One of the most recognized names in the industry, Rob Rang is an NFL Draft analyst for FOX Sports. Rob has been covering the NFL Draft for more than 20 years, with work at FOX, Sports Illustrated, CBSSports.com, USA Today, Yahoo, NFL.com and NFLDraftScout.com, among others. He also works as a scout with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League. Rang's opinions and evaluations are his own and do not reflect those of the Seahawks. Follow him on Twitter @RobRang.
It really is remarkable that the Seattle Seahawks qualified for the playoffs a season ago considering how much the team struggled stopping the run.
The Seahawks surrendered 2,554 yards last season. Only two of the NFL's 32 clubs allowed more – the Chicago Bears (2,894) and Houston Texans (2,674) – and with just three victories, apiece, last season, they were the worst teams in the league.
For a defensive-minded head coach like Pete Carroll, those statistics have to be just galling. It is why no one should be surprised if he and Seahawks general manager John Schneider focus much of their attention in this month's NFL Draft in fortifying that side of the ball.
With Geno Smith and the offense surprising many as one of the league's most efficient a year ago, some fans might argue, in fact, that every one of Seattle's 10 current draft picks should be spent on defense.
So, that is the approach taken in this article, after we did a similar breakdown on offense here. And while recognizing that it is unlikely the Seahawks will actually invest all of their 2023 draft picks in this way, the exercise allows us to highlight some particularly intriguing fits available throughout all seven rounds.
First Round, No. 5 overall – Will Anderson, Jr., Edge, Alabama
The Seahawks "biggest" need on defense is interior defensive line, but if Anderson – the consensus best player on that side of the ball and arguably the cleanest prospect in this draft, overall – happens to still be on the board, Seattle cannot let him slip any further. On paper, selecting Anderson would create an immediate glut at the edge/outside linebacker position with the Seahawks already boasting quality starters in Uchenna Nwosu and Darrell Taylor and expecting a big jump in production from second-year pro Boye Mafe, with fellow 2022 draft pick Tyreke Smith and Alton Robinson hopefully able to contribute more this season after missing all of last year with injury.
In today's pass-happy era, however, most teams feel that they cannot possibly have enough talented edge rushers and with Nwosu, Taylor and Robinson each entering the final years of their respective contracts, the Seahawks could see this season as the perfect bridge to the future.
And what an NFL future Anderson appears to have. It is difficult not to venture into hyperbole when analyzing the extent and how the 6-4, 253-pounder dominated his three years at Alabama, posting a staggering 204 tackles, including 58.5 tackles for loss and 34.5 sacks. The production behind the line of scrimmage is second all-time at Alabama only to the late NFL and College Football Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas, a former Seahawks nemesis with the Kansas City Chiefs when both clubs were part of the AFC West from 1977-2002.
While Anderson enjoys the burst and bend off the edge to be a legitimate "speed threat," his game is actually about power and technique. Despite often giving up 50-plus pounds to the offensive tackles asked to block him, Anderson shows impressive take-on strength and determination to re-set the line of scrimmage and shut down runs to his side of the field. Even better, Anderson is a virtual coach on the field with his varied rush techniques and plays with the kind of intensity and motor that has even earned rare public gushing from Nick Saban.
Due to his NFL-ready mentality and game, Anderson will enter the NFL as the heavy favorite to be the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2023 and the likeliest of this year's defenders to become a true franchise cornerstone. Whereas many of the other defenders expected to be Top 10 picks boast perhaps even greater potential or fill bigger current needs, Anderson offers exactly the kind of immediate and lasting impact one expects of a Top 5 pick.
First Round, No. 20 overall – Mazi Smith, NG, Michigan
The Seahawks may have a chance to select Georgia's Jalen Carter - the most gifted and formidable interior defensive lineman in this draft – with the No. 5 overall selection acquired from Denver, but if the club goes in any other direction (like Anderson or a quarterback, for example), Seattle is thought likely to circle back to Smith, Clemson's Bryan Bresee or perhaps Georgia Tech's Keion White with their original first round selection.
As mentioned previously, the need for dynamic rushers have skyrocketed as the league's offenses have increasingly turned to the passing game. Traditional run-stuffing nose guards, on the other hand, have inversely dropped in value, with some very good ones falling to the middle or even late rounds in recent years. As such, the Seahawks could wait to address the massive holes in the middle of their defensive line.
The 6-foot-3, 323-pound Smith is a pretty unique prospect, though, earning the top spot on Bruce Feldman's annual "Freaks List" highlighting the elite athletes in college football and leading all defenders invited to this year's Combine with 34 repetitions in the bench press. It's funny, I see similarities to former Seahawks defensive tackle Sam Adams in Smith's game. My buddy and longtime co-worker, Dane Brugler of The Athletic, likens Smith to another former Seahawks stalwart, Brandon Mebane. The point is the same, whether from a local draft guy or a more national perspective, Smith seems suited to Seattle, projecting as an immediate and potential decade-long anchor at nose guard.
The Big Ten did a great job of highlighting Smith's journey here.
Second Round, No. 37 overall – Adetomiwa Adebawore, DL, Northwestern
In running a jaw-dropping 4.49-second 40-yard dash at this year's Combine, the 6-foot-2, 282-pound Adebawore guaranteed that any scouts who didn't know his name previously, would be searching for it immediately. No one at the Combine over 270 pounds in the past 20 years ran faster.
Adebawore, whose full name is pronounced add-E-TOMMY-wah add-E-BAR-eh, is far from just a workout warrior, however. In fact, he's a productive, physical player.
The Seahawks prize versatility in their defensive linemen, just as they do with their blockers on the offensive side of the ball and they've shown extra interest in the Northwestern product, already inviting him to the Virginiana Mason Athletic Center as one of their reported "Top 30" visits. Traveling is nothing new for Adebawore, who played inside and out at Northwestern, registering impressive numbers over his career (97 tackles, including 24.5 for loss and 12.5 sacks) regardless of where he lined up. He then showed a similar blend of versatility and playmaking ability during Senior Bowl practices. While his 40-yard dash would seem to suggest Adebawore projects best as a speed rusher in the NFL, the power and balance he plays with actually project best as a defensive end on most downs with the quickness to slide inside as a pass rusher, offering a similar disruptive element as Seattle's prized free agent addition, Dre'Mont Jones.
Second Round, No. 52 overall – Gervon Dexter, DT, Florida
There are several intriguing linebacker candidates who might tempt the Seahawks with this selection, including Washington State's Daiyan Henley and Louisville's Yasir Abdullah, who each boast terrific athleticism. Football is a big man's game, however, and Seattle's willingness to select and start Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas as two rookies at offensive tackle a year ago suggests the club will show no fear this spring in refreshing a currently undermanned defensive lineman with several first-year players. A muscled-up 6-foot-6, 310-pound former basketball player still just learning the subtleties of the game, Dexter is very different than the other defensive linemen projected earlier to the Seahawks. Despite his limited experience, Dexter (21) already shows plenty of power and aggression.
Third Round, No. 83 overall – Darius Rush, CB, South Carolina
Given the stellar play from rookie Pro Bowler Tariq Woolen a year ago – as well as the flashes we've seen from fellow youngsters Coby Bryant, Tre Brown and last year's "surprise" starter Mike Jackson – cornerback is not as significant of a need for the Seahawks as the front seven. However, this year's crop of cornerbacks is one of the best I've seen in nearly 25 years of evaluating college talent. As such, I'd be stunned if the Seahawks don't invest at least one pick in the position.
Rush would check an awful lot of Seahawk-y boxes. At a shade under 6-foot-2 and 198 pounds with very long (33-plus inch) arms, Rush teamed with fellow 2023 draft hopeful Cam Smith to give South Carolina arguably the best starting cornerback duo in the entire country last year. He signed with the Gamecocks as a receiver and only emerged as a starter on defense two years ago, generating an impressive 18 combined passes broken up during that time. Rush turned heads at the Senior Bowl and Combine (where he was clocked at 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and I like his intangibles, including the fact that he was an accomplished special teams performer at South Carolina.
Fourth Round, No. 123 overall – Jeremy Banks, ILB, Tennessee
Bringing back Bobby Wagner and signing former Pittsburgh Steelers' first-round pick Devin Bush might not have fully extinguished the Seahawks' need for help at off-ball linebacker, but it certainly was lessened, and I believe the team remains quite high on the young talent already on the roster, including, of course, star Jordyn Brooks (recovering from knee surgery) but also youngsters Jon Rhattigan and Vi Jones, who spent most of last year on the practice squad. With Jordyn Brooks recovering from his injury, Seattle brought in the veteran duo of Wagner and Bush, and that's a good thing, as the 2023 off-ball linebacker class is lacking in early round "sure things," at least in comparison to recent years. Banks is one of a handful of mid-round prospects, however, who flashed starting potential.
Banks signed with Tennessee as a highly regarded running back prospect, and the same burst, balance through contact, and vision that helped him succeed on that side of the ball is also evident at linebacker. Teams will want to investigate why his production dipped so much from 2021 (128 tackles, including 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks) to 2022 (53-4.5-0) but I see raw talent may wind up a better, more consistent player in the NFL than he was at Rocky Top.
Fifth Round, No. 151 overall – Ivan Pace, ILB, Cincinnati
While the aforementioned Banks signed with great fanfare at Tennessee but struggled with consistency on and off the field, Pace set the standard at Miami (Ohio) prior to transferring for a year at Cincinnati, generating eye-popping production despite a stubby frame that caused some recruiters to foolishly overlook him.
At "just" 5-foot-11 and 222 pounds, Pace lacks an ideal build for the position, but few players pack more power, instincts or production into such a small package. Pace generated 306 overall tackles in four years at the college level, topping out this past season for the nationally-ranked Bearcats with career-highs in tackles (136), tackles for loss (20.5) and sacks (nine), leading the nation's off-ball linebackers in the final two categories. The quickness and balance he demonstrates as a pass rusher is particularly intriguing.
Fifth Round, No. 154 overall – Garrett Williams, CB, Syracuse
Armed with double-digit picks for the first time since 2019, I think the Seahawks are well positioned in this draft to take advantage of the discount tags on injured players, like Williams, a three-year all-conference pick who looked like a future NFL starter, until suffering a torn ACL in October.
I argued for Seattle to take a similar gamble on USC offensive guard Andrew Vorhees in the offense-only version of this article.
At 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds with "just" 31-inch arms, Williams may not check all of the Seahawk boxes, but he's sound in run support and shows terrific awareness of the ball in flight, remaining composed and battling for it, knocking down 27 passes in 28 games prior to his injury.
Sixth Round, No. 198 overall – Jerrod Clark, NG, Coastal Carolina
Frankly, with veteran Bryan Mone on the mend, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Seahawks invest two draft picks in true run-stuffers, but should Seattle opt not to invest an early selection on a nose guard (like with Smith at No. 20 in this exercise) Clark is one of my favorite Day 3 fits at the position, along with Texas' Keondre Coburn and Florida State's Robert Cooper.
While the Seahawks have typically focused on prospects from the so-called Power Five conferences throughout the Carroll-Schneider era, Clark is a unique enough player to extend their search. He grew up in Massachusetts and received little recruiting interest, signing with Coastal Carolina as a 230-pound tight end. He kept growing throughout his college career, however, eventually emerging as a 6-foot-4, 334-pound monster in the middle, combining sneaky athleticism and the intangibles needed to take full advantage of them.
Seventh Round, No. 237 overall – DeMarcco Hellams, S, Alabama
The Seahawks boast arguably the best safety room in the NFL and with this year's class considered below-average, I do not expect it to be a position of high priority. Seattle has dedicated a couple of its Top 30 visits to speedier, slighter safeties from smaller schools but I also see a need for more of a classic box safety who can run alleyways on defense and provide some pop on special teams.
Hellams was often overshadowed by all of the talent in Tuscaloosa, even in the secondary. The rugged 6-1, 203-pounder led the team in tackles this past season (108) and in interceptions in 2021 (three), however.
Draft analyst Rob Rang provides a fit on defense to fit each of the Seahawks' 10 draft picks.