We've talked a lot about the idea of the Hawks drafting a QB at #25. We've also talked at length about a defensive tackle or a corner being taken with that pick and ruminated over who that guy may be. Lately, the Pete Carroll LEO end is making some headway as a possible positional target for the Hawks first pick, and Justin Houston is the guy that most people are talking about.
This speculation has coincided with the release of the new SackSEER model for 2011 prospects by Football Outsiders. SackSEER, for those of you that are unfamiliar with it, is:
A model that projects the sack totals of highly drafted 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers in their first five years in the NFL. SackSEER is composed of four metrics: the prospect's vertical leap, short shuttle time, per-game sack productivity in college (with certain adjustments), and missed games of NCAA eligibility.
As with any statistical metric, you have to take what it concludes with a grain of salt. Brandon over at 17Power wrote about it recently and summed up nicely why one could have a cautious respect for it. As he said, "it uses sound statistical methods to deduce which tools and conditions can be used to predict success; 2) those tools and conditions have tangible connections to success; 3) it's honest about its shortcomings; and 4) it's reasonably accurate." Brandon then went on to examine the projected success rates of key OLB/DE prospects included in the study and it's a good read so go check it out if you haven't already.
The one prospect that I wanted to focus on is Justin Houston, for a couple of reasons. One, he has met with or will meet with the Seahawks pre-draft so it's plausible that he's on their radar for #25. Secondly, he sits near the top of the SackSEER list in potential sacks over the next five years, and does so ahead of some VERY highly rated prospects not likely to be on the board when the Hawks pick. The SackSEER metric projects him to have 26 sacks by year 5 and has this to say about him:
Vertical: 36.5", Short Shuttle: 4.37, SRAM: 0.61, Missed Games: 3
Projection: 26.0 Sacks by Year 5
Houston has quietly built himself into a solid prospect. He has had steady production, demonstrating consistently better numbers each season on the way to recording more than 20 sacks in three years in the ultra-competitive SEC. Houston also played in nearly every game of his Georgia career, save for three games that he missed due to a team suspension. Houston's workout, much like his Georgia career, was steady and solid, with a good vertical and an average shuttle.
Houston's combine performance is all the more impressive in the context of Houston's 270-pound weigh-in, which was 12 pounds heavier than his listed weight at Georgia. Although Houston was one of the few edge rushers in this draft class invited to the Combine as a linebacker, rather than as a defensive lineman, he is probably better suited to play as a 4-3 defensive end than most of his contemporaries. Houston is a great value pick that SackSEER likes considerably more than most projected first-round picks.
I did a piece about Houston a while back and based on the commentary, Seahawks fans wouldn't mind seeing him picked at #25, as long as other key prospects are gone. This is basically my thinking as well: if your favorite QBs, CBs, and DTs are gone at that point, I'd say Houston is a good pick. He provides depth and skill at a position that's pretty important in Seattle's defensive strategy.
Doug Farrar pointed out another interesting thought about how Houston could solve a key problem for the Hawks:
Around season's end, Pete Carroll said that he waited too long to put Raheem Brock alongside Chris Clemons on the ends of Seattle's four-man front after the season-ending knee injury to Red Bryant halfway through the year. Before Brock and Clemons combined to give the Seahawks a very dynamic edge rush combination, Kentwan Balmer and Junior Siavii took Bryant's place with varying degrees of success.
Balmer's ineffectiveness and Siavii's own season-ending injury gave Brock his shot. Carroll finally eradicated the Leo hybrid defense that didn't work in Bryant's absence. Then a more traditional defense led the way through important late-season wins and an unexpected playoff win over the New Orleans Saints.
In other words, if Bryant gets hurt again or fails to completely recover from his injury, the Hawks had better have some sort of back-up plan in place. Clemons isn't getting any younger, Brock is unsigned, and Dexter Davis is unproven. Seattle just may lean more on the traditional four-man front utilizing normal DEs in 2011 as it is, making that position higher in demand. If they do switch back and forth between using a 5-tech like Red Bryant and a normal front with traditional DEs more evenly, Justin Houston could serve as more than just depth - playing on meaningful downs and perhaps even starting opposite of Clemons.
If he were taken at #25, it most likely would widely be seen as a good value. He's been mocked early into the 1st round and later into the 2nd, so it's hard to tell where he'll really end up, but don't discount the idea the Hawks may look at DE for their first selection.