It’s a stat that makes sense if you’ve been following the Seahawks relatively closely, but still seems a little jarring when read — since 2011, only one player drafted in the first round by Seattle has become a full-time starter in his rookie season.
Of course, a big part of that is Seattle’s penchant for trading out of the first round — the Seahawks have made just five first-round selections since 2011, including linebacker Jordyn Brooks in April.
Seattle’s first three first-round picks in the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era, which began in 2010, all became immediate starters — safety Earl Thomas and left tackle Russell Okung in 2010 and guard James Carpenter in 2011.
Since then, end/linebacker Bruce Irvin (2012), running back Rashaad Penny (2018) and defensive end L.J. Collier (2019) all had reserve or complementary roles as rookies with only Germain Ifedi in 2016 emerging as a starter his first year.
Which brings us back to Brooks, who as a senior in 2019 at Texas Tech was one of the top inside linebackers in the nation, but whose selection with the 27th overall choice was still somewhat of a surprise given that Seattle has two future Ring of Honorees on hand at the inside linebacker spots (Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright) and drafted two inside linebackers the previous year as potential heirs apparent (Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven).
Brooks could be tried at the outside, or strongside, linebacker spot, but the Seahawks re-signed Irvin to play there, and with a $5.9 million salary cap hit, they didn’t bring Irvin back not to play him as much as possible.
So, how will it all fit together?
That will be one of the more fascinating things to watch once training camp begins in late July and makes it worth taking a deeper look at the linebacking corps now that Seattle has a fully assembled 90-man roster heading into the offseason.
MLB Bobby Wagner
What we know for sure is that Wagner will again start in the middle, entering the first season of the three-year extension he signed last August. What we also know is Wagner will be fully supportive of Brooks, even if Brooks might someday be a possible replacement for Wagner in the middle.
“At the end of the day this is bigger than just football to me,’’ Wagner said last week in a Zoom call with reporters who cover the Seahawks. “This is young men getting a chance live out their dream and provide for their family. That’s how I see it. I don’t really see it the way everybody else sees it. I’m not going to sit here and just not speak to him or whatever. I want him to be as successful as possible. I want him to do as great as possible and I’m excited to have him. I think it’s going to be really fun.”
WLB K.J. Wright/Jordyn Brooks
Brooks figures to get thrown right into the competition at the weakside spot with Wright, who is entering his 10th season and will be 31 in July. Wright recently had surgery on his shoulder but is expected to be ready for the season (Wright reiterated that in an interview on KJR-AM 950 last week, saying his recovery is ahead of schedule).
The team could save $6.5 million if it released Wright, which will continue to fuel speculation about his future, especially depending on how the first few weeks of camp/preseason games unfold. While Brooks could be used outside as well, Carroll indicated after the draft he’d get his first look inside, at the weakside spot.
SLB Bruce Irvin/Brooks/Wright
Recall that Schneider said in a recent KJR-AM interview that Wright also could be tried at the strongside spot. But, as noted, that’s where Irvin is expected to play, used at linebacker in the base defense and then moving up to a rush end spot in passing situations.
One way this could maybe all work is if Seattle decided to use Irvin mostly as a rush end, had Wright play strongside linebacker (where he started much of the 2011 and all of the 2012 seasons) and then used Brooks at WLB. It’s probably the only real logical way to get all three on the field consistently, which Seattle might want to do if Wright shows he’s healthy and able to play that spot well again, and if Brooks shows he’s too good to keep off the field.
So where does Barton fit? He ended last season as the SLB after the injury to Mychal Kendricks, and he might be thrown into that competition, as well, especially if, say, Brooks shows he needs more time and Wright is the WLB. Then Barton could compete with, or more likely be the backup for, Irvin. Barton, though, also could be the backup at both inside spots, and depending on how everything unfolds he could still emerge with a significant role.
Burr-Kirven was the backup last year for Wagner in the middle, and figures to start out there again this year. What that means is that logically, Burr-Kirven will again have to make his way on the team with what he does on special teams. Burr-Kirven had the second-most special-teams snap counts last year of any Seahawk at 306 (Barton was first at 317, via ProFootballReference.com) and that experience should help in year two.
Griffin will be one of the most interesting “on the bubble’’ players in camp. He ended last season playing almost solely in sub packages as a pass rusher, and was third on the depth chart most of the year at the SLB spot behind Kendricks and Barton. But as noted above, the SLB spot is pretty crowded, and the inside spots are, too. Griffin is entering the third year of his rookie deal, when contract situations start to make things a little dicer for players. Griffin has $158,810 in dead money vs. $670,595 in potential cap savings.
But worth remembering is the expanded practice squad to 12 players and expanded eligibility, that anyone is now eligible. A lot of decisions Seattle makes at the end could be influenced by which players the team thinks will clear waivers so they can get them back on the practice squad.
Ellerbee was on Injured Reserve all of last season after playing in four games on special teams in 2018, when he was listed as a strongside linebacker on the depth chart.
Smith signed in December to Seattle’s practice squad after earlier stints last year on the practice squads of the Jaguars and Steelers. He was a two-time Mid-American Conference defensive player of the year at Northern Illinois as a rush end/outside linebacker with 29 sacks in his final two seasons, and could get a look as a pass-rusher in camp this year.