In the last few years, the first round of the NFL draft has been pretty balanced between offense and defense. Since 1993 (the last time Seattle drafted a quarterback in round one) only three defensive players have been drafted first overall (Dan Wilkinson, Courtney Brown and Mario Williams), but in recent years the top-15 picks have been split evenly. Of the 75 top-15 picks since 2008, 36 have been offensive players and 39 defensive.
The 2013 draft will buck the trend.
Obviously it’s still early days and a lot can change, but we’ve quietly moved towards the half-way point in the college football season. There aren’t going to be too many surprises from now until the end of the year, and many of the rising stars from now on are likely to crop up after work outs rather than in-season performance. Enough people study the draft these days to get on angle on who has a shot to be a high first round pick – the access to fans and pundits is greater than it’s ever been. Most potential first rounders are at least on the radar by this stage.
Right now it looks like a good year if you want a defensive tackle, with as many as 6-8 potential first round picks at the position. There are some big-time pass rushers who could crack the top-15 and there’s the usual handful of cornerbacks in the running too. When you throw in guys like Manti Te’o and Alec Ogletree at linebacker, it’s easy to see why this is setting up to be a defense-dominated draft class. We may even see the #1 pick being spent on a defensive player for the first time since 2006.
On the other hand it’s not looking like a strong year for offensive talent. Matt Barkley, Geno Smith and Tyler Wilson will all hope to benefit from the league’s obsession with quarterbacks (Logan Thomas doesn’t appear likely to declare for 2013). Will the demand for the position remain? With eight teams taking a quarterback in the first round since 2011 and the likes of Cincinnati (Andy Dalton) and Seattle (Russell Wilson) finding starters recently in the middle rounds, eventually there’s going to be a tipping point. Smith and Barkley aren’t going to generate the kind of hype afforded to Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, while Wilson is suffering within an Arkansas team that imploded two weeks into the new season.
Cleveland are the only team without a victory so far in 2012, but they were one of the teams to go quarterback last April. That player – Brandon Weeden – turns 29 on Sunday. If they end up with the #1 overall pick next year, they’ll likely face a number of big decisions. The new owners may wish to move on from Mike Holmgren and the staff assembled in 2010. That would put Weeden’s position in jeopardy and make a QB at #1 more likely. Considering his age, he needed to prove he could start and perform quickly to a high standard. With hindsight that was far too much to expect even for a player pushing 30 with previous pro-sports experience. Unfortunately for Weeden, Cleveland may go quarterback again next year. Demand will also be enhanced if teams like Kansas City, Oakland and Jacksonville decide they need to invest in a quarterback. And let’s not completely rule out Seattle, either. Even so, it seems like there’s going to be less hysteria around the position.
The 2013 class lacks a player like Trent Richardson who can drive through the perception of low value at running back. Marcus Lattimore could’ve forced his way into that bracket, but a lack of top-end speed and with a serious knee injury on his record – he’s unlikely to crack the top-15. He does have production, character and leadership on his side though, so don’t rule it out. There are multiple receivers who could find their way into the first or second round, but none appear to warrant top-15 consideration. It’s also a dry year for offensive tackles.
Apart from the likelihood of one or two quarterbacks going early, the only other hope on offense may come from an unusually talented pair of offensive guards. Chance Warmack has top-10 talent and will only last beyond that due to the relatively low value placed on interior lineman. Jonathan Cooper is equally as talented and shouldn’t last too long in the first round. Tennessee’s Dallas Thomas is also rising after moving from tackle this year. Imagine a scenario where Geno Smith, Matt Barkley and Chance Warmack are the only offensive players taken in the top-15 picks. It’s not unlikely. That’s how good the defensive talent is this year.
This could actually play into the hands of a team like Seattle. Whether the Seahawks make the post season or simply have to settle for progress in 2012, they’re unlikely (bold statement) to be picking in the top-ten. If next years draft does prove to be top-heavy for defense, it’ll mean there’s more choice of offensive talent later on. If the teams intention was to, for example, make two early picks on offense – the depth would be there to do so. Most people would presume Seattle will target offense in the draft, whether that’s at receiver, offensive line or even quarterback. Picking later could be a benefit in that regard. That’s not to say the team wouldn’t consider defense – especially given the supreme talent and depth at defensive tackle. But right now it’d be an upset if the Seahawks didn’t make offensive improvement their priority in the off-season.
There is some precedent for the team benefiting from a scenario like this. Only last April Pete Carroll and John Schneider had their pick of the entire pass-rusher class – the teams #1 priority in the draft. Make no mistake despite what you read about Luke Kuechly and Mark Barron, this team was zoned in on improving the pass rush in the draft. There wasn’t an obvious top-10 pick at defensive end, meaning the Seahawks were able to trade down to #15 and still get their pick of the crop. They chose Bruce Irvin, but probably had one or two solid alternatives. As soon as Irvin left the board, the likes of Quinton Coples, Chandler Jones and others soon followed.
We could see a similar outcome next year, where the Seahawks have an entire group of players to pick from at a position of need – such is the possibility of this being a real top-heavy draft on defense. The big question is whether a player exists that fits the vision of this front office as well as the last #1 pick. Bruce Irvin has been described as ‘the ideal LEO’ many times by Pete Carroll. Does the ideal wide receiver for this team exist among the 2013 group? Or the ideal offensive lineman? Or even the ideal quarterback? Only seven months to find out…
Top-20 prospects – October 10th
1 – Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
2 – Jarvis Jones (DE, Georgia)
3 – Chance Warmack (G, Alabama)
4 – Star Lotulelei (DT, Utah)
5 – Dee Milliner (CB, Alabama)
6 – Geno Smith (QB, West Virginia)
7 – Manti Te’o (LB, Notre Dame)
8 – Bjoern Werner (DE, Florida State)
9 – Damontre Moore (DE, Texas A&M)
10 – Jonathan Jenkins (DT, Georgia)
11 – Sheldon Richardson (DT, Missouri)
12 -Barkevious Mingo (DE, LSU)
13 – Sylvester Williams (DT, North Carolina)
14 – Alec Ogletree (LB, Georgia)
15 – Dion Jordan (DE, Oregon)
16 – Jonathan Cooper (G, North Carolina)
17 – Corey Lemonier (DE, Auburn)
18 – Marcus Lattimore (RB, South Carolina)
19 – Johnathan Hankins (DT, Ohio State)
20 – Robert Woods (WR, USC)