With the Jaguars set to go on the clock with the first overall selection on April 29, the 2021 NFL Draft is less than a week away as a new class of players will be ushered into the league.
Due to a series of trades, including acquiring safety Jamal Adams from the Jets for a pair of first-round picks and a third-round pick, the Seahawks will enter the festivities with only three total selections. Making the situation worse, only one of those picks falls in the first 120 selections, limiting the possibility of landing a blue chip talent.
Based on general manager John Schneider's history, it would be an absolute stunner if Seattle doesn't add multiple picks during the draft by trading down and/or sending future draft picks to get back into the draft. But for this exercise, I will be searching for viable alternatives for the Seahawks to pick at each position group with their three native selections.
In part seven of the series, Seattle used three draft picks on linebackers over the past two years, including selecting Jordyn Brooks in the first round in 2020. But with K.J. Wright still unsigned and Bruce Irvin leaning towards retirement, could the organization make another investment at the position?
Second Round - Pick No. 56
Baron Browning, Ohio State
Measuring in at 6-foot-3, 241 pounds with 33-inch arms and 4.56 40-yard dash speed, Browning is an athletic playmaker who can play all three linebacker spots. While he can be fooled by misdirection at times, he has the ability to run down plays the full width of the field while also possessing the strength and toughness to rip off blocks and secure tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage. He also has made strides in coverage, showcasing the quickness and versatility to cover tight ends and running backs. He still has ample room to grow in that aspect and he wasn't much of a factor as a blitzer most of his time with the Buckeyes, so he's far from a finished product. But he's one of the best linebacker prospects in this class and if he somehow slips to No. 56 overall, Seattle would be foolish not to seriously consider him as a successor to Wright.
Jabril Cox, LSU
Successfully making the transition from North Dakota State to LSU as a graduate transfer, Cox immediately surfaced as a defensive playmaker in the SEC. Displaying rare ball skills for a player at his position, he produced 26 passes defensed and nine interceptions in his college career, including returning one for a touchdown for the Tigers in 2020. He's a reactive linebacker dropping into zone and has shown proficiency against tight ends, running backs, and even slot receivers in man coverage. If there's an area of concern for NFL teams, he struggled against the run during his lone season in Baton Rouge and will need to do a better job of attacking blockers and keeping his play-side shoulder free. But Cox is renowned for his work ethic and should be able to improve in that area. His standout coverage skills and potential as a blitzer would make him a fun sidekick to put next to Wagner and Brooks and he could grow into a SAM linebacker in time.
Pete Werner, Ohio State
In terms of natural fits to play the SAM position in Seattle, Werner might be the best candidate when considering size, length, production, and athletic traits. Weighing 238 pounds, he's a bit heavier than most other alternatives in this class and he put on a show at the Buckeyes' pro day, running a 4.61-second 40-yard dash and 6.90-second 3-cone drill along with a 38 1/2-inch vertical jump. While those athletic traits don't always translate on the field and he can be gobbled up by blockers at times in the run game due to a lean lower body, he's in constant pursuit and delivers big hits when he reaches his destination. Though he isn't well-equipped to defend running backs and slots, he also has enough quickness and fluidity to cover tight ends at the next level. A high floor prospect who understands how to play the game, he could play right away in Wright's stead if Seattle opts to go that direction in round two.
Chazz Surratt, North Carolina
A former top quarterback recruit, Surratt made a remarkable transition to linebacker for the Tar Heels before the 2019 season coming off a broken wrist injury, producing 206 tackles, 12.5 sacks, and a pair of interceptions while earning First-Team All-ACC honors each of the past seasons. While a bit undersized at 230 pounds and still a relative novice at his position liable to still make mistakes as he learns, he's a fantastic athlete whose noticeable strides in coverage were noticeable during 7-on-7 drills in the Senior Bowl and offers pass rushing upside when playing off the edge and blitzing. His lack of length and a lean frame would seem to take him out of the running for playing SAM linebacker, where he would see extensive action near the line of scrimmage. But on the flip side, his electric playmaking ability as a rusher and budding coverage skills could be enticing at the position for the Seahawks.
Fourth Round - Pick No. 129
Derrick Barnes, Purdue
Boasting ample experience both at inside linebacker and defensive end, the 238-pound Barnes excelled for the Boilermakers playing off ball and in the trenches. In his first full year as a starter in 2018, he racked up 92 tackles at linebacker, exhibiting sound tackling technique and a nose for finding the football. The next year, he spent more time off the edge and consistently won with power against opposing blockers, tying for the team lead with 7.5 sacks and adding 11 tackles for loss. Returning to linebacker, he followed up with 54 tackles in just six games during a COVID-shortened senior season and shined at his pro day, running a 4.58-second 40-yard dash and jumping 37 inches vertically. Given his versatility, motor, and underrated athleticism, Barnes could play SAM linebacker or learn behind Bobby Wagner in the middle as an early day three selection for Seattle.
Ernest Jones, South Carolina
From a versatility standpoint, Jones doesn't offer the same positional flexibility Barnes does. He didn't rush the passer often and on the few occasions where he did blitz, he wasn't very productive generating pressure on quarterbacks. Though he did pick off a pair of passes during the 2019 season, he also wasn't overly effective in coverage due to average athleticism. However, he may be the superior run defender of the two, dishing out the punishment to ball carriers and rarely missing tackles. He also uses his 33 3/8-inch arms effectively to stack and shed blocks, which would make him a prime candidate to play SAM linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. He's a bit more unrefined than some of his linebacker brethren in this draft class and has clear coverage limitations, but his run defense and ability to diagnose screens would make him a natural to replace Wright in Seattle.
Chris Rumph, Duke
Rumph primarily played defensive end for the Blue Devils, but his smallish frame (6-foot-3, 244 pounds) and issues being bogged down against bigger tackles may prevent him from being able to play the position full-time in the NFL. Instead, he should present teams with an intriguing strongside linebacker conversion candidate. He offers the athletic fluidity to be able to drop back into coverage on occasion and after producing a career-high 8.5 sacks as a junior, whoever drafts him will still want to provide opportunities for him to pin his ears back and rush off the edge. Technically refined and possessing an elite first step off the snap coupled with a high football IQ, he could develop into a Bruce Irvin-type player in Seattle's scheme with proper coaching and development.
Charles Snowden, Virginia
Snowden qualifies as another "tweener" who possesses quality athletic traits and lacks in the play strength department. Though he's a long 6-foot-6 with 35-inch arms, he weighed in at only 243 pounds and wasn't able to participate in drill work due to recovery from a broken ankle, creating more questions about his positional fit at the next level. On tape, he exhibits quality burst coming off the edge but looks unpolished in terms of hand usage and executing a pass rush plan. As a former high school basketball player, his athleticism can be best visualized dropping into coverage, where he displays surprising change of direction skills for a player of his size and has the quicks to defend tight ends. He's a bit of a project with boom-or-bust potential, but he's another player offering tantalizing upside as a hybrid SAM in Seattle's 4-3 scheme.
Seventh Round - Pick No. 250
Amen Ogbongbemiga, Oklahoma State
A pure run-and-chase linebacker, Ogbongbemiga used his athleticism to rack up 180 tackles and 20.5 tackles for loss during his final two seasons with the Cowboys. His initial burst and quickness gave him an advantage as a blitzer, as he was able to amass 7.5 sacks during those two seasons and proved disruptive in that capacity. But at 6-foot-1, 231 pounds, he has a long way to go when it comes to disengaging from blocks, which will make life much tougher for him at the next level. He also hasn't proven himself to be reliable in coverage and will require coaching in that area to become an every down linebacker in the league. He's likely not a SAM candidate in Seattle, at least initially, but in the seventh round, he could be viewed as a hedge behind an aging Wagner.
Nick Niemann, Iowa
Stuck behind several quality linebackers, including Josey Jewell, Niemann didn't see extensive snaps until his sophomore year and injuries limited him to just 10 games. He didn't resurface as a full time starter until 2020, but the Illinois native shined in a shortened season, registering 77 tackles and a fumble recovery in eight games while earning Third-Team All-Big Ten recognition. At 6-foot-3, 234 pounds, he's a bit lean in the lower body and can get caught playing too high at the point of attack. But he plays a physical, gritty brand of football, understands how to use his hands effectively against blockers, and his 4.51 40-yard dash speed was evident in pursuit sideline to sideline. With a bit more weight added to his frame and improvements in coverage, he could play off the ball or as a SAM for the Seahawks while offering special teams value.
Curtis Robinson, Stanford
A former five-star recruit who achieved his dream of playing at Stanford, Robinson's struggled to live up to the hype upon his arrival in Palo Alto. He made just 35 combined tackles in his first two years on campus and then missed all but two games in a redshirt 2018 campaign. But the 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker found his stride during his last two seasons with 108 combined tackles and though his performance was uneven throughout his college career, his speed and length allowed him to flash as run defender, particularly when it came to setting the edge. After turning in a fantastic pro day performance, including posting a 38-inch vertical jump and 7.00-second 3-cone drill, the Seahawks could consider him as a size/traits-based prospect with enough upside to eventually develop into a starting SAM.