With training camps in full swing but real games still seemingly a lifetime away, ECS assesses the Seahawks’ 2017 early draft needs by position. By identifying the areas of greatest need now, Seahawks fans can focus on certain positions and players while watching college football games this fall.
Remember, GM Seahawks John Schneider has publicly stated multiple times that the team drafts not for the league, but for their own team. In other words, they emphasize using their own roster to evaluate available college talent and determine whether the draftee is able to compete with current roster players at a particular position.
2016’s draft beautifully followed this philosophy. First round pick Germain Ifedi compares favorably to current offensive guards on the roster. Jarran Reed does the same with current one-tech linemen after the loss of Brandon Mebane. Running back C.J. Prosise has no competition as a third down back. Tight end Nick Vannett HAS to be better than a Cooper Helfet-type. Rees Odhiambo,Quinton Jefferson and Joey Hunt may all capable of winning camp battles at their respective positions.
It was a home run draft for the team, I believe, in terms of adding both starters and quality, cheap depth pieces (which are vital when paying so many great players big money).
So, building off the momentum of this season’s draft, let’s navigate through the (approximated) 2017 roster by evaluating both the players and contracts at each position on the team and assign a level of draft need for each grouping. We will rate each position’s draft need as either LOW, MEDIUM, HIGH or NO NEED.
We’ll start with offense, then go to defense.
QUARTERBACK– Wilson, Boykin
Starter- NO NEED
Wilson is a top-tier quarterback and under contract for the next 4 years. Boykin is an intriguing project but make no mistake, he is a project of the rawest form. There are enough tools there to drop the need from HIGH to MEDIUM, but let’s hit the brakes on the rookie until we see him handle everything asked of a pro quarterback.
Even if Boykin isn’t the answer as the backup QB, the team will not spend its more valuable draft capital on a second string signal caller and is more likely to go the late round pick or UDFA route again.
RUNNING BACK– Rawls, Prosise, Collins
If Rawls stays healthy in 2016, he will be under team control for a couple more years as a high end RB1. I expect this to be Christine Michael’s last year in Seattle, as he is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, which leaves a depth spot open for a young back that will either be drafted late or brought in as another UDFA.
It’s too bad the Seahawks won’t be in the market for a high end RB next April because the draft will be LOADED with franchise running backs. The only way they may get involved with one of them early in the draft is if Rawls proves to be too injury prone to count on as an every week back.
WIDE RECEIVER– Baldwin, Kearse, Lockett, Richardson
Starter- NO NEED
The top 3 receivers are under contract through at least 2018 and the depth pieces are earning their places on the team with strong commitments to their craft. Barring injury, it’ll be tough to break up this group and it certainly doesn’t need a high draft choice addition.
TIGHT END– Graham, Vannett
This one is tricky. Jimmy Graham is under contract through 2017 and Luke Willson is an unrestricted free agent after the 2016 season, but I’m not sure which one will actually be on the team next season. At least one will be, but I don’t think both will be Seahawks next year.
If Graham stays and Willson gets paid elsewhere, then a starter is obviously not necessary and a depth piece would be all that needs to be collected, either by late draft pick or UDFA. If, however, the team cuts ties with Graham and chooses to re-sign the cheaper Willson, you might see a mid-round pick invested in a pass-catching TE to round out the room with Vannett.
OFFENSIVE TACKLE– Gilliam, Ifedi? Odhiambo?
Hoo boy. Ok, this one is rough. I actually have confidence in Gilliam to be a respectable pass protector on the left side because he has good feet and seems to be a diligent preparer. Between that and having the highly acclaimed Tom Cable as his coach, we should expect good results, right?
I also expect J’Marcus Webb to fail miserably on the right side in 2016, leading to his release after the season. What would the team do then- move Ifedi from RG to RT? Maybe, but I think they should try Rees Odhiambo out there. He has the talent, strength, and requisite arm length to effectively play the position if he can just stay out of the medical room.
There is no fallback option at left tackle behind Gilliam, so even if he steps up his play and the Hawks move Ifedi/Odhiambo to RT in 2017, quality depth behind each side is badly needed.
GUARD– Glowinski, Ifedi, Odhiambo
I am actually encouraged by the quality of player the Seahawks have at guard. Glowinski looks like a solid, long-term answer at one guard spot while Ifedi is not out of his element on the right side. Even if he gets moved to RT next season as expected, the team could return Glowinski to right guard and plug in Odhiambo on the left side. It’s easily the least troubling of the O-Line groupings.
CENTER– Britt, Hunt
The best the team can do with Justin Britt is make him the “6th man” of the O-Line that only plays in a game if someone gets hurt. After the center experiment fails in 2016, it’ll be all they have left. Hunt has the mental makeup you want but may simply not be big enough to play well in the NFL, never mind the incredibly short arms- even for the center position. Combined, this makes finding a starting pivot a high priority next year, and reliable depth may have to be acquired as well if/when Hunt is overwhelmed at this level.
Because the Seahawks expect to be picking late in round 1 of next year’s draft, this could be the pick. The best centers are sometimes not taken until round 2 and in the second half of round 1 at the earliest. Need and talent evaluation could meet here.
LEO/EDGE– Avril, R Robinson
Cliff Avril keeps stacking great year after great year on his resume from the right defensive end position in Seattle’s defense. Signed through 2018, he is likely to retire as a Seahawk. However, he is now on the wrong side of 30 years old and can’t produce at his current clip forever, which is why it is important for the team to draft and develop a legitimate pass rushing threat behind the former Purdue Boilermaker.
Ryan Robinson is an intriguing option to spell Avril this year but is probably not a long-term, high snap count solution as a LEO/EDGE. This is one of the most valued positions on any roster and will require high draft capital to adequately replenish it in Seattle.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE– Reed, Rubin, Jefferson
A position usually stocked with veteran, low-dollar players for the Seahawks has been infused with talented youth on four-year deals in Reed and Jefferson. Even if Jordan Hill walks after 2016, the team is three deep here in 2017, two deep well beyond and can always supplement the room with another cheap vet.
DEFENSIVE END– Bennett, Clark
I fully expect the Seahawks to address Bennett’s contract next offseason, extend him, and make him a Seahawk for life. Clark is listed as a DE here but he will get time all along the defensive front because he is talented and good enough to excel at several positions. Quinton Jefferson can also play the 5-tech position, though I see him more as a replacement at tackle for Jordan Hill.
What all of this means is the team will only be required to find depth at the position and will not have to chase it early in next year’s draft.
SAM LINEBACKER– Marsh, Pinkins
While this position is currently inhabited by some of the least effective players on the roster, it is not a HIGH need because its importance has been marginalized by the pass-heavy preferences of the league. The SAM’s most important job is to set the edge in the run game and then run with tight ends in the intermediate part of the field. Pass rushing is probably 3rd on the list.
Though Cassius Marsh is the team’s best option at SAM right now, he’s not unlike Aaron Curry in terms of his skill set. He can set the edge just fine but the other job requirements fall outside of his ability. Pinkins can cover tight ends but can’t set the edge.
As a result, this position is in need of a talent infusion but because the amount of SAM snaps gets decreased by a significant number of nickel and dime packages, it is unlikely the team feels the need to use a high pick on it.
MIDDLE LINEBACKER– Wagner, Coyle
Starter- NO NEED
Bobby Wagner is a stud and is signed for several years. Brock Coyle could be nearing the end of his tenure with the Seahawk. He is a special teams stalwart but gets less and less cheap with each passing year (restricted FA in 2017) and the team would probably prefer to find a younger, faster option with more range and upside at the MLB position.
WEAK SIDE LINEBACKER– Wright, Pierre-Louis
KJ Wright is signed through 2018 as one of the more underrated players in the league. Pierre-Louis was supposed to compete for a starting role by now but just hasn’t been able to take the next step in his development. That said, he’s an ideal backup and a good special teams player.
CORNERBACK– Sherman, Shead, Lane, T Smith
With Sherman locking down CB1 duties for a few more years and the depth improving, the foundation at cornerback is steady and solid. However, Jeremy Lane is better inside than out and although Deshawn Shead is another coached up success story in the backfield, there is room for improvement in the play at the CB2 spot outside, opposite Sherm.
Also, because cornerback- like the LEO position- is so coveted nowadays with the proliferation of accomplished passing offenses around the NFL, there is additional pressure to make sure the cupboard is stocked with excellent talent. Thus the MEDIUM designation for starter here instead of LOW.
STRONG SAFETY– Chancellor, Powell
The end of Kam Chancellor’s playing career in Seattle might come sooner than some would expect. I would be surprised if he was a Seahawk beyond 2017 and it wouldn’t budge me if the team parts ways with him after this season. The thing that could stave that inevitability off is his locker room presence, which is enormous. He is, after all, The Godfather.
I hope Tyvis Powell makes the team, and I believe he will. He could provide good, cheap depth for a while before vying for a starting role down the road.
It takes a special talent to play safety for this defense that prefers to play Cover 1 and Cover 3 most of the time. This could be a sleeper position to be considered for a high draft pick in 2017.
FREE SAFETY– Thomas
Starter- NO NEED
The back end of the defense is lorded over by the Earl of Seattle through 2018, and I would assume another extension is coming prior to that. Though a long-term backup at free safety hasn’t been groomed to this point, it’s been moot because Thomas has been so durable.
Unfortunately, if Thomas were to miss games, the defense would look dramatically different and be forced to show more conservative, two-deep formations. Results would likely be disappointing. For that reason, it’s imperative the Seahawks find a free safety capable of covering ground like Thomas can. I understand it’s a big ask, but it’s necessary in order to continue to play the team’s preferred schemes at a high level.
If we compare all positions, the biggest areas of need for starters are at center and strong side linebacker (SAM) with offensive tackle, LEO/EDGE, cornerback and strong safety being other position groups requiring reinforcements.
Interestingly, center and SAM do not churn out your typical “freak athlete” types that Seattle prefers to select high in the draft, so the team may look elsewhere early.
Therefore, if we were to handicap where the Seahawks might go with their most valuable draft capital in 2017, I would focus on the defensive side of the ball and specifically the LEO/EDGE, cornerback and strong safety positions. Not only are they all in need of new blood, the average age of the Seahawks defense is around a full two years older than their counterparts on offense.
The signs are pointing to a defense-heavy draft in 2017, especially early.
Later, in a companion piece we’ll identify specific college players from these positions of interest to watch as the televised college football season kicks off in early September. It’s never too early to get a sneak peek at future Seahawks!