Only a few teams are truly in a position to draft the absolute best player available. After all – what if the best player is a quarterback and you already own a franchise signal caller? That’s an extreme example, but the good teams in the NFL frequently find themselves with a much wider pool of players to choose from because they don’t have glaring needs to fill.
Here’s a list of Baltimore’s recent first round picks dating back to 2006:
Haloti Ngata, Ben Grubbs, Joe Flacco, Michael Oher, Jimmy Smith.
Only one of those players (Ngata) was a top fifteen pick. The Ravens traded down (and then back up) to take Flacco at #18. In 2010 and 2012 GM Ozzie Newsome traded out of the first round before drafting Sergio Kindle and Courtney Upshaw respectively. They’ve also been able to find key offensive contributors in round two, such as Ray Rice and Torrey Smith.
As you can see, the Ravens do a good job in the draft.
Out of all the picks, Flacco is the most aggressive, ‘need-filling’ selection. The Ravens had to get a quarterback in 2008 and made the necessary moves to get it done. The rest of the picks were pretty simple – they were the best players on the board regardless of need. Baltimore’s had a great defense for a generation and for the most part a pretty good offense. And without needing to constantly reach to fill glaring holes in round one, they’ve been able to re-stock using the draft.
The Seahawks haven’t had that luxury for some time now and definitely not since Pete Carroll and John Schneider arrived in Seattle. In their first three drafts with the team they had to identify glaring needs, draft accordingly and build up the roster. They had no choice.
In 2010 the Seahawks knew they were going to lose Walter Jones to retirement, creating a huge need at left tackle. They took Russell Okung with the 6th overall choice. Many expected Okung to be the first tackle off the board and a top-five shoe-in (Trent Williams was drafted by Washington at #4) and clearly the Seahawks felt this was a good match of need vs talent. Even so, they were prioritising. They couldn’t afford to go into the season with Sean Locklear as their best option at tackle. They needed to use the draft to fill a need. With Okung available as a sensible option, it probably ended up being a bit of a no-brainer in the Seahawks war room. Even more so once Eric Berry was drafted at #5 by Kansas City – as free safety was clearly another target need in round one.
With a second pick at #14 courtesy of Josh McDaniels, they were eventually able to fill that need. Pete Carroll made safety a priority. A big priority. You better believe he was willing to take Berry at #6 had the Chiefs passed. Although not ideal LEO candidates, both Jean-Pierre Paul and Derrick Morgan were both on the board at #14 and the Seahawks were desperate for a pass rusher after Patrick Kerney’s retirement. No dice – Carroll wanted a safety and Thomas was highly rated. This was another case where need fit with an available talent. Seattle identified two key problems they wanted to solve and drafted accordingly.
One of the missions in season one was to establish a running game, but it never happened. Despite trading for Marshawn Lynch the Seahawks had possession of the #31 ranked rushing offense. It appeared to be the biggest disappointment of the 2010 season for Carroll and he made improving the ground attack a priority. Out went offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, in came Darrell Bevell and O-line guru Tom Cable. And with Cable clearly having a big say in how they were going to right this ship, Seattle drafted two offensive lineman with their first two picks in the 2011 draft. James Carpenter was the first round choice – a major shock to many at the time. The front office clearly identified Carpenter as a worthy addition, but this was another case of the Seahawks chasing a need. Repairing the line was a huge priority, which is why John Moffitt followed in round three.
Low and behold, the run game improved significantly in 2011 and attentions turned elsewhere. Despite owning a young, vibrant defense – the Seahawks just weren’t creating enough pressure. Chris Clemons made double digit sacks for the second consecutive year, but nobody else on the roster was helping out. Only ten teams had less sacks than the Seahawks. The team zoned in on the pass rushing class of the 2012 draft and were always destined to take a defensive lineman. Despite talk of Mark Barron and Luke Kuechly, this front office was always likely to draft a pass rusher in round one. As it happens, they had their pick of the group when they found themselves on the clock. And they took Bruce Irvin. For the third draft in a row, the front office identified a glaring need and addressed the issue.
Something else happened in April and maybe it was a little unexpected? We now know the Seahawks managed to fill the greatest need of all during the 2012 draft – finding a young quarterback with ‘franchise’ potential.
That accomplishment probably puts Carroll and Schneider ahead of schedule. I think there’s a pretty good chance they were expecting this to be a four draft plan and that they would look to use the 2013 draft to find a quarterback. I also think they would’ve been pretty aggressive in doing so. As much as John Schneider and Pete Carroll admired Russell Wilson, I’m not sure in the build up to the 2012 draft they were completely convinced they would be able to find their long term option at quarterback in round three. Schneider worked in a Green Bay front office that always drafted quarterbacks, without the absolute expectation they would become quality starters. They were essentially buying plenty of raffle tickets. In Seattle, we were seeing the same plan. And the Seahawks might have won the big prize with their first ticket.
I guess the franchise was due some fortune.
Had they not been able to draft Wilson – or had he not enjoyed the success we’ve seen so far – what could’ve happened? Having built up the defense and running game, they were in position to make a run at a quarterback in 2013. That’s assuming Matt Flynn didn’t step in and eliminate the need in the same way Wilson has. Instead, Wilson has shown he could be the future of the Seahawks franchise. And it means that final glaring need – the quarterback – has theoretically been addressed a year in advance.
With a 6-4 record going into the bye week, Seattle is in a strong position to claim at least a wildcard spot. That would give them the #21 pick in next years draft as a worst case scenario (worst record among playoff teams + first round exit). This team is good enough to go deeper into round one, even if it’s unlikely to earn the #31 or #32 pick by reaching the Super Bowl. Either way, it seems likely it’ll be a later first round pick than 2010 and 2012.
Perhaps for the first time in a while, the Seahawks will be in the ‘Baltimore Ravens’ position? Rather than needing to identify one glaring need that must be addressed at all costs, they can perhaps afford to broaden their horizons. They will still likely consider the teams greater needs – at this stage probably DT, LB and WR. But what if that excellent guard or tackle falls? Or that pass rusher who was expected to go in the top-15? Or that cornerback that would look really good on this roster?
That’s the fortunate position the Seahawks are approaching. And when you can start stocking up on talent for depth rather than feeling like you have to draft for need, that’s when you become a contender.