With the NFL draft only a few weeks away, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite prospects from this class. These are players that I've really enjoyed watching, not necessarily the guys that I have graded highest or that I even think Seattle will necessarily be interested in. I don't expect any of the below names to be drafted in the first round, so these would be guys to look for somewhere between the 2nd and 5th rounds.
Even though these aren't the biggest names, there probably isn't anyone listed that wouldn't be familiar to someone who's been following Jared Stanger's excellent Gems series.
Julian Wilson, CB Oklahoma 6'2 205lb
With an arm length of 32 3/8 inches, Wilson was just one of six cornerbacks at the combine that fit Seattle's historical criteria for corner backs. Seattle won't limit themselves to just combine invites, but Wilson will certainly be a player that gets a close look from the Hawks. I suspect that when they take that close look, they'll like what they see.
Wilson doesn't have the quickness of some corners, but he's a smooth athlete that's shown the ability to control receivers when allowed to play bump and run. On this play against Mario Alford, one of the very best athletes in this class and a general matchup nightmare for a corner like Wilson, Wilson is able to stay over the top of the receiver and smother the receivers break despite giving up speed and quickness.
If you watch the rest of the game, you'll see Alford win quite a few times. Despite the rough outing, I came away more impressed with Wilson. At no point did he shy away from the matchup, even when Alford would line up off the line or when asked to play off coverage. One example of that is on this play where Wilson is in press position against Alford, who is lined up off the line. This makes it much more difficult for Wilson to disrupt the release and he uses bail technique at the snap. Alford is able to beat Wilson with his blazing speed, but Wilson doesn't panic. He keeps track of the receiver with his left hand and very early in the play gets his head around to locate the ball. Wilson times his jump well and is nearly able to tip the ball away. It's a play where Wilson is beat and was lucky that the touchdown was dropped, but it's a great example of Wilson being fearless in coverage despite being the disadvantage.
Wilson combines the length, athleticism, natural use of his hands, and tackling ability to make an easy transition into the Legion of Boom. If he does find his way to Seattle, I'd expect him to challenge for the starting spot opposite Sherm.
Anthony Chickillo, along with Shaq Riddick, was one of the more misused players in this draft class. Chickillo tested well at the combine, performing well in each area for his size. This includes the vertical (34.5") and broad (9.5') jumps, which have shown to be great indicators of explosiveness for edge rushers. According to the SPARQ numbers provided by Zach Whitman (who you should be familiar with on this site, and who can also be found over at 3sigmaathlete), he's in the 66th percentile for edge athletes. Al Golden and Miami, however, decided to use Chickillo in more of a Red Bryant role.
Chickillo played well as a 2-gapping end in a three-man front. He has the strength to anchor, read a play, and then has strong hands that allow him to shed his blocker and make a tackle. Whatever I might think of Chickillo's role at Miami, he stayed true to his assignments and was a very disciplined player. Chickillo kept contain, avoided being reached, and kept gap integrity.
When you see that, it can be easily to mistake him for a tentative player. Rest assured, Chickillo can cut loose and get after the quarterback. The plays where he's allowed to fire off the line and rush the quarterback are few and far between, but there are plenty of examples of the burst and short area quickness you'd like to see from a prospect. On this play, Chickillo quickly sheds and closes on the QB after initially reading the play. And again on this play, Chickillo stays disciplined and reads the play action before showing enough burst to close and sack the quarterback. On this play, Chickillo's jump off the snap forces a brief triple team and allows for the stunting linebacker to come clean and pressure the quarterback.
Chickillo looked to have shed some pounds between the combine and his pro day, with some estimating that he's down as much as 25 pounds. You can see him looking slim here in a quickness drill at his pro day. While playing at Miami, he was reported to weigh as much as 280 pounds. That's a big range, and it reminds me of Cassius Marsh's range of weights and the versatility of his play. Chickillo is the more athletic of the two, and if he does end up coming to Seattle I would see those two as competing for the same role.
Davis Tull, DE Tennessee - Chattanooga 6'2 246lb
Zach beat me to the jump on Tull a little bit, talking about him here. Zach does a great job summing up the intrigue and the worry with Tull: He tested better than Vic Beasley (!), but he's got T-Rex arms. There just isn't much precedent for edge rushers with that arm length and, while Zach was kind to Matt Roth and Rob Ninkovich, the precedent that exists isn't very good.
Ultimately, none of us really know whether Tull's arm length is a fatal flaw or if concerns about his arms will be as well founded as concerns about Russ' height. So, lets leave that aside and talk about Tull's play on the field. Tull's athleticism doesn't fail to show up on tape. Playing mostly against some inferior competition, Tull turns most plays into highlights. That doesn't mean that Tull isn't a disciplined player though. Against the run and against the pass, Tull plays smart and doesn't overpursue too frequently.
Tull has a nice set of pass rush moves to build off of, using a swim and spin move and even showing a solid bull rush at time. None of these are finished products, and the swim move especially needs to become more violent. How his shorter arms factor into his ability to build a complete repertoire of effective moves will be interesting to see.
Tyeler Davison, DT Fresno State 6'1 316lb
Davison has been flying under the radar, and for no good reason. Davison (#92) is an ideal one tech who can anchor against the run, collapse a pocket, and has the athleticism to close and pressure the quarterback. Davison also holds up well throughout a game, while other defensive tackles in this class sometimes wilt as a game drags on.
If Seattle is looking to groom a replacement for Mebane, Davison is maybe the best mix of talent and value. According to CBS Sports, Davison is the 26th ranked defensive tackle in this class. In last year's draft, there were 20 total defensive tackles taken. The idea that Davison would be an undrafted free agent seems absurd to me, but there is reason to hope Seattle could pick him up somewhere in day three of the draft.
Tyler Lockett, WR Kansas State 5'10 182lb
At the combine, Tyler Lockett measured out to be 5 feet 9 7/8 inches and 182lb. In his mind, Tyler Lockett measures out to 6 feet 2 7/8 inches and 210lb. Lockett is an absolute pitbull on the field, attacking balls and playing much bigger than a ruler can measure. He combines that attitude with fantastic body control and great hands.
How great are his hands, you say? Well, it just so happens that I have a few examples.
While Lockette comes in just under the 50th percentile for WR athletes, that's mostly due to the adjustment for weight. His 4.4 forty and 6.89 three cone are nice numbers, and his 35.5" vertical and 10'9 broad jumps are respectable. While most Twelves would groan if Seattle selected another undersized receiver, Lockett could be a Golden Tate replacement if he's able to add some weight without sacrificing athleticism.
Zach Zenner, RB South Dakota State 5'11 223lb
What's more impressive? That Zach Zenner was the 6th rated running back in terms of SPARQ, or that Zenner put up three straight 2,000 yard seasons in the FCS?
Zenner is a big physical runner who is not afraid to put his head down and fall forward through contact. His toughness plus his size often leads him to be classified as a fullback. He's a much more complete runner than that though. Zenner is a smooth runner that can quickly get in and out of his breaks. He's also shown break away speed, scoring touchdowns from all areas of the field. Against Missouri, Zenner rushed 17 times for 109 yards including a 75 yard touchdown run. Against Nebraska, Zenner rushed 21 times for 202 yards including a 40 yard touchdown. Against Kansas, Zenner rushed 23 times for 186 yards including a 99 yard touchdown. Against non-FBS competition, Zenner racked up runs of 95, 88, 87, 87, 80, 68, 61, and 57 yards.
Zenner is generally projected to go somewhere in the last few rounds. This is perfect value for the Seahawks, who may be looking for a running back to challenge CMike in particular but obviously won't have a major role for at least another year.
Shaq Mason, OL Georgia Tech 6'1 306
As these two plays show, Shaq Mason is a terror in the second level. Asking 300lb+ men to track and lock down linebackers who are generally far better athletes than them is one of the more difficult tasks expected of an offensive lineman, but Shaq is routinely able to drive them out of the play.
Mason is able to do this because, like most of the players on this list, he's one of the better athletes at his position. In addition to allowing Mason to obliterate linebackers, his athleticism makes him one of the better interior line options for a zone blocking system. Mason cut blocks well, pulls well, and has the kind of attitude a coach like Tom Cable has looked for in the past.
The two big questions with Mason are his arm length, and his transition to a pro style offense. With arms measuring only 31 1/8 inches long, Mason is strictly an interior lineman. Even among guards and centers, Mason is somewhere near the 5th percentile for arm length. It's not unprecedented for interior offensive linemen to succeed with that kind of arm length, but it's certainly not common.
Questions about how a player will transition to a pro style offense is most often heard when talking about quarterbacks, but how Mason transitions is a bigger question for me than how Mariota will make the jump. While you can find examples of Mason pass blocking and drive blocking, on the vast majority of plays he was simply asked to fire off the line like a cannon ball. Mason will need lots of work refining the tfootwork he'll be asked to execute in the NFL. On top of that, if Mason ends up playing center he will likely have little knowledge of the pro pass blocking assignments he would be responsible for calling.
These concerns should make Mason the perfect project pick for Tom Cable somewhere in day three. Mason is not the athlete that JR Sweezy is, but it's not hard to draw parallels between their style of play.