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Seahawks 2021 pre-draft checkup: The defensive line

Part 7 of a 9-part series

Wild Card Round - Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Less than a year ago, the biggest offseason stories surrounding the Seahawks revolved around their lack of a pass rush and whether or not they would adequately address it.

Now, not so much.

After the recent signing of Aldon Smith, Seattle has a baker’s dozen of defensive linemen on the roster. That’s one D-lineman for each of us 12s - figuratively speaking - plus an “extra” one for good measure.

How “loaded” is our D-line right now? So much so that some 12s are openly pondering whether the team might be able to trade any of them for a draft pick - or two.

This is definitely not something we could have expected heading into the offseason.

I like it!

Note: This article was written prior to an arrest warrant being issued for Aldon Smith in Louisiana. At the moment, he is still on the roster so I haven’t changed anything in the article as a result of that “development” (other than adding this note).

Time will tell what happens, of course, but removing Aldon Smith from the equation could obviously affect things for Seattle - at least somewhat.


Turnover, thus far

Out:

  • Branden Jackson - free agent, unsigned (injury settlement forthcoming?)
  • Damontre Moore - free agent, unsigned
  • Jarran Reed - released; signed with Kansas City
  • Jonathan Bullard - free agent; signed with Atlanta

In:

  • Al Woods
  • Aldon Smith
  • Kerry Hyder

Net result: We lost 4 and added 3, but Branden Jackson missed the entire 2020 season so it’s more like 3 out and 3 in.

My 2¢: I’ll take the 3 new guys over the 3 old guys any day of the week, and twice on Sunday - which matters since most of our games are on Sundays.


Stocking up on D-linemen

I really want to make a joke about John Schneider shopping for defensive linemen at Costco.

I mean, I really, really, really want to.

I won’t though, because Costco doesn’t sell football players - but only because they’re not something you usually buy in bulk.

Seriously though, take a look at the 2021 cap hits for each of our D-linemen:

Excluding Myles Adams and Cedrick Lattimore (because they’re below the Top-51 cutoff), the other 11 defensive linemen have a combined cap hit in 2021 of $20,517,923.

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For some perspective on that:

  • Including the $5M in dead money on Jarran Reed’s contract, the D-line’s current cap hit in 2021 is currently about $3M LESS than what just Reed and Dunlap were slated to cost us heading into the offseason.

  • If we subtract L.J. Collier ($2,955,294), the remaining defensive linemen would consume roughly the same amount of cap space as Bobby Wagner this year.

  • Jamal Adams’ cap hit in 2021 is slated to be $9.86M. On the vast majority of plays this year, he should be earning more (on a per-play basis) than whichever combination of 4 defensive linemen are in the game.

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Right about now, you might be expecting me to make a skeptical comment along the lines of “quantity doesn’t equal quality” as I lament the woefulness of our defensive line.

But, nope, not happening.

I am actually just marveling at the fact that our front office was able to assemble a pretty substantial ensemble of D-linemen for what some teams are willing to pay for just one or two.


Trench warfare

Before anyone asks (in the Comments), the answer is:

  • A = $20,517,923
  • B = $25,914,124
  • C = $31,741,622

A, of course, is the 2021 cap hit for all of Seattle’s (current) defensive linemen.

B is the 2021 cap hit for Seattle’s 5 projected starters on the offensive line (Duane Brown, Gabe Jackson, Ethan Pocic, Damien Lewis, and Brandon Shell).

And C is the combined 2021 cap hit for all of Seattle’s (current) offensive linemen.

Worth Noting: The above numbers only include the cap hits of players that are above the “Top 51” cutoff, but both the O-line and the D-line have 2 players below the cutoff so it wouldn’t really change anything from a comparison standpoint.

The above numbers also do not include the dead money attributed to either line in 2021 (i.e. $5M from Jarran Reed for the D-line, and $1M for the O-line, courtesy of B.J. Finney).


The Baker’s Dozen

  • Al Woods: Loved him when he was here before; glad to have him back; can’t wait to see him in action . . . if he makes the final roster (kind of feel like that’s not a given - even though we currently only have 3 “actual” defensive tackles).

  • Aldon Smith: Thrilled with the signing from a talent perspective; have some concerns about his off-field issues; feel a little “dirty” about signing him given his past - but do believe that people deserve second twenty-seventh chances and would definitely prefer that he’s on our sideline and is thus not looking at Russell Wilson like he’s on the menu. (Editor’s note: Given Smith’s arrest, his days in Seattle might be over before they’re even started)

  • Alton Robinson: Had a decent rookie season; expect bigger and better things from him this year (and beyond).

  • Benson Mayowa: Was a bit ambivalent about him when the season ended but find myself thrilled to have him back; think he’s a solid addition as a rotational player. Kind of surprised that he didn’t bring Bruce Irvin with him though.

  • Bryan Mone: Quietly excellent; hope he’s a Hawk for a long time.

  • Carlos Dunlap: Liked him in Cincinnati, LOVE HIM in Seattle; especially on his current contract; hope he retires here.

  • Cedrick Lattimore: See him as a camp body / practice squad player, but not much more - wouldn’t mind being proven wrong.

  • Darrrell Taylor: Won’t lie; I am concerned about his ability to justify his selection in last year’s draft. I feel like there’s going to be a lot of pressure on him (even though that’s not fair) and anything less than a Pro Bowl season might be viewed by some as a disappointment. That said, I have re-watched a bunch of his “tape” and I am cautiously optimistic that he’s going to kill it this year!

  • Kerry Hyder: Expect his two best games this season to be against the Niners and think that he could prove to be one of 2021’s best free agent signings.

  • L.J. Collier: Pulling for the guy to succeed, but I am skeptical that he will - which isn’t to say that I don’t think he’ll end up having a fine career; I just don’t know that he’ll ever live up to his selection (#29 overall).

  • Myles Adams: Another camp body / practice squad guy that I hope becomes more.

  • Poona Ford: Deserves. Every. Penny.

  • Rasheem Green: Seems like the odd man out; won’t be surprised if we trade him for a late draft pick, but . . . really, really like him and hope that he sticks.

Interesting, but meaningless

While working on this article, I got curious about when each of our D-linemen was selected in the draft. Not the year, but the round.

Here’s what I found:

Round 1: Aldon Smith (#7 overall), and L.J. Collier (#29)

Round 2: Darrell Taylor (#48), and Carlos Dunlap (#54)

Round 3: Rasheem Green (#79)

Round 4: Al Woods (#123)

Round 5: Alton Robinson (#148)

Round 6: N/A

Round 7: N/A

Undrafted: Benson Mayowa, Bryan Mone, Cedric Lattimore, Kerry Hyder, Myles Adams, and Poona Ford

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Thirteen defensive linemen

Two R1s, two R2s, one R3, one R4, one R5, and six UDFAs.

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Interesting.

But also meaningless.


More to come?

With a number of free agent defensive linemen still available and the draft approaching, one might wonder if the Hawks will continue to add to this group.

At defensive end, OTC lists Melvin Ingram, Ryan Kerrigan, Justin Houston, Everson Griffen, and Alex Okafor as but a few of the free agents still available. Given our interest in some of them last year (both during the offseason and before the trade deadline), it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Seahawks sign one (or more) of them.

For the right price.

At defensive tackle, the name that jumps off the page is Sheldon Richardson who was recently released by the Browns after they signed Jadeveon Clowney. There are other quality DTs still on the market as well - Geno Atkins and Kawann Short, for example - but Richardson is a former ‘Hawk so let’s focus on him for a moment.

Going into the offseason, Richardson had a cap hit of $12.6m for 2021. Releasing him saved the Browns $11M. Before releasing him, they reportedly asked him to take a pay cut. He refused.

Some will assume (hope) that we could get Sheldon Richardson for the Veteran Minimum or close to it.

My gut says that assumption is wrong.

To me, this seems like a Jarran Reed situation.

Yes, Richardson is (probably) going to get less than he would have gotten in Cleveland, but he will most likely get significantly more than the veteran minimum. My money is on him signing a 1-year deal in the $4M to $6M range.

Which probably rules Seattle out.

The draft is the other option if Seattle wants to add to the D-line. And there are definitely some appealing D-linemen in this year’s class, starting with Alabama’s Christian Barmore and including a pair of UW Huskies who could hear their name called on Day One: DT Levi Onwuzurike and EDGE Joe Tryon.

However, with only 3 draft picks, other positions that are of more concern, and considerable depth on the D-line “as is,” I don’t expect Seattle to select any EDGEs or Defensive Tackles.

Still, there are a few “under the radar” prospects in this year’s draft that might be interesting.

Alim McNeill, NC State

Yes, it is a bit of a stretch to say that McNeill is “under the radar” when he could be one of the first defensive tackles off the board. But evaluations on him vary widely (and wildly) and there’s a very real possibility that he could be available at R2.56. Maybe even a little bit later.

In theory, he’d be a good “replacement” for Jarran Reed. Realistically though, he slots in as a backup to Poona Ford. Either way, I think he’d be an excellent addition to our rotation.

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Bobby Brown III, Texas A&M

BB3 might be as talented as Alim McNeill, but will ultimately get selected at least a round or two later than McNeill does. Probably wouldn’t help us (much) in 2021, but could be solid rotation piece in 2022 with some good coaching and a better work ethic.

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Milton Williams, Louisiana Tech

How much does the projection on Williams vary? PFF currently has him at #75 on their “Big Board” but their NFL Draft Guide (version 4.1) projects him as a 5th round selection.

Williams had 7 sacks, 15 hits, and 13 hurries (35 total pressures) on 434 pass-rush snaps in 2019. Last year, in 186 fewer pass-rush snaps (248), he had 6 sacks, 4 hits, and 20 hurries (30 total pressures).

Grade-wise, PFF had him in the high-60s (2018) and low-70s (2019) the first 2 years of his college career. In 2020, he was one of only a handful of D-linemen to finish with a PFF grade in the 90s.

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Raymond Johnson III, Georgia Southern

Most of you are probably thinking, “Who?” and noting that he didn’t play for a big school so how good could he really be?

Well, for starters, RJ3 is in the same group as Milton Williams - i.e. one of the only D-linemen in this year’s draft with a PFF grade in the 90s.

Then there’s the fact that Georgia Southern has played some “big” schools while RJ3 was there, including Clemson in 2018 and LSU in 2019.

Remember who won the National Championship those 2 years? Hint: it might have been Clemson and LSU.

Oh, and if you look at RJ3’s game-by-game stats, you’ll see that he had good games against Clemson and LSU - and, well, against most teams. Hence the PFF grade of 90+.

Still, Georgia Southern isn’t exactly a marquee program and Raymond Johnson III will end up being a Day Three pick as a result.

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Tarron Jackson, Coastal Carolina

Yes, Coastal Carolina has a football program. For all of 18 years now (founded 2003). And they actually won 7 titles in their first dozen seasons. But still, it’s a small(ish) school that most folks have never heard of. That could change this year.

Jackson is another EDGE with a PFF grade of 90+. Even so, most scouting reports put his ceiling at “serviceable backup.” Scouting reports aren’t always right, of course, but even if they are in Jackson’s case, using pick #250 on him wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world.

I know that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement but I wouldn’t be listing him in this article and spending 100+ words on him if I didn’t “like” him. I don’t think I would take a flyer on him before Round 6, but I am intrigued by what he could bring to the team.

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Ta’Quon Graham, Texas

Ever heard a story about a scout who went to a school to look at one prospect and came away impressed with someone completely different? Yeah - that “someone completely different” is Ta’Quon Graham.

Overshadowed by his teammate, Joseph Ossai (the player that draft guru Mel Kiper projects going to us at #56), TaQuon Graham should nonetheless hear his name called on Day Three of the NFL Draft.


What’s the plan, Stan?

Even if we don’t add any more players to this position group . . . which we might . . . thirteen defensive linemen seems a little excessive.

In fact, even if don’t add to this group and we assume, as I have, that Adams and Lattimore are camp bodies / practice squad guys . . . eleven defensive linemen seems excessive.

Especially when you consider that those eleven D-linemen either have been starters or could be starters in the NFL.

I mean, we’re not looking at 4 starters, 2 or 3 rotational guys, and 4 or 5 “depth” pieces. We are talking about 11 defensive linemen that could legitimately start for us. This year.

But . . .

The mix of D-linemen is decidedly unbalanced with only 3 Defensive Tackles and 8 Defensive Ends.

Obviously we should assume that some of the Ends will end up playing Tackle - maybe not full-time (probably not full-time), but at least on passing downs.

Not surprisingly, there are already rumblings that we could see the return of the notorious / infamous “NASCAR package” which . . . is actually kind of exciting.

Frankly, I don’t know what to expect.

I am, however, convinced that John and Pete have “a plan” and that what we’re seeing this offseason with the D-line is the culmination of a plan that they actually tried to implement LAST offseason.

You know - back when they said that “fixing” the pass rush was a “priority” but then ended up waiting so long for Jadeveon Clowney to make a decision that they ended up not actually being able to “fix” the pass rush until the trade deadline (and, even then, not completely).

I don’t know if it will work, but having close to a dozen D-linemen who you can mix and match on a per-game, per-series, per-play basis, without really “losing” anything based on who’s in the game . . . and with ZERO need to “cater to a superstar” . . .

To me that seems kind of brilliant.