Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Why Linebacker Is A Good Pick

by: Michael Steffes

Hey, well, I screwed up. The First Take Mock Draft doesn't hit Frank Hughes and the Seahawks until tomorrow. As many of you have seen, I am more than capable of making mistakes on a regular basis. Hope I didn't crush all your hopes and dreams and waste your tivo space. Anyway, set it again for Wednesday. The Titans by the way, chose Devin Thomas, *cough*bust*cough*

So, in this unlikely scenario, Keith Rivers, LB out of USC is still somehow available at the #25 pick. I wanted to go into greater detail on this, so I will anyway, because it doesn't really matter, the Hawks NEED to take a linebacker in this draft, and they need to find a good one. To continue.....

First off, I could argue that the two most important positions for the Seahawks in this draft are tight end and linebacker. Tight end is obvious; there is no true starter on the team. Plus, they need to end this run of one year stop gaps. But anyway....

On to linebacker. Obviously, the linebacking core is considered the strength of the team right now. However, the unit lost important depth over the offseason when Koutouvides and Bentley signed elsewhere. Both of these players were considered starting quality material by teams around the league. That was important for the Hawks to have. Here is why.

First, let me address Leroy Hill. Hill missed two games last year. He missed one each of the two previous years. But in all three of these years, he has left multiple games with nagging injuries, and in almost every case, the defense has declined dramatically. Also, Leroy is a free agent next year, and he just hired a free agency power broker in Todd France. I want Hill to stay. And even if he signs a long term deal, the Seahawks still need a linebacker. One of the reasons is to provide a starting caliber player as a replacement when nagging injuries hit a player like Leroy Hill.

Second, lets look at Julian Peterson. Peterson is 30 years old. He also at one point before the Seahawks signed him, had a very serious achilies tendon injury. Common sense says, at some point, and probably soon, JP will start to slow down. Speed is his game, so this will be unfortunate. It would be surprising if he can keep up this level of play for another 4 years, but even if he does, the team will need to work on his contract. The cap hits in the upcoming years of his deal become increasingly unmanageable. If his play slows, it will be hard for him to be worth what he is being paid. Having a player that can step in for JP, and maintain the level of play, would be a way to maintain the effectiveness of this defense. I believe this will be key to the Hawks maintaining success, especially as they get younger on offense.

I really like what both Laury and Herring bring to the table, but as special teams dynamos. Laury is an undrafted free agent. Herring is a 5th rounder who will be spending this 3rd season at linebacker in 2008. He played safety in college. DD Lewis. been there done that, he is a back up. So the Hawks are going to need a stud linebacker, not this year, but possibly next, and defintely with in the next 2-3. Regardless though, there will be playing time. Betting on JP and Hill both playing 16 games over the next 2 years is a long shot. So thus, the highly rated LB will be given a chance to showcase his skills, and therefore the team can evaluate the JP situation as it goes.

Here are the major benefits. First, it gives the team leverage in the negotiation with Leroy Hill. If Leroy leaves, they have his replacement, rather than having to pay a free agent for possibly less production. Remember it is possible Hill wants to leave no matter what to find a team where he can be the star. Second, by labeling the LB as Julian Peterson's replacement, the team may be able to keep Hill, and have the young guy ready if JP's play declines. Third, by having a guy who seems destine to be a star on the roster, it greatly increases the chances that this defense remains a force for years to come. You take the strongest unit on the team and make it stronger. Much like when the Giants took more DE's in Kiwanuka and Tuck, despite having Strahan and Umenyiora.

So while in the mock draft pick tomorrow, it is feasible for the Hawks to pick Rivers, that seems unlikely in the real draft. Here are some other names to keep your eyes on.

1st round....Jerod Mayo, Ten
2nd round...Xavier Addibi, VT
3rd round...Wesley Woodard, KY
4th round...Jonathan Goff, Vandy
5th round...Bryan Kehl, BYU

All of these players have the speed to handle the Hawks coverage schemes, coupled with the versatility to play on either side. Also, these players are known to have high football IQ's and no character concerns. I expect to see a linebacker come off the board, and possibly even in the first. That would allow the team to address the offense in the other early rounds, where it would seem they could get better value.