Christine Michael (RB, 2nd round)
It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of Marshawn Lynch to the Seahawks. He is the tone-setter, the heartbeat, the player who drains energy out of a defense while creating opportunities for the passing game via play action. What he isn’t, unfortunately, is invincible. And while he has played through a series of niggling injuries (back, foot), keeping him from a mountainous work-load is vital for both the long and short term. His contract runs until 2015 and I suspect the the Seahawks want to get through the next three years with Lynch leading the way.
They didn’t have to draft a running back in round two to address this situation — there were plenty of other backs presenting value later on (Stepfan Taylor, Andre Ellington, Zac Stacy). They already had Robert Turbin and Spencer Ware (taken in round six) is no slouch. Yet Christine Michael stood out as the best player available with the final pick in round two. He was arguably the top running back in the draft and worthy of a grade much higher than the #62 pick. His role as a rookie is simple — maintain the high standards of Marshawn Lynch even when beast mode is taking a rest on the sideline. If the drafting of Michael gets Lynch through to 2015 playing the way he has so far in Seattle, it’ll be worth the investment.
Arian Foster arrived in 2010, establishing himself as one of the best running backs in the NFL. Houston also added Ben Tate in the second round of the 2010 draft. In 2011, Foster recorded 1224 yards and ten touchdowns. Tate managed 924 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie. The Texans spelled Foster and limited his carries to 278 for the season (49 less than 2010). When Tate got injured during the 2012 campaign, Foster again had to pick up the slack and had a career high 351 carries. Lynch had 315 in 2012 (5th most in the NFL) and the Seahawks might want to get that down to around the 260-285 mark (Frank Gore had 258 carries last year). Drafting Michael allows them to do that and like Tate in 2011 he could see around 175-200 snaps.
Seattle might keep Turbin in for third downs. He showed a decent grasp of pass protection last year and he was targeted in the passing game too (with mixed results). Blocking is an area Michael has to improve and he wasn’t really used as a catcher at Texas A&M (predominantly underneath throws). Instead he’ll likely be a first and second round force, sharing snaps with Lynch in a ‘thunder and lightning’ style combo. He’s also effective in short yardage situations. Don’t rule out some special teams duties especially on kick off returns.
I’ve seen this pick described as a ‘luxury’ by some pundits and I understand that opinion. Last year’s second best rusher behind Adrian Peterson was Alfred Morris — a sixth round rookie. However, I also think there’s a slight misunderstanding of Seattle’s offense. The Percy Harvin trade and the emergence of Russell Wilson has perhaps clouded just how much of a running team this is. Seattle ran the ball 536 times last year — more than any other. In comparison, Tampa Bay (starting productive rookie Doug Martin) ran exactly 120 times less than the Seahawks. If you’re going to run that frequently, why wouldn’t you spend a second round pick on Christine Michael?
Jordan Hill (DT, 3rd round)
Seattle only lost two starters in free agency — Leroy Hill and Alan Branch. Hill remains unsigned and the Seahawks showed minimal interest in re-signing Branch (who joined the Bills after firing his agent). The Seahawks have a lot of young depth at linebacker (including Malcolm Smith, Mike Morgan and Korey Toomer) and appear set to experiment with Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin acting as hybrid rushers from the SAM position. At defensive tackle, there was a little more urgency to find a replacement (or ‘replacements’).
The defensive line is something of a point of contention. The Seahawks have earned a reputation as a tough defense that gets after the passer with a hard hitting and productive secondary. It’s not a complete red herring, but neither is it the absolute truth. Seattle ranked joint 18th for sacks last year with 36. It’s a statistic significantly boosted by one crazy half of football against Green Bay where the team sacked Aaron Rodgers eight times. Anyone who watched the Seahawks regularly last year would acknowledge the pass rush wasn’t prolific — an opinion shared by Pete Carroll when he discussed team needs going into the off-season. Seattle had a particular issue getting off the field on third and long, a bizarre fact given how adept the defense was at limiting big plays.
The Seahawks weren’t bad defending the run, but they were frustrating at times. They started the year particularly well, shutting out several opponents before the San Francisco 49ers crashed the party in week 7. At times it didn’t matter — a handful of blow out victories took away the oppositions run game fairly swiftly. According to Football Outsiders, they ended the year ranked #12 against the run. Like the pass rush, it was still an area for improvement.
Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett were signed to help create pressure and lessen the burden of Chris Clemons’ ACL injury, but they still needed an interior presence. One of the issues is the total dependence on the LEO in base. Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane are limited pass rushers, as was Alan Branch. Finding someone who can collapse the pocket or at least force the guard/center into his own backfield was a must. That’s where the pick of Jordan Hill (and Jesse Williams) comes in.
Hill isn’t a big guy at 6-1 and 300lbs, but he’s incredibly stout. His performance against Wisconsin — a game he “took over” according to commentator Brock Huard — was particularly encouraging for his fit in Seattle. Not only did he flash strong gap control and the ability to hold his position against hulking, giant Badger lineman, he was also particularly productive at breaking into the backfield. He might be one of the more understated players in the 2013 draft. Having watched several Penn State games last year, his performance against Wisconsin was not a one-off.
Remember when we highlighted an article discussing “the Bill Walsh defensive tackle”? Walsh’s ideal player measured at 6-2 and 290lbs. “You are looking for somebody who can move down the line of scrimmage and make a tackle, pursuing a ball-carrier. That would be lateral quickness in a short area, being able to get under way and move over and through people.” Again I refer to the Wisconsin tape, where Hill was disengaging, moving across and tackling Montee Ball with relative ease for 0-2 yard gains. “The best defensive tackles move the offensive guard back into the quarterback. They won’t have nearly as many sacks as others, but if they can move the guard back into the quarterback, then the quarterback has to avoid his own lineman.” Again, this is another strong point for Hill. He’s not a sack artist. But he has the upper body power, hand use and drive to be disruptive.
The significance of all this? Pete Carroll takes a lot of inspiration from Walsh’s philosophy. Perhaps more so than any other coach he worked under.
I’m not going to argue he’s the ideal player for Seattle’s scheme. That guy was drafted #13 overall by the New York Jets and goes by the name of Sheldon Richardson. However, Hill has a shot to be an instant hit. He’ll have to compete with Tony McDaniel and Jesse Williams to get the gig, but there’s a reason why they drafted Hill as high as round three. This wasn’t a pure reach as some have suggested. He doesn’t have McDaniel’s size. Williams is a better run defender even if he is one-dimensional. But Hill might be a significantly better disruptive force as a pass rusher. And that, for me, gives him the edge. He’ll probably start in 2013 unless Williams proves his health and dominates in camp. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up contributing substantially.
Chris Harper (WR, 4th round)
As Kansas State emerged as a legit BCS title contender in 2012, I watched their games and kept noticing this big-bodied receiver who just made tough catches. It was easy to become a fan. Then during the off-season I sat down to study him as a draft prospect and started to dampen my enthusiasm. He seemed to make a handful of basic errors — fumbles, drops, missed opportunities. He wasn’t a burner and when the play call breaks down, Kansas State basically looked at Colin Klein and shouted “do something”. His receivers, including Harper, didn’t improvise. Whether they were told not to, I can’t be sure. There are several examples where they immediately became blockers for Klein instead of targets. So it might be an instruction rather than an instinctive problem.
Either way it created a slightly negative impression. This was a relatively deep class for receivers. There weren’t any A.J. Green’s for the teams picking early in round one, but there was plenty to be got at in the middle rounds. And I’ll admit there were a few players I preferred in the range Harper was drafted.
However, now that he’s a Seahawk it’s time to look at what drew them to this pick over a Quinton Patton or Ryan Swope. When you look back with hindsight, it’s fairly obvious why they went in this direction. Chris Harper offers something they didn’t have previously. The Seahawks already have players like Patton and Swope. What they don’t have is a physical possession receiver with strong hands. Harper answers the call.
When I went back to review the tape over the last few days, a couple of things stood out. Firstly, he has a knack of making difficult grabs in double coverage or with a defender draped all over him. Klein was far from a polished, accurate college passer — and a lot of his throws were there to be challenged. I suspect Harper adapted to his environment. He’s adept at positional sense, using his body to shield defenders and competing for the ball. There were two occasions in the games I watched where he made key conversions on fourth down in tight coverage. That’s what the Seahawks have drafted him to be. If he was flawless and didn’t have the frustrating errors, he wouldn’t be available in round four. He’s a possible outside safety-net who can be effective on third and fourth down. He is physical, stocky and competitive. He’s different to what they already have. So while he doesn’t stand to take too much production away from Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin, don’t be surprised if he’s out there for a key third down and making a vital catch that extends the drive.
Jesse Williams (DT, 5th round)
A lot of people, including myself, expected Williams to go much earlier than he did. Part of it was hype. Not many college players come from Australia, play for a dominant two-time BCS Champion and have YOLO tattoo’d on the side of their head. He’s a media dream, a story waiting to be written over and over again. As the league desperately attempts to become more global (in a kind of overly forced manner) Williams became a poster-boy along with Menelik Watson, Bjoern Werner and Margus Hunt. As a consequence, medical problems were left largely unreported.
The warning signs were there. Williams only did the bench press at the combine and didn’t appear at the Senior Bowl. He was constantly banged up in 2012, often leaving the field during games. And when asked by Seattle’s media about his draft fall, he admitted he didn’t expect to be a high pick. When a player as well known as Williams falls to round five, you instantly know there’s a problem.
The Seahawks still felt he was worth the risk. Nobody would question his NFL potential. They traded up in round five to make sure they got both Williams and Tharold Simon. You get the sense that John Schneider prides himself on the ability to find value in the 5th round. This was the only time he’s traded up in four drafts. He had to get both of these players.
If Williams is healthy there’s no reason why he can’t fit into the rotation and maybe even start. Carroll says he’s a three technique and that’s the position they have to fill after letting Branch walk in free agency. I’d argue he’s pretty flexible — he’s played the five technique, the three and the nose at Alabama. He could theoretically feature in all three positions in some capacity. There’s a reason he dropped to the fifth, though, and it wasn’t because of a lack of talent. Seattle’s previous hits in this round (Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman) were simply overlooked. It was impossible to overlook Jesse Williams. For that reason you almost have to temper expectations, especially given the fact he’ll be competing with two other off-season additions (Jordan Hill, Tony McDaniel) for playing time.
I wouldn’t rule out his ability to get healthy and even start in 2013. As a pure talent, he’s capable. He’s a terrific run stopper with tremendous upper body power. He plays with attitude and gusto. I’d expect a measured role in year one, helping out in short yardage/run situations. And who knows — maybe he’ll even play some fullback, just as he did in goal-line packages for Alabama. From a talent stand point, there’s no reason why he can’t be another Schneider success story.
Tharold Simon (CB, 5th round)
This could be the most intriguing pick of the bunch. For starters, this is the player Seattle traded up to get. Carroll admitted at the end of the draft that Simon was the player they moved up to get. They were going to take Jesse Williams at the top of the fifth, but didn’t feel they could wait for Simon at the end of the round. Any player that John Schneider moves up to get, you figure they must have something about them.
When you look at Simon’s physical appearance, he just screams ‘Seahawks’. He’s long, tall and pretty much the prototype for Carroll’s vision for the position. There might not be a better staff in the NFL when it comes to coaching cornerbacks. How else do you explain the way Richard Sherman has gone from 5th round flier to elite shutdown corner? Brandon Browner, plucked from the CFL, becomes a pro-bowler. When Browner served a four game suspension, in comes rookie Jeremy Lane to cover Randy Moss in a heated divisional battle. Seattle’s front office knows what it wants in a corner, and the coaches know how to get them ready for the NFL.
Simon’s tape reminds me a little of Sherman’s at Stanford. It’s inconsistent. He gets beat occasionally, particularly on the double move. He’s not a sudden athlete and he’ll give up too many comfortable receptions by easing up on the release. Yet he also plays the ball well and has that aggressive streak that fits the teams current swagger. If you round off the rough edges, coach him up and let him challenge 1v1, he could easily be another late-round steal for this team and a long-term starter.
I don’t expect Simon to start or feature heavily in year one. Like Sherman he’ll need to wait for an opening. It might not come in 2013, he might have to be patient. There’s depth at corner and he better be ready to fight for a roster spot. And when he gets an opportunity, like Sherman, he needs to grab it. He has the potential to start in this league and he couldn’t ask for a better fit. It’s really all down to how much he wants it and his ability to keep working even if he doesn’t see that much game time in year one.
What about the rest?
Like everyone else, I’m scrambling around for information and tape on the other picks. Spencer Ware is going to be tried at full back, but I like his ability as a runner too. As for the rest, it’s difficult for anyone to offer much of an opinion at this stage. Michael Bowie started at Oklahoma State so I’ll run through the back catalogue of games I have saved to get a check on him. I think there’s a feeling they can coach up offensive lineman into Tom Cable’s scheme. Remember, that was Alex Gibbs’ approach too. We might not see any more high picks in that area, given the team is sorted for the long haul at the two key positions (left tackle and center). Bowie, Ryan Seymour and Jared Smith will all get the Cable clinic in camp.
What they’re saying
Evan Silva offers an A- grade for Seattle’s 2013 class. “The Seahawks have drafted just like this every year under Schneider and Pete Carroll. Seems like it’s working.”
Chris Burke gives the group a B-. “The Seahawks had a roster built to roll the dice a bit in the draft, and that’s just what they did with their first three picks.”
Mel Kiper gives it a B, in part because of the Percy Harvin trade. “I don’t know that Seattle added a starter among their picks, but they certainly added one in Harvin.”