The pre-draft picture got a lot clearer for teams around the league over the past week, as the Scouting Combine put athletic profiles alongside the film prospects put up over the course of several years. Between the formal interviews which took place behind closed doors and the testing which took place on the field, front offices can begin to finalize evaluations and get a firm grasp on who fits and who doesn’t.
For the Seahawks, there was plenty to takeaway from the combine—some good, some bad and some frustrating.
Seattle can capitalize on a rich wide receiver class
Much has been made of the group of wide receivers available in the 2020 NFL Draft.
NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah says he has 27 wide receivers with at least a third-round grade. #49ers— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) February 21, 2020
This is good news for the Seahawks, who find themselves in need of another reliable option at the position outside of DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. However, we wouldn’t quite know how deep it was for Seattle until the group tested at the Scouting Combine. Those who did test, tested very well. Between wideouts who project outside, in the slot or as deep threats, 26 fit the Seahawks’ profile in their role (that excludes top prospects Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb). Nine of those 26 are currently projected to be drafted on day one or two, and the case could be made for several others to join them.
It’s a deep, potentially historic wide receiver class, and Seattle will be able to take advantage of it, should they want to.
The Seahawks shouldn’t depend on the draft as a fallback option to solve pass rush woes
With free agency nearing, we’re just weeks away from knowing how the top of Seattle’s pass rush will appear in 2020. Will it be Jadeveon Clowney? Robert Quinn? A collection of mid-tier pass rushers? Whoever the Seahawks target to solve the problem of a toothless pass rush, it will need to be in free agency.
The group of EDGEs who tested at the Scouting Combine did so poorly, as a whole. The majority of players who fit Seattle’s archetype, whether it’s as a LEO or 5-tech, project as developmental prospects or backups. The Seahawks need day-one impact players along the defensive line. Yetur Gross-Matos is the clear headliner and would be absolutely the ideal selection for Seattle. Beyond Gross-Matos, however, it’s thin. A.J. Epenesa failed to test any more quick-twitch than he played at Iowa, and should be in the Seahawks’ range, too, but he’s on the periphery of their profile.
If Seattle fails to properly address pass rush in free agency, they’ll be placing a lot on Gross-Matos being available to them. It would be a dangerous bet for a defense desperate for pass rush.
John Schneider will have options if the Seahawks trade down
A yearly tradition: Seattle is on the clock in round one, hours have passed, fans and observers alike wait with their breath held and... a trade. The Seahawks, no longer on the clock. Seattle’s brazen personnel leader has made trading down into an art form, maneuvering the draft like a stunt driver. For those on the outside, it can be frustrating, as desired players come off the board between where the Seahawks were supposed to draft to where they now find themselves.
Ultimately, it’s a calculated move that Schneider and Seattle’s front office will get good value. In 2020, it should be no different. Among the 136 players appearing on the first edition of this year’s Seahawks Draft Board, as many as 25 project in the late-first, early-second round range. These are players who fit Seattle’s profile at their position, including several at positions of need. The Seahawks will have options, both before they trade down, and after they inevitably do.
Brace yourself: A running back is coming... early
It’s inevitable, isn’t it? Pete Carroll told reporters in Indianapolis that Rashaad Penny would start camp on the PUP list and that stay could extend into the regular season, meaning he’d be out until at least Week 7. Chris Carson, meanwhile, is entering the final year of his rookie deal and has dealt with his fair share of injuries. Schneider told John Clayton last week Seattle would be addressing running back this spring, whether that’s in free agency or the draft. Perhaps the Seahawks add a reliable veteran in a few weeks time, allowing them to put all draft resources into other positions of need. But between the host of running backs who fit Seattle’s style set to be available on day two, and the extra picks Schneider will surely pick up via trade, a rookie seems likely.
The headliner, of course, is Jonathan Taylor. One of the most prolific tailbacks in NCAA history, Taylor has ideal size and explosiveness with home run speed and should find himself drafted early in round two. Florida State’s Cam Akers is going to pop off the tape to Carroll, such is his Seahawk-y running style. One of the big winners at the position at the combine, A.J. Dillon, will be similarly attractive: at 247 pounds, the former Screaming Eagle tested in the 96th percentile. Seattle will be interested in these tailbacks and others, such as Eno Benjamin. If it isn’t addressed in free agency, expect it to be via the draft.
Cesar Ruiz could be the pick for the Seahawks
Ahead of the Scouting Combine, Ruiz’s testing and measurements were of intrigue. There was potential for it to go poorly, but thankfully for a possibly center-needy team in Seattle, it did not. Ruiz is a touch undersized, but beyond that, he cleared all of the Seahawks’ explosiveness and agility thresholds. He is a clear fit into what Seattle likes inside. Curiously, though, is the apparent opinion of Ruiz league-wide. On a recent episode of Daniel Jeremiah’s Move the Sticks podcast, he mentioned there are multiple teams who don’t get the attraction to Ruiz. Jeremiah’s co-host, Bucky Brooks, echoed that sentiment, and Ruiz isn’t listed in Brooks’ top-5 interior linemen. Jeremiah himself, meanwhile, has compared him to Travis Fredrick. If the Seahawks are a team who is positive on Ruiz, he fits the bill and would make sense as their first selection. There’s a chance, however, that their evaluation falls in line with Brooks.
Defensive tackle depth needs to be addressed in free agency
On a yearly basis, Seattle refreshes the depth at defensive tackle, bringing in a veteran to add to their established group. That will be even more important this year, for a pair of reasons. The first is that two of their top three performers at the position in 2019, Al Woods and Jarran Reed, are unrestricted free agents. The second is that there’s a legitimate absence of explosive defensive tackles in this year’s draft, both at 1- and 3-tech.
Woods should be a no-brainer to re-sign. He played well both as a starter and in the rotation, he will be cheap and his strengths are built to defend the offenses within the NFC West. Reed will be a more complicated player to retain and there’s a strong chance he leaves. If so, the Seahawks must adequately replace him in free agency, whether that’s with a rising player like David Onyemata or a veteran like Gerald McCoy. The options in the draft are slim; it can be an avenue for Seattle to add depth to the position, but they’re unlikely to find quality snaps for 2020 there.
Competition for Tre Flowers will be slim
Flowers was mostly fine as a sophomore, and even improved almost all of his numbers in coverage, but because of a pair of high-profile difficult games to end the season, he has been a topic of consternation to begin the offseason. Speaking to reporters last week, Carroll voiced his expectations for Flowers to make a larger step forward in 2020. Even with Carroll’s soft endorsement, it was fair to wonder if competition would arrive. After the group of cornerbacks tested in Indianapolis, it was made clear that’s unlikely. Only four of the cornerbacks with 32-plus inch arms tested to fit the Seahawks’ profile and all four project as day three picks or worse. It’s possible, with Neiko Thorpe a pending free agent, that the bottom of the depth chart spot at corner goes to a developmental rookie, such as Iowa’s Michael Ojemudia, but it seems unlikely any player will be in place to push Flowers in 2020.
With the young, raw corner still developing, that’s okay.