As such, I've divided the first of our "Six to Watch" series into two groups of players -- those who would probably be there at 25 should the team stay put, and those who could provide optimal value at an estimated position of 32nd to 40th overall. We'll start with the second group first, and the one player who may fit the Ruskell mold as much as anyone.
Trevor Laws, DT, Notre Dame
North Carolina's Kentwan Balmer may have more pure physical ability and size, but Laws has been as productive as any of the tackles rated below Glenn Dorsey and Sedrick Ellis in this year's draft. Laws started 37 of the 49 games in which he appeared for the Fighting Irish, spending his first three years at left defensive tackle in a 4-3 and his senior season as an end in a 3-4. Not only did Laws have no difficulty adjusting to the position switch, he put up his best season with an unbelievable 112 tackles (53 solos, 69 assists) in 2007. He projects best in the NFL as a 3-technique tackle, and that's where the Seahawks could really use some depth.
While Rocky Bernard and Brandon Mebane form an effective interior tandem, Marcus Tubbs' future prospects aren't terribly encouraging and there isn't a nose tackle to take at this point in the draft. Slightly undersized at 6'1" and 304 pounds, Laws makes plays with ferocious effort, a non-stop motor, and impressive intensity. His performances at the Senior Bowl and the Combine solidified his position as a late first- or early second-round prospect. If the Seahawks do trade down, it wouldn't be surprising if Laws turned out to be the reason.
Tyrell Johnson, SS, Arkansas State
The best safety you haven't heard of. In a recent Seahawks.NET feature, Greg Cosell, the Executive Producer of State Farm's NFL Matchup, told me that Johnson is the premier player at his position in the draft this year. Though he's been overlooked because of his small-school status, Johnson had his two best games last year against Texas and Tennessee. The only other concern about Johnson is his size -- 6'0" and 207 pounds is a bit small -- but we know that Tim Ruskell doesn't hold this against anybody. Johnson has incredible closing speed. In fact, he's so fast, he'll sometimes overrun his opponent, but he's also the leading tackler in Sun Belt Conference history.
Johnson combines that speed with impressive strength -- his 27 bench-press reps led all defensive backs at the Combine. In a Cover 2 scheme, where the safeties are interchangeable to a large degree, Johnson could excel. He does need a bit of finishing work, but his sheer physical potential could make him one of the draft's biggest steals. You may be surprised at his status as a late first-rounder, but nobody who has spent time watching film of Johnson's play thinks this is a reach in any sense.
Sam Baker, OT, USC
It's debatable whether Baker is the replacement for Walter Jones that the Seahawks need to start thinking about, but what Baker brings to the table -- as much versatility as any lineman in the draft -- is the more important and currently pressing concern. The Mike Wahle signing is a good stopgap, but the left side of Seattle's offensive line is one big question mark. The question mark for Baker is his health. He's suffered knee, hamstring and rib injuries that forced him to miss time and underperform at the Combine and his Pro Day. Baker's not the technician that Chris Williams is, nor is he a mauler like Jeff Otah or Gosder Cherilus. He is, however, solid in all aspects of his game. While he could star as a left tackle in the pros, Baker might be asked to move inside to guard, where his athleticism and consistency might make him an All-Pro. Above all. Baker's a nasty knockdown blocker, and the Seahawks need more aggression in the running game.
Lawrence Jackson, DE, USC
Expect a cluster of ends available at or around the 25th picks that the Seahawks currently hold. Jackson, Calais Campbell, and Philip Merling could be available, and this is hardly considered a position of need by most observers, but the New York Giants' improbable Super Bowl win has placed a new premium on defensive line depth. Campbell and Merling are impressive athletes, but Jackson could be the best fit at the position of all the lower first-round ends. He's got two things Ruskell's always looking for -- the big-school factor and the sheer number of starts with 51. In his senior season, Jackson put up 10.5 sacks and 17 stops behind the line of scrimmage. He's a versatile player who's also good against the run.
Jackson proved to be the most consistent of a weak group of tackles during Senior Bowl practice, and he's a potential 'tweener with his size at 6'4" and 271 pounds. The one thing to be cautious about with defensive ends at any level is whether they have benefited from the presence of dominant defensive tackles who require double teams. While Jackson enjoyed the presence of Sedrick Ellis on his line, he made enough plays on his own for that particular disclaimer not to apply.
Kenny Phillips, FS, Miami
The safety tradition is deep at Miami, and all signs point to Phillips as the next in line. Renowned for his tackling ability as much as his coverage skills, Phillips is the most NFL-ready safety in this year's draft. He may not be there at 25, but if he is, it'd be difficult not to take him. He started 33 of 34 games at Miami, an impressive total for an underclassman. His four interceptions as a sophomore and 82 tackles as a junior tell the tale -- Phillips is a player who can do it al. That said, he's more comfortable in a zone scheme than in man coverage, making him a great fir in Seattle.
In addition to his on-field exploits, Phillips has transcended the typical Miami stereotype by being named to the 2006 ACC All-Academic Team. At 6'2" and 212 pounds, he has the size, speed and all other attributes to make it in the NFL.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon
Stewart's November toe surgery may have dropped him in the minds of some, but the fact that he ran a 4,48-40 at the Combine at 235 pounds with that in mind has elevated him on other boards. Injury-prone through his college career, Stewart is nonetheless one of the most appealing athletes at any position in this draft. As NFLDraftScout.com put it, Stewart has "the size of a fullback, the strength of an offensive lineman and the quickness of a sprinter." He could bring the Seahawks back to the glory days of Shaun Alexander if the improvements along the offensive line take and he can stay healthy.
Stewart can pummel defenders inside, bounce outside with the best of them, flash agility in the open field, and there isn't a defensive back in the world who wants to take him one-on-one after a screen pass. Starting only one game in 2005, Stewart put together 24 starts in his sophomore and junior years, and the promise he's always held as a player came true in 2007, when he rushed for 1,722 yards on only 280 carries, caught 22 passes for 145 yards, and returned 23 kickoffs for 614 yards. If he's there at 25 for any reason, and the Seahawks haven't traded down, this Washington native would be a huge score for the team.
Who the Seahawks will pick:
It's my belief that the Seahawks will trade down, using their 25th pick to help
another team move up and get their dream quarterback. With their first overall
pick in the early second round, they'll take Trevor Laws. The Notre Dame tackle
grew up in Minnesota, and idolized John Randle, the ex-Vikings and Seahawks
tackle known for his non-stop hustle and nasty on-field demeanor. Laws is that
same breed of cat. He'll move immediately into the Seahawks' defensive tackle
rotation, giving Rocky Bernard some needed breathers and establishing his own
NFL excellence. He's a high-character, all-go guy with as much desire to succeed
as any player in the draft. Laws' size will drop him a few spots down from where
he'd go otherwise, but that won't matter when he starts helping to establish
the Seahawks' new tradition of defensive excellence.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, and he writes NFL previews for the New York Sun. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.