Seahawks are primed to prove critics of their 2012 draft wrong
Think back to April, when the Seahawks lived up to their eccentric nature and drew a tremendous amount of criticism, mostly from the national media, for their picks in the 2012 NFL draft.
Beginning with the Seahawks' surprising decision to select defensive end Bruce Irvin after trading down from No. 12 to No. 15, they left themselves open for a lot of second-guessing.
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. gave the Seahawks the lowest grade of all 32 NFL teams (C-) and said, "The needs were met outside of wide receiver, but in terms of maximizing value, there are huge questions."
Pete Prisco, a very good NFL writer for CBSSports.com, had issues, too: "They made a questionable move at the top with Irvin, bounced back by taking (Bobby) Wagner, but then took Russell Wilson in the third when they just signed Matt Flynn. Why?"
Chris Burke of SI.com wrote: "QB Russell Wilson has a bright future, even if Seattle didn't really need him. Everything else was very blah."
A little more than four months later, three members of the Seahawks' supposedly questionable draft class have been named Week 1 starters. Wilson won the quarterback job with great flair. Bobby Wagner, the team's second-round pick, is the new middle linebacker, meeting expectations that his speed would add a fresh dimension to the linebacker corps. And in the biggest surprise, J.R. Sweezy, a seventh-round pick who played on the defensive line in college, made a successful and quick conversion to offense and is the starting right guard.
(It'll be quite interesting to see what happens at guard when John Moffitt and James Carpenter are fully recovered and ready to compete for starting jobs again. Moffitt was a third-round pick in 2011 and showed some good signs as last season progressed before injuring his knee last November. He recovered from that, but then he needed elbow surgery in August. Now, he's back practicing. Carpenter, a 2011 first-round pick who also had a season-ending knee injury last year, is practicing now, too. Carpenter was brought in as a right tackle, but Seahawks seem committed to making him a guard. However, Sweezy is the most athletic of those three guards, and if he's catching on this quickly to a new position, how good could he be? Oh, and Paul McQuistan, the ultimate utility man on this O-line, has been just fine at left guard, which is presumably Carpenter's spot if he can earn it. So, that's four solid guard options for two starting spots. What's going to happen? If everyone can get healthy and stay healthy, this might be the best problem the Seahawks have.)
In addition the three rookie starters, Irvin is playing the speed-rusher role the Seahawks envisioned, and though he's not a starter (and wasn't expected to be one), he will see plenty of playing time and play a vital role in trying to improve the team's pass rush. Irvin is Sports Illustrated NFL writer Peter King's favorite to win defensive rookie of the year. Backup running back Robert Turbin, a fourth-round pick, had an impressive preseason and looks to be the best complement to Marshawn Lynch that the Seahawks have had.
Then, there are some rookies who will play smaller roles but have improved the Seahawks' overall depth and versatility: Defensive tackle Jaye Howard (fourth-round pick), safety Winston Guy (sixth round) and defensive end Greg Scruggs (seventh round), an impact player in the preseason who is battling a hamstring injury and probably won't be available this Sunday. And cornerback Jeremy Lane (sixth round) flashes often in practices and has a chance to carve out a niche at some point this season.
The only player from the 10-player draft class that we haven't mentioned is speedy linebacker Korey Toomer (fifth round), who didn't make a quick transition to the NFL and failed to make the 53-man roster. He is currently on the Seahawks' practice squad.
Obviously, these rookies still must prove themselves in the regular season, but the fact that at least seven of them will see significant playing time this soon -- on a playoff-caliber team that wasn't as desperate for talent as it was in previous years -- says something about the quality of the maligned picks made by general manager John Schneider.
Mostly, it says this clearly: The Seahawks know what they want, and they know what they're doing. Don't confuse their eclectic tastes for bad judgment. And don't undervalue Schneider's ability to find middle-round, late-round and undrafted gems because he always pulls off surprises that deepen and enrich each draft class.
It took me a while, but I've figured that out about the Pete Carroll/Schneider tandem. I wrote this column after the draft, trying to provide a voice of reason.
There is a method to the Seahawks' whimsical behavior, however. When you examine them closely, you realize they've made the right move more times than not. And so far, even their mistakes haven't been of the franchise-killing variety. Despite all the confusion and debate they inspire, this has been a trustworthy front office.
And I ended that column this way:
The Seahawks don't employ the classic approach. But because they're so thorough and believe so fully in themselves, it's wise to couch skepticism or at least delay unleashing it until you see the plan in action.
They're eccentric, not stupid. Recognize the difference.
If Wilson is a hit, this could wind up turning into the most important draft class of this Seahawks era. Imagine looking back in five years and realizing that the Seahawks found their franchise QB in the third round after drafting a double-digit sack master in Irvin and a quality middle linebacker in Wagner. And imagine Sweezy, who is already the fastest Seahawks offensive lineman and possesses a nasty streak as well as a feel for how defenders will instinctively attack him, turning into a staple on a good offensive line. And imagine Turbin developing into Lynch's successor.
It's not all that far-fetched if you've been paying attention. If all that happens, what a statement it would be about the way the Seahawks evaluate talent. And even if the draft class proves to be more of a mixed bag, hitting on Wilson and just a few others could still prove an enduring point.
When the Seahawks shock us again in the 2013 draft, no more uproar, OK?
Predictability is a draft analyst's standard. The Seahawks are more concerned with trusting their plan and claiming victories at the most important time.