A position much in doubt for the Seahawks is the strongside linebacker spot. During the 2015 offseason, former Seattle SLB/DE Bruce Irvin signed with the Oakland Raiders. This left Seattle with a big hole, and no clear name to fill it. Mike Morgan became the solution in the frantic hunt, only decided after winning a preseason battle with fellow teammates Eric Pinkins and Cassius Marsh. Morgan battled injuries all year, and was never a solid fill-in. Thankfully, the inside linebacker spot and opposite outside job are secure for years to come. The Seahawks’ linebacker scouts have done their job very well in the past. That creates considerable hope they can find one more gem to complete the group. Here are some prospects who could realistically wear a Seahawk uniform come next season.
1. OLB Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt
Cunningham may be a reach in terms of falling to the 26th pick, but if he does, he’s exactly what Seattle would enjoy having on the edge. He certainly looks like he’d be more comfortable in a 4-3 system than 3-4 at the NFL level. Likely more suited to play the position that K.J. Wright currently holds, Cunningham’s speed and versatility provides optimism in terms of converting him to an edge rusher. He’s physical and unafraid of contact. Seattle would love to make him a day one starter and maybe shape their system to fit him a bit better. To many the third best linebacker option in this draft, he may be the earliest one the Seahawks can get their hands on. The deciding factor in him being the number one on this list is the front office’s love for versatile defenders.
2. OLB Takkarist McKinley, UCLA
Possibly the perfect fit for Seattle’s biggest front-seven hole, McKinley would fill SLB duties as well as anyone. Explosive and possessing extremely lanky arms, you couldn’t draw up a better edge rusher making his transition to the NFL. He’s got the talent and the build, but many are waiting on him to gain the strength. Used almost purely at linebacker instead of defensive-end could do him much justice; however, Seattle may need him to do both. There have been countless prospects that have put on the muscle needed to make the transition to the pros, and McKinley seems to have the work ethic to get there.
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3. OLB Tim Williams, Alabama
Another pure pass rusher, Williams could certainly fall to Seattle at the 26th pick. It all boils down to what the front office wants out of this position. For now, Williams would likely not be dropping into coverage in the NFL, at all. He possesses excellent pass rushing technique, but that’s about it. A simple forecast we can make based on Bruce Irvin’s time at Seattle’s SLB job: Williams would be dropped into coverage occasionally, at least eventually. While developing coverage skills, he could be an elite edge player in the league. He’s strong, tall (six-foot-three), and physical. He can maneuver around blockers or go right through them. Williams may be a tiny bit of a project but one that could pay off big.
4. OLB T.J. Watt, Wisconsin
About to become the third Watt on an NFL team today, T.J. has potential to be become one of the next great edge players in the league. Recording monster numbers this last year at Wisconsin, Watt is a clear-cut beast on the outside. Comparing nicely brother J.J. (but a bit smaller), his family ties alone are enough to make teams interested. His size makes defensive-end an option, with rushing from the linebacker position his strength. He also has shown good coverage ability, returning an interception for a touchdown in 2016. Those three components bode well for his case of being selected by Seattle, as they’re exactly what the team is looking for at the position.
5. OLB Ryan Anderson, Alabama
Having been described as “the most hateful player on Alabama’s defense”, Anderson possesses possibly the most professional-level mindset of all linebacker prospects. With the tenacity of “wanting to kill someone out there” as Alabama teammate Ronnie Harrison claimed he’s stated before, you better believe Anderson is hard and physical enough to be very successful in the NFL. Amassing monster numbers the last two seasons, that include 14 sacks and 28.5 tackles for a loss, he’s a leader and phenomenal player that any team would love to slot in on their defense. There isn’t as much hype surrounding him as one would think; he could be an easy pick even in the second round.
6. ILB Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State
Not a necessity, but a possible luxury for Seattle, McMillan is six-foot-two and 242 pounds. With correct tuning he could be an excellent linebacker in the Seahawks system, no matter what position he plays. He’s built much more like an inside linebacker, but if Seattle fails to find a fill-in on the outside a good run-stuffing wide-receiver-battering body could fit in nicely. Showing great intelligence in terms of play- ecognition, McMillan looks like a guy who could get moved around a bit early in his career until he really finds his niche. Physically, any team would love to have him, and Seattle is known for taking versatile players, and for building their team with the future in mind.
7. OLB/DE Charles Harris, Missouri
A guy who was a defensive end in college, Harris looks like a pure outside linebacker heading into the NFL. His build and length, coupled along with his outstanding pass rush ability makes him very appealing to linebacker scouts. With Seattle’s want for a guy who can play both end and backer, Harris has to be on their map. A simple comparison would be to that of Brian Orakpo, in terms of their body type and play style. Harris would definitely need some tuning, not being the most agile guy, but with improvements on coverage ability he could certainly be an option for Seattle.
8. OLB Haason Reddick, Temple
Another pass rush specialist, Reddick at least has potential to grow into more. His size will pose problems playing in a 3-4 system, but could succeed being moved about the linebacker position in hopes of finding him a home. His quickness and great open field tackling technique provides much potential to shore up some of Seattle’s needs. Recording 21.5 tackles for loss in 2016, Reddick’s talent and athleticism could outweigh his size deficiencies.
9. ILB Jarrad Davis, Florida
A player that could certainly do some damage in the future, Davis is an intriguing option. As with the lone other inside prospect on this list, he holds a possibility of moving outside. His biggest knock occurs in his size, as he stands just six-foot-one inch tall. However, his athleticism in terms of speed and finesse could make the move outside an option. Davis is excellent in the blitz, baring down and running through the line of scrimmage and shedding blockers with force, all while keeping his eyes on either the quarterback or ball-carrier. This ability can be vital on the outside, while being nearly a necessity on the inside. What Seattle would choose to do if they select him would be interesting to watch unfold.
10. OLB/DE Derek Rivers, Youngstown State
Rivers seems to possess all the needed attributes of a successful outside linebacker or defensive end in today’s NFL. Tall and thick with long arms, he seems to be a very natural pass rusher. His strength is a bit of a question mark, but athleticism may help to outweigh that. The speed is there, and he has a variety of moves to slip past blockers and disrupt plays before they can get started. Could easily play in a two or three-point stance at the NFL level, and that is exactly what Seattle is looking for.
I’ll be watching the draft just like you, hoping the Legion of Boom can add another great player. We’ll see if it’s one of the ten great prospects above.