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2024 Draft Preview: Will The Seahawks Add To An Already Strong Defensive Front

A look at where the Seahawks stand on the defensive line and outside linebacker heading into the 2024 NFL Draft, as well as draft analyst Rob Rang’s top-ranked prospects at those positions.

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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.

So far we've covered quarterback, linebacker, and the offensive line, and today we turn our attention to the defensive line and outside linebacker. Check back tomorrow when we focus on running back.

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.

Defensive line & Outside Linebacker Draft History Under John Schneider: DE E.J. Wilson (No. 127 overall, 2010); DE Dexter Davis (No. 236, 2010); DE Pep Levingston (No. 205, 2011); DE/OLB Bruce Irvin (No. 15, 2012); DE Jaye Howard (No. 114, 2012); DE Greg Scruggs (No. 232, 2012); DT Jordan Hill (No. 87, 2013); DT Jesse Williams (No. 137, 2013); OLB Ty Powell (No. 231; 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/OLB Jacob Martin (No. 186, 2018); DE L.J. Collier (No. 29, 2019); DT DeMarcus Christmas (No. 209, 2019); DE/OLB Darrell Taylor (No. 48, 2020); DE Alton Robinson (No. 148, 2020); OLB Boye Mafe (No. 40, 2022); OLB Tyreke Smith (No. 158, 2022); OLB Derick Hall (No. 37, 2023), DT Cameron Young (No. 123, 2023); DE Mike Morris (No. 151, 2023).

Where the Seahawks Stand

While the Seahawks will never head into a draft feeling like they are completely set at a particular position, they do go into the 2024 draft feeling pretty strong about their defensive line and their collection of outside linebackers.

The Seahawks took care of what Schneider referred to as the team's top priority in free agency by re-signing Leonard Williams, and they added some size and experience up front by signing veteran defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, adding to an interior line that also includes Jarran Reed, Dre'Mont Jones, and 2023 draft picks Cameron Young and Mike Morris. On the edge, the Seahawks have Boye Mafe coming off a breakout second season in which he led the team with 9.0 sacks; Uchenna Nwosu, who had 9.5 sacks in 2022, and was playing well again last year before suffering a season-ending injury; Derick Hall, a 2023 second-round pick who should see his role expand in Year 2, and Darrell Taylor, who has 21.5 sacks in the past three seasons.

"I'm really excited about the guys we brought in," Macdonald said. "I'm really excited about the guys on the roster. If the right opportunity presents itself to make us better, we won't hesitate to pull the trigger, but I think going in we're very confident in the guys we have. We have some position flexibility, more so than we might have had in the past. Being able to change up some fronts with the same personnel on the field will be exciting. Guys that can play multiple spots across the line, we'll have some cool combinations of people on the field at the same time. That will be fun to figure out with A.D. (Aden Durde) as we go. He's got some cool ideas we'll experiment with as we get rocking. It's going to be a lot of fun. We've got a lot of talent up there."

The fact that the Seahawks used second-round picks on edge players in three of the last four drafts to acquire Taylor, Mafe and Hall is a good reminder that they, like a lot of teams, are willing to use early picks to add pass-rushers, but the presence of that group, plus a strong interior line, gives the Seahawks the luxury of not having to use valuable draft resources on that part of the roster if the right value isn't there to be had.

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Rob Rang's Top 5 Edge Rushers

Overview: A breakout season from Boye Mafe and healthy return of Uchenna Nwuso, along with the anticipated growth from second-year pro Derick Hall and extension of Darrell Taylor all mean that the Seahawks need not fret about the depth and talent of their edge rushers. However, head coach Mike Macdonald was used to waves of rushers in Baltimore and Ann Arbor and with many of the top ranked prospects in the 2024 NFL playing offense, it is quite possible that the best player available at No. 16 overall may, in fact, be John Schneider's favorite sack artist of this class. Contributing to this possibility is the fact that scouts are split as to just who is the best pass rusher this year. The first four players listed below have wildly different strengths and levels of production, and with a perceived drop-off in talent after the first round, the Seahawks may eschew other concerns early on to take advantage of a star still on the board at the midway point of the draft's opening frame. Among the middle and later round edge rushers who might pique Seattle's interest are Utah's Jonah Elliss, Western Michigan's Marshawn Kneeland, Colorado State's Mohamed Kamara and UCLA's Gabriel Murphy, as well as two local products in Washington's Bralen Trice and Washington State's Brennan Jackson.

1. Laiatu Latu, UCLA, 6-5, 259, First Round

The most polished and productive pass rusher of the 2024 NFL draft, Latu is more decorated than a wedding cake, winning the Vince Lombardi Award (nation's top defensive lineman), Ted Hendricks Award (nation's top defensive end) and the Morris Trophy as the best defensive lineman in the PAC-12, voted exclusively by the conference's offensive linemen. Latu isn't the quickest or strongest edge rusher in this class, but he is the most technically refined, already alternating his pass rush technique like a five-year NFL veteran and racking up a staggering 34.5 tackles for loss, including 21.5 sacks and five forced fumbles over the past two seasons, leading the PAC-12 in all three categories.

2. Jared Verse, Florida State, 6-4, 254, First Round

Verse has posted similar numbers (29.5 TFL, 19 sacks and a forced fumble) as the aforementioned Latu the past two seasons at Florida State. He began his college career at Albany, an FCS school, before exploding for the ACC-champion Seminoles, emerging as one of the greatest success stories of the NCAA's new liberal transfer policy. Many presumed that he would enter last year's draft after being given a first round grade from the NFL Advisory Committee, but Verse opted to return for a chance at a national title and to improve his run defense, showing greater strength and awareness to project as a Day One difference-maker in the NFL.

3. Dallas Turner, Alabama, 6-3, 247, First Round

Turner isn't quite as polished as Latu or Verse but he's a more explosive athlete than either of them and generated similar production behind the line of scrimmage despite playing behind 2023 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Will Anderson, Jr. the first two years of his time in Tuscaloosa. He racked up 10 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks as a true freshman, but took his game to another level this past season, earning All-American accolades by setting career-highs in tackles (53), tackles for loss (14.5), sacks (10) and forced fumbles (two). He's even quicker off the ball than his former teammate (not to mention Latu and Verse) and is only scratching the surface of his potential.

4. Chop Robinson, Penn State, 6-3, 254, First Round

The team that invests a first-round pick on Robinson is gambling on the best first step in the 2024 NFL draft. Robinson is lightning quick off the snap, racing upfield and turning the corner like he's riding a street-bike. To this point, he's flashed more than finished, generating "just" 11.5 sacks over three seasons at the college level, but it is easy to imagine his scary edge speed translating into significantly greater numbers in the more pass-happy NFL.

5. Austin Booker, Kansas, 6-5, 240, Second-Third Round

While there is a general consensus on the first four edge rushers of the 2024 draft, opinions split thereafter. Booker was one of several breakout stars for a bowl-bound Kansas Jayhawks squad in 2023, blending snap anticipation, surprising power as a bull rusher and better speed and agility on the field than his Combine testing numbers would suggest. After no fairly no-descript seasons at Minnesota, Booker transferred to Kansas and earned the Big 12's Defensive Newcomer of the Year, generating 56 tackles, including 12 for loss and eight sacks.

Rob Rang's Top 5 Interior Defensive Linemen

Overview: The resigning of Leonard Williams was the single most important move in Seattle's offseason and the need for more beef inside at the traditional nose guard spot was fulfilled with veteran Jonathan Hankins reuniting with Aden Durde. An early run on offensive linemen and skill-position players, however, could leave the top defensive tackles available to the Seahawks at No. 16 overall and this is a positional group that is being nationally underrated. If John Schneider is truly looking to celebrate reunions this spring, pairing up Jer'Zhan "Johnny" Newton with his former Illinois teammate, Devon Witherspoon, makes a lot of sense. They were the sparkplugs that brought the "fight" back to the Fighting Illini program. Similarly, coach Mike Macdonald may push for one of his own former pupils in Kris Jenkins, an ascending and versatile player with Pro Bowl bloodlines. Fortunately, this year's class is not only talented, it's deep. Should the Seahawks opt to wait until Day Two or Three, a few buffet-bashers I like for them include Florida State's Braden Friske, Texas' massive nose guard T'Vondre Sweat, LSU's Maason Smith and Alabama's Justin Eboigbe.

1. Jer'Zhan "Johnny" Newton, Illinois, 6-2, 304, Top 20

Lured out of the heart of SEC country by former Illinois (and two-time NFL) head coach Lovie Smith, Newton is as safe and gifted a prospect as there is on the defensive side of the ball in this year's draft. A three-time All-Big Ten selection and two-time All-American, his 18 career sacks tied College Football Hall of Famer Moe Gardner for the most sacks by an Illinois defensive tackle in program history. Some questioned if his production might slip in 2023 with Illinois losing a lot of talent to the NFL, including, of course, Witherspoon. Instead, Newton was named the conference's Defensive Player of the Year, recording 52 tackles, including 8.5 for loss and 7.5 sacks, as well as leading the country (and setting a school record) with four blocked kicks.

2. Byron Murphy II, Texas, 6-1, 297, First Round

Among the great breakout stars of the 2023 season, Murphy entered the year with just two career starts out of 25 games appearances at Texas but he stepped out of his bigger, more celebrated teammate T'Vondre Sweat's very large shadow, earning Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year honors with 29 tackles, including 8.5 for loss and five sacks. A bouncing ball of muscle, Murphy also excelled as Texas' goal-line fullback, running and catching a touchdown. He's cat-quick off the snap and chops his hands like a cruise ship masseuse, blasting past would-be blockers into the backfield.

3. Ruke Orhorhoro, Clemson, 6-4, 294, First Round

While not as compact or quick as the first two defensive tackles on this list, the Nigerian-born Orhorhoro (pronounced O-row-row-row) offers NFL-caliber length and strength, as well as solid production against ACC competition despite still learning the nuances of the game. Orhorhoro combines rare length (34" arms) and strength (29 reps at the Combine) to rank as one of this year's better two-gapping defensive tackles and he's no slouch of an athlete, generating eight tackles for loss each of the past three seasons and using his long arms to bat down nine passes during that time, as well.

4. Kris Jenkins, Michigan, 6-3, 299, First-Second Round

Of course, if the Seahawks are going to dedicate an early selection in a defensive lineman, there is perhaps no one better suited to perform well as a rookie as Jenkins, an NFL legacy who enjoyed his bets statistical season under Macdonald's guidance for Michigan in 2022. Jenkins' production dipped slightly this past year but that was more due to Michigan's stellar supporting cast, which resulted in a steady rotation among the Wolverines' defensive line. In fact, Jenkins was voted Co-Defensive MVP at Michigan this past season, showing a similar blend of quickness, agility and power that helped his father (of the same name) and uncle, Cullen, play a combined 23 years in the NFL.

5. Darius Robinson, Missouri, 6-5, 285, First-Second Round

With all due respect to the others on this list, the most versatile defensive lineman in the 2024 draft may very well be Robinson, who played defensive tackle, defensive end and even as a stand-up edge rusher for the Tigers. On a defense loaded with future NFL draft picks, Robinson's length, agility and power stood out. He racked up 43 tackles, including 14 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks and was arguably the most impressive defender throughout this year's Senior Bowl practices, generating comparisons to former Seahawk Jadeveon Clowney, the former No. 1 overall pick of the 2014 draft who tied his career-high with 9.5 sacks this past season in Baltimore with Macdonald calling the plays.

NFL Draft analyst Rob Rang ranked his top edge rushers and defensive linemen for the 2024 NFL Draft.

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