STACY ROST

Seahawks Draft: QB or DL? A look at cases for each after Peach Bowl

Jan 3, 2023, 7:15 PM
Seahawks draft C.J. Stroud Jalen Carter...
Georgia DL Jalen Carter pursues Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud during the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31, 2022. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

This spring, the Seahawks will make a franchise-altering decision. On Saturday, one college football game made it that much tougher.

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The Peach Bowl brought a meeting between the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs and No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes, and it was one half of the most exciting College Football Playoff semifinals ever. It was also a game Seahawks fans should’ve been watching closely.

The Bulldogs walked away the victors thanks to a last-second missed field goal, but stealing the spotlight for most of the night was Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud. The player most often mocked as the second quarterback off the board in the 2023 NFL Draft threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns and did about everything he could to make up for Ohio State’s defense surrendering 18 fourth quarter points.

Meanwhile, playing opposite Stroud was Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter, who’s mocked as the second defender off the board (most often to Seattle).

In a few months, the Seahawks will be looking at selecting either player with a top-three pick. Who, then, should they choose: the young passer who had an electric bowl game performance and can act as the eventual successor to Geno Smith, or a premiere defensive lineman who can impact a struggling defense immediately?

The case for a quarterback

I’ll start by quickly acknowledging I’ve got some bias here. I think the Seahawks should go for a defensive lineman with this pick to address a unit that’s struggled with consistency for years. But given the very real possibility that a team could go decades without picking second or third overall (Seattle has done it just five times in franchise history, last in 1997), the temptation to take a young passer here is fair.

Geno Smith has had a Pro Bowl season but is also a 32 year old who will be an unrestricted free agent in March. Paying $3.5 million for Smith’s play in 2022 is a steal, but would Seattle feel comfortable making a bigger investment? They’ll have to do it to keep Smith with the Hawks, and that price tag could hover around $30-35 million per year. The Jets’ Zach Wilson, the last quarterback to be selected second overall, will be paid $35 million for the entirety of his rookie contract.

Consider this, too: Wilson has looked like a flop for New York while Brock Purdy, selected with the final pick of the 2022 draft, is quarterbacking a dominant 49ers team. But the idea that QB talent isn’t weighted toward early rounds ignores the draft capital invested in some of the league’s best young passers. Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes went 10th overall in 2017, Buffalo’s Josh Allen was seventh overall in 2018, and Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow was the top pick in 2020.

The quarterbacks representing the NFC in the playoff picture have more varied backgrounds. But the AFC has a slew of young passers, and of the teams represented in those playoff standings right now — the Chiefs, Bills, Ravens, Bengals and Chargers — all have a first-round quarterback, and four have passers selected in the top 10. The Jaguars, a team with a chance to get into the postseason with a Week 18 win, also used a top 10 pick on a quarterback when they selected Trevor Lawrence first overall in 2021.

There have been incredibly talented, franchise-altering players selected in later rounds (perhaps no story is better known than Tom Brady’s). But the opportunity to find that player with a top 10 pick is real.

The case for a defender

Quick: Who’s the best defensive lineman the Seahawks have drafted in the last 10 years?

Is it Frank Clark, with 13 sacks in 2018? Maybe Jarran Reed, who had 10.5 sacks that same year?

Seattle hasn’t had a ton of luck when it comes to finding All-Pro caliber defensive linemen, and that has been a factor in defensive inconsistencies year over year.

Here’s who the Seahawks have drafted at the position since 2013: Jarran Reed, Frank Clark, Cassius Marsh, Jimmy Staten, Kristjan Sokoli, Quinton Jefferson, Naz Jones, Malik McDowell, Rasheem Green, Demarcus Christmas, L.J. Collier, Alton Robinson, Darrell Taylor and Boye Mafe.

A few of the younger players on that list are still proving themselves. Taylor has looked promising in recent games and Mafe is only a rookie. But Seattle hasn’t had the premiere defensive talent enjoyed by its NFC West foes.

Picking in the top three certainly helps. That’s where the 49ers found edge rusher Nick Bosa. Look at the top half and you’ll find other stars. The Cowboys took Micah Parsons 12th overall in 2021, the Jets got Quinnen Williams at No. 3, Bradly Chubb and Roquan Smith were both top eight picks, Myles Garrett went first overall in 2017, and Joey Bosa was third overall the year before. You might luck out and find Aaron Donald at 13th overall, but with two top D-linemen available in the top three (Carter and Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr.), why wouldn’t Seattle take a shot?

The Seahawks’ offense has had a late-season slump but at one point they were a top five scoring unit. Rookie running back Kenneth Walker III is less than 100 yards away from a 1,000-yard season, and Smith is already over 4,000 passing yards this year, making him the only Seahawks quarterback not named Russell Wilson to surpass 4,000 passing yards in a single season.

There are flaws, but this is an offense and a quarterback that has kept Seattle competitive through much of the year. Imagine where they’d be if their defense could do the same.

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