Each day, Brock Huard is profiling a different draft prospect that he considers an early-round possibility for the Seahawks. His draft previews started with Washington’s Budda Baker. The audio is embedded above.
• Position: DB
• Height/weight: 5-10, 195
• Class: Jr.
• Hometown: Bellevue, Wash.
Scouting report: The Bellevue High School product started as a true freshman at free safety for the Huskies in 2014 and finished his three-year career with 200 tackles, including 71 last season (10 for loss) to lead Washington’s star-studded defense. He was an NCAA consensus All-American and a first-team All-Pac 12 selection as a junior in 2016. “Budda Baker’s one of my favorite players on tape in the last three years,” draft analyst Mike Mayock of the NFL Network told “Bob, Groz and Tom” last month. “He’s not big enough and he doesn’t have great ball skills, but that son of a gun is around every freakin’ snap. He’s really fun.” Baker’s penchant for being around the ball has led to comparisons to similarly-sized NFL safeties like Seattle’s Earl Thomas and Arizona’s Tyrann Mathieu, but as Mayock stated and his NFL Network colleague Daniel Jeremiah reiterated on “Brock and Salk,” his hands could use some work. “Everybody’s going to talk about Budda Baker as kinda the Earl Thomas clone a little bit,” Jeremiah said. “I would say the big difference there is Earl’s got great hands and Budda puts himself in position to make a lot of plays and just didn’t catch it all that well.” Baker made five interceptions and 24 pass breakups in 40 games at UW.
Brock’s take: Huard doesn’t think Baker will make it out of the first round, but his gut tells him that the Seahawks would pass in favor of filling a more pressing need if he’s still available when Seattle’s turn comes up at No. 26. Huard’s reason: Baker doesn’t quite measure up to Seattle’s physical specs for a defensive back. “I don’t know if he’s quite long enough, and it’s not much,” Huard said. He noted that while Thomas is the same height as Baker, he was 13 pounds heavier at the combine with slightly longer arms (31 1/4 inches to Baker’s 30 3/4), bigger hands (9 3/8 inches to 9) “and maybe just a slight bit more twitch and explosion.” Huard said he knows that the Cardinals in particular “love” Baker and said his game fits with what Arizona likes to do on defense. The Cardinals pick 13th overall. Said Huard: “Would it shock me if Budda Baker – who loves ball, who just loves it, who eats it, who sleeps it, who would come in and compete and push with Earl and Kam (Chancellor) and at nickel right away – would it shock me if (Seattle chose him) there at 26? It wouldn’t. But it just feels like tackle and corner may be a little bigger need than Budda Baker.”
How he’d fit: Baker played some nickelback at UW, and his scouting combine numbers suggest he has the straight-line speed and short-area quickness to fill that role in the NFL (among safeties, he had the fourth-best 40-yard-dash time at 4.45 seconds, the top time in the 20-yard shuttle at 4.08 and the fourth-best in the three-cone drill at 6.76.) Nickelback is not a major need for the Seahawks in the way that a perimeter cornerback is, but their draft history provides ample evidence that their top picks don’t always align with their top needs. Jeremy Lane was Seattle’s nickelback last season but did not play well enough to guarantee himself of that job in 2017, and the Seahawks could conceivably end up moving him outside while DeShawn Shead recovers from knee surgery. Remember, Seattle’s defense was in nickel more than 70 percent of the time last season, so that fifth defensive back is essentially another starter. If the Seahawks think Baker can play there in the short term, they would easily be justified in using a late-first-round pick on him even though they’re set for now at free safety with Thomas, who’s under contract for two more seasons.