While building through the draft is seen as the wisest path to success in the NFL, a team must exploit other avenues of talent allocation to achieve success in such a competitive league. Enter the undrafted free agent: Players that come in off the street and can make a huge impact. Matthew Brown takes an in-depth look at the Seattle Seahawks class of 2016 UDFAs. (Learn more in Part 1 & Part 2.)
Undrafted free agents (UDFA) are an often overlooked part of the NFL, yet they are crucial to roster construction. This is especially true for the Seattle Seahawks, who at one point last season, had 32 UDFAs on their 53 man roster. In the 2016 NFL Draft, they selected eight offensive players and just two on the other side of the ball. The Seahawks mainly used UDFA to bolster their defensive depth, adding talent who they viewed with draftable grades. As a result, you can expect some ferocious battles in training camp. In this three part series, we will look at UDFAs on the offensive side the of ball, the defensive line and linebacker group, and the secondary. Part 3, here, covers the Seattle Seahawks 2016 Secondary UDFAs.
DeAndre Elliott, CB, Colorado State
Elliott fits the Seahawks’ physical requirement for a cornerback, being long and rangey at 6’ 1”, with 32” arms – the arm length that appears to be the crucial measurement for potential Seahawks defensive backs. At the combine, he had a ridiculous 41” vertical jump – tied for third-best amongst combine attendees – and concerns over his 4.55 second forty time should be downplayed considering that the Seahawks do not demand top-end speed from their corners. John Schneider stated that “there was a chance we would have taken him. He fits the mold of Jeremy [Lane] actually”.
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Elliott has been criticised by some for bailing too quickly at times. However, by being conservative and bailing at the first sign of a vertical threat, it means he is rarely beat deep. His bail also fits Seattle’s scheme, which frequently has its cornerbacks playing bail Cover 3, with a few man principles. On the rare occasion that Elliott is beat deep, it is due to him not maintaining his cushion – which appears to be more a misreading of the receiver’s route rather than an occasional bad habit.
Elliott’s bail-style is not the only thing which makes him a Seahawks’-style corner technique-wise. He recorded seven interceptions in college, a result of his ability to keep his eyes on the quarterback and also his receiver. In addition, he undercuts wide receiver routes and breaks off of receivers in order to attack the football. His technique improved yearly, seeing him gain a full-time starter role in 2015 – where he spent the majority of his snaps at field corner.
Elliott’s block shedding is fairly good. He often sheds his blocker to get to the ball carrier on wide receiver screens, but his quickness in breaking up receiver screens sees him fooled by screen fakes – such as in Buffalos 2015 game against Boise State. In the run game, he maintains, and appears, to understand the importance of outside contain
His tackling needs a lot of refinement, as Elliott does not always track the hip of the ball carrier nor take the best angle. He also needs to go lower when tackling. He regularly chooses the safest tackle rather than going for the greatest impact, which tends to render his tackles easier to evade or break. A better balance is needed between impact and effectiveness. His ability to improve is shown by his quarterback rating when targeted, according to PFF, dropping from 78.3 to 50.8 from 2014 to 2015.
Elliott probably needs a redshirt year to improve his tackling and grasp the intricacies of the Seahawks’ cornerback technique – a style which saw free agent addition Cary Williams fail. He faces a severely difficult challenge in making the final 53, as the cornerback depth in Seattle is as strong as it has ever been under Carroll and Schneider. He may not survive on the practice squad, due to the Seahawks’ league-wide reputation for developing quality defensive backs.
Tanner McEvoy WR / TE / S Wisconsin
McEvoy was an incredibly versatile player at Wisconsin, where he spent time at quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, and free safety. The Seahawks’ website initially listed him as a wide receiver, but Pete Carroll commented that he would start on the defensive side of the football.
McEvoy’s versatility is largely due to his athleticism. His pro-day figures were: 6’6”, 230 pounds 33.5” vertical, 9.9’ broad jump, 6.84 second three cone, 11.22 second 60 yard shuttle, and 4.25 second pro agility.
McEvoy used his length well, leading the Badgers in interceptions last season with six. He is aggressive in coverage, and his ball-hawking nature should appeal to Pete Carroll – a man who places much emphasis on turnovers. He breaks off of receivers entirely to intercept passes, and undercuts routes. He also covered a wide area of the field, his rangy style and speed aiding him. He needs to improve his press coverage, which for a player of his size should not be that big of an issue. His tackling technique needs improvement, with poor angles regularly leading to misses.
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This following video, is the very next play of the game which demonstrates McEvoy’s short memory as a defensive back.
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McEvoy has signed on to one of the best teams for developing athletic talent. Even though he may be limited to a practice squad spot at first, if he can develop his technique Seattle will find a way to get him on to the field. He would be an ideal solution to the Seahawks’ issues covering tight ends. Currently, it seems like 31-year-old Brandon Browner has been signed to execute this task.
Tyvis Powell, SS, Ohio State
Why did Tyvis Powell go undrafted? A team captain at Ohio State last season, and the defensive MVP in the 2014 national title win over Oregon, Powell has the ideal size and athleticism for the position, at 6’ 3” 211 pounds and running a 4.46 second forty time. Schneider’s comments upon signing Powell expressed shock at being able to sign him: “[We] had a very high grade [on him]” and that “[we were] surprised we were able to get him.”
One reason for Powell’s UDFA status is his tackling technique, which is subpar, despite his total of 195 tackles in college. For a man of Powell’s size – which would suggest he projects best as a strong safety – a big hit on most tackles would be expected. Instead Powell ducks his head into contact and sometimes has running backs fall forward when he meets them. He does not come downhill on runners aggressively, appearing rather timid as he allows them to run toward him. This style gives the impression that contact is viewed as a necessary evil of the game, rather than a part to enjoy. The angles he takes when in pursuit of the ball carrier also needs work, and Powell would benefit from tracking the play-side hip of the runner more consistently. These technique issues contributed to 13 missed tackles by Powell in 2015. This did not go unnoticed from other college programs, with a Big Ten offensive assistant stating that “our game plan was to run at him and away from Vonn [Bell].”
His ability to play well against the run is further worsened by the difficulty he has in freeing himself from blockers. Dissatisfactory tackling and play when defending against the run has led some analysts to suggest that Powell would be better suited at free safety, but his production and frame should not be ignored. Furthermore, the mentorship of Kam Chancellor should aid him in being a more effective hitter and tackler, as should the previously mentioned ‘Hawk Tackle’ coaching that the Seattle Seahawks preach.
In addition to Powell’s prototypical size, his big-play ability is a major attraction. In the big games, Powell makes game-changing plays. As a redshirt freshman, he intercepted Michigan’s two-point attempt – jumping in front of wide receiver Drew Dileo to win the game for Ohio State. In the 2014 college football semi-final he picked off Alabama’s end-of-game Hail Mary. He intercepted Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer in the 2015 Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame, but it was negated due to a targeting call on Joey Bosa.
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Powell’s main skill in pass coverage was his field awareness, with the safety displaying a good understanding of where his fellow teammates were. He plays with excellent range, which saw him cover for teammates’ mistakes in coverage. The Buckeyes even had him covering men in the slot – including tight ends and running back / wide receiver hybrids. Turnovers were also forced by Powell, as he registered eight interceptions in three years of Buckeyes football – with over three in the past two years. Even when attending the Senior Bowl, Powell registered interceptions in practices. The negatives in his pass coverage include his tendency to allow receivers to eat up his cushion, and also his occasional habit of relinquishing deep responsibility when focusing too much on the QB’s eyes rather than the receivers.
Powell – who clearly understands why he went undrafted – will go into a deep backup safety competition which includes SS Kelcie McCray,who filled in admirably during Chancellor’s holdout, and FS Steven Terrell. Powell could also make the roster as a backup to Browner’s role as a third safety. Physical cornerback Tharold Simon could also be a part of the competition for this job, in addition to the previously mentioned McEvoy.