Kevin Pierre-Louis was compared to NaVarro Bowman the day he was drafted. The Seahawks area scout who followed him was not intending to say Pierre-Louis would become Bowman, but the comparison raised some eyebrows and expectations for the young linebacker. He flashed at times as a rookie, but struggled with injury in training camp and eventually was shelved with a shoulder problem. Some news about Pierre-Louis trickled out of OTAs that should grab the attention of Seahawks fans.
Pierre-Louis fits the mold of the new Seahawks linebacker. He is lightning fast, capable in coverage and useful as a blitzer. His 4.51 time in the 40-yard dash fits right in with Bruce Irvin’s 4.50, and Bobby Wagner’s 4.46. At 232 lbs, though, he is undersized by NFL standards, which raises the durability question and means he needs to prove his ability to get off blocks to make plays in the run game.
Kam Chancellor, by comparison, is the same weight as Pierre-Louis. Malcolm Smith came in at 226 lbs, and won a Super Bowl MVP, so his weight does not have to define him. In fact, Pierre-Louis seems like a more physical version of Smith who he replaces on the depth chart.
Smith was best when playing the WILL position that allowed the team to use his speed as a blitzer and to knife through blockers against the run in the open field. As nearly all Seahawks are asked to do, Smith cross-trained. He got a number of snaps at SAM when Irvin was out. Pierre-Louis will likely be asked to do the same thing, but his natural spot is WILL.
His speed showed up at Carolina last year. It was not a performance that ended in gaudy stats, but his impact on the game was obvious. He played well enough in some of his other appearances to give fans reason to look forward to his development and return to the field.
Getting off blocks was his biggest challenge, outside of durability. It was the same story with Smith as a rookie.
Pierre-Louis needs to report back in great shape and start to prove that he can be a reliable part of the linebacker rotation from a health perspective.
Seattle had Pierre-Louis starting at WILL during OTAs, with K.J. Wright shifting back to SAM
That was worth noting for a couple of reasons. First, Pierre-Louis is starting out as the fourth linebacker on the depth chart. Seahawks coaches think enough of him to put him up there instead of veteran linebacker Mike Morgan, who is a natural SAM. Second, it gives a window into the coach’s plans should Irvin not return after his contract expires following this season.
It would have been far easier just to slide Morgan in at SAM, or even ask Pierre-Louis to play SAM in Irvin’s absence. Instead, they showed their hand a bit that Pierre-Louis is better suited to play WILL and Wright has always been a better SAM. This is part of why Wright got a contract extension and Irvin (or Wagner for that matter) has not yet. Wright can play all three linebacker positions at starting quality.
The team really likes Wright at WILL, but Pierre-Louis is a far more dynamic athlete. His ability to make impact plays separates him from Wright and other WILL candidates. That position is about athletic ability in space, which Pierre-Louis has in spades, but it will come back to the questions about his performance against the run and his durability.
Should he take a step forward this year, he could see time in the nickel rotation and even spell Wright for a few snaps here and there. Outside of an injury to one of the starters, his ceiling will be acting as a super sub that shows so much promise that he forces coaches to find him more snaps, and sets him up to become a starter in 2016. Few young players on the roster have a more clear path to starting in the next two years than Pierre-Louis. He is one to watch, both in performance and in position, when training camp rolls around.