One of the most often-used cliches in all of sports is undoubtedly “defense wins championships.” It’s used as both a reason to blame a team for its mediocrity as well as to praise it for its success. In the past six seasons for the Seattle Seahawks, the latter has been how most of the NFL and general public views the organization.
Despite the club’s defensive coordinator position being a revolving door of eventual head coaches, the ‘Hawks have relied on their defense to become one of the most dominant teams in the league over the past several seasons. Even beyond the X’s and O’s, it’s arguably the most entertaining cast of characters in all of sports. Whether the always-hilarious Michael Bennett quote or the unrivaled culture of the Legion of Boom, the Seahawks’ defense doesn’t mind being the center of attention and they’ve racked up plenty of accolades to deserve such attention.
The defense has also been the biggest focus of the organizational draft strategy since Pete Carroll and John Schneider came to town. Just two starters on last year’s defense (DT Ahtyba Rubin and DE Cliff Avril) arrived in the Emerald City via free agency. And yes, I know I’m sort of cheating when it comes to Michael Bennett, but they did originally sign him as an undrafted free agent.
But it isn’t as simple as drafting guys that produced big numbers at the college level. They have to be players the truly fit into the Seattle scheme. They covet big, physical corners, sound tacklers, and explosive edge rushers. Unique blends of athleticism and attention to detail have been the calling card of the ‘Hawks defense in the PCJS.
With that being said, it eventually comes to a point where you “can’t keep them all” as a result of that pesky old salary cap. It’s why the club is comfortable with a draft-and-develop strategy rather than grasping at straws when free agency rolls around. The Seahawks put a great deal of trust in their scouts and coaches and they will continue this strategy until it doesn’t work or a new front office is in place.
One of the biggest and widely-coveted unrestricted free agent is LB Bruce Irvin. Despite his first-round selection in 2012 being widely-panned by draft critics, Irvin’s explosiveness and ability to get pressure on the quarterback made him one of the most valuable members of the ‘Hawks defense since he arrived in camp. Despite mentioning that he would be willing to give the ‘Hawks a discount to stay in Seattle, in his first crack at free agency, Irvin is expected by many to land a lucrative deal:
— D. Orlando Ledbetter (@DOrlandoAJC) March 2, 2016
It would be out of the norm for the Seahawks to overspend to keep even a player as talented as Irvin in town, especially with the news today that wide receiver Jermaine Kearse is on his way out. The Seattle brass knew this was a possibility all along, which makes it more reasonable to assume they’ll be doing their due diligence on edge rushers in the upcoming draft. One of those players who could fit is Vanderbilt DE/OLB Stephen Weatherly.
A quick bit of snooping into Vanderbilt’s Pro Day photo gallery revealed that the ‘Hawks were in fact in the house for the event (peep the top right) and Weatherly could very well be one of the players they had their eyes on.
Weatherly was a three-year starter for the Commodores, where he racked up 11.5 career sacks. He received an invite to last month’s Combine, where he posted an impressive 4.61 40-yard dash at 6’4″, 267 lbs. His size was among the best of all linebacker prospects, however a move to defensive end could be his eventual position if the Seahawks call his name on draft day.
With 34 1/2″ arms, Weatherly possesses the length necessary to fight off blockers at the next level. And although he tests well compared with his fellow linebackers in this class, it’s interesting when you group him with the defensive ends, particularly what surfaces as his closest comp via the charts at Mock Draftable:
Any time your name can be put up alongside Robert Quinn, even from just a physical standpoint, you know you have something that you’re bringing to the table. In fact, Weatherly is nearly identical size-wise to Quinn (same height, two pounds heavier) and actually posted a better 20-yard split by two-hundredths of a second at 1.59 than the current LA Rams star on his Combine day. Let’s also not ignore the fact that Jabaal Sheard has also been a very productive player at the NFL level, posting 7+ sacks in three of his first five pro seasons.
Even though he primarily played linebacker at Vanderbilt, Weatherly displayed the quickness and strength to get to the quarterback in pass-rushing situations, as evidenced by this sack of Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly last season:
On the particular play, Weatherly shot through the B gap on a stunt, untouched, and managed to bring down the elusive Kelly with one arm while laying on the ground. Not exactly a routine play by any stretch of the imagination. Pass rushing situations like these were what made last year’s top selection Frank Clark valuable to the ‘Hawks in 2015 and it could be a perfect fit for Weatherly’s skill set. A “NASCAR package” consisting of Avril, Bennett, Clark and Weatherly sounds awfully enticing if you’re a Seattle fan and the opposite of enticing if you’re an opposing quarterback.
In addition to his consistent play on the field for a routinely-terrible Vanderbilt squad, Weatherly seems like an all-around good dude that would mesh well with the Seahawks’ current culture. His official Vanderbilt bio says that he plays six (six!) instruments and according to this interview, he mentions that his favorite TV show is “Teen Wolf,” which also happens to be what you would use to describe the look of most Seattle hipsters.
There’s a lot of talent at both defensive end and linebacker in the 2016 draft class, which can at times cause a tweener prospect such as Weatherly to get lost in the shuffle. But if there’s one thing the Seahawks have proven they can do well, it’s identify talent and maximize a player’s strengths on the defensive side of the ball, and Stephen Weatherly could be the next player to reinforce that idea.