Through three rounds of the 2020 NFL draft, a theme for Seattle’s picks is beginning to emerge.
Each of Seattle’s three selections so far — one in each round — played in a Power Five conference and played a lot, each a starter for at least two full seasons playing on the biggest stages the college game offers.
Each is also at least 22 years of age, and each has overcome a pretty significant personal hardship to get to this point — linebacker Jordyn Brooks of Texas Tech (taken in the first round) was homeless for a while as a youth; the mother of defensive end Darrell Taylor of Tennessee (second) died when he was in high school causing him to skip playing football as a sophomore to recover emotionally; and the father of guard Damien Lewis of LSU (third) was incarcerated for roughly seven years on drug-related charges, which Lewis said meant he had to help raise his three younger brothers.
They are players that the Seahawks view as low-maintenance, if still high-reward.
“Guys that don’t necessarily need a ton of handholding,’’ was the way general manager John Schneider put it.
That may be more important than ever this year due to the changes in life that everybody is enduring because of the novel coronavirus.
Usually, all of Seattle’s draft picks would fly to town over the next week or two and take part in the team’s three-day rookie minicamp, with coaches and other staffers able to immediately get an up close and personal look at their new players.
This year, the minicamp will be conducted virtually, and that means the team will need to have a lot of trust that players they don’t know as well as they do their veterans will put in the required work.
To the Seahawks, the backgrounds of each player provided assurance they will be able to hit the ground running whenever it is that NFL teams can actually get all their players together in one place again.
Brooks was one of Texas Tech’s most dependable players, playing 47 games the last four years, and one of four seniors named to the team’s captains circle last year.
Taylor played all of last season at Tennessee with a stress fracture in his leg that had Schneider wondering how high he would have been drafted had he been healthy – he made 8.5 sacks as it was.
Taylor wouldn’t have been the first player ever with pro aspirations battling an injury in college to decide to make a business decision and maybe ease off things a little. Instead, he started every game for a team whose goals of doing anything major were out the window after a 2-5 start.
“He could have shut it down with his stress fracture,’’ Schneider said. “But even with that he fought through it.’’
Lewis, meanwhile, showed how much football meant to him when he decided to enroll at Northwest Mississippi Community College after he received no four-year offers following his high school career at Canton (Miss.) High.
“I felt like this can’t be my final stop,’’ Lewis said Friday night of going to a JC to keep playing. “Something is out there great for me.’’
To Schneider, that spoke volumes.
“He’s a self-made guy, man,’’ Schneider said of Lewis. “He just rode the bus from his apartment to school every day. Just so many cool things about the guy.’’
In other words, none of three is the kind of risk that, say, then-20-year-old Malik McDowell was in 2017 — even before his ill-fated ATV ride there were questions about McDowell’s commitment to football emanating from how he played during his final season at Michigan State.
And if there are the usual draftnik questions about each player and their NFL fit — as there are basically any draftees — the durability and productivity of each at the college level helps give Seattle a lot of reassurance.
The Seahawks saw Lewis play in the national title game, and saw Taylor play against Georgia and Alabama last year and saw Brooks play against the likes of Oklahoma.
Schneider made that point specifically of Lewis, who started all 15 games last year for LSU as the Tigers marched their way to the national title, saying he’s been playing “big boy football.’’
There were also some hearty recommendations from trusted coaches — Matt Wells, an assistant at UItah State when Bobby Wagner played there is now the head coach at Texas Tech and spoke highly of Brooks.
Lewis, meanwhile, got maybe as high of a recommendation as is possible in the eyes of Carroll, from LSU head coach Ed Orgeron, who was an assistant for Carroll in his early days at USC and got as much credit as any assistant could there for helping Carroll build that dynasty.
“Eddie and I see things square,’’ Carroll said. “So when he’s telling me I’m going to love this kid and think the world of him, I know he’s right. So that does help.’’
Each arrives in Seattle — at some point, anyway — thrust into some pretty big potential roles.
Brooks will get a chance to take over the strongside linebacker spot, and maybe even compete with K.J. Wright at weakside linebacker, with an eye toward eventually even maybe competing with Wagner in the middle.
Taylor will be thrown immediately into the competition for the LEO/rush end spot where the Seahawks drastically need all the help they can get.
At the least Seattle will hope Taylor can play a rotational role in 2020. But they won’t argue if he shows he deserves starter’s snaps.
And Lewis will get a chance to unseat D.J. Fluker as the starting right guard — Fluker has just a year left on his contract and Seattle could save $3.6 million against the cap if he were released.
With what are now 19 offensive lineman on the roster, there will be some really tough decisions, and other than that Duane Brown will be the left tackle there’s almost nothing that seems a total certainty on the offensive line.
Schneider said adding all the linemen this offseason is in an effort to give quarterback Russell Wilson — the highest-paid player in the NFL — as much protection as possible.
“Russ wants grown men in front of him and that’s what this guy is,’’ Schneider said of Lewis.
As are Brooks and Taylor in Seattle’s eyes. Grown in every definition of the word, the way the Seahawks see it, players who as much as any they have drafted in recent years will cherish the opportunity they are being given.
“They all come in with chips on their shoulder,’’ Carroll said.
If that’s maybe one of the bigger clichés around, it’s also one that has undeniably fit the best players the Seahawks have drafted.
Time will tell if any or all of the three have the talent and ability to reach the same heights as so many others Carroll and Schneider have brought to Seattle the last decade.
What the Seahawks aren’t doubting is that each of the three will give it their best shot from the first moment they arrive.
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