The NFL combine often times represents a turning point for many team’s player evaluation. While it is rarely a make or break weekend, as teams watch hours of game tape to provide the bulk of their evaluation material, the combine is an equalized athletic process.
It is quite simply a few hundred of the top college athletes all performing in the same environment.
But often times too much is made of numbers. 40-yard-dash times, bench press reps, and vertical leap are easy numbers to understand for the average person. For the most part, at least to some extent, each of us has been measured scholastically in one of these categories.
But agility tests, position drills, interviews and Wonderlic scores often weight heavier for savvy personnel departments.
The Seahawks, coming off their second straight losing season for the first time since 1994, have needs across the board.
No. 1 - Defensive Ends: Derrick Morgan, Carlos Dunlap, Everson Griffen
As the NFL begins to become disproportionately 3-4 heavy, with several teams switching to the defensive scheme, it has begun to lessen the value of pure 4-3 defensive ends. It probably doesn’t create quite the market deficiency at the position, as there was at the rush linebacker position for the Steelers and Patriots before their coaching trees began to branch, but it lowers the price tag and emphasis on the position.
The Seahawks don’t have an immediate need at the position, but they are in the proper draft range that if one of the three sets themselves apart from the others, they’d be worth consideration at any of the Seahawks picks.
Each of the three is very athletic, while Dunlap has character concerns and Griffen may have instinct and work ethic issues. Morgan is, at this point, unarguably the best end prospect in the draft, but he’ll need to be eye-poppingly athletic to warrant consideration with the sixth pick.
The Seahawks pass rush struggled last year, and much may be attributed to conservative scheme changes, but the opportunity to draft a Mario Williams or Jevon Kearse type of player, especially if it can be done outside of the top 10, cannot be passed up.
No. 2 – Wide Receivers: Arrelious Benn, Damian Williams, Brandon LaFell, Dexter McCluster
Considering that Deion Branch and Nate Burleson are probably gone, and Deon Butler has yet to show enough to warrant a starting job at the break of training camp next year, Wide Receiver may be the team’s second-most-urgent need behind offensive line help.
The former two receivers offer solid route running ability, and Williams offers a familiarity with both Pete Carroll and a pro style offense and complete route tree. In each case they’re numbers are lackluster, Benn because his offense at Illinois wasn’t geared toward receiver production, and Williams, like many USC receivers, fell victim to simply a lack of balls to spread amongst a ton of elite athletes.
LaFell and McCluster have a more broad range of “positive combine outcomes.”
LaFell is a big receiver, and if he looks smooth out of breaks and is extremely agile, his value will soar. Unfortunately, that’s bad for the Seahawks. LaFell isn’t worth the No. 14 pick, as several receivers should be available in the second round.
McCluster, on the other hand, is hyperathletic. The do-anything running back/wide receiver/kick returner could be a very valuable gadget or decoy on the Seahawks offense. However, like LaFell, if he’s too athletic he’ll be picked above his true value. Specialization has caused teams to reach for part-time players (Pat White, Dexter Jackson).
No. 3 – The Runningbacks
While even teams with elite runningbacks (San Diego of old, Minnesota) are going to at last partial running-back-by-committee setups, the Seahawks have spent the past two seasons trying to turn former committee member Julius Jones into a feature back.
Assuming Jones is gone this offseason, the team still has Justin Forsett. Forsett was more effective this season than Jones (in bursts at least) and fits the Alex Gibbs zone-blocking-scheme (ZBS).
But Forsett isn’t really built to carry the ball 300 times in a season.
The Seahawks need to find something to offset Forsett’s style. The Colts have struggled in the running game by continually drafting or acquiring redundant pieces (Dominic Rhodes, Joseph Addai, Kenton Keith, and Dominic Brown). By contrast, the Saints, Giants, Cowboys, Titans, Panthers, Falcons, and other teams have experienced success on the ground with diverse backfields.
From first round candidates like C.J. Spiller, Jahvid Best, and Jonathan Dwyer to later-round prospects like Joe McKnight, Ryan Mathews, Toby Gerhart and LeGarrette Blount, the Seahawks have a slew of options to complement Forsett.
No. 4 – Jevan Snead
Having eschewed majority sentiment for the first three combine examinations, throwing a third or fourth round prospect on the quarterback section deserves some explanation.
First, if the Seahawks have Jimmy Claussen or Sam Bradford in their sights, there’s no doubt they’ll have to use one of their top two selections to draft either.
Quarterbacks rarely benefit from the physical part of the combine. Those with things to hide throwing the ball, or those who can’t improve their stock by throwing the ball—well—don’t throw the ball at the combine.
Furthermore, while arm strength and accuracy make up a large portion of the prerequisite skills of an NFL quarterback, decision making and instincts can’t be quantified by a 40 time or by throwing to an uncovered receiver. Snead offers a tremendous skill set, boasting one of the stronger arms coming out, and decent accuracy, all coming from the same pro style offense as Eli Manning. Snead struggled considerably this season though.
It seems like every year or two I fall in love with the skill set of a mid-round quarterback prospect. My two most notable are Trent Edwards and Curtis Painter, neither of whom has done a lot to prove my evaluation. The Seahawks need to interview Snead (and other quarterbacks) to find out what went wrong, and if he can recover mentally from a rough season.
No. 5 – Offensive Line
With Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson gone, and a continual string of injuries to their present line, of which many are approaching the age of 30, its vitally important for the Seahawks to restock the entire offensive line with younger, more scheme-fitting parts.
There are two guys whose combines really don’t matter to the Seahawks: Russell Okung, who is the top line prospect and will probably get drafted if he’s available at sixth, and Charles Brown, who may need to show punch and killer instinct to other teams, but who also played with Pete Carroll at USC.
Anthony Davis and Bruce Campbell are both very athletic for their position, but each has work ethic and coachability concerns.
Brian Bulaga by contrast will have to be the anti-Robert-Gallery, as he may share too many parallels with his fellow short-armed Iowa alum.
The local favorite, Mike Iupati from Idaho shows athleticism, and potentially-elite run blocking ability. He’ll need to show he can pass block to warrant consideration with either the Seahawks top picks, or in the second round.