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The Morning After: Seahawks Draft Full of Intrigue
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Seattle entered this draft in need of just about every position. The offseason has been taxing on the fanbase as emotions were far stronger about the players leaving than the ones joining. The Seahawks exit the draft with renewed optimism and energy. In that regard, they were successful. Whether this football team took a meaningful step forward on the football field remains to be seen. A number of high risk decisions, dating back to last season and continuing into the first round of this draft, has left the trap door open for a potentially disastrous outcome. Should some of those risks yield their potential rewards, John Schneider will have re-established his reputation and replenished the talent pool.

Pete consolidates power

Pete Carroll commented on the attitude of nearly ever draft choice. He emphasized words like, “humble,” and talked about guys who were “willing to do whatever we ask.” This was a significant factor in picking who he wanted on the roster, and it doesn’t stop there. Look at the coaching changes. Guys like Ken Norton Jr. and Dave Canales are Carroll loyalists. Brian Schottenheimer knows he does not have the juice to challenge Pete. The evidence points to a head coach who has reflected on the past few seasons and decided that he allowed the team to sway from his core philosophy by delegating too much power to coaches who were not aligned and by enabling players to become larger than the team.

The coaching changes were overdue. If nothing else, the value of having one person own offensive game-planning instead of two will lead to more cohesion. A bigger question is whether Carroll has overcorrected on the player side. Part of how the Seahawks became the dominant force they were until the past few seasons was by intimidation and swagger. They were the biggest, baddest, maddest crew in the NFL. Opposing teams were punished for playing the Seahawks, win or lose. The locker room was a pack of alphas, snarling and ready to pounce on any person who slighted them.

Nobody would describe that group as humble.

That does not mean the locker room lacked humility. Russell Wilson embodies the word. Doug Baldwin has largely been the same way. Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright fit the bill as well. And look at who is still on the roster. Still, if you speak to many of the humble guys in that locker room, they would tell you they drew strength and confidence from guys like Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman.

If anyone asks, Pete let the dogs out. What he welcomed in were more docile breeds. Now we find out if these dogs can hunt. The optimistic view is players can be loud on the field and soft-spoken off it, a la Kam Chancellor. The pessimistic view is Carroll has overcorrected and left a key ingredient out of his roster recipe. Watching this latest Carroll leadership experiment play out will be among the many fascinating elements of this upcoming season.

First round running backs

If you do not follow Ben Baldwin and Nathan Ernst on Twitter, I suggest you correct that. They are both super bright guys, who are unafraid to fight conventional wisdom with data science swords and shields. Those who do follow them know they can also be [obnoxiously] insistent that the run game does not matter in football. I will not make their case for them, but there is a lot of solid evidence that suggests NFL teams run the ball more than they should and that a correction is looming like what we have seen in the NBA with 3-point shooting. We have sparred a few times because I: (A) enjoy poking the bear (B) believe they are sometimes more interested in proving their theory than dispassionately uncovering truth (C) think it is unlikely the Seahawks will abandon the run anytime soon so there is little point in ignoring how to improve that facet of the offense. Where we are very much aligned is that taking running backs in the first round is a poor use of draft capital.

I was not overly thrilled when the Seahawks traded back from the 18th pick. I have generally been a proponent of stockpiling draft choices, but I was more interested in the Seahawks adding a difference-making player this year and it becomes harder to find All-Pro talent the farther you move down the draft board. It was a foregone conclusion Schneider would be trading back, though, due to the desperate decisions to trade for Sheldon Richardson and Duane Brown a year ago that left the cupboard bare in rounds two and three.

Once they dropped nine spots toward the back of the first round, my fingers were crossed for a mauling lineman like Will Hernandez or maybe a pass rusher like Harold Landry. Instead, they picked running back Rashaad Penny. This drew snickers from many who thought there were better running back options like Derrius Guice, Sony Michel, and Nick Chubb. I winced because the risk profile of taking running backs in the first round is not pretty, especially if you take them late in the first round. Take a look at how the 44 running backs selected in the first round since 2000 have done in their careers:

Star Rate indicates percentage of players who averaged at least 1000 scrimmage yards per season. Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

Lots of teams have dipped their toes into the first round running back talent pool over the past two decades. Many of them did so in the bottom third of the round. The numbers indicate the quality of the talent has dropped in concert with draft position. Scrimmage yards includes both rushing and receiving yards. Star rate indicates what percentage of the players selected averaged over 1000 scrimmage yards per season. Forget for a second whether taking a running back in the first round is a good choice at all. Look at the return on investment for teams who have selected a back late in the first round like the Seahawks did with Penny. Then, remember that guys like Kareem Hunt, Dalvin Cook, Chris Carson, Tarik Cohen, and more were taken in the third round or later last year. It is hard to make the case it is worth spending a first round pick on a position that has proven time and time again it can be filled ably by later round picks.

None of this is to say I am down on Penny as a player. Michel is the guy who most clearly projects to stardom as an NFL back by my eye, but his medical issues are significant enough that it is understandable why the Seahawks passed on him. Penny has been durable, has broken plenty of tackles, and has shown some big play ability, albeit at a smaller school. People point to his big performances against Stanford and Arizona St. as evidence of how he will perform against better competition. I would be more convinced if those schools were Alabama and Georgia.

For Penny to be worth the draft choice used to select him, he needs to be a Pro Bowl quality back for multiple seasons. Why? Because there is so much evidence that teams can find quality starters at that position throughout the draft. Penny has to be a star to make this pick a wise use of resources. Fingers crossed that is exactly what he becomes.

When the fifth round is sexier than the first…

Seattle wound up with four choices in the fifth round. They set Seahawks Twitter and the NFL ablaze with their first selection. It is not often that everyone on Twitter across all religious, political, geographic, and team boundaries rejoice in unison. Shaquem Griffin’s name was announced, and it felt like the whole world shrieked and hugged as if Team Humanity had just won the Super Bowl. Not only did everyone want Griffin to be drafted, but everyone was thrilled to see him land with his twin brother in Seattle. Who wouldn’t be excited about a one-handed kid getting a chance to chase his dreams on the same team as his twin brother?

His story will be a treat to follow up close for Seahawks fans. It is more, though, than a human interest narrative. I am just as interested in his prospects as a player. Griffin was a standout pass rusher in college, and is an elite athlete. His speed is off the chart for linebackers.

His height and weight, though, are an issue at that position. For now, the Seahawks will train him up as a backup to Wright at WILL linebacker and allow him to excel on special teams. He is a bit of a puzzle for the Seahawks coaches to figure out as his best trait has been rushing the passer near the line of scrimmage, but his weight and height make him a much more logical fit at strong safety.

Average measurables for Strong Safeties Source: Mockdraftable.com

Griffin goes from being an undersized linebacker to being a freak athlete at strong safety. He is roughly the same weight as Chancellor and is considerably faster. The team likely will keep him in a more familiar linebacker role this season and work on his ability to play in space. He has played safety before. My hope is that he proves he can do that at the NFL level because if he can, Griffin could become a star at the position and play next to his brother in the Seahawks secondary.

Near the back of the long list of Griffin storylines is whether he will spark conversation about the use of prosthetics in the NFL. Griffin used one to do the bench press in the combine. Will technology provide an opportunity for him to play with a more functional hand during his career? If it does, will the NFL allow it? This kid brings all sort of intrigue. Let’s hope he can make most of the focus about his performance on the field.

Seattle’s next selection in the fifth round was Tre Flowers. Flowers played safety at Oklahoma, but the Seahawks see a cornerback. At 6’3″ with 33 7/8″ arms, Flowers is the same height as Richard Sherman with longer arms. He is also faster (4.45 vs 4.56). His physical profile is very similar to second round corner Carlton Davis out of Auburn.

Seattle has not had as much luck converting safeties to corners with the likes of Eric Pinkins and Mike Tyson failing to grasp the position. Tyson is still around, but he would have to make a massive leap this season to stick much longer. Flowers seems like a worthy candidate. Carroll mentioned some agility drills they ran him through that were likely informed by their prior experience with guys like Pinkins. It also helps that he played at a big school like Oklahoma with a lot of elite athletes. This is a pick that could supercharge this draft for Seattle if Flowers successfully transitions.

Their next pick involved trading up. Schneider rarely trades up early in the draft, but has done so a few times in later rounds. He shocked many people by picking a punter. Spending draft picks before the 6th round on specialists like kickers and punters is generally scorned. Michael Dickson is not just any punter. He was named the best punter in college football last season and some consider him one of the best punters in college football history. Pro Football Focus referred to him as the “Aaron Donald of punters.”

Dickson is a rugby-trained kicker who has the ability to kick for distance and hang time, but his most precious talent is how he can deaden the ball inside the opponents 10-yard line. He was actually named the MVP of the bowl game he played in by kicking 10 of his 11 punts inside the opponents 15-yard line. Seven landed inside the 10-yard line, four inside the 5-yard line, and none were touchbacks.

Everyone loves Jon Ryan. I wish him the best. It is also past time to move on. He is expensive and nowhere close to the difference maker a player like Johnny Hekker or Marquette King is. A great punter can be a huge weapon in the type of ball control games Carroll likes to play. Your defense gets to be more aggressive near the opponents goal line and has more field to yield before points are scored. The offense benefits from having less distance to cover for points of their own. Teams like the Rams gain yards with their special teams because they net more yards per punt than their opponent. Those yards are just as valuable as the ones gained by the offense.

Dickson has the potential to be a difference maker for the Seahawks over the next decade. I, for one, was thrilled to see them exit the draft with him on the roster.

The Seahawks closed the fifth round by selecting offensive tackle Jamarco Jones. This was arguably the most celebrated Seattle pick by analysts. Jones has been a standout starter at left tackle at Ohio St., but performed terribly at the combine. Some thought he would still go as high as the second round, so the Seahawks getting him in the fifth round was considered a great value. Jones will begin as a backup to Duane Brown, and has the ability to become a swing tackle or a future starter. I am always a bit cautious about players with questionable athleticism. The NFL is a bloodsport generally won by biggest, strongest, and fastest players.

Perhaps, Jones rounds into better shape in Seattle or becomes one of those guys who excels as a technician more than an athlete. Spending a late fifth round selection on a guy who could become a starting tackle seems like a worthy risk.

This fifth round is the perfect microcosm for the team’s entire 2018 draft. It could become a major infusion of talent or a bust that only improves special teams. Dickson is the surest bet of the bunch.

Best of the rest

Seattle invested in the line and in the run game when they selected Will Dissly at tight end. Dissly is considered the best blocking tight end in the draft. Schneider called him the closest thing they have seen to Zach Miller. Dissly was a defensive end in college before converting to tight end. He brings that nasty tenacity to the position. After suffering through a few years of patsy cake blocking from finesse tight ends, Dissly will bring a love of contact back to the role. His success will not be measured by how many touchdowns he catches, but by how many holes he opens for others.

That said, he never dropped a pass in college, and could show some potential as a receiver. I like what the team has at the tight end spot with Ed Dickson and Dissly, with guys like Nick Vannett and Tyrone Swoopes behind them. Swoopes may wind up being the best of the bunch. Vannett should not feel comfortable with his roster spot.

Rasheem Green is a pass-rushing defensive lineman out of USC who the Seahawks spent a third round pick on. That was the pick they received from the Packers in order to move back in the first round. Green is a promising athlete who many compared to Michael Bennett. His physical profile compares more closely to some other notable edge pass rushers.

Shawne Merriman, Justin Smith, Charles Grant, and Cory Redding jump out from that list. The knock on Green was an old knee injury from high school. Seattle said multiple times they tried to be more careful this year in selecting players with injury or other red flags. They believe the injury is not an issue. They also believe Green can add more weight beyond his current 275 pounds.

Green is another example of the quiet athletes the team went after this year. Penny, Green, Griffin, Dissly, and on down the line. All these guys are going to listen more than they talk. I generally prefer a little more bark in defensive players. Green comes across as a bit timid off the field, but shows flashes of dominance on it. How he competes with the alpha dogs of the NFL will have a significant impact on how this class is graded.

Impossible to read, impossible to ignore

This draft class will be pivotal one way or another. Schneider and Carroll dug themselves a huge hole by trading away their second and third round selections last season. The most optimistic outlook is that the Seahawks just added a star running back and rare blocking tight end to drastically improve their run game, a difference-making pass rusher on the defensive line, a freak athlete at strong safety and cornerback, a starting left tackle, and a possible hall of fame punter (hey, I said optimistic).

The most pessimistic outlook would be that the Seahawks added a good blocker at tight end, a rotational running back, and a good punter.

I was not excited for this draft coming in because it did not set up well for the Seahawks and they really needed an influx of talent across the entire roster. I exit the draft rejuvenated. Heck, I even wrote an article for the first time in months. I cannot say with confidence that this group will make the Seahawks a great team this season, but I know I’m pumped to see them try.

14 Responses

  1. Kyle

    Welcome back, Brian. It’s great to get your measured take, which is not the echo chamber of fanboys pumping every pick or pessimists slamming it. The Seahawks set up this draft to be a hard one without anything in rounds 2 and 3, and that said, probably did as well as anyone could expect. I agree it will be fascinating to watch it play out.

    Reply
  2. PKS

    Been waiting for your input for a wee while now! Great to have you back.

    I rate the draft as either an A+ or a D with only time telling us which. I think that what Schneider and Carroll did, though, was tap into what Seattle is all about: tough workers who can always play up their underdog status. For a second rounder to slip to 5th, for example, you’d hope that he feels there is something to prove (albeit, having reviewed his combine, was he “into” it?).

    Looking at the UFDAs signed seems to me that everyone is happy with the O-line the way it is with Fant coming back amongst other things. Have to trust the process…

    All told, a thumbs up from me (a Scottish, Scotland based no. 12).

    Reply
  3. Uncle Bob

    Expectations for this draft were fairly low, justifiably, so perhaps that’s why I feel better about this year than last. I did not like the McDowell pick, not because he couldn’t play, he’s a good athlete, but because he just had that bad juju aura about him. I expected it to manifest on the field, but as we know, he didn’t even get that far. I wasn’t too excited about Pocic either, but to be fair, he’s better than I expected though I hope he’s become a weight room animal this off season. He builds some strength and he might prove to be worthy of a second round pick. The draft last year seemed more about playing that numbers game (re; picks) than choosing for type/quality.

    While I feel better about the choices this year, in general, I would overlay the caveat that we’re going to have to see some serious performance from the coaching staff. We don’t have the star power that most fans and media types froth over, but we don’t have a pile of ham sandwiches either. The two teams that probably most scare the Seahawk fan base are the Rams and 49ers, and for good reason(s). But, some of their “prowess” can be countered by good game film analysis and game scheming. The near wholesale change in coaching staff would imply that PC/JS have figured that out. We’ll see.

    It seems the biggest gripe about Penny is “he was drafted too early”. That may be true, but then someone else valued him highly enough that they wanted to trade for him immediately after the Hawks picked him. My guess, based on what transpired four picks later, is it was NE. They seem to know a little bit about this football thing, so maybe that should be a consideration in evaluating the pick too. Also, “getting the guy you want” likely had a play in it. JS was clearly unable to generate enough value to yield the extra second round picks he would have preferred to use so swallowed hard and gutted it out. Personally I like that Penny has a low injury history, can catch a ball, and has some moves while running hard. Blocking? We’ll see if that can be coached up.
    The stated goals of getting guys who are “all football” and not as injury prone proved to be the touchstone through at least the 5th round with just a bit of taking a flyer in 6 and 7. All in all this might well be categorized as a pretty good strategy centered draft. Not unlike the selections made in free agency. Not a lot of high profile picks, but what look like guys who can perform if surrounded by complementary pieces, i.e. coaches as well as players. I actually like that post draft evaluations are mostly yawn inducing when looking at what the Hawks did. There’s that intangible that Quem Griffen might bring (if it isn’t overplayed before the season gets here) that will help motivate enough of the team to overachieve. There’s a lot of low expectation being set up for this team………………perfect!

    And not unlike Brian, I enjoy a bit of bear poking too. Lots of fans are just tickled to death that no trade for ETIII materialized. And maybe that’s a good thing if he can play with his usual full on commitment (though the signals he sends make me nervous about that). It’s clear that the actual people who would establish his market value don’t agree with either the loyal fans of his, and apparently JS too, as to just how valuable he is. In part it’s because his statements and actions have somewhat poisoned the well, the rest is that Safties, no matter how great they are, aren’t quite that valuable. I don’t fully understand why we didn’t hear anything about TB Bucs making a play, they have the need and had the capital, but that stunt Earl played post the Dallas game may have killed competition for him. Both Dallas and TB still are in need of a good to great safety, so who knows? Time will tell. If Earl stays, I hope the integrity we believe he has will motivate him to play his heart out again as in the past. It could be a better year than we might imagine.

    Reply
  4. the12thman

    Man I’m really enjoying the lighter side. I’m glad you feel this way because it only solidifies my thoughts. I think they did a great job considering they didn’t have any picks in round 2 or 3, and they didn’t sacrifice their board requirements just to stack up picks.

    Reply
  5. Rowdy Yates

    I think the hole PC&JS dug themselves precedes trading picks away last year to get Richardson and Brown. In my opinion, their decline dates back to the enormous mistake that was Percy Harvin. And pretty much all the decisions since.

    But, yeah, this draft may prove to bit of lightning in a bottle again.
    The first preseason games may tell us a lot. Maybe they’ll dominate TOP again and all the good dominoes will fall from there.

    Reply
  6. Brandon

    Just one correction: Dickson did not play rugby in Australia. For punting skill, he played something much better… Australian-rules Football, or ‘Footy’. For those unfamiliar, take a look at highlights on YouTube. Punting is literally half the game, and they have to be significantly more accurate than even the best American punters.

    Reply
    • Uncle Bob

      Looking forward to the Rams-Hawks game where the analysts end up surprised having to recount how the outcome pivoted on the game long punting battle between Hekker and Dickson. 🙂

      Reply
  7. Rowdy Yates

    Brian, in my earlier post here I meant to comment on your point that the new draft features humble guys. Whereas before we had Sherman, Bennett and Lynch, et al. Guys with more bite, more outspoken ways. So how much will the Humble Effect affect the overall gestalt/swagger of the team—stay tuned. Anyhow, an interesting take on your part. Cheers. (Regardless of the outcome on the field in 2018, I’m gonna miss the bad boys of yore. Especially, if they were All Pro’s.).

    Also, I imagine that PC &JS felt a TON of pressure to take a running back early, given the collapse of the run game last year and the heat that their coaching and GM moves have received. For them to have waited until pick 120 for a RB , would have left them vulnerable to more criticism.
    Too bad the trade with Cleveland for high 2nd rounders fell through, but, overall, I think the draft went well for Seattle this year. Rashaad Penny may have been the best pick at the position. (fingers crossed)

    The Hawks are now a team with a Shaad, a Sheem and a Shaq. Move over, Rams. Get back, Niners and stay down, Cards.

    Reply
    • Kurt Z

      It all feels like a red-shirt year, especially if you look at it from the POV of a Rasheem Green pick, with everyone saying he needed another year in school. Even taking two guys who will be asked to change positions reinforces that point.

      And be humble. That mantra is used on guys who are gonna get there asses beat on a weekly basis.

      Look we were the worst team in the division by the end of the year AND we deal away our two biggest studs on defense with very little cap room and no second and third round draft picks. We should have got a fourth place schedule.

      Instead we are stuck with a SECOND place schedule that may turn into the toughest in conference, cuz we are in the toughest division now in the NFC. Young, dynamic QB/coach combos at all the other three teams in the West and I think it is a recipe for disaster, a mediocre team lucky to go 6-10.

      Now with the situation in Arizona, I say we are gonna be 5-11.

      We gambled last year on one more shot at the Super Bowl and it failed badly. Next year, we will have cap room and a top ten draft pick.

      Go 2019!

      Reply
  8. Scott Crowder

    Great to have you back Brian.
    Not sure why you feel Griffen has off the chart speed however. 4.58 is okay but not exceptional. I’m guessing you didn’t realize that the 4.38 listed was known throughout the NFL to be incorrect?

    Reply
  9. Morgan

    I agree with you Brian on it being a better draft than the media is portraying. There are some intriguing players that the Hawks picked up. But the reason I am commenting is a little (as far as I know) commented on about aspect of the NFL, and that is the marketing of the product. The owners are all business leaders and know how to turn a profit and use public opinion to increase the desirability of said product. Football as a business is ultimately about the bottom line. So drafting players which tug at the consumers heart strings as well as being competent at the game of football is a win/win situation. Take for instance the Griffin brothers. Talk about a marketing coup! Total feel good story of the year. Did the league need this positive PR? Damn skippy it did. ( The conspiracy theorist in me thinks that Shaquem was a PROTECTED pick of the Hawks and that the rest of the league was told to not draft him.) How about two of the big defensive losses of the off season, Bennett and Sherman. Does anyone think that they were a positive influence on the bottom line for the Hawks? Both were loose cannons that did little to uphold the product on different levels. Public opinion, espirit de corps, they were old and starting on that downward physical slide that like gravity none of us escapes. Had to go. How about the ringleaders of the “movement” of late not getting jobs. It all has to do with the bottom line and when you mess with that all bets are off. So as we gaze at our teams let us look through this filter to see what some salient points are in the decision making processes of the front offices. Anyway I just had this thought and I wanted to share.

    Reply
    • Uncle Bob

      Bless you Morgan! Now I can show my bride I’m not the only one who wondered if a fix was in from the league office. LOL

      BTW, as of last night Quem was #5 in rookie jersey sales, but given the potential for the international market he’ll probably climb higher.

      Reply
      • EricR

        “The owners are all business leaders and know how to turn a profit and use public opinion to increase the desirability of said product. Football as a business is ultimately about the bottom line.”

        If there is one exception to this, it has to be Paul Allen.

  10. JulieS

    Love your writing and analysis. Welcome back! Season will be exciting just to see how things unfold with all the changes.

    Reply

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