With the 2020 Scouting Combine kicking off this week, we are just days away from being able to identify the large majority of prospects the Seahawks will be interested in, based on their athletic testing and size measurements. First, the prospects in Indianapolis will have to go through days of testing, interviews and medicals. Along the way, questions surrounding these prospects will be answered as the draft landscape becomes more clear.
This is what is worth watching for at the combine, as Seattle’s pre-draft process marches along.
Does Jedrick Wills (Alabama, OT) fit the profile of a Seahawks offensive lineman?
The Seahawks, expected to have a hole at right tackle after the departure of Germain Ifedi in free agency, scored a positive victory on Tuesday morning. Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs—one of the top two right tackles available in the 2020 NFL Draft—measured in at 6047 and 320 pounds with 34 inch arms. Wirfs had been projected as a potential guard in the NFL, such were concerns about size, but these measurables are favorable. For Seattle, it means Wirfs can remain a target. He’s a great mover and should clear the Seahawks’ athletic thresholds with ease.
Jedrick Wills, the other top right tackle in the draft, looks every bit like a Seattle tackle under Mike Solari. He is at his best moving forward as a run blocker, but fluid and quick getting into his set in pass protection. If Wills’ testing matches with how he looks on film, then he should meet the explosiveness and agility thresholds the Seahawks follow. If he doesn’t, however, Seattle can still look to Wirfs as a potential long-term fit on the right. If Wills does, they could have their pick of the top two in this spring’s draft and lessen the need to spend money at the position in free agency. (Both players are consensus top-20 prospects currently, but early in the pre-draft process it’s fair to include them as potential round one targets for the Seahawks.)
Does Laviska Shenault (Colorado, WR) clear the medical check?
In many ways, Colorado’s Laviska Shenault is a perfect fit for Seattle’s offense. He’s positively electric after the catch and with the ball in his hands, and he would thrive in the creative ways in which Tyler Lockett gets the ball in space currently. Importantly, he also possesses the size (6-foot-2 and 224 pounds) that the Seahawks need to add to the position. He played on the perimeter and on the line of scrimmage in college, and he would be able to step into a starting role in Seattle. In many ways, he is a modern weapon on offense and there won’t be any shortage of suitors, especially after he tests well in Indianapolis (as he should).
Shenault’s health, however, will be of concern to some teams. During his time with the Buffaloes, Shenault has dealt with shoulder, foot and groin injuries. Though it was reported he would not need surgery for his latest (the groin injury), every year combine medicals reveal something not previously known. If Shenault’s medical checks out and he’s able to show teams his electric athleticism and pass-catching ability, he’ll be of great interest in the late day one, early day two range.
How will Caesar Ruiz (Michigan, C) test?
There’s a lot to like about Michigan’s Ruiz, a three-year starter at center. He took on a tremendous amount of responsibility with the Wolverines, making calls at the line of scrimmage and playing at the center of Jim Harbaugh’s offense. He’s a clean prospect and is yet to turn 21—whoever selects Ruiz will be landing a starting center for a decade. The Seahawks are likely to release Justin Britt, meaning a 10-year starter at center would be incredibly appealing.
Ruiz, however, will need to check some boxes athletically before we can start to connect him with Seattle. Ruiz’s body type is compact and that includes his length. Mike Solari wants length both at tackle and inside, and Ruiz’s arms will need to measure around 33 inches. Ruiz consistently made reach blocks and got to the second level, but it’s fair to wonder if that was a result of a complete understanding of the offense rather than athletic ability. He doesn’t need to be flashy at the combine, but if Ruiz can be above average in explosiveness and in the short shuttle—with the requisite length—he would begin to make a lot of sense for the Seahawks.
Does Tee Higgins (Clemson, WR) have a complete athletic profile?
Higgins, a standout wide receiver at Clemson, would make a lot of sense in Seattle with his ability to line up inside and out. Among the top wideouts at the combine, Higgins will be one of the most interesting to watch. He consistently displayed top tier play speed with the Tigers, threatening to stretch defenses at any given moment. In jump ball situations, he was excellent, timing his jumps superbly and playing tough at the catch point. Both his usage and instances of going over the middle, however, leads one to wonder if he’s going to test a bit like DK Metcalf did: excellent forty-yard dash and vertical and broad jumps, pedestrian to poor short shuttle and three cone. Metcalf improved upon his numbers at Ole Miss’ pro day and Higgins could too, if he tests incomplete in a similar manner to Metcalf.
If Higgins can put together a complete showing at the combine, however, it’s time to fall in love with his upside and fit with Lockett and Metcalf.
Will A.J. Epenesa (Iowa, EDGE) be agile enough for the Seahawks?
The group of EDGEs in Indianapolis will be getting a lot of attention in this space, as it’s Seattle’s biggest need. Iowa’s stud rusher, Epenesa, is part of a crowded group behind Chase Young and it’s easy to see why. He has outstanding size, power and brings the kind of refinement one has come to expect from Ohio State rushers, not Hawkeyes. At 6-foot-5 and 284 pounds, Epenesa would be a natural fit in the Seahawks’ defense as a 5-tech.
Epenesa has the size and skill to fit across schemes in various positions, but to be a fit for Seattle, he’ll need to impress in his testing. Both short shuttle and three cone are of huge importance to the Seahawks as it pertains to EDGE, and there are justified questions surrounding Espenesa’s agility. His 10-yard split, too, will be one to watch. Epenesa is a great pass rusher and an intriguing prospect. If he doesn’t prove to have some bend and burst at the combine, however, he won’t be one for Seattle.
What will Zack Baun (Wisconsin, EDGE/LB) weigh in at?
Since Bruce Irvin left the Seahawks, Pete Carroll and Seattle’s staff have been unable to replicate his varied role, one that saw him play as a stand up SAM linebacker and a pass rusher coming from a three-point stance. The closest they came was a brief flirtation with Barkevious Mingo, but his pass rush opportunities were almost non-existent.
In the Badgers’ Baun, the Seahawks could replicate Irvin’s role and, likely, find even greater production rushing the quarterback. Baun is going to test supremely well and gather even more attention for his work in on-field drills—he is made to move in space, flipping his hips and changing direction. He’ll have no problem moving downfield in coverage in the NFL. Getting after the quarterback, Baun’s fluidity translates as he turns the corner really well, providing a strong match for his quick twitch get off.
Irvin was, entirely, a tweener when he was drafted in 2012. At 245 pounds, he is the second-lightest EDGE Carroll and John Schneider have drafted (only Jacob Martin weighed less). At the Senior Bowl last month, Baun weighed in at 240 pounds. Seattle won’t be scared off by a smaller hybrid EDGE, but if Baun has added 5-10 pounds to his frame without sacrificing any athleticism, he will become an even more intriguing potential piece in the Seahawks’ draft plans.
Can we proceed with Yetur Gross-Matos (Penn St., EDGE) as a favorite?
Since before the college football season ended, Gross-Matos has been an entirely sensible first round target for Seattle. He has the size and length of a Seahawks EDGE, the ability to reduce inside, the blend of initial burst, agility and flexibility and the three-down ability. He may not possess the complete pass rush package Epenesa has, but it appears as though his size and athletic profile is more Seahawk-y than Epenesa or really any of the other high profile EDGEs behind Young. Gross-Matos should check all the boxes for Seattle. If he does this week, we can proceed with him as a strong target. Heading into the Scouting Combine, he is the prospect that makes the most sense for the Seahawks, when all factors are considered.