O’Neil: Is Seahawks’ draft touch gone? Whole story needs to be told in 3 parts
You can’t say that Nick Vannett was a good draft pick.
In the two years since the Seahawks drafted him in the third round out of Ohio State, Vannett has caught 15 passes as the team’s No. 3 tight end. That makes him one more of the picks from the Seahawks’ recent draft classes that haven’t yielded anywhere near the number of stars that Seattle made a habit of choosing from 2010 to 2013.
But you can’t say Vannett was a bad pick, either.
He has spent two years as an understudy, third on a depth chart behind backup Luke Willson and headliner Jimmy Graham, who was only the most productive receiving tight end in Seattle’s franchise history.
So while Vannett is emblematic of Seattle’s difficulty to find their next generation of difference makers in the draft, his two seasons in Seattle also illustrate part of the reason that it is so problematic to survey the last five years of Seattle’s draft returns and question if general manager John Schneider has lost his touch.
It has been tough to get on the field for this team. That’s might not be as much a criticism of the recent draft picks so much as a commentary on the quality of the players Seattle assembled from 2010 to 2012.
That’s just part of the reason that it’s misleading to take the Seahawks’ first three drafts under Schneider and compare them side-by-side with the returns on the last five. First, it treats all those drafts as if they were equal when in fact they were not. Second, it reaches a premature conclusion on the past two draft classes, which very well still could pan out.
The history of the Seahawks’ drafts under Schneider is best understood if it’s looked at in three different phases, as opposed to two. And while that doesn’t fit into the tidy little storyline that Seattle just stopped drafting well, it gives a much more accurate sketch of what has happened, and more importantly, what’s at stake in the draft this week:
Period 1: Ingredients of excellence (2010 to 2012)
Schneider’s first three drafts as Seattle’s general manager are perhaps the finest three-year sequence of talent acquisition the league has ever seen in the salary-capped era. That’s not hyperbole. When NFL.com ranked the top 10 draft classes of the past 25 years, the Seahawks were rated to have had two of the five best.
Earl Thomas. Richard Sherman. Kam Chancellor. Bobby Wagner. K.J. Wright. Russell Wilson. All were picked in this span.
It provided the backbone not just for the franchise’s first championship, but the longest run of sustained success in franchise history.
Period 2: Win now (2013 to 2015)
Of the 28 players Seattle chose in these three drafts, three remain on the roster: center Justin Britt, defensive end Frank Clark and receiver Tyler Lockett. That’s not a very good batting average.
But while it’s obvious the Seahawks didn’t draft as well in these three years, they didn’t draft as high, either.
From 2010 to 2012, the Seahawks made four first-round picks, three of them in the first half of that first round. But Seattle didn’t make a single first-round pick in these three drafts. The 2013 first-rounder was traded away as part of the package to acquire Percy Harvin, and after that failed spectacularly, the Seahawks traded their 2015 first-rounder to acquire Jimmy Graham.
Seattle had a decent batting average on its four second-round picks in these three years, with one bust (RB Christine Michael, 2013) compared to some very solid success with Paul Richardson and Britt in 2014 and Clark in 2015.
Of Seattle’s 28 picks in this period, 22 were in the fourth round or later. The Seahawks didn’t find as much success in the later rounds, with Willson being the most notable selection from the second half of any draft, a solid contributor in the five years after he was drafted in the fifth round in 2013.
Period 3: Restocking (2016 to present)
When last season began in Green Bay, eight of the Seahawks’ 11 starters on defense were on the roster prior to the 2013 draft. That’s part of the reason that Seattle hasn’t found as many stars in the draft these past five years: The guys in front of them weren’t just pretty good. They were part of a historically great defense.
How long will it take Seattle to get great again? Well, that depends. How good are the 21 players Seattle has drafted over the past two years? How much can they get with the eight picks they currently hold in this week’s draft?
Until those questions are answered, it’s too early to draw any conclusions about whether Seattle has lost its touch in the draft.