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Seattle Seahawks

Analysis: Seahawks’ draft picks work well into new look defensive line

Minnesota linebacker Boye Mafe runs the 40-yard dash during the NFL football scouting combine, Saturday, March 5, 2022, in Indianapolis.   (Associated Press)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

The Seahawks not only continued to address their pass rush in the NFL draft but did so in a way that reiterated they will look a little different up front in 2022.

In fact, by drafting Boye Mafe of Minnesota and Tyreke Smith of Ohio State, coupled with the news Monday that Rasheem Green has signed a one-year deal with the Houston Texans, means the team’s transition on the defensive line might for now be complete.

In Mafe, taken in the second round at 40th overall, and Smith (fifth, 158), Seattle drafted two athletic and speedy players to rush off the edge, joining free agent signee Uchenna Nwosu, who inked a two-year deal worth up to $19.05 million in March.

Those three will replace departed veterans Green, Carlos Dunlap, Benson Mayowa and Kerry Hyder. Dunlap, Mayowa and Hyder were all released in March while Seattle decided not to re-sign Green, a third-round pick in 2018 who had 13.5 sacks in his Seahawks career, the team feeling each was no longer really a fit for what they want to do defensively.

Green, Dunlap and Hyder weighed 275 pounds or more and are known as much for the power in their rush as speed.

Nwosu, Mafe and Smith all weigh 261 pounds or less and arrive accompanied with scouting reports such as this on Mafe from that he has “rare explosive measurables.”

Seattle still has some big ends on its roster in Shelby Harris, L.J. Collier and Quinton Jefferson. But they seem ticketed to play end in the base 3-4 or 4-3, sliding inside to tackle in pass-rush situations.

But the rest of the players listed as ends or outside linebackers for the Seahawks seem to fit a template of being a little leaner and quicker, a mold Seattle wants as it plans to go with more 3-4 looks this year under new defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt.

Mafe, listed at 6-4, 261, ran a 4.53 40 at the NFL scouting combine, the third-fastest of any player listed as an edge rusher. He also had a 38-inch vertical leap, second-best of any edge rusher.

“He’s a fantastic athlete with the speed and the size that he brings,” coach Pete Carroll said.

Smith, listed at 6-3, 255, had measurables at the combine that weren’t as notable (4.86 and 34). But he was an elite enough high-school basketball player at Cleveland Heights High in Cleveland to draw attention from college scouts before deciding to concentrate on football.

“He jumps off the ball,” general manager John Schneider said. “Really good hands.”

Both impressed at the Senior Bowl as two of the six players Seattle ultimately drafted who played in that game. Smith had just three sacks as a senior at Ohio State. But his performance at the Senior Bowl appeared to sell the Seahawks that he could have more potential than his stats at OSU indicated.

“You can see him playing against some of the best prospects in the country and he’s a unique talent with the way he jumps off the ball and his hand use,” Schneider said.

Seattle listed both as linebackers, but Carroll noted that Mafe has more true linebacker experience while Smith played more on the line at Ohio State, where his official position was defensive end.

“Boye’s got a little bit more linebacker in him, from his style of play and his upbringing, and Tyreke was more of an edge rusher,” Carroll said. “In our system, they have to do both and those guys will get a chance to, and we can maximize and minimize whatever to fit their strengths. But they’re a little bit different and both played same conference a lot, great level of play, really good comparisons we can make. But I think there’s a little bit more of a lean toward linebacker (Mafe), a little bit more lean toward the rusher background (Smith) for the two guys.”

In that dual outside linebacker/rush end role, the two join not only Nwosu but also third-year players Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson, each 2020 draft picks who fit the sleeker, faster mold – Taylor is listed at 6-4, 267 and Robinson at 6-3, 259.

But in Mafe, Smith, Taylor, Nwosu and Robinson, the Seahawks feel they now have the makings of a solid corps of players who can fill the outside linebacker role in the 3-4 and strongside linebacker and/or edge rusher in the 4-3.

Carroll specially mentioned Mafe as a player who can be a strongside linebacker in the 4-3, a spot filled mostly by Mayowa last season.

“I think it gives us a logical opportunity to create a rotation that we would like to create,” Carroll said. “And we want a lot of guys playing at those spots so they can play with really high intensity.”

The makeover comes as Seattle tries to revive a defense that was 28th last season in yards allowed and just 22nd in sacks with 34 and 25th in turnovers forced with 18.

Dunlap led Seattle with 8.5 sacks last year, and Green was tied with Taylor with 6.5. No one else on the roster had more than two with the Seahawks last year, but Nwosu had five with the Chargers while Harris had six with Denver and Jefferson 4.5 with the Raiders.

The makeover doesn’t come without some cost. Mayowa has a dead cap hit this year of $2.25 million, Hyder $1.7 million and Dunlap $1.4 million, meaning Seattle will essentially pay those three a combined $5.35 million this year not to play.

Schneider said last month that the team could still bring back Dunlap, whose release from the team was listed as a June 1 designation, meaning his contract – and $5.1 million in cap savings – doesn’t come off the books until June 2.

But that was before Seattle drafted Mafe and Smith, moves that might, for now, solidify the pass rush group the Seahawks will take into training camp.