By Danny O’Neil
The Seahawks won’t shock anyone with their first-round pick this year.
That’s only because they don’t have one, though.
Seattle was responsible for the biggest first-round surprise in each of the past two drafts. Two years ago, the Seahawks’ decision to draft offensive lineman James Carpenter caught everyone off guard right on up to Nick Saban, Carpenter’s college coach at Alabama, whose eyes widened when the selection was announced.
That was downright understated compared to the response to the selection of Bruce Irvin a year ago, chosen with the No. 15 pick. Irvin, himself, didn’t expect to be chosen that high, but Seattle made the fastest defensive end at the scouting combine the first defensive end chosen in the draft.
Irvin became the headliner in a Seahawks’ draft class that was panned in the days afterward, general manager John Schneider criticized for one of the first times since he arrived in Seattle. Well, the scrutiny was not only premature, it was misguided.
Not only did Irvin lead all rookies in sacks with eight, but the linebacker Seattle chose in the second round, Bobby Wagner of Utah State, was the runner-up for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Then there’s that guy Russell Wilson. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Not the biggest guy. A third-round pick out of Wisconsin, spent some time at North Carolina State, too. He managed to not only win Seattle’s starting quarterback job, but played his way to the Pro Bowl.
Those three picks will earn Schneider some equity with his selections this year. It won’t make it any easier to project who the Seahawks are going to pick, though. Seattle keeps its draft plans very quiet, which is part of the reason the selections of Irvin and Carpenter were so surprising. Nobody connected those players to Seattle. At least not in the first round.
But the past three years do provide some clues as to what Seattle values in the draft and what it doesn’t, and while it’s impossible to project who will be available when the Seahawks are on the clock in the second round on Friday, recent tendencies can be instructive.
Richard Sherman, right, had only played two years of cornerback in college when the Seahawks drafted him in 2011. (AP)
Size, speed over experience
Seattle likes its players big: Carpenter was a 321-pound Brontosaurus of a lineman. Seattle also likes its players fast: Irvin’s time of 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash was incredibly fast for a linebacker let alone a defensive end.
But there isn’t a team in football that doesn’t value size and speed in varying combinations. The difference is that those measurements are a trump card for the Seahawks, something it values more than experience and production. It’s why the Seahawks picked Earl Thomas when he was 20 years old and had played only two seasons of college football. It’s also the reason Seattle chose Jeremy Lane out of Northwestern State in Louisiana last year.
This didn’t use to be the case. In Tim Ruskell’s five years as president, the Seahawks made a habit of valuing experience and production above measurable physical skills. It’s why Seattle drafted quarterback David Greene in the third round in 2005, pointing to his record-setting win total at Georgia, and chose defensive lineman Lawrence Jackson in the first round in 2008.
No school too small
Seattle drafted 10 players last year, choosing almost as many players from non-BCS conferences as it did from the nation’s top colleges as the Seahawks drafted two players out of Utah State, a linebacker from Idaho and the aforementioned Lane.
Again, this is a departure from Seattle’s five drafts under Ruskell when the Seahawks drafted exactly one player from outside a BCS conference. That was Tyler Schmitt, a long-snapper from San Diego State who was drafted in 2008 but never played a down for the Seahawks.
Swing for the fences late
Schneider has a penchant for taking chances in the later rounds.
Sometimes they work like J.R. Sweezy, the defensive lineman from North Carolina State whom the Seahawks drafted to play offense. Sometimes they don’t. Jameson Konz was an athletic marvel from Kent State who had bounced around positions. The Seahawks tried him at receiver and at pass rusher, but he finished each of his two seasons with the Seahawks on injured reserve.
It is an aggressive approach that in many ways epitomizes the way Schneider has drafted in Seattle. He values the upside more than he fears the downside, and while that sounds pretty basic, it isn’t the way every GM approaches the draft. Ruskell was open about the fact he viewed not just a player’s ceiling, but also the floor. That minimizes the risk a player will be an outright bust, but can come at a cost in terms of upside.
The Seahawks haven’t been flawless under Schneider. The team has released a fifth-round pick coming out of training camp each of the previous two years. The Seahawks let go of one fourth-round pick in 2010, releasing E.J. Wilson during his rookie season, and let go another fourth-rounder last year when receiver Kris Durham was cut during his second season. In Ruskell’s five years, every player the team chose in the first four rounds played at least two seasons with the team.
On the other hand, only two players drafted by Ruskell reached the Pro Bowl as a Seahawk: linebacker Lofa Tatupu and center Max Unger, who was chosen for last year’s game. Four players drafted by the Seahawks under Schneider have already reached the Pro Bowl, a total that doesn’t include Richard Sherman, who was inexplicably excluded last year.
That’s the kind of track record that makes you think Schneider can make the most of this year’s draft even without a first-round pick. Just don’t try and predict who Seattle will walk away with. The past two years show that predicting the Seahawks’ draft plans is almost impossible.