This series will examine seven position groups on the Seahawks, reviewing their 2015 performance, and how the front office may make changes, including free agency or the draft. The final part of the series will propose a cumulative plan.
Part I: Quarterbacks
Part II: Offensive Line
Part III: Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
Part IV: Running Backs & Fullbacks
Part V: Defensive Line
Part VI: Linebackers
Part VII: Secondary
Part VIII: Summary & Recommendations
State of the position: Defensive Line
The construction of the Seahawks defensive line deviates significantly from John Schneider’s typical recipe for roster construction. None of the starters were under the age of 29 last season. Only Brandon Mebane was drafted by Seattle, and not by this regime. They do have some young prospects like Jordan Hill and Frank Clark, but the bulk of this group relies on veteran performance and free agent acquisition.
No position group has challenged Schneider more in the draft than this one. Take a look at the defensive line draft choices since he arrived:
The best results from those picks were Irvin, who was converted to linebacker, and Clark who still has yet to fully emerge. Jaye Howard is a very solid starting lineman, but he was cut in 2013 with the surplus of line talent the team had that year.
Hill has proven to be a useful player, but he failed to build on what had appeared to be a breakout end of 2014 when he finished with 5.5 sacks. He finished 2015 with a goose egg in the sack department and fought more injuries.
Marsh has looked fantastic in preseason and training camp the last two years, but has shown nothing as a pass rusher during the regular season. He is not a bust, given that he is an above average run defender on the line and a great special teams contributor. His lack of production in the pass rush, though, is disappointing.
That leaves a huge burden on veterans Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril to create pass pressure. They have been up to the task, but this team resembles the 2012 squad that leaned on Chris Clemons too much and had no replacement when he went down in the players.
The defense would suffer greatly if either Bennett or Avril went down, and Irvin very well may be moving on, so adding more to the pass rush is important this offseason.
Both starters, Brandon Mebane and Ahtyba Rubin, are free agents. Both are on the downward slope of their physical primes, especially Mebane. There is precious little depth behind them. A.J. Francis is an exclusive rights free agent, which means he will be back with the team if they want him. He played well enough to earn a trip to camp, but not so well that the team can count on him to play significant snaps.
Mebane and Rubin did a solid job on the inside of the line, and were a big part of the team leading the NFL in rushing defense. Hill did some nice work in place of Mebane at times this year, but it would be asking a lot to expect him to step into the starter role.
Bennett and Avril are right up there with the best defensive end duos in the NFL. Bennett has the added advantage of being able to rush from the tackle spot inside as well as from the outside.
The team would be in serious trouble without either one of these two rushers. Clark showed promise, but has not been consistent enough to assume he is going to blossom next year.
A sleeper for next year could be Ryan Robinson, who was earning rave reviews during minicamp last year before suffering a season-ending achilles tear. There is an outside shot he could push for a spot in the rotation next year.
Marsh appears to be a good backup, without starter upside.
2016 Seahawks Free Agent Defensive Lineman:
- DE Demarcus Dobbs
- DT Brandon Mebane
- DT Ahtyba Rubin
- DT Jesse Williams (Exclusive Rights)
- DT A.J. Francis (Exclusive Rights)
Seahawks Defensive Lineman Under Contract:
- DE/DT Michael Bennett
- DE Cliff Avril
- DE Cassius Marsh
- DE/DT Frank Clark
- DT Jordan Hill
- DE Ryan Robinson (Futures Contract)
- DE Josh Shirley (Futures Contract)
- DE DeAngelo Tyson (Futures Contract)
- DT Justin Hamilton (Futures Contract)
Possible Free Agents To Consider
Malik Jackson is a monster. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are credited for creating the Broncos relentless pass rush, but Jackson plays a major role in wreaking havoc, often in the middle of the line.
Jackson is perfect for the Seahawks scheme, as he can play both inside and outside. He will definitely be a first day free agent and command big bucks, so the likelihood that Seattle will stick their nose in there is low. He is the type of player who is definitely worth checking out to see if there is any way to bring him aboard.
Vernon is going to be another popular target. He probably goes off the board on day one. Young, and with upside, Vernon had a monster second half of the season. Of his 7.5 sacks, 5.5 came in the final eight games. He benefitted from being opposite Cameron Wake and having Ndamakong Suh in the middle to draw protection priority away, but the production can’t be ignored.
Should the market value Irvin similarly to Vernon, the Seahawks may prefer what Vernon brings as a true defensive end. As well as Avril has played, he turns 30 this year, as does Bennett. Adding a young edge rusher makes a lot of sense.
Jenkins has been a late bloomer. Drafted by the Redskins in the second round of the 2011 draft, he totalled just two sacks in his first three seasons. He became one of the more productive interior pass rushers with the Bears this year, gathering 4.0 sacks.
His upside is lower, but the price should be as well. Jenkins is more of a 3-technique defensive tackle for the Seahawks than an end, but he could play the Bennett role at 5-technique as well. Seattle has Jordan Hill and Clark who are young and under contract, but Jenkins could earn a look if the top-shelf players