RENTON, Wash. — Jalen Carter and Tyree Wilson were both available when the Seahawks made the No. 5 pick in this year’s NFL draft, there to help fill the glaring need for impact players along Seattle’s defensive line.
But in addition to concerns about Wilson’s foot and Carter’s makeup, the Seahawks didn’t have either player rated nearly as highly as Devon Witherspoon. With Will Anderson Jr. already gone and no real desire to take a quarterback that high, the Illinois cornerback was the easy choice.
When the Seahawks were back on the clock at No. 20, they had their pick of any of the five front-seven defenders who would come off the board over the final six selections of the first round. But they were pleasantly surprised that Jaxon Smith-Njigba was still there and felt the Ohio State wide receiver was too good to pass up.
Those decisions typified the predominant theme of draft weekend for general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll, especially over the first three rounds. Instead of drafting with their biggest roster deficiency in mind — a tempting strategy that can lead to costly whiffs like L.J. Collier in 2019 — they stuck to their board and took better players at positions of less significant need.
That sound approach earned the Seahawks high marks for their 10-member draft class, even though they didn’t take defensive linemen and linebackers as early or as often as many predicted.
“We really did feel like we took the best corner and the best receiver in the draft,” Schneider told Sports Radio 93.3 KJR-FM. “So obviously we felt really good about that.”
The Seahawks have their most loaded secondary since the Legion of Boom days now that they’ve added Witherspoon and veteran Julian Love to a group that already had Pro Bowlers Quandre Diggs, Jamal Adams and Tariq Woolen. With Smith-Njigba joining Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, they may have the NFL’s best trio of wide receivers. And there’s little doubt that they’ve narrowed the wide gap between themselves and a San Francisco 49ers team that outscored them by a combined 46 points over a three-game sweep last year.
But the biggest difference between the two division rivals was the front seven of each defense, and after the Seahawks swapped out six of the 10 defensive linemen and linebackers who played at least 375 snaps last season, it’s worth taking a look at where that overhaul has left them at those positions.
Additions: Dre’Mont Jones (UA), Jarran Reed (UFA), Cameron Young (fourth-round pick), Mike Morris (fifth-round pick), Robert Cooper (UDFA), Jordan Ferguson (UDFA), Jonah Tavai (UDFA), Ifeanyi Maijeh (UDFA)
This was the epicenter of the re-tooling up front, and for good reason — the Seahawks had one of the NFL’s worst run defenses last season and lacked a legitimate pass-rushing threat from the interior.
They made Jones the biggest free-agent splash of the Schneider/Carroll era with the expectation that he’ll be that type of player. Reed isn’t an obvious upgrade over Harris and he’s only one year younger, but the Seahawks brought him back for about half the price.
With only four defensive linemen on their roster heading into the draft — and one of them, Mone, coming off an injury that’s expected to keep him out for well past the start of the season — it wasn’t by design that the Seahawks waited until Day 3 to address this position. It’s how the board fell, with players they thought they’d have a shot at drafting going earlier than they expected.
That led them to Young (No. 123 overall) and Morris (No. 151).
Young, who projects as Seattle’s starting nose tackle, is an early-down run-stuffer whose play reminds the team of former Seahawk Ahtyba Rubin. At 6-foot-3 and 304 pounds, Young isn’t as heavy as Woods, but Carroll called him as stout of a player as there was in college football last season.
“When he puts his hands on people, they don’t move,” Schneider said.
Morris will be part of the rotation at defensive end. After playing all over Michigan’s defensive front then battling a high ankle sprain late last season, he trimmed down with an eye toward testing well at the combine. But then he bulked back up in anticipation of playing D-line in the NFL. The 6-foot-5 Morris sent the Seahawks a video on Day 3 of the draft showing him tipping the scale at 295 pounds, 20 more than he weighed at the combine.
“He’s a big guy,” Schneider said. “He’s long and he plays hard.”
The Seahawks had seven defensive linemen play at least 149 snaps last season. Excluding UDFAs, they only have five who will be ready by Week 1. So they could use at least one more veteran. But with their cash and cap constraints, don’t expect anything more than a minimum-salary addition. Woods and Ford signed elsewhere last week, so they’re no longer in play to return.
Additions: Derrick Hall (second-round pick), MJ Anderson (UDFA)
The Seahawks had good depth here, but needed another starter opposite Nwosu. Hall, chosen with the first of Seattle’s two second-round picks (No. 37), will compete with Taylor and Mafe for that job.
Hall was one of the most athletic edge defenders in this year’s class with a 4.55 40-yard dash and a 10-foot-7-inch broad jump. He was also a team captain and, as Schneider put it, Auburn’s “alpha dog.” According to the Seahawks’ website, the team gave him a first-round grade.
“He’s stout, he’s a penetrator, he really gets off, and he’s really fast,” Carroll said. “… Speed and power are really his strength, and he pursues the ball really well.”
The 35-year-old Irvin is leaning toward continuing his career after more-than-capably stepping into a starting role in his return to Seattle last season, but he’s an emergency option, as opposed to someone the Seahawks plan to bring back.
The Seahawks are better at inside linebacker — even if significantly older — with the 32-year-old Wagner back in the fold to essentially replace Barton.
The team has indicated that Brooks will remain the centerpiece of their defense once he’s healthy, implying that Wagner will no longer be an every-down player. But it’s not clear when Brooks will return from his January ACL tear. So for now, Wagner and Bush will be the two starters, with Jamal Adams moving up from strong safety to play linebacker in certain packages.
With the Seahawks declining Brooks’ fifth-year option for 2024, and Wagner and Bush both on one-year deals, their top three inside linebackers are scheduled to become free agents after this season. That made it noteworthy that they didn’t draft any long-term replacement options.