The Seattle Seahawks came out of the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft with West Virginia defensive end Bruce Irvin, an extra fourth round pick, and an extra sixth round pick. I really liked their choice to drop back to 15 from 12 in a swap with the Eagles to pick up a few extra picks (pushing their total to eight), especially considering Irvin was the guy that was on the top of their board. It's a pick that came as a shock to a lot of us - I think my words were "hoooooleyyyy shiiiiii" with a giant smile on my face - as Irvin is a guy that most pundits had projected towards the end of the first round and into the second. But, when you sit back and take a look at it, the selection makes a ton of sense.
Pete Carroll stated in his end-of-season press conference that they wanted to add speed to the front seven. They've done that. He's said for a while now that they want to improve their pass rush. They think Irvin is the best pass rusher in this draft - something that's not really a weird notion when you take a look at some of the players at his position this year and take into account his 21.5 sacks in two seasons. Still on the board were Quinton Coples - character risks, questionable effort, poor production in his senior year. Courtney Upshaw- not a prototypical pass rushing defensive end and completely different type of player. Melvin Ingram, same deal, and the short arms came into question, sort of a hybrid of the three. As Rob Rang noted in a scouting report prior to the Draft, "other than quarterbacks, there isn't a position more valued in today's NFL than pass-rushers and Irvin - due to his explosive burst and lateral agility - just might be the most gifted of this year's class."
Irvin, in the end, was the guy that the Seahawks had at the top of their board and they didn't 'try to get cute' by trading back and hoping he was still there. If you believe Pro Football Talk's report on Irvin's stock, there were seven teams that had him ranked in the top-15, and that has been reflected in their live mock drafts for the past couple days. There have been rumors out there that the 49ers really liked Irvin, as did the Chargers (who picked 18th and took Ingram). So, was it a reach? I don't know, maybe, a little? Not something to get too excited about though, in my opinion - though as most of you probably know, I'm fairly even keeled by nature. Except when I'm driving. Then, I rage. But I digress.
Irvin brings ridiculous raw athleticism to the LEO position and should be a nice weapon for Pete Carroll to use on third downs and in obvious passing situations. He's got explosive burst, a nice club move, an ability to defeat blocks, and on 3rd down and 8, when the defense needs to get off the field, when they absolutely need a stop, having a front four of Chris Clemons, Jason Jones, Brandon Mebane and Bruce Irvin, for example, is certainly an intriguing prospect.
Irvin has many red flags and they are disconcerting to say the least, but I still find myself generally feeling positive about the pick. Because we're a culture that demands instant gratification, I'm extremely intrigued about what he can bring to the Seahawks defense on passing downs early on in his career. He probably won't be a three-down player early; there are concerns that he's very raw, that he's unproven in coverage, that he's not a natural linebacker, that he might be weak against the run at a mere 245 pounds - but those concerns can wait. Brandon Adams said it so well, in my opinion, in his reaction piece over at 17Power:
"Frankly, I'm relieved to see [Pete Carroll] NOT wringing his hands over run defense for once - plenty of talent in that area already on this defense. We didn't need our first-round pick to be complete; we needed our defense to be complete. Irvin might do that. The NFL is becoming a specialist's game, and in his singular role, Irvin could excel."
As for the rest of the time and in the long-term, his usefulness remains to be seen. Though he played in West Virginia almost exclusively as a hand/two-hand on the ground defensive end, he's also a former safety, so it will be interesting to see if he could develop some skills in pass coverage as an outside linebacker to try and get on the field a little more. Is his raw speed and explosiveness something that they could utilize and have him run with tight ends down the seam in pass defense? Is his run defense strong enough at this point for him to get reps as a Sam linebacker? He doesn't project to play 3-downs early, but is he a carbon copy of Chris Clemons-LEO only type of player? I don't really think so.
Pete Carroll and John Schneider are comparing Irvin immediately to Von Miller, who was a three-down player for the Broncos, playing at Sam on first and second down then moving defensive end in their nickel in his first season while on his way to Rookie of the Year honors. Pigeonholing Irvin into a Clemons-style role might be jumping the gun. I'm interested to see what Carroll has in mind and he's done well thus far finding roles for 'miscast' players like Kam Chancellor and Red Bryant.
The way I see it, the Seahawks got an explosive athlete whose athleticism has allowed him to have a great deal of success rushing the passer despite an apparent lack of knowledge on technique (Irvin notes that he never received much instruction on rushing the passer but instead West Virginia mostly concentrated on stopping the run). Can his repertoire be improved? I don't see why not. I heard someone on the radio the other day - an NFL personnel guy I believe - talking about how the art of drafting is in finding players that have yet to play their best football. When you take a Irvin, his potential is off the charts, it's just a question of being able to stay on track.
So, can he overcome some of the issues that have dogged him in his football career after a troubled upbringing? That's the main question, and not really something you can guess on. It's a risk, but first round picks are by nature a risky thing. The potential opportunity cost involved with making pretty much any pick in the first round is great, and the Seahawks obviously felt like Irvin's character concerns were an acceptable red flag. Carroll has known Irvin for years - he tried to recruit him to USC and has been in contact with him over the years, even when he was a JUCO player. So, is it a worry? Sure. Is it going to keep me up at night? Not right away, at least.
In that 17Power piece I linked to above, Brandon Adams talks a lot about the ambiguity of roles in defenses in the modern NFL and that might be even more true for the Seahawks down the line. They're a team that has run two fairly dissimilar schemes in the two years since Pete Carroll has been here - heavily favoring nickel and dime subpackages in their 4-3 under in 2010, then using a lot of base 4-3 and less frequent nickel looks in their often 4-3 over fronts in 2011. What will their defense look like in 2012? Great question, but I think Irvin could have a pretty key role.
So, the next question becomes - how does this effect what the Seahawks will do in the 2nd round? The Hawks will have needs at several positions, including linebacker, cornerback, running back, tight end, and .. well, hell, every position. The nice thing about this though is that there are some really talented players still on the board, including a guy that a lot of us thought we'd take at #12 - Courtney Upshaw. He could definitely still fill a need on this team as a strongside 'backer, but I could also see the Hawks salivating at guys like Lavonte David or Zach Brown, Billy Wagner or Mychal Kendricks. Coby Fleener is still out there, and there's a gaggle of talented wide receivers the Hawks might consider taking with their next pick.
Devon Still remains on the board and I would have to think would be a strong consideration, and Cordy Glenn, Jonathan Martin, and Peter Konz are guys on the other side of the ball that could be of interest. Janoris Jenkins is another red-flagged player with talent that might be available at 43. Should be another interesting day.