Seahawks Combine Confidential: Defensive End/EDGE
INDIANAPOLIS – Speaking with the media for the first time since the Seahawks fell just short in a 28-23 playoff loss to the Packers, coach Pete Carroll wasted little time addressing his team’s most obvious, evident flaw heading towards free agency.
Just moments after taking the podium in Indianapolis, Carroll reflected on a successful 11-win season by immediately pointing out Seattle’s defensive performance wasn’t up to par, in large part due to the chronic inability to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
“Pass rush is something that we are really focusing on,” Carroll said on Tuesday. “We really liked the way we turned the ball over last year. We got the ball a lot made some nice plays and stuff that gave us a chance, but we need to do some things more consistently and that’s rush the passer.”
Even after signing veteran Ziggy Ansah and acquiring Jadeveon Clowney via trade in August, the Seahawks finished 28th in the NFL in sacks and ranked in the bottom five of the league for pressure rate and quarterback hits. By all measures, the group underachieved and injuries played a substantial role in those struggles.
To put the Seahawks’ pass rushing problems in perspective, second-year defensive end Rasheem Green led the team with 4.0 sacks. Only Clowney and Quinton Jefferson reached double-digit quarterback hits in the regular season.
“It was hard to figure out,” general manager John Schneider elaborated. “You know, we were moving the quarterback, we just weren't necessarily... the sack numbers just weren't there. You know, some people, some analytics people, would say sacks end drives, so sacks are important. And then some analytics guys would say, as long as you are moving the quarterback you are fine. But we just have to play better on defense. And, obviously, it starts up front.”
With Clowney, Jefferson, and Jarran Reed all set to hit free agency next month, the Seahawks hope to be able to retain at least two of those players. But even if all three return somehow, finding additional pass rushing help will be imperative if the organization wants to make a deeper playoff run.
Though this year’s class lacks the big names and depth of its 2019 predecessor, Seattle will have plenty of quality pass rushers to choose from with three selections in the first two rounds of April’s draft.
Here are four defensive ends and hybrid EDGE defenders who have met with the Seahawks, would be excellent fits in the team's 4-3 scheme, and help fix the team’s pass rushing woes.
Emerging as one of the country’s most disruptive edge defenders at Penn State, Gross-Matos set a career-high with 9.0 sacks in 2019 and garnered his second straight First-Team All-Big Ten selection. He wrapped up his career with 18.5 sacks and 36.5 tackles for loss, proving to be one of the best all-around ends in the nation.
Gross-Matos overcame unthinkable tragedy during his childhood to become a top prospect, losing his father at the age of two in a boating accident and later losing his older brother after he was struck by lightning at a little league baseball game. Battling through the adversity, he’s widely viewed as a first-round caliber talent and could be one of the first defensive ends selected.
"I think the biggest thing," Gross-Matos said. "Is just staying positive throughout all the things that I’ve faced in my life. And just keep working. Being sad and moping around is not going to change anything."
Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 260 pounds with 34 7/8-inch arms, Gross-Matos looks and plays like a prototypical 4-3 base defensive end and has the athleticism to play the LEO position as well. With a strong combine showing, he may be gone well before Seattle picks at No. 27 overall, but he should be the team’s top target given his skill set as well as the adversity he has overcome to reach this point.
Anae lacks the sheer athleticism of Gross-Matos and there are some lingering questions about his consistency defending the run, but he may be the more refined player of the two heading into the draft and put up gaudy numbers at Utah, finishing with 29.5 sacks and 40 tackles for loss in four seasons. He was also a third-team All-American selection in 2019.
An antagonist off the edge, the 6-foot-3, 257-pound Anae exhibits a relentless motor and has enough burst to go with his physical play style to beat opposing tackles in a variety of ways. After starting three seasons on a well-coached Utah defense, he’s developed multiple quality counter moves, with his most effective being a devastating long-arm move to create separation against blockers.
Lack of length (32 1/8 inch arms) and bend turning the corner on tackles will likely lead to the well-rounded Anae dropping out of the first round conversation, but with two second-round selection, the Seahawks should have a lot of interest in this feisty defensive end. And as shown by picking Marquise Blair and Cody Barton on day two last year, the Seahawks love to draft Utes defenders.
From a production standpoint, Okwara never quite lived up to his potential at Notre Dame and a broken fibula prematurely ended a disappointing senior season. After posting 8.0 sacks and 12 tackles for loss as a junior, his numbers regressed substantially last year with just 5.0 sacks and seven tackles for loss.
But while Okwara’s stat line doesn’t stack up with some of his other peers, he shows better on film, showcasing elite speed off the edge with his hand in the dirt, improving run defense at the point of attack, and the ability to drop into coverage in a pinch. At 6-foot-4, 252 pounds, he offers the versatility teams covet in today’s NFL, which is trending towards being position-less in some aspects.
Due to the fact his pass rushing production mostly resulted from winning with his athletic gifts, drafting Okwara in the first-round would be a bit of a gamble. He needs to develop his pass rushing toolbox with a few reliable counter moves to couple with his explosiveness, but as a second-round option, he has as high of a ceiling as any hybrid EDGE defender in this draft class.
Speaking of versatility, Baun presents one of the most unique stories of any prospect in Indianapolis. Originally signing with Wisconsin after excelling as an option quarterback at the high school level, he transitioned to linebacker, where he evolved from a little-used reserve into a Second-Team All-American by his senior season.
“I think quarterback for me is a very broad term because I didn’t do much passing the ball in high school," Baun smiled. "I ran the ball a lot. With that being said, we were in a spread offense and did a lot of zone reads so playing on the edge in college taught me to be patient. In high school, they were just crashing down and giving the quarterback the option, so just being patient. It helped with my athleticism as well.”
At just 230 pounds, Baun may lack the size to play extensively off the edge in the NFL, but he has as explosive of a first step as any edge rusher in this class and produced 12.5 sacks last season. He also received at least an 80.0 grade from Pro Football Focus in coverage each of the past two seasons. He plays the game with an edge and an old school feel, consistently delivering big hits on opponents.
Exhibiting a high football IQ and offering the positional diversity to play defensive end, outside linebacker, and potentially inside linebacker, depending on scheme, Baun will be in high demand in April. From Seattle’s perspective, he would make sense as a possible SAM linebacker hybrid or a LEO defensive end.