Linemen and safeties might be at the top of the Seahawks' priority list as the team begins preparing for April's NFL Draft.
There’s one big game left in this NFL season, but the eyes of many in the league have already shifted to next season.
Specifically, the draft season. This week’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., marks a ramping up of team’s evaluation of prospects for the NFL Draft, which will be held April 27-29.
Like every other NFL team, the Seahawks have been well represented in Mobile this week, taking in the critical Tuesday through Thursday practices, which are viewed as more important than the game itself. The Senior Bowl game kicks off Saturday at 11:30 a.m. P.T. and will be televised on the NFL Network.
Seattle has just four picks in the draft at the moment – its first, third, fourth and fifth rounders — having traded away its second (Duane Brown), sixth (Brett Hundley) and seventh-round (Shalom Luani) selections over the past year or so.
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Seattle will likely do what it often has in the John Schneider/Pete Carroll regime — make trades to end up with more picks.
But for now, four is what the Seahawks have.
So Seattle may have to be more selective than ever come draft time.
Here’s a look at some players at the the Senior Bowl who might intrigue the Seahawks.
Edge rusher Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech: Montez Sweat of Mississippi State, a school Seattle has had some success with, has also been impressive as an edge rusher at the Senior Bowl and is undoubtedly on Seattle’s radar. But he’s not likely to be there at No. 21 when Seattle is scheduled to make its first pick. That could leave Ferguson as the top available edge rusher when Seattle picks. In four years at La. Tech, Ferguson set an NCAA career record with 45 sacks. That earned the 6-5, 256-pounder the nickname “Sack Daddy.’’ The question NFL teams such as the Seahawks will have to answer is whether playing at the non-Power Five level means Ferguson need more time to adjust to pro ball. Seattle for the moment has definite needs at edge rusher. By the time the draft rolls around, expect Seattle to have made some moves to ensure Frank Clark will be in uniform in 2019 — at the least, tagging him with the Franchise Tag. Seattle also will likely address adding pass rushers in free agency. But expect them to get one in the draft, as well.
OL Michael Deiter, Wisconsin: Based on the improvement Seattle saw in 2018, offensive line doesn’t necessarily appear to be the urgent need it has been in past years for the Seahawks. If Seattle re-signs guards D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy in free agency, then all five starters from last year could return, as well as every key reserve. But the Seahawks will undoubtedly want to add competition to the OL this year and Deiter could be a good fit due to his versatility — he played left guard as a senior, left tackle as a junior and center as a sophomore. Adding a young player who can help out anywhere and everywhere might be what Seattle would want this year.
OG Chris Lindstrom, Boston College: As noted, where the Seahawks could have its most immediate need on the offensive line is at guard if one or both of Sweezy and Fluker — who each will be unrestricted free agents in March — do not return. If Seattle needs to replenish the guard spot, Lindstrom might be the perfect fit. The 6-3-1/2 307-pounder has played both guard and tackle but is projected to be a guard in the NFL. And this description of his play during Senior Bowl practices by Eric Edholm of Pro Football Weekly makes him sound like the perfect match for the Seahawks and OL coach Mike Solari: “If you like mauler, run-blocker types, then Boston College OG Chris Lindstrom is your guy. He pancaked a few defenders in the 9-on-7 portion of practice and continued his strong work in full-team drills. I was impressed with what I saw: power, technique and hands.’’
WR David Sills, West Virginia: The Seahawks remain on what has been a seemingly eternal quest to find a big receiver who can be consistently productive to complement Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett. Maybe Sills — measured at 6-4, 203 — can fit that bill. He was the go-to red zone receiver in the ultra-explosive West Virginia offense, with 15 touchdowns out of 65 receptions as a senior. He also has an intriguing backstory, having committed to USC and then-coach Lane Kiffin in 2010 as a quarterback at age 13, just months after Kiffin took over for Carroll. That didn’t pan out, and Sills ended up at WVU where he initially tried to play quarterback before making a full-time switch to receiver as a junior, when he caught 18 touchdowns. Sills projects at the moment as a late-second to early-fourth round pick when it might make sense for Seattle to look for a receiver.
S Khari Willis, Michigan State: There was some expected dropoff in the play of Seattle’s secondary this season as it played the final 12 games, and the playoff, without any remaining founding members of the Legion of Boom (or meaning, basically, without Earl Thomas, the only LOBer left when the season began). Carroll, though, expressed confidence in the team’s revamped safety corps throughout the season. Just how real that confidence is will become apparent this offseason in whether Seattle makes significant moves to bolster the secondary or largely leaves it alone. The Seahawks might not want to spend heavy draft capital on the secondary but could add in the middle rounds, and Willis looms as an intriguing prospect. While he’s generally thought of more as a strong safety, he also had 10 pass breakups last season and appears to be versatile enough to handle both spots. He was also a team captain, the kind of thing Seattle likes. And NFL teams will also like that he volunteered to go back to playing on special teams late last season when MSU had some issues in that area. Upgrading special teams will be a focus of Seattle’s offseason.
THE LOCAL FACTOR
We’d be remiss not to mention the players from Washington and Washington State who are taking part in the Senior Bowl this week. Seattle has had some success with players from both UW and WSU, even if the fact that players are local can’t really be a huge factor in how the Seahawks evaluate anyone.
Here is a look at five UW and WSU players in the Senior Bowl and whether they’d be a fit for the Seahawks.
QB Gardner Minshew, Washington State: Seattle signed Paxton Lynch as a possible backup to Russell Wilson and might also still re-sign free agent-to-be Brett Hundley, last year’s backup. If that happens, QB seems a really low draft priority. And Minshew doesn’t seem a real scheme fit for the Seahawks.
LT Andre Dillard, Washington State: The Woodinville High alum has had a solid Senior Bowl week and is being increasingly talked of as a potential first-round pick. With Duane Brown signed through 2021, Seattle doesn’t need to spend that kind of draft capital on a left tackle. But if Seattle thought Dillard could be a right tackle, that’s another matter as Germain Ifedi’s rookie deal runs out in 2019 and the Seahawks probably won’t pick up his fifth-year option, meaning he could be a free agent in a year. Dillard’s stock appears to be rising at the Senior Bowl
OT Kaleb McGary, Washington: McGary was a right tackle at UW, and that might make him a more likely target of the Seahawks for the reasons listed above, especially if he’s available in the middle rounds. McGary showed well in practices this week.
TE Drew Sample, Washington: Assuming fellow Husky tight end Will Dissly makes it back from a knee injury, tight end doesn’t appear to be a huge position of need for the Seahawks. Ed Dickson and Nick Vannett remain under contract for 2019 (though Vannett has just one year left on his rookie deal) and Tyrone Swoopes also remains on the roster. Dissly’s early Seattle success figures to only help Sample’s stock.
DT Greg Gaines, Washington: Seattle has definite needs at tackle and Gaines is undoubtedly on the Seahawks’ radar after winning the Morris Trophy as the best defensive linemen in the Pac-12 (an honor he shared with McGary, who won the offensive version). Gaines is currently regarded as likely a third-to-fifth round pick.