To keep their success going, the Seahawks need to beckon the kind of middle- to late-round success that has gone a long way toward building the reputation of John Schneider and Pete Carroll as shrewd drafters.
As always, there is much consternation, and ample discussion, about which player the Seahawks will pick first in next week’s draft. They hold the 26th pick in the first round, one of their nine overall picks, two fewer than last season.
At least, the Seahawks went into last year’s draft with 11 picks before trading three of those to move up in the third round to draft Tyler Lockett.
If there’s one thing we should have learned by now about Pete Carroll and John Schneider it’s that they love wheeling and dealing with their draft picks.
And another: They don’t hold first-round picks nearly as dearly as other organizations, having traded theirs in each of the past three years.
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And a third: They love hoarding picks, believing that bulk is where the value lies, particularly when you have an unwavering belief in your organization’s ability to find hidden gems later in the draft. Of the 11 draft-day trades engineered by Carroll and Schneider in their previous six drafts, nine of them resulted in moving down to acquire more picks.
So when I ponder the Seahawks’ upcoming maneuvering, I’m not going to obsess about whether or not they pick an offensive lineman with the first-round pick. Because there might not be a first-round pick.
Rather, I’m wondering if they can beckon the kind of middle- to late-round magic that has gone a long way toward building the reputation of Schneider and Carroll as shrewd drafters. You can’t do much better than K.J. Wright and Walter Thurmond in the fourth round, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman in the fifth, Byron Maxwell in the sixth round, and Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith and J.R. Sweezy in the seventh round.
Well, unless you look at undrafted free agents signed immediately after the draft, which is where the Seahawks nabbed Thomas Rawls last year, as well as Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Mike Morgan and Garry Gilliam, among others.
Of course, the pick that changed the franchise more than any other was a third-rounder in 2012 — an undersized quarterback named Russell Wilson.
It’s fair to say that all those lower-round picks have had a more profound impact on Seattle’s success than their first-rounders under this regime, with the exception of Earl Thomas. The other first-round picks by Schneider and Carroll were Russell Okung, James Carpenter and Bruce Irvin — all contributors to two Super Bowl teams, but not as high impact as the likes of Wilson, Sherman and Chancellor.
But there’s always a danger of the magic running out, which can be crippling to a team that has spent so much of its cap room to keep its championship core together. They need the hidden gems to fill around the stars, which is why the strategy of trading down and stockpiling picks is so appealing.
No one ever did that more brilliantly than one of Carroll’s mentors, Bill Walsh. The 49ers’ draft in 1986 is widely acclaimed as the best, or at least the shrewdest, in NFL history. Starting the draft with eight picks, four in the first five rounds, Walsh executed a flurry of trades down that left him with 13 picks, eight in the first five rounds. And those picks yielded not only future Hall of Famer Charles Haley in the fourth round and Super Bowl hero John Taylor in the third, but a mind-boggling string of major contributors — as well as a future second-round pick Walsh parlayed into a trade for another Hall of Famer, Steve Young.
That haul might never be replicated, but Schneider is on record saying he likes trading out of the first round to acquire more picks. Actually, twice in the last three years they’ve traded their first-rounder to acquire established stars, with mixed results — Percy Harvin in 2013 and Jimmy Graham last year. In 2014, the Seahawks had the 32nd (and final) pick in the first round, and traded down twice before selecting Paul Richardson in the second round.
The flow of mid-level impact players has slowed a bit, though Lockett popped last year, and second-rounder Frank Clark was a contributor. The Seahawks still have hopes for Terry Poole, Mark Glowinski and Tye Smith, among others from the 2015 draft. The 2014 draft yielded just one full-time starter in offensive lineman Justin Britt, while fifth-round tight end Luke Willson has been the most successful find in the 2013 draft.
It sometimes takes several years for drafts to sort themselves out, however, and the Seahawks’ own success has worked against the emergence of rookie talent. They had so many established players, there wasn’t much room for newcomers to break in, and they’ve adopted a modified “redshirt” system with many of their draft picks.
Next Thursday, the Seahawks will once again take aim at restocking their shelves in the draft. But exactly what direction that takes them is, as always, inscrutable.