The Morning After: Seahawks 2022 Draft a Welcome Sight

Every year we gather to watch our Seahawks pluck fresh talent from the bountiful pool of college football. What began as an annual celebration of the Einsteinian brilliance of John Schneider and Pete Carroll jauntily thumbing their noses at the rest of the league and draft analysts by taking Hall of Fame players with absurdly unconventional physical traits for their projected position, in rounds that were so late the networks often just announced them via a ticker on the bottom of the screen while commercials played, turned into a wellness fair of Seahawks fans learning how to cope with desperate reaches, foolish trade backs, and missed opportunities. It reached a nadir last year when the Seahawks seemingly acknowledged how bad they had become at drafting by trading away nearly ever pick they owned, leaving them with just three selections, and then passing on an All-Pro center in favor of a diminutive receiver. Why must you beat me, John Schneider? I’m already dead.

The accumulation of valuable draft capital in a trade for Russell Wilson that had the Seahawks picking in the top ten for the first time since Schneider and Carroll’s first season in 2010 left many fans unsure of whether to be excited or braced for another soul crushing trolling. You could almost imagine the cackling from the VMAC as the commissioner stepped to the stage and announced the Seahawks traded back ten spots for extra 5th round picks while losing out on a franchise left tackle or blue chip pass rusher while fans huddled on their couches in fetal positions muttering affirmations to themselves in pitiful attempts to retain sanity and self-esteem.

Many mock drafts had all three elite left tackles getting selected before the Seahawks were set to pick at the 9th spot. Many had the elite edge rushers and corners gone as well. Those were far less concerning scenarios because the chance to steal defeat from the jaws of victory would evaporate. You cannot really blame a team for not taking a player who was already selected.

When consensus stud left tackle Charles Cross was still on the board as the Seahawks were on the clock for the first time in the 2022 draft, it was easy to imagine Seattle trading back and missing out on addressing this crucial need. Or, even selecting a player who everyone else had pegged for the 2nd or 3rd round, sending fans scurrying to Google to figure out who the hell this guy is. Instead, the pick came in and Seattle did what they did back in 2010. They chose a left tackle that everyone respected to begin their roster rebuild.

It was glorious. It was thrilling. It was a relief.

Cross may not turn into the player we all hope he is, but there will be no reason to second guess the approach the team took to extracting value from this class. The upside is super high. Hitting on a franchise left tackle as a rookie not only solidifies your offense and helps a young quarterback develop, but defers when you will have to spend big bucks on the position. The going rate for a top left tackle is $23M per year. Cross will cost the Seahawks about $21M for four years, and count under $4M against the cap this season.

People focus a lot on how having a franchise quarterback on a rookie deal is such an advantage in trying to win a ring. Getting a franchise receiver, corner, edge rusher or offensive lineman can also be a huge boost.

Consider that the Seahawks got a franchise corner for a 5th round salary, a franchise receiver in Doug Baldwin Jr. as an undrafted free agent, a franchise left tackle, two franchise safeties, two franchise linebackers, and more on rookie deals when they won their ring. There are probably very few, maybe zero, other Super Bowl winners that had a higher percentage of starters on rookie contracts than that Seahawks team.

Cross is a guy who is young (21), and excels in pass protection. Pro Football Focus (PFF) rated him the best tackle in the draft, and the third best player overall. Draft experts and mock drafts deserve all the ridicule they get, but tell me it doesn’t feel good to get a player that many folks expected to be gone before Seattle picked.

The twist

The pivotal moment in this draft was going to come in the second round for the Seahawks where they had back-to-back picks at 40 and 41. This class had strength in the top ten players and then felt very strong in the second and third rounds. Trading back from one of those picks would give Seattle a chance to get five players in the top three rounds.

It had to be something Schneider wanted. The clock ran down basically to zero before Seattle handed in their pick at 40. There were almost certainly trades being discussed and just not considered worth pulling the trigger on.

Seattle chose Boye Mafe with their first choice of the second round. Mafe is an athletic outside linebacker and edge rusher who profiles similarly to Uchenna Nwosu, the top free agent Seattle signed this offseason.

The Seahawks are moving more and more to a 3-4 defense where outside linebackers also act as edge rushers. This was brutal to watch at times last year as Seattle was taking 4-3 defensive ends in Carlos Dunlap and Benson Mayowa and asking them to play like linebackers in zone coverage. That is what happens when you don’t have players to match the scheme.

Nwosu was a clear step toward having a more athletic edge player who is more comfortable in space and in pursuit. Mafe, like Nwosu, weighs in the 250 pound range instead of the 270-280 pound range. He is fast and agile.

I like the player and the position. I was less enamored with the age. He will turn 24 this season. Ideally, you are getting players closer to 22 when drafting this high. Older players tend to have a bit less upside, and you may be paying for them exiting their prime in second contracts instead of entering it.

This is not a hard and fast rule. More a moderate preference. If the player is great, and you extracted appropriate value for the draft slot, so be it. I would much prefer the team take a slightly older player at a premium position like edge rusher than, say, a running back.

Oy. What had been a relatively calm and even jovial Seahawks fanbase erupted in civil war when the announcement was made of Kenneth Walker III as the Seattle pick at 41.

I admit, emotion got the better of me. I wrote that I absolutely hated what Seattle did at 40 and 41. It is true that I was really frustrated they did not trade back and was not thrilled with the age of Mafe even if I liked the player, but it was seeing a running back picked that really set me off.

Everyone was talking at this point. Nobody was listening. Welcome to America.

Supporters of the pick were pointing out just how good Walker was, how the position was clearly a need given the health of Chris Carson and the injury history of Rashaad Penny. They talked about how he was the second running back taken and many experts had him as the top back in the draft. They pointed to the top rushers in the NFL and how almost all of them were taken in the 2nd round. And they pointed out this was not a reach given where backs were getting selected, so Seattle was very unlikely to have a chance at a player like Walker with their later picks.

Those who follow me may not think I heard all that. I did. I think all of us from Mina Kimes to Michael Shawn-Dugar to a long list of folks who were upset with the pick heard and understood. We just see it differently.

Speaking for myself, I knew the Seahawks were going to take a running back in this draft because all the signs were there that Carson was not coming back and that Penny is on just a one-year deal. I also believe Walker can be a terrific player, and be a ton of fun to watch. In that way, it is a little similar to how I felt last year about Dee Eskridge in that I did not have anything against Eskridge as a player or as a need, but was very frustrated about passing on other more important gaps to address, like center.

Having the benefit of the full draft in view makes the Walker pick sting less. As others have correctly pointed out, I would be far less frustrated if Walker was taken in the 3rd round and Abraham Lucas was taken in the second.

The key to the draft is figuring out when you need to take players to maximize how much talent you extract. You could argue Seattle needed to take a RB at that spot to get a starting quality player at that position and had enough depth at other spots like corner and tackle that they could wait to address those. That very likely is accurate.

It is also the logic that led to Seattle taking L.J. Collier in the first round, and Ethan Pocic in the second, and Malik McDowell in the second. I will always prefer that Seattle takes the best players where there is the most talent at positions that have the most value when choosing in early rounds.

I was a bit happy Kyler Gordon was selected at 39 because if Seattle took a running back with Gordon on the board, I would have had Creed Humphrey flashbacks. Even so, Andrew Booth was taken at 42. What are the chances that the corners Seattle took in the 4th and 5th rounds are better than Booth or any corner taken between 42 and when they chose in the 4th round?

I absolutely love what they did at corner in those rounds. I also do not believe addressing running back is worth the risk they took at the corner position, or even the tackle spot. There was no guarantee Lucas would be there in the third.

Judging the thought process of a pick is all we can do when it is made. What was the information at hand, and how did you synthesize that information into a thoughtful choice? Looking backwards after the draft is complete is valuable, but has a ton of flaws.

Running backs simply are not that critical in determining whether you are a contender for the Super Bowl. That does not mean running does not matter. I believe it does. It means that having an elite runner has far less of an impact on whether you can win it all than having an elite quarterback, offensive line, defensive line, cornerback, safety or wide receiver.

The gap between elite runners and quality starters is also far less than at those other positions. It is easier to find a reputable starting RB than a reputable starting corner. Their careers are shorter and they get paid less than any position outside of kicker and punter, so even if you hit on a great one, you are not saving yourself nearly as much on the cap as if you hit on another position. Finally, it is one of the least durable positions, which means you have a hard time getting a return on your investment.

We need look no further than the last time the Seahawks spent a premium draft choice on this position. I wrote this in my Morning After column after Penny was chosen at the end of the first round:

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.

Seattle traded back from the 18th pick that year. They passed on future Pro Bowlers CB Jaire Alexander, LB Leighton Vander Esch, C Frank Ragnow, as well as DJ Moore and Calvin Ridley by trading back. At 27, they passed on Lamar Jackson, Darius Leonard, and Harold Landry, among others. Even a solid starter like safety Terrell Edmunds, who was picked at 28, could have possibly kept Seattle from making super costly moves to acquire a safety later.

You do not see teams giving up two first round picks, or even one, to acquire running backs. Mark Ingram was had for a 7th last year. Sony Michel went from being a 1st round pick in 2018 to traded for a 4th and 6th last year. The highest pick traded for a RB in the past eight years was a 3rd round pick for Duke Johnson, and that was from the absolutely stupidest front office in football, the Houston Texans.

The Seahawks draft history since 2000 with taking RBs in the first 3 rounds is mixed:

  • Penny, 1st
  • C.J. Prosise, 3rd
  • Christine Michael, 2nd
  • Maurice Morris, 2nd
  • Shaun Alexander, 1st

Let’s call that a 20% hit rate, with Alexander being the clear hit.

Here is who they have picked in round 4 or later during that same period:

  • DeeJay Dallas, 4th
  • Travis Homer, 6th
  • Chris Carson, 7th
  • Alex Collins, 5th
  • Zac Brooks, 7th
  • Kiero Small, 7th
  • Spencer Ware, 6th
  • Robert Turbin, 4th
  • Justin Forsett, 7th
  • David Kirtman, 5th

Brooks and Small were picked to be fullbacks, I think, but I will be generous and include them anyway. I would also add they acquired Marshawn Lynch for a 4th and 5th. People can point out Lynch was a 1st round pick, but that is not what it cost to acquire him, and as I’ve shown, nobody spends much to trade for a running back. Spending a 4th or less has resulted in Lynch and Carson who were plus starters for Seattle, as well as Collins, Ware and Forsett who had quality starting years elsewhere in the NFL. If I even just limit to Carson and Lynch, that is 2 out of 11 (~18% hit rate). If you acknowledge that quality starters were found for other teams with those picks, the hit rate only rises.

I just do not believe it is a wise use of valuable draft capital. We won’t all agree, but hopefully we can understand why folks feel the way they do.

The strong finish

Almost all my frustration about the running back selection was washed away when it was announced Seattle chose Abraham Lucus in the third round. Seattle has been unwilling to double dip at a position early in the draft, and they could have easily rested on their laurels with Jake Curhan, Greg Eiland, Stone Forsythe and even resigning Brandon Shell to get by at right tackle.

Instead, they went out and plucked one of the best pass protecting right tackles in the draft, and a kid from Washington to boot.

Lucas has a terrific physical profile. His body type reminds me of a former key Seahawks right tackle, Sean Locklear. Lucas is much taller, though, standing at 6’7″ and weighing over 320 pounds. He looks like he could add more weight to that frame without losing his athleticism.

Every other pick in this draft could bust, but if Seattle hits on Cross and Lucus, this will have been a wildly successful draft. There is a very real chance the Seahawks just found their starting tackles for the next decade. That is worth being very excited about.

You can get a lot of things wrong and still contend if you have a strong offensive line.

This also represents the first year Andy Dickerson has been the offensive line coach, so it is interesting to see Seattle take two strong pass protectors who have some question marks as run blockers. That is the opposite approach to what we have seen in the past.

Day three continued the strong picks as they finally dipped into the corner pool by selecting the Jim Thorpe award winner in Coby Bryant. He played opposite Sauce Gardner and was tested regularly. He is not the electric athlete some corners are, but he has great instincts and ball skills. Having a guy who can turn his head and make a play on the football will be a welcome change from the likes of Shaquill Griffin a few years back. Seattle has not had nearly enough interceptions from their corners the past few years. Bryant could help change that.

As much as I disliked picking a running back early, I absolutely loved double-dipping for tackles and then corners later. Tariq Woolen is an obscene athlete at the corner spot, standing at over 6’4″ and clocking in at 4.26 in the 40, with a 42 inch vertical leap. He has top ten measurables, but is only two years into learning the position after playing receiver in college.

There are obvious comparisons to Richard Sherman, but Sherman had far more developed instincts and Woolen is a far more dynamic athlete. Sherman also had a competitive edge to him that few can match.

Woolen comes in with as high of a ceiling as any corner Seattle has ever taken. You just do not see those physical traits…ever.

Now we get to see the impact of new secondary coaches in Sean Desai and Karl Scott on these young corners. Add them to what I believe was already a high floor corner room with guys like Tre Brown, Sidney Jones, Justin Coleman, and more, and this very well could be the deepest corner group Seattle has had since the LOB years. And, no, that does not mean they will be as good.

Tyreke Smith is a guy some had mocked as early as the 3rd round. He is not as dynamic of an athlete as Mafe, but has played against elite competition with Ohio St. Bo Melton and Dareke Young are intriguing receiver prospects who bring speed, and physical running ability, respectively.

Smiles all around

Even those of us who were not thrilled with the running back choice are pretty darn happy about this draft class. Seattle picked logically and grabbed talent with high potential. They loaded up at premium positions, were not afraid to take multiple bites at the apple (2 OT, 2 Edge, 2 CB, 2 WR), did not try to outthink the field by trading back, and did not reach for a quarterback.

There will be those who fret if Malik Willis or one of the other QBs turns out to be franchise players. I will not be one of them. I firmly believe in building a talented roster with a QB-shaped hole in it to maximize your window of contending. I would have liked Seattle to pick a QB this year in the later rounds, but am fine with them putting more eggs in the QB basket next season when they have multiple first round picks and the talent pool appears to be stronger.

For Seattle to become a contender again, they need at least a couple of these guys to become Pro Bowlers, and ideally, All-Pros.

Their 2010 draft included 3 Pro Bowlers and 1 All-Pro. It was 1 Pro Bowler and 1 All-Pro in 2011, and 1 Pro Bowler and 1 All-Pro in 2012. Expecting them to repeat that level of draft haul is silly, but Super Bowls are won most often by teams with the most blue chip talent. Seattle needs to start finding those diamonds again.

We all may just start looking forward to draft weekend once again.