MIKE LEFKO

Lefko: The message the Seattle Seahawks’ 2024 draft class sends

Apr 30, 2024, 11:06 AM

Seattle Seahawks draft Byron Murphy...

Byron Murphy II of Texas tackles Iowa State QB Rocco Becht on Nov. 18, 2023. (David Purdy/Getty Images)

(David Purdy/Getty Images)

It wasn’t flashy, and it didn’t need to be. The Seattle Seahawks’ 2024 NFL Draft class represents a clear directive for how this team plans to get back to Super Bowl contention: own the line of scrimmage.

Which late-round Seahawks draft pick is most likely to play?

Let’s not conflate this with me saying that this draft class in itself has lifted the Seahawks to that level – that shouldn’t be a realistic expectation in Year 1 for a new head coach. But the immediate impact from this group will be in helping to establish the foundation for a team that has designs on eliminating areas of weakness and controlling a fundamental area of how to win in the NFL today.

The Seahawks have talented skill position players at multiple spots. The wide receiver corps is among the deepest in the league, there is untapped potential at running back, and two young, explosive cornerbacks offer a tantalizing amount of possibility. Yet all of that is rendered useless if there is no time to throw, no room to run, and if an opposing offense can simply line up and run the ball at will (hello 2023 Steelers game).

Six of the eight draft picks will play on or impact the line of scrimmage. It’s something new coach Mike Macdonald noted when summing up the draft class.

“It’s going to be really important for us to be dominant in that phase. I mean, if it stops there then you really don’t have a shot the rest of the plays,” Macdonald said. “We want to be physical, we want to be imposing, we want to create new lines of scrimmage, and I think you’re seeing the investment in that.”

We all know the run defense has been bad recently, but let’s just throw the numbers out there for posterity:

2023: 138.4 yards per game – 31st in NFL
2022: 150.2 yards per game – 30th in NFL

Control the line of scrimmage. It is a vital part of how teams get pressure on a quarterback today, especially with how fast they get rid of the ball. The average release time for QBs was 2.7 seconds last year.

The quickest way to disrupt that pocket is right up the middle. One of the most valuable plays of the Super Bowl was Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones breaking through the line and forcing 49ers QB Brock Purdy to throw the ball away on a third down, red zone play in overtime. The 49ers had to kick a field goal, and the Chiefs went down the field and scored a Super Bowl-winning touchdown. Sure, it isn’t always as simple as what that play boiled down to, but it’s easy to now envision someone like the Seahawks’ top pick, defensive tackle Byron Murphy II, doing that at a key moment at some point in his career.

Pass rush pressure is a moot point if teams can simply line up and run the ball with success like they have recently against the Seahawks. Conversely, not protecting your own quarterback will undermine any designs the Seahawks have on getting the ball in the hands of their best offensive playmakers. This directive: “control the line of scrimmage” doesn’t solely fall on the newcomers, in fact we have two great articles on our website right now outlining the expectations for the entire team and the continued development that needs to take place for the recent draft classes. But here is one trait for each of the six draft picks that should help in controlling the line of scrimmage.

The 2024 draft picks

Byron Murphy II, defensive tackle

Before every draft, Dane Brugler of The Athletic profiles 300 players – essentially everyone who will get drafted – and he used this to describe Murphy: “disruptive energy.”

We’ll let Seahawks head coach Mike Macdonald sum it up, as well: “He’s so talented. Versatility along the front, such an aggressive player, plays violently.”

Christian Haynes, guard

“Nastiness.”

Haynes’ college coach at UConn, Jim Mora, used that description in outlining what to expect from him.

Seahawks president of football operations and general manager John Schneider gave a more technical breakdown after the Seahawks selected Haynes on Day 2 of the draft.

“Initial quickness, length. He can get under people and roll his hips,” Schneider said. “The pass protection stuff is legit. Lateral movement, stays in front of people, he’s got strong hands. He’s got anchor. Yeah, he’s just a really good football player.”

Tyrice Knight, linebacker

Knight is a run-stopper.

This pick opened the Seahawks up to some scrutiny. Brugler ranked Knight as the 14th-best LB available in the draft, but this selection represents a definitive focus on finding guys who can attack the line of scrimmage and stop the run. Brugler’s blurb on Knight identifies coverage limitations but also has this to say: “He is a rabid dog against the run.”

Macdonald echoed as much when talking about him after the draft.

“The first thing that pops out on the tape is that he sees the game quickly. Instincts, I guess is a good way to put it, like moving where the ball is going before everyone else,” Macdonald said. “I think he brings some thump at the point of attack … Linebackers are paid to make tackles and he makes a lot of tackles, so that’s a good thing.”

AJ Barner, tight end

Think of Barner as an extended part of the offensive line, perhaps more valuable early on for what he will bring as a run blocker.

“Blocking tight end is a really important position. It kind of starts in the C-gap in the run game, who’s going to defend it, who’s going to block it,” Macdonald said. “So you have to be able to answer those questions and those skill sets don’t just grow on trees.”

Sataoa Laumea, tackle/guard

He’s a people mover. That was the self-scout Laumea used when asked to describe his game in a conference call with local reporters.

Laumea is a multiple All-Pac-12 selection who began his career at guard before starting at right tackle the last two seasons. Our resident Pac-12 expert Brock Huard, who is FOX college football analyst in addition to co-host of Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk, gave a comprehensive breakdown of what to expect from Laumea as well.

Michael Jerrell, tackle

Size. There won’t be any expectations on Michael Jerrell, who comes from Division II Findlay, but a 6-foot-5, 309-pound tackle is certainly a presence.

Three picks spent on the line represent a significant investment to filling in the gaps between tackles Charles Cross and Abe Lucas (health pending) and part of the Seahawks’ commitment to try and build a cohesive and stable group up front. It’s the message Schneider conveyed after the draft by relaying something that Steve Hutchinson told him about the offensive line.

“Offensive linemen need to play as a group,” Schneider said. “They need to be tough, nasty. They should be walking around the building together, and you know, they should be in their own world … Tone-setting was definitely something that was a factor in the guys we wanted to acquire.”

More Seattle Seahawks draft coverage

Seahawks NFL Draft Breakdown: A look at all eight Seattle picks
What experts are saying about the Seattle Seahawks’ draft class
AP NFL Draft grades: How did Seahawks, NFC West rivals fare?
Huard: Seahawks are great fit for UW Huskies UDFA Westover
Seattle Seahawks’ draft class brings wealth of college experience

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