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Fox Sport’s Joel Klatt: Draft prospects that would fit Seahawks’ defense

Could the Seahawks take Iowa's A.J. Epenesa in the draft to strengthen the defensive line? (Getty)

The all-digital installment of the NFL Draft is just weeks away (starts April 23) and while free agency is still ongoing, much of the league’s focus is shifting towards the selection of the rookies. For the Seahawks, they currently have seven picks in the draft, including three in the first two rounds.

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Seattle hasn’t made a big signing at pass rusher like many thought they would and Jadeveon Clowney still is unsigned, so while we wait for that story to come to a close, all eyes turn to the college crop of edge rushers and if any of them are realistic selections for the Seahawks at pick 27.

Joel Klatt, a college football commentator and analyst for Fox Sports, joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock and Salk Podcast and talked about what the Seahawks could do in the draft and which players make sense.

Pass rusher

The Seahawks had just 28 sacks in 2019, tied for second fewest in the league.

As noted, Clowney, a 2019 Seahawks defensive end, remains unsigned due to a few reasons, so drafting his replacement is certainly in the cards. What does this year’s class of pass rushers look like outside of Ohio State’s Chase Young, most people’s No. 1 prospect who is expected to go second overall?

“Outside of (Young) it’s good, not great,” Klatt said.

Are there any defensive ends who could be available at 27 who are also worthy of that selection? Klatt thinks so.

“I like A.J. Epenesa from Iowa,” he said. “I do think he’s not an explosive player, but he’s an excellent effort player. i love the fact that he can play, at least in my estimation, in a 3-4 as a (defensive) end or a 4-3 as an end. He’s a good athlete with a good basketball background.”

Epenesa had 26.5 sacks in three years at Iowa and 36 tackles for loss. He also forced nine fumbles.

Another Big-10 defensive end who has been commonly linked to the Seahawks in mock drafts is Yetur Gross-Matos from Penn State. In three years with the Nittany Lions, Gross-Matos had 18.5 sacks, 36.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.

“Good length and athleticism.  I think he’s the type of worker that would fit in Seattle,” Klatt said. “I don’t think he’s a great every-down player, but I think he can develop into a player that’s good on base downs and then really excels in the pass rushing kind of spot.”

Seattle runs a more traditional 4-3 defense with defense ends putting their hand in the dirt before coming off the line. If they wanted to go with a different style of pass rusher, LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson would certainly fit that mold. He had 6.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss as a more rotational player on a stacked LSU defense in 2019.

“He got started late a little bit (he didn’t regularly play on defense until 2019), but he’s more of what I’d call a stand-up-type of edge player,” Klatt said. “He’s not going to be a guy, I think, who you can just plug in any situation and get production out of him.”

If the Seahawks want more of a pass rushing “specialist,” Klatt says Michigan’s Josh Uche could be in the cards in the first or second round.

Defensive tackles

Klatt spent a lot of his time with Brock and Salk talking about the draft’s defensive tackles.

Klatt said although it may be an “old school” way of thinking, he believes the defense should be built from the front to back with a lot of emphasis on the middle of the field. While edge rushers make “splash” plays on the line, Klatt said they’re only as good as their “middle of the field counterparts.”

Because of that, and to add more physicality and swagger to Seattle’s defense, he believes the Seahawks would be well off drafting a good interior defender.

The Seahawks drafted TCU defensive end L.J. Collier in the first round last year. Klatt says the case could be made for drafting his former college teammate, defensive tackle Ross Blacklock, with the 27th pick.

“He’s a good interior pass rusher with burst and explosiveness,” Klatt said. “He’s a guy that may be in the first round at 27.”

If Seattle opts to go another direction with pick 27, they still have picks 59 and 64 at the end of the second round. Klatt said there are good defensive tackles that should still be available, such as Oklahoma’s Neville Gallimore.

“I have him rated right around that 41st player in the draft,” Klatt said. “What if he falls to you at 59? That would be a solid pick. I think he could be a guy who can pass rush. He’s not quite as consistent as Blacklock, but maybe he’s a guy (Seattle takes) there.”

Alabama’s Raekwon Davis could be available at the end of the round as well, as could Texax A&M’s Justin Madubuike. Klatt thinks both could contribute right away.

Seattle also earned a third-round compensatory pick (101 overall) and two fourth round picks (133 and 144 overall). Utah’s Leki Fotu, Baylor’s James Lynch, Missouri’s Jordan Elliott and Nebraska’s Khalil Davis are all defensive tackles Klatt likes for the Seahawks in those middle rounds.

“I know I’m throwing a lot of names out, but there are the type of guys who you look at on the interior of the defensive line, even guys who could play 3-4 defensive end, and I think they could help you get better, stronger, more physical and bring that style that those guys like in their philosophy of the Seattle defense,” Klatt said.

First-round linebacker?

Klatt also threw out another scenario, where the Seahawks select a bigger defensive tackle late in the draft who is more of a space eater or “plugger,” as Klatt called them. If Seattle wanted to go that route, Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray is a player Klatt thinks could fit in well with the Seahawks.

“Kenneth Murray is a 4.52 (40-yard dash) player, a really good leader, son of a preacher,” he said. “He would fit in that culture. He’s best in the blitz and running down plays from the backside but I’m saying if you have pluggers and you have a guy like Kenneth Murray who can run really good (from) sideline to sideline, I think that that could be a good fit if you’re looking at the second level as well … If you can plug up front and keep those linebackers free, maybe Kenneth Murray is a good selection at the second level.”

The need for linebacker could be more apparent if the Seahawks decide to cut veteran K.J. Wright due to his high salary. As it stands, Wright, All Pro Bobby Wagner and second-year player Cody Barton are Seattle’s projected starting linebackers.

The depth in that room isn’t great, as 2019 starter Mychal Kendricks is a free agent and is recovering from an ACL tear and is awaiting sentencing for insider trading. Second-year player Ben Burr-Kirven will return, and Shaquem Griffen, who played more as a pass rusher in 2019, could also backup at outside linebacker. Aside from those two, practice squad members Sutton Smith and Pita Taumoepenu are the only other linebackers on the roster.

Listen to Klatt’s full conversation with Brock and Salk, which includes more draft talk, some golf discussions and his view on the quarantine due to coronavirus at this link or in the player below at the 33:50 mark.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock Huard and Mike Salk on Twitter.

More Seahawks offseason coverage

Boy Howdy’s Seahawks mock draft: How Seattle can finish rebuilding its core
Seahawks draft: Brock Huard breaks down the 7 picks from our mock draft
Heaps: To replace ‘blue-chip’ Clowney, Seahawks would need Ngakoue
Why Ray Roberts is impressed by Seahawks’ O-line additions
Seahawks 2020 offseason tracker

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