Some draft experts predict as many as 12 defensive linemen could go in the first round of this year's NFL draft, which starts Thursday. That would be the most since 2003.
The Seattle Seahawks are hoping one of those talented, disruptive athletes slips down the board and is available when they make their selection with the No. 25 overall pick.
Players that Seattle could consider to add depth on the defensive front in the first round include Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn, Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget, Baylor’s Phil Taylor, North Carolina’s Marvin Austin and Temple defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson.
“The defensive line is one of the true strengths of this year’s class,” said Rob Rang, senior draft analyst for NFLDraftScout.com “Not only the talent at the top, but the depth overall. Certainly for a team like Seattle, rarely are you able to find a defensive lineman worth the No. 25 overall pick, and the Sea–hawks might have a couple options.”
Through the first part of the 2010 season, solid defensive line play was a plus for the Seahawks.
Seattle ranked second overall in rushing defense through six games, giving up an average of just over 76 yards a contest. But when defensive end Red Bryant and defensive tackle Colin Cole went down with injuries against Oakland at midseason, the Seahawks failed to recover up front and the defense suffered.
The Seahawks allowed 239 rushing yards in a 33-3 pounding against the Raiders, and gave up an average of 144 yards a contest the rest of the season, going 3-7 down the stretch.
Bryant suffered a torn medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his right knee that required surgery, landing him on injured reserve for the rest of the season. Cole missed five games with a severe high ankle sprain. Add to that the four games defensive tackle Brandon Mebane missed because of an injured calf, and it’s clear why the Seahawks could be looking for defensive line help early in the draft.
Combined, Bryant, Cole and Mebane missed 18 games last season. And there’s no certainty that Mebane will return. The Cal product could be an unrestricted free agent this season, depending on what happens in the league’s labor dispute.
The Seahawks placed a third-round restricted tender on Mebane, in the event the lockout has ended and the league reverts to operating under the 2010 collective bargaining agreement rules, which would mean that Mebane would be a restricted free agent.
A third-round draft selection in 2007, Mebane originally signed a four-year deal worth nearly $3 million. Mebane has been a four-year starter for Seattle, averaging 40 tackles and 2.5 sacks a season. He has missed five games in four seasons.
Under the expired CBA, an original round tender for a player with four accrued seasons like Mebane carries a $1.275 million, non-guaranteed base salary in 2011.
So if another team signs Mebane to an offer sheet and Seattle does not to match, the Seahawks would receive a third-round pick as compensation.
However, there’s still uncertainty that Mebane would be a restricted free agent when the players and owners reach a new agreement. There’s a chance he could become an unrestricted free agent and be allowed to fully test the market.
Mebane should receive interest from other teams – such as Chicago, Denver, Carolina and Indianapolis – so under the current scenario, interested teams would likely be willing to give up a third-round pick to receive Mebane’s services.
The restricted tender provides some protection for Seattle, and demonstrates the Seahawks would like Mebane to return.
Seahawks general manager John Schneider said talks have gone well with Mebane’s representation, and he considers the defensive lineman one of the team’s core players.
But if Mebane leaves, the Seahawks may have some options to replace him through the draft.
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks/
Defensive linemen/linebackers to consider
Rob Rang, senior draft analyst with NFLDraftScout.com, reviews offensive linemen Seattle might select in each round of this year’s NFL draft.
First round, 25th pick: Muhammad Wilkerson, 6-4, 315, Temple
Rob’s rationale: An eerily similar prospect to the Seahawks’ Red Bryant, Wilkerson can rotate inside and out, providing the club with size, physical play, versatility and a high-running motor.
Second ROUND, 57th pick: Christian Ballard, 6-4, 283, Iowa
Rob’s rationale: More athletic than his more celebrated former linemate Adrian Clayborn, Ballard could surprise in the NFL.
Fourth round, 99th pick: Pierre Allen, 6-4, 273, Nebraska
Rob’s rationale: While not an explosive pass rusher, Allen showed consistent improvement throughout his career and is productive against the run and pass.
Fifth round, 156th, 157th picks: Greg Romeus, 6-5, 264, Pittsburgh
Rob’s rationale: Entered last season as one of the top DE prospects, but suffered injuries to his back, knee that ended his season early. The Seahawks gambled on the recovery of CB Walter Thurmond last year and could double-down with Romeus, the 2009 co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year.
Sixth round, 173th pick: Chris Neild, 6-2, 314, West Virginia
Rob’s rationale: He isn’t flashy, but he is a strong, tough interior defender who will carve out an NFL niche as a run-stuffer.
Seventh round, 209th and 242nd picks: Lazarius Levingston, 6-4, 292, LSU
Rob’s rationale: Besides possessing one of the great names of the 2011 draft, Levingston’s size and athleticism is worthy of a seventh-round gamble.