2006 Draft Preview: Positions to improve

.NET's Ryan Rigmaiden takes a look at some positions that will need upgrades this offseason and who the Hawks may be looking at with their selections in April's NFL Draft.

Longtime Hawk fans have gone through offseasons where the list of positions to upgrade or holes to fill is longer than a child's Christmas wish-list. No matter how good our roster appeared on paper, you could always point to one glaring area of weakness that forced you to say "What ever happens, we must get a DE, WR, etc." However, that trend was recently broken last year when GM Tim Ruskell and newly re-hired VP of Football Operations, Mike Reinfeldt, re-signed QB Matt Hasselbeck, LT Walter Jones and franchised RB Shaun Alexander.

Also, adding proven veteran help like CB's Kelly Herndon and Andre Dyson and OLB Jamie Sharper shortly before the Draft gave the Hawks tremendous flexibility on day one of the Draft last year.

In previous years, our day one selections were counted on to contribute immediately in order for our franchise to have success (or at least it appeared that way), but because of some nice moves by the front office, Seattle was able to operate under the "best player available" theory and take players that didn't even have to get considerable playing time, let alone make an immediate impact in 2005 (see Chris Spencer and David Greene).

Seattle's 2006 roster might be the best, most complete team the Hawks have ever put together. While the Hawks have some key players entering their respective Free Agent years, the roster is very much in tact and should only continue to get better. While the cavernous holes that used to haunt our roster in past certainly aren't present, there are definitely areas that need improvement.

Because at this time I firmly believe that LG Steve Hutchinson will be either re-signed or given the franchise tag, I'm not putting Guard on this list. Alexander's recent comments suggest that he's not optimistic about returning to Seattle, but I'll give it a week or two before I'll put RB on this list.

Positions to improve:

1. Defensive Tackle: Chuck Darby and Marcus Tubbs form a decent starting tandem, but it was third DT Rocky Bernard that consistently made plays for the unit, especially in the passing game. However, Bernard is a free agent and has probably played himself out of Seattle's price-range with his big year. Fourth DT Craig Terrill is full of effort, but he's a backup at best and adding another DT to the mix will be a necessity if Bernard leaves via free agency. Tubbs and Darby have also battled nagging injuries the past year and can't be counted on for a full season.

Possible Targets Include:

Haloti Ngata, DT Oregon - Is absolutely huge, but is quick enough to get by offensive lineman. Is primarily a run-stuffer, but can push the pile back. Could be the first DT off the board and is the best all-around DT in the game.

Orien Harris, DT Miami - Had a less than stellar year last year but has rebounded and is in the round one mix right now. Is inconsistent, but when he pulls it all together is a solid DT. He'll need to prove that he's capable of playing at a high level on a consistent basis if he's going to crack the top-32.

Rodrique Wright, DT Texas - Maddeningly inconsistent, but shows enough potential to be a solid player. Is very much in the same mold as our own Marcus Tubbs and can be a very solid player when motivated. Didn't have a great game in the Rose Bowl and needs to have solid workouts to cement his status as a Round 1 pick. Grades out as a second-rounder right now.

Broderick Bunkley, DT Florida State - Resembles former FSU DTs Darnell Dockett and Travis Johnson. Is a solid pass rusher that's a bit undersized, but has the quickness to be a factor vs. the run and pass. Had a solid season, but looked average at the Senior Bowl.

Kyle Williams, DT LSU - Formed one of the best DT tandems in the country with fellow senior Claude Wroten. He's a Tim Ruskell-type guy; lots of effort and tenacity. Won't wow scouts with his athleticism, but gets the job done and plays to the whistle every snap. Looks like a late Day 1 kind of guy right now.

Others: Claude Wroten, LSU (character concerns); Jonathan Lewis, Virginia Tech; Loren Howard, Northwestern (DE), Jesse Mahelona, Tennessee; Le Kevin Smith, Nebraska.

2. Defensive End: LE Bryce Fisher surpassed all expectations in his first year with Seattle. While never flashy, Fisher simply gets it done and can be counted on to bring it every game.

RE Grant Wistrom, was slowed by injuries in 2004 and hasn't had the kind of sack numbers that the team had hoped for, but his leadership and ability to play the run make him a solid player. However, when it's all said and done, you pay your DEs to get to the QB and Wistrom simply hasn't made his mark as a pass rusher.

Depth behind the two starters isn't exactly exemplary. Joe Tafoya and Rodney Bailey are DT/DE 'tweeners that don't have the speed necessary to be legitimate pass rushing threats.

Jeb Huckaba might provide a spark off the bench, but he's a fifth-round pick who was inactive for all of 2005. Seattle can definitely get by with Wistrom and Fisher as their starting DEs, but adding another end to the unit would be a great move, especially if he has the speed and quickness that our current DEs lack.

Possible Targets Include:

Mario Williams, DE N.C. State - One of my favorite players in the Draft, Williams has the kind of speed and quickness that Pro Bowl DEs have. He's still a bit raw, but has the kind of speed and intangibles that you want in a DE. However, the Hawks would have to make an aggressive trade up the Draft board to get him. Williams is projected to go in the top five, and possibly even top three.

Mathias Kiwanuka, DE Boston College - Is absolutely huge at 6-6, 260 and with long arms. Kiwianuk's been a marked man the past two years, but still produces and has plenty of room to grow. Not playing at the Senior Bowl hurt him, but he's still grading out as a first round pick.

Tamba Hali, DE Penn State - Came on strong this year and has been very consistent. He isn't amazing in any one area, but understands the game of football and simply produces. Hali gets off the ball fairly well and would be a great addition as a rush end for Seattle. Had a great Senior Bowl and should be a top 15 pick.

Manny Lawson, DE N.C. State - Williams' bookend has had a very solid year and has been showing scouts that he's a player in his own right. Is long and lean (6'5" 235) and has been showing scouts superior quickness. Might project as more of a 3-4 rush LB, but Lawson would be a perfect nickel pass rusher in a 4-3 scheme.

Kamerion Wimbley, DE Florida State - Typical undersized FSU pass rusher. Very fast off the ball and is agile. Can beat tackles with his first step, but his lack of size may hurt him. Wimbley's a classic DE/OLB ‘tweener that has pass rush potential as a nickel DE in a 4-3 or an OLB in a 3-4.

Daryl Tapp, DE Virginia Tech - Like many of the DE's in this year's class, Tapp is a bit undersized. At 6'1 265 he's a bit small, but he can handle his own. Had a decent Senior Bowl week and uses his hands well. Very solid fundamentals. Tapp is looking like a late-first or early-second round pick at this point.

Others: Elvis Dumervil, Louisville; Ray Edwards, Purdue; Stanley McClover, Auburn; Eric Henderson, Georgia Tech.

3. Outside Linebacker: Snagging Leroy Hill in Round 3 was a very nice move by the front office last year. He's been a terrific pass rusher and will be able to improve his overall game with more playing time and you can expect him to start from the beginning in 2006.

After jettisoning oft-injured LB's Chad Brown and Anthony Simmons last year, Jamie Sharper was brought in to provide a healthy option for the front seven. Every article you read about Sharper had a blurb about him not missing a game for years and that he's always healthy. But to any knowledgeable Hawk fan, you just knew that streak would come to an end this year – and it did. Sharper missed half the season and, to be honest, wasn't having much of an impact when he was starting. While he gave the young linebackers a veteran presence, he just didn't make enough plays to get excited about.

Sharper's future with the team now appears in doubt due to his medical issues, age and fairly low cap figure. If the ‘Hawks are ready to go in a younger direction, Sharper could very well be released.

The depth behind Sharper and Hill is decent. D.D. Lewis is athletic and quick, but has battled injuries constantly. Isaiah Kacyvenski is a terrific special teams player and always gives more effort than any two guys on the team, but he is definitely a backup player. Kevin Bentley can play any linebacker position and the coaches love his versatility, but he's definitely not a starter. With the talent and depth at outside linebacker in this year's Draft, you might see one coming off the board in round one for the Hawks.

Possible Targets Include:

A.J. Hawk, OLB Ohio State - How great would it be to add a guy named Hawk to the Seahawks? Well don't get too excited about it because he's going to be a top-10 pick and the chances or him suiting up in Seattle are slim and none. Hawk's been a beast at OSU since the day he started and is a complete player. He can make plays from sideline-to-sideline, blitz and is decent in coverage.

Chad Greenway, OLB Iowa - An absolute stud, Greenway's a solid athlete who rivals Hawk in all areas of the game, but is also a better pass rusher. He has the ability to start immediately and should be a top-15 pick. Had a terrific Senior Bowl and should have great Combine numbers.

Demeco Ryans, OLB Alabama - Ryans isn't the athlete that Greenway and Hawk are, but he's a football player. Has solid instincts and rarely misses a tackle. Ryans will need to run better at the Combine and show some athleticism at his Pro Day, but you can expect him to be off the board by mid-to-late round one.

Thomas Howard, OLB UTEP - I love this kid. Former walk-on with tremendous athleticism and pure speed. He looks the part and makes plays all over the field. His level of competition will sway some, but after his personal workouts are done, expect him to have locked up first round status with the ability to move past some of the players on this list.

Bobby Carpenter, OLB Ohio State - Gets overshadowed by Hawk, but Carpenter will make his own name in the NFL. Has awesome speed and quickness, can make plays all over the field. At 6-1, 250, he's bigger than most outside linebackers, but has legit 4.5 speed, can blitz and be a factor in zone coverage.

D'Qwell Jackson, LB Maryland - Played the middle for the Terps, but could project to the weakside in the NFL. Reminds scouts of Jonathan Vilma when he left Miami; a bit undersized, but with very good athleticism and instincts. Had a great week in Mobile and should be a Round one pick with decent workout numbers.

Others: Ernie Sims, FSU; A.J. Nicholson, FSU; Rocky McIntosh, Miami; Travis Williams, Auburn.

4. Safety: Starting FS Ken Hamlin's career remains in question after receiving brain surgery in 2005. For a player known for his big hits and physical style of play, counting on Hamlin to return to 100% next year is a mistake.

Backup Marquand Manuel was a pleasant surprise this year and has played better than anyone has expected, but the franchise would definitely prefer Hamlin, Seattle's leader in the secondary, to be the starter. Backups behind Manuel are special teams players that you don't want starting (see Super Bowl XL), so adding another safety with starting potential would be a great move for the franchise.

Possible Targets Include:

Michael Huff, S Texas - Versatile player, can play safety or corner. Has solid speed and can tackle sideline-to-sideline. Consistent performer and is a high-effort player. Huff should be the first safety off the board this year and is looking like a top 15 player.

Ko Simpson, S South Carolina - Sophomore eligible, Simpson was a surprise entry this year, but he made the right decision. He has solid size at 6'1 200 and makes plays on the ball and is good in coverage. Should be a Round one selection.

Darnell Bing, S USC – Trojan standout with impressive size (6-1, 210) and he uses it well. He can hit and cover equally well and should be an early day one selection.

Daniel Bullocks, S Nebraska - Brother of New Orleans Saints S Josh Bullocks, Daniel should be a starting safety in the NFL, too. Had a solid career for the Huskers and had an even better Senior Bowl. He's impressed many NFL scouts and is now a lock as a Day one pick.

Anthony Smith, S Syracuse - Very well-rounded player. Makes plays on the ball and is a factor vs. the run. Solid work ethic and is a hitter. Smith is earning Round 2 grades right now and should be a solid player in the NFL. Big Senior Bowl helped him shoot up Draft boards around the league.

Others: Greg Blue, Georgia, LaRon Landry, LSU; Pat Watkins, FSU; Donte Witner, Ohio State; Bernard Pollard, Purdue.

5. Receiver: Seattle's starting trio of Darrell Jackson, Bobby Engram and Joe Jurevicious were very solid this year, but Jurevicious is a free agent and while I think he'll be back next year, it's definitely not a certainty.

If Jurevicious comes back and Seattle can continue developing D.J. Hackett, the Hawks should be in very good shape, but they're still missing the kind of speed receiver that can stretch the field and open up the offense. Also, Engram and Jurevicious are on the wrong side of 30 and adding some legitimate young talent would be a nice investment for the future.

Seattle would also be wise to take a look at receivers that can be a factor in the return game. The Hawks haven't had a legitimate return threat since Charlie Rogers was on the roster. The wild card of Seattle's wide receiver corps is veteran Peter Warrick. He didn't do much this year but coaches love him and now that his knee is getting closer to 100%, the Hawks are getting an idea on what he could in this offense.

If Warrick and Jurevicious are both brought back, don't expect the Hawks to select a WR on the first day and rather turn to a DB that can be a factor in the return game.

Possible targets include:

Santonio Holmes, WR Ohio State - Fast receiver with reliable hands. Can be a vertical threat, but also find holes in zone coverage and get "yards after the catch" (YAC). Is a bit short, but is a sturdy 190 pounds. Can return kicks and is a threat to take it the distance every time he touches the ball.

Chad Jackson, WR Florida - Probably won't be anything more than a #2 option, but Jackson's college career has been very solid. Has the size and speed to make plays and looks like a Keenan McCardell-type player.

Sinorice Moss, WR Miami - Is similar to last year's second-round pick, Roscoe Parrish. Small, but very fast and can turn a 5-yard route into a 75-yard touchdown. Has blazing speed and can return kicks and punts, but hasn't played special teams much. He could be the WR/KR combo that Seattle has been looking for. Looked terrific at the Senior Bowl and should be a late round one or early round two pick.

Derek Hagan, WR Arizona State - Consistent and knows how to run routes. Has good understanding of the game and has put up solid numbers, but might not be a legit number one wideout in the NFL. Hagan lacks explosion and while he's good in most areas of his game, he's not excellent in any. Is very similar to Darrell Jackson. Had a horrible week in Mobile and should be a second-round pick unless he rebounds with tremendous workouts at the Combine.

Jonathan Orr, WR Wisconsin – Orr is flying under the radar, so to speak, but he's had a decent year and can get deep. He runs solid routes and has great hands, but isn't a factor in the return game. Probably a Day two pick at this point, but he has potential.

Others: Maurice Stovall, Notre Dame; Demetrius Williams, Oregon; Mike Hass, Oregon State; Greg Lee, Pittsburgh; Martin Nance, Miami (OH).

As usual, any questions or comments can be sent to rlrigmaiden@hotmail.com. Thanks for taking the time to write in.


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