Seahawks’ pre-draft positions of need: Tight end

Feb 24, 2015, 12:51 PM | Updated: Apr 8, 2016, 10:50 am
Zach Miller played in only three games last year due to an ankle injury that didn’t heal prop...
Zach Miller played in only three games last year due to an ankle injury that didn't heal properly after surgery. (AP)

For all the personnel plans that have worked out for the Seahawks over the last five seasons, one that hasn’t is their attempt to equip their offense with a potent combination at tight end.

Danny O’Neil and Brady Henderson are taking stock of the Seahawks’ roster with an eye toward the areas they could address in the draft.

CB | WR | TE | LB | RB

They signed Zach Miller in free agency in 2011 only to lose incumbent starter John Carlson to a season-ending shoulder injury in training camp. When Carlson left in free agency the next year, Seattle traded for Kellen Winslow Jr. but released him before the season began when he balked at a paycut.

Anthony McCoy and Luke Willson have shown the potential to be the other half of that pair, but McCoy has missed the last two seasons while Miller was sidelined for most of 2014. And with Miller coming off a serious injury and unsigned beyond this next season, the Seahawks could be back to square one in their attempt to find that elusive tight-end duo.

Where Seattle stands

The top two tight ends on the Seahawks’ depth chart are both under contract for 2015, but a closer look at the situation reveals why this is a position of need even if that need isn’t an immediate one. Miller is scheduled to count about $3.4 million against the salary cap in what will be the final year of his deal, which was restructured last offseason to reduce his compensation. He missed all but three games last season with an ankle injury that never healed properly after surgery in September, requiring a second operation. Coach Pete Carroll said last week that Miller is progressing well and should be ready for the start of next season. Even if his health isn’t a question mark – which is no guarantee since he’s coming off two ankle surgeries – Miller’s contract status should have Seattle considering a succession plan. Willson assumed the No. 1 role in Miller’s absence last season and made a number of big catches, but he isn’t as refined a blocker, which makes him better suited in a backup role given how important that skill is in Seattle’s run-first offense. Cooper Helfet is also under contract. Midseason pickup Tony Moeaki is a free agent as is McCoy.

Seattle’s draft history

It’s been one of the least-prioritized positions in the draft for Seattle under Carroll and general manager John Schneider, who have taken only two tight ends during their five seasons in Seattle. Both selections were toward the end of the draft, McCoy a sixth-round pick in 2010 and Willson a fifth-rounder in 2013. McCoy struggled with injuries and inconsistency over his first two seasons then showed promise in 2012 only to tear his Achilles in consecutive offseasons. Willson, meanwhile, has been pretty much what the Seahawks envisioned, which is a receiving tight end whose biggest asset is his down-field speed.

Names to remember

Maxx Williams, Minnesota. He’s considered by many to be the top tight end in this year’s draft despite being only 20 and having left school after his redshirt sophomore season. Williams (6-4, 250) caught 13 touchdown passes in 25 career games at Minnesota.

Clive Walford, Miami. He’s the most productive tight end in Miami’s history, which is really saying something considering all the NFL talent that school has produced at that position over the last 15 years. Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow Jr., Greg Olsen and Jimmy Graham all played at Miami. Walford (6-4, 254) ended his four-year career with the Hurricanes ahead of all of those players in receptions (121) and receiving yards (1,753). Walford is certainly going to be on Seattle’s radar considering that his position coach at Miami, Brennan Carroll, is now a member of the Seahawks’ coaching staff.

Wes Saxton, South Alabama. He’s an under-the-radar prospect because he played at a smaller school and only caught 20 passes in eight games last season, but Saxton (6-3, 248) was among the most athletic tight ends at the scouting combine.

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Seahawks’ pre-draft positions of need: Tight end