Free Agents vs. NFL Draft - Defensive End

I've seen a lot of posts suggesting that doing mock drafts and discussing what position of need should be 'targets' is ridiculous because free agency is before the draft and who knows what signings the Seahawks will do, and what free agents will leave. I don't agree that it's premature to do mock drafts before free agency at all. There are a few reasons for that.

One, in doing mock drafts and assessing who might be available when we are on the clock, it gives you a sense of what positions you 'have to' target in free agency because the guy that fits your team the best may not be there by the time you draft.

Two, it also gives you an idea of how much you may need to spend in free agency on a player. For instance, if Lynch was demanding $7M/year for 5 years and you knew that Trent Richardson would likely be there at pick 11/12 (he wont be) or if there were say 3 elite backs in this draft class, you may decide to let Lynch go for that price. If it was a weak draft class for running backs you may approach Lynch differently and think his demands are about right based on the free agent market, what he brings to our team and what is available in the draft. It all plays a part.

What I want to accomplish with this article is to see what might be available to us in free agency that fits our team style and what I believe PC and JS are looking to accomplish.

I want to take a look at the defensive options. I can't possibly list all of the players that are available for any given position (example: roughly 38 DE free agents) so I'll narrow down the list a bit and base it on skill set, then I'll list some possible targets available in the draft (various rounds) that again I believe would be 'targets' based on what I believe the team is looking for. First up: Defensive End

DE: Free Agents (pass rushing)

1) Mario Williams - Texans - DE/OLB - Williams tops this list based on his name and reputation. He has speed off of the edge and will get pressure on the QB. He's only 27, but comes with some risk. He is coming off of two injury plagued seasons in where he only played in five games this year and 13 games in 2010.

2) Cliff Avril - Lions - DE - Avril had probably his best year of his career this year with 11 sacks and 6 forced fumbles (9 sacks and 1 FF in 2010). The knock on Avril is his run defence, it's pretty non-existant. He's going to get paid by someone.

3) Anthony Spencer - Cowboys - He puts up decent number for DE/OLB, 6 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. He had a couple of really poor games in 2011, but overall is a good/experienced option that may not come cheap, but less that top two. In 2010, Spencer had 5 sacks and 2 FF, 2009 had 6 sacks and 2 FF... consistent that way.

4) Jeremy Mincey - Jags - DE - Mincey is coming off his best year as a pro, registering 8 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. In 2010 he had 5 sacks and 0 forced fumbles. To me, Mincey is a tweener... is he coming into his own and becoming a force on the line or did he just have a great year in a contract year? He's 28 so his window is shrinking to figure it out.

5) Jonathan Fanene - Bengals - DE/DT - I like him. He's a guy that can move inside and play DT as well, he is a good run stopper with quickness to get to the QB, he had 6.5 sacks this year, only played in two games in 2010, but had 6 sacks in 2009. He's not going to force any fumbles for you (0 in career), but he's an all heart guy.

6) Robert Mathis - Colts - OLB/DE - Age 31 - Worth a post 9.5 sacks 3 FF in 2011, 11 sacks 1 FF in 2010, 9.5 sacks and 5 FF in 2009. Might be better suited as our WILL LB than DE, but hey that's not my job to assess... here are the facts: Gets to the QB! Playmaker (37 forced fumbles in career), Yes he's 31 but has good 3 years left in him as starter.
Other notables available: John Abraham age 34, Andre Carter age 33, Michael Bennett age 26 (RFA).

Available in Draft:

1) Whitney Mercilus - Illinois - DE - One year wonder? I don't think so. He consistanty beat NFL calibre OT this year. This was his first year starting which may raise some concerns about whether or not he is too raw, but his skill set is there. His speed off the edge is undeniable. He needs to be better against the run, but he is either a top notch prospect like Jason Pierre-Paul or a possible dud like Kentwan Balmer.

2) Melvin Ingram - DE - South Carolina - He's a very athletic talent with the speed to be able to get off the edge and get pressure on the QB. He recorded 8.5 sacks as a senior w/13.5 TFL and even had 2 INTs. 2010 he had 9 sacks and 11 TFL. Depending on his combine results and proday, he could be moving up draft boards in a hurry and picked 15-20.

3) Nick Perry - USC - DE/OLB - Oh what? You didn't think I would miss some USC Trojan content in here did you? Actually the PC connection is not why he's here, he's here because he's very fast off the snap and displays good instincts and a perfect fit for the WILL LB spot and would see a lot of snaps at DE on passing downs. 9.5 sacks and 3 FF and 13 TFL are good numbers and could be a target if Seattle chooses to trade down in the first.

4) Andre Branch - Clemson - DE - I'm a Clemson Tiger fan and love this guys motor. He's constantly in the backfield and man is he strong. He's sure to move up to 1st round status in my mind once the combine comes. 10.5 sacks, 16 TFL, 1 FF this season. He didn't have a horrible junior year, but same as Whitney Mercilus you do have to wonder if he is a flash in the pan, as a junior he had 5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss.

5) Sleeper pick #1 - Jacquies Smith - Missouri - DE/OLB - He's just a good football player and is very consistent. This year (after missing two games with dislocated elbow) he had 5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and 11 tackles for loss. His junior year - 5.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. I'll be watching his combine results for sure, but he may be worth a look in the 4th round or so if he's there.

6) Sleeper pick #2 - Jamie Blatnick - Oklahoma State - DE - To be honest with you, I don't know why this kid is not talked about more for earlier round selection. His numbers are certainly respectable 47 tackles, 7 sacks, 11.5 TFL, 7 passes batted down at the line, 1 FF and 1 INT. There is more than just numbers I know, but what limited film I could find with him in it, you could see there is some potential there to be a good NFL DE. Maybe 4th round as well.

Other mentionables: Vinny Curry (no relation), Courtney Upshaw (see him more of pure OLB in NFL so didn't have him in DE/OLB write-up).

So there you go, some possible FAs and draft prospects to sort through. Do you target a FA and use the draft for other needs or do you draft a DE and possibly look for depth in FA? Anthony Spencer is an interesting option for us that won't break the bank and maybe a mid round pick at DE for depth, agree?

I personally think this is a top heavy draft for pass rushing DE, there is a lot of good 1st round talent and early second round talent... it tapers a bit from there but PC and JS find their gems.

My selection: Personally I think the DE/OLB draft class is too good at the top this year to pass on. Because this class is top heavy, there is a great opportunity to trade back in the fist round and gather additional picks and possibly add a 2nd DE in a later round for depth and growth potential. Maybe a Nick Perry late first to play WILL/DE and getting another in 6th or 7th round with room to grow?

If you don't trade back and keep 11/12, I actually have changed my selection... I was a big advocate of Mercilus, but after seeing more of Melvin Ingram, I think he fits perfectly and is a safer selection than Mercilus because he has had two solid years in a row at South Carolina. I know there are a lot of names I didn't metion, but my word count is at 1528 with what is here. If you want to add a name, write it up in comments if you think anyone would fit better in Seattle's system. Thanks for reading, I'm out.

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