The combine seemed to only further cloud the draft status of two potential high-round defensive line picks, which would give the Seahawks some interesting decisions at the bottom of the first round.
The questions surrounding a couple of the more enigmatic defensive linemen in the 2016 NFL Draft — Eastern Kentucky end Noah Spence and Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche — went far from answered during this week’s scouting combine.
And should that remain the case when the draft rolls around April 28-30, then the Seattle Seahawks could have some intriguing, and potentially perplexing, options to consider.
Spence and Nkemdiche have each been considered by some as potential top 10 picks. But performance at the combine on the field (for Spence) and off (for both) means that is far from a consensus opinion now.
And that means either or both might be available when the Seahawks pick at No. 26, each appearing to possess the type of talent that a team might rarely find at that spot, but also presenting a fair amount of risk.
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Nkemdiche has been maybe the most-discussed player at the combine, considered by some to have top five physical talent but also carrying as much controversy as anyone in the draft after an incident in December when he fell off a balcony at a hotel with marijuana found in his room, leading to his suspension for the Sugar Bowl.
Nkemdiche then delivered on Friday what some considered an odd press conference in which he admitted to being drunk at the time of the incident, named teammate Laremy Tunsil as having been with him at the time (something that had not been revealed publicly) and also acknowledged having at times been lazy on the field at Ole Miss.
During defensive line drills Sunday, though, the 6-3, 294-pound Nkemdiche showed what the fuss is all about, clocked in the 40-yard dash in 4.87 and turning in a 35-inch vertical leap among a bevy of numbers that reinforced that he has some rare physical gifts.
But even as he was posting some of those eye-popping numbers, the NFL Network was reporting that Nkemdiche was no better in his interviews with teams than many perceived him to be with the media, and that some teams have taken him off their draft board.
A Yahoo.com story quoted another unnamed evaluator saying “he may not be a first-round pick.’’
If he were to truly slide, though, then a team like the Seahawks at the bottom of the first round could have a tough call.
Making it even more tantalizing for Seattle is that defensive tackle could emerge as one of the Seahawks’ biggest needs if the team has not re-signed free agents Brandon Mebane and/or Ahtyba Rubin, or not replaced either with other free agents
In fact, it’s possible that the Seahawks could have come away from the combine more convinced than ever that they would be able to find a replacement at defensive tackle in the draft, with the position considered to be as strong and deep as anytime in recent memory.
The depth at tackle that someone with significant question marks such as Nkemdiche could slip, as teams at the top who want tackles will have no shortage of choices perceived to be safer, such as Alabama’s A’Shawn Robinson and Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins did enough here to make clear they will be long gone by pick 26.
The Seahawks could also be looking in the draft for a replacement for Bruce Irvin if he departs via free agency, as is widely expected (there was plenty of buzz at the combine that teams with former Seattle coaches such as Atlanta and Jacksonville figure to be pretty interested in Irvin).
Heading into the combine, the thought that Spence might be an option for the Seahawks didn’t seem realistic, with some analysts projecting him as a possible top 10 pick.
But Spence disappointed Sunday with a 4.80 time in the 40-yard dash, which will only further the scrutiny his previous off-field issues will receive the next few months (though there was one report that he was participating with a tweaked hamstring).
The 6-2, 264-pound Spence began his career at Ohio State but was banned by the Big Ten for failing drug tests, admitting to having used Ecstasy.
And similar to Nkemdiche, The NFL Network — the league’s flagship station — reported that some teams were not overly impressed with Spence’s interviews.
“Perhaps now we can stop the narrative that he’s going to be a first-round pick,’’ the NFL Network’s Kimberly Jones quoted an NFL source as saying.
The Seahawks, though, have shown a willingness to take a chance (Frank Clark’s second-round selection last year the most notable).
And they would undoubtedly look long and hard before passing on players who have generally been considered to have the kind of talent not often available at that spot in the first round.
If nothing else, though, the combine made clear that the Seahawks should have plenty of options among defensive linemen if they choose to go that route in the first round.
“It’s a defensive draft,’’ NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said this week. “Best interior defensive line I’ve seen since I’ve started doing this.’’
And while some might view the offensive line as a more obvious need, the defensive line talent could be tough to overlook.