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What each UDFA on defense brings to the Seahawks

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NCAA Football: Iowa State at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday, we covered the eight offensive players in the Seahawks’ UDFA class. Now, it’s time to turn our attention to Seattle’s defensive rookie free agents. Unsurprisingly, with spots up for grabs across the defense line, the trenches make up almost half the UDFAs on defense.

With spots to be won on the 53-man roster and practice squad, will any defender make a run at the roster?

Eli Mencer (EDGE)

Similar to Tommy Champion on offense, the signing of Mencer is interesting because of the size of the bonus he received, one of the largest given by the Seahawks. That should, one would presume, mean Seattle envisions a specific role for him. What might that role be?

At 6-foot-1, 225 pounds with just 30 7/8” arms, Mencer is far too small to be an every-down pass rusher, as he was in his final season at Albany—registering 14.5 sacks, 24 TFLs, and three forced fumbles. However, Mencer could project as a potential hybrid EDGE/LB, playing off-ball and rushing the passer as a blitzer. Rushing off the line of scrimmage, Mencer would be allowed to avoid being washed out by much bigger, longer tackles, while utilizing his quick burst.

Both the linebacker and defensive end corps are crowded at this stage of the offseason, but only a few players make sense in a hybrid role. For Mencer, it could be his path to sticking with the organization.

Marcus Webb (EDGE)

One of the more curious player profiles to come in the Seahawks’ UDFA class was Troy’s Marcus Webb. Listed by the Trojans, where he played defensive tackle, at 279 pounds, Webb measured in at Troy’s pro day at 6-foot-2 and 247 pounds. Fittingly, Webb was labeled as a defensive end, not tackle, by Seattle.

In four seasons in the Sun Belt Conference, Webb posted just 11.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss, while not producing at the level expected of him for large periods of time. However, it’s fair to wonder how much of Webb’s lack of production was a result of lining up in traffic on the inside, rather than the edge. Webb doesn’t possess adequate length for the outside and will likely suffer as a result of rookie minicamp’s cancellation. Undrafted and switching positions, Webb will have a steep climb to stick with the team.

Josh Avery (DT)

While the Seahawks doubled down on EDGEs in the draft, they did not address defensive tackle, somewhat surprisingly with a thin position group. Southeast Missouri’s Josh Avery was one of two UDFA defensive tackles signed after the draft, however, and he will have a shot at making the roster.

A hulking nose tackle at 6-foot-3 and 318 pounds, Avery possesses solid explosiveness and power in the middle, jumping a 34 1/2” vertical and a 9-foot-4 broad at his pro day, while clocking a 1.71 second 10-yard split. A JuCo transfer, Avery played 23 games in two seasons at Southeast Missouri, totaling seven TFLs, 2.5 sacks and 41 tackles while clogging up the middle.

With a pair of sophomores, Bryan Mone and Demarcus Christmas, already on the roster and vying to backup Poona Ford at 1-tech, Avery should be dropped right into that competition to push towards the 53-man roster.

Cedrick Lattimore (DT)

Between Iowa’s Lattimore and Southeast Missouri’s Avery, it’s Lattimore who appears to have the better shot at sticking in Seattle in 2020, be it on the practice squad or active roster. At 6-foot-3 and 295 pounds, Lattimore should project as a 3-tech in the NFL, where the Seahawks’ depth is scarce.

With the Hawkeyes, Lattimore was largely used as a rotational piece, before cracking the starting lineup in 2019. Lattimore has a really good first step and is able to work down the line laterally, using his hands and balance to stay clean. Crucially, Iowa was a two-gapping defensive line and Lattimore played disciplined in maintaining gap integrity. At a position of need, with the traits Seattle wants in their defensive tackles, Lattimore will have a shot at sticking with the team—and should be one of the favorites to do so among UDFAs on defense.

Gavin Heslop (CB)

Of the three cornerbacks brought in by the Seahawks after the draft, Stony Brook’s Heslop is the most intriguing. Seattle was in attendance for Heslop’s pro day, where the long cornerback cleared the team’s athletic thresholds with ease. With both Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar in the last year of their contracts, the Seahawks should be looking at developing a potential future starter, should that position group be shaken up ahead of 2021. Heslop could very well be that player.

In coverage, Heslop sticks with receivers in and out of breaks, and has superb burst in closing separation and breaking on the football. However, Heslop’s ball skills are lacking. He is often late in finding the ball at the catch point and has to rely on his superior length for last-ditch breakups. With time, Heslop could turn his positioning, athleticism, and length into a ball-winning combination; however, he isn’t there yet.

A tenacious run defender and a lanky cover corner, Heslop has the foundation of a Seattle cornerback.

Debione Renfro (CB)

Though we don’t have Renfro’s arm length confirmed, the former Texas A&M cornerback has a similar build to Heslop, a lanky, long 6-foot-1 and 198 pounds. Another similarity to Heslop is Renfro’s underdeveloped ball skills, as he totaled 14 PBUs with no interceptions in three seasons with the Aggies.

Renfro’s athleticism was questioned after he declared as an underclassmen, and unfortunately, Texas A&M’s pro day did not occur prior to the shutdown. However, his quick-twitch ability does pop when he is mirroring wide receivers at or near the line of scrimmage, and he displayed the short-area quickness to close with some consistency. With ideal size for the Seahawks’ defense, it’s another worthwhile shot at finding a long-term prospect at cornerback.

Kemah Siverand (CB)

A former wide receiver, Oklahoma State’s Siverand is a bulky 6-foot, 205-pound cornerback. However, he is considerably less long than most Seattle corners, with 31 5/8” arms and a 76 1/8” wingspan. With arm length being such a strict threshold for Seahawks cornerbacks under Pete Carroll, perhaps a position switch to safety is in Siverand’s future. As the Cowboys’ website details, the large majority of Siverand’s playing time and contributions came on special teams.

Chris Miller (FS)

Undersized at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, the former Baylor Bear should have a chance at competing for the fourth safety spot, which looks to be up for grabs. Miller tested well at the Scouting Combine, entering the NFL in the 78th percentile, and appears to have the requisite play speed to get by playing centerfield.

In four years at Baylor, starting in his final two seasons, Miller was uber-productive, ending his career with 177 tackles and six PBUs. In 2019, Miller was the free safety for a Bears defense that finished second in the nation in takeaways. The free safety has the athleticism to roam over the top and the physicality to make plays when he comes down into the box. Now, for Miller, it will be about being able to grasp the complexities of playing free safety in Seattle’s defense.

Josh Norwood (FS)

Norwood, the former West Virginia defender, is a difficult player to project. The Seahawks announced him as a free safety at the time of signing, but he may yet make a position move. A slight 5-foot-10 and 179 pounds, Norwood is far smaller than the type of safety Seattle usually has on their roster. A former cornerback, Norwood should be a strong candidate to enter the nickelback competition in training camp. With quick-twitch ability and experience at the position, Norwood could make a roster push in a shallow position group.