The Seattle Seahawks left Round 2 of the NFL Draft with an Interior Defensive Lineman and an Offensive Lineman with tons of flexibility and in fit. Everyone knew they still needed a Corner and likely would take another Offensive and Defensive Lineman. Well… 2 out of 3 ain’t bad, right? The team continued the trend of taking players who played a ton of snaps in college and who’s production was proven. They also began a run of putting a lot of young talent into the Secondary, a unit that had very mixed results in 2016 after having been the strength of the team for the last several seasons. The goal seemed clear – to find another starter at Corner for either 2017 or 2018, to strengthen the level of play if a starter goes down, and to take players with the ability to play multiple positions. The closest thing to a surprise (other than not taking an Offensive Tackle) was probably picking up a Wide Receiver, but I and many others had figured a mid round pick would go to the position. It is clear this is a unit on the team where they want role players and to limit their spending. Tyler Lockett will likely be getting a new deal in the next year or two and it is unlikely that the team will want to pay both Lockett and Kearse. Picking Darboh created an heir apparent either now or in the future who will be on a highly affordable rookie deal.
There is a lot to like about these picks. The team continued their trend of using mid and late round choices to add potential, and all their trading down gave them plenty of lottery tickets to work with.
Round 3 Pick 26 (90 overall)
Shaquill Griffin – CB – UCF
The Seattle Seahawks love taller, longer corners to play on the outside. They also had some difficulty the last two seasons replacing Byron Maxwell across from Richard Sherman, and the player who filled in the best (DeShawn Shead) is likely to miss some of next year due to injury. In steps a 3rd Round pick on a 6’0″ Corner with 32 3/8 inch arms (by comparison that is less than 1 inch shorter than 6’6″ Ethan Pocic) and a sub-4.4 40yd combine time in the form of Shaquill Grifffin out of Central Florida. Griffin was a 4 year contributor and 2 year starter for the Knights in the American Athletic Conference. He had 6 career interceptions, including 4 as a Senior, returned 1 INT for a Touchdown in each of his Junior and Senior years, and finishing 2nd team All-Conference with 50 tackles and 15 Pass Breakups to go along with those 4 picks.
Before anyone brings up small school competition as a knock on Shaquill Griffin, I just want to put that one to bed. The AAC is a quality conference with some very prolific passing offenses and Griffin had to go up against a lot of NFL level talent. The better critique is that he doesn’t always get his hands on a receiver like he should. At times he trusts his movement too much and that can allow him to get beat by a well run route. He also doesn’t seem to have great feel for where the receiver is going all the time and can bite on some fakes. To his benefit though, he does have the recovery speed to make up for it a lot of the time.
Instead of showing an interception, I feel like this is a better look at where Griffin excels. He is at his best breaking on the ball and using his speed to get in the way. Remember, he had those 4 Interceptions, which is good, but the 15 Pass Breakups I think are more what defines him now. He is a player who gets how to use his speed to break on a route that the Quarterback and Receiver think is not well defended. He is also an aggressive player in the run game who is willing to come up and make a hit to stop the ball carrier. Overall he is very physical, willing to put his helmet in on a hit to a runner but also use his body to play through a receiver and fight for the ball in the air. He makes a lot of sense for what the Seahawks like to do, and his weaknesses are something that the team is strong at supporting. He only allowed 32.9% completions in 2016, but many of those were getting burned on interior breaking routes. Having a player like Earl Thomas patrolling will severely compensate for that problem. The Seahawks are also good at showing a player how to use their hands in coverage, and Richard Sherman is one of the best in the league at getting physical at the line and using his arms to follow a receiver. If that is something that Griffin can pick up on, and if his reads start becoming more instinctual, he could really be something special in this Defense in 2018 and beyond. For now, he is an athletic and very capable option to play on the outside in 2017.
Round 3 Pick 31 (95 overall)
Delano Hill – S – Michigan
Delano Hill was the second of what ended up being four Defensive Backs taken by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2017 NFL Draft, and he is likely to slot in as a Strong Safety. He is another tall, long Defensive Back coming in at 6’1″ with 32 1/8 inch arms. Hill is a player who had limited success going into his Senior year with a respectable but not eye popping 46 Tackles (2.5TFL) and 2 Pass Breakups in 2015. However, in that 2016 Senior year he broke out with a 2nd Team All Big 10 performance with 52 Tackles (4.5 TFL), 3 Interceptions, and 3 Pass Breakups. That type of productivity put him on the collective NFL radar, and a sub-4.5 40yd time at 216lbs along with some other very respectable measurables had him as a climbing prospect heading into the Draft.
The knock on Hill is that as a guy who doesn’t have elite athleticism he does need to be excellent in his technique in coverage to avoid getting beat. He isn’t fluid in his change of direction skills and he doesn’t always read and respond correctly, at times falling for fakes and misdirection. All of this pushes him into the role of an in the box Safety. He is at his best playing downhill, but will still need to clean up his reads to be a starter at the NFL level.
The plus side, as you can see, is the physicality. You’ve got to love a Safety who wears a Linebacker’s number (44). He is aggressive and physical in run support, meeting the ball as early as possible. He tends to take good angles and finishes very well as a tackler. His skill set already translates to an effective box safety. He does have experience matching up in the box and even covering Runningbacks who flex out wide from the backfield, and has done so with some degree of success. The total package offered here is a player who will immediately make an impact on Special Teams as well as having a place in sub packages on Defense where the team wants to use Kam Chancellor as more of a Linebacker while still having a physical Safety on the field, such as in run downs especially inside the Red Zone where having the shortened field can help mask a lack of long speed.
Round 3 Pick 38 (102 overall)
Nazair Jones – DT – North Carolina
Tony McDaniel., all 6’7″ and 295lbs of him, played a key role for the Seattle Seahawks in 2016. At the age of 32 he is not the future of the franchise. Hence Seattle spending picks on Malik McDowell and later Nazair Jones, who are both very long Defensive Tackles who fit the same physical profile as McDaniel. Where McDowell has freak athleticism that makes him a very unique player, you can really draw the line from McDaniel to Jones. Naz Jones was a two time 3rd Team All-ACC player at North Carolina, where he was a 3 year contributor and two year starter after redshirting. In 34 career games he managed 22 Tackles for Loss, 5 Sacks, and an impressive 10 Pass Breakups.
Jones is still very raw in a lot of ways. His awareness as well as his read and react abilities aren’t where they need to be if he wants to be a significant contributor in the NFL. That is the biggest thing holding him back. This makes his susceptible to misdirection, fakes, and stunts. He also lacks the recovery speed to make up for these missed reads, which at times makes him more passive and really reacting from behind the play. As a pass rusher, he is very raw and lacks much technique. Jones is pretty much just a raw power bull rusher at this point. This seems like a big set of challenges to overcome, and Jones is no sure bet, but they are not uncommon issues for a young DT. Playing along side veterans like Ahtyba Rubin and Michael Bennett will help, but he will have a lot of film to study and things to learn.
This is what the team is getting him for – stopping the run and playing down hill. Believe me when I say this isn’t the most impressive highlight out there for him. Look up Nazair Jones Interception if that is what you want. This is a collection of the exact plays we need to see. When he is able to play aggressive and move downhill he is a force on the line. He can beat one on one blocks, has strong hands, and is a heavy tackler who takes people down when he gets to them. Throw in his length and knack for batting the ball and it is easy to see what the team liked about him. Jones has the ability to immediately offer depth to the rotation on the interior of the Defensive Line. That is something the team clearly lacked most of last season. In the future, he also has upside as a pass rusher on the interior. Between McDowell, Jones, and last year’s picks Jarran Reed and Quintin Jefferson it is likely the team will end up with at least one or two capable pass rushers on the inside of the line to pair with what is already a strong group in run stopping.
Round 3 Pick 42 (106 overall)
Amara Darboh – WR – Michigan
Darboh is a great height/weight/speed guy as he sits at 6’2″ 214lbs with 32 5/8 in arms and almost 10 inch hands. Throw in a 4.45 40yd time at the combine and you can see why there would be interest in him. However, he is more than just a set of physical measurements that stack up to a guy that seems like a receiver, he has productivity to match. In 2014 he had 35 catches for 473 yards and 2 TDs, in 2015 he was an honorable mention All-Big 10 player with 58 catches for 727 yards and 5 TDs, and in his Senior season in 2016 he was 2nd team All-Big 10 with 57 catches for 862 yards and 7 TDs. These numbers came without highly regarded passers throwing the ball to him, and in an offense that isn’t prone to putting up crazy numbers. All of that is to say he has a lot going for him.
The knocks on Darboh have a lot to do with speed and hands. I know those are broad and scary categories, but we’ll dive a little deeper to explain. On tape he seems to play at a fairly average speed and takes some time to build up to his top speed, as opposed to being a more twitchy or sudden athlete like Tyler Lockett. He also has a tendency to catch with his body more often than you’d like, and does have some drops. He’ll need to work on becoming more sure handed, as he just doesn’t seem like a guy who will make his mark with run after catch skills. The last wondering is how he will handle getting off press, as he was inconsistent at the college level in his ability to escape the line cleanly and get into his route when a good press was played on him.
Here you have all of Darboh in one play. He’s given a clean release against a very good Ohio State Secondary and he proceeds to burn them on something of a 50/50 ball across the middle that he gets up and makes a play on. You also see him bobble and use his body to control the catch, though he is making a very good play on a difficult ball. He can play outside or in the slot, and had production in both areas. He runs fluid routes with smooth transitions, not giving away his breaks and gaining separation from his route running. He also has shown the ability to react to his Quarterback, coming back to the throw or running open for a scrambling QB – both of which are good fits in the Seahawks Offense. What the team likely really enjoys is that Darboh is willing and able to block, getting his body in the way and his arms involved to close off the lane and create space for his teammates. Add in some special teams ability and it seems likely Darboh will make the team and have reasons to dress on game day. It’s not certain that he will see a lot of passes, but size wise and ability wise if he can reliably make catches he offers an alternative to Jermaine Kearse in a younger and cheaper player with more upside.
Round 4 Pick 4 (111 overall)
Tedric Thompson – S – Colorado
Hey look! It’s another Defensive Back with size (6’0″) and length (31 1/2 in arms)! I think we’re seeing a theme to the draft. Here is yet another player who is the style of Defensive Back the team loves and offers some flexibility as either a Safety or possibly a Slot Corner. He doesn’t project the greatest to the outside for reason’s we’ll address later, but he does make a great center fielder. Thompson was a highly productive 4 year starter at Colorado, capping off as a leader on a great Defense in 2016. As a True Freshman in 2013 he started 11 games, but injuries limited him to 8 as a Sophomore in 2014(though he did have 3 Interceptions). He broke out with an All-PAC 12 Honorable Mention as a Junior in 2015 as he started all 13 games and accumulated 3 Interceptions along with 5 Pass Breakups. As a 2016 he established himself as one of the top Safeties in all of college football as he was 2nd Team All-PAC 12 with 7 Interceptions and 16 Pass Breakups. He was rated as the best Coverage Defender in all of College Football by Pro Football Focus last year.
Thompson is limited to being a deep Safety or a slot/dime corner because of foot speed, and that is probably the knock on him. He ran a 4.6 40yd at the combine, and though he plays with average speed he isn’t quite as fast as you want on the outside. He also doesn’t have the strength to be a forceful tackler, though an NFL weight room will help with that. These are not major limitations, but put together it does explain why he was a mid-round player as opposed to a 1st or 2nd round guy.
You can see that this guy is amazing at playing the ball. That is his major strength, he is a guy who understands how to challenge for the ball in the air and has the hands to make the big play. Those 13 career Interceptions were earned. He has instincts to play the ball, and though he will occasionally bite on the fakes he usually is good at reading the Quarterback and making a play on the route. His coverage skills are very strong for a Safety and he understands very well how to make a play in zone. At the very least he has the right skill set to make for a quality fill in if Earl Thomas is out and can play on Special Teams. It looks to me like he also offers a player who could be an inside cover guy and will likely challenge Lane for the Nickel spot. He really knows how to play the ball and he is quick enough with fluid feet and solid change of direction to match up with slot receivers, so I think he could carve out a future playing there. The other option would be if a player like Kam Chancellor is playing closer to the line they may bring him in for a coverage or 2 Deep look with Earl. His skill set will make it hard to keep him off the field and he ought to just get better in the next few years.