Posted: 9:57 a.m. Wednesday, May 22, 2013
By Danny Kelly
It's fairly well documented that Seattle used three of their four 7th round picks on the offensive line because, despite the fact they still had 'draftable' players on their board at other positions, they thought they stood a better chance of UDFA recruitment at those spots. Thus, they picked Ryan Seymour, Jared Smith and Michael Bowie because they had felt offensive line recruitment would be a tougher area, and went out after a couple of highly-rated (on their boards) linebackers and defensive ends in rookie free agency instead.
The UDFA free-for-all is in many ways a recruiting bonanza, where coaches and GMs try and convince players to come join their team and players must decide which place is the best fit for them. To sweeten deals though, each team is alloted $78,000 to divvy up as signing bonuses to their most highly sought-after targets.
As Brian McIntyre pointed out last night, the Seahawks spent $50,000 of their $78,000 UDFA allotment on three main guys: LB John Lotulelei ($25k), LB Craig Wilkins ($12.5k) & DE Kenneth Boatright ($12.5k). Unsurprisingly, those three guys have been making some noise in mini-camps and OTAs.
John Lotulelei has been singled out by Dan Quinn and Pete Carroll the most, though, and at this point, in my mind, has a possibly the best shot of making the final roster of all the UDFAs. It's not necessarily an indicator of who does and doesn't make final rosters, but as BMac points out, "The largest signing bonus issued to [any] undrafted rookie [in the entire NFL] this year belongs to UNLV linebacker John Lotulelei, who received $25,000 to sign with the Seattle Seahawks."
Carroll and Schneider have both noted that the Seahawks had a 5th round grade on Lotulelei, and if you watch the video below, it's pretty easy to see why. He's an instinctive playmaker that racked up 120 tackles his senior season and was All-Conference Mountain West at UNLV.
While Lotulelei's 40 time isn't on par with some of the current Seahawks linebackers' 4.4/4.5 standards (he ran it in 4.78 at the Combine and 4.65 at his Pro Day), his lateral agility is damn near elite: his 6.91 seconds in the three-cone drill was the second-best among linebackers at the Combine, and his 4.30 short shuttle was good for seventh. His 35.5" vert ranked fourth among linebackers and his 25 reps on bench press tied him for sixth. The dude is an athlete, even if he lacks in straight-line long-speed, a little bit. This is also evident in his highlight video below, where he routinely chases down receivers and backs in short distances. It also helps that he has long arms (32"+) and huge hands (10.6").
The Maui News recollected recently the process that went into his Seahawks' recruitment:
"After the draft, coach [Ken] Norton was trying to convince me to sign," Lotulelei said. "He coached Kaluka [Maiava, another Maui linebacker that went to Carroll/Norton's USC and is now in the NFL]. He's had a lot of experience. He's played linebacker. He has three rings. He's been to Pro Bowls."
Lotulelei said he also talked with the Chicago Bears, but noted that they have seven-time Pro Bowl pick Lance Briggs, and drafted two linebackers (Jon Bostic out of Florida in the second round and Khaseem Greene out of Rutgers in the fourth).
Lotulelei also spoke with the Washington Redskins, and was intrigued by the idea of learning from three-time Pro Bowler and 15-year NFL veteran London Fletcher, but said he felt the Seahawks ultimately made a better offer, which included a $25,000 signing bonus.
"It was exactly like college recruiting. It was a pressuring experience," said Lotulelei, who spent two seasons at UNLV after first playing at Merced (Calif.) College. "I've never really been recruited like that, though, out of high school or junior college, so it was a nice experience."
With Seattle's roster already fairly stacked, it's going to be tough for any UDFA type to catch on.
That said, special teams is the place where Lotulelei might carve out a role early, and he seems perfectly suited for it. Special teams ace Heath Farwell is entering the final year of his deal and has a cap hit of $1.67M - a fairly large number for that role, so Seattle is undoubtedly looking for a player that could either take Farwell's spot this year or succeed him once his contract is up.
Lotulelei will be competing for a spot with Korey Toomer, Allen Bradford, Mike Morgan, Kyle Knox, and of course, Farwell, so it's obviously no easy path, but he's a guy to keep an eye on, particularly because Seattle had a 5th round grade on him and then gave him the biggest signing bonus of any UDFA in the NFL this year.
STRENGTHS Lotulelei is a thick outside linebacker who possesses enough quickness to avoid offensive linemen and closing speed to attack stretch plays on the other side of the line. He's an aggressive tackler who can explode into ballcarriers; he also takes out fullbacks and pulling guards in the hole like a hammer. Lotulelei low center of gravity and upper-body strength allows him to punch to shed and play with leverage inside, and he has the instincts and vision to find the ball in traffic. His hustle and solid tackling should allow him to succeed on the interior of special teams coverage units.
WEAKNESSES He'll be among the shorter linebackers in the draft class. His short, compact build will probably limit him to the interior at the next level, and linemen will have an advantage over him between the tackles with his average length. His man-cover skills are limited, as he lacks the pure short-area quickness and recovery speed to chase down receivers once taking a false step or starting a tick behind.
BOTTOM LINE Lotulelei (no relation with Utah defensive tackle Star) needed some time to take advantage of his gifts at the junior college level, and didn't earn a starting spot until later in his junior year. There are plenty of things to like about his attacking style, however, allowing him to project as a late-round inside linebacker prospect with good special teams potential.