Among several of their biggest offseason priorities, the Seattle Seahawks may need to find a new weakside linebacker to replace Pro Bowler K.J. Wright, who will become an unrestricted free agent on March 13.
Seattle has plenty of in-house options who could fill the void if Wright departs, including 2017 fifth-round pick Shaquem Griffin and former Villanova standout Austin Calitro. But the jury remains out in regard to whether or not either player has a long-term future as a starter at the position, creating a major need that may need filled in free agency or through the draft.
If Wright leaves and the Seahawks plan to go the draft route to find his heir apparent at the weakside linebacker spot, could they take a shot on former Minnesota standout and NFL Scouting Combine star Blake Cashman?
Few prospects offer the grit and determination of Cashman, who walked on at Minnesota and had to wait two years before being offered a scholarship. He had to fight and scrap for everything he earned with the Golden Gophers, finding his way onto the field as a freshman and becoming a key reserve over the next two seasons. Finally, as a senior, his hard work paid off as he transformed into a team captain, Third-Team All-Big Ten selection, and a legitimate NFL prospect.
On the field, the instinctive Cashman plays with persistent tenacity, pursuing the football sideline-to-sideline, sifting through traffic, and regularly disrupting plays in the backfield. Once he gets his hands on a ball carrier, he squares them up and brings them to the turf, rarely missing opportunities to finish tackles. Last season, he racked up an impressive 104 tackles for the Golden Gophers, including 15 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
Contrary to the evaluation of some scouts, Cashman shows above-average athleticism on the field, which is best illustrated with his overall effectiveness as a blitzer. The young linebacker does a great job timing his blitz and has uses his 4.50 40-yard dash speed to shoot past block attempts, especially from running backs in pass protection. After he rockets into the backfield, he knows how to chase down quarterbacks, as he registered 7.5 sacks in 2016 as a sophomore.
In coverage, Cashman has enough speed and quickness to defend tight ends in the slot and played a fair amount of snaps for Minnesota in this capacity. He’s also sound in zone coverage, getting adequate depth on his drops and if a receiver catches the football in front of him, he effectively limits yards after the catch by wrapping up opponents quickly.
Weighing 237 pounds at the combine, Cashman isn’t the prototypical build for an inside linebacker and his lack of size can be an issue working against blocks. He’s often able to beat blocks with his athleticism and toughness, but once a blocker gets locked onto him, he’s not an effective hand technician and struggles to disengage, often getting driven out of the play.
As aggressive as they come at the linebacker position, Cashman’s ferocity can get the best of him at times, especially when defending against the run. While he manages to make quite a few tackles in the backfield and has a nose for the football, he also has a tendency to take poor angles to ball carriers in space and over-pursuit can be problematic for him.
Medicals could be a major red flag for any team interested in drafting Cashman, as he underwent surgery on both of his shoulders following the 2018 season. Though he may be fully recovered in time for offseason activities and training camp, his lean build coupled with two surgically-repaired shoulders could scare away some prospective teams.
Where He Fits in Seattle
The Seahawks built the core of their championship squads around overlooked late-round draft picks and undrafted players who played with an edge and wanted to prove doubters wrong. As is the case for most walk-ons, Cashman plays the game with a boulder on his shoulder and his personality and playing style would be welcomed by Seattle on the field and in the locker room.
While some teams will be hesitant to draft Cashman coming off multiple surgeries, the Seahawks value speed and athleticism at linebacker as much as any team in the league and given his overall production as a senior playing in the rugged Big Ten, the Seahawks have to be intrigued about him as a possible long-term replacement for Wright.
Once viewed as a late day-three selection, a dynamic showing in Indianapolis has lifted Cashman into discussion as a second or third-round possibility. If Seattle adds another third-round pick by trading down in the first round and Wright leaves as many expect, the organization could easily use this newly-acquired selection to snag him or hope he's still somehow available in the fourth round.