2012 NFL Draft, Round One. The Seattle Seahawks, freshly removed from two 7-9 seasons, traded back with the Philadelphia Eagles from #12 to #15 to await their chance at improving their roster.
They had already had a busy off-season. They signed free agent Green Bay Packers QB Matt Flynn and Tennessee Titans DT Jason Jones, while re-signing “Beast Mode” RB Marshawn Lynch and DE Red Bryant.
The Seahawks were rumored to be interested specifically in QB Ryan Tannehill and, perhaps more realistically, LB Luke Kuechly. But the Miami Dolphins picked up Tannehill with the 8th overall selection, while the Carolina Panthers snagged Kuechly right afterwards at nine.
With the addition of Flynn, the hopeful return to health of WR Sidney Rice, and the re-signing of Lynch, perhaps the Seahawks could give OL coach Tom Cable another top prospect up front, especially after allowing 50 sacks despite finishing 25th in pass attempts in 2011. The Seahawks used a 2009 2nd round pick on C Max Unger, the ninth overall selection on LT Russell Okung in 2010 (head coach Pete Carroll and general manager and former Packers executive John Schneider’s first draft choice), and the first two 2011 draft picks on 1st round pick RT James Carpenter (torn ACL) and 3rd round pick RG John Moffitt. Perhaps G David DeCastro was a fit?
Of course, the Seahawks also had a strong defense that had as much to do with the Seahawks winning five of their last eight games as the emergence of Lynch. The Seahawks’ secondary grew up nicely, and the run defense allowed less than 4 yards a carry and only 10 TDs. The Seahawks only had 33 sacks though, 11 of them by DE Chris Clemons. While Jones helps the interior pass rush, it was clear Seattle would go for a pass rusher on the edge.
And by time the Seahawks were on the clock, there wasn’t a single pass-rushing DE or OLB selected yet. The Seahawks had their pick from everybody, so who would it be? Courtney Upshaw? Whitney Mercilus? Nick Perry, who played for Carroll at USC? Melvin Ingram? Chandler Jones? Shea McClellin? Quinton Coples?
With the 15th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Seattle Seahawks selected Bruce Irvin, DE, West Virginia.
Irvin was thought to be a third day selection before he was arrested shortly after his Pro Day for disorderly conduct and destruction of property. On the field, Irvin is exactly what Pete Carroll wants for his defense: a dynamic pass rusher. Carroll believes that Irvin’s ability to accelerate into quarterbacks was the best in the draft, as he had 22.5 sacks in 26 games at WVU. He lacks the bulk and instincts to be a base defender in the front seven, which is the football reason why folks are at alarms over Irvin’s mid-first round status. His off-season arrest and challenging past (high school dropout, juvenile hall stint) only adds to the concern regarding Irvin’s ability to be an impact professional.
Here’s my take. I believe Carroll is going to make Irvin as comfortable as possible as a pro, and something should be said for Irvin for completing his GED, enrolling in junior college, and making his way to West Virginia. His responsibility in Seattle will simply be to rush the passer at an exceptional level. Carroll is a master motivator and prioritizes his relationship with players. The Seahawks also knew that just because he was looked at as a third day pick by the draft community doesn’t mean that the Seahawks would have had a shot at him after the first round. If you want a player and believe you won’t get him elsewhere, you best take him when you have the chance. The Seahawks weren’t alone in their assessment that Irvin was a special pass rusher, and they would not have been the only organization that believes they can keep him focused as a professional. And because they believe they don’t need to rely on Irvin to start, the onus is on Irvin to validate the Seahawks.
Seattle’s drafting of Bruce Irvin is the kind of bold, confident move that winning franchises do. It is better for them to get the guy they wanted and let the media and fans pan the selection, than it is to be Matt Millen’s Detroit Lions. People loved their selections of Joey Harrington and Charles Rogers, perfect fits at the time until they showed their true value over time. This is not to say Irvin will not be a bust; he most definitely could, especially if he doesn’t develop his pass rushing arsenal and falls victim to the trappings of a pro-level salary. I just feel it is more important to understand the situation a player is going into and the expectations of the player than it is to “win” the draft in the eyes of fans and the media. I like Bruce Irvin to Seattle more than, let’s say, Aaron Maybin to Buffalo. Time will tell.
Now to quickly assess the other head-scratching Seahawks’ selections:
-Many folks thought of Utah State MLB Bobby Wagner as a third day pick as well; of course, the Seahawks grabbed him in the second round. The Seahawks let productive MLB David Hawthorne go in free agency, signing Tennessee Titans MLB Barrett Ruud to replace him. While Ruud was at his best in Tampa Bay with Seahawks defensive coordinator and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebackers coach Gus Bradley, he is not the future at the position. Wagner is a great athlete who is versatile and plays hard. His ability to develop instincts will go a long way in how long it will take for him to start over Ruud.
-Another potential third day pick was Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson. Yes, the Seahawks still have QB Tarvaris Jackson to go along with Flynn and former California PA QB Josh Portis. Yes, Wilson is nowhere close to 6’0″. Yes, Wilson was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 2010. Forget all of that for now, and realize that Carroll is lighting a fire under the entire QB corps by selecting a player who completed 73% of his passes, averaged over 10 yards a pass, and had a TD-INT ratio of 33:4 after transferring from North Carolina State.
-In the fourth round, the Seahawks selected RB Robert Turbin out of Utah State and DT Jaye Howard out of Florida. Turbin is “Beast Mode” insurance as he is a power back with limited burst and some durability questions. He’s in a good spot behind a zone-blocking line. Howard is Jason Jones insurance as a pass rushing DT. Jones is on a one-year deal, so Howard could be more than just depth beyond 2012. His development will be a situation to monitor.
-For the rest of the draft, the Seahawks went after projects. Idaho LB Korey Toomer (5th round) is very athletic, which is code for “special teams until proven otherwise”. Northwestern State CB Jeremy Lane (6th round) is 6’0″/180, and wasn’t a starter until his senior year, but he’s confident and shouldn’t be dismissed because his new head coach put unheralded youngsters Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner in position to start in 2011 with success. Kentucky SS Winston Guy (6th round) should be considered as outgoing SS Atari Bigby’s replacement – important to note since SS Kam Chancellor drops to LB in nickel situations. North Carolina State G J.R. Sweezy (7th round) was a DT in college, but now he will be a project for Tom Cable. Louisville DE Greg Scruggs (7th round) also played DT in college and has the length and athleticism to compete as a replacement for outgoing DE Anthony Hargrove, who had 3 sacks in 2011.
The Seahawks have bought plenty of competition to their roster in many spots with their draft picks, and their most high-profile additions, Bruce Irvin and Russell Wilson, promises to improve the Seahawks’ major weaknesses on both sides of the ball. Irvin needs to produce in his situational role, and if he can have the kind of rookie season that division counterpart Aldon Smith had for the San Francisco 49ers, he will be raved about in Seattle. Wagner must give Ruud competition at MLB to ensure the team doesn’t miss Hawthorne. And Wilson helps to ensure that Flynn will be worth his $10 million guarantee as the Seahawks try and improve from the 16 games of quarterback they received from Jackson and outgoing QB Charlie Whitehurst. Given this context, the Seahawks 2012 draft looks a lot better.