Courtney Upshaw and Melvin Ingram are excellent options for the Seahawks picking just north of ten. Pass rush is our greatest need and both can get after the quarterback, along with varying other talents between them. However, neither are pure speed rushers, neither are a clean fit in our 4-3, and neither offer a major upgrade to team speed on defense - a point of emphasis for Pete Carroll this off-season.
Zach Brown is 6-2 235 and runs like the wind. He is a clean fit for a 4-3 and might enter his rookie season as the fastest linebacker in the entire NFL. But forget about him being a pure pass rusher, Brown isn't a pass rusher. Period. That sounds conclusive but it isn't. Brown is not a pass rusher but could still add a much needed component to our pass rush.
I see three essential components to a successful pass rushing team; pressure, finishing, and pursuit. Despite being possibly the most difficult to achieve, I think the Seahawks were surprisingly adept at creating pressure last season. Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane, and Alan Branch consistently collapse the pocket and disrupt passing lanes, Chris Clemons forces the QB to evade him, and we saw a dramatic improvement in coverage. The breakdown has been with the other two pass rush components.
The Seahawks ended the season with 33 sacks. Finishing is a big issue. This is where pass rushers are so valuable and the Seahawk's only had one last season in Chris Clemons. Here I discussed how Dexter Davis and another rotational LEO could push Raheem Brock's role back to the production level we saw from him in 2010. Unfortunately, with this current scheme, finishing will likely continue being problematic until we can find a dynamic 3-tech.
Pursuit was badly lacking in 2011. Once opposing QBs escaped Clemons, they were commonly able to break the pocket and extend the play. Sometimes Clemons would recover or Wright would read it but more often than not we would see Branch or Hawthorne or Hill slow in chase as the QB got off a clean throw.
Another aspect of pursuit is defending the dreaded dump-off pass. Every offense will checkdown to the RB, no matter the scheme, and most will run a screen or two every game. Defending the dump-off should be a given but the Seahawks struggled badly with it last year allowing a league's worst 35.0 DVOA against receiving RBs.
Zach Brown has elite range and closing speed. In the game above, we can see him pressure the QB outside the pocket at :05, 3:05, and 4:06. He's also a capable blitzer and shows a particular acuity for anticipating the snap count. Brown won't pile up the sacks but he could easily manage 4-6.
In Wednesday's podcast, we learned Derek is down on Zach Brown, citing poor instincts and tackling. I really respect Derek's opinion and can absolutely see where he's coming from, especially concerning Brown's tackling. In my opinion it's not a terminal flaw though. He wraps up well at times but far too often leads with his shoulder. Could this be some sense of UNC defense bravado? In any case, this is a deficiency which can improve with coaching. What I look for most concerning tackling is an ability to breakdown, which he demonstrates on the play starting at 3:21 above.
Derek compared him to Aaron Curry but I don't see it. Curry's failure was about more than poor instincts. His slow reaction time and weak anticipation was compounded by a general over aggressiveness and lack of lateral agility. Brown doesn't anticipate the way you'd expect a speed linebacker to but it seems more like a conservative approach than an inability to read the play or slow reaction time - a stark contrast to Curry's berserker rage approach. Brown shades into indecision but it still doesn't hurt him much given his athleticism.
Brown's lateral agility advantage over Curry goes without saying. He moves with a smoothness and can quickly change direction. Brown is very comfortable in coverage and his movement skills play a big part in that. I didn't intend this post to be a response to Derek but he provided an interesting talking point. I'm loving his and Davis' podcast series.
In 2010 our front office bromance drafted Earl Thomas with the 14th pick to play centerfield and patrol the sidelines. Thomas was undersized and there were questions about his tackling ability. Earl has become a star. Pete could have a similar vision for Zach Brown. Brown could start at WILL from day one and also looked comfortable playing MIKE at the Senior Bowl.
When considering Zach Brown's somewhat slender build, remember that we have three big defensive linemen who will eat up blocks and keep Brown in space. Thus far our front office has been conservative in the first round and a 4-3 LB would continue that trend. I feel Brown would be well worth the 11/12th pick as a cornerstone playmaking presence. Brown might bring more to our pass rush effort than many suspect and he certainly satisfies Pete's need for speed.
I don't know if I would rank Brown above Upshaw or Ingram. It's a tough call. The purpose of this post is to show why he should be in the conversation. At this point I would say Upshaw, Ingram, and Brown are the three first round prospects most likely to be wearing the Blue this coming fall.
Big thanks as usual to DraftBreakdown for the excellent scouting videos they put together. If it wasn't for their hard, unheralded and humble work, we'd be forced to watch those godawful horrible highlight videos with terrible soundtracks all day. So, thanks to Aaron Aloysius, JMPasq, JPDraftJedi, TTN2810, MARI0clp and the whole DraftBreakdown crew.