Rost: Two 1st-round ‘wild cards’ to watch with the Seattle Seahawks

Apr 21, 2023, 5:15 PM

TEMPE, ARIZONA - SEPTEMBER 24: Tight end Dalton Kincaid #86 of the Utah Utes catches a 29-yard touchdown reception against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the first half of the NCAAF game at Sun Devil Stadium on September 24, 2022 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 23: Devon Witherspoon #31 of the Illinois Fighting Illini celebrates after sacking Sean Clifford #14 of the Penn State Nittany Lions during the second half at Beaver Stadium on October 23, 2021 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

The Seattle Seahawks have a pair of picks in the first round and while most mocks have them addressing holes on the defensive line early, there are two potential draft wild cards who could be surprise selections.

CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois

The Seahawks’ pass defense took a notable step forward in 2022 and they’ll have their key starters returning in 2023: safeties Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams, and cornerbacks Tariq Woolen and Mike Jackson, the latter of whom re-signed with Seattle on Monday.

With Adams’ status in question following his return from a torn quadriceps, the Seahawks added Julian Love in free agency, who racked up a pair of interceptions and five passes defended as a starter with the Giants last year.

The Seahawks have greater needs on either side of the ball, but general manager John Schneider has also learned that drafting for need isn’t always the right approach.

“In general, we just do a much better job when we just pick the best player,” Schneider told Dave Wyman and Bob Stelton Thursday. “I feel like we’ve made some mistakes where we’ve pushed players based on need and what the draft looks like.”

Related: Seattle Seahawks GM has learned lesson from drafting for need

Schneider used an example of needing a receiver and recognizing a ledge after receiver options in a certain round. In past years, Seattle might take a receiver they’d normally draft a bit later because they knew there was either a gap in picks or a drop-off in receiver talent, or both.

But what if, Schneider proposed, there’s a corner who’s a better player overall?

I doubt Schneider meant this to be taken literally, but the logic works here. There’s a trio of corners — Devon Witherspoon, Christian Gonzalez, and Joey Porter Jr. — mocked in the first round by most draft experts, typically in that order. Might Seattle spring for one to pair with the fifth-round gem they found last year?

Witherspoon (6-0, 180) was a Jim Thorpe Award finalist who had three interceptions and 14 passes defensed for the Fighting Illini in 2022.

TE Dalton Kincaid, Utah

I can hear the boos now. Not because Kincaid isn’t talented, but because a tight end isn’t doing anything for a defense that ranked 30th against the run and 25th in points allowed.

But this move — in the second-half of the first round, closer to Seattle’s pick No. 20 — also gives the Seahawks a big pass catcher for the future, since both Noah Fant and Colby Parkinson are set to become free agents after this season. The Seahawks could stand to find a third receiving target. If a receiver like Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba is off the board, might they spring for a tight end?

“It could be a very, very good year for tight ends,” NFL Network’s Eric Edholm told Stacy Rost and Curtis Rogers Friday. “Maybe the best we’ve seen in at least five years, maybe longer.

“I know that’s not a position that has immediate screaming needs in Seattle. But you have to think about both Fant and Parkinson being free agents next year, we know Will Dissly is mainly a run blocker and can be a surprise receiver every now and then. A complete tight end certainly would cover their bases one year in advance.”

Either pick would be a bit of a shift for Seattle’s past preferences.

Witherspoon is the smallest of the top three corners — a position where Pete Carroll has typically valued length and speed. Meanwhile, Kincaid is a bit more Zach Ertz (a comp made by NFL Network’s Lance Zierlein) than he is Zach Miller, the latter of whom acted as Seattle’s starter during its Super Bowl trip. But both are first-round talents who may tempt the Seattle Seahawks if they choose to take the unexpected route.

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