RENTON — A key part of the Seahawks’ plan for success in the post-Russell Wilson era rests on the shoulders of the team’s nine-man 2022 draft class, which included four picks in the top 72 — the first time they had four of the first 72 picks since their second draft in 1977.
It was a class that generally drew rave reviews from draft analysts, getting almost all As and Bs, with the consensus that the Seahawks had smartly addressed most of their key areas of need (aside from quarterback, which was a shallow position in the draft).
With training camp two weeks old and the first preseason game just a few days away — the Seahawks open Saturday at Pittsburgh with kickoff at 4 p.m. — it’s a good time to assess the progress of the rookies and where they are on the depth chart.
Left tackle Charles Cross (first round, ninth overall pick): Cross, out of Mississippi State, has been entrenched as the starting left tackle since the day he arrived with no real competition for the job (second-year player Stone Forsythe is his backup). One veteran impressed by Cross is defensive end Shelby Harris, who is in his ninth year with the league and first in Seattle after coming from Denver in the Wilson trade.
“He’s a really solid rookie,” Harris said. “Big, strong, physical hands, good feet. Obviously, playing at Mississippi State, they didn’t run the ball much, but they pass protect. A good pass protector, strong, good bend, athletic, really everything, he has all the physical traits you want in an offensive tackle. And, every game, every snap, every practice rep, he’s just going to keep getting better and better.”
Linebacker Boye Mafe (second round, 40th pick): Mafe, out of Minnesota, has typically been working with the second-team defense behind veteran Uchenna Nwosu. Coach Pete Carroll said recently they will try to ease him in some by limiting his role at the beginning.
“We can specialize him to be more of a pass rusher,” Carroll said. “That’s kind of how we are starting off with him, so we can help him transition quickly. He’s played the same position basically in college, but it’s how you look at it and we think we will put him as a rusher, hand down, and let’s get after it. It’s the best mode for him to be in right now.”
Running back Ken Walker III (second round, 41st pick): Walker has usually been the backup running back in the base offense behind Rashaad Penny and has also gotten some use as a kickoff returner. He has also shown good receiving ability and could get on the field in passing downs if his blocking continues to progress.
“I think he’s doing great,” offensive coordinator Shane Waldron said recently of Walker’s pass blocking.
Right tackle Abraham Lucas (third round, 72nd pick): The Washington State product is competing with Jake Curhan for the starting right tackle spot (with Forsythe also having played there some). Lucas started the mock game Saturday, but indicating the closeness of the competition, Curhan has worked with the starters at right tackle in practice this week.
Speaking this week of Cross and Lucas, Carroll said: “I don’t see anything holding those guys back other than just the time and the experience. Nothing but positives right now. They’re going to get a lot of play time this weekend.”
Cornerback Coby Bryant (fourth round, 109th overall pick): The former Cincinnati standout has worked as the backup at left cornerback behind Sidney Jones IV. He also has played on the right side and this week has been used at nickel. And with Jones and starting right corner Artie Burns out, Bryant has often lined up with the starters this week at left cornerback. That versatility seems certain to get him on the field somehow this season.
“He’s such a well-rounded football player,” Carroll said this week of Bryant and using him at nickel. “The playmaking ability has really shown up. There might be more opportunities for him to do more things, be more available to make plays.”
Cornerback Tariq Woolen (fifth round, 153rd overall pick): The former University of Texas-San Antonio standout has been as impressive as any rookie, having worked as the starting right corner in practice for the last week after Jones’ injury (and Burns switching sides). Woolen has made plays in just about every practice and has almost never gotten beat deep, pretty much the No. 1 requirement of any defensive back in Carroll’s system.
Said Carroll this week of the 6-foot-4 Woolen, who has been clocked in 4.26 in the 40: “I’ve never seen a guy better equipped to take it. And he makes it look easy at times, and that’s a really good trait. We have to just see. He hasn’t done anything yet, but we’re on our way.”
Linebacker Tyreke Smith (fifth round, 158th overall pick): The Ohio State product has been the one disappointment in the rookie class for his inability to stay healthy. Smith has rarely practiced because of issues with both hips and has no firm ETA on his return.
“He aggravated the other side of his hip,” Carroll said Tuesday. “I can’t tell you (when he’ll be back). It’s not a good sign for him making progress right now. It’s one thing or another. When he was out here, he flashed really well. He’s really solid. Everybody said look at this guy. And then we couldn’t see him anymore so we couldn’t look at this guy.”
Receiver Bo Melton (seventh round, 229th overall pick): Melton, out of Rutgers, has been working primarily with as one of the receivers in the rotation with the second- and third-team offenses and on special teams, including as a kickoff returner. At the moment, Melton appears to be on the bubble for a spot on the 53-man roster, with his performance in preseason games sure to play a big role in his future.
Receiver Dareke Young (seventh round, 233rd overall pick): Young has worked similarly to Melton, mostly with the second and third units. Young, out of Lenoir-Rhyne, had some nice moments in the mock game with two catches for 29 yards might have the best chance of the two rookie receivers of making the 53-man roster.