During an August 3 press conference, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll fielded a question that's been on everyone's mind since the draft: where will versatile first-round linebacker Jordyn Brooks fit into the Seahawks defense as a rookie?
"I think his clearest path and what might be the most obvious path would be at the WILL backer spot," Carroll said. "We'll see how that goes, we'll start him there, and then see how fast he can grasp it and how soon he can become comfortable and we'll see."
The assignment is tentative. Schneider selected the Texas Tech recruit largely because he's been able to play all three linebacker spots previously, adding versatility and flexibility to a positional unit that already ranked among the NFL's best.
"I think the spot that makes sense to us at this point...he can play all three spots in linebacker," Carroll said. "He's physically capable, and I've seen enough film of him—I mean, there's a lot of film of him playing all different spots. I know in his background, any college guy who came to us, you know, 'You would love to have seen what we've seen in him.' He started for four years, and he's had thousands of snaps, so the flexibility is there."
Brroks is both physically and mentally flexible, switching positions as the Red Raiders needed him. He dominated at middle linebacker during his senior year, recording 108 tackles (66 solo), including an impressive 20.0 that went for a loss from his inside linebacker spot. The elusive Brooks notched a remarkable 4.54 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, placing him in the 89th percentile amongst linebackers.
Brooks may be fast and hard-hitting, but he's not knocking future Hall of Famer Bobby Wagner out of the middle linebacker spot. With his athletic build, WILL makes the most sense for the accomplished rookie. The issue is that the WILL spot has belonged to K.J. Wright over the past nine years and he remains on the roster after a strong bounce back 2019 season. Bruce Irvin was also brought back and could play snaps at the strongside linebacker position, further complicating matters.
Carroll doesn't see the surplus of capable linebackers as a problem - instead, it presents an opportunity for more diverse, unpredictable play calling.
"And that's why it just goes back to competition and we'll see how it all plays itself out," Carroll said.
"K.J. has been a fantastic player, might have had his best year for us last year, Bobby's at the top of his game, and we're thrilled to have Bruce back, but that doesn't mean that all those guys don't play at the same time and all four of those guys are on the field at the same time. There's options for how we can do that that we've worked out and the competition will settle it. I'm not concerned about it at all—the competition will tell us what we need to do here because the options are all there for us."
If there's anyone on the defense with job security like Wagner, it's Wright. Since entering the league, Wright has dominated the weakside linebacker position for close to a decade. He is currently the longest-tenured Seahawks player, devoting nine years to the team with substantial recognition. The Super Bowl winner and 2016 Pro Bowl selection just signed a two-year, $15.5 million contract extension in March 2019 and he delivered on his end of the deal. Wright finished the season 11th in total tackles in the NFL with 132, not far far behind 2019's NFL tackle leader and teammate Wagner with 159.
Irvin is a definite starter as well, signing a one-year, $5.5 million contract with the team back in March. The former Seahawk was sought after in free agency, which left many to question Schneider's decision to choose Brooks 27th overall. But he could see significant action as a defensive end rushing off the edge too.
The analysts may have doubted their decision, but Schneider and Carroll clearly have some ideas on how to make it all work. When asked about their decision to choose Brooks over a much-needed edge rusher in the first round, Carroll hinted at Brooks' versatility coming to play.
“We just found a guy that could check all of the boxes,” Carroll said after the draft. “We love his attitude, like John said, it’s just his mentality.”
Addressing edge rusher concerns, the Seahawks traded up to get Tennessee edge rusher Darrell Taylor with the 48th pick, snagging two top-tier defensive talents in the first 50 picks. If anything can be said about the Schneider era, it's that unexpected draft picks in the earlier rounds sometimes make the best players - just ask Wagner, who was picked 47th in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Though equipped with valuable veterans, Wagner and Wright aren't getting any younger and infusing young talent at the linebacker position was a must. Despite having two of the top 15 linebackers, the Seahawks defense ranked in the bottom half of every defensive category in the NFL.
The nimble Brooks could line up at the WILL spot and sneak through offensive lines like new teammate Jamal Adams - both have been known to land their share of quarterback sacks and tackles for loss in the backfield. With a dynamic Diggs/Adams combo set to shake up the secondary, a four-man linebacker crew could wreck oncoming offenses to clear the path to an NFC West title and a deep postseason run.