Before moving on to the titled topic, I wanted to promote this interview I did for Jesse Bartolis at NFLMocks.com on the Seahawks and the draft. I also participated in an interactive mock with several other draft writers which will be published next week.
We’re less than a month away from the 2011 draft and a week away from a crucial court meeting which could potentially end the lockout. If an injunction is upheld on April 6th (or in the following days) it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that free agency could begin shortly after. It’s unclear whether such a set of events is likely or not and I suspect that even if the players are able to stop the lockout, we’ll see free agency take place after the draft rather than attempt to shoe-horn it in a fortnight before.
Losing free agency in March has made this a harder draft class to project than previous years – especially for the Seahawks. I think this is a front office that wants to be aggressive in the off season, at least until they strike a formula that will make this team consistently competitive. We saw evidence of that last year with multiple trades, players coming and going and some high profile moves that didn’t come off. If Seattle were picking 25th overall last year I think it’s very possible they would’ve spent that pick on Brandon Marshall, who Pete Carroll and John Schneider seriously coveted before his trade to Miami.
Had free agency started as usual this year, the Seahawks may well have traded that #25 pick by now. We’ve all seen the rumors about Kevin Kolb and Carson Palmer. The chances are we’ll never truly know what would’ve happened in a traditional calendar NFL off-season, but we can speculate.
A lack of free agency also prevented the Seahawks from adding any out-of-contract players. As an example – if the team had signed Nnamdi Asomugha to a huge contract while maintaining Marcus Trufant on the roster, it’d probably rule out the likelihood of a cornerback being drafted in round one. If they didn’t re-sign Brandon Mebane, you could argue it increases the need at defensive tackle. Instead we have no indication of their plans for Mebane so we’re not sure if that will have any impact on their draft decisions.
It could be argued this will help the Seahawks to some extent. Come out of the draft without a viable replacement for Mebane and you may be prepared to make a bigger play at re-signing him. Feel that cornerback is a big need that hasn’t been able to be addressed? Become big players in the Asomugha stakes. Instead of filling holes in preperation for the draft, you can fill the holes afterwards. I’ve long felt it would make more sense to have the draft before free agency but I’m not sure the players or the currently decertified NFLPA would ever let that happen.
S0 we head to Radio City with an increased element of mystery for pretty much every team. I presume a lot of decisions will be based on getting your priorities right. With that in mind, here is what I’d be considering as a team sitting at #25 with a 7-9 record.
1. Try and find your quarterback
We know the Seahawks will work out (and may already have done so) with Cam Newton, Ryan Mallett and Jake Locker. I suspect they’ll do the same with Blaine Gabbert. Part of this will be due diligence because of the team’s great need at the position, but part of it will also be to decipher how highly the team should rank these guys in terms of character and physical performance. Although many people project Mallett and Locker will fall – possibly out of the first round – I don’t see it that way. I still think Locker will be drafted by Mike Shanahan at Washington and someone will have to usurp the Redskins at #10 if they want the Huskies QB. Despite all the negative publicity surrounding Mallett I can’t see how someone with his physical qualities and football IQ can slip past quarterback-desperate teams like Minnesota, Miami and Jacksonville.
The Seahawks have to judge two things: 1.) are any of these guys worth trading up for and if so, what are you willing to spend? 2.) If one of the top four does fall to #25 are we ready to pull the trigger?
I don’t expect the team to pull a surprise by drafting a lower tier prospect like Christian Ponder or Andy Dalton – two players touted as possibilities but both hugely over rated in my opinion.
This uncertainty in being able to find a quarterback at #25 for the long term future is one of the reasons why I believe we may have otherwise seen an ambitious trade involving Kevin Kolb or Carson Palmer. If that option is taken away this year by the lockout (and the Seahawks should not be looking to invest unknown future first round picks on veterans) then the priority must be to consider the options in the first round of the draft. Seattle can really only afford to ignore this position if they simply don’t rate a prospect, the price is too high to move up or if none of the ‘big four’ have any chance of getting close to #25. If that proves to be the case – you move on.
2. If someone starts to fall, be ready
Be prepared that a player could have an unexpected fall. Even when big-name players have dropped in the past they often don’t make it to #25 so the same question has to be asked as above – do you look to move up?
Right now I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Nick Fairley suffered a fall. I was one of the first to drop him down to #14 and St. Louis and in my next mock tomorrow I will have him falling to #18 and San Diego. He’s not a great fit in the 3-4 defense but I suspect someone will roll that dice eventually. He’d be a much better fit at three-technique in Seattle’s scheme so do you be aggressive if this scenario played out? Do you trust the character concerns and the fact he’s a one-year wonder to take a chance on big-time talent? He recently rejected an opportunity to meet with the Miami Dolphins at #15 because he thinks he’ll go earlier, which kind of sums up the concern with Fairley. It’d be a gamble, but I suspect Carroll and Schneider will be willing to roll the dice much more than Tim Ruskell ever was.
Could Robert Quinn drop a bit? What if Cameron Jordan lasts into the mid teens or Jimmy Smith starts to fall closer to #25? The Seahawks need talent more than anything else right now. Seizing the opportunity to get talent could be worth the risk.
3. BPA at a position of need and consider moving up
As mentioned before, the Seahawks lack talent at a number of key areas. We’ve discussed quarterback but you can also include the lack of a truly dominating defensive lineman, an elite offensive playmaker or a great cornerback. In general the whole interior offensive line is also a big weakness, especially if Chris Spencer is not re-signed.
From that list there isn’t one position that carries anywhere near the same weight as quarterback but all could do with investment. The Seahawks have only one secure ‘premium’ position and that is left tackle. If quarterback is off the menu and we don’t see any unexpected falls, it makes sense to invest in the best player available at a position of need. That is a standard draft philosophy any year, but this is a unique position for Seattle. In any other circumstance the Seahawks would be picking much earlier than #25. That need to keep getting better is stronger and while others picking in the 20′s can afford to be purely BPA in their methods – this 7-9 team may need to be more pro-active.
Using my last mock draft as an example, a lot of logical talent leaves the board before #25. It starts at #17 with Corey Liuget (who I suspect will go earlier than that) and leads into Cameron Jordan at #18 (he could go top ten), Mark Ingram at #19, Jabaal Sheard at #20, Mike Pouncey at #21, Nate Solder at #22, Jimmy Smith at #23 and Ryan Kerrigan at #24. Of that list I think only three prospects don’t appear to be great fits – Ingram (can’t see the team spending a R1 pick on a running back), Solder (too tall, struggles with leverage) and Kerrigan (not a LEO prospect, suits an orthodox 4-3). Being pro-active can get you that cornerback with incredible potential (Smith), a left guard for the long haul (Pouncey), or a solid defensive lineman.
Sitting tight may mean the BPA is a lesser talent or carries greater risk. Muhammad Wilkerson (#25 in my latest mock) has great size (305lbs) and still rushed the passer from the edge at Temple (10 sacks in 2010). However, is he a natural five-technique or do you look to fit him into the three position? He’d have to learn that role. He’s not an elite athlete or technician and there is some risk for me that any success he had in college will be severely diluted in the NFL. He could end up being ‘average’. Compare that to a Jimmy Smith who I truly believe could end up being ‘elite’.
Staying put could make a Wilkerson-level prospect your BPA. That’s the difficulty with picking at #25. What I would say is that despite tentative suspicion with Wilkerson’s talents, he’s still vastly superior to some of the prospects available in round two. A lot of fans would like to consider the possibility of moving down the board and possibly acquiring a third round pick. Seattle may have to move down half a round to get that return. For the sake of getting one extra player in the middle rounds, I’d rather draft a Muhammard Wilkerson at #25 than settle for a Jarvis Jenkins in round two.