Seahawks’ change in draft philosophy was out of necessity and by design
INDIANAPOLIS — In their first five years with the Seattle Seahawks, general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll could do very little wrong. They took a team almost completely bereft of talent and, with outstanding drafts and free-agent signings, gave the franchise its first Super Bowl win, very nearly another, and created one of the most dominant defenses in NFL history.
Then, things started to go south.
In the years after Seattle’s agonizing loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX, the two men who could do virtually nothing wrong struggled to have their moves gain any positive traction. Impulsive trades (Jimmy Graham, Jamal Adams), drafts that produced precious little in terms of team-defining talent, and coaching choices that fell short of maximizing personnel had the Schneider’s and Carroll’s former Legion of Boom looking far more like a Legion of Whom.
Wholesale changes were on the horizon. The 2022 release of linebacker Bobby Wagner, and the trade of Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos looked at the time like more moves made by a staff that may not have been qualified to make them. Generally speaking, the people responsible for the need to blow a roster up and start over are not put in charge of those all-go rebuilds.
But Schneider and Carroll had built up enough equity to hold onto their positions, and it was likely that if the 2022 offseason and draft looked a lot like the last few, the faces of the Seahawks from a coaching and personnel perspective would be very different when the 2023 league year began.
Fortunately for Schneider and Carroll, and to their credit, they’ve been on the good foot ever since. The Wilson trade turned into an abject disaster for the Broncos, and a historic windfall for the Seahawks, who have the fifth, 20th, 35th, and 53rd picks in the upcoming draft. Moreover, after the 2022 draft the Seahawks put together, the fact that Schneider and Carroll are in charge of this particular process shouldn’t be cause for anxiety among Seahawks fans.
Because the 2022 draft not only saw several immediate starters, but immediate impact starters at positions that don’t generally see rookies excelling. The 2022 Seahawks became the first team since the 2009 Jacksonville Jaguars to start two rookie offensive tackles in Charles Cross and Abe Lucas from Week 1 on. Fifth-round cornerback Tariq Woolen might have grabbed the Defensive Rookie of the Year award were it not for the excellent exploits of Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner of the New York Jets. Gardner was selected fourth overall, Woolen had to wait until the 153rd pick to hear his name called. Cornerback Coby Bryant, Gardner’s college teammate at Cincinnati, provided value in the slot and outside, and Minnesota edge-rusher Boye Mafe started to become a real asset as the season went along.
Five potential long-term starters for a team that had struggled to produce five legit starters in their previous five drafts? Not a bad turnaround for a group desperately in need of such a thing.
If this seems to speak to a change in philosophy and methodology, both Carroll and Schneider confirmed that during their Tuesday media sessions at the scouting combine.
“We really wanted to get guys who could handle it,” Carroll told me when I asked him about why it worked so well this time around. “Because we knew they would have a chance to play. It was really important to us. Their character, and their confidence in themselves, the ways they came across with that… we were picking them for those spots hoping it would work out, and it did. Perfect group of guys in the makeup and the mentality that they brought to us.
“We’re always trying to get more accurate is what we’re doing, and we really find that the character and makeup part of it was crucial, and we continue to look at that.
Schneider got even more specific about the makeup and character parts of the equation, pointing to the recent mistakes the team (and he) had made in this regard.
“Yeah… I think I talked about it before – the lessons you learn along the way,” he said, when I asked if 2022 felt like 2010 through 2012 all over again. “I’m Catholic, so I beat myself up a little bit. The mistakes I’ve made, and why. Comparing players, and purely drafting for need. Some of the background information we had on players from a confidence standpoint or a swagger standpoint weren’t necessarily able to compete with the Richard Shermans and the Kam Chancellors and the Bobby Wagners and the K.J.s [Wright]. Earl Thomas, you know what I mean? We knew we had to do a little better job in that regard [like] in 2010, ’11, ’12, picking players and building this thing. Not to sound weird or anything, but we were a damn good football team for a number of years. I heard [former NFL quarterback] Brady Quinn talking the other day where we had like 23 guys not make our team that went and played for other teams.”
As it had been early on, the focus was more on undervalued assets, as opposed to overvalued projects.
“Every year, you’re trying to balance team need, and just drafting the bast player all the way through. We knew we were going to have a hard time re-signing [left tackle] Duane [Brown}, so to be able to get a left tackle was a big deal for us. We knew we wanted to add a pass-rusher in Boye [Mafe] – acquire him and identify him, and having those two young guys [Cross and Abe Lucas] was obviously a big deal. The corners with Tariq [Woolen]; you guys haven’t seen [Ohio State edge-rusher] Tyreke [Smith] yet, but when he practiced, he looked outstanding. He’s has some physical things going on to get right. But it was really about here we go, y’know – we’re going to be playing with… if we say we’re going to be a developmental organization, let’s do that.”
The difference, as both men said, was the focus on both now and the future. The Seahawks knew they had to stop getting cute with their personnel moves, thinking that they still had what they had built before. Now, it was about building it again, and as Carroll concluded, the architecture seems to be on point.
“Really, it was just what happened,” he said. “We didn’t create it – I’d like to say that John had it all figured out. Go draft these guys and they’ll play right away. We didn’t think of it that way, but we knew that the opportunities were there, and we could hopefully fit the guys into the spaces that were there. Its not always that easy, and it wasn’t easy, but it certainly did happen this time around. It gave those guys a great opportunity to make enormous advances. That might have been kind of the one in the period of however long we’ve been here where an opportunity arises like that. Where we get the guys and they play right in the spots. But we’re certainly going to bank on it now.”
The Seahawks with a rock-solid plan? That could spell just as much trouble for the rest of the league as it did a decade ago.