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 3.)
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 2, here, covers the Seattle Seahawks 2016 Front Seven UDFAs.
Montese Overton, DE / LB, East Carolina
Overton recorded 7.5 sacks in his last season at East Carolina and had 35.5 tackles for loss, in 38 games. Despite the fact that six of these sacks came in just three games, Overton has upside as a player who can get to the quarterback. He has nice initial burst on tape, and this is confirmed by his fifth-best combine broad jump of 10’3” and his 10-yard split of 1.59 seconds.
To compete against offensive lines in the NFL, he will need to develop more pass rushing moves, but he does have a nice swim move with good hand movement in his arsenal. Against bigger linemen he, at times, appears hesitant as he tries to decide on a move to make – perhaps aware of his size limitations. By the time a decision is made, the play is over:
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In the run game, Overton is a good hand fighter with solid initial push. He diagnoses quickly whether the play is a run or a pass, and is not fooled by play-action. He also has a knack for making blockers miss, but this will not work as frequently in the NFL. Importantly, he is not overly reliant on moves, given that he has the strength to stack and shed blockers even when at a size disadvantage. He needs to work on playing with better leverage at times, as he sometimes comes out of his stance too upright – which certainly does not help the issue of his size. Tackling-wise, he needs to track the nearside hip of the ball carrier, but with Seahawks coaching – staff who teach ‘Hawk Tackling’ – this should not be an issue that is too difficult to fix.
At East Carolina, Overton followed players in motion – frequently covering receivers in the slot. His coverage was not just restricted to wide receivers: He was used to cover tight ends and running backs, who were leaking out as well. It is a huge compliment to his pass defense that the Pirates put their best pass rusher in coverage for a sizeable portion of his snaps – 61.9% of the time according to Pro Football Focus. Certainly, his pass coverage is very adept for a player of his size, with quicker-than-expected hips and general awareness being major plus points. One aspect that Overton sometimes has difficulty with is the double move – his hips lack the fluidity needed to stick with these routes.
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The main knock on Overton is simply that he is not big enough. At 6’2″, 226 pounds, he has the wrong body type for a defensive end or a linebacker. Furthermore, he lacks the frame required to add more weight. His lack of size did hinder him at times in college, but in the NFL it will become a more persistent issue.
Overton is an undrafted free agent who may make the final roster. With Bruce Irvin departing in free agency, there is only one strongside (“SAM”) outside linebacker veteran on the roster – Mike Morgan. Overton fits what the Seahawks look for in a SAM linebacker, possessing the abilities to rush the passer and cover receivers. Plus, he is able to contribute on special teams; at East Carolina he registered 11 tackles on kickoff coverage in his sophomore year. However, his size may prevent him from ever finding his way onto an NFL starting defense.
David Perkins, DE / LB, Illinois State
Similarly to Overton, Perkins is an impressive athlete who may lack the size required to either be a SAM backer or a LEO in the Seahawks’ defense. He ran a 4.44 second forty yard dash at the Midwest combine and a 4.32 second short shuttle at this pro day – a time that would have placed fifteenth amongst defensive lineman and linebackers at the combine. If size proves to be an issue – like Overton he stands 6’ 2”, weighing 233 pounds – he will likely just be a situational pass-rusher.
Perkins did show flashes of pass rush moves, including a bull rush and swim inside, and a spin move. All of these moves proved very effective and were well-developed, and his ability to vary his pass rush approach should not be understated. Against lesser opposition he usually beat his man if lined up one-on-one, showing great bend when turning the corner. He rushed the line from a four-point stance in the majority of snaps, despite the tape showing him to be more effective in a two-point (this is likely due to scheme). He also is better the wider he is lined up, at 7 or 9 tech rather than 5 tech. His burst off of the ball needs a lot of work, with his reaction to the snap being inconsistent – put it this way, he definitely is not a snap-count guesser. If he can learn how to get a more consistent get off, his athleticism will aid him even more in being a fierce edge-rusher – learning from one of the best snap count guessers in the business, Michael Bennett, should help him.
Perkins transferred from Ohio State to Illinois State in search of more playing time. While in Normal, he showed signs of improvement, his play recognition being a good example with it dramatically advancing from 2014 to 2015. In 2015, he was rarely fooled by misdirection and bettered his play when in pursuit of the ball carrier – seeing him play more as a quarterback spy. At Illinois State he recorded 17 sacks in 38 games, 29 tackles for loss. It would have been intriguing to see him come up against FBS teams in his later years.
Perkins’s skill as a pass-rusher is solidified by various teams showing clear signs of game-planning for him. In an attempt to tire Perkins, plays were run away from his direction. Offensive coordinators also had him frequently double-teamed and chip-released. When double-teamed, Perkins virtually disappeared from games.
Defending against the run, Perkins encounters issues. He struggles to disengage from blocks, and when he does the play has usually passed him by. In addition, he sometimes ends the play on the ground – after being pancaked. His tackling also needs work, with a tendency to avoid wrapping up preventing him from making the play. Illinois State substituting Perkins in goal-line situations speaks volumes.
In Illinois State’s game against North Dakota State, in the 2014-2015 National Championship, he was largely ineffectual. This raises the issue that when he comes up against better opponents, he is often overpowered and does not have the chance to even make a move on his blocker. He is very dependent on his inconsistent initial burst to set up a pass-rushing moves, and the better linemen of the FCS just used their length to keep Perkins away from the ball carrier. Furthermore, his virtual non-existence in the run game is amplified.
If he is to play linebacker for the Seahawks, he needs to get used to dropping back in coverage – having very rarely done this for the Redbirds.
Pete Robertson, DE / LB, Texas Tech
Robertson is the third and final ‘tweener type that the Seahawks signed. Like Overton and Perkins, he lacks the build to set the edge consistently in the NFL, measuring in at 6’ 3”, 233 pounds. He also has difficulty in the run game as bigger blockers often overwhelm him.
Robertson played his best football when he was rushing the passer, attacking with a high motor and recording 12 sacks to lead the Big 12 as a junior – an impressive feat considering the pass-rushing talent the conference possesses. Robertson’s production in 2015 fell to just five sacks because David Gibbs had him drop him into coverage more frequently in his final year – despite Robertson lining up in the same rush end position in the 3-3-5 defense. Nevertheless, when rushing the passer Robertson still had a big impact on the game: According to Pro Football Focus, Robertson had the fifth-most QB hurries and hits in the nation last season (amongst 3-4 inside linebackers).
Predominantly a bull rusher, Robertson executes this technique brilliantly, but when forced to utilize different moves, he can struggle Robertson needs to work on his spin move and trust his rip move more – he appears hesitant when ripping due to his size limitations. His high effort does not always negate his lack of elite speed for the position – he had a 10 yard split of 1.76 seconds – and this is sometimes visible. Another takeaway from Robertson’s movement is a lack of fluidity, with the ex-Red Raider appearing rigid in certain situations.
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As a tackler Robertson needs to refine some fundamentals, but he does deliver a big hit. The impact that he is able to deliver saw him force a total of seven fumbles in his college career. His sound tackling saw him make numerous plays in the backfield, recording 15.5 tackles for loss in 2014 and 13.5 TFL in 2015. These numbers were also aided by Robertson’s ability to read misdirection.
Recruited as a defensive back, one would expect Robertson to be good in coverage. However, he lacks the movement skills to excel in pass defense. In Texas Tech’s defense, he mainly covered underneath zones. Additionally, he was used occasionally as a quarterback spy. He had his biggest problems when he was asked to cover in man-to-man in the slot.
Robertson is listed as a defensive end on the Seahawks’ roster, and they may view him as a man who can add to the pass-rush rotation. A large part of the Seahawks’ 2013 Superbowl victory was their ability to keep their pass-rush fresh. Cassius Marsh, despite being a valuable special teams player, could lose his place on the roster due to his substandard ability in getting to the quarterback If Seattle does intend to try Robertson at OLB, he needs to dramatically improve his coverage skills and could definitely do with a year on the practice squad.
Steve Longa, LB, Rutgers
Longa’s decision to declare early from Rutgers saw him go undrafted. Despite this, the former Scarlet Knight maintains this is a decision he does not regret because of the amount of times he played hurt in college without getting paid.
Longa is an excellent tackler, registering over 100 tackles in each three years at Rutgers. He ranked second amongst FBS linebackers for the most solo tackles last season, and had four games with over 10 solo tackles this season. His career total of 342 tackles is mightily impressive, and his production compares well to Bobby Wagner, who had 299 in his three years at Utah State. Longa takes good angles on the ball carrier, hitting with force and possessing the capability to run sideline to sideline. He usually demonstrates good gap discipline and awareness, in combination with coming downfield aggressively. Quite commonly, he was the first to tackle the ball carrier, with Rutgers scheming to enable their best tackler to make plays. When blitzing, he got through to the quarterback fairly often but had difficulty in bringing down the passer – he needs to wrap up more consistently.
In pass defense, Longa has much room for improvement. He fools for play action plays regularly, biting hard and therefore leaving himself out of the play by the time the quarterback passes the football. Another area that needs work is his play recognition when blitzing, with Longa showing an inability to diagnose screen plays in these situations. In man coverage, he struggles to keep up with routes which feature quick changes of direction. In zone coverage, he needs to play tighter to men who enter his zone. This is despite Longa being motioned out to men in the slot, playing an outside shade technique rather than pure man to man. One area of coverage that Longa looked more comfortable in was as a quarterback spy.
Athletically, Longa is underwhelming. Despite having the fourth-best sixty-yard shuttle time at the combine, at 12.00 seconds, he tested poorly:
Longa will probably will be a MLB in the Seahawks’ defense – like Bobby Wagner – despite spending time at strongside linebacker in college. He has some similarities to Wagner, including being undersized for the position. As a result of his size, he needs to be kept clean in the run game. He undoubtedly will be helped by the Seahawks’ scheme, where they use two big defensive tackles in base to keep their athletic linebackers free to make plays and fill gaps.
Longa will compete with Brock Coyle for the backup MLB spot on the Seahawks’ roster. Coyle received starting snaps when Malcolm Smith missed time in the 2014 season, and performed well for an UDFA rookie. Moreover, Coyle’s pro-day was better than Longa’s combine, so Longa faces a gruelling challenge in beating Coyle.