Seattle had a heck of a draft, but a historically weak free agent class combined with an aggressive approach to matching talent to scheme left the Seahawks with more holes than they could properly fill. That's not a big deal. I wasn't banking on the moon this season, and Tapp, Grant and Burly were not the trio to push Seattle into title contention.
Two of those holes put Seattle in an interesting position in 2011. The Seahawks will most likely need a quarterback and an edge rusher, be it defensive end or Leo. Both are premium positions. An extremely preliminary forecast indicates end will be the better class than quarterback, and even if Seattle has a mid-teens pick, a top talent could fall to them. However, barring a revelatory performance by Matt Hasselbeck or Charlie Whitehurst, quarterback is the greater need. Further, great quarterbacks are typically found in the first round, while effective ends can be found throughout the draft.
People love the draft and I love college football and the season is where those two interests intersect. I have talked about quarterbacks and the complicated formula for matching Seattle with its next great signal caller. Today I explore Leo ends. Talent might dictate that Seattle switches back to a traditional 4-3, but after downgrading talent to fit scheme, it would seem Seattle is at least somewhat committed to the concept of a standup end. It would be a shame to abandon it because the talent wasn't there this season. That is: I hope the "Leo" doesn't live or die with the performance of Chris Clemons, Ricky Foley, Dexter Davis and Nick Reed.
So let's look at Leo types today, specifically Leo types not likely to be selected in the first round, and maybe explore traditional ends another day.
Mark Herzlich, Boston College: Herzlich is a superstar linebacker in the making. His road to professional success was briefly untracked by, oh..cancer. Herzlich was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma in May of 2009. Well, he's back, cancer free and college football is better for it.
Herzlich is not strictly a Leo type. He's a three-down linebacker with impressive cover skills, but his size, speed and strength at the point make him, like Clay Matthews, a potential candidate for conversion.
Chris Walker, Tennessee: Walker is a natural Leo and will be targeted by 3-4 teams in need of an outside linebacker. He's a former four-star recruit that finally started his junior season, and rewarded Lane Kiffen for his confidence. The Vols will be bad this season, and so don't be surprised if Walker's stats tend towards tackles for a loss instead of sacks.
Sam Acho, Texas: Acho is a good talent and great player that seems to contribute in every game. He's more of a pure defensive end, but is a little undersized and moves well in space. Seattle traded Darryl Tapp, and so I'm not sure Acho is what Seattle wants, but check back after the results from the Clemons experiment are in. A solid edge rusher that can hold his own against the run might suddenly seem very attractive.
K.J. Wright, Mississippi State: Big fast, powerful and effective, but so far, Wright is a linebacker and a linebacker only, kind of like collegian Chris Clemons. New defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is promising a more attacking style, which is bluster, buzz speak, but also presumably an indication that the Bulldogs will blitz more. Wright has the height, 6'4", and weight, 250, of a Leo end, and if he can prove his pass rush ability in 2010, could be an attractive project for Ken Norton, Dan Quinn and the Seahawks.
Steven Friday, Virginia Tech: Friday is another late riser with the tools but not the resume. He's a lean, quick end/linebacker tweener that will earn his place on Sunday with how he plays in 2010.
Brooks Reed, Arizona: Reed kicked ass as a sophomore but was slowed by injury in 2009. The scouting process is unrelenting, and one year's prospect becomes the next's nobody. USC showed interest in Reed but didn't make an offer. Reed repaid Carroll with a strip-sack of Mark Sanchez in 2008. That play led directly to a touchdown and a tied game in the third quarter. So, I imagine Carroll remembers the big biker-Viking-looking dude with a murderer's stare.
Ugo Chinasa, Oklahoma State: Chinasa had the distinct pleasure of practicing against Russell Okung. He gets pro competition. Chinasa has pro tools, but has taken time to get started as a player. It wasn't until last year's Cotton Bowl that Chinasa exploded on the national scene. He sacked Jevan Snead twice and recorded another assist sack in a game the Cowboys defense kept close until the fourth quarter. Probably the best pure talent apart from Herzlich, and could be a first- or second-round pick if he can break through in his senior season.
So, this is a start, and I'll update it throughout the college football season, but I'm interested in who you might be watching too. The NFL is great in that every fall weekend, the present and future compete, and Saturday and Sunday is a trip from hope through reality towards hope again.