The 2023 NFL Draft kicks off later this month, and for the Seahawks, this year's draft represents a big opportunity to improve upon a team that reached the playoffs last season. After hitting a home run in the 2022 draft, the Seahawks have even more draft capital this year, including extra first and second-round picks (No. 5 and 37 overall) that were part of the trade that sent Russell Wilson to Denver last year.
The fifth overall pick is the highest the Seahawks have had since Pete Carroll and John Schneider took over in 2010, and this is just the second time in the Carroll-Schneider era that Seattle has had a pair of first-rounders in one draft, having selected Russell Okung and Earl Thomas in 2010.
"This is really an exciting opportunity for us," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said at the NFL Scouting combine. "We have not been in this situation, we have not felt like this ever. So all of the build up to it has been exciting, and we're hoping to obviously max out everything we can with it… We know that the opportunity is something special, so we're looking forward to it and we'll see how it goes."
With the draft coming up soon, Seahawks.com is taking a position-by-position look at where things currently stand for the Seahawks, as well as the top draft prospects at each position. We'll also look at Seattle's draft history at each position over the past 13 drafts under Schneider and Carroll.
So far we’ve covered quarterback, the defensive line/outside linebacker and the offensive line, and today we turn our attention to off-ball linebackers. Check back Monday for a look at where things stand at tight end.
Seattle's 2023 Draft Picks: Round 1, No. 5 overall (from Denver); Round 1, No. 20 overall; Round 2, No. 37 overall (from Denver); Round 2, No. 52 overall; Round 3, No. 83 overall; Round 4, No. 123 overall; Round 5, No. 151 overall (from Pittsburgh); Round 5, No. 154 overall; Round 6, No. 198 overall; Round 7, No. 237 overall.
Linebacker Draft History Under John Schneider and Pete Carroll: K.J. Wright (No. 99 overall, 2011); Malcolm Smith (No. 243, 2011); Bobby Wagner (No. 46, 2012); Korey Toomer (No. 154, 2012); Ty Powell (No. 231, 2013); Kevin Pierre-Louis (No. 132, 2014); Shaquem Griffin (No. 141, 2018); Jacob Martin (No. 186, 2018); Cody Barton (No. 88, 2019); Ben Burr-Kirven (No. 142, 2019); Jordyn Brooks (No. 27, 2020).
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Where the Seahawks Stand
Early in free agency, off-ball linebacker was one of the clearest needs on Seattle's roster. Jordyn Brooks, the team's leading tackler and one of the defense's leaders the past two seasons, tore his ACL late in the 2022 season, putting in question his availability in 2023, particularly early in the season. Then in the opening week of free agency, fellow starting linebacker Cody Barton signed with Washington, a signing that, along with Brooks' injury, left Jon Rhattigan and Nick Bellore as Seattle's only healthy off-ball linebackers.
Heading into the draft, however, the Seahawks are in much better shape at that spot, having signed future Hall of Fame linebacker Bobby Wagner back after his one season with the Rams, and having also added former first-round pick Devin Bush.
Those two would appear to be the starting off-ball linebackers as things stand right now, at least until Brooks is healthy, but with 10 picks in this year's draft, it's hard to imagine the Seahawks not wanting to add depth and competition at that spot, not only to help the defense, but also because linebackers tend to be big contributors on special teams.
When looking at Seattle's linebacker depth, it is worth noting, however, that they expect to play a lot of three-safety packages, with a safety like Jamal Adams or Julian Love playing as a de facto linebacker, and in fact Schneider has talked about those two positions almost interchangeably at times, including at the NFL Annual Meeting when he talked about Wagner's role in the defense.
"I think Pete and (defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt) have a real cool plan so (Wagner) doesn't have to be out there a thousand plays," Schneider said. "He'll be able to see how he does and be able to manage the situation. Especially with new guys coming in like Julian (Love) and (Devin) Bush, how they're going to rotate all those guys. It'll be cool."
Yet even with a lot of three-safety looks this year, the Seahawks will no doubt be looking for ways to add more depth at linebacker, very possibly in the upcoming draft.
Rob Rang's Top 5 Off-Ball Linebackers
Overview: Whereas the edge rusher and defensive line classes are relatively flush with talent and pro-readiness, the 2023 class of off-ball linebackers requires a bit more creativity and projection. This is partially due to the increasing complexity of the position, as defending the modern NFL passing attacks require teams to prioritize speed and change of direction for coverage at linebacker, rather than the classic run-stuffing tough guys that all but personified football in the past. As such, several of the prospects that have scouts the most excited this year are elite athletes only recently making the switch to linebacker. Even with the reunion with future Hall of Famer Bobby Wagner and the signing of former first round pick Devin Bush, the Seahawks are expected to draft at least one linebacker this year, though I believe the club remains quite high on some of the young players at the position already on the roster. A few players who didn't make the cut below but possess the physicality and instincts Seattle typically requires from its linebackers include Oregon's Noah Sewell, Cincinnati's Ivan Pace, Alabama's Henry To'oTo'o, Tennessee's Jeremy Banks and North Carolina State's Drake Thomas.
1. Drew Sanders, Arkansas, 6-4, 235, First Round
Sanders began his college career as a five-star edge rusher at Alabama and the top-rated prep, overall, out of the football-loving state of Texas in 2020. He played immediately but after an injury limited him to three starts in Tuscaloosa as a sophomore, Sanders transferred to the Razorbacks and was an instant star at inside linebacker, generating 103 tackles, including 13.5 for loss, 9.5 sacks and three forced fumbles to earn First Team All-SEC honors and being named one of three finalists for the Butkus Award, as the nation's top linebacker. Sanders offers rare three-down ability from the inside due to his rush skills and is a top-notch athlete – clocking a 4.59 in the 40-yard dash and posting a 37" vertical at his Pro Day - whose game should only improve with experience.
2. Trenton Simpson, Clemson, 6-2, 235, First-Second Round
The expression "run and hit" linebacker was created to describe the uber-athletic Simpson, who was clocked at a jaw-dropping 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the Combine. That unique speed at Simpson's size generates real explosiveness in his collisions (three forced fumbles) and his closing speed offers all sorts of possibilities as a rusher, in coverage and as a special teams demon. Simpson started inside and out for the Tigers, generating 165 tackles, 23 tackles for loss and 13 sacks over 37 career games.
3. Jack Campbell, Iowa, 6-5, 249, Second Round
The emotional leader of an Iowa defense that allowed just 13.3 points per game in 2022, "Captain Jack" recorded 125 tackles, including 5.5 for loss last season, plucking key interceptions against Minnesota and Ohio State to earn All-American honors, as well as the prestigious Butkus Award. He simply led the nation with 143 stops the year before – his first as Iowa' starting inside linebacker. In some ways, Campbell is your classic Big Ten linebacker – big, physical, instinctive – but there's a twist, he's also a terrific athlete, which he demonstrated in virtually every drill at the Combine and by playing tight end, previously in his career.
4. Daiyan Henley, Washington State, 6-1, 225, Second Round
The first linebacker in WSU history to be named a finalist for the Butkus Award, Henley actually began his career at wide receiver and at the University of Nevada, where he first made the switch to defense in 2018 and earned Second Team All Mountain West Conference in 2021 prior to moving to the Palouse as a grad-transfer. As his past at receiver suggests, Henley is a terrific athlete with plus ball-skills. He doesn't lack for physicality and should just be scratching the surface of his potential.
5. Yasir Abdullah, Louisville, 6-1, 237, Second Round
Abdullah's quickness and agility made him a dynamic playmaker near the line of scrimmage at Louisville (42 tackles for loss over his career, including 23.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles) but he might have to play further back at his size in the NFL. Abdullah certainly has the speed to handle the role, clocking in at 4.47 at the Combine, and he possesses long arms and strong hands to take on and defeat blocks.
NFL Draft expert Rob Rang identifies the top off-ball linebacker prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft