And now to the most hotly debated Seahawks position group as the NFL draft looms ever closer — the defensive line.
Improving the pass rush was publicly stated as top priority for this offseason by coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider.
But with just eight days left to the draft, whether Seattle is even as good up front as it was a year ago, when the Seahawks’ 28 sacks were tied for the second-fewest in the NFL, isn’t necessarily clear.
The Seahawks in free agency have lost starting end Quinton Jefferson and tackle Al Woods. And as you may have heard, there is still no resolution to the Jadeveon Clowney situation while Ziggy Ansah, also a starter much of last year, also remains unsigned.
In their place, Seattle has signed/agreed to terms with former Seahawks Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa. Seattle also re-signed tackle Jarran Reed.
The general assumption is that Seattle has one big free agent ticket still to play to help the line — finally reel in Clowney? Maybe get Everson Griffen?
If not, the draft will become that much more important for Seattle to really hit on a defensive lineman at some point, and probably with one of the first three picks it holds (assuming, of course, it keeps those).
Let’s quickly reset the defensive line and look at some potential draft targets as our draft preview series continues.
Projected starters: LEO/rush end Bruce Irvin/Benson Mayowa, nose tackle Poona Ford, tackle Jarran Reed, end Rasheem Green.
Key backups: DE L.J. Collier, DE Branden Jackson, DT Bryan Mone, DT Nazair Jones.
Key offseason losses: Jefferson, Woods (and for now, Clowney and Ansah).
So, the projected starting line above could be sold as having the potential to be better than a year ago.
Irvin and Mayowa are each coming off solid years — a combined 15.5 sacks last season. Reed is a year removed from 10.5 sacks, and Ford and Green are each entering their third seasons, each having gotten substantial starting experience for the first time last season.
If you could assume Collier would make a big leap and that they’ll maybe a Woods-type veteran to add depth at tackle at some point, then maybe you could feel comfortable that a draft pick or two and one more free agent — even if not to the Clowney level — would give the Seahawks a chance at a better line than a year ago.
The other factor to consider is that the Seahawks undoubtedly think they will be better in the secondary in 2020 than they were a year ago with a full season of a Bradley McDougald-Quandre Diggs safety tandem, adding Quinton Dunbar at corner, and a nickel corner spot that has to be better than last season.
Throw in a few more line sacks, a few more coverage sacks, and Seattle’s defensive line could look a lot better, maybe even get you to a total like 37, which — believe it or not – is what the Seahawks had in 2014 when they went to their last Super Bowl.
But even that scenario calls for still another significant addition or two. Seattle may be just waiting for the draft and to see that unfolds and who will be left later.
Draft need (on scale of 1-10): 10.
Potential draft fits
So, the two easiest things about this draft to predict may be that Schneider will for sure trade down — hard to imagine they stay with just seven picks — and that Seattle will take a defensive lineman.
It’s not just need that makes you think they’ll take a DL but history. Seattle has taken 18 overall since Schneider became GM in 2010 (not counting a few guys like J.R. Sweezy who were listed as DLs when drafted but were quickly shifted to OL) and at least one in every draft.
In the last five years and seven of the last eight, Seattle has taken at least one defensive lineman in the first three rounds, including Collier in the first last year, Green in the third two years ago, Malik McDowell in the second in 2017, Reed in the second in 2016 and Frank Clark in the second in 2015.
So, who could Seattle take this year?
Here are a few candidates:
Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State: The 6-4, 264-pound Gross-Matos is a player who has been commonly mocked to Seattle at 27, looking on paper like exactly how Carroll would draw up a LEO/rush end player. Had 17.5 sacks and 35 tackles-for-a-loss.
A.J. Epenesa, Iowa: Epenesa is another who has been increasingly mocked in the 20-30 range. At 6-4, 280 he seems to project as more of the five-technique end in Seattle’s defense (think Michael Bennett’s old role) with some calling him maybe the best run-defending end in the draft.
Marlon Davidson, Auburn: The 6-3, 297-pound Davidson is undoubtedly more a five-technique end than a pure rusher off the edge. He was really durable and productive at Auburn, starting all 51 games in which he played the last four years.
K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU: Chaisson is likely going to get picked before Seattle goes at 27 — few seem to think he’ll get past Dallas at 17. But you never know as some question his relative lack of productivity at LSU — he had just 9.5 sacks in 26 games in three seasons. Pro Football Focus has him just 46th on its big board. And at still just 20 years old, he may need a little time to develop. But if he’s there, expect Seattle to leap.
Ross Blacklock, TCU: Blacklock, a tackle, is another popular player to mock to Seattle, though would the Seahawks wonder at all about taking a TCU defensive lineman in the first round for the second straight year? The 6-4, 305-pounder is just 54th on PFF’s big board.
Bradlee Anae, Utah: Anae may slip to the second or even third rounds despite being the Pac-12’s Morris Trophy winner in 2019 and setting a school record with 30 sacks. At 6-3, 257, projects more as a LEO/rush end.