Thursday, 8 October 2009

What to do with Ndamukong Suh

Let me preface this by saying that I am still in the process of scouting Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh, and that from what I have seen, I really like him as a player.

That said, I'm not sure I really like him as a Seahawk. Suh, who runs 6'5 295 (or so) is a great player for Nebraska, and might be the best defensive player I've scouted in the past three years. He has great upper-body strength, disengages from blocks extraordinarily well, has good athleticism, deflects passes (had four against Virginia Tech), splits double teams, chases down screens... He's very impressive. Rarely do you see defensive tackles throw BCS offensive guards around like rag dolls, but Suh does it multiple times a game. It took about half a game for me to recognize Suh as one of the top players I've scouted, period. He just does so many things well.

Nobody is perfect, though, and there are some concerns. First, let's talk about money. Just for the sake of the argument, let's assume Seattle ends up with the fourth pick of the draft, again, and takes Suh. He would stand to make ~60 million dollars over 5 or 6 years, presumably. Now, that's a big chunk of change, but you're going to pay that to anyone you take, so it doesn't really matter. What does matter is how Seattle uses their DTs. In 2008, Brandon Mebane was pretty much healthy every game and yet only played about 2/3rds of the snaps because Seattle likes to keep their DTs fresh. Assuming a similar number for Suh isn't unreasonable, but it does beg the question: How much better would Suh have to be than your second choice to justify getting paid full price for 2/3rds the snaps?

Even if you can justify this (and since I believe in building a defense from the lines, I probably could stomach that), there is another problem. Suh is, to borrow an overused saying, a bit of a tweener. While he has an exceptionally strong upper body, I have some concerns about his ability to anchor as the "nose" of a 4-3 defense (or 1-technique, if you prefer) on a consistent basis. His lower body strength could improve, but frankly he would likely need at least 20lbs in bulk to have the anchor. He also struggles with leverage a bit, and combined with his being comparatively "light" that creates a problem.

Okay, fine. You move him to the "under" tackle spot (or 3-technique, gap shooter, what have you). That's probably where he is best used anyways, and I could see him having great success there. One small problem, one great one. The small problem is that he isn't a freak athlete. He's very athletic, but his first step is nothing extraordinary. His plays against the run and pass are more likely to be the result of his strength and hands, which take a little longer. He may make twice as many tackles as, say, Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy, but most of Suh's will be at the LOS, not 3 yards in the backfield. Personally, I prefer that style anyways because it is more sound against the run, but it probably means less completely broken pass plays (ala Tommie Harris ruining an offensive game plan).

The bigger problem is Brandon Mebane. We just had Mebane move to the "3-technique" spot, and he looks good there. Would you ask Mebane to gain all the weight he lost this past offseason and change roles? Sounds reasonable, but you might be better off just finding a more effective space-eater than Colin Cole and leaving Mebane where he is. He also should be entering his contract year in 2010, and he (or his agent) may not be thrilled about his being moved to a position with fewer Sportscenter plays and fewer stats. Mebane seems like a team guy and I imagine he'd add weight willingly... but it might make his camp feel like Seattle is trying to undervalue him.

While Suh is a great player, I cannot help but feel like Suh would thrive as a 3-4 end (Nebraska uses him there a fair amount every game). His size, strength, hands, and athleticism would make him a dominant player - far, far, far better than Tyson Jackson, now of the Kansas City Chiefs.

How would you address the problems drafting Suh would bring to Seattle? Would you move guys around, mess with the rotation, or just avoid Suh altogether?


Anonymous said...

Suh will almost certainly go top 5. Unless Denver implodes, or we play the rest of the season like the last game, we probabably won't have to face the decision. In the very unlikely event that we are drafting top 5 and Suh is available, I'd snap him up and deal with it. Why couldn't he fill the role currently performed by Redding, moving from DE to DT? They tried that with Jackson his rookie year. Or, move Mebane back to 1 tech. As you point out, Mebane will be FA after next season and will get paid. We might not be able to afford both long-term, but if we let Kerney go (since his role is reduced already) or trade Hill and backfill with Hawthorne/Herring. I'd say find a way to make it work. Good problem to have, if we are lucky enough to have the option.

1stHill said...

I think the Seahawks defensive line is lacking a pass rusher and from your scouting report it does not sound like Suh would solve that problem. I would rather draft a d-lineman that can consistently get into the backfield like DT Gerald McCoy or DE Derrick Morgan.

Kyle Rota said...

Thanks for the responses Anonymous and 1stHill!

Anon: I wouldn't be surprised if the guy we consider to be top-5 picks now, aren't by draft day. I'm sure Suh will be a 1st rounder, barring injury, but that's as much as I will commit.

I think you're right that moving Mebane back, and then getting Suh is the best choice. But I think you need to lock up Mebane before doing that, or see if he is okay with the change - losing Mebane would be a brutal blow to the defense (admittedly, I've been a huge Mebane fan since before he joined Seattle).

1st: Suh wouldn't be a bad pass rusher by any means. His strength and technique means that he'll sniff the quarterback quite a bit. He's just not an explosive guy like Mebane. He will probably get a lot of pressure and create sacks for others more than actually cleaning up himself.

Anonymous said...

I watched the game last night, and noticed him on many plays to be unblockable. Although he would look great in a Seattle uniform, drafting him would probably mean passing on another player at another position who would have more value to the Seahawks. In economics, its called opportunity cost. Would he help us more than a top QB, at top LT, or a top safety (assuming they grade out similarly to Suh)? No, I don't think so. Now if he is clearly the best player available when Seattle is on the clock, that is different.


Rob Staton said...

I'd agree with you 100% TJ. However, I'm not sure there's a top LT/QB/S that compares favorable at the moment. One of the QB's may come to the fore, but I'll be surprised if a LT does and neither of the top two safetys (for me) should be taken above Suh. It's still early days though.

kearly said...

It won't happen, but I'd take Suh in a heartbeat, even at a Curry type contract. DT is a premium position and Suh would have a bigger impact on the defense than Curry in two-thirds as many snaps. Mebane has played ok this year, although he's on pace for fewer sacks than he had last year as a "1" tech tackle. Double teamed or not, Mebane always seems to bring the pressure. A talent like Suh that forces Mebane back to 1 where he was simply outstanding is not a bad thing.

The Seahawks have invested a ton of resources into a defense that is basically average right now. However, the defense is just a few key pieces away from being elite- those pieces being an elite DL (preferably DT since the team already has good DE talent) and a game changing safety.

After everything Tim Ruskell has done to orient this team to defense-first, it seems silly to me to pass on a premiere talent at a premiere position that could almost single handedly elevate the defense to elite. The team needs to add offensive players in almost every area, but Suh is simply a talent too good to pass up and the need is there.

kearly said...

Also, as an aside comment-

Even if you love Eric Berry or Taylor Mays, no safety should ever be drafted in the first 15 picks. Great safeties are regularly found in the 2nd round or later (I think Ed Reed was the 28th overall). Safety is only an impact position if the safety is extremely good like Reed or extremely bad like Brian Russell.

This is why I hated the Curry pick. Look at Hawthorne who went undrafted. Non-premium positions are typically non-premium because of the rarity/commonness factor. Like LB, finding a passable to good safety is not hard, and even elite safeties are usually not drafted early in the 1st.

4rx said...

Is hard to decide what to do with this player! he is very irregular


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