What Could Have Been?

Seahawks.NET's Ryan Rigmaiden examines the importance of drafting for talent over need and profiles several college DEs the Seahawks (and other NFL teams) might be looking at very soon.

Every year around this time, I try to write something clever about how the NFL Draft is the foundation of every team’s roster and that it’s the cornerstone of this parity-driven league. However, I’m all out of catchphrases, witty banter and overall humor this year. Instead, I’m going to give a few short histories of a few teams and you can decide how important each third weekend in April is for each NFL team.

We all know that hindsight’s 20-20, but follow me for a second. If you had to choose between one of the following two teams to build around, which one would it be?

Team #1 Team #2
QB- Tim Couch Or... QB- Donovan McNabb
RB- Travis Prentice   RB- Reuben Droughns
WR- Kevin Johnson   WR- Peerless Price
WR- JaJaun Dawson   DE- Darren Howard
WR- Quincy Morgan   WR- Chad Johnson
DE- Courtney Brown   OLB- Lavar Arrington
DT- Gerard Warren   DT- Richard Seymour
LB- Rahim Abdullah   DE/OLB- Joey Porter

This is a perfect example of “what could’ve been.” Every player on Team #2 was on the board when Cleveland was making their picks on Draft day. Unfortunately for the Browns, they instead chose everyone on Team #1 and their franchise has suffered because of it. Tim Couch was an absolute bust, but to make matters worse, QB’s Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper were taken shortly after Couch’s selection and became Pro Bowlers. RB Travis Prentice wasn’t exactly thought to have been the next Jim Brown, but they certainly could’ve done better. Kevin Johnson, JaJaun Dawson and Quincy Morgan lost their luster quickly don’t even compare to the possibility of Price, Johnson or Howard. Courtney Brown, who everyone was high on at the time, has been hindered by injuries his whole career, so I can’t blame him there. However, despite Brown’s college production and workout numbers, he was also said to lack the drive and aggressive nature an NFL defensive end needs when he left Penn State. I can’t blame the Browns for taking him, but I can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if they’d taken Arrington. DT Gerard Warren shot up draft boards during his post-season workouts. Much like his NFL career, scouts said Warren had a ton of ability in college, but no drive or consistency. To think they could’ve taken Richard Seymour or Marcus Stroud instead. I’m not usually hard on 3rd Round draft picks (Abdullah), but to further illustrate my point, imagine pairing Joey Porter and LaVar Arrington lining up alongside one another. Not too bad.

I’ll be the first to admit this scenario is a bit of a reach, but it certainly was possible. If you want a direct reason why the Browns have been basement dwellers in recent years look no further than their Draft history. To save the Browns some humiliation, I didn’t even include their “depth picks”. Trust me, it isn’t pretty.

Now let’s take a quick look at our own beloved ‘Hawks. For the most part, the foundation of Seattle’s current roster has come via the Draft. Shaun Alexander, Walter Jones, Steve Hutchinson, Koren Robinson, Darrell Jackson, Anthony Simmons, Marcus Trufant, Ken Lucas and Ken Hamlin all heard the ‘Hawks call their names on Draft day. Most of Seattle’s current depth is also drafted talent. Players like Pork Chop Womack, Isaiah Kacyvenski, Rashad Moore, Cedric Woodard, Antonio Cochran, and Itula Mili probably wont be stars in this league, but I’m glad we have them on our team. Seattle’s tour through Free Agency and trades has been, for the most part, pretty fortunate. Adding Hasselbeck, Chad Brown, Chris Terry, Grant Wistrom and Chike Okeafor were very, very solid acquisitions. Fortunately, Seattle hasn’t been recently burned by Free Agency like we once have been (Nate Odom ring a bell?).

Even if Cleveland could’ve had the success we have had in Free Agency, which is very doubtful, it’d doubtful their team would be considerably better due to their lack of Drafted talent.

Let’s take a look at one of the best drafting teams in the league, the Baltimore Ravens.

Before we get going, I know that the Ravens aren’t exactly Super Bowl contenders, but hear me out. Check out their defense. They have legitimate Pro Bowlers in ILB Ray Lewis, OLBs Peter Boulware and Terrell Suggs, CB Chris McAllister and FS Ed Reed. On offense, RB Jamal Lewis, LT Jonathan Ogden and TE Todd Heap are regulars in Hawaii. The Ravens have one of the best front offices and scouting departments in the league. They stick to their Draft board, regardless of position, and select the best player available. Look at 2003 when they selected DE/OLB Terrell Suggs. After breaking the NCAA single-season sack record, Suggs’ stock slipped because he ran sub-par 40 times in personal workouts. And even though the Ravens were solid at LB with Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, Ed Hartwell and Adalius Thomas, they knew that by adding a pass rusher with Suggs’ potential, they could bring another dimension to their defense. What happened? Suggs won Defensive Rookie of the Year and is now among the most feared pass rushers in the league.

Or, what about in 2002 when they were desperate for a receiver (like they still are) and they selected S Ed Reed ahead of highly rated receivers like Jabar Gaffney and Andre Davis. I don’t know about any of you, but I was screaming at my television for the ‘Hawks to take Reed when we were on the clock with the 20th overall pick simply because he was easily the best player on the board. But instead of reaching on a WR, they took Reed, who’s probably the best safety in the league now.

Heck, the Ravens even selected TE Todd Heap when they still had Shannon Sharpe on the roster because they knew how good he could be. Because they don’t sacrifice need for talent, Baltimore’s defense continues to be among the NFL’s best.

The moral of the story here is that if you Draft well, the chances of your franchise being in the playoffs are much higher.

Defensive Line

Until this year, Seattle’s defensive line had put little or no pressure on opposing QB’s for the past three years. OLB Chad Brown and DE Chike Okeafor had decent years, but couldn’t consistently apply pressure, forcing our defensive backs to cover WR’s for far too long, an almost impossible task for even the most elite DB’s.

However, Seattle’s front office wisely upgraded the D-line this year. DE Grant Wistrom’s arrival brought an instant upgrade to the unit, both vs. the run and pass. Although he’s missed a few games due to injury, anyone can see the impact he’s made in Seattle in such a short time. Fellow DE Chike Okeafor has upped his game after a solid debut season as a ‘Hawk in 2003. His speed is a tremendous asset vs. the pass and the arrival of Wistrom has clearly made him less of a focal point from opposing offenses, giving him more chances to bring down QB’s. Starting DT’s Rashad Moore and Cedric Woodard have been playing solid football so far. Clogging running lanes is there forte and they’re getting help from rookie 1st Round pick Marcus Tubbs. After battling injuries early this season, Tubbs is seeing more and more playing time each game, giving the ‘Hawks a nice 3-man rotation. DT Rocky Bernard has been impressive as a pass rusher and DE Antonio Cochran’s shown he has the ability to contribute off the bench. Swingman DT/DE Brandon Mitchell hasn’t seen much action, but he provides veteran insurance and versatility.

The combination of upgraded talent and the younger players getting better is probably the biggest reason Seattle’s defense is among the top-10 in most defensive categories. The NFL has a saying “it all starts up front”, and it couldn’t be more true. Having talent in the trenches creates an amazing amount of versatility and flexibility for your defense. You don’t have to blitz as much because your front four can apply pressure, thereby allowing your defense to put more players in coverage and increasing your chances of success. Your DB’s also get greater opportunity to make plays on the ball, something we’ve seen from CB’s Ken Lucas and Marcus Trufant and rookie SS Michael Boulware.

While the D-line is definitely and upgrade over season’s past, next year may we may again be in search of a defensive end. Chike Okeafor’s contract is up after this season and we may not be able to re-sign him. There’s a chance we can, but with QB Matt Hasselbeck, RB Shaun Alexander, LT Walter Jones and CB Ken Lucas’ contracts all expiring this year, GM Bob Ferguson will definitely have his hands full. We all hope Okeafor will be a Seahawk in 2005, but from a personnel standpoint, we’ll have to assume he wont be back. DT Rocky Bernard’s contract is also up, further clouding the defensive line picture.

2005 NCAA Defensive End Prospects

Recent Drafts have been dominated by defensive tackles. Having a premier DT that can stuff the run and also get to the passer is a priority of every team in the NFL, and the number of Round 1 DT’s proves it. From 2000-2004, nineteen DT’s have heard their names called on Day 1. But as I mentioned, Seattle probably wont be gunning for a DT and instead may be looking at DE’s. The following is a short list of DE’s that are currently earning Day 1 grades from most scouting services.

DE David Pollack, Georgia
6'2", 260
NFL Comparison- Grant Wistrom, Seattle

An absolute stud and the definition of a football player. Pollack’s not the greatest athlete on the field, but he makes up for it with premier instincts and all-out hustle. No NCAA player has more drive than Pollack. He’s put up big numbers since his sophomore year and would’ve been a 1st Round pick last year. However, Pollack will most likely be a top-15 pick and it’s doubtful that the ‘Hawks can acquire him without trading up.

Draft Projection- Top-15

Roster impact for Seattle- Pollack would look great opposite Wistrom and could definitely fill the shoes of Chike Okeafor, but the chances of selecting him are slim and none.

DE Erasmus James, Wisconsin
6'4", 260
NFL Comparison- Charles Grant, New Orleans

James has come from out of nowhere this year, taking the Big 10 by storm and being a constant force for the Badgers. He’s making big plays vs. the run and pass and showing impressive athleticism. Because he doesn’t have an impressive total college resume, James’ Bowl game, All-Star game and personal workouts will be the determining factor where he’ll be drafted. However, it’s clear he’s a 1st Round guy right now. He’s had some injury problems that’ll need to get checked out as well.

Draft Projection- Top-20

Roster impact for Seattle- James easily could be a nickel pass rusher for the ‘Hawks and possibly start in Okeafor’s stead., should he leave via Free Agency.

DE Mathias Kiwanuka, Boston College
6'8", 250
NFL Comparison- Jevon Kearse

Unbelievable size. Has extremely long arms and can knock down a ton of passes. Needs to learn technique better, but because of his physical attributes, Kiwanuka will have scouts salivating. Shows flashes of being a dominant pass rusher, but is inconsistent.

Draft Projection- Round 1

Roster impact for Seattle- Is and ideal nickel pass rusher because of his athleticism, but Kiwanuka may need some time to work on his technique and adjust to the NFL game.

DE Marcus Spears, LSU
6'4", 290
NFL Comparison- Trevor Pryce, Denver

One of the most complete DE’s in college, Spears has been a force for the Tigers the past two seasons, and would’ve been a late Round 1 pick last year if he’d left school. His speed isn’t impressive, but his quickness and size make him an ideal fit for a 3-4 defense or a 4-3 team looking for versatility. Spears can play inside and out and should be a solid Pro.

Draft Projection- Late Round 1 or early Round 2

Roster impact for Seattle- Spears wouldn’t be the pass rusher we need at DE, but placing him inside on passing downs would be a nice addition. He versatility would also make him extremely valuable.

DE Dan Cody, Oklahoma
6'3", 260
NFL Comparison- John Engelberger, San Francisco

Doesn’t have NFL measurables, but hustles to get the job done. Has had nagging injuries that may be a problem. Is versatile and can line up in a two-point stance to blitz. Cody has put up good numbers for a dominant program and should be a solid Pro.

Draft Projection- Late Round 1 or early Round 2

Roster impact for Seattle- Nickel pass rusher with the chance to earn a starting role.

DE Matt Roth, Iowa
6'3", 260
NFL Comparison- Ryan Denney, Buffalo

Keeping with the current DE theme of constant hustle, Roth’s right with Cody and Pollack when it comes to a non-stop motor. However, he can sometimes overdue it and cost him team a few yellow flags. Roth gets his production from that very same energy and is absolutely relentless vs. both the run and pass. A guy like that can play for my team any time.

Draft Projection- Round 2

Roster impact for Seattle- Nickel pass rusher with the chance to earn a starting role.

As you can see, there’s no DE with the speed of Dwight Freeney or the impact of John Abraham or Jason Taylor. But we all know DE’s are always at a premium and teams will reach for them on Draft day. I’ll keep you updated as the season winds down and the personal workouts begin.

Next week, a look at the Linebackers.

If you have any questions or comments, please send emails to rlrigmaiden@hotmail.com. Thanks for writing in. RL.

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