Day One: Seahawks Add Production, Character

In Day One of the 2006 draft, more cornerbacks and defensive linemen were taken than any other positions. In that regard, the Seahawks were keeping up with the Joneses with their selections of Kelly Jennings and Darryl Tapp. However, it wouldn't be a "Ruskell Draft" without the odd surprise…and in that regard, rounds one and two lived up to expectations.

Jennings, the experienced cornerback from Miami, came into the draft slightly undervalued by many analysts, due in large past to his size. Measured at 5’10.7” and 178 pounds at the 2006 Scouting Combine in February, Jennings’ dimensions wouldn’t be likely to bother Seahawks President and GM Tim Ruskell in the least. Going all the way back to his days in Tampa Bay, the former Bucs’ Director of College Scouting has had a long-time yen for mighty-mite defensive backs that other teams cast aside when doing their due diligence. Ronde Barber (5’10”. 184), Donnie Abraham (5’10”, 192) and Dwight Smith (5’10”, 201) were all taken by Tampa with Ruskell’s input. The 2005 Seahawks signings of Andre Dyson (5’10”, 183) and Kelly Herndon (5’10”, 180) merely confirm this trend. And given that trend, Jennings’ selection should come as no surprise.

While his size may present a problem in run support or hand-fighting at the line in man press at the next level, Jennings told Seahawks.NET just after he was picked by Seattle that he is looking forward to the challenges of a more physical style of play. “I need to work more on being physical at the line of scrimmage,” he explained. “At Miami, we played a little bit more of a soft press than the aggressive one they play in the NFL. You want to be a little bit more aggressive at the line, so that’s something I need to work on.”

Rob Rang, Senior Draft Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, says that Jennings “really fits what Seattle’s trying to do.” Rang, who will spend much of this draft weekend at the Seahawks’ Kirkland headquarters, is attuned to Seattle’s personnel needs and wants. Rang had Seattle taking Jennings at 31 in his most recent FoxSports.com mock draft, and he thinks that with the Miami cornerback, the Seahawks have drilled down beyond the simple idea of a “need pick”. “He has 41 career starts at Miami, and he’s a player who has that experience in big-time situations,” Rang said. “The Seahawks…need a player who has the level of consistency that Jennings will bring to his game. Some of the other corners who were available – a lot of them were underclassmen, who showed amazing athleticism, or speed, or size – but haven’t been that consistent player.”

“The Seahawks are only a player or two away from a Super Bowl championship, and they weren’t looking to develop a player – they’re looking for a guy they can plug in right now, and I think that was the best fit for them,” Rang continued.

Rang also elaborated on the schematic aspects of Jennings’ size, and why it’s less of a concern for this team than it might be for others. “A lot of the defenses Ruskell’s been associated with have been Cover Two schemes, which are based on corners having quickness, and having the ability to drive on the ball – to make plays, and having safeties over the top,” he said. “The biggest element you need out of the Cover Two corners is players who can break on the ball, who can play against the pass and the run. Obviously, the biggest concern with Jennings is that, at 178 pounds, he may be too slight for the NFL. But Ruskell’s (draft) history has shown that several players, Ronde Barber being one of the better examples, have gone on to become very good football players despite their lack of size.

“History certainly indicates that if you scout players closely enough, you can find guys who slip through the cracks among other teams, because they’re too slow or too small. But when you put on the film, they’re great football players,” Rang concluded. “I really believe the Seahawks have found one of those players in Kelly Jennings.”

With Andre Dyson’s release and signing with the New York Jets, and the possibility of acquiring ex-Jet CB Ty Law dependent to large degree on Law’s price coming down to a realistic number, Jennings brings the promise of relatively instant, dependable and reasonably–priced production at the position.

For Darryl Tapp, the questions have been the same – he’s considered an undersized DE (listed with Combine height and weight of 6’1.5” and 252 pounds), but again, there are schematic payoffs here. Tapp’s height, seen as a liability to the measurables-obsessed crowd, actually allows him to get under the pads of offensive tackles more easily and effectively. This is part of the reason that Tapp is one of the few collegiate defenders who can say that he’s won battles with Virginia OT D’Brickashaw Ferguson, who was selected fourth overall in this draft and is thought to be the finest rookie offensive lineman by an enormous margin.

Again, the dimensions don’t tell the whole story.

In Rang’s mind, Tapp’s pick at 63 looks to be a steal. “In my conversations with scouts throughout the league – not just Seattle – the expectation was that Darryl Tapp could be picked at the end of the first round. Throughout the middle of the second round, I really thought he had a chance to slip the Seattle because of the lack of size,” Rang said. “I think Seattle’s very fortunate in the way it turned out – it shows some great planning and patience on their part – to sit there and wait for a player that I know they would have considered had they been picking fifteen spots earlier.”

Although the NFC Champion Seahawks led the NFL in sacks with 50 in 2005, and 32.5 of those came from the line, there’s no mystery as to why the perception is so prevalent that the Seahawks needed an edge-rusher of Tapp’s caliber in this draft. “Regardless of the fact that they led the NFL in sacks, there were times when the opposing quarterback had way too much time in the pocket,” Rang said. “Seattle’s pass rush was hit-and-miss at times – they might have seven sacks in one game, and one in another. They were definitely looking to become more consistent with that approach. You also always have to be prepared if one of the starting defensive backs (Grant Wistrom or Bryce Fisher) gets injured. Tapp brings the speed off the edge that makes Seattle’s defense that much more versatile – that much more aggressive.”

Day Two of the 2006 draft will surely be interesting for the Seahawks and their fans. As always, the latter should expect the unexpected from the former. Too small? Okay. Too Slow? Fine. A dominating need to compete and win, wrapped in iron-clad-character? Bulls-eye. It’s the football players above all who will make this team in the Ruskell era.

Everything else is secondary.


Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, Feel free to e-mail him here.


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