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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.
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.