The genius of John Schneider’s first three draft classes is undeniable. Each draft contained at least one Pro Bowl player, and is highly likely that each will contain at least one All-Pro player. There have been few comparable organic talent infusions in NFL history in such a compressed timeframe. It has been so impressive that draft pundits are now afraid to criticize Schneider drafts for fear of looking foolish. That started last year, and ironically, it may turn out to be a draft worthy of criticism if things do not take a turn for the better.
The missing top shelf
Finding at least one starter in every draft is a minimum bar. Luke Willson (5th round) has already proven to be a good choice in the fifth round. Barring something unforseen, he will eventually be the #1 tight end on the Seahawks depth chart. It is a stretch, though, to expect future Pro Bowls for any pass catcher in this offense. The breakthrough talent, a player who dominates the opposition, has not emerged yet from the 2013 class.
Christine Michael (2nd round) is the best hope, and was the top pick for Seattle. He demonstrates qualities of an elite running back, and would be part of a run-first offense. The problem is getting the snaps necessary to ascend to the stratosphere of his position. The coaching staff has squarely put that on his shoulders, pointing to maturity and preparation problems. Whatever the reason, the organization needs him to pan out for this draft to be anything but mediocre.
Tharold Simon (5th round) got a lot of publicity in OTAs this off-season, but has been just okay in training camp. He has the size and athleticism to be a special player, and will play in a system that makes stars out of many cornerbacks, but we have yet to see true Pro Bowl potential.
Already gone the 2013 class are: Chris Harper (4th round), Jesse Williams (5th round), Ryan Seymour (7th round), Ty Powell (7th round), Jared Smith (7th round) and Michael Bowie (7th round). Technically, Williams is still on the roster, but after two season-ending injuries, he is highly unlikely to make it back. That means six out of the eleven picks are gone just one year after they were drafted. There are six players gone from the 2011 and 2012 drafts, combined. The 2010 draft saw 8 of 9 (88%) draft picks still on the roster after a year. The 2011 draft had 6 of 9 (66%) still around after a year. And the 2012 draft had 8 out of 10 (80%), and both players who moved on (Jaye Howard, Winston Guy) are still on other NFL rosters.
That does not include the undrafted talent the team added like Jermaine Kearse (2012) and Doug Baldwin (2011). Alvin Bailey could be an undrafted success story for the 2013 class, but is currently not slated to compete for starting work. Benson Mayowa is in a similar place, but has less to show for his one season in the NFL than Bailey, and has not stood out in camp thus far. John Lotulelei was another promising undrafted player from last year who got starting snaps for Jacksonville before suffering a knee injury this year.
Jordan Hill (3rd round) missed most of last year due to injury and is out again right now. He is at risk to make the roster if he does not show he can stay on the field and contribute.
The Percy Harvin argument
Fans who want to rush to Schneider’s defense will quickly point out that the Seahawks 1st round pick was really Percy Harvin. That is a flawed argument for a variety of reasons. Harvin was dealt for the Seahawks 2013 first round pick, as well a 7th rounder, and a 2014 3rd round pick. That is three draft choices over two years. Draft choices also do not get $26M in guaranteed money. If the Seahawks had kept their 1st round pick in 2013 and drafted, say Cordarrelle Patterson (who the Vikings took with the Seahawks pick), they would have an up-and-coming player at the position counting ~$12M less against the cap this season.
That kind of money could have been spent on another proven pass rusher, extending K.J. Wright, Cliff Avril and/or others.
Harvin is a special, special player, but counting him as part of the 2013 draft class goes beyond rose-colored glasses.
Lessons from history
Past Super Bowl dynasties have sustained their success by continuing to add Pro Bowl talent via the draft. San Francisco had a great stretch of drafts in the 80s that were sometimes thin on quantity, but consistently had at least one shining star. One difference-making player can turn a sorry draft into a celebrated one.
Seattle has a few ping pong balls left in the barrell. In this era of salary cap restrictions, they need one of those numbers to hit. As great as Schneider has been, no team can truly afford an empty draft. And while the 2014 class looks to have greater staying power than the 2013 class, the jury is definitely out on whether there are any Pro Bowl players in that group.
Spencer Ware (6th round), Christine Michael, Luke Willson, Jordan Hill, Tharold Simon…time to make your mark.