Finding the Fits: Seahawks' Shaquem Griffin justifying hype, may start Thursday

Count defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. among those impressed with Griffin© Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The feel-good story of the 2018 NFL Draft is turning heads in Seattle and could start preseason opener vs Colts Thursday

This is part of a series -- Finding the Fits -- in which will review the more intriguing picks made during the 2018 NFL Draft. The goal is to identify one relatively unheralded player per team who appears to be a good schematic fit and, therefore, more likely to be a surprise contributor early in his pro career.

Seattle Seahawks' best fit: Shaquem Griffin, OLB, Central Florida, selected No. 141 overall (5th Round)

With all due respect to first round pick Rashaad Penny and several others among a draft class set to make more of an immediate impact in Seattle in years, Griffin was the fit of the Seahawks rookie crop from the moment he was selected.

His feel-good story of perseverance in overcoming the childhood amputation of his left hand and reunification with his twin brother, Shaquill, was the dominant story on Day Three of the 2018 NFL draft, immediately earning Griffin more national attention than perhaps any draft pick in Seahawks history - and certainly more than any non-first round selection.

Beginning at rookie minicamp and including his start in place of injured veteran K.J. Wright at weakside linebacker in the Seahawks' mock game at training camp this past Saturday, it has become very apparent to anyone paying attention that Griffin is much more than a human-interest story, however.

He is proving a legitimate difference-maker.

Just like he did in winning the 2016 American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year as a redshirt junior and guiding UCF to the only undefeated season in FBS football this past season prior to standout performances at the Senior Bowl and Combine, Griffin has stood out whenever the lines have shown brightest and almost regardless of where teams have played him, making plays in camp in coverage, run support and when rushing the passer.

Griffin's remarkable blend of speed, agility and instincts has already resulted in multiple big plays, including an interception (amid several breakups) of star quarterback Russell Wilson and forcing a red zone fumble after the catch from potential new starting tight end Nick Vannett.

Count Seahawks defensive coordinator (and three-time Pro Bowl linebacker) Ken Norton, Jr. among those impressed by the rookie.

"Any time you turn on the film or out here at practice you can't help but see [Griffin] flying around the field," Norton said. "He had an interception against Russell Wilson. ...It's really exciting to see because he grew from the offseason plays. He's just getting better every day."

Asked to provide more specifics, Norton was happy to oblige.

"Well, he's best at a lot of things. I think his biggest strength is, everyone knows, is his speed. He's really, really fast," Norton said of the linebacker whose 4.38 second time announced at the 2018 Scouting Combine was the fastest recorded by a linebacker in more than a decade. "He has a great combination with that speed, his mind. He really thinks well and really loves ball."

Griffin's passion and playmaking ability will be on full display for all of the NFL to see Thursday (10 pm ET) when the Seahawks host Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts in each club's preseason opener.

With Wright, the longest tenured and perhaps most nationally underrated member of Seattle's defense still nursing a sore groin, Griffin is expected to start alongside his brother, giving the rookie yet another big stage.

Don't be surprised when Griffin excels again in the spotlight, giving general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll something to think about with Wright's contract up after the season.

Other thoughts on the Seahawks' 2018 draft class:

For reasons I'm still not sure I understand, Seattle's selection of Penny in the first round was panned by many of my fellow draft analysts. Frankly, I don't know what tape of the NCAA's leading rusher in 2017 and Senior Bowl co-MVP they were watching.

Perhaps in part because some of the surprising reaction, Schneider shared with local media following the selection of Penny that a team offered the Seahawks a trade for the running back shortly after the pick. While this type of post-draft trade is common in the NBA, it is virtually unheard of in the NFL.

For obvious reasons Schneider has been unwilling to divulge which team made the offer but my sources in New England and Cleveland (which selected former Georgia running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb within the next seven picks) have indicated to me that they also had very high grades on Penny, who Seattle envisions as part of a 1-2 punch with second-year pro Chris Carson in a return to the run-heavy offense Carroll has always prioritized. Each made plays of 50+ yards during Seattle's mock game, something Penny took a shine to at San Diego State and the Senior Bowl, generating at least one play of this distance in an astounding 9/14 games last year, alone.

By comparison, Seattle's longest run last season went for 33 yards (Mike Davis) with the quarterback, Wilson, more than doubling any other rusher on the team with "just" 586 yards and three touchdowns.

Seattle's anticipated return to blue collar football perfectly fits fourth round pick Will Dissly, who has impressed as a blocker and short to intermediate area target in camp with free agent addition Ed Dickson (Carolina Panthers) hobbled by a groin injury. Wilson recently characterized Dissly as "one of the stars of camp," lofty praise for a rookie who only made the switch from the University of Washington's defensive line two years ago. Despite his background, Dissly has shown very soft, reliable hands and, to this point, has been Seattle's most reliable tight end.

Of course, players switching positions under Carroll's watch is nothing new. In fact, in terms of long-term potential, former Oklahoma State safety Tre Flowers - who Seattle has moved to cornerback - is in many ways Seattle's most intriguing developmental prospect of the 2018 draft. The 6-foot-3, 203 pound Flowers has seen a lot of action as the No. 2 right cornerback behind Byron Maxwell, showing impressive fluidity and acceleration for a man of his size. Further, while unable to fully demonstrate this yet during camp, tape review of Flowers shows intriguing physicality and reliability as an open-field tackler, a requirement of cornerbacks in Carroll's scheme.

Finally, it seems that every year the Seahawks unearth at least one hidden gem amongst its undrafted free agents with standout wide receiver Doug Baldwin and former starters Thomas Rawls and George Fant among the team's most pleasant surprises. Former Texas defensive tackle Poona Ford could be this year's steal. While certainly shorter than ideal at 5-foot-11, the 310 pounder's burst, power and toughness has not gone unnoticed by Seattle's top brass, giving the Seahawks potentially three defensive linemen from this draft class (along with draft picks Rasheem Greene and Jacob Martin) to help replace the production lost with 3/4 of last year's starting defensive line (Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Sheldon Richardson) no longer with the team. Ford, for the record, was given a 6th round grade on's board.

Seattle's 2018 draft class:

1st Round, No. 27 overall: Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State

3rd Round, No. 79 overall: Rasheem Green, DE, Southern California

4th Round, No. 120 overall: Will Dissly, TE, Washington

5th Round, No. 141 overall: Shaquem Griffin, OLB, Central Florida

5th Round, No. 146 overall: Tre Flowers, CB/S, Oklahoma State

5th Round, No. 149 overall: Michael Dickson, P, Texas

5th Round, No. 168 overall: Jamarco Jones, OT, Ohio State

6th Round, No. 186 overall: Jacob Martin, DE/OLB, Temple

7th Round, No. 220 overall: Alex McGough, QB, Florida International

Key Undrafted Free Agents Signed:

Emmanuel Beal, LB, Oklahoma

Poona Ford, DT, Texas

Skyler Phillips, OL, Idaho State


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