If you ever wondered why the Seahawks prefer veteran defensive linemen to ones they draft themselves, just take a look at the current roster.
Entering the season, the Seahawks had four home-drafted linemen and five outside acquisitions on the active roster. With Jordan Hill heading to IR this week, the only ones still standing are the guys they got from other teams: Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Kevin Williams, Tony McDaniel and O’Brien Schofield. (Bruce Irvin is now a starting linebacker who rushes in the nickel, so we’re not counting him as a lineman.)
Contrast the D-line with the defense’s back seven, which is entirely comprised of Seattle draft picks (including Irvin).
Pete Carroll and John Schneider seemingly have always preferred veteran defensive linemen — holdovers Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant, trade acquisition Chris Clemons and free agents Alan Branch, Jason Jones and the current quintet.
It might be because they prefer to play veterans who know all of the tricks, and it might be because they haven’t hit on many linemen in the draft.
In their five drafts, Schneider and company have picked 10 D-linemen, although Irvin, a first-round pick in 2012, was turned into a strongside linebacker last year. He returned to a nickel rush role this season and was second on the team with 6.5 sacks.
The only full-time DL draft pick who has developed is 2013 third-rounder Jordan Hill, who had all of his 5.5 sacks in the final six games of the season before being placed on IR this week.
“He’s really come on as a rusher,” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “You try to have a visual of what a player can be, and I think with his quickness that he could be that inside nickel rusher. Through the first part of the year, he had to learn on the job and grow into it, and he certainly did.”
Seattle seemingly has been a bit jinxed when it comes to drafted D-linemen. Of the 14 players on IR this season, six are D-linemen — and all but one were Seattle draft picks.
Jesse Williams, a fifth-round pick in 2013, is spending his second straight season on IR. D’Anthony Smith, picked up last year, also has been on IR all season.
The Hawks also have lost rookie fourth-rounder Cassius Marsh, 2012 seventh-rounder Greg Scruggs and Mebane, the longest-tenured Seahawk draft pick (third round in 2007).
Mebane and Hill were both big losses — Mebane because of his stellar play against the run and Hill because of his late-season surge in the pass rush.
But the Hawks have been able to weather the injuries because Bennett, Avril, Williams, McDaniel and Schofield have played together so well.
Bennett is a major reason Hill had finally stepped forward as the second inside rusher the Hawks needed to help out Bennett, who commands and often beats double-teams.
Avril is relentless as well, creating plays for teammates when he isn’t making them himself — it’s why the Hawks just gave him the same deal they gave Bennett last offseason.
Williams has been stellar at age 34, especially filling in for Mebane at nose tackle. McDaniel has been unsung as one of the keys to the league’s No. 3 run defense, and Schofield has been helpful in limited chances behind Avril and Irvin.
Meanwhile, Schneider has tried to maintain the depth behind the top five.
With his DL draft picks on IR, Schneider has added Demarcus Dobbs, Travian Robertson, David King and Landon Cohen. He also added fullback/defensive lineman Will Tukuafu. All but Robertson are on the roster as the Hawks prepare to start the playoffs against Carolina on Saturday.
Dobbs (6-2, 282) flashed some disruption ability in four games before suffering a sprained ankle that has kept him out of the past three games. He is expected to return this week.
“Ever since I was taken off the field, I was ready to get back on it. So I’m pretty excited,” he told Seahawks.com. “It’s hard when you come to a new team and you get in the game and then you get hurt and take that leave. You feel you’re not contributing. Especially when the team is successful, you always want to contribute.”
King (6-4, 281) was picked up Dec. 11 off Cincinnati’s practice squad, replacing linebacker Allen Bradford. The 2013 seventh-round pick of the Eagles played 19 snaps over the final three games.
Tukuafu (6-4, 280) has played fullback mainly but also has been seen on defense.
Cohen (6-1, 290) has bounced around the league since Detroit drafted him in the seventh round in 2008. Seattle is his sixth team, and he hasn’t played this season. He probably won’t be active Saturday, but Carroll said he would compete with Dobbs when he is up to speed.
In the meantime, Dobbs and King will continue to rotate with the veterans who have anchored the line all season.