Ken Norton Jr., Seahawks Believe Stephen Sullivan Can Develop Into Quality Edge Rusher
Coming out of college, it was assumed Seahawks rookie Stephen Sullivan would be positioned on the offensive side of the football at either receiver or tight end. However, the former LSU product is now being tasked with learning a new position during his first NFL season.
After sending a future sixth-round pick to Miami to move back into the seventh-round back in the 2020 NFL Draft, Seattle selected Sullivan with the hope of being able to develop him into an impactful offensive weapon. But after initially cutting him from their roster out of training camp, the club re-signed the 23-year old to the practice squad and have recently been trying him out on defense.
Despite splitting time as a receiver and a tight end over his four collegiate seasons, the Seahawks believe the former Tiger’s 6-foot-5 frame and 4.66 40-yard dash speed could potentially help him become an effective defensive end. Since he’s limited to practice duties anyway, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. feels this is the best way to maximize the youngster’s value while also providing additional depth at a valuable defensive position at the same time.
“You look at Sully [Sullivan], he has that length, that speed, and that look of the great pass rushers,” Norton explained. “He has a lot of good speed and when you have the ability to develop on the practice squad like we do, you do what you can to try to make sure guys can help you in all these positions.”
Considering Seattle features plenty of quality players at the tight end and receiver positions, moving Sullivan to another spot makes a ton of sense, as this adds versatility to his game and it could also help him make his NFL debut a lot sooner as well. That being said, this positional change will be a long-term project and likely require extensive practice work before he's ready for live reps in an actual game setting.
While the talented young prospect is expected to experience some growing pains as he changes positions, the team is confident in Sullivan's ability to utilize his raw skills and apply them as a member of their defensive line. Though he’s only been practicing at that spot for a few weeks, Norton Jr. is already extremely pleased with how quickly the Louisiana native has adjusted to his new role.
“He’s a guy that you certainly want to see if he can use that length and speed and turn into a pass rusher,” Norton discussed. “So he has been there for a few weeks now and he’s been very impressive, watching how quickly he’s been able to pick it up. So we’re still in the development stage for him, but certainly he’s a guy that we have our eyes on.”
Over his first three seasons with the Tigers, Sullivan was positioned as a receiver and played 26 games, producing 34 catches, 582 receiving yards, three receiving touchdowns, and a rushing touchdown. But after making the switch to the tight end spot, the explosive pass catcher played six games and produced just 12 receptions for 130 yards during his senior campaign.
This isn't the first time Seattle has attempted to transition an offensive player to the defensive side of the football. Back in 2011, Jameson Konz moved from tight end to the LEO defensive end position and played one game before tearing his ACL. The team also used a sixth-round pick on Obum Gwacham in 2015, a former receiver who moved to defensive end late in his career at Oregon State.
Even though changing from offense to defense is never an easy process for any player and there's no guarantee he sticks at defensive end, Sullivan actually owns a little experience in that matter, as he spent some time at the position during his senior season at Donaldsonville High School. Still, as Norton mentioned, the former seventh-round selection certainly has a ton of work ahead of him as he attempts to change positions at the highest level of competition.
“I’ve seen some high school clips of him, so he was a killer in high school but it’s been a while. He’s certainly a guy that has that ability to lengthen the speed that you look for in that position, so why not give him a shot and see how he looks.”