Jordyn Brooks finished the 2022 season as the leading tackler for the Seattle Seahawks, but he suffered an extremely unfortunate ACL tear in Week 17 and ended the season on injured reserve. Pete Carroll hopes Brooks will be ready to start the season, but that is up in the air given the typical recovery time for this type of injury. Cody Barton finished second on the team with a career high 136 combined tackles (84 solo), but he will be a free agent this offseason and there is no guarantee that the team will bring him back. Behind him are guys like Tanner Muse — who will also be a restricted free agent — and Jon Rhattigan. There are some other players as well, but the point stands that this team doesn’t have a lot of proven depth at the position.
The prototype for off-ball linebackers is changing to reflect the current nature of modern offenses, and the need to be able to hold up in coverage is more important than ever. Barton and Brooks both had good moments, but they also struggled mightily at times. According to Pro Football Reference, Brooks averaged 9.2 yards per target in coverage and allowed 5 touchdowns. Barton’s stats look better, as he averaged 7.5 yards per target, surrendered 2 touchdowns, and gave up 382 yards. Let’s compare this to a couple other familiar linebackers.
Linebackers in coverage
Together, Warner and Dre Greenlaw are only credited with allowing a single touchdown. Of course, scheme and coaching play a significant role in this. Sure, Barton surrendered fewer yards than either, but he was also targeted less frequently. The fact remains that the Seahawks likely need to improve at the linebacker position. The good news is that they may not need to spend a premium draft pick to do so; neither Fred nor Dre were selected on the first day of the draft. The former was a third round pick in 2018, and the latter a fifth round pick in 2019. Warner hasn’t missed a start since day 1, and Greenlaw has started 39 of 47 games that he has been healthy, including 11 starts his rookie season. Of course, there were many other linebackers selected outside of the first round who have not made a significant impact in the NFL, so banking on finding a long-term starter on Day 2 or 3 in the draft is no guarantee. But neither is finding one in the first round.
Over the last 5 drafts, 24 linebackers have been selected in the first round according to StatHead (including those who are primarily pass rushers), and they have a combined total of 6 first team All-Pro selections; 3 of those go to T.J. Watt, 2 to Micah Parsons, and 1 to Roquan Smith. Watt and Parsons are both impactful pass rushers, to say the least, and Smith is a do-it-all linebacker with pass rushing upside. This reflects two things: first, this speaks to the relative value of the position, as pass rushing specialists are far more important in the modern NFL than traditional off-ball linebackers. Second, the Seahawks probably don’t need to spend one of their two first round selections to find a solid player. Guys like Daiyan Henley from Washington State or DeMarvion Overshown out of Texas will very likely be available on Day Two (or possibly even Day Three), depending on how the next couple months shake out.
Washington State ILB Daiyan Henley has the speed and ball-skills to be an effective coverage linebacker, thanks to his wide receiver background. Was also a HS QB.— WBG84 (@WBG84) February 12, 2023
Henley runs stride-for-stride with the WR in man-coverage and records the game-sealing INT against Idaho. #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/bTg7O7VfXz
DeMarvion Overshown easily will be a top-5 linebacker for his position in the 2023 #NFLDraft— Marissa Myers (@Marissa_M27) April 28, 2022
-Rangy frame at 6’4”
-Prior experience at safety shows with his play reading ability/ ball skills
-Quick closing speed @AGENT0__ #CollegeFootball pic.twitter.com/7QDkEe4LrE
The former is currently ranked at 82 and the latter at 98 on Dane Brugler’s Big Board. Overshown is a converted safety and looks as natural in coverage as he does shooting gaps in the run game. Henley has experience on both sides of the ball and looks like he could be an upgrade in pass coverage for the Seahawks. There are plenty of other players who may fit this prototype as well, these are just two guys who stood out to me. But this isn’t any kind of a full-fledged scouting report, it is just a reminder that the team can likely use its top-end draft capital to find players at positions of more glaring need — like Edge or interior D-line — while looking towards the middle rounds for an upgrade at the linebacker position.