Rost: Seahawks still have draft needs, but now they’re elite at 2 spots

Apr 28, 2023, 9:25 AM | Updated: Apr 29, 2023, 3:57 pm

Seattle Seahawks Jaxon Smith-Njigba...

Ohio State WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba celebrates a win over Utah in the Rose Bowl. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Turns out John Schneider may have been hinting at the Seattle Seahawks’ move all along.

Seattle Seahawks Draft Breakdown: A look at every 2023 NFL Draft pick

Of course, the Seahawks general manager would never hop on our airwaves to tease clues about the highest draft pick of his career. Not with so much on the line. But a change in Seattle’s draft mindset may have been behind one of the more surprising picks in the top 10 of Thursday’s first round of the NFL Draft (it’s hard to top the Texans trading up to No. 3!).

“I feel like we’ve made some mistakes where we’ve pushed players based on need and what the draft looks like,” he told Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob during a recent edition of The John Schneider Show.

Story: Seattle Seahawks GM Schneider has learned lesson from drafting for need

What Schneider meant is that prioritizing need alone has gotten the Seahawks in trouble before, something they focused on when self-scouting their own draft process. A drop-off in wide receiver talent and a need for a wideout would leave them reaching for a player a round early, most especially in years where Seattle had long gaps between picks. They eventually realized having one of the more elite players at a position might sometimes be the answer.

Drafting the best available guy seems like a pretty obvious choice for a fantasy football GM (and aren’t we all armchair quarterbacks?), but it’s a lot harder in real life to enter a season with major holes on the roster.

And Seattle still has one… in that they don’t have one. A nose tackle, that is. Veteran Al Woods was released and backup Bryan Mone is coming off of a serious knee injury. That, combined with a dreadful year defending the run and overall struggles with pass-rushing consistency, had draft experts fairly convinced that Seattle would go at No. 5 overall with Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter, considered by many to be one of the draft’s best players regardless of position.

Here’s where Schneider’s philosophy was put to test, at least to outside observers: What if need matched up to best available? The Seahawks wouldn’t need to reach to fill a need on their defensive line if one of the best two linemen were available at No. 5. The fit was perfect.

Of course, it turns out “perfect fit” is subjective, which is what makes the draft hard to predict every spring. The Seahawks instead drafted Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon, a player who was a near-consensus choice for the draft’s top cornerback, at No. 5. Corner was a need – albeit a less pressing one – but Witherspoon’s physicality, dedication, and caliber of play made him too tempting an option to pass up.

Schneider told reporters Thursday night that there were two players Seattle was willing to stay put at No. 5 for, and one of them was Witherspoon. They had discussed potential deals but eventually pulled the trigger.

Watch the Seahawks’ post-first round press conference

Pete Carroll’s praise of Witherspoon was sky-high. Seattle’s head coach compared him to Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu, who Carroll coached at USC, and was blown away by how he processed the game.

“It’s not what he says, it’s just how he approaches the game and the way he sees his opportunities,” Carroll said of the lofty comp. “I’ve always held Troy in really high regard in that sense. This is the closest that I’ve come to somebody talking and the acumen and forming it like that.”

The Seahawks entered the first round with a big need and left with it unanswered, but they did do something else just as important: with the selection of Ohio State receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba at No. 20, they became elite at two positions. And in hindsight, Schneider’s comments about taking an elite player rather than a player you need panned out. Given the choice between overall depth or elite caliber play at a handful of spots, a healthy percentage of fans would choose the latter.

The Seahawks still have plenty of opportunities to fill those gaps. They’re on the board at No. 37 overall in the second round and have three picks total Friday (two in the second round and one in the third). Schneider implied he’d like to see if they can move around a bit, so don’t be too surprised if there’s a trade – which is never an unexpected move for Seattle, who have traded not just back but up in later rounds to select a number of players in years’ past, including Tyler Lockett, Frank Clark, Darrell Taylor and Michael Dickson.

Defensive linemen remaining available (both edge rushers and tackles) include Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton, South Carolina’s Zacch Pickens, Georgia Tech’s Keion White and Northwestern’s Adetomiwa Adebawore. Also still available are several top tight end prospects in a strong class at the position (though Carroll said Thursday the Seahawks still love their tight end group) and some interior offensive linemen.

2023 Seattle Seahawks draft picks

• First round (5th overall): Illinois CB Devon Witherspoon
• First round (20th overall): Ohio State WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba
• Second round (37th overall): Auburn edge Derick Hall
• Second round (52nd overall): UCLA RB Zach Charbonnet
• Fourth round (108th overall): LSU guard Anthony Bradford
• Fourth round (123rd overall): Mississippi State defensive tackle Cameron Young
• Fifth round (151st overall): Michigan edge Mike Morris
• Fifth round (15th overall): Michigan center Olusegun Oluwatimi
• Sixth round (198th overall): New Mexico safety Jerrick Reed II
• Seventh round (237th overall): Georgia RB Kenny McIntosh

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Rost: Seahawks still have draft needs, but now they’re elite at 2 spots