Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Looking Back on 2010, Part 2: Daft Drafting

Continuing a series of posts re-capturing the moods, debates, and plot twists of Pete Carroll's first year in Seattle. You can find Part 1 here.

On draft day of 2010, Seattle fans turned on their televisions without any real idea of what to expect.

New head coach Pete Carroll had dashed onto the scene and made it clear at once that Seattle was moving into a new mentality, and that nobody's job was safe. He had followed his words with action by mowing a blazing personnel path through the tall dead grass that made up the Seattle Seahawks. Nate Burleson, Seneca Wallace, Darryl Tapp, Deon Grant, and Rob Sims were all gone. None of these were significantly responsible for Seattle's decline, but neither had they done much to stem that decline. Fans saw the radical changes in different ways - some called it moving forward and being willing to take risks, others saw a confidence in Carroll's plan, others called it "change for the sake of change" and observed that Seattle had obtained only mediocre free agents in return.

Draft season is so much fun. For the so inclined, it's an addictive mix-and-match guessing game of exciting talents that leaves nearly everyone looking foolish. It's a little like the Christmas shopping season - teams are working hard to conceal their choices from the fans, fans are working to hard the read the minds and needs of teams, nobody really has any idea what's coming, plenty of surprises (and disappointments) await, and it all starts way too early.

In 2009, there weren't more than three serious choices for Seattle to consider at #4. 2010, however, left Seattle right at the top of no-man's land, where the "top dogs" were supposed to be already gone and Seattle could go several ways. Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford would go to division-rival St. Louis. Detroit and Tampa Bay would both take defensive tackles, game-changing Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska and Gerald McCoy of Oklahoma respectively. Tennessee FS Eric Berry was destined for #5 Kansas City. And before the Chiefs, at #4, the Washington Redskins were most likely to snatch a left tackle. Until a couple of weeks before the draft, almost everyone would have told you that the tackle in question would be Russell Okung of Oklahoma State.

Ask ten different people who they thought Seattle would take at #6, and you'd have gotten ten different answers. It was the ideology split between filling the most needy position and simply taking the best player available. One popular choice (and my personal preference, despite its minor reachiness) was DE Derrick Morgan. Some fan mocks, as with every year, were elaborate scenarios designed to send some of the higher players dropping down to us, such as Eric Berry. Many in particular were drooling over Ndamukong Suh, trying hard to interpret Detroit's pre-draft personnel moves in a light that would have them chasing a tackle and leaving Suh on the board. That was certainly one of Seattle fans' most fevered dreams. I myself was willing to see Seattle trade both its first-round picks to move up to #2 and snatch Suh that way. I believed he could provide much-needed interior pass rush and instantly transform the defense. (I was kind of wrong - Detroit's defense benefited hugely from Suh and will for years to come, but more is still needed.)

Of course, this all ignored the fact that Seattle desperately needed a fix at the quarterback situation. While some fans concocted Rube Goldberg draft-day falls for Sam Bradford (keep him away from the Rams!), and some fell in love with the hype and potential surrounding Tim Tebow, the most natural option for Seattle seemed to be Jimmy Clausen at #14. Quarterbacks seem to draw out the most intense and hard-fought fan debates of all, and this was no exception. College QB's are hard to judge. Their success depends on all kinds of context: scheme, opposition, surrounding talent, and knowing which mechanics and qualities are important in the pros and which ones aren't. Frankly, this is stuff that leaves me in the dust.

Credit Rob Staton over at Seahawks Draft Blog for sticking to the obvious sequence of Bradford, Suh, and McCoy going in the first three picks. He's got a solid knack for knowing for what teams will do on draft day. Then Washington threw a wrench into all our mocks by taking a tackle, all right - but it was Oklahoma's Trent Williams, who had seen a meteoric rise in his stock just weeks before the draft. With the Chiefs taking Berry, Russell Okung was left for Seattle. As the story goes, this caused a ruckus in Seattle's war room of the kind they'd experienced the year before, when Kansas City made an unexpected reach for DE Tyson Jackson and left Seattle with a player they'd been coveting all along, but hadn't counted on being there.

I must have been one of only four people on the planet to dislike the Okung pick. Every fan and almost every draft expert considered him the premiere tackle of this draft. But a couple of independent thinkers I trusted had some serious questions. They cited numerous mental lapses, bad run blocking, and problems against tough college ends like Brian Orakpo, Sergio Kindle, and Nick Reed. We needed a tackle, yes, like a hole in the head in fact, but some had preferred to wait for the more polished, ZBS-fitting Charles Brown (his weight and a last-minute neck injury dropped him). Others, like Kip Earlywine, mentioned that Okung had holes in his game but possessed massive arms and ridiculous strength that would keep him afloat while he developed early. I didn't trust draft picks with question marks like Okung's. Then again, that leaves almost no college players to trust, unless you're picking #1. Question marks are the very essence of the NFL draft. How much fun would it be otherwise?

Well, at least the new regime had immediately and resoundingly addressed a crucial position, instead of relying on a crippled Walter Jones and a succession of subpar free agents. I still wanted DE Derrick Morgan at this point, but I now crossed my fingers hoping that Seattle would take him at #14.

Instead, Seattle seemed fixated on FS Earl Thomas all along, even having a brief heart attack at one point when Philly traded ahead of us to grab DE Brandon Graham. Thomas, the quieter stud next to loud safety topics Berry and Taylor Mays of USC, was the most intriguing pick to me. Kip Earlywine had said Thomas "looks like a 2nd-round Ruskell pick". Great range, solid in coverage, probably the best tackler of the three top safeties, and did anyone mention great range? The biggest question was, how important is the safety position? Everyone loves Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu, but they benefit from wicked pass rushes that help send panicky passes their way. The consensus seemed that #5 was too high for a safety, but #14? Bring it on. (It was also kind of a relief to see Carroll pass on the overrated Mays, showing that he wasn't about to over-value his own former players).

The draft continued into the second round. A lot of folks were now thinking "big defensive tackle" for our second-round selection, but they were rapidly disappearing. Dan Williams, Jared Odrick, Brian Price, Lamarr Houston (grrr), Mike Neal, Terrence Cody, all gone. Coveted running backs Jahvid Best, Toby Gerhard, and ZBS prince-in-waiting Montario Hardesty, gone. Jimmy Clausen and Tim Tebow, both gone. Arrelious Benn, Taylor Mays, some more defensive ends - that #60 pick was starting to look interesting. By the time it arrived, I was thinking DT Geno Atkins out of Georgia.

WR Golden Tate had been a hoped-for target of many among the 12th Man. He was certainly a favorite target of Jimmy Clausen. To me, he resembled a younger, squatter Nate Burleson. Tate's route-running was flat-out primitive. He also didn't seem to enjoy downfield blocking, an underrated aspect of every good WR's game. However, he had this knack for Just Getting Open and making things happen. He seemed to have that elusive label of "explosive playmaker" that can't really be traced to any one quality. In college, that is.

In the fourth round, Seattle traded down slightly to pick up RB Lendale White and DT Kevin Vickerson. OK, great...two veterans at positions of need, but the ease with which these players were pried from Tennessee said something about them. Still, Seattle was not stopped from grabbing the player they seemingly wanted, Oregon CB Walter Thurmond, who was a second-round prospect before losing draft stock to a gruesome injury. Carroll was truly gambling at this point, but if Thurmond recovered, this was excellent value.

Lower down, Seattle used the extra pick from the Tapp trade to select defensive end E.J. Wilson out of North Carolina, an apparent Red Bryant successor who produced only mildly in college and never really saw the field due to injury concerns. Only real whiff of the draft, thus far.

The 5th-round pick from the Sims trade turned into SS Kam Chancellor out of Virginia Tech. A couple fans I knew had featured him in their mocks.

Then Pete Carroll scored one of the draft's biggest triumphs: trading a fifth-round pick for Leon Washington. Again betting against injury, the Seahawks had procured a proven offensive and special-teams weapon for chump change. The Jets didn't exactly get robbed; they have plenty of weapons. But that level of pick usually yields fullbacks and special-teamers; we'd procured a sure thing. Finally, we were on the right end of a lopsided trade

With their remaining picks, Seattle selected Anthony McCoy, a USC tight end with potential but also some off-the-field issues; Dexter Davis, a Sun Devils defensive end who seemed to fit the Leo mold that Seattle was adopting; and Jameson Konz, a crazy-athletic basketball player who Seattle's staff apparently hopes will make the transition to another sport.

The football world immediately and almost unanimously hailed Seattle's draft as the best in the league. Fans were stoked. I begged to differ, but I was one of only a few. Okung and Tate seemed overrated to me. I was more pleased with the trade work that Schneider had done in the middle rounds. But could that many people all be wrong? As always, just because a draft pick doesn't show everything you want in college doesn't mean he'll stay that way. Carroll, for his part, had very specific plans for most of his rookies, which meant they were hard to judge right off the bat. One way or another, the draft class had a few surprises up its sleeve, and still does.

To be continued Wednesday afternoon...

Trivia: Counting 2011, the Seahawks have been without a third-round pick in four of the last six drafts.

1 comment:

  1. Your recall is pretty good. I can't remember how I felt yesterday.