Draft grades are silly
Written by Kip Earlywine
Grading a draft right after it happens is… well… it’s kind of stupid. As much fun as it is to read good (or blistering) reviews, we all know this to be the case. But as much as ignorant people allow those draft grades to make up their minds for them, and for as much as smart people love making fun of grades before any of the players have taken a professional snap, the truth is actually somewhere in the middle. Let me give you an example to illustrate what I mean.
Richard Sherman wasn’t a pro-bowler last year, but he should have been, and he’ll probably have many pro-bowls in his future. By just about every metric, he was among the best corners in the league last season. Richard Sherman was a 5th round pick just last year. If we were to do a re-draft right now, Sherman might be a top 10 pick.
But here’s the thing, Seattle didn’t have to trade up into the top 10 to get Richard Sherman. He was under the radar. Way under the radar. Sherman was so far under the radar that even his college coach didn’t draft him. Even the Seahawks didn’t think Sherman would be this good this quickly. That said, while it’s best to grade a draft after seeing how that player pans out in real games, we also can’t forget how these players were graded at the time. If you know you can get a good player later, you take him later and you take another good player sooner. Especially if that player is a guy that might be a product of the system.
Seattle did exactly that with Kam Chancellor, a player they had rated much higher than the 5th round. They could have taken Chancellor in the late second or with either of their 4th rounders, but they put it off because they (correctly) deciphered that Chancellor’s lack of top speed would allow him to be available later. John Schneider is a hell of a poker player, and his ability to read the hands of other front offices has proven valuable time after time.
Seattle could have taken those players earlier, but because they didn’t, they pocketed players like Walter Thurmond, Golden Tate, or KJ Wright. Knowing when to take a player is just as important as the player himself. And in that respect, we can at least partially grade the 2012 draft right now.
So rather than grade this draft based on my own ratings for the players, I’m going to grade this draft based on decision making. Did they accomplish the team’s draft goals? Did they draft players earlier than they needed to? Did they get good value from their trades? In other words, when John Schneider went to bed Saturday night, did he sleep soundly knowing that he just had the draft of his dreams, or did he lie awake all night second guessing the decisions he made?
Before I start with the grades, let’s first state the goals of this front office had before the draft. This is what our inside source told us the front office wanted to do before the draft:
- Use the first round pick to upgrade the pass rush as much as possible, assuming that Richardson doesn’t make it
- Add a running back in rounds 1-3.
- Add a quarterback in rounds 4-6 (possibly earlier) .
Pete and John’s plan was to spend the #12 pick on a pass rusher, although they would have at least considered Trent Richardson had he fallen to that pick. They also really liked this year’s group of running backs and thought it would be a great opportunity to draft Lynch’s future successor out of this group. Finally, they were impressed by a lot of quarterbacks outside of the first round and felt this would be a good year to finally draft a quarterback.
In addition to those goals, the front office had also stated on numerous occasions that they wanted to get faster at linebacker.
While it wasn’t a stated goal or something we were told by an inside source, an assumed fifth goal of this front office was to add picks in the draft. Seattle’s draft philosophy is built around drafting by volume, and the Seahawks entered this draft with only six picks after selecting nine in each of their previous two drafts.
(As an aside: This is why Rob and I had Upshaw as a lock at #12 for so long, and never even bothered talking about players like DeCastro or Floyd even though everyone else was. We got the name wrong (we were never told Upshaw was the guy, but had heard Carroll liked Upshaw a lot from three different sources), but we did at least get the position right. In our SBN mock draft, we had Seattle taking a pass rusher at #12 and a fast linebacker at #43. We got the names wrong, but we got the areas exactly right.)
So with that in mind, here’s how I’d grade the judgment exercised by the Seahawks at each pick:
With the 15th overall pick, the Seahawks select Bruce Irvin (grade: A+)
This was one of the most shocking picks in recent NFL Draft history, being rivaled only by Tyson Alualu by Jacksonville at #10 a couple years ago. Giving this pick an “A+” grade might seem contrarian at best or LSD-laced at worst. However, the more I learn, the more this pick is looking like a master stroke.
By now you probably know that seven teams had Bruce Irvin graded as a top 15 talent. We’ve heard plenty of rumors about teams like the 49ers and Chargers planning to take Irvin when their pick came up. Now we’re hearing that the Jets had planned on taking Irvin at the very next pick (Chicago at 19 and Green Bay at 28 were known to be considering Irvin too). The Seahawks wanted to add the best pass rusher in the draft, and with the possible exception of Fletcher Cox, it appears numerous other NFL teams (including a few known for their defenses) shared the Seahawks assessment of Irvin. In a recent press conference, Carroll told reporters that he was certain the Jets would take Irvin if the Seahawks had moved down again. It turns out Carroll was right.
A lot of people graded this pick poorly because Irvin didn’t grade in the 1st round on draft analyst’s draft boards- including mine (group think strikes even me sometimes). What those people fail to realize is that amateur draft rankings are only estimates and are not binding. Bruce Irvin would not have slipped into the second or third round just because draftniks thought he would. What actually matters is how NFL scouting departments and front offices rate prospects, and multiple front offices had a top 15 grade on Irvin. If Seattle had gone a different direction, it would be the New York Jets getting heckled for taking Irvin right now instead.
Irvin comes with a lot of risk, but if he didn’t he wouldn’t have reached the 12th pick in the first place, much less the 15th. He hasn’t been coached up as a pass rusher at all. He’s clueless with his hands. Despite looking very muscular and putting up a respectable bench press total, Irvin struggles with upper body strength against linemen. Irvin has decently long arms too, so his upper body struggles very likely point to a lack of technique. Irvin is one of the rawest players in the entire draft; he’s an athlete playing pass rusher.
That said, athletically he’s a top five pick. When used in a 4-3 defensive end role and played wide of the tackle, he was a terror at West Virginia. He didn’t just have good production, he had good looking production, with incredible displays of speed and pass rush ability that were at times jaw dropping.
Even when I had Irvin going in the 3rd round a few weeks ago, I said on this blog that he was the best pure pass rusher in the whole draft despite that grade. Irvin has rare speed to go along with fantastic change of direction skills and killer motor. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more impressive “hustle sacks” player than Irvin. John Schneider compared Irvin’s speed to Dwight Freeney, Von Miller, and Jevon Kearse.
If Irvin were drafted by a lot of other teams, I might question the pick. Not so in Seattle. The Mountaineers used Irvin in a variety of looks and from that sampling it was clear that Irvin was at his best in a 4-3 end role- the wider off the tackle the better. Seattle’s 9-tech LEO position provides the perfect “training wheels” position for Irvin that allows him to produce early in his career and build confidence while still learning and improving his craft. Pete Carroll knows a thing or two about coaching up defensive players. I can’t guarantee this pick won’t flop, but I like Irvin’s chances of working out in Seattle better than just about anywhere else.
I’m not expecting Bruce Irvin to have an Aldon Smith sized rookie year, but I do think there is a basis for the comparison. Smith was a widely ridiculed top 10 pick this time last year. Irvin was a widely ridiculed top 15 pick. As a rookie Smith nearly broke the rookie sacks record while only being used as a 3rd down pass rusher. Irvin will be very similar, inheriting the “Raheem Brock role” of a situational pass rusher that will occasionally spell Clemons at the LEO. By Carroll’s estimate, Brock saw nearly two thirds of Seattle’s snaps last year (although a source that tracks snaps put it closer to 50%). Irvin is a different player than Smith, but it’s not inconceivable that he could have an eight to ten sack rookie season as he is a perfect fit for Seattle’s system.
If Irvin develops, he has scary upside. If he doesn’t there is a chance Seattle could still wring some production out of him anyway based purely on how his athleticism matches the wide nine pass rush role on Seattle’s defense. Seattle had a top 10 defense last season in both yardage and points allowed while also having a below average pass rush. If Irvin reaches his full potential, just imagine where Seattle’s defense could be headed.
Seattle didn’t just take Irvin at #12 either, they traded down as far as they possibly could have while still getting their guy. The Eagles generously rewarded the Seahawks with a 4th and 6th rounder for the privilege, which also helped the team achieve its assumed fifth goal- expand their number of draft picks. Those picks turned into pass rushing defensive tackle Jaye Howard and another highly intriguing big corner with tools in Jeremy Lane. Given that Howard comes with the Dan Quinn seal of approval and that Pete Carroll has been money with late round corners, Seattle added not one but three interesting defensive prospects with their first pick. The combined upside of Seattle’s first round haul is in the stratosphere, and for a front office that has won on so many of their long shot gambles through good coaching and proper scheming, it’s hard not be excited about that.
With the 47th overall pick, the Seahawks select Bobby Wagner (grade: B-)
Seattle gets the speedy coverage linebacker they needed, and gained valuable extra picks in the process, but I’m not completely convinced that Seattle would have repeated their actions here if given a redo. John and Pete’s press conference enthusiasm for Wagner was noticeably less enthusiastic than for their Irvin or Wilson picks. Mychal Kendricks graded higher than Bobby Wagner on most, though not all, draft boards. Kendricks also had the Pac-12 connection and had the higher upside of the two, which would have appealed to Pete Carroll on both counts.
Despite what Mel Kiper thinks, Bobby Wagner was not a reach, and if not for the Morris Claiborne trade, Wagner wouldn’t have even made it to the 47th pick. Depending on how Seattle graded the other linebackers, they may have really dodged a bullet. Losing both Wagner and Kendricks after moving down four spots would have been a minor fiasco.
I’ve made it no secret I was highly impressed by Lavonte David. I was hardly alone in that assessment, as a lot of mock drafts had David going well before the 43rd pick. Seattle passed on David twice. That may prove to be a poor decision in hindsight. I can’t say I’m completely surprised though, as David is a classic Tim Ruskell second round pick, and Pete Carroll has tended to take a different route in the second round. David is a prospect that might already be playing his best football, and Pete seems to gravitate towards players who’s best football is still ahead of them.
And what about Zach Brown? The team rated him very highly at one point early in the draft process. It might have possibly broken their hearts to see the Eagles nab Kendricks right in front of them, but there were still three or four quality linebackers left who had speed. Why not trade down again?
Overall, the way they handled the 2nd round picked looks “botched” to me. That said, the Seahawks did satisfy their goal here- they did get a fast linebacker, maybe the best man coverage linebacker in the whole draft. I’ve been saying for a while that Wagner seemed like a Pete Carroll kind of linebacker to me, even if I had him graded lower than most. Seattle also added two more picks with their trade down, putting their draft total up to a whopping ten picks. Those picks turned into Korey Toomer, a toolsy linebacker I had mentioned before the draft that had drawn strong interest from NFL teams, and Greg Scruggs, a guy who John Schneider called his favorite value pick in the draft.
Wagner probably won’t emerge as much of a play making middle linebacker, but he has a good chance to be the kind of “glue that keeps the defense together” middle linebacker that has a ton of hidden value. His speed will also help reduce the liability Red Bryant presents against speedy running backs, and Wagner’s ability to cover ground should dramatically improve Seattle’s ability to defend passes to running backs and tight ends- a major weakness on the defense.
With the 75th overall pick, the Seahawks select Russell Wilson (grade: A+)
I wasn’t expecting Seattle to draft Russell Wilson this early, but I do not think they reached in doing so. Pete Carroll told reporters that he was contacted by two teams who let him know that they would have drafted Wilson later in the same round had the Seahawks not done so. I graded Russell Wilson very highly and I haven’t been ashamed to admit it. Though as I alluded to in the opening of this article, you don’t always have to take a top talent early if you know you don’t have to. Wilson has the talent to be one of those guys who goes in the first round of a future draft re-do article, but there was no need to take Wilson earlier than this. John Schneider and Pete Carroll badly wanted Wilson, and got him at essentially the latest possible moment they could have.
Wilson has his share of fans in NFL circles, but even they knew that taking Wilson in the first round wasn’t necessary. Taking him in the second round probably wouldn’t be necessary either. Drafting well isn’t just about staying true to your board, it’s also about getting guys at the right spots, which can be a tricky thing. I hate comparing Wilson to Drew Brees, because Brees is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but Wilson isn’t wrong when he compares his situation to the one Brees faced in 2001. Like Wilson, Brees was not an under the radar talent in college. Everyone in the country knew about Drew Brees and the immense amount of talent he possessed. Like Wilson, Brees led his Big Ten team to a Rose Bowl berth where he lost in a hard fought match to the Pac-10 champion.
And yet, despite his obvious talent, Drew Brees was not a first round pick, sliding to the first pick in the second round. Every quarterback hungry team in the league passed on Brees in the first. Why? Either because they discriminated based on height, or because they thought they could get Brees later based on his perceived market value. Teams were afraid of drafting Brees early, because if Brees flopped from his lack of height, it would make the pick look so much worse in retrospect. It’s the kind of first round pick that could very easily cost a GM his job if it goes wrong.
This made the selection of Brees a curious game of chicken. Teams knew about his talent and what he could do, but who would be the first team to bite and where would it happen? It’s a process that might best compare to the Japanese “posting” system to determine where Japan’s best end up playing in the Majors. Players such as Ichiro, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Yu Darvish are famous examples of this. Teams submit secret bids to the Japanese owner with no knowledge of how much other competing teams bid for. The team who submits the highest bid wins the rights for the player.
Replace high dollar amounts with a higher draft pick and it’s a very similar idea. The Seahawks had to play a delicate game of not pulling the trigger too early but also not waiting until it was too late either. And as we now know, they timed it just right. If Seattle hadn’t picked Wilson with their 3rd, he wouldn’t be a Seahawk right now. However Wilson’s career turns out, the Seahawks should be commended for guessing Wilson’s draft stock just right.
So why do I like this pick so much? Because I could hardly give a damn if Russell Wilson is an inch and a half shorter than Drew Brees. Any quarterback under 6’2″ is probably going to be a throwing windows quarterback in the NFL. It’s not like you can be too short to be a throwing windows quarterback either. It’s simply a question of can you do it or can’t you? Plenty of short quarterbacks have shown they can’t. Max Hall is two full inches taller than Wilson, but failed miserably in the NFL because he couldn’t see downfield. He didn’t have the mobility and the skills necessary to overcome his 6’1″ height. Max Hall was a solid college quarterback at BYU, but concerns about his height proved to be completely justified.
Wilson is a different case. He’s proven that he can play behind tall NFL lines. His line at Wisconsin was one of the tallest in the country, NFL included. Wilson was able to overcome his height because his line pass protected well enough for Wilson to complete his deep drops, and at the back of those five and seven step drops height becomes far less of a factor. Like Brees, Wilson makes a lot of quick movements in the pocket to look through passing lanes. Wilson also has a very high release point- you could count his season total of tipped passes on one hand. After researching Wilson thoroughly, I am convinced he will not fail for height related reasons, assuming that he is schemed correctly.
So why are there so few short quarterbacks in the NFL? The answer is because their aren’t many short quarterbacks in the college ranks to begin with, much less ones with talent rivaling Wilson’s. Even among the shorter quarterbacks with talent, very few get opportunities in the NFL. Chandler Harnish has serious talent, but he went one pick away from being undrafted. Austin Davis is the best quarterback for his school since Brett Favre, and he went undrafted (signed by the Rams). Bo Levi Mitchell has a lot of talent, but he went undrafted and unsigned, and might end up heading north of the border for his next career move. And then you have players who don’t know how to overcome their height issues or play for teams that don’t understand how to properly scheme around it.
And while I respect the heck out of NFL scouting departments and front offices for their ability to evaluate talent, I think there are times when group think and mental laziness lead teams to make unfortunate assumptions. The Seahawks were not one of those teams on Friday. Pete Carroll knows exactly what he’s getting with Russell Wilson, and in case you didn’t notice, he’s pretty freaking excited about it. Seattle runs a similar style of offense that Wisconsin used and Pete Carroll is famous for adapting his team to make room for unconventional talents. The Seahawks and Russell Wilson are a perfect match.
There is a lot more to discuss with Wilson, regarding why he could be great or why he might fall apart. I’ll save that for a future article. But for now, I’ll say this: I truly believe that Russell Wilson will be a starter at some point in his NFL career and given the investment Seattle paid and the unrestrained enthusiasm for Wilson exuded by both Carroll and Schneider, I do not think they drafted Wilson just to compete as a backup- I really believe they drafted Russell Wilson in the hopes that he can be a franchise quarterback. Pete didn’t compare Wilson to some backup, he compared him to Fran Tarkenton. And for those comparing Wilson to Seneca Wallace, let’s not forget that it was Pete Carroll himself who once traded away Seneca Wallace for peanuts.
The more I have studied Russell Wilson the more convinced I’ve become that he was going to be a gem in this draft. Not quite a Drew Brees or Tom Brady level steal, but something that could at least compare to it. That’s why it was so painful to think about the Seahawks potentially not drafting him, and why I was so excited to hear Wilson’s name called at the 75th pick. To the outside media, perhaps even to many Seahawks fans, Matt Flynn is the presumptive QB of the future here in Seattle. I’m not so sure Pete and John see things that way. The preseason quarterback battle will tell, but I’d bet you the powers that be are secretly pulling for Russell Wilson to emerge from that group.
It can be argued that Seattle should have taken Lamar Miller here, but the blow is softened by the fact that Seattle still landed a very good running back with their next pick anyway. I had Miller rated higher, but that rating was based off tape alone and didn’t factor whatever that injury concern was that caused Miller to plummet down draft boards. It’s very possible that Robert Turbin topped Seattle’s draft board for running backs at #75 anyway.
Overall impressions (rounds 1-3):
I wasn’t sure how to feel about the first three rounds of Seattle’s draft at first. Wagner was fairly low on my list of favored linebackers, and while I was stoked that Seattle wound up drafting my two favorite prospects in the entire draft, I didn’t like the “reach” factor of those first and third round picks. However, after reading further into the situation, it appears that Irvin was a terrific value at #15 and wouldn’t have lasted another pick. Russell Wilson similarly would not have lasted much longer. With that knowledge in hand, I’m able to enjoy the picks for what they are: two high upside selections at positions of supreme importance and massive need.
I also liked that Seattle added four picks with two very small trades down the board. The only notable options it cost Seattle were Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks, and neither one would have been my preferred option at #15 or #47 anyway, had the call been mine to make.
My first day writing for Seahawks Draft Blog came only a week or so after Pete Carroll was hired here. I’ve now followed three Pete Carroll / John Schneider drafts with an uncommon degree of attention. Out of all those drafts I’ve seen Pete Carroll exhibit plenty of excitement, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him as happy to draft a guy as he was for Bruce Irvin or Russell Wilson. The only other player that even comes close was Earl Thomas in 2010. Irvin and Wilson have their flaws, but both have the potential to be franchise players. Pete drafted them knowing those flaws fully well, and he’s got a plan in place to work around them. If Carroll can get the most out of both of them, watch out.