NFL Draft 2011: 30 Rookies Who Fit the Seattle Seahawks, Part 1: Defense
An NFL Lockout is officially in effect, creating uncertainty towards the playing of the 2011 season, roster guidelines and salary structure. The focus of all NFL front offices should be primarily on the NFL Draft, April 28-30, as teams are evaluating which Free Agents are least likely to come back and who the organization chooses to replace.
John Schneider is committed to using the draft as his main tool to bring championship caliber football to Seattle; expectations are that draft day and subsequent signings of undrafted players will bring a new wave of competition; six to ten new players that are regularly active on Sunday’s would help Seattle maintain course, secure a foundation for competitive football in the near future. The Seahawks are expected to be active in all acquisitions, as they are one of the teams with the most “salary cap” space, if there is a cap.
In an effort to keep continuity with the actual Seahawks draft strategy, I will soon evaluate players on a “big board.” This analysis will not list team needs by position order, nor will any round be pegged as the round where position X will be taken.
For right now, I am merely interested in highlighting players that “fit” throughout the entire draft, giving preliminary indications towards the composition of my Seahawks big board, version one to be published in the week after Part 2.
The Seahawks Cheat Sheet
Think of the Seahawks draft board system as a fantasy “top 300” cheat sheet, a comprehensive list that takes into account depth at each position and creates a player value that is comparable to every other prospect. Obviously, the big board is not followed to a "T", as fit, need, value and other factors are accounted for when making the actual picks or trades.
The ‘Hawks aren’t going into draft day with a structured, need by round approach; draft day is among the most active of the year for Schneider and Carroll.
The goal is to be finished with evaluations on draft day, ready to trade around and consistently have a pulse on value as the draft unfolds. If there is an opportunity to move down 12 spots, acquire an extra pick or two, and still get a player of a similar value, Schneider is the type of GM to make that move.
Any big board needs tiers, as they help determine when moving down, or up, is desirable.
For example, Earl Thomas falling to pick No. 14 last year provides a situation where a first tier player was taken among second tier talent; his name was likely the only player left in the top section of the ‘Hawks draft board. I believe if Thomas wasn’t there, Schneider trades down, acquiring another pick and still getting a second tier player.
Throughout early 2011, I began to highlight potential players that fit for the Seahawks. Approximately 20 players have been on my radar since early February, as well as a second group of players I highlighted going into the NFL Combine.
This new analysis draws from a the third group of players to be added to my draft pool, but all players highlighted to this point are candidates for analysis. The evaluations are based on college performance, game film and the combine; pro days will carry more weight in April when all have been completed, or in special cases, such as a previously injured player working out for the first time.
Scouring the Entire Draft
As the first round in the draft has been projected and documented for months, I offer Bucky Brooks' latest mock draft, Chad Reuter's mock draft and Rob Rang's mock draft to offer three views on the current “top” players in the draft.
Many of the players in the “top” will be higher on the first big board than those highlighted at each position in this analysis; however, some late first round prospects and players with ambiguous value will be included in the group of 15 players on each side of the ball. In the end, the draft is too deep to only explore the top.
For each position, there will be a list of players that are potential fits, but selected before No. 25 in one or more of the supplied mock drafts and included in the coming big board.
A New Foundation?
The Seahawks have five free agents and a tendered Brandon Mebane possibly leaving the defensive line. They have a variety of roles among defensive lineman, all of which could use bolstering through the 2011 draft: depth at the Strong Side end behind Red Bryant; a versatile, interior lineman that can rush the passer and adequately anchor against the run; if Raheem Brock remains unsigned, there will be a glaring need at the Leo/Rush end position. 12 of the 21 defensive linemen Schneider teams historically have taken were in rounds three or six.
Potential fits taken in Mock/s: Marcell Dareus, Da’quan Bowers, Nick Fairley, J.J. Watt, Cameron Jordan, Adrian Clayborn, Robert Quinn, Corey Liuget, Justin Houston, Muhammad Wilkerson, Aldon Smith
1. Phil Taylor, Baylor: His size comparable to Colin Cole, but athleticism more like Red Bryant; he swallows up ball carriers. Projected as a nose tackle, he provides scheme versatility for the Seahawks at potentially the 0, 1, 3, or 5-tech position.
He transferred from Penn State to Baylor with character concerns, but thrived in the Big 12. His talent is of a late first round pick, but he needs to get in shape and continue to prove his work ethic.
He would be a tremendous addition to the defensive line rotation, worth the consideration even though the defensive line group is deep. Taylor might be a reach at No. 25, but not in the early to mid second round.
2. Marvin Austin, UNC: Suspended for 2010 and described as a “me” player at times, Austin has character concerns going into the draft. He proved at the combine he is a first round talent, but his off the field behavior is to blame if he falls.
He is a well rounded 3-tech tackle that fits in the “Under” tackle position for Seattle. A third round tender on Brandon Mebane suggests, to me, the Seahawks are willing to use a pick in round three to replace him.
Austin could fall that far and presents excellent value at that point in the draft; whether or not he can adopt the mentality in Seattle is yet to be seen.
3. Martin Parker, Richmond: A first team all conference player at the University of Richmond after 96 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss his senior season.
Active hands, a quick first step and good balance flash his potential, but he is raw; a lack of understanding snap counts and inconsistent technique are his flaws.
An alternative to Marvin Austin, there is a chance Parker is around in round five, or even round six. I expect him to be on the draft board late for Seattle.
A New Foundation? Part 2
4. Allen Bailey, Miami: He grew up on a secluded island off the coast of Georgia with 60 residents; he’s farm strong. At 6'3", 285 he has a versatile skill set and plays stronger than his size. He’s in between positions for Seattle, but could provide good scheme versatility at the 3 or 5-tech positions or even as a Leo power rusher.
He went to college as a Linebacker, but he was willing to switch positions and do whatever was best for the team. NFL teams are still unsure where exactly he fits at the next level, but he’s a two time All ACC player with high character, a strong motor, banner work ethic and upside that make an intriguing prospect. He is very raw, his flaws largely technique based.
Bailey is a player whose performance at his pro day will bring better clarity to his value; I think his value to Schneider will rise between now and draft day, as his flexibility and potential are too much too ignore past the third round.
5. Sam Acho, Texas: Honestly, he popped on my radar when I saw him during a skills competition on ESPN before the combine; he hustled, appeared athletic and fluid for a man his size; solid leverage for his 6’2, 262 pound frame, but stiff hips impede his explosiveness around the edge. He has long arms, but needs to bulk up to contribute in run support and has room to improve hand technique.
Not quite a 3-4 outside linebacker and too small to be a traditional 4-3 DE, he fits at “Leo” with better size than Dexter Davis or Aaron Curry. Character and intelligence help his stock, right now in the third round range. He is a player the Seahawks could explore for depth and a possible secondary pass rushing role to Chris Clemons.
6. Jabaal Sheard and 7. Greg Romeus, Pittsburgh: Sheard is 6’3", 264 and he plays stronger than his size indicates; a leader who brings it on every play and shows the power to push back offensive tackles. He is rising up draft boards, as his game film highlights his speed and power shown at the combine.
Romeus was injured in 2010 after returning to school in hopes of boosting his draft stock into the first round, after being the 2009 Co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year; he is currently a mid round prospect due to last season’s back and knee injuries. At 6’5, 268 he is a prototypical rush end to replace Brock.
8. Bruce Miller, Central Florida: Listed at OLB, but at 6’1, 254 he fits as a Leo in Seattle. The ’09-’10 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year had 21.5 sacks and 31.5 tackles for loss the past two seasons combined. Furthermore, he flashed coverage playmaking ability with two interception returns for touchdowns in 2010, proving he provides good scheme versatility at both lineman and sub package coverage lineman for Seattle. Projected as a late round pick, he would be an ideal competition mate for Dexter Davis as the developmental rotational rusher, especially if taken in the sixth or seventh round.
An Unexpcted Turnover?
The linebacker position is somewhat undefined going into 2011 for the ‘Hawks. I don’t expect Leroy Hill to be back for anything more than a minimum salary, special team player Matt Mccoy is a free agent, Will Herring is potentially the team’s 2011 starting Weakside linebacker, but is also tendered as a fifth round pick and can potentially leave Seattle. Furthermore, what is Lofa Tatupu’s future in Seattle with David Hawthorne primed to start at Middle linebacker?
Potential fits taken in Mock/s: Von Miller
9. Scott Lutrus, Uconn: Lutrus is the classic example of a player who started his career with great expectations, but injuries hampered his production his final two years in college. Two consecutive 100 tackle seasons earned him All Big East honors after his sophomore season, and he was developing a reputation as a ballhawk, four interceptions his freshman year. He missed eight games combined his last two seasons, raising the durability red flag.
At the combine, he showed explosiveness that wasn’t present on his game film and stood out to the point where many scouts questioned why he didn’t pop the same way during the 2009 and 2010 tape.
He is a disciplined football player with a good motor and strong football instincts. His versatility as a special teamer creates good value in the mid to late rounds, especially if he can re-gain the form of his early college years; improvement in pass rushing skills and added bulk, currently 6’2 and 241 pounds, would make Lutrus a potential competition mate for Aaron Curry at Strong Side Linebacker.
10. Mason Foster, Washington: On my radar since early February, a four year, uber productive player with 163 total tackles, 106 solo, his senior season. He played all three linebacker positions in college, a natural fit on the Weakside, and impressed at his least comfortable position Strong Side Linebacker during the Senior bowl.
He is an average athlete, but he is a damn good football player. Tutored by former UW stars and NFL players Roy Lewis and Donald Butler, Foster has been watching game film since his freshman season. His tackling ability, instincts and work ethic set him apart from a shallow linebacker pool; he is fully aware he needs to work on his pass rush and hand technique to be an every down player.
His ability to play three linebacker positions puts his current value at a second to fourth round pick. Close ties to the Seattle area, the 2010 ‘Hawks poor tackling and need for depth at Linebacker makes Foster an ideal fit. I expect him to be high on Seattle’s draft board.
11. Mark Herzlich, Boston College: Herzlich is one of the most unique players in the 2011 draft. The first line on multiple scouting reports reads similar to “the type of intangibles every NFL team wants.”
The 2008 ACC Defensive Player of the Year, he was diagnosed with and recovered from bone cancer in his left leg during 2009. With a rod newly inserted in his left leg, he played all 12 regular season games in 2010 and progressed as the season went on. His medical exams will be the key to truly figuring his draft stock.
First round talent coupled with his 6’4", 250 pound frame had him pegged as a player on the rise in 2008; now he is projected as a mid round pick, an all around outside linebacker that could be an absolute steal for the Seahawks. Herzlich could be a high risk, high reward alternative to Foster or Lutrus.
A Growing Group
The Seahawks defensive backfield was among the team’s weakest units in 2010. Kris Richard takes over the role as head Defensive Backs coach and will likely inherit a new wave of players. Brandon Browner, Josh Pinkard and Marcus Brown comprise a group of up and coming defensive backs within the program. I think Browner could move to Strong Safety, potentially create a ball hawking, hard hitting Safety duo with Earl Thomas. All cornerback spots could be up for grabs.
Potential fits taken in Mock/s: Patrick Peterson, Prince Amukamara
12. Jimmy Smith and 13. Jalil Brown, Colorado: Smith is projected to Seattle by Mel Kiper; one possibility for Seattle I agree with. Smith is a fringe first round candidate that has the prototypical size, 6’2" 211 pounds, and speed, 4.42 40 yard dash, Schneider looks for in corners. At the combine, he claimed to have better ball skills than Nnamdi Asomugha; potential character concerns, but a big time playmaker.
His field mate Brown is strong in press coverage and run support, but weak in zone and off-man. At 6’1", 204, he would be an ideal sub-package press corner projected in the late rounds.
14. Ras-I Dowling, Virginia: A player I highlighted before the combine, he pulled up with a bad hamstring after running a mid 4.4 time, further increasing his injury concerns.
He could be this year’s Walter Thurmond, a first or second round talent that falls due to those concerns. Excellent instincts and ball skills for a corner, his size at 6’1, 198 is a plus.
He excels in zone coverage and has knowledge of Tampa 2 defenses. Depending on how he checks out medically with Seattle will determine how high he is on their board.
15. Shiloh Keo, Idaho: An underrated, versatile player, he was arguably the most competitive, high motor player in his safety position group at the combine, drawing high praise from NFL legend Deion Sanders and analyst Mike Mayock.
They both agree; the combine numbers are irrelevant. In pads, he is a ball-hawk and hard hitter at strong safety; special teams are his standout position, and he would be a great addition as depth in the secondary for the Seahawks.
He is projected as a mid to late round pick; while Kam Chancellor was taken in the fifth round in 2010, Keo could be better.
For Part 2 on the offense, click here.