Speaking of improving the pass rush...
If you haven't been paying attention this week, there's a little thing going on called the Senior Bowl. Playing in this Senior Bowl are several players that have been either mocked to the Seahawks in round one or talked about as targets for the Seahawks in round one so for the sake being thorough, we should entertain the idea of some of these players in cobalt blue. I call them the 'big three' because they are the three premiere defensive ends in the game and many believe that's where Seattle will be looking early. There are obviously other players to consider in this game, but it's unclear how likely any of them will be considered at the 11th/12th pick.
The three senior OLBs/sDEs that everyone is talking about are North Carolina's Quinton Coples, South Carolina's Melvin Ingram, and Alabama's Courtney Upshaw.
DE Quinton Coples (6'6, 281):
Coples is one of those players that has me intrigued going into this year's draft and the inconsistent reports on his talent, drive, and ability make him a guy that could easily slip to 11/12, or even later, and be a target of opportunity that Seattle might not be able to pass up. Prior to the Senior Bowl, there were some negative reports that came out on his effort this season despite the idea that he'd be the number one rated D-lineman coming into 2012. Rob Staton published a few articles detailing that here ('Quinton Coples is overrated') and here. I respect Rob's opinion a great deal and he puts a ton of research into all of his articles so it was interesting to see the contrast of his take recently in reports from the Senior Bowl singing Coples' praises. Maybe he's turned the corner from a bad senior season?
Rob Rang, in particular, is high on Coples and doesn't have him lasting to 11 in his latest Mock. Per a recent Rang article:
Measuring in at nearly 6-6 and 281 pounds, Coples has the size, strength and athleticism to be a force regardless of scheme. Rated as the No. 1 defensive end prospect and 12th overall by NFLDraftScout.com, Coples is the highest-rated Senior Bowl participant. He hasn't disappointed, terrorizing the South team's quarterbacks and running backs by consistently penetrating the line of scrimmage to blow up plays before they've even begun.
"He's been impressive," one high-ranking team official thought likely to be considering a defensive lineman with their first round pick said Tuesday, on the condition of anonymity. "He played really well on Monday and followed that up with another strong effort [Tuesday]."
"I still like him better inside," the official said. "He's got quickness and power and with those strong hands of his, he can turn interior linemen and get after it. I don't see the explosiveness to be a 10-plus sack guy off the edge in the NFL, but he gives you the flexibility to line him up anywhere... and there are very few guys that offer that kind of versatility."
The official speaks to one of the main issues with Coples and that is the question of where his eventual landing position in the NFL might be. Some peg him as a defensive end, some as an interior lineman. The good news, I guess, is that he doesn't seem to have a problem with either, or both. Per Rang:
"I don't really have a preference, to be honest with you," Coples said following his South Team's practice Tuesday. "I'm willing to play in the 3-4, 4-3 inside or outside. I've been practicing and working on improving so that I'll not only be the best defensive lineman in the draft but the most versatile.""I'm versatile. I can play from the zero [nose guard] to the nine [defensive end lining up outside of the tight end] and get after it.
Fellow Field Guller Davis Hsu believes that one road the Seahawks might take is to draft a defensive end this year with the early goal to play him 15-20 snaps opposite Chris Clemons (a la Raheem Brock), spell Clemons 10-15 snaps a game, and if it were a player like Coples, throw him inside on third downs a la Anthony Hargrove for 5-10 snaps a game.
If you get 45 high-effort and effective snaps a game from a first round draft pick, is that necessarily a bad thing? As Davis said, Aldon Smith didn't play 60 snaps a game and I'm sure his employers are happy. It's an interesting idea, anyway. Some people might be annoyed to see such a high pick go to a rotational player but when it comes to the defensive line, that might be what the Seahawks have in mind.
Because of Coples skillset, this idea does make a little sense for Seattle, in theory. For what it's worth, Mike Mayock still has Coples ranked as his number one defensive end in the draft. That said, his attitude and drive raise a lot of red flags. We'll see.
DE Melvin Ingram (6'2, 276):
If the Seahawks opt for a little bit smaller, quicker DE, then Ingram might be in the picture. Former NFL Scout and personnel exec Russ Lande had this to say about Ingram on Tuesday:
"He is explosive off the ball and sudden with his initial movements, which makes it difficult for offensive linemen to sustain their blocks on him. He displayed an excellent variety of pass-rush moves during the one-on-one period to consistently beat the offensive tackle. He has a rare combination of quickness, agility and power closing. If he continues playing at this level the rest of the week and has a strong spring, we are confident Ingram will end up as a first-round pick."
Ingram ranks behind Coples on Mayock's list of defensive ends and our own Ben Harbaugh had an excellent scouting report on him a few weeks ago.
"Melvin Ingram is the only LB on this list who would play SAM for us. He could also rotate in at DT/DE in passing situations, similar to Anthony Hargrove this year. Ingram isn't slow but he's certainly not fast. What Ingram gives up in speed he makes up for rushing the passer and defending the run. What impresses me most about Ingram is his ability to rip, swim, and especially spin his way past blockers while still retaining an uncanny awareness of where the ball is. It's usually either one or the other but Ingram's ability to do both makes him a real presence in the backfield.
Ingram would make our strong side a black hole to run against (assuming we're able to re-sign Red Bryant) and could provide some much needed pass rush on first and second down. He was rarely asked to drop into coverage in college but he still managed two picks in 2011 due to his uncanny ball awareness and seemingly solid hands. I suspect that he'll be decent in a zone but probably have trouble matching up against TEs in man."
As Ben points out, Ingram is versatile in that he could also play the SAM outside linebacker spot for Seattle and thus could potentially see the field more often. He has the pass rush ability and size to play inside and with a Seahawks defense that leans heavily on player rotation, he could be a fit.
The only issue I have with Ingram is that if the Seahawks want more speed at the linebacker position, getting bigger and potentially slower with Ingram isn't going to help that. Regardless, he's an intriguing player and will be someone to watch on Saturday.
DE/OLB Courtney Upshaw (6'2, 265):
Wes Bunting had this to say about Upshaw at Senior Bowl practices earlier this week:
#Alabama DE Courtney Upshaw is the most powerful pass rusher of the bunch, can shed through contact and overpower #SeniorBowl— Wesley Bunting (@WesBunting) January 24, 2012
That alone can catch your eye as the Seahawks' most obvious need on defense is that pass rush and Upshaw has the potential to provide that as an OLB (WILL or SAM, likely) or as a LEO. He's known for being fluid in space, can rush from a stand up or three point stance, and is a sure tackler. He will likely be on a lot of 3-4 teams' radars but I could also see the Seahawks showing some interest.
Again, he's Mike Mayock's top OLB in this year's Draft, and we'll get a great chance to see what he can do on Saturday.
Here are a few more comments on Upshawk's week:
#Alabama LB Courtney Upshaw is the best player at the #SeniorBowl. Not even close. He's always around the ball; very active.— Chris Steuber (@ChrisSteuber) January 24, 2012
Impressed with Alabama DE/OLB Courtney Upshaw in one-on-one pass rush. Has obvious power, but also uses his hands to shed blocker.— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) January 24, 2012
Upshaw measured in at just under 6'2 and that's a big ding on a player that is going to be considered for a pass rusher. If he falls because of this (however unlikely) the Seahawks may consider taking him. Keep in mind, Pete Carroll has gone on record saying that size/weight isn't as much of a factor in what the LEO does, but instead that guy should just be 'your best player'. Upshaw certainly has that feel about him - instinctual, savvy, always around the football. Physically not as impressive, but efficient.
For a comparison, the Hawks drafted and were high on (well, relatively, I guess, considering they took him in the seventh round) another smallish OLB/DE with pass rush ability in Dexter Davis. Anyway, I like Upshaw and am looking forward to seeing what he does on Sat.
Big thanks as usual to DraftBreakdown for the excellent scouting videos they put together. If it wasn't for their hard, unheralded and humble work, we'd be forced to watch those godawful horrible highlight videos with terrible soundtracks all day. So, thanks to Aaron Aloysius, JMPasq, JPDraftJedi, TTN2810, MARI0clp and the wholeDraftBreakdown crew.