With the Seahawks in constant pursuit of pass rushing help coupled with the need to acquire additional picks, it’s likely the team will have to find late round prospects that can contribute moving forward.
Oregon standout Jalen Jelks, who recently met with the Seahawks, may fall into that category. Jelks came into the combine as a redshirt senior who started the final two years of his collegiate career with the Ducks. At the conclusion of both seasons, he was named First-Team All-Pac 12 and finished with 15.0 career sacks and 29.5 tackles for loss. He also notably led the conference in tackles by a defensive lineman with 57.
Listed at 6-foot-5, 256 pounds, Jelks has intriguing measurables, but at his height, he could stand to add weight to his frame. One draft profile that was similar to that of Jelks is the recently returned Cassius Marsh, whom the Seahawks spent a fourth-round pick on back in 2014. Many of their combine numbers were similar and with Jelks being a high-effort player offering length, Seattle could have plenty of interest.
Though it didn’t show up at the combine in his testing scores, Jelks utilizes speed from the edge and always plays till the whistle. His high intensity motor runs hot off the edge and he never gives up on a play. His film shows off his ability to grind out plays, which helped lead to the majority of his sack numbers. Despite being unable to consistently win off of the snap, he tracks down quarterbacks who flee the pocket with great effectiveness.
When unable to get to the quarterback, Jelks also has shown awareness when getting stopped at the line of scrimmage to use his height to his advantage and swat down pass attempts. In four seasons with the Ducks, he finished with 11 passes defensed, including seven as a junior in 2017.
Off the snap, Jelks proved to be consistently assignment sound. On his film, there were consistently plays in which offensive linemen down-blocked away from him, and rather than get deep upfield, he stood his ground and slid down the line to meet the ball carrier on a cutback.
For having a lean frame, Jelks willingly takes on pulling guards and gives maximum effort trying to set the edge. Although he may not consistently win at the point of attack, adding weight at the next level will help him become an even better player against the run. In a game against Stanford, he successfully took on two Cardinal linemen pulling his way, reducing the running lane for his linebackers to fill.
Given that one of his strengths is his ability to bat down passes, it is indicative of getting stopped at the line of scrimmage. At the NFL level, offensive linemen may mitigate his ability by cut blocking him off of the snap to get his hands down. Ironically, during his most productive season at Oregon, Jelks was deployed as an interior defensive lineman, which may not have been the best fit for him. While he did register 7.0 sacks in 2017, he appeared overmatched at the line of scrimmage by stronger guards. The Ducks made a sound decision the following year sliding him back outside to defensive end and he still may not have a true position at the NFL level with his “tweener” size.
His 19 bench press reps at the combine are a direct representative of what his film showed at Oregon: he needs to add strength. From a four-point stance, he fires off the ball, but usually ends with his pad level too high to be effective, and is stopped at initial punch. From a two-point stance, he gets a solid head of steam driving into the tackle, but needs to work with more active hand usage to prevent tackles from setting their feet and locking him down.
How He Fits in Seattle
Jelks has some upside, but his unrefined physical tools will require development at the next level. The Seahawks could view him in a similar role that they held Jacob Martin, using him as a rotational pass rusher that needs a broader array of pass rushing moves and counters. Some have seen him as a linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, while others see him as a defensive end in a 4-3.
Even with his stellar production at Oregon, Jelks could slip to the middle rounds and possibly go as late as the sixth round. If history is any indication, John Schneider and Pete Carroll are always searching for either an overlooked prospect or a high-ceiling developmental prospect during the latter stages of the draft, making him a prime candidate to land in the Pacific Northwest.