The Rest of the Bunch: Wright, Smith, and a Guy Named Lazarius

Since I’ve already covered the two offensive linemen, the three defensive backs, and the lone wide receiver the Seahawks chose in the draft this year, there’s only three names left: fourth rounder K.J. Wright (LB) and seventh rounders Lazarius Levingston (DL) and Malcolm Smith (LB).

Wright was apparently drafted in the hope that he could contribute at the Leo pass-rushing DE position, although I have my doubts.  But before I get into that, here’s what the Seahawks currently have on tap for the Leo position:

Name Years Left
on Contract
Age Measurements Tackles Sacks 2010 Games
Chris Clemons 1 29 6’3″, 254 lbs 55 12 18
Dexter Davis 3 24 6’1″, 244 lbs 10 1 15
K.J. Wright Draft Pick 21 6’4″, 246 lbs N/A
Raheem Brock Free Agent 32 6’4″, 274 lbs 37 11 18
Derek Walker Free Agent 24 6’4″, 270 lbs P. Squad / IR
Maurice Fountain Free Agent 28 6’3″, 268 lbs P. Squad

As you can see, the cupboard is distressingly bare.  The main Leo DE last year, Chris Clemons, is still under contract, as is 2010 draft choice Dexter Davis (and presumably Wright will also be at some point), but beyond them there’s nothing.  Raheem Brock, who put up great sack numbers in the second half of the season as a rotational player, is certainly a candidate to be re-signed, but given his age I doubt he’ll be offered much money. 

Derek Walker (yes, that Derek Walker) and Maurice Fountain were both added to the practice squad in December, but since neither was offered a futures contract prior to the lockout it’s difficult to gauge the team’s interest in them.  Walker showed some potential in the 2009 preseason, but hasn’t done much since. Fountain has spent his post-college career playing for teams in the Arena League, the Arena-2 League, and the UFL, but has only managed to post respectable numbers in the AF2.  I wouldn’t get too attached to him.

Given the team’s need at the position, Wright has a prime opportunity here to prove himself in camp and earn some serious playing time in 2011.  Unfortunately, I’m not very confident that he’s up to the task.  You see, thanks to the SEC’s on-demand game library I’ve been able to watch a lot of video on the guy, and so far I’m seeing a whole lot that fails to impress me.

I’ll start with the good parts.  Wright is a patient defender; he doesn’t lose sight of plays, and he figures out his mistake quickly when he diagnoses a play incorrectly.  He was moved around a lot in Mississippi State’s defense, so he has experience playing from multiple positions and knows how to read and react to plays from several angles.  He also shows some aptitude for stalemating offensive linemen when they try to block him out of a play, and his tackle stats over his last three seasons are respectably large.

And, well, that’s about it.  Wright runs a 4.75 forty, and if anything he looks even slower on the field.  Yes, he corrects himself quickly when he’s caught out of position, but that doesn’t help him much because he lacks the speed to get himself back into the play.  He appears to be strong enough to work through blocks and continue pursuit, but doesn’t.  Instead, he fights the blocker to a standstill, then watches to see where the play is headed.  It isn’t clear whether he does this out of personal preference or because that’s what the coaches have asked him to do (i.e. play soft when engaged and spy the play rather than push through), but the reason doesn’t really matter because he lacks the speed to pursue the play effectively once he’s done spying.

What really bothers me about Wright in the games I watched is that his least impressive plays came on downs when he was asked to line up as a defensive end and rush the passer.  Wright rushes the passer the same way a bull rushes a toreador: blindly, with little technique.  Offensive linemen handled him with ease, and only rarely did I see him beat his man.  Granted, his slower speed is a much better fit for a DE than it was for a LB, but he looks like he’s going to need a lot of coaching to beef up his repertoire of pass-rush moves. 

That lack of technique is a bigger problem than you might initially think.  Ex-Seahawks DE Nick Reed was a black belt when it came to his prowess at hand-fighting and other pass-rush skills, but his small size (6’1”, 247 lbs) made it difficult for him to make much of an impact on the field for Seattle1.  Wright is only one pound heavier and two inches taller than Reed, and he has none of the same skillset.  That isn’t exactly a recipe for success. (The 8 sacks he notched over his entire Mississippi State career doesn’t stack up well to the 29.5 Reed racked up in his time at Oregon2, either.)

At best, Wright seems to be a developmental prospect.  Granted, there’s always the possibility that I simply happened to watch only the games in which he performed at his absolute worst — I mean, there has to be something in all that film that was positive enough to make John Schneider and Pete Carroll decide he was worth a draft pick, right? — but for now I remain pessimistic on his chances to contribute  

If you’re looking for a younger guy to emerge as a factor in Seattle’s pass rush next year, Dexter Davis is a much safer bet.  He’s actually a little smaller than Reed, but he looked good in the limited snaps he was given last year and should get plenty of opportunities in training camp this year to prove he deserves more playing time in 2011.  But enough about those guys — let’s talk about someone with a much cooler name.

Lazarius Levingston played defensive tackle at LSU and looks to be a potential fit to back up Red Bryant at the run-stuffing 5-tech DE position.  If you thought the depth at the Leo position was bad, well, just take a look at the team’s 5-techs:

Name Years Left
on Contract
Age Measurements Tackles Sacks 2010 Games
Red Bryant 1 27 6’4″, 323 lbs 18 1 7
Kentwan Balmer 2 24 6’5″, 315 lbs 46 0 17
Lazarius Levingston Draft Pick 23 6’4″, 292 lbs N/A
Jay Richardson Free Agent 27 6’6″. 280 lbs 10 0 9

Bryant was a revelation last year, stonewalling any and all runs to his side and showing a surprising aptitude for getting into the backfield to scare quarterbacks, but  when he landed on IR there wasn’t anyone on the roster who could replace him with any degree of effectiveness.  Jay Richardson was a decent run-stuffer in his three years as a Raider but no one is going to mistake him for a pass-rushing threat, so the team went with former 49ers’ first-round pick Kentwan Balmer to take Bryant’s place in the starting lineup.  Balmer is a more balanced player than Richardson and occasionally shows flashes of brilliance, but on the whole is pretty average.  Granted, he’s still young and has the raw talent to develop into a much better player, but that doesn’t stop thought of going another year with Balmer as Bryant’s primary backup from giving me heartburn.

I know seventh round picks like Levingston aren’t typically worth getting excited over, but I’m making an exception in his case (and no, I’m not just doing that because his name isn’t Balmer or Richardson).  On film, Levingston is not exciting to watch. He doesn’t do anything jaw-droppingly awesome, but that’s okay because what I saw is a guy who plays assignment correct3, rarely gets beaten outright, and doesn’t give up on plays.  After watching the wheels fall off the run defense last year when the team lost Bryant, “solid but unspectacular” sounds like a nice upgrade in the backup department.

I’ve saved LB Malcolm Smith for last mainly because I have almost nothing to say about him.  He’s clearly a gifted athlete, but he looks raw and more than a little out of control in the tape I’ve seen.  Basically, he’s this year’s Jameson Konz or Jordan Kent: an inexperienced player with just enough raw athletic talent to make him worth targeting with a pick late in the seventh round.  Prospects like Smith usually don’t do much beyond hang out on a practice squad for a couple seasons or make a few tackles on special teams.  Front offices like these sorts of pickups because every now and then you luck into a Bob Hayes or a Big Daddy Lipscomb, but the odds of success are so low that they might as well be playing the lotto.

1 I’m sure having to play in Jim Mora’s defensive schemes didn’t help either.  Did I mention I don’t like Mora?

2 Or to put it another way, Nick Reed’s 13 sacks his senior year in 2008 tied him for 3rd best in the nation.  Wright’s 3 sacks in 2010 were good for 262nd place, a distinction he shared with 104 other players.  (Just in case someone with the Seahawks organization likes to read endnotes, I’d be okay with Nick Reed returning to compete in training camp this year.  Hint, hint.)

3 This one’s hard to know for sure without knowing the exact defensive play call on every snap, but Levingston always looked like he was doing what he was supposed to be doing.