The day will come when the Seahawks can go into a draft intending to take the best player available, regardless of position. That day has not yet arrived. There’s been a lot of discussion over the past week about what the plan may be - would they draft a receiver? Will they select another offensive lineman in round one? Will they take a quarterback? The way I see it, Seattle’s front office aren’t asking those same questions.
From the day this regime took control, it’s obvious they’ve had a clear vision about what they want to get out of a draft – and it’s worked so far. In 2010 they were determined to go left tackle and safety with their two first round picks. Initially, I understand they believed it was possible to draft Eric Berry with the #6 overall pick and Trent Williams at #14. However, as the process developed it became evident that both would be top-five choices. It’s easy to forget in hindsight that for a long time in the build up to the draft, Williams was far from a consensus high pick. His raw athleticism and fit in the ZBS pushed him into Washington’s path at #4, with Berry the next to go at #5 to Kansas City.
As it turns out, the Seahawks were afforded the opportunity to get their left tackle at #6 in Russell Okung and their safety at #14 with Earl Thomas. Schneider has since admitted a trade was in place to move down the board had Philadelphia – who traded into the #13 slot – selected Thomas as many expected. Instead they took Brandon Graham and Seattle got the man and the position they wanted. That’s not to say the Seahawks wouldn’t have had a contingency plan or secondary target (likely a pass rusher) but the clear vision was set out for offensive tackle and safety – and they executed.
Carroll made a point to emphasise the run game following his appointment as coach, yet the Seahawks struggled in that department in 2010. This was to be the heart and soul of the offense, so the fact it was so ineffective in year one moved Carroll to act. In came Tom Cable and the team’s first two picks in the 2011 draft were spent on big offensive lineman. Robert Gallery was later signed in free agency in what became a complete rebuild and re-structure for the run game. It wasn’t a coincidence that Seattle went the way they did in the draft, it was totally calculated. The Seahawks zoned in on improving their offensive line with a view to getting the run game going. It’s not like they didn’t have alternatives – they turned down a lot of talent elsewhere with the two picks that were spent on James Carpenter and John Moffitt.
This year the focus will be on defense and the front seven. Carroll and his staff aren’t satisfied with a one-dimensional pass rush, with all the pressure dependant on Chris Clemons. He was the only player in 2011 to provide consistent production in terms of sacks and he didn’t get much help anywhere else. In the 2012 draft, that will be the next focus area in this big rebuild. We’ve talked about the possible options at #12 overall, but it seems very likely that at least one of Courtney Upshaw, Melvin Ingram or Quinton Coples will be available. That’s as far as we need to look. There won’t be a wide receiver drafted like Justin Blackmon or Michael Floyd, they won’t go after David De Castro or Jonathan Martin. In year one it was tackle and safety, last year it was the offensive line, now it’s the turn of the pass rush.
So far the results within this strategy have been extremely positive. Both Okung and Thomas have been succesful and although Carpenter and Moffitt suffered serious long term injuries in 2011 – the determination to improve the running game and offensive line provoked a much improved ground attack last season. Considering the new regime had to completely rebuild this team from scratch, so far the decision to target specific zones has worked a treat. Improvement within the front seven is the next target by adding another pass rusher and finding improved speed at linebacker. I suspect in twelve months time we’ll be talking about how this team achieved much more pressure on opposition quarterbacks in 2012.
Under Tim Ruskell, the Seahawks tried to address key needs in free agency in order to take a ‘BPA’ approach during the draft based on the strict grading system of the GM. The end result wasn’t good – the Seahawks became an old and expensive bunch without much forward planning. Although Seattle was being aggressive in free agency to fill needs with older players, the draft wasn’t used properly to plan for the long term. Instead, the first round picks were spent on trying to find further impact players who could contribute relatively early. In hindsight it’s fair to say this wasn’t a great strategy – at least for this team – given they went from being a Super Bowl contender to one of the worst teams in the NFL.
The new plan is almost the polar opposite. Sure, Seattle are making calculated moves in free agency. Last year’s additions of Robert Gallery, Sidney Rice and Zach Miller were a throwback to former moves, although it’s fair to say Rice and Miller are a lot younger than the Patrick Kerney’s, Mike Wahle’s, T.J. Houshmandzadeh’s and Julian Peterson’s of the Ruskell era. Yet the moves made after the lockout concluded were supposed to give the team a kick start – a necessary lift to help the rebuild move a little faster. Only Rice was filling a crucial need and one the Seahawks had previously tried to fill by looking into trades for Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson.
The proper team building has been left to the draft – and that will likely become even more of the case over the next few years. The Seahawks will probably make calculated moves that bring value to the team and don’t create big discrepancies between the big earners and the rest of the team. Carroll is building a core of young, hungry players who will compete – not a group of expensive free agents with a diminished motivation due to new-found wealth. While Ruskell would attack an area of the team in free agency, Carroll and Schneider will do the same in the draft. It’s why I don’t think we’ll see this team make Mario Williams the highest paid defensive player in the NFL and why I do think we’ll see a pass rusher drafted with the #12 pick.
And for those questioning the ongoing need at quarterback – I’m sure a time will come when the aggressive team-building approach to the draft turns to the position. In fact, I’d predict that happens in 2013 unless the situation is somehow resolved before then or other more pressing needs emerge. But this year the aim seems extremely clear – and who’d bet against the end-product being a much improved pass rush for the Seahawks in 2012?