troy Niklas is a completely different type of player from Seferian-Jenkins. Niklas is faster and more agile, making him much more difficult to cover. Niklas is a joker-type TE, which has become increasingly popular with NFL teams in recent years. He also isn't much of a blocker and thus is likely to spend more time in the slot than next to the offensive tackle on the line of scrimmage.