Every week during the 2021 NFL season, we’re going to — just being honest here — overreact to what we’ve seen on the field for a different NFL team and begin projecting NFL draft prospects at positions of concerning need.
Think of it as a mini one-team mock draft, with early (Rounds 1-2), middle (Rounds 3-4) and late (Rounds 5-7) prospects at each team’s respective position of concern.
This week’s NFL draft makeover is for the Seattle Seahawks.
Following a 17-0 shutout at the hands of the Green Bay Packers, the Seattle Seahawks fell to last place in the NFC West with a record of 3-6. This coming Sunday, the first-place Arizona Cardinals make the trip to to Lumen Field.
The last time a Pete Carroll-coached team started 3-6 was in his second season in Seattle. That year, the Seahawks won five of six down the stretch and put themselves back in contention before losing the final two games and finishing 7-9.
All indications are that the Seahawks will play out the string and will not be punting on the 2021 season. “I feel great about where we can go still,” Russell Wilson said after the Packers loss.
But if the team doesn’t pull itself out of the doldrums, what happens in the offseason? Will Wilson demand a trade? Would the Seahawks try to convince him to stay?
It feels like we’re embarking a flashpoint for the franchise that has the second-best team winning percentage since Wilson was drafted in 2012 (.655).
If Wilson hits the market, the trade return could be massive — likely multiple first-round picks, and then some. But if they try to run it back with Wilson and what few assets they have, the Seahawks will need to be very precise in addressing their needs to return to prominence.
Seattle lacks a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft, via the Jamal Adams trade, and a sixth-rounder from the Sidney Jones deal. That first-round pick currently sits in the top 10, which has to sting. The Seahawks do receive a fourth-rounder back from the Jets to complete the Adams trade but are expected to receive no compensatory selections. But it’s clear they’ll be dealing from a shorter draft deck — for now.
The Seahawks are projected to be somewhere north of $50 million under the salary cap but have several free agents to account for, including difference makers in left tackle Duane Brown (who turns 37 in August) and safety Quandre Diggs.
Assuming they can keep Wilson — or find a commensurate-level replacement at QB, a tall order — the Seahawks must attack some very specific shortcomings through the draft to improve. Here’s one possible road map toward achieving that.
Georgia CB Derion Kendrick
The Seahawks are no stranger to having no first-rounder, making a Round 1 selection only four times in the past nine drafts. They’ve adopted a strategy of trading picks for veterans or trading out of the first round under GM John Schneider.
It has kept the team competitive, with playoff appearances in seven of the past nine seasons and no fewer than nine victories each year in that span. But it also has hurt the team’s young talent base. So have some questionable higher-round picks that have failed to meet expectations for myriad reasons.
As such, we felt that a relatively high-floor prospect, talent-wise, with immediate starting potential was in order here. But it wouldn’t be a top Seahawks pick without a little bit of edge to it.
Kendrick might be a first-round pick, and a fairly high one, if his character evaluation was cleaner. Scouts say there were some incidents that led to his dismissal at Clemson, which was followed by an arrest in May on gun and drug charges.
So far this season on a great Bulldogs defense, Kendrick has two interceptions, has allowed only 50% completions against him and has been an active run defender. He’s also cut back on the grabbiness he was known for earlier in his career. Although he’s lean-framed, Kendrick is believed to have enough arm length — something in which Seattle puts a lot of stock — to pass the team’s muster.
His pre-draft interviews will be crucial. Could he work into the first-round picture, a la Deandre Baker in 2019? It’s possible. The team that drafts Kendrick will be getting a talented player but one whose trustworthiness from a character standpoint must be carefully investigated.
The Seahawks will take character risks as an organization in certain cases. That’s certainly one way to land a first-round talent without the benefit of having a first-round pick. Plus, it’s one of the team’s bigger needs, even with a good statistical performance by the defense this season.
Georgia OL Jamaree Salyer
Another big need, one we considered addressing with the team’s early-round selection, is the offensive line. Ultimately, when we conducted our mock scenarios, the right fit and value didn’t present itself in the early second round. But in the middle rounds, there should be ample OL talent worth taking in that range.
Right now, we view Salyer has a top-100 prospect with the potential to crack the first two rounds. That puts him close to the area where the Seahawks could be picking in Round 3, and they’re seldom afraid of moving up for the right prospect. That’s how we landed on back-to-back Bulldogs for this experiment.
Salyer has played all five line positions in college, giving him unique appeal to a team such as the Seahawks. Independent of whether they re-sign Brown or make other OL maneuvers before the draft, adding a versatile piece capable of filling multiple spots.
Our best guess is that Salyer’s best NFL home will be inside, either at guard or center. The Seahawks have experimented with moving blockers with more experience elsewhere to center, first with Justin Britt and later with Ethan Pocic. With Pocic injury-prone and due to hit free agency, a player such as Salyer — or perhaps more of a true center — could step right in as a rookie starter, similar to how third-rounder Damien Lewis did a few years ago.
Salyer’s build is a bit unusual. He’s on the shorter side at 6-foot-3 but carries his 340 pounds well, has long arms (34 inches) and is surprisingly athletic for his mass. Salyer churns his legs in the run game, and improving that aspect of the offense must take precedence for Seattle this offseason.
Coastal Carolina TE Isaiah Likely
The Seahawks have adapted some elements of the Rams’ offense into their own after bringing on offensive coordinator Shane Waldron and OL coach Andy Dickerson from Sean McVay’s staff. One of the byproducts has been an increased usage of multiple tight-end sets, with only a handful of teams (including the Rams) using more two- and three-TE formations this season.
They’ve been fairly effective, too, usually pairing a detached tight end (often Gerald Everett) with more of a true “Y” in-line option (often Will Dissly). But Everett is a free agent-to-be, and the Seahawks don’t have a lot of depth here. They’re also in need of offensive playmakers of any shape and size.
That’s how we’ve landed on Likely, a fascinating athlete who can be a mismatch piece in the right system. Over the past two seasons to date, Likely has averaged 18 yards a catch and caught 14 TDs over his past 20 games. He entered the season at a well-sculpted 240 pounds at 6-foot-4 with 33-inch arms. Drops were an issue during his breakout 2020 campaign, but he’s improved on that this season.
Likely uses his athleticism, concentration and length to high-point passes downfield and can make some acrobatic grabs in stride. He lines up mostly in-line for the Chanticleers but also flexes into the slot (where we think he’ll make his most hay in the NFL), lines up wide, pops into the backfield as an offset fullback in an atypical offensive system.
Right now, we believe he’ll land somewhere in the fourth or fifth rounds, although postseason workouts and testing could push him up somewhat. He’s also expected to receive strong character grades from teams as an excellent student and given his leadership qualities. Likely is a Day 3 pick with some nice upside who fits what the Seahawks could use.