Before any criticism is leveled, there is little dispute that the Seahawks have had major hits in some of their more recent drafts.
DK Metcalf at the end of the second round in 2019 stands out. Chris Carson in the seventh round of 2017 is another one. Michael Dickson in the fifth round of 2018, Jarran Reed in the second round of 2016 — both players who have made this team better.
But it is those ones at the top — the ones anticipated for weeks during endless draft coverage and speculation — that continually seem to fall flat.
That’s the perception for now, at least.
The latest example — at least based on what we’ve seen in the preseason — is Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny. The San Diego State product was a surprise selection in 2018 given that most draft boards had him going in the third round. Not that front offices should care too much what mock drafts say, but the pick nonetheless put Penny and the team brass under instant scrutiny.
What’s happened since? First, a solid rookie year in a backup role in which he finished with 419 yards on 85 carries (4.9 yards per attempt). Then, an equally solid second year that, before a Week 14 knee injury, saw him amass 370 yards on 65 carries (5.7 yards per attempt). Then, an almost absent 2020 in which he tallied 34 yards on 11 carries.
One couldn’t have predicted the ACL tear when Penny was drafted. Nor could one — or at least many — have foreseen Carson emerging as an elite, first-string running back in 2018 given his limited production the previous season.
But given how Alex Collins seemingly outplayed Penny in the preseason, leaving many to wonder what his role might be this year, it re-raises the question: What’s up with the Seahawks’ first overall picks?
There isn’t enough information on linebacker Jordyn Brooks, the team’s first overall selection in 2020, to make any real evaluation. With K.J. Wright no longer starting in his way, we’ll learn more.
But there’s defensive end L. J. Collier, the Seahawks’ first overall pick in 2019. He barely played in his rookie season, seemingly due to inadequacy, but then made his way into the starting lineup last year, when he recorded three sacks. He has for now shed the “bust label” — though that is still on the table if he falls off in 2021 — but it’s hard to say he’s had an influence commensurate with being a first-round pick.
Penny went in the top round for the Seahawks in 2018, but it was their first pick in 2017 — defensive tackle Malik McDowell — that may be their most infamous. There were already some character questions about McDowell coming out of Michigan State. Shortly after Seattle selected him early in the second round, he injured himself on an ATV and never played a down at Lumen Field.
Multiple arrests followed, as did a lawsuit from the Seahawks alleging he never paid his signing bonus back. Might there have been louder criticism if McDowell was a high first-rounder? Sure. But this was still an unmitigated disaster.
Right tackle Germain Ifedi was the team’s first pick in 2016 (31st overall) and, well, he’s somewhere between a hit and a whiff. He plagued the team with penalties and didn’t sign an extension. But he did start every game he was healthy for Seattle, missing just three games in four years. Either way, it was a single at best for a first-rounder.
To Seattle’s credit, Frank Clark, its top pick in 2015 gave them four years of quality production — including a monstrous 13 sacks in 2018. But before that it was Paul Richardson (meh) in 2014, and Christine Michael (less than meh) in 2013.
The key ingredient in the Seahawks’ success in the Pete Carroll and John Schneider era has been their draft picks. From Russell Wilson to Richard Sherman to Earl Thomas to Kam Chancellor to Bobby Wagner to Wright, they have flooded the roster with future Hall of Famers and Ring of Honor inductees. But of all those names, only Thomas was a first-round pick.
You can’t go too hard on Schneider and Carroll. They have gotten this team to the playoffs in eight of the past nine seasons, an improbable feat in today’s NFL. But Penny, at least for now, reminds folks of some whiffs at the top. There have been more than just a couple.