Three Day 3 draft picks set to ignite the Seahawks return game

These players could help Seattle exploit a rule change.
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The new kickoff rule changes make the return game a priority for the Seahawks. Any of these three players would be a great fit on special teams for Seattle.

As a proud member of the 12s, you're a student of the game. Not only are you more loyal and more vocal than the also-rans supporting lesser teams, but you're also more knowledgeable than those poor schleps that follow the other 31 organizations. 31 is correct, right - checking notes - yeah, 31 other teams.

However, you may have missed one of the latest rule changes the league passed a few weeks ago. No, not the horrific mess the NFL created with the ban on hip-drop tackles. No, I'm referring to the changes to the kickoff game. I've already written about how the change can make the Hawks' special teams even more dangerous. But why stop there, when with a pick in the later rounds, Seattle can truly capitalize on the change?

Three draft picks to take the Seattle Seahawks return game to the top

I've already covered three players who could step in on day one and do the job in some of my mock drafts. For more details on them, hop on over to check out my views on running back Tyrone Tracy, corner Kris Abrams-Draine, and running back Isaac Guerendo. Just click on the next page from KAD's info to find my write-up on Guerendo. There are certainly more options available than those, so let's get to it, shall we?

Ainias Smith, Wide receiver, Texas Tech

At 5'9" and 190 lb, the Texas A&M fifth-year senior lacks the blinding speed (4.48 40) you might expect in a return man. His time on the three-cone drill (6.86 seconds, the 69th percentile) begins to show his talent. It's when you see his eye-popping reps (21 at 225 lbs) that you begin to see what he can do. When it comes to the return game, it's a lot. Smith averaged nearly 20 yards in kick returns and almost 12 in punts as a true freshman in the SEC. In five seasons, he returned 82 punts for 836 yards for an average of 10.2 yards and two touchdowns.

He can catch a little, too, as he led or tied the team in receiving scores twice. A dangerous slot receiver, he amassed 2,407 yards on 180 catches for an average of 13.4 yards and a total of 19 scores. He also ran the ball 87 times for 405 yards and 4 scores, averaging 4.67 yards per carry. He had just one drop last year out of 78 targets and forced 22 missed tackles, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He led the Aggies in catches and yards in 2023 as well. The consensus big board at slots him as the 144th pick overall, while PFF sees him going at number 119.

Will Shipley, Running back, Clemson

The 5'11" 206 junior out of Clemson is both fast (4.39 40) and quick (6.81 in the three-cone drill). Both of those times were at or above the 90th percentile. He isn't just a standout in drills, far from it. in 2022 he was the first player in ACC history to be named a first-team All-ACC player as a running back, all-purpose player, and specialist. That recognition was well-deserved. Shipley led the Tigers with 1,182 yards on 210 carries and scored 15 times on the ground. He also pulled down 38 catches for 242 yards and returned 13 kicks for 324 yards.

His production dropped somewhat last year, but he still had over 1,000 yards from scrimmage with seven touchdowns. He also returned seven kicks for 200 yards, a sparkling 28.6-yard average. He's rated as the eighth-best running back by NFL Draft Buzz and is the 127th overall prospect on the consensus big board. PFF ranks him at 145, but no matter where he's drafted, he'll be a dangerous return man from game one.

Daequan Hardy, Cornerback, Penn State

Like Ainias Smith, the fifth-year senior has far more experience as a punt returner than on the kicking team. At 5'9" and 179 lbs, he's a bit undersized to hold up as anything but a rotational player in the NFL. Despite his lack of size, he's played well in the slot, with 14 pass breakups and five interceptions in the past three seasons. According to NFL Draft Buzz, he posted a passer rating allowed of just 67.7 over his collegiate career.

Last season was Hardy's first as a punt returner at Happy Valley, and he made the most of it. He returned 17 for 248 yards and two touchdowns. He posted a 4.38 40 time and had a 42.5-inch vertical at the combine, so there's little doubt about his speed or explosiveness on the field. With a ten-yard split of 1.5 seconds, he can reach his top gear far more quickly than most, too. Both the consensus bog board and's draft site project him as a seventh-round pick. I project him as a perfect fit for the Seahawks' special teams.

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