Ah yes. March is upon us, and with it, Spring shall be springing, and thus, so shall the 2020 NFL off-season. Like the yellow forsythia in bloom that ushers in the sweet smells of Spring, so does the NFL Scouting Combine Indianapolis usher in free agency, the draft, and other means for teams to build their programs before live practices begin in the Summer.
It is no small coincidence that the rookie combine happens just a couple weeks before free agency. The combine is the universal information gathering tool that lets all 32 teams know more accurately just what type of draft eligible players are coming out of college. What coaches and scouts see on tape only provides so much information about a player. How the player moves through agility drills, how high they jump, how much they lift, how fast they run, and how long they measure all provide valuable information on how their skills will likely translate in the pros. Once the league gathers this information, the teams with then know more properly how to approach free agency, trades, and then the draft in another month.
For the Seattle Seahawks, it has been the widely held belief that their biggest task this off-season is to fix their defense which ranked 26th in the league last year, and chiefly in that, fix their pass rush that collected only 28 sacks for the season. They also could be looking to replace their starting right tackle and left guard on the offensive line, and they might need to add a running back and additional help at receiver. In short, they have a busy off-season starring at them.
So, with that, let’s break down what all happened in Indianapolis last week, and where it all likely will lead us.
The Head Coach and General Manager Speak
Pete Carroll and John Schneider both held press conferences that shined some useful light on how they see their roster, how they see this draft class, and which of their own free agents they would like to see back with the club this Fall. Both Carroll and Schneider were quick to address the obvious need to improving the pass rush.
Both figure heads also noted the strong desire to see defensive end Jadeveon Clowney return. None of this is unexpected news. What was a bit more interesting to me was hearing Schneider mention fairly strongly the desire to see defensive tackle Jarran Reed back. “We definitely want him back, absolutely. Great guy. Great locker room guy.”
Schneider also noted that they would like to keep defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson and tight end Luke Willson. He were more vague about other veteran pending free agents including offensive tackles Germaine Ifedi and George Fant, and running back Marshawn Lynch.
My reading of the tea leaves on this is that they think they have three reliable vets that they build with on the defensive line, if they can somehow retain Clowney, Reed, and Jefferson, and they are looking for a pure outside speed rusher to add to that mix. Carroll was on the 710 ESPN the following day with John Clayton specifically stating the need to find another rush end, and that they have at least a half dozen veterans in mind that they would like to target in free agency. Whether or not they can keep all three and add to that with another quality vet is another matter that we will touch more on later.
Another thing that I found interesting was, when pressed about how he thought the secondary played last year, GM John Schneider basically confessed to wanting to see better play on the field. When you couple that with Carroll saying that improving the pass rush doesn’t just come with adding to the defensive line but also improving coverage, you begin to formulate a pretty clear idea that they are going to be looking at corners, nickels, and possibly more safeties again this year. It wouldn’t surprise me if they draft a corner higher this year than they have historically, but more on that also later.
The other thing I found pretty standout is that when asked about the receivers in this draft class, John Schneider wasn’t just glowing, he was gushing about the level of talent. My simple reading into this is that the “Let Russell Cook” crowd on Seahawks Twitter should rest comfortable feeling that Seattle is probably going to walk out of this draft with another legit weapon for Russ, maybe even two. To make all this more clear on the level of talent we are talking about, the NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah has graded 27 receivers in this class with a third around grade or better. That’s almost an entire round of talent, and if that holds true, this year could be a historic draft class for the position.
So, let’s break down the positions and what it means for the Seahawks this year.
Multiple Quarterback Talents Appear To Be There
On the surface this means little for the Seahawks. They have locked Russell Wilson into a deal for four more years. Furthermore, the fanciful idea of drafting a talented quarterback high and then trading one of the two players for gobs of high draft picks isn’t really there because Wilson’s deal has a “no trade” clause. If Seattle drafts a quarterback out of this class, it will likely be in the late rounds, and he will be a developmental player that might be able to compete for the backup spot.
How this helps Seattle is simple. There are five quarterbacks thought to be first round talents, and that means a better likelihood of a really talented player falling to Seattle if all are drafted before their first pick. There is a good chance that this could happen.
There Is Serious Talent At Running Back And Seattle Might Draft One High.. Again
A big contingent of Seahawks Twitter is not going to like that subheading. Much of modern football analytics has devalued the position, but here is the thing, as I see it.
Seattle is a running football team, as is the Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans, and the San Francisco 49ers (All playoff teams last season). Seattle also has major questions about the health and durance of lead back Chris Carson, and even more concern over the health of his potential heir apparent in Rashaad Penny. Penny might not even make it back from his knee injury until halfway through the regular season.
For all the talk of Seattle needing to add pass rush, I think the under talked about thing starring at them is the need for another running back, and one that can be a capable every down starter. It’s entirely possible that Seattle looks to free agency and that includes bringing back Marshawn Lynch (who I think they should bring back anyway). However, should the defensive line rebuild prove spendy (very likely), they might not be able to afford to spend much on the market for a runner.
So, here is goes..
If Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor is sitting there at 27 when Seattle is picking, I think Seahawk Twitter might need to brace themselves. Taylor has FREAKISH athletic talent to go along with size, and he openly stated how much he wants to play for Seattle and play with Russell Wilson. Jonathan Taylor has Saquon Barkley like talent, there is every chance he will be long gone before Seattle picks, but I’m just saying, if he is there, I don’t know how Pete Carroll passes on him.
Alternatively, there are a few other backs with size and explosive traits that Seattle loves to acquire but this does not appear to be a deep draft for them. If Seattle wants Cam Akers or AJ Dillon, they might have to use one of their second day picks on them. This is probably another reason why it is likely that they will try to trade back. They probably want to get as many picks as they can in the 40 to 100 range to fill holes and running back is likely to be one of them.
This Is A Ridiculously Talented Wide Receiver Class
Let. Russell. Cook.
I am all for that, and I am all for Seattle grabbing not just one of these talents, but at least two. I don’t know about you, but I spent the majority of the 2019 season in almost a constant state of fear each game about Tyler Lockett getting injured. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the DK Metcalf story, but beyond Metcalf (and for a blimp on the radar of Josh Gordon), there wasn’t much on the roster beyond these two as pass catchers. In fact, the third leading receiver was fourth string tight end Jacob Hollister.
Get Russell one of these guys, at the very least. For all the fans that are begging for more pre-snap motions, and other advancements to the passing attack, Russell needs more. This is what this draft truly has to offer for Seattle. Some of these guys will be long gone before Seattle drafts, but some will be there when they pick first, and some might even been there when they pick twice in the second round. Just get him one of these guys.
A few names to keep in mind that fit Seattle’s tendencies in targeting faster more athletic receivers include Baylor’s Denzel Mims, TCU’s Jalen Reagor, Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool, and LSU’s Justin Jefferson. It wouldn’t shock me of one of these guys is a Seahawk this Fall. There’s many others that would also be welcome additions, but those guys above all strike me a Seahawk players.
Tight Ends Are Not Nearly As Talented
This doesn’t appear to be a great tight end class, and this is probably another reason why the team acted quickly to sign former Panther Greg Olsen once he hit the market, and why Schneider volunteered that they want Willson back.
Offensive Linemen Are Explosive And Plentiful In This Draft
I see why John Schneider and Pete Carroll have been a bit mum on the returns of Germaine Ifedi this year. The other great news coming out of this combine is that wide receiver is not the only exciting position group. There are multiple offensive tackles the meet Seattle’s threshold for arm length and athleticism.
In fact, this a rare class that seems to have more athleticism, in general, on the offensive line than the defensive line. I think it is entirely possible that Seattle could take one of these tackles with their first pick to play right tackle and then transition to left once Duane Brown has decided to call it a career. A few of these guys tested so incredibly explosive that, with the combination of their enormous size, there is no way that they even make it to Seattle’s first pick, but a few players to keep in mind for Seattle later on are as follows; Ezra Cleveland of Boise State, Austin Jackson of USC, Matt Peart of UConn, Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson both out of Georgia. There are a number of others, as well. I think it is a pretty strong possibility that Seattle’s next starting right tackle comes out of this class.
There’s also some pretty interesting guard and center options that could appeal Seattle, especially if Mike Iupati doesn’t return, or if Justin Britt becomes a salary cap casualty. It’s entirely possible that Seattle could come out of this draft with two quality starters on the offensive line, if the draft lands right for them.
Pass Rush Is Lacking In This Class
If Pete Carroll came into this combine hoping for solutions to add to the speed rush portion of his defensive line, this combine might have added a few more wrinkles to his face. There wasn’t much to offer. It was thought to be a weak defensive line class before the draft, and these performances confirmed it. There was no participant that had Seattle’s requirements of length that showed the athleticism and quickness to likely play rush end for them.
Seattle has a very defined profile in what they look for to play rush end. His defense is predicated on having a rush end that has at least 33 inch arms, and they need to run the 10 yard split exercise in the 1.5s of seconds. Every rush leo that they are acquired over the years has these two traits from Chris Clemons to Jadeveon Clowney and all in between.
Nobody ran the 10 yard split under 1.6 during this combine. Now there were a few players thought to be higher end talents that chose not to run these drills (saving them for their on personal pro days), but even if a few of them did manage a 1.5 10 yard split, because of the dearth of edge rush talent, it’s probably pretty unlikely that they last to where Seattle picks in round one.
Here’s the other bit of unfortunate news out of this. Jadeveon Clowney’s price tag probably just shot way up after these guys ran, and so did a lot of other veteran edge rushers that are set to go on the free agent market. If Seattle is going to go the veteran free agent method of improving the pass rush, it could get really expensive. If they go that route, there could be a surprise cut on the horizon of a popular player or two.
They might have to look towards trading for someone on an existing contract that is more cap reasonable, but because of the dearth of talent, the asking price from the team looking to maybe trade will also surely also go up. Does Seattle really want to trade their first round pick to Denver for 30 year old Von Miller and miss out on drafting a premier offensive lineman or receiver?
On the slightly more positive side, this class seems to have some interesting options at defensive tackle should they lose Jarran Reed in free agency, but if Seattle wants one of them, they might have to use their first pick because there aren’t a bunch of options and they might not last deep into round two. A few of these guys probably won’t even make it to where Seattle picks, but Justin Madubuike of Texas A&M tested really well and Raekwon Davis of Alabama has interesting length the Carroll seems to like inside.
There Are A Few Interesting Linebackers Out There
It’s debatable how in need Seattle is at linebacker. There are some feelings out there that Seattle could cut KJ Wright if they decide to spend big money reshaping the defensive line. They would save about $10 million if they cut him, and they could find a cheap replace in this draft class with LSU’s Patrick Queen, Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray or Mississippi State’s Willie Gay Jr who are all highly athletic football players, and maybe one of these guys will be there with the first pick. However, cutting KJ seems to potentially create a further need and then you have to spend a high pick replacing him if you don’t trust that Cody Barton is ready to take over.
Personally, I think Barton was drafted to take over the WILL spot for Wright eventually, and if they move on from Wright early, it will be Barton’s job to lose. I also think Barton more naturally fits the WILL spot than the SAM one he was thrust into starting at, and if Seattle does draft a linebacker, it will be a guy the plays more naturally at the SAM. That’s probably maybe why they met with Wisconsin’s Zack Baun. Baun could easily be the plan if they are looking to get cheaper at linebacker in the base defense, and he’s a perfect SAM. The thing is, again, you’re looking probably burning a high pick.
I’m not against drafting one of these guys. They are all good players. I’m just not sure how much the need is there. Free agency will likely shed more light on this area.
If Seattle Wants To Add A Outside Cornerback, They Might Draft One Early
The highest that Seattle has ever drafted a corner under Pete Carroll is in the middle of round three in 2017 when they took Shaquill Griffin. Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Tre Flowers have all been later round picks. Under Carroll, Seattle is very stringent on length at outside corner. They all play with at least 32 inch arms.
There is only a small handful of what looks like quality outside corners in this class that have that requisite arm length, and one of them is likely going in the top ten of the draft. Interestingly enough, Seattle met with Alabama corner Trevon Diggs, and Virginia cornerback Bryce Hall. If Seattle likes Diggs, they are probably going to have to draft him with their first pick, if he is still there. If Hall is a guy that they really like, they probably will have to take him in round two.
Alternatively, because Justin Coleman played nickel corner for them really well with sub 32 inch arms, they could consider drafting a pure nickel corner at some point during day two or three. There appears to be more better options for them there in this draft than at outside corner.
It will be interesting to see what they do. I have no idea what they are thinking. All I know is that when I fall back on the words of Schneider and Carroll during their press conferences, it seems like there is room to consider them drafting the position early this year for once. I’m considering it a real possibility, especially if there is a serious run of offensive tackles and receivers in front of where they pick first, and if Diggs is still there.
It’s also worth noting the there is a few really interesting safeties in this class in Grant Delpit, Kyle Dugger, and Jeremy Chinn. Dugger has been described as a definite Seahawk safety and plays a style similar to Kam Chancellor. On paper, it seems like Seattle is a bit overloaded at safety, but should they decide to draft Dugger early because he is the best player on their board, they might perhaps consider shifting Marquize Blair to nickel where I think he has played some corner in the past in college.
I wouldn’t be totally shocked if, one way or another, Seattle addresses their secondary with an early pick again this year. We shall see.
So What Does This All Mean For The Seahawks Now?
Judging by how this scouting combine went, it seems like Seattle is sitting in bit of a tough spot looking to fix their defensive line through the draft. It’s unfortunate because they desperately need speed and it’s never fun to hit the free agent market with desperation in the air. I think there is now a legitimate chance that they could loose Jadeveon Clowney, and I think they are probably wisely preparing for that.
I wouldn’t be shocked if they try to lure in Everson Griffin who played for Pete Carroll years ago at USC, and I also wouldn’t be surprised if they might look to bring back Bruce Irvin, and probably pursue Dante Fowler. I think that there is a more decent chance that Jarran Reed and Quinton Jefferson return as the primary inside rushers. I also wouldn’t be surprised if there is a trade or two in the works to really solidify this unit.
If they can reshape the defensive line with a few veteran moves, this draft really does shape up nicely for Seattle to land impact players on the offensive side of the ball. For as much as Carroll loves to run the ball, he loves to acquire special pass catching talent, and this draft class is loaded. If they don’t spend big on the offensive line, there are players to replace the likes of Ifedi and Iupati through this draft class. There’s also probably going to be a few running backs that will appeal to Seattle and it won’t be a surprise if one is taken relatively early.
There is also some interesting options at linebacker and in the secondary and possibly defensive tackle.
If I had a lay an educated guess on how this will go down, I would expect to see Seattle make a few splashy free agent moves or a trade to fix the defensive line, and then if they still have their first round pick, I would expect them to move down a bit in the draft (like they always do), and I would expect them to target receiver, offensive line, secondary, and probably running back. If they can get four or five picks between 40 and 100, they might well be able to get some really interesting players to contribute this year.
That’s my best educated guess, anyhow.
It’s going to be fun to see how it all shakes out. I could, of course, be wrong on a lot of this. Wouldn’t be the first time.