Coming off a strong finish to the 2020 season, the Seahawks continued to emphasize bolstering their pass rush in free agency, re-signing Carlos Dunlap and Benson Mayowa along with adding ex-49ers starter Kerry Hyder in a flurry of moves.
Unfortunately, those moves came at a cost. In order to afford bringing back Dunlap specifically, general manager John Schneider tried to restructure defensive tackle Jarran Reed's contract and add a void year to lower his cap hit. When the player refused, Seattle ultimately released him and he promptly found his way to Kansas City, leaving the team with a significant hole in the middle of the defensive line.
While Dunlap and Hyder have publicly expressed confidence that the Seahawks have the pieces in place already to withstand Reed's absence, finding a viable long-term replacement remains on Schneider's agenda. Could West Virginia standout Darius Stills provide an instant solution at the 3-tech role?
Stills' calling card is an unrelenting motor and contagious energy, as he runs hot each and every snap he's on the field and teammates feed off of it. He's constantly hand fighting to find his way into the pocket and will track down plays outside of the box in pursuit. As evidenced in a win over Kansas last season, he's never out of a play, as he flew out of nowhere to make a spectacular diving interception off a batted pass.
Though undersized at 6-foot-1, 280 pounds, like current Seahawks starter Poona Ford, Stills' lack of height actually proves beneficial winning the leverage battle. He consistently plays with a low pad level that allows him to hold his own against larger offensive linemen and then uses his quickness and toolbox of developed counters such as a quality swim move to slip past blocks.
Few defensive tackles in the 2021 draft class have as quick of a first step as Stills, who has the ability to penetrate gaps and wreak havoc in the backfield both as a run defender and a pass rusher. Highly disruptive and active with his hands at the point of attack, he produced 12 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, and a pair of forced fumbles for the Mountaineers as a junior. He followed up with 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in nine games in 2020.
Running a sub-5.00-second 40-yard dash and 7.21-second 3-cone drill at West Virginia's pro day, Stills has plus-athletic traits for a 3-tech defensive tackle. His combination of speed and agility make him a threat to collapse the pocket on tackle/end twist stunts, which he did regularly at the college level.
Whichever team selects Stills in the draft will need to harness his aggression against the run, as he has a tendency to freelance at times and consequently abandons gap responsibilities. Sometimes this works in his favor, but if he isn't able to make a play, this lack of discipline creates huge creases for opposing backs to work with and leaves teammates hanging out to dry.
Unlike Ford, Stills has short, stubby 32 1/4-inch arms, which makes it more challenging for him to compensate for his lack of height and mass. When blockers get into his frame, he can be bullied at times and can be quickly driven off the ball on down blocks. He becomes too reliant on trying to work around a block rather than through it, which can inadvertently create gaps.
Fit in Seattle
Since John Schneider took over as general manager in 2010, the Seahawks have never drafted a defensive tackle under 291 pounds. Stills would be quite an outlier hovering around 280 pounds, weighing closer to the range the team looks for at defensive end.
But Stills does meet all of the athletic thresholds Seattle covets at the position and the organization knows first-hand that "small" defensive tackles can do plenty of damage in today's NFL. Given those traits, his high-octane motor, and bevy of polished counter moves, he has the potential to be an immediate contributor as a pass rusher from the interior, which would help fill the void of Reed's departure.
If Stills lasts into day three as most draft pundits anticipate, having already had a Zoom visit with the Seahawks earlier in the offseason, he could be a top target to help address a position of short and long-term need as early as the fourth round.