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And now comes the flipside of the Seahawks fashioning one of the most successful seasons in franchise history: They hold the 25th pick in the first round of April’s NFL Draft.
To the victors go the selections at the bottom of the round, and during the 2012 season the Seahawks posted the third-highest regular-season victory total (11 games) in their 37-year history, won a playoff game for the seventh time and did it on the road for the first time since 1983.
But the strait the Seahawks are about to enter, starting with this week’s Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, is not as dire as it might appear. Says who? Mike Mayock. The draft guru and analyst for NFL.com and the NFL Network had two pieces of good news for the Seahawks during a lengthy conference-call interview Monday.
First, there’s the strength of this year’s draft class – one that lacks franchise-defining selections at the top, but offers quality depth.
“If you’re a playoff team this year, you have to be laughing,” Mayock told Peter King of SI.com on Sunday and then repeated a variation on that theme several times during his Q&A session Monday. “First, I don’t see much difference between the fifth and the 25th picks this year. And I don’t really see the immediate difference-makers in the Top 10.”
As for that 25th pick, Mayock was asked which prospects might be able to help coach Pete Carroll in his quest to improve the Seahawks’ pass rush – one that posted 36 sacks last season after generating 33 in 2011 and 37 in 2010, Carroll’s first season.
He saw the Seahawks play last season – as the analyst for the NFL Network’s telecast of their 13-6 loss to the eventual NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers in Week 7, when they sacked Alex Smith twice.
“Pete loves those big guys that can run,” Mayock said. “You start talking about, especially when I look at their depth chart and just mentally go through it, Brandon Mebane is good against the run, and Alan Branch is (scheduled to become) an unrestricted free agent and Bruce Irvin obviously was drafted in the first round (last year) as an outside, edge guy.
“But I’d love to see him get somebody inside that can push the pocket with some kind of pass-rush ability.”
Somebody like …
Mayock has six defensive tackles with first-round drafts, but expects Florida’s Sharrif Floyd, Utah’s Star Lotulelei and Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson to be off the board by the time the Seahawks make their selection.
No worries. There’s that depth Mayock spoke of, not to mention his other three D-tackles with first-round grades: North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams, Purdue’s Kawann Short and Ohio State’s Johnathan Hankins.
“Those three guys all offer – at 300 pounds – an ability to push the pocket with power and also have some quickness and finesse,” he said. “So they’re three guys that make a lot of sense for them.”
If they’re looking inside-out, rather than out-in. Carroll and general manager John Schneider did both last year, when improving the pass rush also was among the offseason priorities.
First, rush-tackle Jason Jones was signed in free agency – but only to a one-year contract. His performance in the nickel line was far greater than his three sacks would indicate. In fact, what Jones brought to the mix – a large (6 feet 5, 276 pounds) presence and a player who used length and leverage to be disruptive – was never more apparent than when he didn’t play. And that was too often, as Jones missed two games at midseason with an ankle injury and then spent the final two games of the regular season and both playoff games on injured reserve with a knee problem.
As Carroll put it, “We’re just not the same without Jason in there.” In the six games Jones missed, the Seahawks had nine sacks, but only three in the final four games.
Then, the Seahawks made Irvin the 15th pick in last year’s draft. While he led all NFL rookies with eight sacks, six came in three games and he had one in the final six games of the regular season before adding another in the wild-card playoff win over the Washington Redskins.
Factor in the surgery sack-leader Chris Clemons needed to repair the damage done to his left knee against the Redskins and that’s why Carroll is looking for pass-rush help again – in the draft, free agency, or both.
Irvin can step in at the Leo end spot until Clemons is ready – as he did in the divisional playoff lost to the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome, when the Seahawks failed to sack Matt Ryan. But then who plays opposite Irvin on the nickel line used in passing situations?
When Jones was out, the coaches tried Branch as the three-technique tackle in the nickel line. But, like Jones, he’s also scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent.
So the time, and circumstances, might be right to provide some pass-rush ability to the middle of the line.
Rob Rang at NFLDraftScot.com has Hankins (28th) and Short (40th) ranked among his Top 40 prospects overall, with Williams at No. 94. Here’s what he has to say about each:
Hankins (6-3, 320): “In terms of pure talent, Hankins deserves to be ranked among the Top Five prospects in the country. With light feet and shocking athleticism for a man listed at 6-3, 320 pounds, Hankins can be a superstar. Unfortunately, his motor too often appears to be in neutral rather than overdrive. After registering an impressive 11 tackles for loss in a breakout sophomore campaign, the Buckeye defender had just five this season, including only one sack. Despite his drop in production, Hankins is entering the 2013 draft. He clearly has talent, but so did other noticeable busts like Vernon Gholston and Dan Wilkinson.”
Short (6-3, 308): “He has rare traits and a knack for making the big play, but scouts dazzled by him in Mobile (at the Senior Bowl) remain concerned about his snap-to-snap consistency.”
Williams (6-3, 313): “Combining a quick first step and great power, Williams could leap into the first-round conversations following an impressive week at the Senior Bowl.”
With Schneider at the controls on draft day, however, the Seahawks have shown a knack for going against the expected grain by targeting players with unique characteristics to slot into Carroll’s offense and defense. Like taking Irvin, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (second round) and quarterback Russell Wilson (third round) last year; and linebacker K.J. Wright (fourth round) and cornerback Richard Sherman (fifth round) in 2011; and strong safety Kam Chancellor (fifth round) in 2010.
This year, they have depth on their side, and it comes at positions where they could use help.
“I think we probably have better depth than we’ve had in the last 10 years. I’m really impressed with our depth,” Mayock said. “Now the top end of the draft, the Top 10 picks, I don’t see the difference-makers like we’ve had the last several years.
“So I think the quick snapshot of this draft is more depth.”
And that should work well for those teams selecting deeper in the first round, like the Seahawks.