Seahawks draft preview: DL/LBs to consider

Here’s my story on the Seattle Seahawks issues at defensive line, completing our position-by-position analysis of this year’s draft.

Through the first part of the 2010 season, solid defensive line play was a plus for the Seahawks.

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Seattle ranked second overall in rushing defense through six games, giving up an average of just over 76 yards a contest.

But when defensive end Red Bryant and defensive tackle Colin Cole went down with injuries against Oakland at midseason, the Seahawks failed to recover up front and the defense suffered.

The Seahawks allowed 239 rushing yards in a 33-3 pounding against the Raiders, and gave up an average of 144 yards a contest the rest of the season, going 3-7 down the stretch.

Bryant suffered a torn medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his right knee that required surgery, landing him on injured reserve for the rest of the season. Cole missed five games with a severe high ankle sprain. Add to that the four games defensive tackle Brandon Mebane missed because of an injured calf, and it’s clear why the Seahawks could be looking for defensive line help early in the draft.

Combined, Bryant, Cole and Mebane missed 18 games last season. And there’s no certainty that Mebane will return. The Cal product could be an unrestricted free agent this season, depending on what happens in the league’s labor dispute.

Some draft experts predict as many as 12 defensive linemen could go in the first round of this year’s NFL draft, which starts Thursday. That would be the most since 2003.

Rob Rang’s defensive lineman/linebackers to consider

1 (25) Muhammad Wilkerson, 6-4, 315, Temple

Rob’s rationale: An eerily similar prospect to the Seahawks’ Red Bryant, Wilkerson can rotate inside and out, providing the club with size, physicality, versatility and a high-running motor.

2 (57) Christian Ballard, 6-4, 283, Iowa

Rob’s rationale: More athletic than his more celebrated former line-mate Adrian Clayborn, Ballard could surprise in the NFL.

4(99) Pierre Allen, 6-4, 273, Nebraska

Rob’s rationale: While not an explosive pass rusher, Allen showed consistent improvement throughout his career and is productive against the run and pass.

5 (156,157) Greg Romeus, 6-5, 264, Pittsburgh

Rob’s rationale: Entered the year as one of the top DEs in the draft, but suffered injuries to his back, knee that ended his season prematurely. The Seahawks gambled on the recovery of CB Walter Thurmond last year and could double-down with Romeus, the 2010 Big East Defensive Player of the Year.

6 (173) Chris Neild, 6-2, 314, West Virginia

Rob’s rationale: Isn’t flashy, but a strong, tough interior defender who will carve out a niche in the NFL as run-stuffer.

7 (209, 242)) Lazarius Levingston, 6-4, 292, LSU

Rob’s rationale: Besides possessing one of the great names of the 2011 draft, Levingston’s size and athleticism is worthy of a 7th round gamble.

Linebackers to consider

1 (25) Akeem Ayers, 6-3, 254, UCLA

Rob’s rationale: While not an area of concern for the Seahawks, Ayers’ size, athleticism and versatility should get him drafted in the middle to late portion of the first round.

2 (57) Sam Acho, 6-2, 262, Texas

Rob’s rationale: A defensive end while at Texas, Acho’s natural pass rush skills and high intangibles is sure to pique the interest of creative defensive coordinators.

4(99) Mason Foster, 6-1, 245, Washington

Rob’s rationale: Likely to be drafted in the third round, Foster could present too much value for the Seahawks to pass up should he be available here. While not a spectacular athlete, his instincts, quick hands and reliable open field tackling make him one of the year’s safer traditional 4-3 linebackers.

5 (156,157) Mark Herzlich, 6-4, 244, Boston College

Rob’s rationale: One of the year’s most heart-warming stories, Herzlich defeated a rare form of bone cancer to return to the field. While he wasn’t the headlining playmaker this year he had been in the past, some believe he’ll return to his previously dominant level with time.

6 (173) Mike Mohammed, 6-3, 239, California

Rob’s rationale: Experienced and productive in the 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, Mohammed’s athleticism and instincts could earn him a significantly higher draft day selection than my grade indicates.

7 (209, 242)) Jeremiha Hunter, 6-1, 239, Iowa

Rob’s rationale: Lacks the size and athleticism to warrant earlier round consideration, this instinctive and tough linebacker could carve a niche as a special teams performer and surprise when given an opportunity on defense.

via TNT 2011 draft preview: DL/LBs to consider | Seahawks Insider.