MIKE LEFKO

Two Seahawks picks will make or break their ’23 draft class

May 9, 2023, 12:03 PM | Updated: 4:06 pm

Seattle Seahawks Cameron Young...

Mississippi State DT Cameron Young blocks a field goal against Auburn on Nov. 13, 2021. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)

(Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)

Seattle Seahawks rookie minicamp takes place this weekend, and we’ll get our first chance to see what appears to be another well-regarded draft class out on the field.

ESPN draft expert Matt Miller breaks down all 10 Seattle Seahawks picks

The quick returns from the 2022 class in acclimating and becoming key contributors for the Seahawks has now raised the bar for the 2023 group, and in a league where replenishing and cultivating young talent becomes necessity to supplement stars on big contracts, another impactful draft will elevate the Seahawks towards the top of the NFC, along with creating that ever-elusive championship window.

For that to take place, there are two draft picks who must immediately come in and make significant contributions for this team, and that’s in addition to the two first-round picks. At this point, the baseline expectation is that cornerback Devon Witherspoon (No. 5 overall) and wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (No. 20) will be Day 1 starters, and they are also coming in at areas that are already good.

That means their presence could make those position groups elite, but it also means those two aren’t as important to the ability of the Seahawks raising the overall level of play as the two draft picks who address Seattle’s biggest area of need: the defensive line.

Two of the best picks the Seahawks made in 2022 came in the third round (offensive tackle Abe Lucas) and fifth round (cornerback Tariq Woolen). When you pick ninth overall, you expect that guy (offensive tackle Charles Cross) to have an impact, and he did, playing every offensive snap last season. However, you don’t necessarily expect a third-round pick to do the same. That’s exactly what Lucas did for the first 14 games of the season before a knee injury caused him to miss the penultimate game of the year. He still had a gaudy 16 starts and 96% of offensive snaps played, good enough to be named to Pro Football Focus’s All-Rookie Team.

We know the remarkable story of Woolen’s season: a recently-converted wide receiver, still a raw talent learning the position who became a Defensive Rookie of the Year finalist. Woolen stands as not just one of the most impactful pieces of the draft class but of the entire Seahawks renewal back to playoff contender.

At this point, you probably just want to know which two players from this draft class I’m talking about – which is fair – so, here we go.

Derick Hall

The Seattle Seahawks certainly needed interior help on the defensive line, but the outside linebacker/edge spot is just as big a question mark heading into 2023. Outside of Uchenna Nwosu, that position group has been in flux with the supremely talented yet erratic Darrell Taylor and a 35-year-old Bruce Irvin (now a free agent) representing some of the biggest production at that spot last year. Derick Hall, the No. 37 overall pick in the second round out of Auburn, brings instant athleticism to a position that requires it in spades.

Bruce Feldman, national college football insider for The Athletic, told Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob that Hall has all the traits you want from that position.

“I feel like he got lost in the shuffle a little bit because Auburn got so bad in the last couple of years,” Feldman said. “I think the NFL knew that he was a pretty elite athlete.”

That sentiment was echoed Monday by ESPN NFL Draft analyst and insider Matt Miller, who joined Brock and Salk.

“This is the juice they needed on that outside,” Miller said. “What they needed was speed, they need a burst, and he has that. His ability to first-step quickness to beat you, to use the long arms and convert that speed to power is really, really good.”

In Seahawks GM John Schneider’s post-draft conversation with Wyman and Bob, he compared Hall to what the team saw in 2022 second-round pick Boye Mafe last year, and it’s easy to envision a scenario where the two of them are used interchangeably at one of the outside linebacker spots.

The defensive line, more than any other position, is where you need depth. Throwing yourself at an offensive lineman on every single play is exhausting, and the teams that have the most effective depth are the ones who go far over the course of a long season and playoffs. I’m not sure if you need Derick Hall to be a Day 1 starter like you did with the offensive tackles last season, but if he is able to acclimate quickly, then the Seahawks’ ability to get to the quarterback takes a big step forward, in its speed and depth, from last year.

Cameron Young

There are undeniably more expectations on the Seattle Seahawks’ two first-round picks, but due to circumstance, the most important pick from this draft class is Mississippi State defensive tackle Cameron Young (fourth round, No. 123 overall).

Stopping the run was the fatal flaw for the Seahawks last season, and failing to do so again this year would undermine the impressive strength built up on the back end of this defense. Yes, a couple of free agent acquisitions (Dre’mont Jones, Jarran Reed) bolster the line, but the core of the interior can take a huge step toward mitigating the biggest weakness of this defense if Young has a productive rookie season. He has the “throwback nastiness” that Schneider raved about in that interview with Wyman and Bob after the draft.

“He’s a grown man…real long, real heavy hands, good instincts. When you speak to him, you feel like you’re speaking to a 40 year old,” Schneider said. “He’s a grown man you would never mess with. I met him at the Senior Bowl with his agent (and) I told him, ‘Hey, great job with our interview, our guys were really, really impressed with you,’ and he looked at me like, ‘Great, so what.’”

No nonsense appears to be the mantra for Young, and you can appreciate a little edge and attitude with a defensive lineman, especially if it fuels more production. And after hearing Miller’s analysis of him, it has the feel of a Tariq Woolen-type pick from the Seahawks.

“He’s raw, that’s the thing, but I think the quickness, the leverage, and his use of length is really impressive for someone you’re getting in late fourth round,” Miller told Brock and Salk.

The 2022 draft class did the heavy lifting, helping jump-start a sub-.500 team in 2021 to the playoffs in the next. This class represents the pieces that help take the next step: from the postseason to Super Bowl contender. If Derick Hall and Cameron Young become significant contributors early on in their careers, that next step looks a lot easier to accomplish.

More on the Seattle Seahawks’ draft

ESPN’s Miller: Seattle Seahawks draft an ‘A’ for ‘smart team-building’
Huard: Jaxon Smith-Njigba a combo of 2 Seahawks WR legends
Bump: Why 49ers GM can see Seahawks are coming for them
Seahawks GM Schneider details story behind draft day trade with Broncos
Seattle Seahawks draft picks Bump and Stacy are most excited about

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