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Seahawks SPARQ-cap & Training Camp primer, part 2: The defense

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With the start of Seahawks training camp looming on Friday, we'll look at the offseason additions, talk about roster mirroring, and make a way-too-early projection for the 53-man roster.

Otto Greule Jr

While the offensive side of the ball was fairly easy to project, the defense is a bit different. With an established unit that ranked among the most dominant in league history, defensive acquisitions were light over the offseason and mainly dealt with establishing depth.

The losses of Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, and Walter Thurmond have created room for new talent to shine, and we'll take a shot at getting to know the likely replacement candidates.

ROSTER MIRRORING

There's something interesting going on with the Seattle defense (beyond that whole "historic dominance of the most prolific offense in history" deal). A fairly incredible number of late-round picks (and even UDFAs) have succeeded in recent years, a success rate at odds with the rest of the league. While the general idea of a late-round steal is easy (acquire elite athletes, coach ‘em up, put ‘em in), there are typically very few contributors that come out of the draft's third day. The Seahawks seem to have something figured out, though, and the striking thing about the process is just how similar their athletes end up being at each position. The 2014 class is as good an example as any.

Horace Miller was the national SPARQ champion in 2008, and his athleticism is still elite when compared to the full 2014 class. More notably, he's a near-carbon copy of a current Seahawk.

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Seattle isolated a very specific athlete for a very specific role, a phenomenon we'll see throughout the roster.

DEFENSIVE LINE

2014 DRAFT IN: Cassius Marsh (4th), Jimmy Staten (5th)

PRE-DRAFT SPARQ DL Profile

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(Full version of the full roster SPARQ doc available here)

Additions along the defensive line were light in May, with Marsh and Staten the only 2014 prospects to make the training camp roster. In past years, defensive line has been the "least-organic" position group on the Seattle team, with a number of outside free agents becoming notable contributors.

It's valuable to understand the limits of SPARQ. While it's highly-correlated with acquisitions at many positions, defensive line is a bit of a mixed bag. There are elite athletes (Jesse Williams and Greg Scruggs), good athletes (Jordan Hill and Kevin Williams), and average athletes (Brandon Mebane and Michael Bennett). There's also a Jimmy Staten and a DeWayne Cherrington, two of the last athletic players on the roster, even when adjusted for position.

The nickel pass-rush position is a different case altogether. There's a heavy emphasis on SPARQ, with recent departure Clinton McDonald a particularly phenomenal athlete. Hill, the presumptive replacement for McDonald, had great test numbers as well. The team has also shown a proclivity toward converting defensive ends to play the inside rush position, with Kenneth Boatright and Scruggs the prime examples.

Cassius Marsh may be yet another candidate for the converted-DE-into-inside-rusher position, as he's commented on the team preferring him to add weight into the 270-lb range. Though his athleticism is only good at defensive end, he'd certainly fit the athletic prototype as an interior player. A fair comparison for a 270-lb Marsh would be Scott Crichton.

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Staten was one of the more surprising picks of the Seattle draft. He's not a special athlete, and it's hard to see him beating out the players already on the roster. He does compare favorably to a few early picks from the last few classes.

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TRAINING CAMP PRIMER:

There are three veteran contributors from last season who appear to be locks for the roster: Michael Bennett, Tony McDaniel, and Brandon Mebane. Recent acquisition Kevin Williams appears likely to make it, and it's difficult to see the team giving up on either Marsh or 2012 SPARQstar Greg Scruggs.

Conventional thought is that it only leaves one spot left on the interior line, the debate coming down to Jesse Williams and Hill. Big Jesse's a bit SPARQ-ier, but has knee issues which make him tougher to project as an athlete going forward. Hill's a solid 1-sigma athlete and provides a little more in the way of interior pass rush, a spot which is vacant after the departure of McDonald.

There are a few ways for it to play out, but the crucial factor for me is the likely departures of Mebane and the elder Williams in 2015. Tony McDaniel will also be 30 next season, though it's more difficult to see him as a cap casualty with his smaller cap hit.

I'm going to keep both Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams. This does have a significant impact on the rest of the roster, slightly imbalancing the squad. Still, I can't rationalize cutting Jesse with Mebane a possible 2015 cap casualty, and Hill is in line to fill a critical roster hole in 2014.

It's somewhat telling that Staten hasn't come up yet. He's directly competing with Jesse for a roster spot, and he doesn't have Monstar's athletic pedigree or draft grade. It seems most likely that he's cut, clears waivers, and tries to displace DeWayne Cherrington for a spot on the practice squad.

ROSTER PREDICTION: Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel, Kevin Williams, Cassius Marsh, Michael Bennett, Jesse Williams, Greg Scruggs, Jordan Hill, Jimmy Staten (PS)

LINEBACKER

2014 DRAFT IN: Kevin Pierre-Louis (4th), Jackson Jeffcoat (UDFA, priority), Brock Coyle (UDFA, priority), Horace Miller (UDFA, rookie tryout)

PRE-DRAFT SPARQ LB Profile

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The 2014 draft was as much about planning for 2015 as it was on-field impact in 2014. Both K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith are free agents next March, meaning the team will likely need to replace at least one key contributor next season.

Linebacker is probably the most athletic position on the Seattle roster, all things considered. The Irvin/Smith/Wagner/Pierre-Louis/Miller/Toomer sextet may be the most athletic position group in the league. The median outside linebacker drafted under Carroll and Schneider has a 2.0 pSPARQ z-score, with an average pSPARQ of 137. All four players drafted at the position (five including Wagner) under the current front office regime are still on the roster.

Kevin Pierre-Louis is one of the most elite athletes to come out in the last two draft classes. He ranks fourth in rSPARQ out of all prospects over that period, only slightly trailing Christine Michael. He's a more explosive athlete than incumbent weakside linebacker Malcolm Smith, ranking alongside athletic freaks like Ryan Shazier and Korey Toomer.

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Broad jump. All day, all the time.

As shown earlier, Horace Miller's also one to watch, as he's a dead ringer for Wagner. He's on the short side and seen more as an outside backer, but the same comments were said of Wagner in 2012. Though a longshot to make the 53-man roster, he came to Seattle as a rookie camp tryout player and the odds seem good for him to make it through waivers and onto the practice squad.

The best example of roster mirroring may be at inside linebacker, where Seattle acquired Brock Coyle as a priority undrafted free agent.

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There's a definite mold here. Lotulelei was one of the bigger priority free agents last year, but was cut just before the season, ultimately ending up in Jacksonville.

PRE-DRAFT SPARQ LEO Profile

At LEO, I have seven players listed in my database as being acquired in the Carroll-Schneider era. Of the three that are no longer on the roster, the average pSPARQ is a 0.5. The four players who remain at the position (Jeffcoat, Irvin, Avril, Mayowa) average a 1.3 pSPARQ z-score.

The only acquisition was Jeffcoat, who received a relatively large signing bonus as a priority free agent. Yet again, we're treated to more roster mirroring in Jeffcoat and Mayowa. Also included was pre-draft Field Gulls favorite Marcus Smith.

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TRAINING CAMP PRIMER:

As I've assumed 8 defensive linemen and it's likely that at least 9 players make the roster in the secondary, we only have 8 spots available for both LEO and the conventional linebacker positions.

Seattle carried four LEOs last year: Cliff Avril, O'Brien Schofield, Chris Clemons, and Mayowa. With a hit in club control in 2015, my preference would be for the team to only carry three at this position, with Bruce Irvin's versatility enabling the team to add another spot at linebacker. I'm counting on Cassius Marsh to slot in at Clemons' roster spot, though team comments do seem to place him in a role a little more similar to that of Michael Bennett.

As Mayowa was brought up by Seahawk personnel several times during the offseason, it'd be a fairly major shock to see him left off the 53. I'm projecting that he and Avril are the two LEOs to make the roster, with Jeffcoat picked up by another team (Jacksonville, in all likelihood).

At LB, we have five locks: Irvin, Wright, Wagner, Smith, and Pierre-Louis. This leaves Mike Morgan, Farwell, Coyle, Miller, and Toomer fighting for the remaining position. With the coaching staff picking out Toomer for praise after OTAs, I think he edges out Coyle.

By selecting both Hill and Jesse Williams, the roster is light at linebacker. The ideal situation would be Horace Miller impressing in preseason and still ending up on the practice squad. If he's able to provide any depth from the practice squad, it may be enough to mitigate the roster imbalance.

ROSTER PREDICTION (LEO): Cliff Avril, Benson Mayowa

ROSTER PREDICTION (LB): Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Malcolm Smith, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Korey Toomer, Horace Miller (PS)

SECONDARY

2014 DRAFT IN: Eric Pinkins (6th), Dion Bailey (priority UDFA)

PRE-DRAFT SPARQ CB Profile | PRE-DRAFT SPARQ DS Profile

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There isn't much to say at corner. No one was added in the draft (well, half of Eric Pinkins), though there were a few added prior to the draft in free agency. Of those players, A.J. Jefferson is the most interesting athletically. I profiled him back in May. Short version: elite athlete, but hasn't done much in his first four years.

Eric Pinkins has been projected as a corner/safety hybrid, similar to DeShawn Shead. In yet another case of roster mirroring, the comparison's pretty close.

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TRAINING CAMP PRIMER:

There's much less to project here. Sherman, Maxwell, Thomas, Chancellor, Lane, Johnson, and  Simon are almost certain to make the final cut.

Special teams gunner is a position that the Seahawks prioritize, and A.J. Jefferson's potential value here makes him my pick for the final corner spot. With Ricardo Lockette a possible cut on the offensive side of the ball, Jefferson's ability on special teams separates him from the rest of the corners on the roster.

At safety, the battle will likely come down to DeShawn Shead and Eric Pinkins. Seattle has clearly valued Shead over the last few years, paying him over the minimum practice squad rate for most of 2014. Pinkins still has 3 years of practice squad eligibility and is likely the better bet to slip through waivers.

ROSTER PREDICTION (CB): Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Jeremy Lane, Tharold Simon, A.J. Jefferson

ROSTER PREDICTION (DS): Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Jeron Johnson, DeShawn Shead, Eric Pinkins (PS)

As always, the roster is likely to end up being impacted by injuries in camp and the potential PUP list. I only have two 2014 players making the roster on defense, which feels light. My gut instinct is that a third breaks through somewhere.

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