The NFL regular season is one week away from completion. We will soon know how the first 20 picks will shape up for the 2011 draft.
Following Minnesota’s victory over Philadelphia last night, the Seahawks would currently own the 11th overall pick. It also means Seattle can pick as high as 6th overall and as low as 32nd overall depending on upcoming results. No other team has potential for such a dramatic swing in terms of draft position.
The Seahawks go into week seventeen with a 6-9 record. Victory against St. Louis on Sunday will guarantee the NFC West title and an automatic playoff spot. This would also mean (even with a one-and-done post season) Seattle would select no earlier than 21st overall. That would prove true unless the Seahawks made it to the NFC Championship where they would select 29th overall (defeated in NFC title game), 31st (defeat in the Super Bowl) or 32nd (Super Bowl winners).
What if the Rams win on Sunday, putting the Seahawks at 6-10?
There are six teams with a 5-10 record: Arizona, San Francisco, Dallas, Houston and Detroit and Cleveland.
With the Cardinals and 49ers playing each other, one is guaranteed to finish 5-11. In defeat, this team would select before the Seahawks.
The Cowboys take on the Eagles. Will Philly rest Michael Vick and other starters? Will Dallas want to end a disappointing year on a high? This could be a much closer game in the aftermath of Minnesota’s win in Philadelphia.
Houston will face Jacksonville – a must win game for the Jags if they are to have any chance of winning the AFC South. They are missing QB David Garrard and RB Maurice Jones-Drew – arguably their two best players.
Detroit travels to Minnesota in the midst of a three-game winning streak.
Cleveland entertain Pittsburgh.
Should any or all of these teams win and find themselves level with a 6-10 Seahawks outfit, it will be Seattle who selects first due to strength of schedule. Of all the teams picking in the top ten currently, only Arizona (.458) has faced a weaker schedule than Seattle (.488).
Should all the teams on 5-10 win (excluding whoever loses between Arizona or San Francisco) the Seattle Seahawks will own the 6th overall pick for the second year in succession.
Some fans will be split on what the best result actually is on Sunday. I imagine the majority will believe victory against the Rams (a division rival) and a playoff spot trumps any thoughts about an event that won’t happen for another four months. There will be some, however, who feel picking fifteen places higher in the draft could have a greater long term benefit.
Personally, I believe it’s essential the Seahawks identify a quarterback to be a long term starter and do what it takes to bring that person to Seattle. This can be achieved via trade, but a more obvious route is through the draft. With as many as five quarterbacks with a potential first round grade for 2011 – this could be a rare opportunity. Last year – I gave one QB a first round grade (Sam Bradford). This year, there are three certainties (Luck, Newton and Gabbert) and two others (Locker, Mallett) who could easily be drafted amongst the top-15 picks.
Using my most recent mock draft as an example – only Ryan Mallett (QB, Arkansas) could be left on the board at pick #21.
This is all conjecture and speculation at this point, which weakens any argument for preferring draft position over victory. The deadline for underclassmen to declare isn’t until January 15th and of the names listed above – only Locker is guaranteed to be present next April as the sole Senior prospect.
It’d be wrong to suggest there are no benefits to winning the division and making the playoffs. It’d also be wrong to claim there’s no way the Seahawks could manipulate their way into drafting the quarterback of their choice (or any other prospect for that matter) even if the team’s draft position warrants a greater expense by trading up.
Even so, we can’t simply ignore that this is a unique situation we may never see again in the NFL. Has there ever been a team that could own a pick in the top six or 32nd overall going into week 17?
Would it be akin to sweeping dust under the rug and hoping it’ll go away to think this team doesn’t need more top-ten talent after a largely disappointing season which could end with an unlikely flourish?
Current 2011 NFL Draft order after week 16
*Strength of schedule (opponent win percentage) is in brackets.
1. Carolina Panthers – 2-13 (.575)
2. Denver Broncos – 4-11 (.508)
3. Cincinnati Bengals – 4-11 (.579)
4. Buffalo Bills – 4-11 (.583)
5. Arizona Cardinals – 5-10 (.458)
6. San Francisco 49ers – 5-10 (.492)
7. Dallas Cowboys – 5-10 (.521)
8. Houston Texans – 5-10 (.525)
9. Detroit Lions – 5-10 (.550)
10. Cleveland Browns – 5-10 (.575)
11. Seattle Seahawks – 6-9 (.488)
12. Tennessee Titans – 6-9 (.504)
13. Washington Redskins – 6-9 (.513)
14. Minnesota Vikings – 6-9 (.513)
15. New England Patriots (Oakland) – 7-8 (.471)
16. Miami Dolphins – 7-8 (.538)
17. Jacksonville Jaguars – 8-7 (.450)
18. San Diego Chargers – 8-7 (.458)
19. New York Giants – 9-6 (.454)
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 9-6 (.479)
21. St. Louis Rams – 7-8 (.442)
22. Indianapolis Colts – 9-6 (.475)
23. Green Bay Packers – 9-6 (.521)
24. Kansas City Chiefs – 10-5 (.408)
25. Philadelphia Eagles – 10-5 (.483)
26. New York Jets – 10-5 (.496)
27. New Orleans Saints – 11-4 (.463)
28. Chicago Bears – 11-4 (.467)
29. Baltimore Ravens – 11-4 (.488)
30. Pittsburgh Steelers – 11-4 (.504)
31. Atlanta Falcons – 12-3 (.488)
32. New England Patriots – 13-2 (.504)