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Seahawks on tape: What position should Ugo Amadi play?

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks-Minicamp Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a big question surrounding Ugo Amadi.

Where’s he going to play for the Seattle Seahawks? Post-draft, Pete Carroll attempted to clear this question up, telling reporters: “He’s a safety. We’re going to start him off playing back in the middle. Playing free safety to start.”

Amadi’s versatility makes this far more complicated though. Oregon coach Mario Cristobal described him as the “quarterback of the defense.” Indeed, the film showed Amadi as the one often orchestrating the coverage checks. “He’s a very versatile football player” and “a really all-around player,” said Carroll. Pro Football Focus charted Amadi allowing a 67.1 passer rating when aligned in the slot, which placed 8th amongst draft eligible slot defenders. Amadi also had the highest sample size there, taking 368 snaps in the slot.

PFF’s data doesn’t convey the variety or nature of the slot work that Amadi did at Oregon. As Carroll stated, Amadi has “done nickel work in a unique way.” The type of assignments Amadi performed well in were often suited to Seattle’s safety requirements rather than the slot cornerback expectations.

The Seahawks ask their safeties to match slot receivers on occasion to help compensate for the weaknesses of cover-3. Be it “Soft Sky,” “Reno” or a seam alert call, their safeties must be able to carry the slot vertical or run with the slot over the middle of the field.

Amadi often looked like he was running the route for the #2 receiver when given the matching assignment. He understood where coverage help was, staying over the top when required.

Given the construction of the roster, Amadi is likely to receive more immediate reps at nickel though, and this was the case at Rookie Minicamp. Kalan Reed, a man with impressive tape, looks like the immediate competition.

A lot of slot corner coverage is associated with man-to-man. Yet the Seahawks will deploy their nickel in underneath zone shells. This tends to be a “Buzz” assignment (hook curl, buzz to the flat) in the 3-deep, 4-under cover-3. Amadi’s underneath zones had excellent spacing and scanning. He was always keen to get eyes on the quarterback and his concept recognition benefitted him.

Crucially, he adjusted his landmarks based on indicators—something Seattle is big on. The most noticeable example of this was Amadi pushing wide in response to the quick game shown by the offense. This is exactly how the Seahawks want their underneath zones to respond.

Amadi also rerouted receivers well from his hook curl zones, which is a massive help to those tasked with deeper coverage and another thing Seattle asks of their underneath defenders. Amadi showed an ability to disrupt those passing through while keeping moving.

For Amadi to succeed as a slot corner, he will have to be able to cover receivers in man coverage too. (Heck, even the Seahawks safeties receive some man coverage assignments) In press, Amadi did flash some instances of a step-kick—the favored technique of Seattle. However, Amadi mainly opted for more of a mirror approach at the line of scrimmage.

Amadi’s football intelligence is high and he looked to diagnose routes early rather than the remain patient, waiting method of the step-kick. This did see him overextend and bite on fake routes, but his speed turn enabled him to often recover. Seattle will ask him to step-kick, which will require some adjustment.

However, the way Amadi kicked back from his press alignment, maintained leverage and aggressively squeezed routes to deny a throwing window screams Seahawks. He’s clearly willing to be coached too, with a passion for the sport. “I just love learning the game day in, day out. There’s nothing that you can’t learn about football,” Amadi enthused. His length is below the 32” arm threshold, but at 5ft 9 having 31 ¾” arms feels long enough. (His wingspan places in the 73rd percentile amongst defensive backs) Amadi certainly puts it to use.

Off-man coverage is less common in Seattle. But it is sometimes called and traits from it do carry over to other aspects of coverage. Amadi showed discipline against fake screens and other recognition of offensive concepts. His route anticipation often shined; then he maintained leverage, squeezed routes and made throws as tough as possible. “My IQ for football is really high,” Amadi summarized.

While Amadi can play overly grabby, this is easier to tone down than dial up. Plus: the physicality makes him a trickier player to beat. His small stature will get targeted by offenses as a mismatch, but Amadi meets push-off attempts at the stem of routes physically, denying separation to much bigger targets. It’s exactly how Carroll teaches his defensive backs to play such action.

There’s no denying the lack of height hampers Amadi. It must be part of why Carroll views him as a safety. The other area Amadi is lacking is short area quickness. Amadi certainly isn’t slow, but he lacks the agility or twitch to recover in man coverage if his initial diagnosis is wrong. Added steps happen at certain breakpoints This was the case against bigger targets too; not just slot burners. Amadi’s testing matches the tape.

Amadi experienced leverage issues when covering receivers in man or matching them downfield that stem from the limits to his athleticism. An endgame situation against Stanford illustrated the difficulty for Amadi in playing a bigger receiver. Tasked with walling the middle of the field against a slot receiver (wall 2 player), Amadi was forced to play right on the limit. This saw him overrun his leverage and give up the inside.

Amadi’s leverage also suffered in off-man coverage through his eagerness of not getting beat for speed. He was overly eager to turn and run. Often it wasn’t a big deal, because his half-turn technique combined with the depth of cushioned allowed him to be wrong and then recover based on new information—Amadi possesses an excellent speed turn to recover.

The picture of Amadi’s role was further clouded by Amadi’s Minicamp/OTA where, following a spate of safety injuries, Amadi spent most of the time at Free Safety. The Seahawks are still a predominantly Middle of Field Closed, cover-1 and cover-3 team. (The rest of the league is too, running it at 64% of the time per Sports Info Solutions) Yet, in a post-Earl Thomas world, Seattle has—and will—run more Middle of the Field Open coverages. In 2018, particularly against the best passing offenses, we saw Seattle run greater amounts of match quarters and Tampa 2-style pass defense.

Furthermore, the interchangeability of Thomas and Kam Chancellor at their peaks is undertalked about. The Seahawks’ playbook deploys the Free and Strong Safety in similar fashion—almost as a left and right type, sometimes with both aligning high in a two-high look. In his Day 1 minicamp press conference, Pete Carroll referred to “playing both sides” when talking about his safeties. Post-draft, talking Amadi, Carroll mentioned “Marquis will be on the other side.” Brock Huard also observed similar things to me this offseason.

Amadi’s movement skills, asides from his poor 3-cone time, are gifted too. His short shuttle time was graded “good” on Kent Plattes’ RAS score and ranked average per mockdraftable in the 55th percentile for safeties. Amadi, like with his economic usage of footwork in man, is also efficient with his movements in deep zone.

Amadi’s skillset is valuable. The expression “jack of all trades, master of none” is often applied to hybrid-type college players. Amadi isn’t that. His ability to play man coverage along with his proficiency in deep and underneath pass defense makes him a safety that can rotate down inside to a hook, “Linda” or “Rita”; or outside to a buzz, “Lou” or “Roger”. The opposite is also true—Amadi will be okay rotating deep to single high. He also possesses the ability to make the match quarters reads from deep in a half shell—be it #3 to #1, or #2 to #1, or #2 to #3; you get the idea.

In terms of his ability against the run, Amadi was disappointing in his timid approach when put into the box and required to seek contact. He was cautious joining piles, got manhandled by blockers and bullied by crackbacks.

The contrast when playing as a pointman is stark:

Fitting the nickel expectations from the Seahawks once more, Amadi also exhibits a ton of “TAN” traits—what Seattle calls their turnback player in the run fit.

Amadi’s tackling is a concern too, though whenever tackling is mentioned Seattle’s coaching prowess on the subject must be referred to.

Amadi in his first year might see most of his playing time as a match-up player in the Seahawks’ dime sub-package called “Bandit.” By doing this, Seattle could make use of his coverage skills and manufacture attractive matchups for Amadi. Additionally, the Seahawks could trouble offenses with Amadi’s blitzing prowess.

Let’s not get it twisted; Amadi was first and foremost drafted for his variety of coverage ability. “I won’t flinch when I see a pass,” he declared. At the very worst, Amadi is a fourth-round pick who can match-up with certain guys—a sub-package chess piece. He is also a gifted returner whose long speed will be valuable on special teams.

It’s obvious that Amadi has the aptitude to be so much more than a bit-part player. He would excel in match quarters-style defense. Moreover, though we didn’t get to evaluate much of his deep range at Oregon—crucial to playing the single-high role in Seattle’s defense—we did get to see Amadi’s silky, fluid coverage deep when he was given zone matching shells. We must project Amadi’s football diagnostics and intelligence onto his deep-middle-third ability. The vanilla scheme of preseason will be a valuable indicator. The proposition of Amadi back there is rather exciting; Carroll is going to try him here first.

If Amadi doesn’t have the range for deep safety, which would be a shame given all the positives his cerebral play brings back there, then maybe Amadi will focus on a slot role only. Success at that position would be based on whether he could employ his length in a step-kick.

He’s already impressed Bradley McDougald, with the veteran safety highlighting Amadi in his minicamp press conference. “He’s small but he’s quick. He moves well. I’ve seen him playing nickel, free safety. He’s just getting better every day. He’s really taking advantage of these reps.”

“The technique, alignment and assignment; every position is different,” is what Amadi revealed about the challenges of safety versus nickel corner work. No one understands that better than him. The day three pick looks like savvy value from John Schneider.