2019 NFL Draft Preview: Will The Seahawks Draft A Defensive Lineman Early Again This Year?

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With the NFL Draft coming up, Seahawks.com is taking a position-by-position look at where things currently stand on the Seahawks’ roster, as well as the top prospects at each position. We’ll also look at Seattle’s draft history at each position under general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll.

The Seahawks currently hold four picks in the 2019 draft, which begins April 25 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Seattle’s 2019 Draft Picks: Round 1, No. 21 overall; Round 3, No. 84 overall; Round 4, No. 124 overall; Round 5, No. 159 overall.

Yesterday we kicked things off with a look at the offensive line, and today we turn our attention to defensive line. We’ll continue Friday with tight ends.

Draft History Under Schneider and Carroll: DE E.J. Wilson (No. 127 overall, 2010); DE Dexter Davis (No. 236, 2010); DE Pep Levingston (No. 205, 2011); DE Bruce Irvin (No. 15, 2012; Irvin later switched to LB); DE Jaye Howard (No. 114, 2012); DE Greg Scruggs (No. 232, 2012); DT Jordan Hill (No. 87, 2013); DT Jesse Williams (No. 137, 2013); DE Cassius Marsh (No. 108, 2014); DT Jimmy Staten (No. 172, 2014); DE Frank Clark (No. 63, 2015); DE Obum Gwacham (No. 209, 2015); DT Jarran Reed (No. 49, 2016); DT Quinton Jefferson (No. 147, 2016); DT Malik McDowell (No. 35, 2017); DT Nazair Jones (No. 102, 2017); DE Rasheem Green (No. 79, 2018); DE/LB Jacob Martin (No. 186, 2018).

Where The Seahawks Stand

Unlike 2018 when the Seahawks headed into the season without three starters from the previous year—Michael Bennett was traded, Cliff Avril was unable to play due to a neck injury, and Sheldon Richardson left in free agency—the Seahawks will have a bit more continuity heading into 2019. The hope is to get a long-term deal done with top pass-rusher Frank Clark, but the defensive end will be back at least in 2019 on the franchise tag if that doesn’t happen, and helping lead a young line along with Clark will be defensive tackle Jarran Reed, who had a breakout year in his third season, recording a career-best 10.5 sacks. Also back is Quinton Jefferson, who started 12 games at defensive end, meaning the only starter to move on this offseason was defensive tackle Shamar Stephen, who returned to the Vikings after one year in Seattle.

From a depth standpoint, the Seahawks brought back Cassius Marsh, added Nate Orchard, and will look for returning players like Rasheem Green, Nazair Jones and Branden Jackson to compete for bigger roles.

And Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is particularly excited about two players who showed flashes in limited playing time as rookies, defensive end Jacob Martin and defensive tackle Poona Ford.

“Poona really did a nice job,” Carroll said of Ford at last month’s league meetings. “We’re really fired up about him. Maybe we were a little conservative in playing him early but the more we played him the better he played and the more we saw. He’s a really active football player, great instincts, his ability to run sideline to sideline, he was demonstrating that. So we’re fired up. He’s going to play in the rotation with the first guys. We’re excited about that."

On Martin, who had three sacks, all in the second half of the season, Carroll said, “I’m pretty excited about what Jacob Martin did. If you guys check his stats, you’ll see Jacob Martin’s pressure percentage was really up there with elite players in a limited role. As a matter of fact, I saw Jacob the other day, he looks great, working hard to keep—he lost weight during the season, trimmed down more than we would like him to. I think if he can maintain his weight around 245, right in that area, I think it’s going to make a difference. But he had a very effective year, three sacks and a really good looking percentage of pressures, I think 15-something, which is right up there with really good players. So we’re thinking we give him more opportunities. He’s got a great motor, he plays like crazy on the field. So to have him and Frank (Clark) going, that’s fantastic energy that they bring. We’ll see how he does, but he should be better than last year.”

Yet as excited as Carroll is about some of the young talent on his team’s roster, it’s fair to wonder if the Seahawks might look to bolster their defensive line early in the draft. For starters, the Seahawks prefer to play with a deep defensive line rotation to keep players fresh, and Carroll has been known to point out that a team can never have too many pass rushers. Seattle’s recent draft history backs up the notion that the Seahawks might go with a defensive lineman early. Since 2015, the Seahawks have picked five D-linemen in Rounds 2 and 3 of the past four drafts, two of which were the team’s first pick in the draft, and two of which were their second selection.

And another reason the Seahawks, like a lot of teams, might be tempted to add a defensive lineman early is that the 2019 class is considered particularly deep and talented, so good options could be available when the Seahawks are on the clock at No. 21, or perhaps even if they trade back a bit.

“It’s really at the top with the defensive line. It really stands out,” Schneider said on 710 ESPN Seattle earlier this month when asked about the strength of this year’s draft class. "I haven’t seen this before, where you’re looking up at the first round and there’s a number of — it’s like what flavor ice cream do you like, you know what I mean? You want a big run-stuffer? You want a quick three-technique? You want five edge rushers?”

NFL.com's rankings of the top defensive end and edge rush prospects in the 2019 draft.

NFL.com’s Top 5 Defensive Ends/Edge Rushers

1. Josh Allen, Kentucky

Overview (via NFL.com): True hybrid linebacker with elite physical traits who has the ability to float between coverage and pass rush duties. Allen's diverse skill-set could offer a creative defensive mind a fun toy to deploy around the field, but his NFL value will rest in his ability to menace the pocket as 3-4 rush linebacker. He's fine-tuned a couple of go-to rush moves but will need to continue to diversify his rush portfolio as a pro. He's not a glass-chewer and doesn't always impose his will at the point of attack, but the tools to become dominant as a run defender and pass rusher are all at his disposal.

2. Nick Bosa, Ohio State

Overview (via NFL.com): High-motor defensive end prospect possessing NFL play strength on a well-muscled, compact frame. Bosa uses forward lean, smart hands and impressive upper-body power to pry open edges against the run and pass. He can defeat single blocks and fits as an end in both 4-3 and 3-4 fronts with the ability to reduce inside as a rusher. His lack of fluidity in space could prevent him from becoming an elite rusher, but he understands how to play and should become an early starter and future Pro Bowler.

3. Montez Sweat, Mississippi State

Overview (via NFL.com): Some will see Sweat as a leggy edge prospect with average play strength and a lack of refinement in his pass rush. I see a talent, similar to Danielle Hunter out of LSU, with above-average length and a prospect who should continue to grow into his frame, allowing him to unleash his rush flashes into a consistent attack. His transition as an NFL rusher will take some time, but like Hunter, he should come out on the other side as a good, impact starter as an every-down edge defender.

4. Rashan Gary, Michigan

Overview (via NFL.com): Five-star defensive end prospect coming into Michigan who leaves with those same five-star traits and loads of potential but a lack of development in key areas. Gary is a face-up rusher who seems content to hit tackles with bull-rush attempts rather than working the edges. He's explosive out of the blocks and in closing to the quarterback, and is just waiting for hand development and additional rush moves. His size, strength and motor could make him a plus run defender in short order. He has elite potential if a defensive coordinator can harness the energy and focus his approach.

5. Clelin Ferrell, Clemson

Overview (via NFL.com): Highly productive 4-3 defensive end with prototypical size, length and strength to offer early help against both the run and pass. Playing next to NFL talent in all three years certainly made things easier for Ferrell, but his edge-setting and rush plan improvements are self-made. His rush can be leggy and gradual and might not get home as often in the pros, but NFL coaching might further unleash his physical traits and turn him into a star. Ferrell is a complete defender and steady talent who could start early for a 4-3 stop unit.

NFL.com's rankings of the top defensive tackle prospects in the 2019 draft.

NFL.com’s Top 5 Defensive Tackles

1. Quinnen Williams, Alabama

Overview (via NFL.com): Williams' hands, feet and overall movement are extremely efficient and he combines those features with short-area burst to create instant wins at the point of attack to propel him to the football. His play strength is good, but his lack of mass and length will show up at times against NFL competition. Despite having just a single season of headline production, his instincts, quickness and athleticism are projectable play traits that should allow for continued production against both the run and pass on the next level. Williams is an instant starter with Pro Bowl potential.

2. Jeffery Simmons, Mississippi State

Overview (via NFL.com): Impressive physical specimen offering rare combination of strength and athleticism for future dominance in a variety of defensive schemes. Simmons involvement in a fight between two women in 2016 will surely be a cause for concern, but his avoidance of trouble while at college should help his cause. His on-field issues are self-created and largely due to a lack of instincts, but the physical tools and immense upside outweigh those concerns. Simmons has All-Pro potential and should become an early starter and star.

3. Ed Oliver, Houston

Overview (via NFL.com): Twitched-up ball of explosive fury from the moment he comes out of his stance, but his lack of NFL size and length creates challenges with his NFL projection. Oliver's athletic ability is beyond rare, but his ability to add and maintain mass could be the critical for his future success. He creates early advantages but must convert them into early disruption to prevent NFL size from swallowing him. Scheme fit will be critical with shade nose or three-technique as the obvious considerations. If Oliver's frame is maxed out, he might possess the speed, toughness and instincts to transition into an inside linebacker role.

4. Dexter Lawrence, Clemson

Overview (via NFL.com): Massive defensive tackle with the size, length, power and relative athleticism to play a variety of positions in either a 3-4 or 4-3 front. While Lawrence certainly has his share of flashes on tape, he's never really turned into the playmaker that many expected him to become after his freshman year. However, many of the best defenses in the NFL have had interior linemen with the traits and power Lawrence possesses. While he has the ability to play in any scheme, he might be at his best as a read-and-react run-stuffer with the ability to stymie running games with his size and force

5. Christian Wilkins, Clemson

Overview (via NFL.com): Desired combination of athleticism, production and character with the ability to fit into a stop unit that already has some pieces in place. Wilkins is a slippery, upfield three-technique with the ability to make plays outside his area. He plays with low pads allowing for optimal disruption leverage in the gaps, but he needs to be paired with an attacking front as he lacks the length and strength to hold his ground as a read-and-react tackle. He's busy and agile as a rusher, which could keep him on the field for more snaps.

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