Of the 38 players the Seahawks have drafted since 2013, only one has been a Pro Bowler — Tyler Lockett as a return specialist.
There may simply have been nowhere for the Seahawks to go but down after three straight drafts from 2010 to 2012 that not only rank as among the best in franchise history but rival any three-year stretch for any team in the history of the NFL.
In those three drafts — the first three for the team under coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider — the Seahawks landed eight players who have played in at least one Pro Bowl, three who have been a first-team All-Pro pick at least twice, a franchise quarterback, and at least five whose contributions already would seem to merit someday landing in the team’s Ring of Honor (and that doesn’t include receiver Doug Baldwin, an undrafted free agent in 2011, who also has made a Pro Bowl).
As longtime Dallas Cowboys personnel exec Gil Brandt said recently: “It’s kind of tough to keep up that pace.”
The first round of the NFL draft starts at 5 p.m. Thursday (ESPN). The Seahawks have the No. 26 overall pick.
And indeed, the draft riches came to a stunning halt in 2013, a year when the Seahawks drafted 11 players, only one of whom remains with the team four years later and could be considered to have ever been a full-time starter at any point — tight end Luke Willson.
The Seahawks could rightly point to the fact that the 2013 draft is generally regarded as among the worst in NFL history, yielding few stars for any teams, and that they hit it big in free agency that year with defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett.
But even three drafts since then have generated either mixed results or a class on whom the jury is still out.
Of the 38 players taken since 2013, only one has been a Pro Bowler — Tyler Lockett as a return specialist — with only five having been essentially a full-time starter for the Seahawks at any time in their careers.
True, the loaded early drafts and free-agent signings that paid off meant breaking into the Seahawks’ roster was harder than ever.
“There were not a lot of holes there for someone to come in and ultimately win a job,” said Phil Savage, a longtime NFL personnel exec who now works for SiriusXM NFL Radio.
But the core built from 2010 to 2012 is now aging — at least seven likely starters on Seattle’s defense next season will be 28 or older (Bennett, Avril, tackle Athyba Rubin, linebacker K.J. Wright, safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor and cornerback Richard Sherman). Baldwin will also be 29 and tight end Jimmy Graham 31 by the end of the season and even quarterback Russell Wilson will be 29 next November.
Add it up, and while every draft is critical in its own way, this year’s draft — set for Thursday to Saturday — might be as pivotal as ever for the Seahawks to add some starting-caliber, if not game-changing, talent.
The bad news is Seattle doesn’t pick until 26.
As Savage notes, “As the team has improved, obviously they are picking a little bit later on a year-to-year basis, so that impacts you getting that difference-maker type talent at times.”
While the Schneider/Carroll Seahawks gained renown for their ability to hit on mid- to late-round picks, it’s also worth remembering that the start of it all was hitting big in their first draft on two picks that were among the top 14 — left tackle Russell Okung at No. 6 and Thomas at 14, players who were each immediate starters at key positions and each made at least one Pro Bowl.
Seattle has not picked higher than 15 since then, and has picked only once earlier than 45 since 2013 (granted, the Seahawks have contributed to that by three times trading their first-round pick).
The good news is that the Seahawks this year have five of the first 106 picks in what is regarded as a particularly deep draft, especially on defense.
And given the suddenly advancing age on defense, this is a draft when the Seahawks could look to take a player at any position other than maybe middle linebacker (held down by Bobby Wagner, who turns 27 in June).
Asked if he has seen anything in the Seahawks’ drafts of the past four years compared to the first three, Savage said he thinks that Seattle inevitably has picked for need a bit more of late with so many positions that were set, which especially holds true on defense.
“They probably tried to target more specific-type players to fill certain backup or special-teams roles,” Savage said.
Indeed, a team that made its name in part by drafting three All-Pro safeties or cornerbacks its first two years has drafted just three safeties since 2011 — two in the sixth and one in the seventh round — and only two cornerbacks since 2012, both in the fifth round. Seattle has also taken just one linebacker since 2012, and that in the fourth round.
Savage points to one other reason Seattle’s drafts have been a little more mixed of late.
“The other thing is they really lean on their coaching staff to really try to develop players and I think sometimes they have rolled the dice on some guys thinking, ‘OK, this kid has got the potential and our coaching staff is going to be able to make him into a player,’ ” Savage said.
That famously worked early with Chancellor, whose size led to questions about whether he could succeed as a safety in the NFL, and Sherman, whose NFL.com draft profile infamously read, “He does not possess the natural coverage instincts, fluidity or burst to be considered a future starter.”
But the projects haven’t paid off quite as often or to that rate (which was admittedly going to be a lot to ask) in recent years.
While Seattle’s drafts have hardly been barren since 2012 — Lockett and Frank Clark were good picks in 2015 and it’s too early to declare much on the 2016 haul other than the first year featured a few too many injuries — the Seahawks got to where they are with the high bar set in those first three drafts.
If it’s a level that was never going to be possible to sustain, it’s one they’ll need to at least approach a little more consistently going forward to achieve Schneider’s oft-stated goal of being a Super Bowl-contending team year in and year out.
|Hits and misses|
|A review of the Seahawks’ seven drafts under GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll:|
|Year||Total picks||Still on team||Other notables||Comment|
|2010||9||2 (S Earl Thomas, S Kam Chancellor)||LT Russell Okung, WR Golden Tate, CB Walter Thurmond||This class was generally given an A at the time for the picks of Okung and Thomas. The payoff down the road of Chancellor makes it look even better.|
|2011||9||2 (LB K.J. Wright, CB Richard Sherman)||OL James Carpenter, LB Malcolm Smith, CB Byron Maxwell, OL John Moffitt||The mid-round picks of Wright (99) and Sherman (154) alone made this a successful draft, if the picks of OLs Carpenter and Moffitt yielded mixed results. Maxwell and Smith were also key parts of the Super Bowl-winning defense. Add in Doug Baldwin as an undrafted free agent, and this class also stands as among the best in team history.|
|2012||10||3 (LB Bobby Wagner, QB Russell Wilson, CB Jeremy Lane)||LB Bruce Irvin, RB Robert Turbin, OL J.R. Sweezy, OL Greg Scruggs||Franchise-level players in Wagner and Wilson make this also a contender for best draft in team history.|
|2013||11||1 (TE Luke Willson)||RB Christine Michael, DLs Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams, CB Tharold Simon||Seattle traded its first- and third-round picks for Percy Harvin, having rated the draft as not as good as the previous few years. It paid off for one glorious Super Bowl Sunday, but otherwise helped lead to a draft that goes down as the worst of the Schneider/Carroll era.|
|2014||9||4 (WR Paul Richardson, OL Justin Britt, DL Cassius Marsh, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis)||WR Kevin Norwood, DB Eric Pinkins||Seattle traded down twice to then acquire Richardson. Only one player has emerged as a consistent starter and seeming sure of a second contract from the team – Britt.|
|2015||8||3 (DL Frank Clark, WR Tyler Lockett, OL Mark Glowinski)||DB Tye Smith, OL Kristjan Sokoli||Getting three starting-type players in Clark, Lockett and Glowinski makes this a serviceable draft, as does landing Thomas Rawls as an undrafted free agent. But getting just one OL of three drafted who remains with the team — Terry Poole and Sokoli are each elsewhere — didn’t help the offensive-line issues of last season.|
|2016||10||9 (OL Germain Ifedi, DL Jarran Reed, RB C.J. Prosise, TE Nick Vannett, DL Quinton Jefferson, OL Rees Odhiambo, RB Alex Collins, C Joey Hunt, WR Kenny Lawler)||Ifedi was the lone player to become a full-time starter, with injuries limiting the likes of Prosise and Jefferson. It hardly needs stating that Seattle needs increased production from this group in 2017.|