With just under a month to go until the 2009 NFL draft, Tim Ruskell and the Seahawks front will start to get an idea as to which prospects they will target fourth overall. No decisions will have been made just yet - there are still key visits to be made with prospects and also pro-days to be attended (USC hold their event on April 1st).
But as we get closer to the draft the potential list of prospects viewed as viable first round options will decrease. Back in February Tim Ruskell discussed how the team will go about this:
"If you start out with a list of 15, by the time you’re meetings are over, that thing’s down to eight. And if you eliminate some of those guys on their intangibles or off the field, it can go to four or six. That’s the normal course." - Tim Ruskell, 02/19
With only three teams picking before the Seahawks they could settle on a 'hit list' of four prospects knowing that at least one will fall to the them when they're on the clock. It's perhaps unlikely Ruskell would filter any list down to this extent, especially with potential trade down scenarios in the offing and supposed meetings scheduled with prospects that may need a trade to justify selection.
However for the purpose of this article I'm going to narrow the search down to four prospects the Seahawks might zone in on. Four of the highest rated players in the 2009 NFL draft that could offer good value with Seattle's first round pick.
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Matt Stafford, QB Georgia
The Seahawks have committed to Matt Hasselbeck for 2009, but with the team's starting quarter back approaching 34 years of age Tim Ruskell has admitted Seattle are 'in the zone' when it comes to looking for a younger signal caller. The Seahawks are hoping the 4-12 2008 campaign was merely a blip brought about by a laundry list of injuries. They may not have the opportunity to draft the highest rated QB in a draft class for some time and an investment in Stafford would avoid any akward problems when Hasselbeck does move on.
Of course such a move would come with a cost. Matt Ryan was taken 3rd overall in 2008 and signed a $72m ($34.75m) contract. It could also unsettle Hasselbeck in a season where the Seahawks hope to bounce back as NFC West challengers. The team would hope to avoid any quarter back controversy, but it may be unavoidable with Seneca Wallace also unlikely to be impressed with the investment in an expensive young QB.
They may have to live with it though. The Seahawks can't afford to avoid 'stepping on toes' with the long term future at the most important position in football. Stafford's cap hit alongside Matt Hasselbeck's would still likely only equate to that which Indianapolis pay Peyton Manning. Although not a direct comparison with one of the NFL star entities, the Seahawks could justify a similar hit allowing them to compete now with Hasselbeck and develop Stafford in the background. If he gets passed Detroit with the first pick, he has to be on Seattle's hit list.
Jason Smith, OT Baylor
When Greg Knapp was officially announced as the team's new offensive coordinator, he gave some insight into what schemes the Seahawks will use under his leadership. One of the most notable was a zone blocking scheme, similar to the one seen (with some success) in Denver recently. With Mike Solari taking control of the offensive line for a second year, expectations are high that Seattle can find greater consistency in the trenches.
Another interesting suggestion from Knapp was that the running game would get a great emphasis than previous years. This can be exaggerated. Mike Holmgren regularly used a 60-40 split when it came to a pass-run offense. Knapp is likely to use a 50-50 split. Nevertheless, the Seahawks want to find balance and develop the running game.
One way to do that would be to find a dominant offensive lineman who has the skills to fit perfectly into a zone blocking scheme, whilst having that nasty streak and determination to progress to the second level and attack linebackers. Jason Smith fits the bill perfectly. He's a little raw having played predominantly in a spread offense at Baylor and he'll need some time to adjust to the pro-game and three point stance. However, he has tremendous upside. Although not as polished as Eugene Monroe, he has a superior ceiling and the frame to add further bulk. Like Stafford, it would be an investment in the future for when an ageing veteran (in this case, Walter Jones) calls it a day. Smith is unlikely to make it passed St Louis because the Rams want to get superior run blocking like Seattle. If he does make it to four, he has to be on the Seahawk's hit list.
Michael Crabtree, WR Texas Tech
Few prospects have polarised opinion as much as Crabtree this off season. Some people look at his stats (231 catches, 3127 yards, 41 TD's) and say they aren't concerned about his injuries or lack of a work out. Others are concerned about the way Crabtree conducted himself at the combine, worry about the severity of recent ankle and metatarsal injuries and speculated 'character' red flags.
It's unclear how the Seahawks view Crabtree specifically. He was one of the prospects who the Seahawks entertained at the combine and how the Texas Tech receiver came across in that meeting may have impacted on the team's decision. One thing that cannot be denied is Crabtree's talent. Seattle struggled at receiver in 2008 and despite the addition of T.J. Houshmandzadeh in free agency, a playmaking catcher could still be the team's greatest need. With Crabtree on board, the 'Hawks could have one of the better passing games in the NFC, which in turn could draw pressure away from the offensive line and open up the running game.
Crabtree is ranked the 2nd best overall prospect by Mel Kiper, Mike Mayock and NFL Draft Scout. He is top of Charles Davis' big board. If Seattle want to maximise value with the fourth overall pick, Crabtree could be the best player available when they select. As long as any character reservations can be cast aside, Crabtree still makes sense for a Seahawks offense looking for a new identity in 2009.
Aaron Curry, LB Wake Forest
When the Seahawks traded away Julian Peterson for Cory Redding and a 5th round pick, they opened up a hole at linebacker. It may not necessarily be a hole they wish to fill with a $60m rookie, but they certainly have that option. Curry is the kind of prospect we've expected Tim Ruskell to draft in his time with the Seahawks.
A four year starter, Curry leads by example on the field and has a mature personality off it. His stat sheet doesn't scream out at you (only 9 sacks in four years) but it can be deceiving. A lot of his reps were taken deep from the line of scrimmage and he wasn't asked to do a lot of pass rush. If you want indications for his playmaking ability, check out his four interceptions (three for TD's) in 2007 and impressive 226 return yardage.
His potential influence as a playmaker for Seattle could be a position of debate. With Lofa Tatupu soaking up tackles through the middle and Leroy Hill remaining with the team, there are only so many plays to go round. For a team like Kansas City or Cleveland, Curry would have to set the tone and could achieve a rookie season similar to Patrick Willis or Jared Mayo. If the Seahawks think Curry is worth adding, he will almost certainly be part of a potential four prospect hit list.
Rated by many as the 'safest' pick in the draft, Curry is top of Mel Kiper, Todd McShay, Mike Mayock and NFL Draft Scout's big board's. He is also Rob Rang's pick for Seattle in his most recent mock draft.