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As the Seahawks search for pass rush, Yetur Gross-Matos stands out in a thin draft class

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NCAA Football: Purdue at Penn State John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

At the conclusion of the 2019 season, it was clear the Seahawks had to do something to improve their pass rush. Jadeveon Clowney was too often forced to act as a one-man army, while Ezekiel Ansah and L.J. Collier were largely anonymous (though Rasheem Green’s improvement was a bright spot).

Free agency has largely come and gone, and Seattle did act to add to their stable of edge rushers, bringing back fine secondary rushers in Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa. However, with Clowney—and Everson Griffen—still on the open market, the Seahawks can use another rusher off the edge, preferably one who threatens with speed. Though it is, in large part, a shallow class of what Seattle would define as LEOs, one defender stands out as a potentially impactful addition: Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos.

As the prospect most often connected with the Seahawks since the pre-draft process began, there seems to be mock draft fatigue settling in around Gross-Matos and Seattle. There’s a reason why the former Nittany Lion is consistently slotted in at pick 27, though—his fit with the Seahawks is so clear and so obvious. So too was Gross-Matos’s college production, totaling 20 sacks, 10 QB hits and 50 hurries in three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus.

Gross-Matos has a fantastic build, at 6-foot-5 and 266 pounds, with long 34 7/8” arms. While he is already carrying a good amount of weight, his frame suggests he’ll be able to add functional strength without losing his quick-twitch. In year one, Gross-Matos may see the field strictly as a pass rusher in a rotational role, but if he is able to fill out, he has the upside to be a down-in, down-out starter—and a player with the body type to get by as both a LEO and a 5-technique.

Gross-Matos’s get off is solid—he doesn’t fire off the line of scrimmage but he comes off the ball with more than enough pace to corner and is an explosive athlete. Where his short-area quickness really excites, however, is when he loops inside from the edge. In those situations, his speed shines and he has the ability to shoot through untouched or create miscommunication for the opposition. Gross-Matos’s length and quickness is a mismatch against interior players, so much so that Penn State took to reducing the 266-pound rusher inside on 14 percent of his snaps in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus.

Still in the process of filling out his frame, Gross-Matos’s power is most effective when he can convert speed to power, where his superior athleticism and length provide him with a competitive advantage over his opposition. In those moments, his hands seemingly explode into the tackle’s chest and he gets fantastic movement. However, against the run, he can be washed out of the play and should be expected to add further strength to his frame to become a three-down starter—otherwise, he could be too consistently overwhelmed on the edge, particularly at the point of attack.

As a rookie, Gross-Matos’s wins will come largely through athleticism, flexibility, and quickness. He is an extremely fluid rusher coming off the edge, able to bend around the corner against slower-footed tackles and close on the quarterback to finish. However, his hand usage will need to continue to develop as he takes on bigger and more talented opposition in the NFL. Despite his long arms, he has a hard time disengaging with regularity—his length just is not used with the same effect as when he is able to get into a tackle’s chest. When he does win with his hands, it most often comes with a rip move—adding to that repertoire will be crucial for Gross-Matos to reach his ceiling.

Beyond his physical traits, there are a pair of factors that will presumably draw Seattle to Gross-Matos. The first is his motor: he consistently plays hard in pursuit and made several impressive run stops from the backside. A willingness to chase the ball down and across the field is an important trait for Seahawks defensive linemen, and Gross-Matos has it. His competitive toughness should not be a question mark.

The second factor is his backstory: Gross-Matos tragically lost his father and brother in separate incidents, and to hear him discuss the impact those moments had is to hear a player whose story will resonate deeply with Pete Carroll. Both the player and the person are in line with Carroll and Seattle’s values.

The additions of Mayowa and Irvin in free agency, and the looming presence of Griffen and Clowney in free agency, suggests that perhaps the Seahawks will look to the interior for their next piece of the pass rush puzzle. Without a long-term foundational player on the edge, however, they may be drawn to Gross-Matos. While not a guaranteed hit, wherever he ends up selected, he is an incredibly tantalizing physical package. If Seattle believes in their ability to develop pass rushers, Gross-Matos’s ceiling will be well worth the gamble.