The Seahawks’ Super Bowl XLVIII-winning roster was the second youngest in NFL history, and with so many young stars at the helm, Seattle looked every bit the part of an early dynasty. It was the team’s fourth year under head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, and the Pro Bowl-caliber talent of their 2010, 2011, and 2012 classes headlined their remarkable season. (Notably, this group also includes players acquired through free agency or trade, including running back Marshawn Lynch, undrafted free agent receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, and free agent defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.)
With an average of nine picks in each of those classes, the Seahawks netted 13 eventual starters and nine Pro Bowlers*, including Russell Okung*, Earl Thomas*, Golden Tate*, Kam Chancellor*, James Carpenter, K.J. Wright*, Richard Sherman*, Byron Maxwell, Malcolm Smith, Bruce Irvin*, Bobby Wagner*, Russell Wilson*, and J.R. Sweezy. A couple of those players (Wilson, Sherman, Thomas and Wagner) are current franchise record-holders.
Since 2012, though, the Seahawks draft classes have netted just one Pro Bowl player: wide receiver Tyler Lockett, selected in 2015.
710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock Huard took a look at Seattle’s draft history under Carroll and Schneider to try to determine what, exactly, changed between those early classes and more recent groups: is it strategy, oversight, or just plain luck?
Huard ultimately determined three factors that have contributed to the Seahawks’ failure to replicate their earlier success in the draft: trading away first-round picks, taking too many risks, and shifting away from their early culture.
Trading away first round picks
The Seahawks didn’t have a first round pick in 2013, 2014, 2015. They gave up a 31st overall in 2015 for Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham, and a 24th overall in 2013 for wide receiver Percy Harvin. They traded out of the first round entirely during the draft in 2014 (from the 32nd overall pick).
“They had on average nine picks a draft (in 2010-12) and they hit doubles, triples and homeruns on five of the nine picks,” Huard said. “Their slugging percentage was well off the charts. And then you look at ‘14, ‘15, ‘16 and ‘17, and that slugging percentage goes down to about two-and-a-half out of nine …
“I worked with this guy, he was a gambler. Great guy, a numbers guy. Math major. I loved talking to him because he looked at things so vastly different than I did. And he would say at the time, ‘You can’t do that, man. You just can’t keep trading away your first-round picks. That’s your capital. Even if it is in the late first round, those are your assets. Those are so valuable in the league.’
“And you traded it for Percy (Harvin) and you traded it for Jimmy Graham. And you didn’t get enough bang for the buck.”
Early-round picks have also fallen short. Seattle once again traded out of the first round in 2017 and selected Michigan State defensive end Malik McDowell in the second. McDowell was injured in an offseason ATV accident in the months following the draft, and has yet to play a down for Seattle.
Taking unnecessary risks
“You took so much more risk in those more recent drafts than you did early on,” Huard said. “Converting defensive linemen to O-linemen, projects galore. Unique physical gifts trumped the dominant and productive football players like Bobby Wagner, like Russell Okung, like Russell Wilson, like Earl Thomas who played year after year after year at such a highly productive rate in college. And you said, ‘No, I’m going to take a little bit more risk, and I believe in our system so much and in our culture that we can turn this thing, and I want unique, physical gifts more than I do just a high quality of collegiate productivity.”
“A culture of establishment and self-empowerment polluted young and totally unproven players”
“Practice? We’re talking about practice? Yeah, it’s what the program was initially built on, and guys were cut for it when you didn’t practice and you didn’t go all out. And when Percy came to town and Marshawn did his thing, it just changed some of the dynamic.”