The Seahawks' defense suffered a huge setback when Chrls Clemons tore his ACL on January 6th at FedEx Field in Washington. Clemons has produced 11 sacks in each of the past three seasons for Seattle and in 2012 he played 868 snaps at LEO - 87% of the total snaps Seattle's defense took. Even with a very good program and exceedingly quick recovery for Clemons, August will have been merely eight months removed from the devastating injury.
Even with modern science, medicine, and rehab, a year is still the normal benchmark for a player to regain most of the strength and speed they once had, and even this is pushing it at times. For a player of Clemons' size - a guy that really relies on his quick first step and lateral agility to get to the quarterback, it might be overly ambitious to expect anything better than a PUP designation to start the year. In fact, I wouldn't even necessarily hold your breath for a Week 6 return. Might be more like Week 8 to 10.
Regardless, this means that Seattle must solve the depth issue at LEO either through the Draft or in free agency. Pete Carroll recently said that they'd much prefer to do their work in the Draft - and there are some very interesting players on the defensive line this year that, in theory, makes this possible.
Now - we tend to overlook Bruce Irvin, Seattle's first pick from the 2012 Draft - as a logical replacement for Clemons at LEO until the wily veteran can return. Irvin disappeared a little bit in Seattle's loss to Atlanta and thus many believe he is what we all thought - a sub-package pass rusher, best utilized on the strong side opposite of Clemons (or another LEO), coming onto the field on 3rd downs. That may end up being the case, but I am still rather bullish on the prospect of Irvin as an every down starter on the weak side for the Seahawks, and I do think that year two could be a surprise to some people (as if 8.5 sacks wasn't enough).
Consider Carroll's description of the LEO position: "The best pass rusher on the team is usually the defensive end to the open side of the field. That puts him on the quarterback's blind side and makes him a C-gap player in this defense. We often align him wider than this in order to give him a better angle of attack and allow him to play in space. We align him a yard outside of the offensive tackle most of the time. He has to play C gap run support but at the same time he is rushing the passer like it is third and ten. He has to be able to close down however if the tackle blocks down on him."
"He has to be one of your best football players. Size does not matter as much. We want an athletic player who can move around."
Now - when you take a step back and really look at Carroll's description of the LEO, it fits Irvin to a T. It's why they were so high on him to begin with, and it's why they took him with the 15th overall pick. They knew he'd have to develop a repertoire of pass rush moves, they knew he'd be perceived as undersized, but what they also knew is that no defensive end in the Draft could match Irvin's athleticism.
Irvin tested out with insane numbers - best 40 in the Combine (4.5) among defensive linemen, best three-cone by a wide margin (6.7), best short shuttle (4.03), and third best broad jump (10'3). Irvin also had very long arms (33 3/8") and big hands (9 5/8"), and just as far as the eye test goes, was a baller on the football field - very fluid and athletic, never off balance, never awkward movement. In games, you saw him making plays, being disruptive, - he just looked the part in West Virginia's 3-3-5 stack defense, and I feel that he still very much a work in progress in this Seahawks D.
Now, that said, there are some very interesting options in this year's Draft, if the Seahawks wish to bolster their depth and improve at that position. Tank Carradine says he'll be healthy enough to work out prior to the end of April, so he'll likely be back in the first-round discussion. Zeke Ansah is getting some love - though he'll likely be gone in the top-15, and obviously if Barkevious Mingo or Dion Jordan make precipitous falls into the 20's, you'd have to think Seattle's eyebrows would raise.
In the mid rounds, there are some guys that may just be worth a look - Quanterus Smith had a monster game against Alabama this past season after playing at a lower level of competition with Western Kentucky, beating probable first-rounders in Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker for sacks. He's coming off an ACL injury of his own, but he's a guy the Seahawks could look at. Corey Lemonier - a 6'3, 255 DE out of Auburn certainly fits the bill. David Bass, Larentee McCray, Armonty Bryant, Michael Buchanan, Ty Powell, Walter Stewart, and even the 6'1 Trevardo Williams also fit the profile.
The question is: What is the profile that Seattle is looking for? Alfie Crow, over at Big Cat Country, decided to come up with some benchmarks that he thinks the Jaguars may be looking for in their defensive end, particularly the LEO. With Gus Bradley taking over in Jacksonville, it's clear he'll implement a systems somewhat similar to that in Seattle - a system that helped get Bradley his head coaching job, and a major part of that system is an untraditional defensive end prototype.
Alfie put together a table that listed the following criteria: The player will need to have arms measuring at least 33 inches, preferably longer. The player will need to run at least a 1.6 in the 10-yard split in the 40-yard dash, preferably lower. The player will also need to clock a sub 7 and a sub 4.4 in the 3-cone and shuttle drills, respectively.
These criteria are in place in order to isolate the top athletes at the position. Straight line speed is nice, but can a player bend and shift gears to turn a corner? Can he accelerate to top speed quickly? Does he have lateral agility? Interestingly enough, not a lot of players actually check all these boxes, as Alfie illustrates below.
|Player||Arm Length (33"+)||10-yard Split (<1.6)||3-cone (<7)||Shuttle (<4.4)|
This table does not include Georgia's Jarvis Jones, Florida's Larentee McCray, FSU's Tank Carradine, or Western Kentucky's Quanterus Smith because they did not run at the combine, but it's possible that one or several of those players could fit the criteria above. Regardless, it came down to two players that checked all the boxes - Barkevious Mingo, who is expected to be drafted much before Seattle comes to the podium, and Devin Taylor, which is very surprising, given his height and stiffness in motion.
Several players still fit the profile, even if they don't fully satisfy all these criteria - Corey Lemenier is not hurting in speed, and his size is prototypical for what you'd expect at the position - 6'3, 255 with 34+" arms. Lemonier put up 27 reps on bench and registered a 33" vert, so you know his athleticism is there.
David Bass was just on the cusp of elite in each category, so he's another guy to monitor. Jared Stanger already identified Bass as a likely target for Seattle somewhere in the mid to late rounds, and he also wrote me recently telling me that I should keep an eye on Harding's Ty Powell, who now has been blowing up the Combine. Kudos to Jared on that, because Powell checks the 10-yard split and 3-cone boxes with ease, and comes in right at the cutoff for the short shuttle. His only 'downfall' are his sub 33" arms, but that's not necessarily a deal breaker for a guy that measured in at 6'2, 249.
Finally, Southern Miss' Jamie Collins is a player to monitor for the Seahawks. At 6'3, 250, he had a blistering 1.56 ten-yard split, and a 4.32 short shuttle, and just came in a little slower than elite on the 3-cone drill. He is testing at the Combine at linebacker and with his size, might be considered a tweener, but that pretty much fits Seattle's system like a glove.
For reference, and to add a caveat to all this Combine talk, because I know we can go a little crazy with 'measureables': Chris Clemons measured in at 6'3, 236 at the 2003 Combine, with a 1.72 10-yard split and a 7.48 3-cone. He has since bulked up to about 255 or so - but is clearly not the workout warrior that some of these guys are. When you see the numbers, go back and look at the tape - does a player diagnose the run and shed blocks to make a tackle or just run past the action toward the quarterback like a chicken with his head off? Does he show a variety of pass rush moves? Can he stunt, can he get upfield in a hurry? Is he strong at the point of attack against tackles? Does he keep himself clean with strong hand usage and placement? These are very important factors, obviously, and all the speed in the world won't help you if you can't play football.
Big thanks again to Alfie Crow for assembling all this great info. It's a great benchmark to work with.