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Mel Kiper won't do it. Pete Prisco won't do it. I will happily do it. Any person publishing analysis on any topic should go back and see how their analysis pans out. Mistakes are a certainty. Learning from them is an opportunity. Take a stroll down memory lane with me and remember the Seahawks drafts since Pete Carroll and John Schneider took over. Re-live the feeling of hearing James Carpenter's name called in the first round, or Bruce Irvin's, or Russell Wilson in the third. Feel free to hassle me about where I was off. I tend to focus on where I was right. Mental health is important!
For a moment, I thought Pete Carroll and John Schneider had pulled the ultimate shocker by drafting the first woman in the NFL draft. Then I saw this:
And I saw this:
That is either one ugly woman, or one badass running back. Which brings us to the next immediate reaction, a running back? Seattle is blessed with Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin. Many people are not even counting Percy Harvin, but they should. He very well may get more reps out of the backfield than Michael. That's right--it is conceivable that the Seahawks just spent their first selection on a fourth-string player. If that is not commitment to a draft board, I don't know what is.
It was this sort of mindset that had me wondering aloud if the Seahawks would shock everyone by taking a quarterback early. Clearly, the team did not had high enough grades on any of the players available at that position to go that direction.
Michael is a potential franchise running back. He has upside that jumps off the screen, and a running style that is well-suited to the type of offense Seattle runs. Lynch did not quite make my list of Core Players when I did my roster stack ranking a few months back, largely because of health concerns and ease of replacing his position. Lots of people were not happy about that. Lynch is 27, makes a hefty salary, runs with reckless abandon, and has been nursing a chronic lower back issue for a couple of years. It will be an upset if he is still on the roster in two years. This is a Ricky Watters and Shaun Alexander situation, except there are two Alexanders in this scenario.
This does at least raise the question about whether there is a suspension the Seahawks know about that will effect the backfield. The team has a lot riding on Lynch's health and availability, but nearly as much now.
Jordan Hill was a more predictable selection in the third round. Schneider admitted as much in the post-draft press conference by saying DT was the one real need they had heading into the draft. It was such a need from his perspective, that he was worried they were artificially pushing guys up their draft board. He mentioned there was a big drop-off in talent after Hill. There is always a lot to learn from listening to Schneider in terms of how his mind works, and what trade-offs he will make.
The team took Michael because his draft grade was so much higher than the other players available that it would betray their philosophy to do anything but grab him. Would they have preferred a DT to have a grade that high and still be on the board? Absolutely. But drafting is not as simple as taking the highest player on their board, or else there would be little need for Schneider and Carroll to even be there. Hill was picked to address a need. There may have been players rated higher on their board, but Schneider was not going to leave the draft without a DT of certain quality level, and there was not enough left after Hill to take the risk the team would come up empty. Middle linebacker was like that last year when the team had Bobby Wagner and Mychal Kendricks in the same class, and knew they needed to get one of them in the second round, or likely find themselves without a starting caliber player.
Hill appears to be a three-technique defensive tackle, the position Alan Branch played. He reminds me, though, a little of Brandon Mebane--squatty, active and disruptive. He is more known for his interior pass rush ability than his run stuffing, but I'm not so sure run defense is a weakness in his game. He was at the Senior Bowl, so fire up that DVR if you remembered to save those practices. I know I will.
This draft is so odd as a Seahawks fan. An average draft is roughly 30-40% about finding players to fill roles in the upcoming season and 60-70% about finding prospects for future years. This draft for Seattle feels like that ratio is maybe 10% / 90%. Even a coaching staff that aggressively includes younger players in their rotations will have trouble finding meaningful snaps for many of the players taken this year. In some ways, this feels more like a baseball draft, where it could be years before the players ever impact the team.
That reminds me. The NFL does so much right with the way they run a draft, but this whole delaying of announcing the picks on the TV is broken. Announce the picks when they are made, or remove media access to the picks prior to the TV announcements. It is taking away from draft experience the way things are run now. Fix it.
- I don't mind the move the Cardinals made to add a talented player like Mathieu. He could be a great fit for them. I do mind that the GM and Coach spent a lot of time talking about him being on a short leash and that he apparently will submit to weekly drug tests. That sounds great, but it is a terrible plan to change behavior. They are saying from the outset of this relationship that they do not trust the player. If they believed the support he was getting and the changes he has made thus far had him on the right track, they would not need all this extra machinery around him. If they do not trust he is capable of turning around his life and behavior on his own, I question why they would invest a 3rd round pick in him. Punishment avoidance is only so effective as a behavior modifier. Smack a dog on the nose for going to the bathroom in the house, and he will find a hidden corner behind a plant to do it next time.
- Tank Carradine is a nice pick-up for the 49ers. He does not appear heavy enough to play defensive end in their 3-4 at only 276 lbs. He seems more like a back-up to Aldon Smith. Vic Fangio knows what he is doing, though, so assume that will be a name the Seahawks get acquainted with.
- I like Vance McDonald a lot at tight end, but he will be nothing like Delanie Walker. There was a physical toughness that Walker brought to the offense that is completely lacking in McDonald. Walker was also capable of speeds and routes that McDonald is not. This was a nice pick-up for San Francisco, but still a downgrade from where they were.
- Still no Justin Smith replacement to speak of for the 49ers. They may be waiting until next year's draft to attack that role, but it is a major risk to their title hopes. I would have expected them to target a player aggressively to mitigate that risk, but perhaps there was nobody they liked enough.
- The 49ers continue to do a better job of stock-piling future picks than the Seahawks. A number of the SF trades result in 2014 or 2015 picks, while Seattle just keeps adding picks for 2013. I will continue to prefer a 2014 4th round pick to a 2013 5th round pick.
- Having said that, trading back six spots in the 2nd round to pick up a 5th and a 6th was a nice haul for Seattle. Those three 5th give the team flexibility today. Two of them could very well turn into another 4th today, or one of them could help move their 4th up the board should they choose. Then again, the 3rd through the 5th round is the meat of this draft. The team may just prefer to take a few more kicks at the can and hold onto all of them.
- Expect to see some offensive lineman come off the board on the earlier side for Seattle. Many of the talented wideouts have been taken at this point, but I would still expect one or two to be selected today.
Three days and 254 picks later, the 2013 NFL Draft is behind us. There will be plenty of analysis in the days and weeks to come, but here are some immediate reactions to what the Seahawks did:
- The Christine Michael pick stood out more and more as I thought about it. I am not a fan of drafting running backs before the 3rd or 4th round. I don't think John Schneider is either. He and Pete Carroll have never used more than a 4th round pick on a running back. In fact, they did not use any picks on running backs in their first two drafts, unless you count the 4th rounder they sent to Buffalo for Marshawn Lynch in 2010. Robert Turbin was a 4th round pick last year. The position is already a strength on the team. Roll that all together, and it would seem Michael was off the charts on their draft board in order to be worth a 2nd round investment. We still might find out about a suspension or injury at the running back spot that we don't know about yet, but for now, my assessment is the Seahawks believe they added a Pro Bowl running back.
- I can't quite figure out Tom Cable. The team drafted offensive lineman in the 1st and 3rd rounds his first year with the team when both were considered reaches. This year and last year, the team did not take a lineman until the 7th round, and two of them played defensive line in college. Pedigree or project, what do you want? The high level takeaway is that Cable likes the lineman he has on the team. Only their final pick was used on a tackle, which makes it far more likely Paul McQuistan is sticking around in 2013, as he and Mike Person are the only tackles on the roster outside of Breno Giacomini and Russell Okung. Some additional guards were taken, but it would be an upset if they beat out the existing guys on the roster. Keep an eye on Rishaw Johnson, who was an undrafted free agent last season that the team was high on at guard. He could wind up being a sleeper in the guard competition.
- No safeties. This was the biggest surprise for me. Maybe we will learn that Tharold Simon will be tried at safety, or that Byron Maxwell or Jeremy Lane will be cross-trained at safety. As of now, Jeron Johnson, Winston Guy and Chris Maragos have little-to-no competition. Knowing how much emphasis this defense places on safety play, it is surprising the team has not created a bigger pile of talent at the position.
- No linebackers. It sounds like some have been signed as undrafted free agents, but that says a lot about the plans at the position. If the team felt like it needed a starting caliber replacement for Leroy Hill, there is no way they would have gone through eleven picks without taking a linebacker, and most likely would have went early. Look at what the team did with K.J. Wright (first pick of the 4th round) and Bobby Wagner (early 2nd round) when they were targeting a starting linebacker. All signs point to Wright at WILL, with Malcolm Smith, Allen Bradford and Korey Toomer battling for a backup role.
- This draft will be judged by whether the team found at least 2-3 players that become starters, not including Percy Harvin. Although, he will be part of the assessment. At first blush, Jordan Hill seems like highest floor and lowest ceiling of the early picks. His energy and character appear to be impeccable. He feels like a Tim Ruskell pick, and before you freak, remember Brandon Mebane was a Ruskell pick. Michael clearly could become a star. The guy who I think Seahawks fans will be most excited about is Jesse Williams. The Seahawks have not had a defensive tackle of that size and that potential since Marcus Tubbs. If Russell Wilson was the Powerball aspect of last year's draft, Williams is certainly that for this year's draft. Everything else could fail, but if you find a Pro Bowl-caliber interior lineman, your draft was successful. Williams appears to have that kind of upside.
- Chris Harper fits the profile of the type of receiver the Seahawks are lacking. He is 230 lbs, but ran the 40 like Sidney Rice did at 200 lbs. There is reason to compare him to Mike Williams, although Williams was four inches taller and not nearly as fast. This will be the guy the front office will compare to Golden Tate, and decide whether to re-sign Tate after this season. It seems less likely the team will use Harper as a flanker to push Rice. We will learn more come training camp.
- Michael Robinson is going to face his toughest roster test to date. He is due to make $2.5M, the fullback position will likely get fewer snaps this year with read option and Harvin playing in the backfield, and the team drafted a player in Spencer Ware who could very well be converted to fullback. You have to wonder if Robinson, a Pro Bowl player, would fetch anything in a trade.
- The cornerback battle is going to be insane. Simon will be going against Maxwell, Lane, Thurmond, Winfield, Will Blackmon, and Ron Parker. Lane and Maxwell have a leg up because of their terrific special teams abilities. Maxwell has to prove he can stay healthy. There should be some trade value out of this group once it sorts itself out.
- No quarterbacks. There may end up being a player pushed off another team that is interesting to Seattle, like Dennis Dixon in Philly after the Eagles drafted Matt Barkley. I still have trouble seeing this as the back-up QB group come training camp.
- Darren Fells, Luke Willson and Sean McGrath will be a training camp battle worth watching. Willson spells his name with two "Ls," which is one strike against him, but he can spell it any way he wants if he is going to run a sub-4.5 40 at over 250 lbs.
This was not a sexy draft that will have instant impact all over the field. If any of these players start in 2013, it would be either a very good sign (they earned it) or a very bad sign (injuries forced it). These are the Freshmen coming into a team with 20 Seniors returning from a National Championship caliber season and 5 highly touted JuCo transfers. They enter the roster closer to the cut line than to the starting lineup. Have at it, young fellas! Super Bowls await.
Many people have heard about Jimmy Johnson's Trade Value Chart that assigns a point value to every draft choice to allow people to assess the cost of moving up in the draft. It's been pretty darn accurate in terms of what NFL general managers have surrendered to move up.
The Harvard Sports Analysis Collective did some research and found flaws in Johnson's draft chart. Results indicated teams greatly overvalue early picks and greatly undervalue later picks.
When trades invariably happen, consider referencing this value chart instead of Johnson's.
Rarely has a first round been as frenzied as what NFL fans just witnessed in the 2012 NFL Draft. Team selections and trades were getting tweeted 5-10 minutes before the ESPN coverage caught up, mostly by Seahawks owner Paul Allen. Fans were caught discussing the breaking news while others started in on the same conversation only after the television coverage made the announcement. It was like trying to understand a radio caller who forgets to turn off his radio. The Twitter echoes reached a crescendo when the Seahawks made their pick, West Virginia OLB/DE Bruce Irvin. If Twitter could speak, I would have needed to cover my children's ears.
My first reaction was not elation. Forget whether Irvin was a good choice or not. The simple fact that he was not a known name means we have months of hand-wringing ahead of us instead of months of anticipation. That's deflating. It also felt like there were enough pass rushers left to trade back for more picks and still get Irvin or someone else. Then, the brain took over from the heart. What was the undisputed priority for the Seahawks entering this draft? Adding a pass rusher.
Chris Clemons becomes a free agent after this season, and will turn 31. He will not be back after this season, and there is some reason to think he might not be back this season (more on that in a later post). Clemons has accounted for over 31% of the Seahawks sacks in the past two years (over 33% last year). Finding someone to pair with him this season the way Raheem Brock did in 2010 was important, but the team needed more than that. They needed a long-term replacement.
The right skill set for Clemon's LEO position is a pass-rush specialist who is able to pursue well enough to make plays against the run, and can drop into coverage on occasion. That is why Melvin Ingram was such an appealing possibility. He shows the potential to do all those things and slide inside if a coach wanted to use him as an interior rusher. Players like that are rare. If you were an Ingram booster, like me, you liked him for all those reasons. Take some time and read reports on Irvin from around the web. Here are a couple that are pretty representative:
Set aside the place where "experts" had him scheduled to be chosen. Pay attention to their analysis. In almost every case, they refer to Irvin as potentially the most gifted pass rusher in the draft. He was second in the nation with 14 sacks as a junior, and had 8 sacks as senior. He recorded 14 tackles for loss as a junior and 14.5 as a senior. His junior season was explosive enough that he started drawing comparisons to a certain Seahawk:
His athletic ability is undeniable. He led all defensive lineman in the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.50. His hand-timed speed was 4.43, and he did it in 19 strides. Wide receiver Stephen Hill ran a 4.36 (tied for best among WRs) in 19 strides. Pete Carroll and John Schneider compared Irvin to Von Miller in their post-draft press conference.
ARMS: 33 1/2"
WEIGHT: 246 lbs
40-yard dash: 4.53
3-cone drill: 6.70
20-yard shuttle: 4.06
Sacks (combined Jr/Sr): 27.0
Tackles For Loss (combined Jr/Sr): 39
HEIGHT: 6'3" (same)
ARMS: 33 3/8" (same)
WEIGHT: 245 lbs (same)
40-yard dash: 4.50 (+0.03)
3-cone drill: 6.70 (same)
20-yard shuttle: 4.03 (+0.03)
Sacks (combined Jr/Sr): 22.0 (-5)
Tackles For Loss (combined Jr/Sr): 28.5 (-10.5)
The other player that Irvin reminds me of is Robert Mathis, who came into the league as a pass-rush specialist. Mathis is 6'2" and 245 lbs. He has 83.5 sacks in his career, although it should be noted that he only had 3.5 as a rookie.
Carroll and Schneider spoke at length about Irvin's "get-off." Watch the highlights. It's obvious. People talk about "quick-twitch" pass rushers. They are describing Irvin. Watch how he finishes. He explodes through the quarterback as much as he does off the line. It is hard to imagine him not being an effective pass rusher in the NFL. Now, what was the top priority again?
I'll be the first to admit that I am not a scout or even a college football junkie. Seattle clearly pegged Irvin as the best impact pass rusher in the draft. The fact that many of us were not high on Irvin before today is irrelevant. What matters far more is that the people who brought you Earl Thomas, Russell Okung, Kam Chancellor and more, got the guy they wanted to address the pass rush. That's worth being excited about.
Let it out. Bruce Irvin was the biggest reach of the first round. He could have been added later. The team could have traded back again. He can only play on 3rd down. He's going to be Pete Carroll's Jerramy Stevens. We could have had Melvin Ingram! We could have had Fletcher Cox! We could have had [insert player name]!!
Nobody likes to read, watch or hear draft analysis that slams their team for making a dumb pick. Everyone knows that draft analysis, even after the whole draft is complete, is rarely more accurate than the draft predictions before the draft starts. The new format of spanning the draft over three days encourages even more pointless over-analysis (look no further than this blog) of a single pick. What is your impression of the Seahawks draft class from last season? The team added Richard Sherman, K.J. Wright, Byron Maxwell, James Carpenter, John Moffitt, etc. Here was Mel Kiper's write-up after the draft:
Carpenter fits a need, but was a reach with better tackle available. Moffitt can help this offensive line, but I didn't see guard as a top need. Wright was a reach on my board, as was Durham, a wideout out of Georgia who may have been around much, much later. The Seahawks then made some sensible picks in the secondary, but at what impact that late? They did nothing really to help the defensive line and their sense of value was questionable. The positive might be that this is a very young team, and you suspect Pete Carroll expects improvement. I just don't know if he added much this weekend.
ADDRESSED NEEDS: C GOT VALUE: D OVERALL GRADE: D+ ( link )
It was the lowest grade Kiper gave any team. He was not alone. Almost every analyst slammed the Seahawks for what they deemed major reaches. The jury is still out on that draft in terms of players like Carpenter, Moffitt, Durham, Maxwell and Malcolm Smith. Sherman and Wright appear on track to be high quality long-time starters. Sherman's upside is All-Pro. Wright's upside is less clear, but Pro Bowl is not out of the question. Any draft that adds two players of that quality is a good one. Carpenter and Moffitt were on track to be long-time starters before their injuries. Their play will determine whether 2011 was a great draft.
Pete Carroll said he has been searching for a player like Irvin since he started coaching. People can doubt Carroll's approach, philosophy, personality, sincerity, or game management. Nobody can question his defensive chops. If he is this excited about a player who he also has a long history with, there should be little reason to doubt great things are ahead. Mike Mayock, Rob Rang, Todd McShay all describe Irvin as the best pure-pass rusher in the draft. Seattle has never had a player of his burst coming off the edge at CenturyLink. Michael Sinclair was a prolific pass rusher back in the 90s, but was not a speed rusher. Rufus Porter is the closest thing Seattle has had to a player like Irvin. He was a terror in front of the 12th man. Irvin should be too.
It is easy to picture him coming off the edge and causing mayhem, but Carroll could very well have bigger plans for him. A player like Irvin could be a roaming pass rusher that could rush from a two-point stance as well. If Dexter Davis pans out, the team could put him on the field with Irvin and Clemons and Jason Jones. That's before we even see if the team adds a great speed linebacker in the second round like Lavonte David, Sean Spence or other. Carroll has made a point to value unique attributes in players, giving him different weapons for different scenarios. Irvin is a new weapon in that arsenal.
The idea that Irvin can only play on 3rd downs is ridiculous. Seattle reportedly played as much as 60% of their defensive snaps in a nickel or dime package last season. By that calculation, Irvin could be on the field more than off. Teams are putting three and four receivers on the field with regularity. Aldon Smith was a "situational" pass rusher last year that threw 14.0 sacks on the board. Many pundits called Smith the biggest reach of the 1st round last year. ESPN's scouting report gave Smith a grade of 3 for pass rush skills, meaning average.
It won't be fun to hear everyone make fun of the pick. It won't be fun to read about how great San Diego did by getting Ingram two picks later. There are plenty of reasons to believe it is going to be a ton of fun watching Irvin play this season.
Two years ago was a celebration . Last year was a trust fall . This year slides in somewhere between the two. Pete Carroll and John Schneider inherited a roster in 2010 with such little talent, that it was almost harder to draft someone that wouldn't make the team than someone that would. The draft fell wonderfully for them, and they made wise choices. People want to claim that Russell Okung and Earl Thomas were obvious choices, but we have seen plenty of front offices have draft boards that did not lineup with popular opinion. That draft class became the foundation for turning over one of the oldest and least talented rosters in the NFL into one of the youngest and most talented two years later. The 2011 draft was about patching specific holes, mainly the offensive line. It takes time for a line to gel, and it plays a major role in allowing Carroll to establish the type of offense he'd like to run. They focused on cornerback next to give Carroll the chess pieces he needed to play the physical outside press coverage his scheme requires. Both drafts were successful in very different ways.
The team entered the 2012 draft with a chance to remake the linebacker squad, a clear need to find a new LEO, and a quest to find playmakers on offense. They certainly took a shot at doing all those things. Take a look at the pre-draft recipe I called for:
2 Defensive Ends
1 Running Back
1 Tight End
1 Defensive Tackle
The final tally looked like this:
2 Defensive Ends
1 Running Back
Safety was a blatant miss on my part given the absence of an Atari Bigby replacement on the roster. Guard was a pure value pick based on who was left on the board by the 7th round.
The flashy part of this draft will be players like Robert Turbin and Bruce Irvin. Both players should make major contributions immediately. Turbin has some injury history to be wary of, but his on-field performance and fit is salivating. The three positions that contribute right away as rookies in the NFL are: linebacker, pass rush specialist and running back. Most running backs enjoy their best seasons in years 1-5. Pass rushing is an innate skill for the great ones, and it doesn't get much simpler than "go get the quarterback" in terms of responsibility. Linebackers generally show you right away if they are going to be good, great, or mediocre. K.J. Wright, Lofa Tatupu, Leroy Hill fall on one end of the spectrum. Aaron Curry falls on the other. We will know within a few weeks of training camp whether Bobby Wagner and Korey Toomer are going to help make this linebacker corps great, or just okay. Hill, Wright, Malcolm Smith, Barrett Ruud and Matt McCoy represent a modest linebacking group regardless of how the young pups perform.
The Powerball aspect of this draft will be Russell Wilson. I have already compared him to Drew Brees, and won't back away from that. If Wilson becomes a Pro Bowl quarterback and Irvin averages double-digit sacks, the rest of the players selected could fall off the roster and it still would be arguably the best draft of the Schneider and Carroll era. No two things are harder to find in the NFL than pass rushers and good quarterbacks. Wilson's floor is a very good backup, better than Seneca Wallace. That's valuable as well, but not a jackpot.
Another intriguing name is DT Jaye Howard. He played for former Seahawks defensive line coach Dan Quinn in Florida. Howard projects to be a guy the team could pair with Jason Jones on the interior during passing downs to create major disruption. Quinn knows Seattle's defense well, and was the person responsible for moving Red Bryant from DT to 5-tech DE. It is safe to assume he had a clear vision for how Howard could fit in Seattle's scheme. Pass rushers are hard to find. Interior pass rushers are the hardest to find. Imagining Howard and Jones pushing the pocket back, while Chris Clemons and Irvin are collapsing the edges makes me smile. That's not even including creative blitzes from rocket-fueled linebackers like Smith (4.47 40 yd dash), Wagner (4.45), and Toomer (4.54).
The Seahawks defense was one of the 10 best in the NFL last year by almost any measure. They did that with an inconsistent pass rush, and an anemic offense that left them on the field for unreasonable amounts of time, especially in the first half of the season. The defense actually weakened in the second half of the year, most noticeably against the run, but saw it's numbers improve as the offense found traction and started holding onto the ball longer. It sounds simple, but the truth is that many of the best statistical defenses are the beneficiaries of an offense that limits opponents time on field. The elite defenses can limit the time opposing offenses are on the field by themselves by succeeding on third down. Seattle was 9th in the NFL, turning away opponents 65% of the time on third down last season. Yet, they were only 19th in sacks. If they are able to maintain their outstanding secondary play--which seems likely--and add a Top 10 pass rush, they could edge up closer to a 70% success rate on opponent 3rd downs. It is not too soon to dream about having the best defense in the entire NFL.
Many people have expressed question or concern about the lack of offensive additions in the draft, especially at wide receiver. It is true that Sidney Rice has not shown he can stay healthy. Doug Baldwin has only succeeded as a slot receiver thus far. Golden Tate is still trying to prove he can be a dependable receiver, let alone be the playmaker he was in college. Kris Durham has barely stepped on the field. Ricardo Lockette has two (dazzling) catches. Mike Williams was a non-factor last season after being a near-star in 2010. Zach Miller was more offensive lineman than receiver last season. The offensive line has been riddled with injuries, and Russell Okung has yet to play a full season in the NFL after never missing a game in college. Matt Flynn has two (dazzling) NFL starts. Tarvaris Jackson has never been more than an adequate NFL starter. All these things are true. The draft held no answers to these questions.
Adding yet another young receiver to the mix would have simply meant:
a) Baldwin would not get a shot to be Victor Cruz by playing some split end
b) Durham, your 4th round pick from 12 months back, would not get a shot
c) Lockette, a speedster you already know, would not get a shot
d) Tate, your 2nd round pick from 24 months back, would not get a shot
e) Your newly drafted receiver would not get a shot
f) Some combination of the above
If a great playmaking receiver had fallen to the Seahawks, they probably would have taken him. Instead, the team gets to see what they already have on the roster. Folks want to act like the NFL's best offenses are fueled by these playmakers. The New York Giants won the Super Bowl last year with two running backs that rushed for under 700 yards, and two 1000+ yard receivers in Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. The rest of the receiving corps was made up of role players. Cruz had 3 receptions as a rookie in 2010. Baldwin had 51 in his rookie year. Rice is every bit as talented as Nicks, and probably far more. Miller is a better tight end target than anyone on that Giants roster. Marshawn Lynch is a better back than anyone on the Giants roster. Turbin and Leon Washington form a damn good trio. There is no reason to believe this Seahawks offense can't be playoff quality with improved quarterback play and a more stable offensive line. Sometimes, adding more does not improve. That would seem to be the case in Seattle.
Seattle now is largely set. There will be additional free agents they bring aboard, possibly a tight end, but nothing flashy. There are usually some roster moves around June for cap reasons that can be interesting. We now transition from off-season to pre-season, and it can't come soon enough.
My eyes popped open at 5 AM yesterday, and my first thought was, "this is going to be a day of days." I tend to be dramatic like that. Not only were the Seahawks going to make a key decision for our collective futures, but the Trail Blazers were playing to stave off elimination, our driveway was getting re-paved to make way for a new dunktastic basketball hoop, a big customer was coming to town to talk strategy, the school science fair was that night after months of preparation by HawkBloggerWife and HawkBloggerOldestSon. Even Michael Pineda pitching is worth a little anticipation. That qualifies as a day of days for this blogger.
The actual results were a mixed bag. HawkBloggerYoungestSon threw up in the morning, stayed home from school and required me to leave my big customer early so that HawkBloggerWife could setup the science fair. He kindly threw up again for me, this time revealing a large piece of latex glove he had somehow swallowed. The driveway looked terrific. Pineda dazzled again, and Justin Smoak got another extra-base hit. The Blazers predictably fizzled...sigh. But the draft was a ton of fun.
Tweeting with my friends (screw the term tweeples) throughout the evening was a blast. It was surprising that a draft that had our Seahawks picking all the way back at #25 was more fun than when they had #6 and #14 a year earlier. Some that was just a lack of pressure. It's much harder to screw up the 25th pick than two of the top 15. Life is all about expectations. It was not just that, though. In case you had not noticed, we are blessed with a witty, smart, informed fan base. There were tons of great jokes, insights and just plain hanging out. I even got to harass Eric Williams, the Tacoma Trib beat reporter who was on camera at the VMAC. Talk about interactive experiences...
By the time the Seahawks picked, it was clear there weren't the must-have prospects that would warrant someone paying a high price to trade up for. Players like Locker, Ponder, and even Cameron Jordan were off the board. No matter how well James Carpenter ends up playing, yesterday involved some failure. The Seahawks wanted, and needed, to trade down and add a third round pick. That did not happen. They even said they had hoped to trade back and draft Carpenter later. By definition, that means they reached a bit on this one since he was drafted above his graded value.
That doesn't mean he wasn't the player they wanted, but any honest evaluation of the front office has to ding them for failing to move back and draft the guy at his proper value slot. The other problem with this pick is the position. Right tackle is not a position that separates good from great teams. It can be really important. Take, for example, Sean Locklear during the team's Super Bowl run and how much he solidified the team's pass protection opposite Walter Jones. It rarely really alters a team's overall trajectory the way a great defensive tackle, cornerback or quarterback can. Name the best right tackle in the game right now. I honestly couldn't even tell you one great one.
The other problem with drafting OL in the first round is that there is plenty of value later in the draft at that position, and much less value at the defensive tackle spot. There are more quality free agent offensive lineman than defensive lineman as well. If the Seahawks don't get a high quality interior lineman in the draft, the situation becomes pretty darn desperate come free agency. With only one pick in the 2nd and 3rd rounds, they will be tempted to reach for a DL. That means no QB. Tough, tough decisions they would not have to make if they had been able to trade back.
It didn't end being the day of days I had envisioned, but it was not one that will live in infamy either. Many folks will be down on the Seahawks because they picked a lesser known player. Tom Cable is a fantastic line coach, and should give everyone some confidence that the team knows what it's getting in Carpenter. And even if you are someone who pins their assessment on where "experts" had guys going, take heart that ESPN's Todd McShay had Carpenter going as the first pick of the 2nd round. That's not exactly a Kelly Jennings-level reach.
James Carpenter could end up being a great player for us, and that's a good thing. Schneider and Carroll are going to have pull off some magic, though, to add enough quality players beyond Carpenter to qualify this draft as successful.
Evaluating a draft class before any of the players have played a snap is generally a waste of time. The number of variable involved is staggering, as are the number of unanswerable questions. Could the team have drafted him later? Is he more valuable in our system than in another team's system? Will he be a starter? How much better can he be than he is right now? What we can do is compare the known needs of the team heading into the draft with the players selected, and take some educated guesses about what needs remain.
Heading into the 2010 pre-season, I ran a series breaking down and ranking every position group on the team. Here's how things stacked up:
Now, remember as you look at this that these rankings are relative. When a team is lacking talent overall, being the #1 position group does not necessarily mean that much. Exiting the season, the offensive line had done little to change its ranking. The defensive line proved how well it could play when healthy, but had key question marks with Brandon Mebane's free agency and Red Bryant's knee injury. The wide receiver group showed a lot of growth, but lacked a vertical threat. The linebackers were NFL average, at best, outside of David Hawthorne. And, of course, the quarterback question mark is well known. If I had ranked needs 1-N before the draft it would have looked something like this:
#5 5-Tech DE (Red Bryant partner)
#8 Back-up LEO
#10 Big-play WR
Let's try to match-up the team's new draft picks with where they might fit relative to this list of needs:
#2 OG (John Moffit)
#4 CB (Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell)
#5 5-Tech DE (Lazarius Levingston)
#6 RT (James Carpenter)
#8 Back-up LEO (KJ Wright)
#9 Center (Moffit allows Unger to slide over to Center)
#10 Big-play WR
Not listed: Kris Durham, Mark Legree, Malcolm Smith
You can interpret this in a variety of ways. One, the front office very well may have a different Top 10 list of needs than I do. Two, the front office likes what it can do via free agency and/or trade for some of these gaps more than what was available in the draft. Three, the front office is committed to taking the highest rated player on their board even if it is not a key need for the team. Likely, it is a combination of all these things.
What I find most instructive is the players they drafted that don't fill a major need. Start with Safety Mark Legree. Legree was a 5th round pick, which is still relatively high. It is not unheard of for 5th round picks to play some snaps in their rookie year outside of special teams. Legree is not a player I know well, but all accounts describe him as the anti-Kam Chancellor. He's a speed coverage safety who is not great near the line of scrimmage, but can run with almost any slot receiver or TE. Earl Thomas is a fixture in the defensive backfield. He is the guy who can probably cover anybody. Lawyer Milloy will probably be back for one more season, and will compete with Bam Bam Chancellor for the starting safety spot opposite Thomas. Both Milloy and Chancellor are exceptional near the line of scrimmage, supporting against the run and even blitzing on occasion. Both also struggle at times in coverage. Legree is a guy the Seahawks are likely hoping can be a 3rd and long safety compliment to Thomas. Thomas was used to cover some receivers one-on-one toward the end of the season, and Legree could potentially allow him to do more of that. He also could give the team a back-up should Thomas ever be out for a bit. There was literally nobody on the team that could be considered a coverage safety other than Thomas last season. Legree needs to prove he can cover in the NFL, but the logic behind the pick is pretty clear. It also illustrates a continuing trend toward specialization on the roster. Having specialists, guys that might be great at something but bad at something else, allows coordinators to mix and match lineups for a variety of situations. This is a different philosophy than coaches that want do-everything guys who never come off the field, but are less likely to be exceptional at any one thing.
Take a look at Kris Durham next. At 6'5", 216 lbs, with a 4.43 40-yard dash and a 35-inch vertical, Durham is an intriguing prospect. Analysts talk about him as a possession receiver similar to Mike Williams, and a red-zone threat. That's a pretty athletic possession receiver. He's also pretty strong with 17 reps of 225lbs. Here's a highlight video that give a decent view of what he brings. Pay particular attention at ~1:50 and ~3:50 with his catch and run acceleration:
The kid has good hands, will catch over the middle, and looks extremely comfortable finding the seam in the defense. The seam route may be one of the most important in the West Coast Offense, and since John Carlson seems less able to run it than we all hoped, players like Brandon Stokley and Durham become more valuable. It would be ideal to bring Stokley back for one more season to teach this kid the ropes, but it is not hard to imagine the mismatches presented by 6'5" Williams, 6'5" Durham and Ben Obamanu 6'1". Durham will need to learn how to find holes in the zone, and be more than seam/fade guy. He may end up helping with that big-play WR need, but that seems less likely given his projected role in the offense.
Malcolm Smith is a 7th round pick, so spending too much time evaluating him is silly. A guy picked that late is slotted for special teams if he makes the club. However, Carroll mentioned how fast he was and how good he was in coverage. Again, here's a specialist that could replace Hawthorne in certain coverage situations. Curry is already taken off in those scenarios.
Now let's look at KJ Wright. At 6'3", 236 lbs, Wright is a decent size linebacker. Two immediate roles come to mind for this kid. First, and most commonly mentioned, is to back-up Chris Clemons at the LEO position. That's a pass-rushing spot that can allow for somewhat lighter players. The more provocative role would be a hedge against Aaron Curry's future with the team. Curry makes serious cash, and is not producing anywhere near the level he is being paid for. He's not even one of the ten best players on a pretty bad team. Wright has the size to play over the tight end, and could prove to be a better football player than Curry. Pay close attention to where Wright is getting his snaps come pre-season.
Lazarius Levingston is another 7th-rounder, but the team may rightly believe it can address that 5-tech spot with guys that are less valuable to other teams and systems. Remember, Junior Siavii moved over to that spot for one game against Atlanta and made an immediate impact. The role demands a player that can stand up the right tackle, and not a ton else. Siavii was 6'5" and 315 lbs. Levingston is 6'4" and listed at 292 lbs. He'll probably need to add some weight, but the real hope is Bryant is healthy enough to make the back-up role less critical.
The two selections at cornerback are revealing. We know Carroll prefers tall corners, but what gets less discussion is his desire to be able to press with regularity. He wants his corners rolled up on the WRs a lot, disrupting their routes off the line. Both Sherman and Maxwell are over 6' (Sherman is 6'3"!), and excel in press coverage. This is a classic case of being more valuable in this system than in others. Where these guys were graded lower was due to their pure coverage ability in a back-pedal. Picture the Bears Charles Tillman. That's what Carroll is looking for. If he gets his hands on you as a WR, it's over. If you can get past his press, you'll probably be open. Sherman plays with a nasty edge, and likes to hit. He is the anti-Kelly Jennings on the field. There is some potential there as a blitzer as well.
Capenter and Moffit are going to be given every chance to start, and that's putting it mildly. The offensive line has a proven coach, a cornerstone left tackle, and strong young players at every position except left guard. It is a given the team will sign a veteran left guard, and there are plenty of great ones to choose from. Assuming that gets done, the front office has put together a group that should be reaching its prime in two seasons, but will be better running the football immediately. It typically takes less time for a young lineman to deliver production in the running game than as a pass protector. What we don't know is how good these young guys will be at little things like false starts and handling stunts or blitzes. That's where Cable will be held accountable. The importance of building a strong young offensive line cannot be overstated. It improves every facet of the offense, and in turn, can elevate a defense. Championship teams rarely have a less-than-stellar offensive line.
The team is, however, left with some glaring holes. Carroll implied yesterday that the Seahawks have a plan for the quarterback position that, "we just can't execute yet." Captain Obvious tells me that is either a free agent or a trade. It that guy is going to be the team's starter, and that person is not Matt Hasselbeck, it will be almost impossible to get him ready for the season if the lockout goes on for a few more months. Hasselbeck can probably roll in and be reasonably effective right away. Carson Palmer, Kevin Kolb or others would need a few months to adjust. There is also the chance that they elevate Charlie Whitehurst, and sign a back-up (Matt Leinart anyone?). If that's where things end up, take solace in the fact the team could be in position to nab Andrew Luck next year at this time.
Defensive tackle is a more stressful gap than quarterback. At least there are tons of options at QB. If the Seahawks don't sign Brandon Mebane, there are very few difference makers on the free agent market. Albert Haynesworth anyone?
All drafts take on a life of their own, almost a personality. Last year's draft was a celebration. The Seahawks made splashy, popular picks in each of their first three choices. Even a guy like Walter Thurmond was a high-profile player coming off an injury and Anthony McCoy was a highly thought of tight end that fell due to a failed drug test. This year requires a lot more faith in the front office. Few draft analysts are celebrating the choices the Seahawks made. There is no reason to think it is a bad draft yet, but Schneider has put more pressure on himself by picking players many felt were chosen above their value. Seahawks fans have every right to feel nervous about a "no-name" draft after suffering through some duds, and seeing their division rivals grab some exciting prospects. Keep in mind all the roster shuffling last season, even at the end of training camp. The front office has a pretty darn good track record of finding talent to plug in. Trusting that these were the right choices will be tough. Something tells me, though, this off-season is just beginning. Don't be surprised if the Seahawks make some major splashes in free agency or via trades.
Russell Okung and Earl Thomas seem like players that will start for the Seahawks for the next 5-10 years and have Pro Bowl potential. If that turns out to be true, this was a successful first round.
That said, my immediate reaction to the first round was disappointment that we didn't trade back and acquire more picks. I really believe we need a third rounder, and would have loved to see another 2nd rounder somehow. Watching the 49ers build a potentially devastating offensive line by selecting a tackle and a guard in the 1st round was tough. That's an example of drafting for depth to create a strength versus drafting breadth to fill holes in multiple parts of the team.
Granted, the Seahawks have so many holes, it's hard not to try and fill them all. To be a great team down the road, we will need a great line. Why not build it now? Great lines take years to develop, so I'm a bit impatient.
Okung is extremely talented, so I'm thrilled to get him. Thomas will struggle to make a major impact at the safety position in his rookie year, but we don't need him to be great yet. It's unlikely any draft bounty would lead to a winning season next year. Let's see if we can get some additional picks and additional talents tomorrow.
A few weeks ago, I tried to sum up what the Hawks needed to leave this draft with, and it wasn't short list. Let's take a look:
1 starting caliber offensive tackle [Okung - CHECK PLUS]
1 offensive playmaker (this could WR or RB) [Tate, Leon Washington - CHECK PLUS]
1 starting caliber defensive lineman [EJ Wilson - Tentative CHECK]
1 starting caliber safety [Thomas, Chancellor - CHECK PLUS]
1 starting caliber running back [Washington, White - CHECK PLUS]
1 QB to challenge Mike Teel at #3 [Not addressed]
When I say starting caliber, that is relative to the Seahawks team. They would have to be ready to start for our team. Not a high bar.
Beyond those things, it would be great to add:
1 starting caliber offensive guard or center [Not addressed]
1 WR with upside [Tate - CHECK]
A 2nd defensive lineman [Kevin Vickerson, Dexter Davis - CHECK PLUS]
Another safety [Chancellor - CHECK]
Another CB [Thurmond - CHECK]
Wow. That is wild. Not only do we exit the draft with players at nearly every position of need, but we exit with players who in most cases have a chance to be quality contributors, and a few that could be Pro Bowl talents. The master stroke of the draft were the three players that were *not* drafted, Washington, White and Vickerson. People seem to think White is the penciled in starter. I still have my money on Forsett. In fact, I think a Forsett/Washington duo is ideal for this system since both can run well outside and inside as well as catch the ball with confidence. Washington is basically Forsett with more speed and a little less strength. Both are guys that average over 5 YPC, but remember Forsett did that behind the Seahawks offensive line, while Washington ran behind a great Jets line.
Yes, we've got yet another line configuration with a few new players (including a rookie), and yes we have a new line coach with likely a slightly different system, and yes we have another new offensive coordinator. But we've also got more talent. It's going to be hard to not improve our running game. That's a victory right there.
Golden Tate should provide some versatility in the WR ranks, but be careful about expecting too much from a rookie WR, even a talented one.
On defense, it became clear how we are building this line. Vickerson and Wilson are both run stuffers who are unlikely to play on 3rd downs. We will compliment them with Chris Clemons, who we got from the Eagles, Nick Reed and possibly Dexter Davis who are unlikely to play on 1st or 2nd downs. Aaron Curry will be the guy who potentially rushes the passer on earlier downs (as well as 3rd downs). Add in a ball hawking FS in Thomas who can cover a slot receiver and Kam Chancellor who could be a devastating blitzer (I call first dibz at nickname: Battering Kam, Kam Bam Thank You Mam, Slam Kam). Then, for good measure, add in another bump-and-run cover corner in Thurmond who will fit in nicely with Josh Wilson and Marcus Trufant.
It may not all come together in year one, but the plan is coming into focus, and that's a victory as well.
Special teams should also get a boost from players like Chancellor, Davis, Tate, Washington, and Thurmond.
The rest of the additions are just gravy that could become quality players or washouts. We didn't need another TE, but it looks like we added a talented one who fell because he smoked pot (god forbid). And then there is Jameson Konz who stands 6'4" and has a 46" (!!!!) vertical leap while running a 4.4 40-yard-dash. I love a pick like this in the 7th round. He should be a great special teamer, and could end up turning into a unique offensive weapon. All reward with very little risk.
The only people not thrilled with the Seahawks events of the past three days are Cardinals, Rams and 49ers fans. You can never tell how good or bad a draft is until a year or more later, but we knew going in that this was a draft that would define the Seahawks fortunes for the next decade, and it certainly appears like things are rapidly heading in the right direction.
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