Some time ago, I wrote about the Seahawks' needs on the offensive line, prompting some interesting discussion about team priorities and whether top-tier talent could be had up front at the #25 spot (or later). Unfortunately, the O-line is not the only unit in dire need of an upgrade. Next on the 'Hawks overhaul checklist: the secondary.
"Secondary" is a funny term for a positional group, as it implies less importance than other groupings. I get that they're probably called that because they aren't the first line of defense, but if we're to follow that line of thinking to its logical end, safeties and cornerbacks should really be referred to as the "thirdary." Maybe defensive backs suffer from a deep-seeded feeling of under-appreciation, given how dismissively labeled they are. If they started referring to themselves as the "primary," I bet they'd play better. Or at least be more likely to whistle or sing a ditty.
Regardless of what they're called, Seattle's version of a secondary stank like neglected opossum crotch. In a classic case of "anything you can do, I can do just as mediocre-ly," the 2010 Seahawks defense matched their offensive counterpart with a 29th-ranked team DVOA -- a rating much of whose burden lies on the defensive backs'... backs. Now a lot of different things need to be taken into account, not the least of which was Seattle's maddening inability to provide consistent QB pressure, but the end result was a pass defense that was almost polite in its permissibility.
The Seahawks defense ranked 27th in passing yards allowed last year, giving up 250 a game. "Sure," you might say if you're in the habit of speaking out loud to internet articles, "but the Seahawks were also thrown against more often than most teams." And you'd be right, too. Some of the Seahawks' atrocious yards-allowed numbers can be chalked up to the frequency with which teams threw against them (5th most), but that only makes their 12 interceptions look all the more egregious. In fact, the 'Hawks defense finished in a virtual tie with Denver for worst TD-INT ratio in the NFL (31-12).
It wasn't just raw totals that stack against the Seahawks' secondary, either. Their 7.2 yards-per-attempt-against ranked 24th, and their yards-per-reception-against was a staggering 11.8, good for 3rd worst in the league. With Marcus Trufant and Kelly Jennings spending much of their field-time playing catch-up and Lawyer Milloy wearing cement shoes, it was up to the speedy yet impulsive rookie Earl Thomas to keep the whole thing from breaking down; which is akin to using a hyperactive golden retriever to fix a leaky roof.
If the Seahawks are to be truly competitive next year, they're going to have to build on the smoldering wreckage of last year's performance. Their most immediate avenue is through next week's draft and it is with that in mind that I offer my thoughts on who the 'Hawks should consider in the first two rounds.
Current Roster: Marcus Trufant, Kelly Jennings, Walter Thurmond, Lawyer Milloy, Earl Thomas, Jordan Babineaux, Kam Chancellor, Marcus Brown, Josh Pinkard, Roy Lewis, Kennard Cox
There's some name recognition in that group, to be sure, and if you were to cherry-pick the best seasons from guys like Trufant, Babineaux, and Milloy you'd have a pretty imposing bunch. Unfortunately, Milloy's best years are dust in his rearview and we have no idea if Trufant can bounce back to All-Pro form. Meanwhile, Jennings has never blossomed into the cover man we all hoped for and Babineaux is too busy French-ing up his name to keep slot receivers from going over the top of him.
Thomas was a bright spot to be sure, and there's no reason to think he won't continue to improve. I was trying to think of who he reminds me of, and I kept drawing blanks but I was certain that there was someone in my brain whose style of play he had. Then it hit me: Thomas doesn't play like Ronnie Lott or Eugene Robinson or Ed Reed, he plays like Kenny Lofton. I was always so stunned by the amount of ground Lofton could cover while the ball was in the air, like he knew where it was going earlier than other guys who played centerfield. Thomas seems to have that same special ability and at the last 'Hawks game I went to, I found myself spending every defensive play just watching him fly around. When his play-reading ability catches up to his instinct and impulsiveness, he's going to be a special play-maker.
Sadly, Thomas cannot play all of the secondary positions at once, meaning there are some holes to fill. Even if Trufant regains his pre-injury ability, Milloy's age and Jennings not-good-enough-ness are going to hinder this group going forward. Chancellor has ability, but he spent too much of last year charging around like Juggernaut, to be much help in the passing game. One guy I was pleasantly surprised by, however, was Walter Thurmond, who ably stepped in as a cover-corner and provided proof that capability is out there to be found if you know where to look.
As far as improvement through this year's draft goes, the obvious dream-get is Colorado CB Jimmy Smith. Drafting him gives Seattle a chance to do a better job of locking down an opposing QB's first read, allowing the pass rush more time to get to him as well as planting the fear that accompanies the prospect of throwing against a real play-maker. I for one, don't think Smith falls past Philadelphia at #23 and, barring involvement in a homicide, Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara aren't going to fall out of the top 15.
Let's assume, for the sake of discussion, that Smith is off the board (because I think the consensus here is to take him at #25 if he's available). Is Texas cover-guy Aaron Williams worth the 25th overall pick? What about UCLA super-safety Rahim Moore?
When it comes to drafting, the key word is value. If Seattle wants to get coverage help early in the draft, can they afford to pass on guys like Williams, Moore, or uber-athlete Brandon Harris out of Miami? I guess it all depends on what you consider the drop-off to be after that. The second round, even late, holds some promise to provide talent in the secondary, it's just a matter of deciding if #57 will have enough talent available to pass on guys like Williams, Harris, and Moore in the first.
Assuming Seattle doesn't go DB at #25, I'd be thrilled if they went secondary in, fittingly enough, the second round. If the aforementioned players are off the board at #57, Miami's other CB, the fleet-footed DeMarcus Van Dyke, has the potential to step in and contribute right away. Danny has already discussed the prospects of Seattle taking Davon House, and I like the prospect of snagging the New Mexico St CB at #57, and love the idea of getting him at #99. Carl talked about USC DB Shareece Wright and there have been rumors linking Virgina CB Ras-I Dowling to the 'Hawks in the 2nd as well.
If Moore is not available to Seattle when they'd want to take him, a couple of safety prospects to keep an eye on are Florida tough guy Ahmad Black and Clemson's converted linebacker DeAndre McDaniel (although I think Chancellor has that position covered). Two other guys that might find their way to the Northwest are Virginia Tech grinder Rashad Carmichael and a guy that I really covet, Ohio State's gluey Chimdi Chekwa
Ideally, I'd love to see Anthony Costanzo, Mike Pouncey, Nate Solder, or Gabe Carimi fall to Seattle at #25 and have the 'Hawks use #57 or #99 on some help in the defensive backfield. I'm perfectly alright with trying to fortify our lines and secondary this year and finding out what we've got in Charlie Whitehurst. If Carroll and Schneider feel the same way, which DBs, if any, would you like to see the Seahawks take in the first four rounds? Do Utah's Brandon Burton or Texas' Curtis Brown do anything for you? Is this a deeply talented crop of DBs or is the market just flooded with borderline guys?
Let me know what y'all think.