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Seahawks' roster becoming even more difficult to crack

Posted Feb 26, 2014

The Seahawks’ 2013 draft class made a marginal impact on the most successful season in franchise history because of the talent and depth already on the roster. So the 2014 draft class will find itself in a similar situation.

“What’s going to be hard is for the 10 guys that get drafted to make the team.”

That was coach Pete Carroll’s assessment a year ago when asked about the NFL Draft, and that was before the best and deepest team in the NFL went 13-3 during the regular season and then became the youngest team to ever win the Super Bowl. So it goes without saying that the players selected by the Seahawks in May’s draft will have an even more difficult time making the roster, let alone making an impact.

“We have what we need, we just need to get back to work when the time comes,” is the way Carroll put it during his season-recap Q&A session when asked for his top priority this offseason.

The Seahawks’ 2014 draft class will be at a disadvantage for two reasons. First, the Seahawks hold the final pick in each round because they won the Super Bowl – starting with the first round on May 8, continuing with the second and third rounds on May 9 and concluding with the final four rounds on May 10.

Then there will be the competition for a spot on the 53-man roster or the eight-man practice squad. The Seahawks didn’t just have depth last season, they used it. Byron Maxwell, a sixth-round draft choice in 2011, stepped in as the third option at right cornerback and played liked a starter. When offensive tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini were out for eight and seven games during the same stretch, the versatile Paul McQuistan slid from left guard to replace Okung at left tackle and rookie Michael Bowie took over for Giacomini on the right side. With flanker Sidney Rice going on injured reserve at midseason, slot receiver Doug Baldwin moved outside and finished second on the team in receptions in the regular season (50) and first in the postseason (16). And so on, and so on.

The roster will continue to change between now and the draft. The team will add some players once free agency begins March 11, and lose others.

But here’s a look at three players who participated in the just-concluded NFL Scouting Combine that could interest the Seahawks in the draft:

David Yankey

The 6-foot-6, 315-pound Yankey played left tackle and left guard at Stanford, and the Seahawks are always looking for versatile linemen. He started at left guard in 2011, moved to left tackle in 2012 to replace Jonathan Martin and then moved back to left guard last season – when he became the eighth unanimous All-American in school history.

All that after being born in Australia and weighing 240 as a junior in high school; all that before joining a record group of 98 underclassmen who most feel has made this one of the deepest drafts in decades.

Since losing All-Pro Steve Hutchinson in free agency after the 2005 season, the Seahawks have started 15 players at left guard: Floyd Womack, Chris Spencer, Rob Sims, Mike Wahle, Mansfield Wrotto, Steve Vallos, Ben Hamilton, Mike Gibson, Chester Pitts, Tyler Polumbus, Robert Gallery, James Carpenter, John Moffitt, James Carpenter and McQuistan.

They’ve tried draft choices, veteran free agents, players signed off other team’s practice squads and players signed to future contracts. The last category is topped by McQuistan, who has started 16 games at left guard the past three seasons. But he’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.

It might be time to address the spot again with a long-term option, if Yankey is still available when the Seahawks make that 32nd pick in the first round.

What they’re saying: “The presence of a dominant running game sets the table for Russell Wilson and company. Yankey is a powerful run blocker at the point of attack, yet also shows the athleticism to execute pulls and traps on the move.” – NFL.com analyst, and former NFL player and scout, Bucky Brooks in projecting Yankey to the Seahawks in his latest mock draft.

What he’s saying: “I’m going to bring a physical demeanor. I’m going to play with that mentality that we have at Stanford and also bring a lot of athleticism and natural football intelligence, just understanding the game and being able to play fast.” – Yankey at the Combine.

Aaron Donald

The not quite 6-foot-1, 280-pound Donald doesn’t have prototypical size for a defensive tackle, but when has that stopped Carroll and general manager John Schneider from being interested in a prospect – especially one with the versatility and productivity that Donald displayed at the University of Pittsburgh? He used quickness and tenacity to standout at the Senior Bowl, and displayed those same traits while collecting 29.5 sacks and 66 tackles for losses at Pitt – including 11 and 28.5 last season.

Then there was his performance at the Combine: 4.68 seconds in the 40-yard dash, fifth among the D-linemen; 35 reps with 225 pounds in the bench press, second among the D-linemen; and a time of 7.11 seconds in the three-cone drill, fourth among the D-linemen and a more meaningful measurement at the position than the 40 time.

Why would the Seahawks be interested in another D-lineman after drafting two last year (Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams) and signing three in free agency (Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Tony McDaniel)? That question answers itself: You can never have enough, especially with the rotation system implemented last season by coordinator Dan Quinn and line coach Travis Jones.

What they’re saying: “The Seahawks looked unstoppable in Super Bowl XLVIII, but that won’t keep coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider from continuing to build for the future. Defensive tackles Jordan Hill (inactive for 12 games) and Jesse Williams (IR) provided next to nothing as rookies. If the Seahawks lack confidence in either moving forward, Donald’s quickness would make sense here.” – NFLDraftScout.com senior analyst Rob Rang projecting Donald to the Seahawks in his pre-Combine mock draft (he moves Donald to the Dallas Cowboys at No. 16 in his post-Combine mock and gives Minnesota D-tackle RaShede Hageman to the Seahawks).

What he’s saying: “I played nose tackle, played the five-tech (end), 3-tech (tackle). I moved around in college a lot. So being versatile the way I am, I feel like that’s a plus for me.” – Donald at the Combine.

Stanley Jean-Baptiste

Finding taller, longer cornerbacks was the talk of the Combine, and it’s because of what the Seahawks have done the past few seasons with Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner and Byron Maxwell. Nebraska’s Jean-Baptiste is 6 feet 3, with a 6-5 3/8 wingspan – while Sherman is 6-3 with a 6-5½ wingspan. Jean-Baptiste also played wide receivers earlier in his career – as did Sherman, who has displayed the ability to lock on to passes before the intended receiver while making a league-high 20 interceptions the past three seasons.

Jean-Baptiste is not rated a first-round pick in this draft class. But if the depth in this draft prompts the Seahawks to trade out of the 32nd spot, he could be an option later, and might even be available in a later round even if they select another player at the end of the first round.

And why would the Seahawks be in the market for another corner? As with D-linemen, you can never have enough – especially if that corner has the size and length to play the way the Seahawks do, and the way other teams in the league would like to. In 2013, Maxwell stepped in as the third option on the right side after Browner was injured and Walter Thurmond was suspended. In 2011, Sherman stepped in as the third option on the left side after Marcus Trufant and Thurmond were injured.

And, Browner has since been suspended indefinitely and Thurmond is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.

What they’re saying: “Jean-Baptiste has rare size (6-foot-2 3/8, 215); he looks like a clone of Richard Sherman. I'm sure the Seahawks, among most NFL teams, will be paying close attention to this player. He's a junior-college transfer who only played cornerback for a season and a half at Nebraska after switching from wide receiver in 2011. Has very long arms and is a willing tackler. Looks fast in coverage and has quickness. If he looks like he can cover in man drills (at the Combine), he might move up into my Top 100. Smart player who entered 2013 with his degree already in hand.” – NFL.com analyst, and former Cowboys GM, Gil Brandt.   

What he’s saying: “It’s been crazy, with everyone telling me different things. But at the end of the day, I have to go and put up the right numbers before I know exactly what’s going on.” – Jean-Baptiste to the Lincoln Journal Star before the Combine, where he popped a 41½-inch vertical jump and also ran the 40-yard dash in 4.61 seconds.

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