The 2012 NFL season has finally drawn to a close, much to the chagrin of many. However, that means it is NFL Draft season, much to the delight of many! The Seattle Seahawks have had three fascinating and incredible drafts in a row. What will they do this year? Who knows! For now, let’s take a look at their top needs, as the roster stands today.
Despite ending the season with the fourth ranked defense (by DVOA), their highest priorities going into the offseason revolve around solidifying their defensive line and secondary. While many people think LeRoy Hill’s most recent run-in with the law means the Hawks will consider spending a high pick on a weakside linebacker, I expect them to uncover some late-round/undrafted guys to compete with Malcolm Smith, freeing them up to add talent where they’re the weakest: defensive line.
The Seahawks’ biggest need of the offseason is bolstering their defensive tackle depth. Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin are fantastic edge-rushers, but without effective interior penetration, consistent edge pressure can actually help QBs step up in the pocket and deliver better throws. Alan Branch was the Hawks’ starting 3-tech this season, but at 6’6” and 325 pounds, he’s a better run-stuffer than pass-rusher. Jason Jones is sort of the opposite. He does a fantastic job of shooting gaps and collapsing the pocket, but he has some durability issues and isn’t really cut out for a full-time role. I’d expect the Seahawks to retain one of these guys as a rotational player for the 2013 season.
While improved defensive tackle play is perhaps their biggest need, that doesn’t necessarily mean they need to address it in the first round. Guys like Henry Melton and Randy Starks may be available as free agents. Guys like Sheldon Richardson, Star Lotulelei, Shariff Floyd, and Kawann Short may not last till their 25th pick. So their best value may be found later with guys like Chris Jones out of Bowling Green, Montori Hughes out of University of Tennessee-Martin, or Bennie Logan of LSU. No matter what, expect Seattle to add at least two new defensive tackle to the fold before the 2013 season begins.
The Seahawks just spent a first-round pick on a defensive end last year, so it might look a bit strange seeing defensive end as a high need. However, Clemons’ season-ending ACL tear in the playoff game against the Redskins has pushed it to the top once more.
If Clemons recovered at the same freakish pace as Adrian Peterson last year, he’d barely be ready for the season to start in September. He’d not have the opportunity to take good advantage of offseason workouts, and it’d likely take him a few weeks to get back into the swing of things. If he recovers from an ACL tear like most professional athletes, that’d put him at peak performance again in November or December, meaning he’d miss most of the season. So the Seahawks need to prepare to spend at least half of the year without him.
Fortunately, Irvin showed he can fill in well at left end in Clemons’ absence. While he didn’t fill up the stat-sheet against the Falcons, he was able to generate good push (in spite of ZERO interior pressure). He struggled against the run, but then any run defense the LEO provides is typically a benefit. Irvin can be the day one LEO, leaving a hole at third-down rusher (last year’s Irvin role). Expect to see Seattle add at least two defensive ends. Cliff Avril and Connor Barwin are a couple of free agents to keep an eye on. They could look to add someone early like Alex Okafor or Corey Lemonier. And they may look at some mid-round guys like Michael Buchanan, Malliciah Goodwin, or Quanterus Smith.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Taken at face value, Seattle’s receiving corps doesn’t intimidate many people. But Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, and Zach Miller proved to be consistent and reliable targets down the stretch. Even Anthony McCoy stepped up big in several games. All of these guys are young—under 27—and should grow well with Russell Wilson.
Seattle doesn’t lean on their passing game. Wilson only averaged 24.5 attempts a game in 2012. They may open the passing game a little bit more next year, but no Pete Carroll team will ever average more than 30 throws a game. So while people hammer the table for more receivers for Wilson, keep in mind that any new receiver isn’t likely to have a big statistical impact.
The Seahawks will add competition to their receiver corps, but it may not be a high pick. If Miller’s plantar fasciitis proves to be a lingering issue, look for Seattle to take early advantage of a stacked tight end class. Jordan Reed and Gavin Escobar would represent good value in the 30-50 range as big, athletic WR/TE hybrids in the “Joker” mold of Aaron Hernandez and Jimmy Graham. Travis Kelce (late 1st round) and Ryan Otten (3rd to 4th round) are a couple traditional inline TE options.
If Seattle decides to add a deep threat at WR, they may look early at guys like Markus Wheaton and Terrence Williams or later at someone like Corey Fuller.
Marcus Trufant was probably the most frustrating player on the Seahawks this year. Every single Seahawks fan has loved the guy for his contributions to the team throughout his career, but he’s getting quite long in the tooth, and seemed utterly unsuited to his role as nickel cornerback. In the past, nickel corner has been viewed as a “fifth best defensive back on the team” position, but as the NFL has become increasingly focused on the passing game, many teams have gone as far as playing with nickel as their base package. This makes the nickel corner almost a full time position, at least as valuable as the one of the starting linebackers.
Seattle played a lot of nickel in 2012, and Trufant’s shortcomings in coverage contributed to their much-maligned third-down defense. Given Trufant’s age and Brandon Browner’s age and contract status (free agent after the 2013 season), Seattle will need to add cornerback depth. Jeremy Lane and Byron Maxwell acquitted themselves quite nicely during Browner’s suspension, and the coaching staff’s comfort with their performance will play a large part in determining how aggressively they pursue this cornerback class.
Carroll will likely continue to trust his ability to uncover quality undervalued players at this position in the mid-to-late rounds, but I wouldn’t completely rule out an early pick if a highly-rated corner managed to slip down the board. Xavier Rhodes, for example, would be a picture-perfect Carroll corner, but he’s unlikely to fall out of the top 15. Keep your eye on guys like Leon McFadden, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Sanders Commings, and Robert Alford as 2nd-4th round guys who could end up in blue and grey.
Before Trufant’s nickel woes reared their ugly head, most Seahawks fans had Breno Giacomini at the top of their hit list. The Big Russian, as Marshawn Lynch affectionately refers to him, is perhaps the perfect embodiment of Tom Cable on the 53-man roster. He’s big, aggressive, hot-headed, and regularly does things he hasn’t thought of yet. However, after a couple of particularly egregious penalties in a game against the Panthers, Carroll benched him temporarily, and that seemed to do the trick. He settled down, reined himself in, and had a hell of second half of the season. He continued to struggle in pass protection against elite pass-rushers, but he’s a beast of a run-blocker.
However, he’s a free agent after the 2013 season, and Carroll preaches competition at every position, so Seattle will bring in at least one offensive tackle to push him and potentially replace him after the season. And they won’t pass up great value if a highly-rated player drops to them. With Frank Omiyale, Paul McQuistan, and Mike Person as the only other offensive tackles on the roster (apart from the franchise left tackle Russell Okung), they can make good use of younger and better depth. Someone like D.J. Fluker could potentially end up their top-rated player at 25 (assuming no reasonable trade-down options are available). If so, he’d fit in very well. Later options would include Brennan Williams, Justin Pugh, and Xavier Nixon.
Fortunately, the Seahawks could take their roster from the end of the 2012 season into the 2013 season and still be considered legitimate NFC contenders. They can afford to add talent wherever they find the greatest value. So while these are their top five needs, don’t rule out any players or any positions.
Given the current state of the roster and Pete Carroll and John Schneider’s previous three drafts, it’s a good time to be a Seahawks fan.