'Tis the season for mock drafts. And it seems that 90% of the mocks I see have the Seahawks drafting Ryan Tannehill or Quinton Coples in the first round. I would be exceedingly unhappy with either pick. Until the last couple of weeks, many mocks that didn't include Tannehill or Coples to the Seahawks had them drafting a cornerback like Dre Kirkpatrick, Alfonzo Dennard, or Chase Minnifield. I think Browner and Sherman have played well enough recently to quiet such talk. I'm happy with those two, plus Walter Thurmond and Roy Lewis, and the upside of Ron Parker, Byron Maxwell and perhaps Marcus Trufant as veteran depth on a restructured contract.
More recently, it seems people have begun to clue in and I've seen players like Vinny Curry, Courtney Upshaw, and Devon Still mocked to the 'Hawks. I think most of us have pretty much agreed that if the Seahawks can't trade up to draft a QB, they need to address their painful lack of pass rush. Personally, I'd like to see them improve at linebacker, as I consider it the weakest position on the team in terms of current depth and talent. It would be extremely convenient if they could kill two birds with one stone and improve their pass rush with a linebacker.
The Seahawks currently have a few guys on the roster who could possibly fit this bill. Dexter Davis seems like a bit of a longshot, as does Jameson Konz, but the fact that they have stuck with both of them for most of two seasons now tells me that they have some hope for them. Mike Morgan is still around, and as a guy whose biggest attribute coming out of college was his ability to penetrate and make plays in the backfield, perhaps he has a future as a pass-rusher. Regardless who is on the roster, though, it'd be great if the team could add first-round quality talent to their pass rush.
There are a number of players I'd consider first-round quality pass-rushers, like Vinny Curry, Courtney Upshaw, Nick Perry, Whitney Mercilus, perhaps Bruce Irvin. However, the possibility exists that a top talent at a specific position could slip to the Seahawks, say Trent Richardson, Dwight Jones, or David DeCastro. In such a situation, drafting an offensive player that doesn't represent an explicit need might seem like a luxury pick, but elite talent is elite talent. I don't think the Seahawks should pass on any of the above three, and there may be a couple other players who would transcend need if they dropped that far.
So what sort of options exist in later rounds? Well, this may be one, should he choose to declare. As I was searching for tape of Whitney Mercilus, I kept seeing this #99, so I did a little research. His name is Michael Buchanan, and he's a junior. His listed position is "Bandit," a term I wasn't particularly familiar with. So, more research.
It turns out it's a hybrid DE/OLB, typically used in a 3-3, whose job is to rush the passer and fill gaps. It's sort of like a nickelback in a 3-4, but is on the field for most downs. As far as I can tell, it's more or less a creation of Vic Koenning, who was the defensive coordinator at Troy in 2003-2004, at Clemson from 2005-2008, Kansas State in 2009, and -- guess where -- Illinois for the last two years. So I went to the Fighting Illini website to learn more, and there I came across this quote:
One of the more intriguing positions in new defensive coordinator Vic Koenning's multi-dimensional system is the "Bandit," which is a hybrid DE/OLB. Koenning has coached several top-flight Bandits in his day, including Dallas Cowboys all-pro DeMarcus Ware, the late Gaines Adams and potential 2010 first-round pick Ricky Sapp.
Well now, that's some good company.
I haven't been able to find much, if any, coverage of Buchanan, as he's been mostly overshadowed by Mercilus. As you watch the video, though, you can see that he seems to impact plays as much or more than his teammate. Mercilus is built thicker (he's 6'4"/265 vs Buchanan's 6'6"/240), and seems a little more boom or bust. Buchanan doesn't always dominate at the point of attack, but he's pretty consistent and plays with a very high motor, almost getting happy feet at times, like he's just so super excited to be playing football!
This is the first video I came across on YouTube, so it's the one I stuck with. Since it isn't from our friends over at Draft Breakdown, and since it isn't a "Michael Buchanan video," you're not gonna see the nifty little markers denoting where he's lined up, so I'll do my best to point him out.
No. 85 DE Whitney Mercilus Illinois vs Northwestern 2011 (via mathew40)
After watching the video through about half a dozen times, a total of seventeen plays stood out to me. I broke them down into categories. Four "pass" plays demonstrate his burst of the snap and pass rush moves. Four "run" plays are examples of his ability as a run defender. One play showed him dropping into coverage. And finally, I categorized eight plays as "hustle" plays.
0:24- Illinois is lined http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYofGP5oILw in what looks like a 3-2-6 with two safeties, two cornerbacks in zone coverage on the outside receivers, two defensive backs in man coverage on the inside receivers, two linebackers, and three down linemen. Buchanan is at left defensive end. He gets a pretty good jump off the snap, and immediately demonstrates his speed. He allows himself to get a little too upright, which is probably what prevents him from actually getting to the QB. But you can see his active hands as he throws the tackle, dips his shoulder, and beats him around the corner. To his credit, the tackle is able to desperately push him up and beyond the pocket, but the damage is done.
0:47- The Illini are in a straight up 3-4 with quarters coverage. Initially they bring four, but the ROLB breaks off with the RB out into the flat. Buchanan demonstrates another quick first step, beating his defensive line off the snap. The tackle gets in one half-hearted kick-step before Buchanan has beat him, polishing him off with an emphatic club move. Again, he's a bit more upright than you might like to see.
3:54- One of my favorite plays on the video. He blows off the snap, again beating his whole defensive line. The tackle tries desperately to get in a punch to the chest, but Buchanan is having none of it. A quick swim and side-step, and the tackle is history. However, once again he straightens up too much, and the tackle is able to push him out the back of the pocket. If he stayed lower, keeping his back parallel to the ground until he rounded the edge, this would have been a thundering QB hit. An NFL left tackle will let him beat himself too far to the edge every time, and just push him out into oblivion. If he can master his length into greater leverage, he'll be a beast to contain on the edge.
5:16- And he finally does it. Same old song and dance off the snap. However, instead of straightening completely upright when he hits the tackle, he swims and clubs him to the side and drops his shoulder as he rounds the corner. The tackle never has a chance, and begins to hold. He releases before it's too egregious, to his credit. Buchanan destroys the QB and nearly breaks up the screen before it can start. Such a quick first step, active hands, leverage, explosive.
1:25- The broadcast cuts from the replay just at the snap, so it's hard to pick him out immediately. He's playing upright on the defensive right end of the line. It's a stretch play to the left, and he is dealing with the left tackle, who wants to block him out to the sideline to create a hole in through the B gap. A 300 pound tackle is quite the handful for a 240 pound LB, but he stands his ground, wins the leverage battle, and disengages for the tackle. His Mike backer polishes off the running back, but Buchanan's presence bottles him in.
3:18- He is playing from a two-point stance again, this time on the defensive left end. This is as much a terrible play by the right tackle as it is a good play by Buchanan. He holds his ground, sets the edge, and disengages to make a strong, sound tackle for a three-yard loss.
3:31- He's the left down lineman. He delivers a strong punch under the chin of the tackle, knocking him backwards and off-balance, allowing him to push around the outside, square and tackle. Another solid form tackle.
5:10- Pretty obvious play here. He's unblocked as the tackle chips off of him and heads to the second level. He squares up on the QB, then chases down the running back in a play that was dead as soon as it began.
1:55- He's the down lineman on the bottom of the screen. Doesn't quite get close enough to pressure the QB in this case, but it's an example of his strength. He hits the tackle and pushes him back a few steps before wrenching himself free and around the edge.
2:39- Same spot. He demonstrates some potential with a bull-rush, though these tackles kind of suck. He does a decent job of keeping the tackle's hands out of his pads, though he gets stopped up for a sec. Though he isn't steamrolling the tackle, he's definitely moving him back. Then he smells blood and tears free with a quick club.
5:05- He embarrasses this tight end, as he should. The run wasn't going anywhere anyways, so he's mostly just cleaning up, but I like his hand work as he disengages from the block.
5:37- Great hustle play to trip up the QB. Shows good reaction time, ability to change direction quickly, and accelerate to make the trip.
5:49- I think the only reason I chose to include this play was because of his spin move. It's nothing sexy, but it's there.
6:34- Run defense! Squares up and tackles, though again, the play wasn't going far even without him. He's no Trent Cole (insert obligatory curses here), but he's not a liability against the run.
6:49- Another spin move. He and Mercilus make a wicked edge-rushing tandem. It'd be nice to see a more fluid spin. It's like he stopped and thought about it for a second, but he still caught the tackle off-guard (that sounds funny- a tackle is always 'off-guard') and kept the QB from stepping up. Then he chased him down and made the tackle, though the QB dove forward for a couple extra yards.
7:14- He's at the top of the screen and he chases the play down to make the tackle as the ballcarrier tries to cut back.
7:25- He lined up at the bottom of the screen as the left defensive end. He drops back in zone coverage over the middle of the field and spies on the QB. He looks pretty awkward in space. It isn't the prettiest dropback you'll ever see, and the angle he takes at the QB is even uglier. This would definitely be a part of his game to work on or eliminate.
* * * * *
I don't know if he's even declared for the draft, or if he will. He has another year of eligibility, and he might want to play for another year to improve his stock. Barely anybody is talking about him right now, though I'm guessing his stock will rise between now and April. HIs numbers are worth some stick-shaking: 60 tackles (25 solo), 6.5 sacks, 12.5 TFL, 4 QB hurries, and a PBU and a FF, as part of the 7th-ranked defense in the nation that allowed only 3.3 yards per carry, 6.6 yards per pass attempt, and only 4.4 yards per play.
If he declares for this year, I think he'd be a terrific pick to groom as a LEO. He's definitely got the size, the speed, the instincts, and the moves, and given his pedigree, I'd say he has great potential. I'll be keeping my eye on him over the next few months, and I'd be pretty happy if he ended up a Seahawk.
I'll link to a few more videos so you guys can do your own scouting on him. I'd especially recommend the Arizona State game, as it's another great performance by Mercilus and Buchanan against a decent QB and team.
Illinois vs Western Michigan 2011