Defensive linemen may make the most sense for Seattle, which has the 21st overall pick in the first round at the moment.
The strength of the NFL draft this year can be assessed pretty easily, says Daniel Jeremiah, a draft expert for the NFL Network.
“To me, it’s all about the big guys,’’ Jeremiah said Monday in a conference call previewing the NFL combine, which will be held this week in Indianapolis with coach and general manager news conferences Wednesday and Thursday and on-field workouts for 337 prospective draftees Friday through Monday.
Jeremiah says that’s particularly true when it comes to the defensive line.
He said in his estimation there is “premier talent’’ to be had throughout the first round among defensive linemen and that “I really like that second-round group of defensive tackles.’’
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That’s good news for the Seahawks, who have a decided need for help on the defensive line.
Assessing exactly what the Seahawks will do in the draft, though, is trickier than ever.
Seattle has just four selections, fewer than any team in the league. All, at least, are in the first five rounds, which gives Seattle some ammo for making some moves to add more picks, which it’s widely assumed the Seahawks will do.
That especially makes sense if Seattle wants a defensive lineman, because a player the Seahawks might have among their targets at 21 could still be available in the mid-30s or so, allowing for a move down and an accumulation of choices in later rounds.
“The depth is outstanding,’’ Jeremiah said of the defensive line class this year.
The Seahawks, of course, could look at other positions, so trying to discern exactly what Seattle will do in the draft is generally a losing cause.
As the Seahawks head to the combine, here are five players it makes sense to think they will be keeping a close eye on:
Montez Sweat, defensive end/edge rusher, Mississippi State
Jeremiah says Sweat’s stock is such that he might not be there at 21. “But if he were to somehow fall down to that range, he would make some sense.’’ Jeremiah says Sweat has some work to do to become a bit better against the run, something that could lead to him falling just enough to where he’d be available at 21. “He can get too high at times and get pushed around,’’ he said.
But otherwise, the 6-foot-6, 245-pounder “is how you want to draw up a defensive end. That’s what you want them to look like. He is tall, long (35.63-inch arm length, roughly two inches more than Bruce Irvin, the last Seattle defensive end taken in the first round in 2012) and explosive.’’
Brian Burns, defensive end/linebacker, Florida State
Burns is one of the more intriguing players in the draft. He’s just 20 — he’ll turn 21 four days before the first round — and as such comes with the inevitable tag of having unlimited “upside.’’ Burns also is listed at 6-5, 230 with what the NFL hopes will be lots of room to grow (how he tests in the bench press could be telling at the combine).
His youth and size means he could be something of a work-in-progress. And teams also appear uncertain if he can be a true strongside three-down linebacker in the NFL. Seattle has veteran Barkevious Mingo currently under contract as the SLB for 2019 and a player such as Burns could be groomed for a year before being needed to take over.
“He has got one of the top two or three get-offs (in the draft),’’ Jeremiah said. “Just his burst off of the line of scrimmage. I just want to see him get a little bit stronger, convert that speed into power a little bit more. But I think that (21) is the type of range of the draft you will start to see him get consideration.’’
Jachai Polite, defensive end, Florida
Polite has been a popular player for mock drafters to peg for Seattle – ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., to name one, had Polite to Seattle in his most recent mock draft.
But where Burns and Sweat are listed at 6-5 and 6-6, respectively, Polite is “just’’ 6-2 or 6-3, depending on the listing, and Jeremiah says he doesn’t necessarily fit the Pete Carroll profile “from a tall, long perspective. But if you look at Seattle with Bruce Irvin’s success early on there (Irvin is 6-3), I mean Polite could kind of fill that role as just a real explosive kid off the edge.’’
Florida officially listed Polite at 6-2, 242 and how he measures will be something to watch at the combine. And as Burns, he’s young — he’ll turn 21 on March 30.
Greedy Williams, cornerback, Louisiana State
Williams is another who has been mocked by more than a few to Seattle, even though that would fly in the face of the Seahawks’ drafting history since Carroll arrived in 2010. The Seahawks have not taken a cornerback higher than the third round (Shaquill Griffin in 2017), having instead used the mid- to late rounds to strike it big with the likes of Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell.
But with Williams standing 6-3, 185 and generally considered as the top corner in the draft (just ahead of Washington’s Byron Murphy), some think the Seahawks could be intrigued by Williams, even if with Griffin and Tre Flowers Seattle has two, young players returning as starting boundary cornerbacks.
Jeremiah says Williams will be one of the most intriguing players at the combine, saying NFL teams have far from a consensus view of him. “Talk to teams around the league, they are all over the map,’’ Jeremiah said. “Some, he is the no-doubt top corner and some have him buried. So he’s a very polarizing player.’’
Jeremiah says the main concern is how Williams plays the run, which always has been an underrated aspect of Seattle’s interest in cornerbacks (Sherman was a particularly good tackler in the run game).
“He’s a liability against the run,’’ Jeremiah said. “So that physicality and some of that short-area explosiveness would be my two areas of concern with him.’’
Andre Dillard, offensive tackle, Washington State
Seattle’s primary needs seem to be on defense. But you can make a case that the offensive line needs some attention, too, especially if Seattle is undecided about the long-term future of 2016 first-round choice Germain Ifedi (the Seahawks could pick up an option on his contract for 2020, otherwise he could become an unrestricted free agent following the 2019 season). Even if Seattle keeps Ifedi around, it could decide to move him back to guard, where both veterans J.R. Sweezy and D.J. Fluker are free agents.
Jeremiah has Dillard, a former Woodinville High standout, as the top-rated offensive tackle available in the draft, and as such, maybe not making it to 21. Conversely, there has always been some question about how well linemen who play in Mike Leach’s “Air Raid’’ offense make the transition to the NFL. Almost all of Dillard’s WSU and high school experience came at left tackle, but he played some right tackle at the Senior Bowl and teams likely will consider him as a possibility at both spots.
“Who knew Washington State would have the top tackle, in my opinion the top tackle in the draft,’’ Jeremiah said. “Used to be we tried to avoid the offensive linemen from the Air Raid, but they have done a nice job of finding kids and developing him and he is a big-time dude (6-5, 310).”