In my last post profiling the ‘Hawks defensive draft strategies and Vanderbilt DE/OLB Stephen Weatherly, I talked about how important the defensive foundation has been for the Seattle Seahawks in their recent run of success. And one important caveat of that defense appears to be a big emphasis in how the club will focus their draft strategy in 2016: forcing turnovers.
While most of us use Thursday’s to post pictures of us from our childhood in the hopes of stoking our ever-dying flame of innocence via Facebook likes and re-tweets, the Seattle Seahawks use it to focus on creating turnovers with their defense. “Turnover Thursday,” as it’s known at their practices, is a not so subtle nod to one of the biggest reasons the Seattle defense has enjoyed a great deal of success under Pete Carroll. The ‘Hawks already employ a ball-hawking secondary led by the greatest beef-jerky-eating cornerback to ever play in the NFL, Richard Sherman, as well as some of the NFL’s best at forcing fumbles with Cliff Avril, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas.
One would think that with the way the roster currently stands, there’s enough of a history to warrant optimism in the turnover department heading into next season. But check out what Pete Carroll had to say in an interview at the Combine last week with the guys at Real Football Network, when asked about what he feels would be a key area of improvement for next season:
Well, we want the football more. You know, for whatever reason, we didn’t get the football away from our opponents as much as we have. Again, we took care of the ball beautifully and did a great job of that and we’ve been really consistent on that one. But, the ball didn’t come our way as much and there’s a lot of things that happen when it does. We played good defense, we kept scores down, we did a lot of good things, and it was really hard to get explosive plays against us. But we want that darned ball, man.
Although it’s not a groundbreaking discovery that more turnovers equal a better chance at success, it’s not necessarily something you’re expecting to hear from a team that has had the best scoring defense in the entire league for each of the past three seasons. So, let’s take a look at the numbers to give a better context.
Last season, the Seahawks allowed the fourth-fewest points per drive in the league, according to these numbers from Football Outsiders. But pay special attention to the Time of Possession per drive column (TOP/Dr):
Seattle was in the bottom half of the league when it came to this particular metric, meaning more and more teams were able to sustain lengthy drives over the course of a game. Much of this was due to the fact that they weren’t able to force turnovers at nearly the same as they were in the previous two campaigns. The ‘Hawks were merely middle of the pack in 2015, forcing 1.3 turnovers/game, down from 1.6 in 2014 and a staggering 2.4 in their Super Bowl-winning 2013 season.
In that 2013 season, it’s easy to see why the ‘Hawks were so good at presenting plenty of opportunities for their offense to score:
The time of possession per drive was even still mediocre, but the big difference came in points per drive, turnovers per drive, and interceptions per drive, leading the league in every category.
The Seahawks already put a strong emphasis on turnovers in their program but with some of these metrics, along with Carroll’s recent interview, it’s reasonable to assume that they will be targeting players in this particular draft that have a knack for knocking the ball loose or picking the ball off. One such player is Maryland defensive back Sean Davis. Despite being part of a horrendous 3-9 Terrapins squad, Davis was a beacon of light amid the quagmire. Plus, you guessed it, he forced a lot of turnovers.
Davis forced five fumbles and three interceptions in 2015, in addition to finishing his Maryland career with over 300 tackles. He switched full-time from safety to cornerback in 2015, but that didn’t stop him from being one of the most bone-jarring tacklers in all the Big Ten.
To give you an idea of the type of physicality Davis possesses, look no further than this hit he laid on Ohio State tight end Nick Vannett at the Senior Bowl:
Davis received a Combine invite, where he put up impressive numbers across the board and at 6’1″, 207 lbs, he looked every bit the part of the tall, lengthy and physical corners that the Seahawks covet in their organization:
Davis’ versatility in having experience at both safety and corner and sound tackling technique should allow for his pro team to figure out just where he’ll fit into their system. Initially, Davis should see regular playing time in dime coverages until he rounds more fully into a starting role. The grasping of the NFL playbook also shouldn’t be an issue for Davis, as his official Maryland bio states that he’s trilingual, speaking English, Chinese, and French. If NFL France were a thing, I suppose all the draft experts would be mocking him to the Paris Baguettes with the first overall pick.
With the impending free agency of Jeremy Lane and past contract uncertainty of Kam Chancellor, it’s possible that the Seahawks could view Davis as a potential replacement for either. He played well in coverage against some of the best wide receivers in the Big Ten last season bit can also deliver hits, avoid missed tackles and punch the ball out in much the same way that makes Chancellor so valuable to the ‘Hawks. Even if moved back to safety, Davis’ explosiveness makes him the best athlete at the position according to the numbers from Zach Whitman at Three Sigma Athlete:
It’s also undeniable that Davis has the swagger necessary for entrance into the Legion of Boom, calling the Terps’ corner duo of himself and Will Likely “the best corner duo out there” before the start of last season. And he was correct. They were the best corner duo of a 3-9 team in the entire country.
Players like Jalen Ramsey and Vernon Hargreaves III may be the headline names of the 2016 defensive backs, but there’s a good chance that the uniquely-talented Sean Davis could be just as much of a household name when all is said and done.