As the weeks following the draft drag on and there is less going on, I find myself looking into our draft picks in further depth and trying to wrap my mind around what made each of these guys stand out to John Schneider and Pete Carroll. By most of the national consensus, the Seahawks reached on pretty much every one of their picks. There is no doubt that very talented players were left on the board at the time when each of the Hawks' players were taken but let's be honest, that can be said for just about any pick and its such a subjective exercise that it really doesn't matter. What does matter is that each one of these guys had skills or attributes that were very attractive to the Seahawks and they saw something very specific in each one of them that ultimately led them to pull the trigger.
K.J. Wright is no exception, and the selection of a SAM linebacker in the 4th round was a bit of a head-scratcher because of the fact we already have a young, talented (and very expensive) SAM linebacker on the roster in Aaron Curry. I am not going to get into the discussion or argument as to whether Curry was a bust or not; the fact is he's a starting caliber linebacker and for the most part, he's effective. While he still has a lot of potential to improve and contribute, he hasn't lit the world on fire and his main weakness lies in his pass coverage ability, both in man and zone schemes which makes him a liability in some packages.
Even before he was drafted a lot of scouts had warned he has stiff hips in pass coverage and shouldn't be counted on too much in the Tampa-2 for just that. Pete Carroll described his ideal 4-3 SAM LB as "a good containment player. He has to be big and strong enough to play on the edge of the tight end. He has to be able to run in pass coverage also." While Curry is a beast in the former category, his specialty is not in the latter. In passing situations and on 3rd downs, sometimes you'll see Curry playing the 3-tech down lineman or hovering around the line of scrimmage rather than dropping into coverage so this is where you could see Wright getting some snaps.
Wright possesses what Pete Carroll calls "extraordinary uniqueness" in the fact he can play the SAM linebacker position, the standup LEO end rushing the passer, or a nickel linebacker that drops back into coverage. He has 4.6 timed speed and good hip fluidity for his size in zone and man coverage, and that combined with his 6'3 frame and 35" arms (the longest of any linebacker in this draft class), he gives you a versatile option in a number of situations. John Schneider noted Wright has "rare" instincts in zone coverage and route anticipation, and per a scouting report by the NFP, Wright:
"Surprisingly, looks really comfortable and balanced in coverage for a guy his size. Is smooth and patient in his drop, keeps his feet under him and is fluid enough to cleanly get in and out of his breaks. Uses his long arms well to reroute receivers in coverage and can really be tough to disengage from down the field. Cleanly opens up his hips when asked to turn and run, and exhibits some range in coverage. Also, displays good balance and stop/go ability in man-to-man and can really blanket tight ends in and out of their breaks once he get his hands on them."
His versatility and 'extraordinary uniqueness' are no doubt the reason the Hawks are so high on Wright and I believe they plan to exploit that versatility and use him all over the field. His former defensive coordinator at Mississippi State had this to say about Wright:
"We've asked K.J. to do a lot of different things this year, partly because of his versatility, and partly just because of what we have," Manny Diaz said. "There's some things that we're lacking. K.J. might be our best linebacker, but he also may be one of our best defensive ends."
Said Chris White (teammate and fellow linebacker), "He can play any kind of defense. They talk about him playing a 3-4 outside linebacker in the (NFL), he could play middle or outside. It's really up to you what you want (him) to play, and he can definitely play anything."
As to whether you can expect him to whine about where he ends up- when he was asked about the fact he was going to be moved to the weakside linebacker position for part of his senior season, he replied, ""It's just part of the game. Things don't always go your way, so you've just got to roll with whatever happens, and you're just going to have to adjust on the run. In this game, it's just something you have to deal with."
In his career at Mississippi State, he took part in 47 games and started 35. He had 358 tackles, 31 for a loss, 14 pass breakups, 10 interceptions, 11 quarterback hurries, and 3 forced fumbles. Now that he has been drafted, what does he think about the lockout? "I'm going to work out and stay in shape and as soon as the lockout is over, I'm going to go to Seattle, make the team and contribute as much as I can."
Overall, sounds like a hard working, versatile guy that will do whatever it is the Hawks defense asks of him, whether it be rushing the passer from the LEO end, stopping the run and keeping contain or dropping back into coverage in passing situations as the SAM or WILL linebacker. They might even be able to throw him in as the MIKE and have him drop back down the middle in their Tampa 2 sets. I'm excited to see what he brings to the table.