Why Seattle Took Three Safeties in the 2017 Draft

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Taking three players at a position where you have two elite starters can be puzzling to fans. However, Seattle’s decision to take three safeties in the 2017 NFL Draft is understandable as there are multiple factors that influenced the front office’s decision.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Why?

For one, the Seahawks’ draft board fell this way. Once Malik McDowell and Ethan Pocic had been selected, Seattle had several picks in the range of one of the strengths of this draft: the safety position.

Strong safety Kam Chancellor – for all the leadership qualities he brings to the team –  is 30 years old at the end of the 2017 season, and is declining athletically. Furthermore, his holdout in the 2015 offseason demonstrates that he feels undervalued. He is likely to be offered more money on the open market than what the Seahawks would be willing to pay him. Facing what is likely his last payday in the NFL that could be an irresistible proposition.

Free safety Earl Thomas hinted at leaving the game earlier this offseason. Thomas is returning to play this season, but his retirement consideration shows the psychological effect of the game. When Thomas missed the end of the season due to injury, his absence heavily impacted the team. Thomas’ range, play recognition and speed are crucial to Seattle’s single-high Cover 3 defense.

The depth behind Thomas was troubling last season. While the All-Pro is a near-irreplaceable generational talent, backup Steven Terrell did not show the instincts or range to play the free safety position in Seattle.

The signing of Bradley McDougald in the offseason could resemble more than a depth signing. Pete Carroll again mentioned potential three-safety packages, something he tried by signing Brandon Browner last offseason. While Browner retired after failing to make the move from cornerback to safety, Bradley McDougald could be a big nickel safety for Seattle. The new base of the NFL is nickel packages. To be more stout against the run – or for matchup purposes – teams may add an extra safety rather than an additional cornerback.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Who?

Delano Hill, Michigan, Round 3 Pick 95

Delano Hill is another big nickel option. Hill was a versatile safety at Michigan; a do-it-all player. He played in-the-box, two-high, single-high and outside corner. He rotated regularly, and blitzed from deep and the line-of-scrimmage. He was an excellent open-field tackler; taking great angles on the ball-carrier, tracking the near side hip, wrapping up and driving his man. He truly demonstrated the Hawk-Tackle fundamentals. He was often the defender making the crucial tackle. He attacked the run hard downhill, showing no signs of throttling down and enjoying contact. He also showed an ability to firmly set the edge and maintain outside contain.

In coverage, he can bump-and-run and move with his jam. He was often plastered over his man on short and intermediate routes. Hill frequently covered wide receivers one-on-one in the slot and outside. He ran a 4.47 second forty yard dash at 6’1’’ and 216 pounds. His movement in coverage was good enough for Carroll to tout him as a potential outside cornerback.

All the above factors lead to Hill being a perfect candidate for the big nickel position. He can matchup on receivers, particularly bigger body types. He is also great at playing the run. He will be tough competition for McDougald, and he further improves the strong safety depth if Chancellor suffers another injury or leaves in free agency.

One play showing what Hill brings to Seattle:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Seattle-Safeties-Video-1.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Seattle-Safeties-Still-1.jpg”]

Examples of Hill’s versatile coverage ability or his open-field tackling could have been included in this article. Instead, the above video is a case of his aggressive downhill play against the run. He is quick to diagnose the quarterback sweep, showing speed as he comes downfield. He stays patient rather than overcommitting and leaving the option pitch open. He then smashes the quarterback, leading with his shoulder to register the tackle for a loss.

[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Tedric Thompson, Colorado, Round 4 Pick 111

Thompson has been drafted to upgrade the depth behind Thomas. In Dave Archibald’s safety superlatives series, Thompson was ranked as the second-best deep coverage safety in the draft. He has rare instincts; they are on par with Thomas. Thompson has great short-area quickness, running quicker on-tape than his 4.60 forty. Combined, his instincts and quickness give him excellent range. When nearing the spot of the pass he has excellent ball skills, with great ball tracking and ability to break on the ball. He had the most passes deflected in college football last season – with 16 – and he intercepted the ball seven times.

In coverage, Thompson should be a better proposition than Terrell. Playing the run is the area he needs to work on. He struggled setting the edge, often getting taken out of the play by blockers. Seattle’s scheme should not require him to do that at deep safety, but it will require him to make open-field tackles. Although he is willing, Thompson misses many of these due to poor form. Archibald rated him as the worst safety against the run in the draft.

Colorado Buffaloes head coach Mike MacIntyre clearly thinks that Thompson is a good pick for Seattle, both on and off the field: “Even while he was at CU, his work ethic and his tenacity to keep going is what made him special. It’s a great pick by the Seattle Seahawks because he fits their system perfectly, that middle-roaming safety.”

One play showing what Thompson brings to Seattle:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Seattle-Safeties-Video-2.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Seattle-Safeties-Still-2.jpg”]

Thompson had two interceptions and a tackle for loss against Utah in Colorado’s final regular season game. The victory crowned Colorado as PAC-12 South champions. On this play, he displays the range he has from the deep middle of the field. Here he quickly identifies that the quarterback is throwing deep left. His impressive range gets him to the ball quicker than the wide receiver or cornerback. He intercepts the pass.

[dt_divider style=”thin” /]Mike Tyson, Cincinnati, Round 6 Pick 187

With DeShawn Shead coming off an ACL injury, Seattle’s depth at the second cornerback spot is weak. Jeremy Lane, DeAndre Elliott and Neiko Thorpe are currently competing for that spot, along with rookie Shaquill Griffin. It has been more difficult for the Seahawks to find prospects who fit the required mold, as other teams attempt to replicate Seattle’s success with long corners in their Cover 3 defense.

Seattle have started to look at other positions to find that marriage of length and coverage skills. Having played outside linebacker and slot safety in college, Tyson is the first conversion project. This is largely a projection for him, although he did cover out-wide against spread stacks and bunches on what were predominantly RPO plays. In these examples, Tyson showed the required movement skills for the position. When covering opponents in the slot, he played the look-in bail technique that the Seahawks covet outside, displaying a nice, quick backwards shuffle. He positions himself well to make plays on the ball, and he had five interceptions and five passes defended in his senior year.

The move to outside corner will be made more difficult by his backpedal, which is stiff and upright. He also struggled to transition from his pedal into running downfield. While his forty time is a 4.56, he has the length (arms just short of 32”), movement skills and aggressive jam to potentially make the transition work.

One play showing what Tyson brings to Seattle:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Seattle-Safeties-Video-3.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Seattle-Safeties-Still-3.jpg”]

Tyson had three interceptions in the Bearcats’ 38-20 victory over Purdue. On this play, he plays the look-in technique that the Seahawks utilise. He does a good job staying over the top of the vertical route in man coverage. Because he is also looking at the quarterback, he can intercept the pass. A better throw – more inside – may have been completed. Yet Tyson was still in a great position to make a play on the ball.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]The Seahawks Get Better

The Seahawks thoroughly improved their defensive backfield depth. Really, Seattle took two safeties and one cornerback. Hill will make the big nickel a more realistic possibility in addition to improving depth at strong safety and pushing McDougald. Thompson brings more in terms of coverage than Terrell at the free safety position, making him an able backup to Thomas. Tyson will compete for the open outside cornerback spot opposite Richard Sherman.

Follow Matthew on Twitter @mattyfbrown. Check out Matt’s other work here, such as Marcus Williams’ downfield ball skills and why Jabrill Peppers isn’t an NFL linebacker.

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