RENTON — With their highest draft pick since 2010 the Seattle Seahawks did what they did then — select a left tackle they are confident can hold down the position for years, taking Charles Cross of Mississippi State ninth overall.
It was the first time the Seahawks made a pick inside the top 10 since selecting left tackle Russell Okung sixth overall in 2010, the first draft for general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll.
The Seahawks mentioned impressive athleticism, how well he played in two games against powerhouse Alabama and what Carroll called “great work habits” in attributes that drew them to Cross.
“The guy just checks all the boxes,” Schneider said.
The pick was the only one the Seahawks made on the first day as they — despite rumors that they could try to move up or down — did not make a trade.
Seahawks general manager John Schneider said they had an opportunity to move up “that disappeared” and a couple to move down that also “disappeared” but said that Cross was their target all along at nine.
“He came to us, so we were pretty blessed that he was there,” Schneider said of Cross, who had been projected as a top-10 pick.
The Seahawks have three picks on day two of the draft Friday — Nos. 40 and 41 in the second round and 72 in the the third.
“It’s going to be awesome,” Schneider said.
The Seahawks could use one of those to target a quarterback as only one was taken in the first round — Kenny Pickett of Pitt to the Pittsburgh Steelers. QBs remaining include Malik Willis of Liberty, Matt Corral of Ole Miss, Desmond Ridder of Cincinnati and Sam Howell of North Carolina, all of whom were regarded as potential first-rounders by some analysts.
That only Pickett was selected confirmed that there are significant questions about the potential of the quarterbacks in this class.
Cross fills a huge need for the Seahawks as they entered the draft with just three offensive tackles on the roster — second-year players Jake Curhan, Greg Eiland and Stone Forsythe.
They have not signed either of last year’s starting tackles, Duane Brown on the left side and Brandon Shell on the right — each of whom remain free agents.
Brown has been the Seahawks’ starting left tackle since midway through the 2017 season, but he turns 37 in August and has battled a chronic knee issue the last few years and there had been wide speculation heading into the draft they could look to find his successor.
Okung filled the left tackle spot from 2010-15, anchoring the line in 2013 when the Seahawks won the Super Bowl. After they went with George Fant in 2016 but saw him get injured in the 2017 preseason, the Seahawks pulled off a midseason deal for Brown, who has held down the left-tackle spot since.
The Seahawks will turn that spot over to Cross, who was considered one of three offensive tackles worthy of going in the top 10.
The other two went before the Seahawks picked — Ikem Ekonwu of North Carolina State to Carolina with the sixth pick and Evan Neal of Alabama to the Giants at seven.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said seeing the other two tackles go before they had a shot made him a little nervous.
“We were doing a little cheerleading in there (for Cross to fall),” Carroll said.
Carroll said he didn’t overlook that his run in Seattle started with drafting Okung and that the Seahawks are taking another left tackle as they attempt to build another winner in the post-Russell Wilson era.
“It’s a great place to start,” Carroll said of finding a young left tackle to serve as a pillar of the offensive line. “It really is.”
Cross, who was one of 21 potential draftees to attend the draft in Las Vegas, said he was not surprised to be taken by the Seahawks, noting he had an official visit with the team at the NFL scouting combine and a few Zoom calls.
“I felt pretty good about them,” Cross said. “… I kind of expected it, to be honest.”
Cross was generally considered as the best pass-blocking tackle available in the draft, while playing in the pass-happy system of former Washington State coach Mike Leach, who left the Cougars for Mississippi State following the 2019 season.
The question will be how well he can adapt to the NFL at just 21 years old and coming out as a redshirt sophomore, and how quickly he adapts to NFL run blocking.
But Carroll said he doesn’t think run blocking will be an issue, noting Cross’ athleticism and basketball background.
“It won’t be a big transition at all,” Carroll said.
Cross allowed just 16 pressures in 719 pass-blocking snaps in 2021, including two sacks, a vast improvement after he allowed 33 in 574 in 2020 (and six sacks) his first season as a starter (he also played 22 snaps as a freshman in 2019 before redshirting).
That pass-block ability stood out most to the Seahawks, Carroll saying “when you think left tackle, you think pass protection. That’s really the first thought.”
Cross measured at 6 feet, 4-3/4 inches and 307 pounds at the combine but says he is up to 315 pounds and Carroll said he thinks Cross will “naturally” grow into a playing weight in the 320s over the next few years.
Wrote Pro Football Focus of Cross: “Cross was a former top recruit who was thrown to the fire in a big way when Mike Leach took over in 2020. He went from 11 pass-blocking snaps in 2019 to 574 in 2020. He struggled a bit, understandably, allowing 44 pressures. But as a redshirt sophomore in 2021, Cross showed up a different animal. He only allowed 16 pressures, and his run blocking prowess took a gigantic step forward. He still hasn’t done a ton of NFL concepts in the run game, which should be a steep learning curve in the league.”
With Cross coming in to play the left side, the question remains if the Seahawks are satisfied on the right. Curhan started five games at right tackle last season and is a contender for that spot again this year, but Carroll has said the Seahawks hope to bring in competition.
Per the league’s collective bargaining agreement, Cross will get a four-year contract worth up to $24,486,370 including a signing bonus of $14,988,268, according to OvertheCap.com. Cross will count $4.45 million against the salary cap in 2022.
First-round picks also include a team option for a fifth year to be exercised after the third year of the deal.
The pick the Seahawks used on Cross was acquired from as part of the trade of Wilson to Denver. The Seahawks have four more picks over the next two years as part of that deal, including the 40th overall pick in the second round on Friday.
Cross becomes the sixth player the Seahawks have drafted from Mississippi State, a list led by linebacker K.J. Wright (fourth round, 2011). Others are WR Louis Clark (10th, 1987), DE John Hilliard (sixth, 2000), OT Floyd “Pork Chop” Womack (fourth, 2001), and OT Justin Senior (sixth, 2017).