For the second consecutive year, John Schneider and the Seahawks were done drafting, until they weren’t. Sending a 2021 sixth-round pick to the Dolphins, Seattle re-entered the 2020 NFL Draft to get ahead of the UDFA madness. And, for the second consecutive year, it was for a wide receiver—or not?
Pick No. 251, LSU pass-catcher Stephen Sullivan, was announced as a wide receiver—having begun his college career out wide. In 2019, however, Sullivan spent the majority of his time at tight end and that sounds like the spot where he’ll land.
In the short-term, Sullivan has a tremendous uphill battle ahead. More receiver than blocker, Sullivan will presumably begin his training camp battle behind Greg Olsen, Jacob Hollister, and Colby Parkinson in this regard. Raw but not without upside or athleticism, the ideal outcome in the short-term for Sullivan is to display enough flashes to land on the Seahawks’ practice squad and stick around for 2021, when his path to the roster should be more clear.
For Seattle, the ideal outcome in the long-term must be that Sullivan, Will Dissly, and Parkinson make up the tight end group in 2021 and moving forward. In that scenario, Dissly would, of course, be the starter and see snaps in any personnel group with a single tight end. Parkinson, the presumed backup, would see snaps in two tight end groups and specific situations—mainly in the red zone and on third downs where his catch radius and hands would be an asset.
In the long-term, Sullivan will have to play special teams, spell Parkinson and Dissly as either an in-line or move tight end and pick up snaps as a big slot receiver. He has the skillset and physical makeup to do so, and it would be a best-case long-term outcome.
Similar to Freddie Swain, Sullivan’s floor is off the roster—in the near future. There is potential he is too big for wide receiver and too small for tight end, even in the modern NFL where positional lines have become increasingly blurred, especially as just a 47th percentile athlete. If Sullivan is unable to get a hold of either position and fails to show enough upside, there’s a chance he isn’t able to land even on the practice squad in 2020. (Admittedly, this seems unlikely, seeing as the Seahawks kept Tyrone Swoopes around for multiple seasons and Carroll is evidently already enamored with Sullivan.)
Sullivan’s final season with the Tigers was his first playing more tight end than wide receiver.
2019 was Stephen Sullivan's first year mainly at TE.— Alistair Corp (@byAlistairCorp) April 25, 2020
In-line snaps/slot snaps:
2017 - 6/25
2018 - 12/113
2019 - 69/61
Obviously the Seahawks see something in him not to risk him to priority free agency. He's got a great build and pretty high level explosiveness.
Between his junior and senior years, Sullivan added 20 pounds, committing to the position switch. He has already displayed several positive traits as a blocker, including a great willingness to try to drive defenders at the point of attack. In an NFL strength program, he can continue to add functional strength while refining his skill as a blocker. That would add to his existing skillset as a receiver: good explosiveness, a solid catch radius, sharp route running, and the size to over-match defenders out of the slot.
Sullivan is a project, but with the foundation of a well-rounded skill set at tight end.
Sullivan’s size is in line with Seattle’s history drafting tight ends, and with room still to grow. He is considerably more explosive than tight ends they usually target, with the exception of eternal project Jameson Konz. Sullivan tested very poorly in the three cone and short shuttle, but his route running suggests a player more agile than those numbers show—it’s fair to think he would’ve improved has LSU’s pro day been able to occur.
Sullivan has upside, no doubt, and the potential to grow into a well-rounded player for the Seahawks. Seattle liked Sullivan enough to leverage a pick in 2021 to ensure his services—now it’s time for them to develop him the best they can.