Seattle's 2011 draft will probably please the typical Seahawks fan, who still believes that the offensive line is the foundation of a good offense. And a good defense. And a good special teams. And William and Kate's marriage. And the continued rotation of the earth about its axis.
It will also please you if you're content that our current starting QB is Charlie Whitehurst and our current starting 3-tech DT is Barrett Moen.
You're probably not so giddy, however, if you believe the swelling evidence that NFL success is tied to the quarterback much more strongly than it is the offensive line.
The Seattle Seahawks did their best in the 2011 draft given their position, but failed rather conspicuously to address the team's greatest needs with the most assured offseason mechanism - high draft picks - available to them. They didn't demonstrate the savvy sense of value they showed last year, and they didn't supply the team with the immediate impact that a fortunate-to-be-7-9 team requires.
It's easy to appeal to free agency at this point, but we don't know when free agency will begin. We don't know that Matt Hasselbeck, Carson Palmer, Nnamdi Asomugha, Brandon Mebane, or anyone else will be available or even interested to sign with Seattle once it does. Seattle has risked its 2011 season on a complete unknown. That's a gamble no matter how you slice it.
All this on the altar of a very specific vision that grows clearer by the moment, but has yet to be validated at the NFL level. At least there's a vision.
Let's go through this one round at a time.
The draft was largely decided when Seattle sneaked into the playoffs last January, and then into a win over the Saints. That sequence of events dropped Seattle's draft position into the late first round.
The late first round is generally the domain of reliable but lesser talent, often scheme-specific or pushed down by some red flag, left over from the Top 15 picks that usually have more power to turn a franchise around. It's also the neighborhood of legitimate playoff teams who are more established and can afford such "maintenance picks". Seattle, on the other hand, was a bad team who rightfully should have been drafting right where Tennessee selected Jake Locker. They would have been drafting there had the St. Louis receivers been able to catch passes in Week 17.
So let this be the context of all else: John Schneider was stuck in an uncomfortable place to draft. The late first round wasn't going to readily serve Seattle's needs. The man deserves a break in that sense, and we honestly should have seen that disconnect coming.
The First Day
It kinda looks like Seattle's draft plans revolved heavily around their intention to trade down from #25. According to Schneider, three separate deals fell through, two of them backed out of by the other team. If that's the case, and OT James Carpenter was honestly Seattle's target all along, Schneider may have been forced to pull the trigger on him sooner than he wanted. Had Schneider not taken him there, rumor is that Baltimore, Pittsburgh, or Green Bay would have.
Now, the fact that Carpenter was coveted by those three teams is instructive. They're good evaluators of talent, which suggest Carpenter is a quality player. Indeed, the more I read about him, the more he looks less like a reach and more of a prospect that simply flew under most experts' radars.
But again, those three teams are also true playoff teams with franchise QB's who can get away with less urgent picks. Rob Staton projected Carpenter to go at #23, but #23 was Philadelphia - another legit contender.
For a rebuilding team like Seattle, a right tackle in round one isn't the best value. The position simply is not that important. Sean Locklear was awful last year, but he's not been the foremost reason for the team's failures the last three years, not by a long shot. Struggling teams need more of a jolt in the first round than a right tackle can provide, especially when solid road-graders are found in rounds 2-4 all the time.
Another aspect of the Carpenter pick was the presence of Stacy Andrews. He was bad as a guard, but if you're dismissing him at right tackle, make sure you're familiar with his record at that position. He has a solid history at right tackle. John Schneider has a solid history of deflating heavy Seattle contracts like Andrews'. And Tom Cable, the proponent of the Carpenter pick, has a history of getting fired. (I've spoken to Raiders fans who credit Hue Jackson for Oakland's improved O-line, not head coach Cable.)
James Carpenter. Good player? Yes. Good pick for Pittsburgh? Yes. Good pick for Seattle? Eurgh...harder to justify.
Who else could we have gone with? In order to answer that, we'd need to know the reasons why Seattle was determined to pass on top-15 talent like Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Smith, and Da'Quan Bowers, or other good talent like Marvin Austin or Justin Houston. It's pretty easy to guess why on each one (character, character, medical, character, character). But I thought we were all tired of "safe picks" a la Tim Ruskell? I'm pretty sure that's the case, but nobody quite put it together that in order to avoid safe picks, you have to make unsafe picks. You have to take risks.
I'm fighting a losing battle with some people on this point. I don't have the information John Schneider had. But I didn't have the information Tim Ruskell had either, and he's gone now. So we're in a tough spot to judge that pick - hard to judge, but also hard to accept.
The Second Day
Once #57 arrived, Schneider finally managed to shove a deal through. The Seahawks dropped down 18 spots, acquired Detroit's fourth-rounder (#107), and scooted their 5th and 7th-round picks up by a few selections. (Seattle's trade history with Detroit could fill a small book by now.)
In doing so, Seattle again passed on Mallett and Houston - this time permanently - as well as appropriately graded talent like WR's Torrey Smith and Randall Cobb, DT Terrell McClain (okay, maybe not), and a number of starting LB prospects.
We'll never know whether Seattle was willing to take Mallett with the #75. As fellow contributor Scott Williams superstitiously predicted, Bill Belichick proved our bane once again, as New England snatched Mallett right out from under our noses. That he was taken with the second of two consecutive picks could be interpreted as a very intentional message from Belichick to the Arkansas QB: "Get over yourself."
The pick was G John Moffitt. He's not exactly a world-beater, from what I'm reading, but with the #75 pick he doesn't have to be. I'm hearing a lot more about his "Tobeckian personality" than his leverage or his hand usage or his fluidity in the second level...apparently he's supposed to run-block with his sense of humor...but whatever. He'll do.
Not to define a pick by the guys Seattle passed up, but while we're in the category of collateral losses, Moffitt was the most painful. By the time Seattle's next selection came up, the board had been emptied of a number of prospects that provided a great intersection of need, value, and talent. S Chris Conte. WR's Leonard Hankerson and Austin Pettis. LB Mason Foster. And most crucially, DT's Jurrell Casey, Drake Nevis, and Kenrick Ellis, all of whom it's hard to imagine NOT impacting the Seahawks defense right away. Carroll and Schneider themselves have acknowledged the late-third-round run on DT's that occurred because the league knew of Seattle's needs there.
All for a guard who isn't much different than Clint Boling...who was available at #99.
Carpenter and Moffitt will not necessarily have an impact right away, but they will have an impact. The running game should improve somewhat in 2011, and Seattle has invested in its running back stable in preparation. Even RB hybrid Golden Tate could benefit from this line. Also benefiting will be the passing game, just by freeing the tight ends to run routes instead of block all the time.
Eventually, I think Seattle will be glad that these guys were taken, though it won't be this year. Any QB we sign (and there will be one) or draft in a later year (there had better be one) will be walking into a better situation than they would have with Chester Pitts and Mike Gibson manning the guard spots and Marshawn Lynch trying to run behind them.
Speaking of QB's...judging from post-draft pressers, the mysterious #1 QB on Seattle's board must have been Jake Locker. The UW star was taken right where Seattle would have picked had they missed the playoffs. Because of that guest playoff appearance, Seattle had little draft capital, and they also had no prior free agency to give it context. The lockout gave QB-equipped teams the luxury to pick how they wished, and left QB-hungry teams to swing in the dark. And if Ryan Mallett is as unworkable a player as his draft-day fall suggests, there really was no good option left at that position. We have to be somewhat forgiving of the front office's failure to draft a QB - especially if there's a solution lurking in free agency, as has been rumored.
It's not correct to affirm or bash a pick based on who wasn't taken, let me make that clear. Nevertheless, some of the alternatives lost to the picks we made are tough to swallow. As with every draft. Only time will really tell.
To be continued...