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Why Jadeveon Clowney May Not Be Seahawks Biggest Defensive Line Departure in 2020

Still unsigned, the Seahawks have taken plenty of criticism for not bringing back Jadeveon Clowney. But while losing the former top overall pick would be a major blow, he might not even be the most significant departure on Seattle's line this season.
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The running theme of the entire offseason not just in Seattle, but the entire NFL, has  been trying to figure out when Jadeveon Clowney will sign and who he will sign with.

It's almost August, training camp is looming, and we still do not know.

Obviously, losing Clowney leaves a huge hole on the Seahawks' defense. Despite his low sack total (3.0), advanced stats indicated Clowney was a human wrecking ball for most of the 2019 season. Pro Football Focus gave Clowney an 87.3 grade last season, 10th-best among pass rushers.

However, despite all that, a case can be made that the Seahawks will miss defensive tackle/defensive end/anything-else-they-needed Quinton Jefferson more than Clowney, who departed in free agency and signed with the Bills for a two-year, $13.8 million deal. 

It might seem laughable on the surface to say such a thing, when Jefferson started just 12 games last year and was mainly a depth piece, a Swiss Army knife of sorts for most of his four-year stint with Seattle. Meanwhile, Clowney is a three-time Pro Bowler. However, looking at what Seattle is lacking heading into the 2020 season, Jefferson's skill set may be the most missed.

First off, Jefferson had a career year in 2019, with 3.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hits, both were second-best on the squad and the former better than Clowney's total. These numbers came while playing just 55 percent of Seattle's defensive snaps. 

Jefferson's 10 quarterback hits were as many as perennial Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and his 16 percent win rate was fifth-best among defensive tackles last year. 

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But his versatility is what will be missed the most. Jefferson is a quality option at both the 3-tech defensive tackle and 5-tech defensive end spots. These are arguably the two shallowest positions on Seattle's defense at the moment depth-wise. He lined up all over the defensive line, not just exclusively at those two spots.

Clowney was more of a LEO defensive end and the Seahawks have gone to the well several times to replenish at that position. From signing Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa in free agency to drafting Darrell Taylor out of Tennessee, one of the best pass rushers in the SEC, as well as Alton Robinson, who had 10 sacks for Syracuse in 2018, the LEO position has healthy competition despite Clowney's departure.

In contrast, the two main spots Jefferson previously occupied are anything but steady. Of course, at defensive tackle, one can assume Jarran Reed and Poona Ford will hold down the fort just fine without Jefferson. However, behind them there is a vast crevasse of talent between them and the remainder of the depth chart. Any sort of rotation to give the two starters a breather causes a major drop off in experience. Without Jefferson, the defensive tackle spot is vulnerable and it could be very problematic if Reed or Ford were to go down.

At the 5-tech defensive end position, Rasheem Green led the team with a lowly 4.0 sacks and his lone competition at the spot is former first round pick L.J. Collier, who is coming off of one of the most disappointing campaigns from any player in the 2019 draft class. Without Jefferson, Seattle must rely on the young Green taking another step or Collier finally turning potential into production.

Jefferson played both spots well and earned a favorable 72.5 grade from Pro Football Focus. Compared to Rasheem Green, Poona Ford, and Jarran Reed, players who would be replacing Jefferson's production, those three players averaged out to a 63.7 score.

The former Maryland product will never be mistaken for an All-Pro defensive lineman, but Jefferson's versatility, willingness to play where needed, and production given limited snaps will certainly be missed this year unless someone else seriously steps up their game. He was effective as a pass rusher as well as defending against the run, something not many players could say on Seattle's defense last season. 

Of course, Clowney is the better overall player and if the Seahawks can find a way to re-sign him, it would be a potential game-changer. But considering scheme and depth, it's not crazy to believe Seattle may miss Jefferson's services more in 2020.