There is no simple answer to why Seattle has stumbled in recent drafts. Many factors are at play, but one thing is certain: The lack of impact players the last five years was a huge contributor to the Seahawks finishing 9-7 and missing the postseason for the first time since 2011.
If the Seahawks under Pete Carroll and John Schneider once appeared to have the magic touch when it came to the NFL draft, they’ve been grasping for air when reaching into their little black hat a bit too often the last few years.
The numbers paint a pretty stark picture.
During the first three drafts of the Carroll/Schneider era from 2010-12, Seattle selected 28 players. Eight have made at least one Pro Bowl appearance with 19 emerging as a starter for at least one season (a list that does not include receiver Doug Baldwin, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011 and who has made two Pro Bowls).
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In the five drafts since, Seattle has picked 49 players, just one of whom has made a Pro Bowl (Tyler Lockett once as a return specialist in 2015) with only 11 emerging as a starter for at least one season (also, no signed undrafted free agents have emerged as Pro Bowlers).
It’s too early to fully judge the last two drafts, and maybe players such as Nazair Jones, Nick Vannett and others will emerge as the difference makers the team hopes they can be.
But the book can pretty much be closed on the drafts from 2013-15 when Seattle selected 28 players, just three of whom remain — Justin Britt, Frank Clark and Lockett — and just six who were starters for Seattle for any significant period.
And of all the reasons cited for the team’s slide to a 9-7 record last season and out of the playoffs for the first time since 2011, there may be no bigger or obvious factor than the lack of impact players in the draft the past five years, a trend the team knows it has to correct as another draft begins Thursday.
So what changed as the Seahawks went from the team that once seemed to have all the answers at draft time to one that has selected a few too many question marks?
Here are five oft-cited possibilities, in no particular order.
Winning big and drafting lower
Everybody loves the stories of the players taken in late rounds who become superstars, such as Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman, drafted in the fifth round in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
But the reality is that the higher a player is drafted, the better his chance of success.
Consider that 42 of the 70 players selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame since 1977 were taken among the top 19 picks.
Carroll and Schneider got their Seahawks tenure off to a great start with the picks of left tackle Russell Okung at No. 6 and safety Earl Thomas at No. 14 in their first draft in 2010 following the Jim Mora-led 5-11 season of 2009.
Okung and Thomas manned key positions on the 2013 Super Bowl winners and have combined for eight Pro Bowl appearances.
But Seattle hasn’t drafted higher than No. 15 since (taking Bruce Irvin at that spot 2012), and due to winning a lot hasn’t entered the draft with a pick higher than 26 since 2013.
Granted, Seattle has made a habit of trading out of the first round, notably for Percy Harvin in 2013 and Jimmy Graham in 2015.
But drafting later throughout all seven rounds has made a difference.
Seattle has made just four picks inside the top 50 and 10 in the top 90 since 2012, or an average of two per year.
It’s hard to keep hitting on the mid-to-late rounders as spectacularly as Seattle once did and picking later in the draft has narrowed the margin for error considerably.
Regressing to the mean
History shows that any NFL team with a long run of drafting well eventually hits a drought, and few expected Seattle could continue to hit as consistently as it did from 2010-12.
A recent study by FootballPerspective.com, looking specifically at the 2012 draft, concluded that drafting success may be much more a matter of luck, chance and random occurrence than people might think.
“Maybe Seattle used to be a good drafting team, but if so, it was a fleeting occurrence, lasting from the 2nd through 7th rounds of the 2012 draft,’’ wrote author Chase Stuart. “Maybe some teams are good at drafting, but if so, they’re only good at drafting until the moment when they stop being good at drafting, which tends to happen without any notice.’’
Drafting for need
Schneider has resisted the idea that the Seahawks draft for specific need, having said that drafting for need tends to get a team in trouble. He has said that teams are better off over the long run accumulating the best talent possible.
Maybe Seattle’s best pick ever was blasted because it didn’t appear to fill an immediate need — the selection of Russell Wilson in the third round in 2012 shortly after the Seahawks signed free agent Matt Flynn as their apparent next starting quarterback.
But some wonder if the Seahawks didn’t get away at least a little bit from the best-player-available approach after the rise of the team in 2012.
That is pretty hard to prove without knowing how Seattle’s draft board was lined up, and certainly the picks of Okung and Thomas in 2010 were designed to fill obvious needs, as were others during the 2010-12 era.
But at least one former longtime NFL exec thinks Seattle may have inevitably changed its approach as it had All-Pros manning certain positions — and thus, no need to draft corners or safeties or middle linebackers — and focused on areas of apparent need.
“I would say on the surface I think obviously Pete and John love competition and they were sort of getting started and everything was fresh and they really had some excellent hits — third, fourth, fifth, sixth rounds, a lot of undrafted free agents and they built that culture and that wave of players sort of came through,’’ said Phil Savage, a former director of player personnel with the Baltimore Ravens and now a host on SiriusXM NFL. “And then I think they tried to be a little bit more position specific in terms of their selections, that we need this or we need that. And I think sometimes when you start drafting for need rather than we think that this prospect is going to add to the fabric of our competition there, sometimes you can run into some problems.’’
The loss of Scot McCloughan
The collaborative nature of a draft makes it hard to lay the credit or blame on any one person, and ultimately everything stops with Carroll and Schneider.
But some wonder how much recent drafts have been impacted by the loss of McCloughan, the Senior Personnel Executive, who resigned for personal reasons in April 2014.
McCloughan, who got a significant amount of credit for helping assemble the San Francisco teams that helped get the 49ers to three straight NFC title games from 2011-13, was hired by Seattle in June, 2010, called at the time by Schneider “a proven talent evaluator.’’
Many viewed Schneider and McCloughan, who each got their start in the Packers organization in the 1990s, as working in lockstep in building the roster during the 2010-13 period.
“I would say that obviously Scot is well known for his personnel and evaluation abilities, so has it had an impact? You would assume so to a degree,’’ Savage said. “You look at all these teams, there are people that work in those number two, number three, number four roles that can have more influence at different times through the years. But usually your best personnel departments are not built on one person.’’
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After a stint as Washington’s GM, McCloughan is now working with the Browns.
Missing on the offensive line
If there’s a position group that has most ailed the Seahawks the last few years it has obviously been the offensive line.
The Seahawks allowed some veterans to leave via free agency (Okung, James Carpenter, J.R. Sweezy, Breno Giacomini) and traded Max Unger, and they have been unable to adequately replace them with draft picks.
Contrary to perception, it isn’t because Seattle hasn’t tried. The Seahawks have drafted 16 offensive linemen since 2010, the most in the NFL, and at least one each season.
But of those 16, only Okung has made a Pro Bowl (Unger was drafted in 2009, before Carroll and Schneider arrived).
And the Seahawks have had particular trouble finding contributors in the mid-to-late rounds since 2013. Seattle has drafted eight offensive linemen in the fourth round or later since 2013, only one of whom remains on the roster, center Joey Hunt, taken in the sixth round in 2016. He was on the practice squad most of last season and has started just one game.
While mid-to-late round draftees are always something of a crapshoot, the Seahawks obviously hoped for better than what they have gotten.
Most notable among the misses was taking Terry Poole, who has yet to play a down in the NFL, with pick number 130 in 2015, one spot before the Patriots drafted Shaq Mason, who has started 41 games the last three seasons.
The Seahawks, though, have taken a step to address this issue by firing offensive line coach Tom Cable, regarded as having uncommon say over who the team drafted up front. Signifying Cable’s apparent influence, for a few years he was the only assistant coach the team made available for media interviews during the draft.
Of the Seahawks’ 49 draft picks since 2013, Tyler Lockett’s 2015 Pro Bowl appearance as a return specialist is the lone among them. Here, we look at Seattle’s first pick of each draft and the next Pro Bowler selected. In 2015, that just happened to be the Seahawks’ next pick, Lockett.