Sunday, April 15, 2012

Seahawks Off-Season: Pre-Draft Checkpoint

Pete Carroll and John Schneider entered the off-season with needs, and choices for how to address those needs. The Seahawks front office has positioned itself to enter the upcoming NFL draft without a need so desperate that they would have to select a player above his grade. Take a look at the choices they have made thus far:

ADDITIONS
QB Matt Flynn
DT/DE Jason Jones
LB Barrett Ruud
LB Leroy Hill*
LB Matt McCoy*
LB Heath Farwell*
DE Red Bryant*
CB Roy Lewis*
CB Marcus Trufant*
RB Marshawn Lynch*
FB Michael Robinson*
OL Paul McQuistan*
OL Frank Omiyale
RB Kregg Lumpkin
OG Duece Lutui
OT Breno Giacomini*

* With team last year.

SUBTRACTIONS
LB David Hawthorne
TE John Carlson
QB Charlie Whitehurst
OT Jarriel King
OG Robert Gallery

Most fans knew heading into the off-season that quarterback, pass rush, linebacker and defensive end were the key needs. They also needed to add another playmaker in the backfield.

NEED #1: QUARTERBACK
Signing Flynn puts a dent in the quarterback need, but nobody knows whether he will address it fully until the season begins. He and Tarvaris Jackson will battle it out in training camp. Adding Flynn will not keep the team from drafting a young quarterback. It would likely give them pause when considering a quarterback in the first round. Taking a player in the first round essentially starts the timer on Flynn's time as a starter. Teams do not draft a QB in round one to become a back-up. More likely, the team will take a quarterback in rounds 2-5 who will compete with Josh Portis for #3 quarterback. The chances of the Seahawks drafting two quarterbacks is essentially nil. Doing so would ensure at least one of those picks would not break camp with the team unless both beat out Jackson and Portis.

NEED #2: PASS RUSH
Jones was a key addition here, as he should provide an interior rush they have lacked. There were four positions where the team could add some pass rush help. All the others were already locked, or have little impact on pass rushing. The openings were: Raheem Brock's rush defensive end role (rotating with Red Bryant), starting SAM (if the team slid K.J. Wright over to MIKE), starting WILL, nickel defensive tackle. Jones is a big upgrade at the nickel defensive tackle position, and can do a little at the rush end. Starting WILL, starting SAM and nickel DE are the three question marks that will not be answered until the draft completes. The team added Ruud, re-signed Hill and McCoy, and still have Wright penciled in as starting SAM, but none of that will keep the Seahawks from adding players who could completely reshape the plans. The best-case scenario to upgrade the pass rush in the draft is to add a legitimate nickel DE, who could eventually supplant Chris Clemons, and then add a play-making outside linebacker. Schneider could surprise by drafting other positions early, and relying on players like Malcolm Smith and Dexter Davis to rise up. It would be an upset, though, if the team did not add a linebacker and a defensive end with their first two picks.

NEED #3: LINEBACKER
There are 10 linebackers on the roster right now. The team only keeps seven. Expect at least one, and possibly two more to be added during the draft. Ruud and Hill were signed this week, but neither is a certain starter. The great part of adding players like Ruud and Hill is that they are starting-caliber players who would be reliable parts of a playoff defense, but there is no long-term commitment that would stand in the way of adding young talent to compete for starting roles. Drafting Luke Kuechly or Mychal Kendricks is entirely possible, and could make Ruud a back-up, or even looking for work on another team by the end of camp. Kuechly or Kendricks would also cement Wright's role as SAM. If, however, the team drafts a player like Courtney Upshaw, it could mean Wright slides over to MIKE. Smith and Hill are already set to resume their battle for starting WILL, but a draft choice like Lavonte David would make that among the most competitive spots in camp. McCoy was playing terrific nickel linebacker last season before getting hurt. His roster spot could still be at risk if the team drafts another three-down linebacker. In other words, the glut of linebackers on the roster does very little to clear up who the starting three players will be, and at what position. The team could break camp with the linebackers they have and be successful. Expect some serious linebacker talent to be added come the draft, making this one of the most feared defenses in the NFL.

NEED #4: DEFENSIVE END
Clemons is in the final year of his contract. There is no viable replacement on the roster. Brock was a non-factor last season, as were all the other nickel defensive ends that played opposite Clemons. Seattle needs to add a starting caliber defensive end. This will be their biggest need heading into the draft. Schneider chose (wisely) not to go after Mario Williams or Kamerion Wimbley. Both were signed to bloated contracts by desperate teams. Melvin Ingram and Quinton Coples are the most-hyped first-round ends. Many are promoting Upshaw as an end, but his skill set would be a better match at SAM in this defense, if he fits at all in a 4-3. There are talented defensive ends that are getting less hype, like Whitney Mercilus, Andre Branch, Vinny Curry, Chandler Jones, Cam Johnson and Billy Winn that are worth watching. The need here is so great, and the current roster options are so questionable, look for the Seahawks to add at least two defensive ends in the draft.

NEED #5: RUNNING BACK
Lynch was signed to be the starter. Justin Forsett will not be signed to be the back-up. Leon Washington acts as a bit of a counter-punch to Lynch, but would not be able to assume 20+ carries per game if Lynch went down. Lumpkin is a pounding running back that is more effective as a receiver out of the backfield than as a runner. The Seahawks will draft a running back, and probably before the fifth round completes. It would be ideal to add a speedy compliment to Lynch. LaMichael James would be ideal. He is a playmaker and capable of being an every-down back if needed. Chris Rainey is appealing due to pure physical skill, but is not big enough to be carry the ball more than 10 times per game. Adding a running back as early as the second round is possible given the team's need to add lightning to their offense. That only happens if Schneider really loves a guy. Taking a running back before the third round is a luxury pick.

Seattle has six picks in the draft, lacking a fifth-round choice. Schneider has traded back in each of his first two years, and added later-round picks. They have tried to move back in the first-round both years, but either chose not to do so (Hello Earl Thomas) or failed to find a partner (Hello James Carpenter). They will have that choice again this year, and their decision will have a profound impact on this draft and this roster. The Seahawks are not likely to pick as high as #12 again for a long time. Many great players have been selected between choices 10-15 over the years. Staying at #12 feels like the right thing to do. Trading back in the second-round to add back a fifth-round choice would make more sense. There are not a lot of open spots on this roster, which is already among the youngest in the NFL. The team will need to be careful not to miss out on quality to add quantity.

The Seahawks draft recipe should look something like this (in no particular order):
2 Defensive Ends
1 Quarterback
1 Running Back
1-2 Linebackers
1 Tight End
1 Defensive Tackle

They could add another offensive lineman, but it is not necessary. Wide receiver is another position people talk about, but the team has a glut of young receivers. If players like Mike Williams, Golden Tate, Ben Obomanu, Ricardo Lockette, and Kris Durham really do not work out this season, the front office can spend some free agent dollars on an established receiver. Adding more young players to the pile there would be a waste since there is going to be a challenge spreading enough snaps around to develop the players already on the roster.

Schneider and Carroll were active enough in free agency to make the draft more unpredictable. They were successful enough in the last two drafts to allow them to focus on talent instead of depth. Finding guys that can match the value of the first two drafts will be hard. Guys like Earl Thomas, Russell Okung, Kam Chancellor, K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin (undrafted) were monumental "gets," many of which came after the third-round. Another draft that approaches the quality of the first two would propel this franchise to contention for the next 5-10 years. Are you ready?

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