The first day of the NFL draft for the Seahawks featured the usual moves down — two trades of first-round picks that netted four additional choices in later rounds — and then a move to get a player who the team thinks is on his way up, TCU defensive end L.J. Collier.
If the two trades fit the expected Seahawks mold, so, too, does the team feel Collier is a perfect match.
A 6-2, 283-pounder, Collier overcame personal tragedy — the death of his mother to cancer during his freshman year of college — and a slow start on the field to emerge as a first-round pick, the kind of emotion-laden backstory the Seahawks have found hard to resist.
“We fell in love with the fact that he had a big chip on his shoulder,” said Seattle coach Pete Carroll of Collier, who said he had 25 people in his graduating class at Munday, Texas High School, a town with a listed population of 1,300 in the northern middle part of the state, about 75 miles from Abilene.
“Small town in Texas,” said Seahawks general manager John Schneider. “He’s representing his town. It’s a big deal to him. He pretty much knows everybody in the town. Friday night lights, think of that, you know. It’s a pretty cool deal.”
The two trades — the first with the Packers and the second with the Giants — mean that Seattle will have nine total picks in the draft after entering the week with just four, with one pick remaining in the second, one in the third, four in the fourth and two in the fifth. Seattle’s remaining picks over the final two days are 37, 92, 114, 118, 124, 132, 142 and 159.
“We really feel like we’re back in the mix in this draft in 2019 and we’re looking forward to the rest of the weekend,” Schneider said.
And the Collier pick means Seattle adds to a defensive line that appeared to be the team’s biggest need entering the draft, something that grew even more urgent after trading Frank Clark earlier this week, a deal that netted the Seahawks an extra first-round pick that it was then able to use to make the trades Thursday.
Collier, whose style of play has often been compared to former Seahawk Michael Bennett, is regarded as a best fit as a five-tech defensive end and had 14.5 sacks in three years at TCU.
“I’m a hard-nosed physical guy,” he said. “I play every down. I’m not just a pass rusher. I’m an all-around player.”
He played primarily tackle in his first two seasons with TCU before moving to end as a senior when he made a career-high six sacks. Collier said the Seahawks told him he could play either spot, but primarily end with the ability to move inside when needed — as Bennett was used during his Seattle career.
“He’s going to play five technique for us,” Carroll said. “He’s very flexible and can move around. The guy that I saw pop up on the TV that he’s a lot like is Michael Bennett. He has the versatility and the style and the penetration ability, he’s really slippery. He has terrific pass rush makeup and so we’re going to fit him right in the scheme in that regard and look forward to that. You could see it early on that he had that kind of stuff to him. He’s really long and has good length to him, (he has) a really nice pass rush bag of tricks. He’s got all the stuff. We think we have something really special in him
Seattle picked Collier at 29, the selection it got earlier in the week in the Clark deal, a pick that not everyone necessarily saw coming — .he was listed as fourth- or fifth-rounder by many draftniks before a breakout performance at the Senior Bowl and then posting solid numbers at the Combine, punctuated by a 30-inch vertical and 4.91-second 40-yard dash.
“I’m on cloud nine man,” said Collier, who was holed up for the draft in a hotel room in Frisco, Texas, with 20-30 family members. “It’s a crazy feeling.”
Collier took one of his pre-draft trips to Seattle and said Thursday night he thinks that helped seal the deal with the team.
“I had a great visit,” he said. “It was fun. I knew we hit it off right then and there.”
He had also met with the Seahawks at the Senior Bowl where he said he answered a command to see how long he could keep his eyes open by doing so for “four to five minutes. … They had a game on at the time of the Senior Bowl and I was watching that so it wasn’t hard at all.”
Carroll and Schneider laughed that it wasn’t that long, Carroll smiling and saying “he’s a competitor.”
And that’s what mattered most.
The Seahawks have often found themselves attracted to players who have shown they can overcome some bumps in the road along the way and Collier fits that bill. He lost his mother, Ruby, to cancer after his freshman season at TCU and saw the field sparingly during his early years there.
“My mother means the world to me,” Collier said Thursday night after fulfilling a dream they once shared of making it to the NFL. “She’s watched me play every game and she believes in me all the time. I know that she was thinking of me tonight and she was with me here tonight. That’s why I’m going to give it my all because I’m going to give my all for her like I did in college and nothing’s changed. I’m still hungry and I’m still ready to go.”
Collier worked his way into TCU’s system in what Schneider and Carroll called a “complicated” defensive scheme before becoming a full-time startre as a senior. That perseverance impressed the Seahawks.
“He lost his mother when he was a freshman in college and he didn’t play well in the last game that she saw and he’s always used that to his advantage,” Schneider said.
Said Carroll: “He’s been through a lot of stuff and he understands a lot of aspects and he handled himself really well.”
And he didn’t forget the road he took to get to this point in the excitement of Thursday night, throwing a shoutout to a favorite place to eat as he talked about his hometown.
“It’s a small football town,” he said. “Everybody loves football out there. I graduated with 25 people and it was a great place to grow up, I loved it. Allsup’s is a good place to get a burrito. It’s a good place, I really enjoyed growing up there. I grew up with some good, competitive athletes and we had a good time.”
Before taking Collier Seattle had earlier traded its pick at 21 to Green Bay to get the 30th pick and pick up two fourth-round selections — 114 and 118.
That then gave Seattle the 29th and 30th picks and lots of time to decide what to do — the Seahawks technically had 20 minutes with teams allowed 10 minutes per pick.
As they decided to take Collier they then also traded the 30th pick to the Giants and acquired the 37th overall pick as well as Nos. 132 and 142 for moving down seven spots. Seattle already had picks 92, 124 and 159 and will now add the other five
It was the eighth straight year Seattle has traded its original first-round pick — the last time Seattle used it was for offensive lineman James Carpenter in 2011 at 25.
It’s also the second straight year Seattle has traded with Green Bay to move down in the first round and acquire more picks.
In 2018 the Seahawks moved down from 18 to 27 to acquire picks in the third and sixth rounds.
The draft had been billed as being especially strong on defense, and especially in linemen, and the picks bore that out — four of the first seven an five of the first nine and seven of the first 13 selections and nine of the first 17 and 10 of the first 19 were defensive ends or tackles, something Schneider called “crazy.”
“That run on defensive players and defensive linemen,” he said. “There wasn’t an offensive linemen taken in the top 10. We were waiting for offensive linemen to start going and they never went.
Seattle had just four picks entering the week thanks to three trades over the previous 18 months that cost the Seahawks their selections in the second round (Duane Brown), sixth round (Brett Hundley) and seventh (Shalom Luani).
The two trades down means Seattle has now made 15 trades during the draft in which it has traded a pick or picks to move down and get more since Carroll and Schneider took over in 2010.