Consider these statistics (all DVOA).
Versus opposing number one WRs, Seattle ranks 6th (-8.7%). Versus opposing number two WRs, Seattle ranks 6th (-19.8%). Versus other opposing WRs, Seattle ranks 10th (-17.4%). Versus opposing TEs, Seattle ranks 16th (+10.0%). Versus opposing RBs (passing), Seattle ranks 32nd (34.9%).
First of all, this is indicative of a linebacker issue. Second of all, generally the worse a QB gets, the more he is going to rely on TEs and RBs in check-down looks. So following this thinking, it appears that Seattle would actually struggle more against worse QBs. One could argue that having faced a line of poor QBs has inflated the Seahawks' numbers against better WRs. I don't really have an answer for this, other than the eye test seems to say otherwise.
This is obviously a little bit tongue-in-cheek. A team isn't usually going to win a football game by always checking down to their tight end and running backs -- though the Seahawks might be the team to try it against. However, my initial point rings clear: the Seahawks have a bit of a linebacker issue.
Part of this could be related to the fact that they gave Aaron Curry five games' worth of snaps, plus K.J. Wright's rookie learning curve. Hawthorne and Hill are both solid to above-average starting linebackers, but they both provide most value stopping the run. Clemons is a terrific pass-rusher, and is at least average against the run, especially for a rush 'backer.
However, once you get these guys in space against a shifty lil' running back, or put them up in coverage against a tight end, weaknesses shine through. I think K.J. will turn into a solid (dare I say excellent?) linebacker, both in run support and in coverage. His length is an asset in coverage, even if he lacked instincts. But I think he has the instincts that, coupled with his athleticism and some veteran savvy, will turn him into a great all-around linebacker.
But the Seahawks' need depth. Hawthorne has had some injury concerns, though nothing too serious. Hill has been supremely reliable when he's actually been on the field, but he is nigh unto 30 (though without quite as much mileage as you might think). Clemons is the Rip Van Winkle of the corps, with far less mileage than most 31-year-old starting NFL linebackers. But he is still 31.
And behind the four starters, depth is questionable. Heath Farwell is a special teams stud, but shouldn't spend much time on the field otherwise. Matt McCoy and David Vobora are decent veterans, but not core starter types. Malcolm Smith, Mike Morgan, and Adrian Moten provide a trio of intrigue, but there's a reason they were drafted in the 7th round or later.
So what do I propose?
Well, I don't have a guaranteed solution yet. No solution in football is guaranteed, especially in the draft. However, there are some intriguing linebackers in this upcoming draft, and a number project within the Seahawks' range outside the first round.
In his first mock draft of the season, Rob Staton had the Seahawks selecting Jarvis Jones, OLB out of Georgia. In this case, all three 1st-round worthy QBs were off the board, and Jones is a sneaky good pick. I would be delighted if he could slip to the second after the Seahawks drafted a QB in the first -- but that's borderline fantasy thinking. Another name to keep an eye on, should the Seahawks miss out on a QB in the first round, is Zach Brown, OLB out of UNC.
I would probably rate either of those guys over this guy, but they've been covered elsewhere, and this piece is MINE. So I'm going to look at Nick Perry, DE out of USC.
What's the big deal with Mr. Perry? He had quite the highschool career, based on this blurb from his CBS Sports NFL Draft profile.
His 2007 honors included USA Today All-USA first team, Parade All-American, Super Prep All-American, Prep Star All-American, EA Sports All-American first team, Scout.com All-American second team, Super Prep All-Midwest, Prep Star All-Midwest, All-State, Detroit News All-Metro, Detroit News All-Detroit and Detroit News Dream Team MVP as a senior defensive lineman, linebacker and tight end at King High in Detroit (Mich.). He had 147 tackles and a state record 36 sacks in 2007, plus caught 14 passes for 310 yards (22.1 avg.) with 8 TDs, as King went 14-0 and won the state title. As a junior in 2006 at McKenzie High in Detroit, he made All-Metro and All-City while getting 75 tackles and 11 sacks. He also played basketball at King.
He was redshirted for the 2008 season, and served as a passing down defensive end for much of his redshirt freshman year.
Perry was an often-used backup defensive end as a redshirt freshman in 2009, playing often in passing situations. Overall while appearing in all 13 games (he started against Stanford), he had 24 tackles, including 9 for losses (with a team-best 8 sacks). He made the 2009 Football Writers Freshman All-American first team, Sporting News Freshman All-American first team, Phil Steele's Freshman All-American first team, CollegeFootballNews.com Freshman All-American first team, ESPN.com Pac-10 All-Freshman first team and Sporting News Pac-10 All-Freshman first team.
Three of his 4 tackles were for losses (with 2 sacks) against San Jose State. He had 2 tackles at Ohio State, 2 of his 4 tackles were sacks at Washington, he had 2 sacks among his 4 tackles against Washington State and he had 3 tackles (with a sack) at Notre Dame. He added 3 tackles at Oregon and 2 against Stanford. He had 2 tackles, including a sack, against Boston College.
He has spent the majority of this season as a starter at defensive end in the small, fast Trojan defensive line. The game in this video was pretty much the game that put him on the national radar in a big way. This video is mostly of his encounters with Stanford's stud LT Jonathan Martin, so I think I'll look at another one of his videos later next week. But now, to the video!
h/t to www.draftbreakdown.com. If you're looking for prospect videos, this is where all the cool kids are. Seriously.
I'm going to look in detail at five plays.
0:03- Right off the bat, you get an idea of what he offers as a speed rusher from DE. Watch his hands. He keeps them active batting away Martin as he attempts to get him between the pads. Perry gets a bit more upright than you'd like to see -- I'd rather see his helmet below Martin's shoulders -- but his speed and hands enable him to make a likely future NFL starter look plain silly. The play at 0:33 is somewhat similar. Look at 0:51 for an example where he stays lower and flushes Luck from the pocket.
1:20- He does a terrific job keeping his body low and navigating through two blocks, again keeping his hands active and Martin's hands away from his body. Despite going up against an elite college LT and chip-block from a running back, he's flushing Luck from the pocket in less than three seconds.
2:24- The first of two sacks for USC. Again, he gets a bit too upright off the snap, but he keeps his hands working, slapping, driving, and Martin can't contain him, so he holds him. It doesn't matter, Luck is toast anyways. The potential here is pretty apparent. If he could work with Clemons for awhile and learn to stay in the sprinter's stance longer and blow out of it with his head low and body more parallel to the ground, he would give any LT nightmares.
4:31- This is just beautiful. I don't think you need to watch much tape to get this one. Look at those hands working. He doesn't get up quite as high as in some others, though I'd still like to see him lower. Martin looks like a scrub. He never has a chance.
6:52- One of the few run plays in this video (primarily why I want to break down a complete video of him). He's able to hold relatively strong at the point of attack, though he doesn't directly factor in the tackle and struggles to disengage from Martin's block. Given his size (6'3"/250), he shouldn't try to spend too much time powering an offensive tackle, and this is part of why I see him as more of a 3-4 OLB than a DE. He isn't hopeless if he's being run-blocked by a 300 pound man, but he's certainly not going to shine. The last play of the video, at 7:10, is another example. He's not going to worry most OL with a bull-rush, at least not until/unless he adds some strength to his upper body.
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In conclusion, I'll say that at this point, I'm undecided on him for the Seahawks, pending more film. I want to see him against the run and in coverage more often. I see him with potential to backup and eventually succeed Clemons.
To be an effective rusher in the NFL, he needs to learn an inside move. Clemons' biggest asset is his inside move. Match made in heaven? Perhaps.
He also could stand to add strength to his frame, though strength means weight, and adding weight to a 250 pound body might mean moving more from an OLB-type to a DE-type, and so far I don't really see him as a guy who's going to star at DE in the NFL, though I'll wait to watch more before making that assertion. However, perhaps with some added weight and an inside move, he could compare to a Tamba Hali or a Calvin Pace.
In conclusion, I'd say that this is a guy to keep an eye on in the second round, if the Seahawks haven't traded that pick for a QB. Pete Carroll obviously knows him. In this game, he was part of a four-man front that consistently, without blitzing, pressured an elite QB behind an elite O-line. That is saying something.
A final thought. Right after the first sack, at around 3:05, Musberger quotes Monte Kiffin saying, "Yeah, I'd like big guys who are fast, like LSU. But if I've got my choice, and I can only have one, I'll take speed." Carroll is a defensive disciple of Kiffin. Keep that in mind.