This is an overview of the nature and idiosyncrasies of the the top of the DL draft class, and a reflection on the state and needs of Seattle's defensive line. Tried to paint a greater picture in an individual scouting report but it ran long. I'll use this as an introduction to some amateur scouting reports.
The DE class is very rich as you know. It also shapes up like some kind of 6-part contiguous venn diagram: from 3-4 rush OLB, 3-point 4-3 Leo, "traditional" 4-3 rush DE, "traditional" strong-side DE, 3-4 end to Seattle's strong-side end. Many of the prospects are paradoxically versatile enough to fit 2 or 3 different DE types yet the fit is vague enough that many are not great fits anywhere.
There are pure rushers, but they're a little light for even 3-4 OLB or Leo. There are guys with the 3-4 end skillsets but lack the size. There are bigger ends; they have lucrative pass rush skills for their size, yet they may not have the strength to be a 2-gap 3-4 end. There are guys with the skillset that may be better off at tackle, where as 3-techs or under tackles they could have fantastic pass rush and good run defense, slightly undersized but not problematically so, but with DE height that may work against them inside (like it did with Red Bryant).
Where do you put a guy like Sam Acho? A high quality player missing the pass rush talent for a 4-3 end. He doesn't have the size or strength to be a 3-4 end or a tackle. He doesn't fit at strong-side or Leo for Seattle. A very good football player that the NFL perhaps cannot find a place for.
Will premier talent Cam Jordan be wasted at 3-4 end? No scheme/position fits him better. But it might make his lesser capabilities his primary responsibilities, holding ground and opening lanes for guys with lesser talent to get stats. Christian Ballard is similar; a 3-4 size fit that lacks a 2-gap skillset. He needs a 1-gap penetration role to succeed.
Tackle is similar to a lesser degree. There are some tall tackles in this class. The curious case of Red Bryant may be skewing my view too much, but it automatically leads me to investigate whether the taller DT prospects are vulnerable to leverage issues with higher points of center gravity. The beat press told of Chuck Darby's advantage from his disadvantage: his shortness gave him the, err, upper hand, in getting under his blocker and winning the leverage battle.
But height certainly didn't work against John Henderson. Scouts don't seem concerned for Muhammad Wilkerson.
Seeking atypical body types and skillsets should make finding talent easier and at less cost, but the top of this year's class doesn't figure to be so conducive.
I've considered whether some of the intriguing talents at end that are odd fits in the league would become undervalued, passed over, and may make for great under tackle prospects for Seattle. Acho; Copperhead Son of Ironhead Heyward, who, even in his versatility, when playing DE mostly was not on the edge as OSU had a LB at 9-tech outside of him; Adrian Clayborn -- one of the best overall talents in the class who fits 4-3 DE best but his biggest weakness is edge rushing. Could Seattle make a 3-tech out of him? I don't think these would make good fits or good projects.
The question of fit is preceded briefly by the question of scheme. There's no tangible reason to question whether we're moving away from our unbalanced line, except that Dan Quinn left and its effectiveness is questionable. We've talked about that and it's not conclusive. I'm going to assume we're sticking with it.
I am not assuming we're sticking with Brandon Mebane. I am assuming that pass rush is a need, and Leo in particular is a position of need due to Chris Clemons' age. Raheem Brock had a great late season; whether we re-sign him or not I don't think figures much into any personnel equation.
It seems, then, we like what we have in Red but would add depth; Colin Cole is actually well-suited to his role, we could upgrade, but it's mid-priority; Leo ends are strong early round consideration. What about under tackle?
Carroll emphasizes run defense and I don't figure that to be lip service or subject to change. Red & the strong-side end position aren't incapable of providing pass rush but it's evident that Leo needs a supplementary pass rush source.
When you consider that two positions have 2-gap responsibility and the under tackle role is most conducive to producing supplementary pass rush, I think Seattle would be better served by a player other than Mebane. Though he's the best player on the defensive line, I don't think he & the unbalanced line are good fits. Questions of talent & fit has given folks fits on FG, me included, but let it not be lost on you that the unbalanced line is more specialized across the board than a traditional 4-3. It's natural that fit is more tangible.
I've taken long looks at Aldon Smith, Cameron Jordan, Adrian Clayborn, Cameron Heyward, Christian Ballard, Ryan Kerrigan, Nick Fairley, Marcell Dareus and Drake Nevis. I've taken a limited look at JJ Watt and Corey Liuget.
Smith and Kerrigan fit well at Leo. Smith is unlikely to be available. Kerrigan I like, but have more concern about him peaking in college (succeeding with skill) than any other DL prospect.
Watt fits well at strong-side.
Liuget and Nevis fit well at under tackle. Fairley and Dareus are certainly out of range.
The rest aren't significant misfits, but Seattle figures to have great options with the 25th pick. Good QB, CB, OT and C/G prospects figure to be available and worth the pick, in addition to the handful of DE/DTs. Some decent Leo prospects like Steven Friday, Dontay Moch and Brooks Reed are available in the middle rounds, rated such to some extent because they have weaknesses as traditional 4-3 DEs or 3-4 OLBs. Aspects that are less significant for Leo. The offensive line and CB class is not nearly as deep. QB is QB.
The amalgamation of those factors build a strong case for considering not addressing DL in the 1st round. DL is my first love; it's where my eyes stay most of the game and what I know most about. I really, really like most of these prospects, so it's kind of hard, but I have to give more and more credence to passing on DL in the 1st.
Since I'm a glutton for punishment, that won't stop me from further scouting. A quick look at three DTs coming up.