Kiper also thinks the Seahawks could be interested in one of the more intriguing receivers who will be available.
You probably wouldn’t go wrong betting that one thing that will continue to grow are NFL mock drafts.
But through the dizzying maze of mocks that populate social media this year, one continues to stand out — that of ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., who was at the forefront of the birth of the genre in the late ‘70s and continues to produce one of the most-discussed mocks to this day.
Kiper released his latest mock draft this week and on Tuesday held one of his annual conference calls with media to discuss his picks, which included selecting Florida edge rusher Jachai Polite for the Seahawks (pronounced juh-KYE, if you’re wondering).
Pass rusher is an obvious need for Seattle, especially if anything goes haywire in the contract talks with Frank Clark. Tuesday marked the first day of a two-week period when NFL teams can place franchise tags on unrestricted free agents, such as Clark. Seattle is widely expected to put a tag on Clark if it can’t work out a long-term deal immediately, which would likely pay him at least a fully guaranteed $17.3 million for the 2019 season, while still attempting to work out a long-term deal with Clark (teams can continue to talk to tagged players until July 15, at which point the player can sign only a one-year deal, with no further talks allowed until after the season).
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Seattle hadn’t placed a tag on Clark as of Tuesday afternoon, and may not until closer to the deadline.
Even if Clark stays for a year or for a long time, though, the Seahawks have pass rush needs, with no one other than Clark or Jarran Reed getting more than three sacks last season.
But Kiper says Polite makes sense for another reason.
“To take advantage of the strength of this draft, which is defense,’’ Kiper says.
And getting the most bang for its draft buck could be more vital than ever for Seattle this season as the Seahawks currently have just four picks thanks to trades for Duane Brown (second-round pick), Brett Hundley (sixth) and Shalom Luani (seventh).
Of course, the Seahawks have made a habit of trading down in the draft to collect more picks in later rounds, and could well do so again — in fact, betting that they’ll do just that is probably another you’re not going to lose.
But who knows? Maybe Seattle might also want to make sure it takes advantage of the defensive talent in the first round and stay right where it is.
If the Seahawks were to do that, Kiper says the Seahawks could consider a few other options, as well.
“They could look at a wideout, maybe D.K. Metcalf of Ole Miss if he were there,’’ Kiper said, also mentioning the offensive line as an area “they have to shore up a bit.’’
Just how much the Seahawks will have to shore up the offensive line will be revealed over the next month or so in whether Seattle re-signs one or both of veteran free agents J.R. Sweezy and D.J. Fluker, the starters at the two guard spots in 2018.
But edge rusher loom as a draft need regardless of what happens in free agency, with most teams likely to figure out a way to keep the defensive ends who top the list of potential available free agents, as Seattle figures to do with Clark.
So what does Kiper like about Polite, who left Florida after three years with one year of eligibility remaining?
For one, he’s young — he’ll turn 21 on March 30, meaning he has tons of the proverbial upside, and also that he figures to still fill out his 6-2, 242-pound frame.
Another is his performance in 2018 when he had 11 sacks and earned First-Team All-SEC honors, which had Kiper comparing him to another former Seahawks first-round pick.
“He had a great year,’’ Kiper said. “He went from being a four-sack guy to an 11-sack guy and that’s what they (the Seahawks) want is the pass rushers. … I think the pass rusher is what Pete (Carroll) has always wanted. Polite had a great year at Florida. He kind of is a one-year wonder because this is the first year his sack numbers were really impressive. But he plays hard. He’s got that explosive burst to the quarterback. He’s a finisher coming off the edge. It’s the Bruce Irvin-types, that’s kind of what he falls into, that combo guy.’’
Irvin was Seattle’s first-round pick in 2012 at number 15 overall, listed at the time at 6-3, 245, but also 24 years old then.
Irvin was primarily an edge rusher for Seattle but also played some strongside linebacker, which was a particular key down the stretch in 2014 when the Seahawks needed to do very limited substituting on defense.
Some draft analysts have wondered if Polite might be best suited as an OLB in a 3-4 defense, but the Seahawks under Carroll have shown that if a player has a skill they think they can use, they’ll bring that player in and figure it out later.
Kiper’s mentioning of Metcalf in connection with the Seahawks is also intriguing.
Metcalf set social media abuzz earlier this month with a photo of a recent workout session (USA Today’s For The Win said he looked more like The Incredible Hulk than an NFL receiver), and at 6-4, 225 he is one of the most intriguing physical prospects in the draft. Seattle has been on a seemingly endless quest for a big receiver, and Metcalf’s size alone will undoubtedly pique the interest of the Seahawks.
But as Kiper noted, Metcalf has had some injury issues, missing all but two games of the 2016 season with a foot injury and then suffering a season-ending neck injury in 2018 after playing seven games. The injuries meant Metcalf — whose uncle is Seattle native and longtime NFL player Eric Metcalf — was limited to just 67 catches in his career (though for a solid 1,228 yards and 14 touchdowns) never making more than 39 in a season.
“Not a huge number there,’’ Kiper said of Metcalf’s receptions. “But he’s got tremendous talent. He flashes that big-time ability and I think in a wide receiver group that’s not that strong (and got a little more iffy with the news this week that Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown will miss the combine due to a Lisfranc injury), you could see a little bit of a reach there. He’s got as much upside as anybody.’’
Seattle has Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin returning as receivers, but each is listed at 5-10, with the Seahawks having tried a lot of options to get a big receiver to pair with them the last few years (Brandon Marshall last season, to name one) but rarely succeeding for very long.