RENTON — The Seahawks sent some distinct and straightforward messages Thursday with their first-round pick of offensive tackle Charles Cross from Mississippi State.
First of all, they didn’t get cute, as is their wont (and sometimes their undoing). Drafting in the top 10 for the first time in a decade, they seemingly concluded that the opportunity to land an impact player at a position of need superseded any primordial urge to try to outsmart the room.
And thus, there was no trading down to hoard more picks. There was no selecting a player that the rest of the draft cognoscenti had rated much lower, or one who played a position that is not considered worthy of such a high pick.
No, at No. 9 overall, they went conventional — and that’s a great thing, not a knock. The Seahawks needed a safe bet, not a high-risk stretch. They needed to solidify a position that, by acclamation, is as vital as any on the field.
This was a pick that made you nod your head sagely when you heard it, not slap your forehead in disbelief. Or if there was any disbelief, it was that the Seahawks didn’t go rogue. A team that has made a cottage industry out of defying convention picked a player who was actually linked to them in many mock drafts — virtually unprecedented in the John Schneider-Pete Carroll era. And one who might well be valued higher than his draft spot, having been rated as a top 3 overall talent in the assessment of many.
“We feel like he fell to us,” Schneider said. “There were three guys, right, that everyone kind of saw (as highly rated tackles) and we feel like we were blessed enough to get one of them.”
Schneider said they had opportunities to move up or down in the first round, but the lure of Cross was too great. It was, he said, “a very close cutoff” of players they coveted enough to hold firm at nine — and Cross was perhaps the last one on that list.
It might be mere coincidence that the Seahawks, at a time when they’re trying to recapture the magic of Schneider and Carroll’s early days, went for what Schneider tellingly called “a pillar of a left tackle.” But I doubt it. Not just because the first pick of their regime, at No. 6 overall in 2010, was tackle Russell Okung out of Oklahoma State (“There’s a little irony there,” Carroll said).
More so for what the pick symbolizes, or at least what they hope it does — a return to hardscrabble, “hit them in the mouth” football that is predicated above all else on a fierce running game and protecting the quarterback.
“It’s a great place to start,” Carroll said. “It really is. As you know, when you’re trying to build an offensive line, that left tackle spot is so crucial in all of that. And so that was a nice, nice pick.”
Cross is more renowned as a pass blocker, which is inevitable coming out of Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense. In fact, his pass blocking credentials are impeccable — just two sacks in 719 snaps in 2021, per Pro Football Focus. It’s hard not to ponder the paradox that the Seahawks’ pick coming via the trade of Russell Wilson to Denver yielded the potential fixture of a tackle who can keep the quarterback clean — something Wilson was no doubt craving for years.
Cross said in a conference call with Seattle media that he takes equal pride in his run blocking and believes he can be a force in that area as well. Schneider said he has no doubt about that — and Cross’ dominance in the Southeastern Conference, which the GM said is as close to the NFL as you can find in the college ranks, reinforced that feeling. Cross’ athleticism is off the charts via all the measurables, but the Seahawks had to particularly like his answer when asked what he knew about the organization. It spoke to the unmeasurables that Carroll and Schneider work hard to unearth.
“They have a great program,” Cross said. “They preach physicality, toughness, nastiness.”
Does that describe him?
“It definitely describes me,” he answered without hesitation.
Obviously, that is better proved in action than words, but by all accounts, he fits the bill. Cross later provided what can only be perceived as an illustration of all of the above — particularly toughness — when asked for his best Leach story. He answered by citing one of their first encounters at a practice, in which Cross happened to pull a ligament in his finger.
“That was one of the funniest conversations we had,” Cross said. “He (Leach) was just laughing because I pulled a ligament in my finger — because I was laughing about it, too.”
Said Carroll: “He’s got an attitude to let you know that he’s gonna whip your butt. There’s just nothing that we didn’t like. I mean, really, every aspect of it, the grit that he brings is going to really be a complement to the rest of our guys.”
You want a final message to cull from the way the first round played out for the Seahawks? You can read as much into what they didn’t do as what they did: They didn’t twist their draft board into an accordion to maneuver their way to a quarterback. They didn’t talk themselves into the belief that they had to grab one of the four or five quarterbacks rated as potential first-round fodder in order to ensure a viable competition for QB starter.
Wrap your brain around this reality, folks: The Seahawks are dead serious in their belief that Drew Lock is capable of far more than he displayed in Denver, and they intend to give him every chance to prove it.
This was regarded as a down year in the draft for quarterbacks. Some analysts believe that none of these guys would have been first-round considerations in most years, and are only rated thusly in 2022 by process of elimination. But QBs like Kenny Pickett (the only first-rounder Thursday), Malik Willis and Desmond Ridder have enough tools to have conceivably convinced the Seahawks to take a first-round flyer, if they had genuine doubts about Lock.
But the growing consensus is they don’t — and so they didn’t. That’s not to say they might not take a spin on a quarterback in the second or third round. Wilson, after all, was famously selected in the third round in 2012, became an immediate starter, and won a Super Bowl in his second year.
Russell Wilsons are rare and precious commodities, however. It would be unrealistic to expect a replica 10 years after the original. All signs point to the Seahawks pinning their hopes on unearthing the potential that lies within Lock.
That begins with protecting him from the behemoths on defense who aim to wreak havoc. That process started Thursday — as it needed to.