Editor’s note: As part of Q13 FOX’s coverage of the Seattle Seahawks and the 2019 NFL Draft, longtime football analyst Rob Rang is providing his analysis of the upcoming draft. Rang has covered the NFL draft for nearly 20 years with his written work featured at CBSSports.com, FOXSports.com, USAToday.com, Yahoo.com, NFL.com, NFLDraftScout.com, the Pro Football Hall of Fame and for various official NFL team sites. He is a frequent contributor to Seattle’s Sports Radio 950 KJR and, along with Aaron Levine and Ian Furness co-hosted Q13 FOX’s pre and post-draft coverage of the Seahawks’ 2018 NFL draft – the first live and local video analysis in the franchise’s history.
SEATTLE – With the Seahawks reportedly trading star edge rusher Frank Clark to the Kansas City Chiefs, their focus in the 2019 NFL draft has clearly shifted toward adding another pass rusher to replace him. Fortunately, this year’s draft class is loaded with talent.
The Seahawks need more help than just at defensive end, however.
At the conclusion of the 2017 NFL season, Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll made it very clear that improving the running game was among his top priorities.
“There was issues during the season that I think the big ones I would like to address for you is that we have a real formula of how we win, and we have been unable the last two years to incorporate a major aspect of that, and it’s running the football the way we want to run it,” he said.
A few months later and the Seahawks invested their first round pick in running back Rashad Penny, using the two-headed monster of he and breakout star Chris Carson to push their way back into the playoffs.
If running the ball was the club’s bugaboo in 2017, stopping opponents was an even greater concern this past season.
The Seahawks finished tied for 27th in the NFL in average yards allowed (4.9) per rush, the worst mark of Pete Carroll’s nine years in Seattle. With breakout three-year veteran defensive tackle Jarran Reed sure to be expecting a big payout when his contract is up at the conclusion of the upcoming season, adding another run-stuffing defensive tackle is currently an even “larger” priority than boosting the pass rush.
Players are listed in order of their projected selection. The Seahawks currently own four selections in the 2019 NFL draft, 21st overall (First Round), 84th (Third Round), 124th (Fourth Round) and 159th (Fifth Round).
Montez Sweat, DE, Mississippi State, 6-6, 260, 4.41, First Round
From at least a physical standpoint, Sweat is the best match of this year’s edge rushers for Carroll’s scheme. As his wide receiver-like 40-yard dash suggests, Sweat possesses exceptional speed off the edge. This burst is complemented by his exceptionally long arms and functional strength, making him a potential 10+ sack producer early in his NFL career. Sweat’s flashy workout matches his production on the field, as he recorded 30.5 tackles for loss and 22.5 sacks in just twos seasons against elite SEC competition and was the best player at the Senior Bowl. Concerns about an enlarged heart discovered at the Combine raise some red flags but it is not likely to be enough to push him down to No. 21 overall.
Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson, 6-5, 342, 5.05, First Round
Throughout the Carroll-Schneider era, the Seahawks have prioritized players with special traits, and no one in the 2019 draft offers a more freakish combination of size, power and speed than Lawrence, a dominant performer since he stepped onto the field for the Tigers three years ago. Lawrence is viewed a bit as a one-trick pony and he comes with some character red-flags after testing positive for a banned substance prior to Clemson’s latest playoff run. Neither is likely to dissuade the Seahawks from considering him. He may be very well be available at No. 21 or perhaps even in trade down scenario.
Brian Burns, DE/OLB, Florida State, 6-5, 249, 4.53, First Round
Burns could help replace the speed lost by shipping Clark to Kansas City because, as his name and 40-yard dash time imply, he is scorchingly quick off the corner. Burns signed with the Seminoles as a highly touted prep and immediately lived up to his hype, leading all freshman with 9.5 sacks in 2016. He played closer to 235 pounds this past season but looked natural at this weight during workouts, turning in explosive numbers in the 40-yard dash and vertical jump (36”). Burns has a frame and game similar to former Seahawks’ first round pick Bruce Irvin, a classic LEO edge rusher better suited to making an immediate impact as a QB destroyer than against the run, at this time.
Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State, 6-3, 305, 4.90 (estimated), First/Second Round
Complementing each other in much the same way that Clark and Reed did a year ago for the Seahawks, Simmons and the previously listed Sweat were a two-headed monster for the Bulldogs the past two seasons. Simmons may lack eye-popping size but he possesses exceptional strength and quickness. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn ACL just two months ago and may miss his entire rookie season recovering. A top 10 talent who may very well fall into their laps or even be available a few picks later, Simmons would make a lot of sense for the cash and draft pick-strapped Seahawks.
Jerry Tillery, DL, Notre Dame, 6-7, 295, 4.93, First/Second Round
Stopping the run is not just about the big defensive tackles inside. While the so-called LEO pass rushing role gets a lot of attention in Seattle’s scheme, the five-tech defensive end is just as critical in defending the run. With a combination of length and power that is sure to intrigue traditional two-gapping 3-4 clubs as well as 4-3 teams needing an interior pass rush threat, Tillery offers the positional versatility Carroll and Co. have prioritized up front in the past. Tillery is different than most football players, prioritizing his education and traveling abroad rather than just focusing on the game. To maximize his potential, he needs a defensive line coach who will push him and the Seahawks have one of the best ones in the NFL in Clint Hurtt.
L.J. Collier, DE, TCU, 6-2, 283, 4.91, Second Round
From a size/speed standpoint, Collier is an outlier in this group. He is shorter and lacks the quick-twitch burst that the Seahawks generally look for in their pass rushers. But he certainly plays with the physicality and tenacity that made the Seahawks so intimidating throughout the Carroll-Schneider era. Some guys are simply better football players than athletes. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing with Collier playing with the junkyard dog mentality that suggests a long, if not necessarily flashy NFL career.
Zach Allen, DE, Boston College, 6-4, 281, 5.0, Second/Third Round
Because he is not quite as big or athletic as Tillery, Allen is likely to be available significantly later but like the aforementioned Collier, he is currently a more consistent and reliable player. With star edge rusher Harold Landry heading off to the NFL, Allen’s numbers dipped last season but he recorded a staggering 100 tackles as a junior and was every bit as effective this past season because of all the attention he received from opponents. Allen would play the five-technique role in Seattle’s scheme – a role that may not be critical if the Seahawks are confident in the development of last year’s third round pick Rasheem Greene.
Terry Beckner, Jr., DT, Missouri, 6-3, 296, 5.19, Third/Fourth Round
Beckner checks a lot of Seahawk-specific boxes, signing with Missouri as a highly regarded prep, producing when healthy and carrying a significant chip on his shoulder after missing two full seasons at Missouri due to knee operations. He has proven his health the past two seasons, showing intriguing burst and wiggle to help not only in run defense but against the pass, as well. Most drafts, Beckner would be generating a lot more buzz but he’s been overshadowed due to the extraordinary talent along the defensive line this year. Some club is going to find a future starter in the middle rounds.
Renell Wren, DT, Arizona State, 6-5, 318, 5.01, Third/Fourth Round
Teams willing to swing for the fences will be intrigued by Wren, who may possess the most explosive first step off the ball of this year’s defensive tackle class – which is exceedingly rare for a man of his size. That said, while he can blow up the center and ruin runs before they even get going, he is sushi-raw with his technique and awareness of the football, only starting one year for an Arizona State squad that, frankly, lacked defensive standouts. Still, he would be an ideal project for Hurtt.
Greg Gaines, DT, Washington, 6-1, 312, 4.99, Fifth/Sixth Round
The Seahawks need not look for a run-stuffer because one of the best in the country starred the past four years just a few miles away. Voted the Morris Trophy winner (by PAC-12 blockers) as the best defensive linemen in the conference, Gaines is a stubborn stump in the middle whose short, squatty frame allows him to root into the ground. Gaines is limited as a pass rusher but few play harder, giving him an excellent shot at ultimately outplaying his draft position, just like the similarly built (and recently retired) Kyle Williams did at nose guard for the Buffalo Bills.