The 2012 NFL Draft is in the books. Seattle came away with ten new players, including five additions who play in the defensive front seven. Only three of the picks were spent on offensive prospects – a new quarterback, running back and a defensive tackle who will convert to guard.
It’s an intriguing draft class, but also one that raises a number of questions. The one I’m wrestling with the most is the choice of Russell Wilson in the third round. When a quarterback is drafted in round one, you fully expect that player to start quickly if not right away. In round two, you’d recognise it in a similar way – just with a little less hype. Quarterbacks drafted in rounds 4-7 come with barely any expectation. Round three is the middle ground, the dividing line between expected starter and late round flier.
Pete Carroll has spoken so glowingly about Wilson, it’s raising expectations. At one point yesterday he went on the record stating, “More than anybody else that was alive in the draft, this guy gives you a chance to have a great player.” What exactly does that mean? That Wilson gives Seattle a better chance to have a great player than Andrew Luck? Even if this is a typically Carroll-esque piece of raw enthusiasm, it doesn’t half raise expectations within a fan-base that has been starved of a freshly drafted quarterback to root for.
Language like that makes you believe Wilson could be, realistically, considered the quarterback of the future for this team. Then you wonder, what if he’s the quarterback for now? You look a little closer and notice the way he quickly transitioned to Wisconsin after leaving NC State. The Seahawks passed on other potential immediate starters in round three at different positions. They wanted Wilson, badly.
There’s been no attempt to mask excitement about this guy. Carroll: “It’s going to be really exciting to see what he can bring. All he’s ever done is be great. This is such an incredible athlete that has had extraordinary, historic success. He has done things that people had never thought of before. The fact that he was also such an extraordinary kid, he can handle all of the pressure that he’s going to be under, and all the scrutiny that he already has.”
Wilson was the keynote addition on offense in this draft class. The decision to switch JR Sweezy to guard is merely a hopeful punt. Robert Turbin was an expected target for the Seahawks as a speedy, muscular back who will take some of the strain away from Marshawn Lynch. Wilson was the star attraction here.
Some of the prospects Seattle passed on in the process of spending that third round pick? Mohamed Sanu, a talented receiver from Rutgers. Michael Egnew, a thoroughly modern-day athletic tight end from Missouri. Lamar Miller, a potential X-factor running back who slipped due to health concerns before Miami traded up to grab him at the top of round four. Brandon Brooks, a highly rated offensive guard with huge size from Miami Ohio. All four could’ve had some kind of impact in 2012.
Yet despite investing in Matt Flynn and somewhat backing Tarvaris Jackson to compete to try and remain the starter, Seattle added another quarterback to the equation. It’s as if Carroll and co. have decided improved QB play is the key to moving the offense forward. A review, perhaps, of the frustrating play from Jackson at times last year. So rather than try to add that skill player or the big offensive lineman, the Seahawks open up the quarterback position and try to find an improvement.
This is the highest draft pick Seattle has spent on a quarterback for 19 years. If this isn’t with the intention of at least allowing Wilson to compete to start as a rookie, I’d be almost surprised. People expect Flynn to get the nod, but his contract isn’t so huge that he’s locked into the role. Jackson could find himself on the outside looking in if he doesn’t win out, given his deal is expendable. Josh Portis remains part of the roster but is he rated highly enough to stick around if the team only runs with three quarterbacks?
The Seahawks want a quarterback who can facilitate a running game, which is exactly what Wilson did at Wisconsin. They want someone who won’t turn the ball over but can still make plays, and in four years as a starter in college Wilson threw 109 touchdowns compared to just 30 interceptions. Carroll has talked about young quarterbacks being ready to start earlier these days and appears willing to consider rolling with a rookie.
At the same time, Seattle may feel like Matt Flynn deserves to have the edge in a tight competition this off-season. He’s started in the NFL, albeit only twice, and if the Seahawks only planned to use him as a back-up they may well have avoided some difficult questions a few weeks ago by choosing not to sign the former Packer. I come back to the grey area that is round three. If Wilson had been a second round pick, people would be asking ‘will he start’? If he’d been a fourth round pick, nobody would be expecting an early impact. The third round sits directly between those two extremes.
Interesting times ahead.
Turbin pick will be seen as crucial
We talked a lot on this blog about Seattle’s desire to add a running back early in the draft. A lot of people presumed the Seahawks were set having signed Marshawn Lynch to a new deal, while adding a couple of other guys to go alongside Leon Washington. However, this is a team being built around the run on offense. Lynch is the centrepiece, the MVP, the heart and soul of the unit. He also runs with a physical style that will provoke injury and he’s going to miss time in the future. It’s inevitable. When he didn’t feature against Cleveland in 2011, it had a major impact. The Seahawks want to avoid that in the future.
Rather than look for a change of pace back or someone different to Lynch, the ideal was to find someone who could logically become a starter in their own right. Doug Martin and David Wilson left the board at the back end of round one, making it unlikely the team would find their answer in the second round. Lamar Miller and Chris Polk – two players who many thought could go in that region – both fell due to injury. Ronnie Hillman and Bernard Pierce both disappeared in round three and options were starting to run out. Enter the Turbinator.
At around 5-10 and 220lbs he has the necessary size to deal with a workload. He ran a 4.50 at the combine and looked pretty ripped for a player running that kind of time. It’s that combination of size and power that will interest Seattle – he can run inside and pound or find the edge. He’s shown some ability in space and in the passing game and has suffered due to the low-profile nature of the Utah State team he played for. He’s not good in pass protection, that has to be mentioned, but it’s something he can work on.
Seattle ensured they have a younger version of the Beast in the stable, and it could be a crucial draft pick. The Seahawks need to be able to run the football, but also keep Lynch from injury-risk with too many carries. This was a smart pick and part of the plan in this draft all along.
Focus on defense
A year removed from spending two early picks on the offensive line and making some key offensive free agent signings (Sidney Rice, Zach Miller), this year the Seahawks went big on defense. Bruce Irvin will be expected to have an impact as the #15 pick in the draft. When you draft a specialist pass rusher in the top half of the draft, ahead of every other pass rusher in the class, he needs to be productive almost immediately. While the Seahawks have earned a reputation for intelligent picks late in the draft, they need to make sure they keep hitting in round one. Seattle’s can’t expect to keep finding fast starters with late round picks (such is the nature of the league) so to improve they’ll need an impact from the early rounds.
It’s not a big surprise that defense was the focus this year. The Seahawks needed a pass rusher, whether you agree with the Irvin pick or not. That was the #1 priority – always was. There’s a reason why we paired the Seahawks with a pass rusher in every single one of our mock drafts from January to April. Clearly we didn’t focus in on the right players (although nobody pegged Bruce Irvin) but a pass rusher was key nonetheless. Linebacker was also an obvious need and it was no surprise to see that position addressed in round two.
The rest of the picks come with a degree of the unknown. Korey Toomer may prove to be special teams fodder, alongside Winston Guy. Expect Guy to get the chance to fill the Atari Bigby vacancy. Jeremy Lane received rave reviews for a performance against LSU last season and could be another one of Seattle’s late round sleepers. I like 7th round pick Greg Scruggs as a physical specimen and watched footage of his pro-day where he looked the part and moved well. Jaye Howard is an underrated pass rusher from the interior who will knife through one-on-one blocks and could end up being the one guy who really has an impact from the R4-7 group.
People are already asking why the offensive line and wide receiver positions weren’t addressed. The Seahawks made some moves last year at receiver and people shouldn’t write of an improved season for all with improved health and better quarterback play. If Sidney Rice and Zach Miller play at anything like their peak in 2012, you’re talking about two potential stars. Doug Baldwin continues to develop, while Golden Tate is facing a make-or-break season. Mike Williams deserves a chance to re-emerge after a disappointing 2011.
As for the offensive line, don’t underestimate Seattle’s depth and appreciation for what they have already. The line didn’t miss a beat last year when James Carpenter and John Moffitt suffered injury and were then joined by Russell Okung. The players who stepped in were not big names or high profile draft picks, but they all thrived. Whether it’s Lemuel Jeanpierre, Paul McQuistan or Breno Giacomini – those guys deserve the chance to compete to start. Seattle has also added Deuce Lutui and Frank Omiyale, so will feel good about their chances of filling the hole left by Robert Gallery. A lot of people like to think you need five first round picks to make a good offensive line, but that simply isn’t the case.
Overall it’s a draft class that will do well to provide Seattle with as many key starters as 2010 and 2011. The Bruce Irvin pick shocked the NFL and will be similarly lauded or hammered depending on the performance of ‘Brucemode’ this year. He’s an explosive pass rusher off the edge and the Seahawks haven’t taken this move lightly. A lot of teams react to the draft, but nobody can fault Seattle for being pro-active. They know what they want, they identify roles and they attack. Irvin isn’t the type of guy you draft on a whim because he’s BPA, you draft him with a vision. Other teams like the Jets drafted Quinton Coples because he was there, and now they have to work him into the system. Irvin was probably in Seattle’s thoughts in January.
They’ll know exactly what they want from their latest first round pick and if he can provide an impact in the Raheem Brock-role, then he could end up being one of the most popular players on this team in a generation (his press conference shows why). An improved pass rush and better quarterback play were Seattle’s two defining needs coming into this draft. Irvin and Russell Wilson may well be the answer.
Rishaw Johnson (OG, Cal. PA), Carson Wiggs (K, Purdue), Jon Opperud (OT, Montana), DeShawn Shead (S, Portland State), Monte Taylor (DE, Cincinnati), Phil Bates (WR/QB, Ohio), Sean McGrath (TE, Henderson State), Jermaine Kearse (WR, Washington), London Durham (CB, McNeese State), Lavasier Tuinei (WR, Oregon), Chris Hart (QB, Weber), Addison Lawrence (OT, Mississippi State)
Game tape on Kearse below: