Rob Staton, (and his website Seahawks Draft Blog), is a very good resource for NFL Draft related information and more specifically, Seahawks news and analysis. I've been a fan of his work there for quite a long time, so it's been great that he's willing to lend some of his insight to Field Gulls. I had the opportunity to catch up with Staton recently, and asked him a few questions that could be on the minds of Seahawks' fans.
DK: As we watch college football this fall, what are some things to keep in mind when scouting the LEO position? At this point, Chris Clemons appears to be doing a pretty good job there but looking towards the future, what attributes and skillset do you look for in that position when evaluating for the Hawks' needs?
RS: I think at times it's a slightly misunderstood role. The Seahawks aren't just looking for smaller, quicker guys who can play off the edge. If you're playing any position on the defensive line, you can't be a liability against the run. Von Miller went 2nd overall in the recent draft and he's a smaller, quicker pass rusher who enjoyed great production in college. However, he would never have played LEO in Seattle because he would've been a liability against the run. He faces the same situation in Denver which is why he's being projected at linebacker.
Clemons did a better job against the run than he often gets credit for. If you're a team facing the Seahawks, you'd look at his side of the field and believe it's an area that could be exploited because he hasn't got the size of an orthodox 4-3 defensive end. It's a while since I watched 2010 Seahawks tape, but I don't recall Clemons ever being a significant problem.
I really liked Jabal Sheard for the LEO position (he was drafted by Cleveland) because he was in that 260lbs range with explosion off the edge, but he was also incredibly competitive against the run.
The other thing I also look for is a repetoire, but that's not restricted to LEO rushers - it's pass rushers in general. I have slight concerns about players like Robert Quinn (drafted by St. Louis) becuase they relied a lot on speed in college to abuse mediocre lineman. Speed is a great tool to have in your arsenal, but inevitably at the next level you're going to need to get your hands on a guy, utilise a spin move, dip inside. Players who are prepared to do that in college and keep lineman guessing get an edge in grading, even if they aren't as explosive off the snap. Both Sheard and Brooks Reed graded highly in that area, which is why I had them as possibilities for Seattle a long time before they became consensus late first/early second round picks.
DK: Can you give us a few candidates for that position that you're going to have your eye on in 2011?
RS: The one player that stands out is Bruce Irvin at West Virginia. Without doubt in my opinion he's the best pass rusher in college football. He's a former JUCO transfer who was used predominantly on third down's last year, but he's added weight and he'll be an every down rusher in 2011. He's lean and quick which suits the LEO position, but he's also freakishly strong. To record 14 sacks with limited reps last season only hints at his potential. He has a tremendous range - he can burst round the edge, he'll drive you back with a perfect bull rush, he'll keep you guessing every snap. I can't praise the guy highly enough, I think he's being seriously under rated in scouting circles and could easily be a high pick next year.
After Irvin the next three players I'd recommend are Brandon Jenkins (Florida State) Vinny Curry (Marshall) and Jonathan Massaquoi (Troy). Brandon Lindsey (Pittsburgh), Donte Paige-Moss (UNC) and Devin Taylor (South Carolina) need to show they're capable of adding a bit more strength before I can confidently project them playing in an unorthodox front four.
DK: Some people believe that 2012's draft will be all about QB, DT (3-tech), and the future at LEO. Obviously this is hard to guess considering free agency hasn't hit yet but based on the roster of today, what positions would you say Hawks' fans should be most intent on scouting this fall?
RS: It's hard to look past the quarterbacks and that will remain the case until Seattle has a bona fide starter for the long term. Whatever move the Seahawks make when the lock out finally ends, it's almost certainly going to be a bridge option. There are some obvious big names to look at (Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Landry Jones) but I'd also suggest trying to find tape on players like Austin Davis (Southern Miss), Robert Griffin (Baylor), Ryan Lindley (San Diego State) and Kirk Cousins (Michigan State).
There's also a couple of big-time sleepers that are worth monitoring. Logan Thomas is taking over the starting role at Virginia Tech and he's an impressive athlete at 6-6, 245lbs who can move around and get the ball downfield. I'm not suggesting he will have the same impact as Cam Newton at Auburn, but he's going into a good situation at VT and could be a name who rises to the surface. The other player is John Brantley at Florida, who many tipped as a possible 2011 draft prospect. The Gators offense was a bit of a mess last year post-Tim Tebow, but Charlie Weis' system will be much more simple and suited to Brantley. He could easily put up some very big numbers this year. A warning, however, that Weis quarterbacks at Notre Dame also limited turn overs and were extremely productive. For the likes of Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen, that masked some obvious flaws that have since come to the surface in the NFL.
Apart from the quarterbacks, I think any position is fair game in this rebuild except perhaps offensive tackle and free safety. It's a deep class of receivers and there's a handful of explosive running backs. There's not a great deal of defensive tackle talent although watch out for Fresno State's Logan Harrell. I'm a big fan of the Wisconsin center Peter Konz and there's some nice depth in the secondary too, headed by Virginia Tech playmaker Jayron Hosley.
DK: Getting back to Seattle's draft picks, where do you project that KJ Wright will make an impact? Some people see him as a LEO, some people project he'll play at the SAM linebacker spot, and other see him as a Weakside Linebacker down the road. Based on any scouting you've done on Wright, where do you think he's most suited in the Hawks' defense?
RS: I've had the chance to watch one Mississippi State game since the draft and Wright didn't really feature. Based on the small sample of evidence, I would project him to play weakside linebacker. It really comes down to the same problem I talked about earlier with LEO rushers and I'm not convinced at all he can play first and second downs on the defensive line. He has only eight career sacks in college, which is one less than Aaron Curry had at Wake Forest and he regularly played 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage. They clearly see something in this guy because there was some talent on the board in round four that was passed up when they selected him. I expect in year one he'll be used largely on special teams and over time he'll compete for a job at linebacker.
DK: Same line of questioning, what can you tell us about Lazarius Levingston? The scouting reports on him are pretty sparse, but he projects to be a 5-tech defensive end to back up Red Bryant. Do you agree with this, and if so, is he the type of player that can two-gap effectively? Would he be more suited to a 1-gap system? Any thoughts on the 7th rounder in general?
RS: The tape doesn't give you a definitive answer on Levingston. He was fortunate enough to play alongside one of the SEC's best defensive lineman last year in Drake Nevis but didn't record a single sack in 2009 or 2010 and you don't get the sense he's going to offer any pass rushing threat. His size appears ideal to challenge for depth behind Red Bryant at the LE spot, but Bryant's great success was that he was able to bring a pass rush dimension to his game while maintaining incredible size for an edge player. They took a flier on an area that needed greater depth, but my expectations are limited that he'll stick on the roster.