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2024 Draft Preview: After Signing Two Linebackers In Free Agency, Do The Seahawks Add More Help There In The Draft?

A look at where the Seahawks stand at linebacker heading into the 2024 NFL Draft, as well as draft analyst Rob Rang’s top-ranked prospects at that position.

2024 Draft Preview - LBs

The NFL Draft kicks off later this month in Detroit, and while it will be the 15th in Seattle for general manager and president of football operations John Schneider, it will be his first with new head coach Mike Macdonald.

But while there are some adjustments to be made for Schneider and the player personnel department in terms of learning what Macdonald and his coaching staff look for in players, Schneider doesn't see this draft process playing out a whole lot differently than the previous 14 did with Pete Carroll as the head coach.

"There's so much preparation that goes into it, it's going to be the same," Schneider said last month at the NFL Annual Meeting. "The preparation is—really, think of it like a game; you're putting together a game-plan sheet. That's basically what your board looks like. So you're like, 'OK, well that happened, now we're going here. That happened. Now we're going here.' So that's really your preparation, and I don't see it being any different.

"Pete, he was a blast to work with throughout the preparation, and Mike and his staff are the same. It's going to be fun."

Unlike the past two drafts in which Seattle had multiple first and second-round picks thanks to the Russell Wilson trade, the Seahawks have a little less draft capital in 2024, though the 16th overall pick is still a valuable asset, either to be used on an elite player or perhaps to be traded for a pick later in the first round along with additional picks. The Seahawks have seven total picks heading into the draft, but do not have a second-rounder having sent that to the Giants in last year's trade for Leonard Williams.

So with the draft coming up soon, 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 14 drafts under Schneider.

Yesterday, we kicked things off with quarterback, and today we turn our attention to the other side of the ball with a look at off-ball linebackers. Check back tomorrow when we focus on the offensive line.

Seattle's 2024 Draft Picks: Round 1, No. 16 overall; Round 3, No. 81 overall (from New Orleans via Denver); Round 4, No. 102 overall (from Washington); Round 4, No. 118 overall; Round 6, No. 179 overall (from Washington); Round 6, No. 192 overall; Round 7, No. 235 overall.

Off-Ball Linebacker Draft History Under John Schneider: K.J. Wright (No. 99 overall, 2011); Malcolm Smith (No. 243, 2011); Korey Toomer (No. 154, 2012); Ty Powell (No. 243, 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).

Where the Seahawks Stand

It didn't take long in free agency to realize the Seahawks would be different in linebacker in 2024 than they were last season. Jordyn Brooks, a 2020 first-round pick, agreed to a deal with the Dolphins on the first day of free agency, and a couple days later Bobby Wagner, a future Hall of Famer and all-time Seahawks great, agreed to a deal with the Washington Commanders.

With a clear need at that spot, the Seahawks signed a pair of players with starting experience, Tyrel Dodson, who started 10 games for the Bills last season, and Jerome Baker, a longtime starter for the Dolphins. Both of those players are young—Dodson is 25 and Baker is 27—skilled and experienced, so those two signings keep the Seahawks from heading into the draft feeling like they have to pick a linebacker.

"I think there's position flexibility and both guys have played both spots," Macdonald said at the NFL Annual Meeting after noting Baker will start out playing weakside linebacker with Dodson at middle linebacker. "Jerome's played in several different types of defense and then Tyrel's played both the Mike (middle) backer and the weakside backer in Buffalo, and he's done it at a high level in my opinion. But two guys that can run, two intelligent football players, tough, I thought they're both good tacklers, they're both good players in space and those are things we're asking from our inside backers. Those guys have got to take up a lot of ground man. They've got to play people out of the backfield. They've got to play all the choice routes on the weak side, which is hard to do. I think we've got the right guys for the job. They've got to blitz, play man to man. We ask a lot out of our inside backers, so it'll be a great battle and we'll see how it comes to life, but I think there's some opportunity there to have a little bit more position flexibility than I think maybe you saw in Baltimore."

Yet even though the Seahawks like what they have in Dodson and Baker, those two signings won't necessarily preclude the addition of a linebacker or two in the draft. Linebackers tend to be big special teams contributors, so even if a later-round pick weren't an immediate starter, there can be value there, and the Seahawks could also look to address that position with one of their picks thinking long term, having not done so in the draft for several years dating back to the 2020 selection of Brooks.

Rob Rang's Top 5 Off-Ball Linebackers

Overview: Replacing a legend is never fun and with future Hall of Famer Bobby Wagner leaving for Washington and former first round pick Jordyn Brooks flying south to Miami, as well, the Seahawks have double-duty at linebacker. Fortunately, the club brought in two young veterans in Tyrel Dodson and Jerome Baker who may actually prove athletic and schematic upgrades to the aforementioned former Seattle standouts. However, that does not mean the Seahawks are finished at linebacker. With Dodson and Baker both signed to one-year deals, Seattle will almost surely be selecting at least one linebacker in the 2024 NFL draft and perhaps early. Macdonald's familiarity with Michigan's prototypically-built Junior Colson makes him an obvious fit but most view him as a likely second round selection. Seattle, of course, has already used its second round pick in the trade to acquire star defensive tackle Leonard Williams from the New York Giants. Along with the players listed below, some of my favorite middle and later round fits for the Seahawks include Mississippi State's Nathaniel Watson, Washington's Edefuan Ulofoshio, UTEP's Tyrice Knight and yet another Michigan Wolverine, Michael Barrett.

1. Edgerrin Cooper, Texas A&M, 6-2, 230, First-Second Round

An athletic specimen whose 4.51 speed is obvious on the field, Cooper emerged as an All-SEC honoree in 2023, his first as a full-time starter. Cooper is agile and explosive, dancing around would-be blockers and closing almost instantly, using his long arms to lasso ball carriers out of the grasp of most defenders. While a lanky frame makes him look more like a safety, Cooper is among the more physical linebackers in this class, leveling up opponents – including quarterbacks. He finished tied among all Aggies with eight sacks in 2023, among his 17 tackles for loss and team-leading 84 stops, overall.

2. Junior Colson, Michigan, 6-2, 238, Second Round

Michigan's far and away leading tackler each of the past two seasons, Colson is both productive and physically impressive, offering a prototypical blend of size, power and physicality to continue his success in the NFL. He attacks the line of scrimmage like an NFL veteran, exploding to and through would-be blockers on his way to the ball. A supremely-talented supporting cast limited Colson's statistics – he recorded just 2.5 sacks in three seasons in Ann Arbor – but his instincts and physicality were obvious in primetime showdowns with Ohio State and Alabama (among others), earning him higher grades with NFL scouts than the media.

3. Payton Wilson, North Carolina State, 6-4, 233, Second Round

The polar opposite of Colson is NC State's ultra-athletic and rangy Wilson, the reigning Butkus Award winner as the nation's top linebacker and one of this year's most impressive testers at the Combine. Wilson was clocked at an eye-popping 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash, showing the range to beat backs to the sidelines as well as handle coverage duties. His seven interceptions (and 13 pass breakups) are easily the most among this year's top linebackers and he's just as dangerous near and behind the line of scrimmage, as well, recording 48 tackles for loss and 15 sacks over his career. Durability and schematic fit questions could nevertheless push him into Day Two.

4. Jeremiah Trotter Jr., Clemson, 6-0, 228, Second-Third Round

While scouts evaluating the aforementioned Wilson might see the lanky athlete's testing profile as similar to that of a wide receiver or tight end, Trotter plays and appears more like a running back. He certainly possesses the vision and contact balance of a running back, attacking holes in the line of scrimmage and fending off would-be blockers much better than his stubby frame would suggest. If the name sounds familiar, it should, as Trotter is the prodigal son of an 11-year NFL veteran, who was voted a Pro Bowler four times.

5. Curtis Jacobs, Penn State, 6-1, 241, Third-Fourth Round

Those focusing strictly on statistics might overlook Jacobs, as his total tackle numbers dropped each of the past three seasons, culminating in a 2023 campaign in which he recorded "just" 49 total tackles. A closer look, however, reveals a powerfully-built defender with excellent closing speed – especially when attacking downhill. His size, explosiveness and knack for sacks could project quite well to Macdonald's defense.

NFL Draft analyst Rob Rang ranked his top linebackers for the upcoming draft.

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