The Morning After: Seahawks 2012 Draft Now Complete

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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 Quarterback
1 Running Back
1-2 Linebackers
1 Tight End
1 Defensive Tackle

The final tally looked like this:
2 Defensive Ends
1 Quarterback
1 Running Back
2 Linebackers
1 DT
1 Safety
1 CB
1 OG

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.

Keep an eye on open thread on undrafted free agents. Players like Jermaine Kearse and Lavasier Tuinei have already been confirmed, so there might be this magical playmaker on tap.

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.