I think when you begin to count the ways that you like this team, you start with the young guys. Rebuilds do not happen overnight but just the fact that this team has found a few stars in the last two years alone is worth heaps of praise on Pete Carroll and John Schneider.
They inherited a team that was coming off of a 5-11 season in 2009 and a 4-12 season in 2008, and immediately they started to trim the old, the weak, the the less-talented and decided it would be better to give other guys a chance whether they be inexperienced, young, unwanted in other towns. "Come to us and show us what you got!" Pete seemed to say, welcoming with open arms anyone that wanted to compete.
Buffalo doesn't want you anymore, Marshawn Lynch? Come on over.
You don't want Chris Clemons anymore, Philadelphia? We'll take him!
Say you're ready to get in shape and work, Mike Williams? Okay, show us what you got.
The Seahawks became the land of opportunity and they rebuilt from every angle. Add free agents, make trades, have two great drafts, and maybe most interesting of all was the rebuilding that they did from within by moving players around like Red Bryant to better utilize their talents and the needs of the team. Amazing how football is a game where a "bust" can often just be a player who was put in a bad position, isn't it?
But what I want to talk about a little bit today are the 2011 rookies because I was doing some internet searching (ever heard of this Google? I believe the "G" is pronounced like a soft "J", such as in "jogging" so you say it like "Yoogle.") and came across this Football Outsiders article about the 2011 NFL All-Rookie team. Now, I did some searching on our own handy-dandy website and couldn't see if there was ever a time that we posted it on Field Gulls, but if we did then I apologize.
Though in reality, I am not that sorry. After the jump, see what they had to say about the Seahawks rookies that made the team.
WIDE RECEIVER: Doug Baldwin, Seahawks. Baldwin is likely to finish second to Green in first-down receptions (38 to Green’s 41 through Week 16) and receptions of 20 or more yards (18 to 19). This year’s rookie receiver class is one of the better groups in recent memory, and Torrey Smith, Julio Jones, Denarius Moore, and Titus Young all deserve honorable mentions. Smith, Jones, and Young all got to be No. 2 receivers, however, and Moore has been hurt, so Baldwin gets the starting nod.
That's right. The only receiver ahead of Baldwin on this list was A.J. Green. Baldwin was listed ahead of some guys that were "no. 2 WRs" and potentially future "no. 1 WRs" even though he is "only a slot receiver." But Doug Baldwin was also one of the best slot receivers in the NFL and made some crucial plays for Seattle this season. It wouldn't matter if Baldwin never topped 900 yards receiving in any year of his career, his value lies in those first down catches and keeping the chains moving. If Sidney Rice can stay healthy for an entire season and somebody steps up opposite of Rice, Baldwin will be that much more valuable.
The other interesting thing about Baldwin is that by being an undrafted free agent, he is unquestionably the best value rookie in the entire NFL. Baldwin cost less than a Deuce Lutui all-you-can-eat buffet and produced more than almost any other rookie. There were 28 wide receivers drafted in the 2011 draft. There were so many receivers taken that Baldwin wasn't even the only wide receiver named Baldwin available in the draft. If there was a re-draft today, Baldwin should easily be a 2nd round pick. I know that probably sounds low to some people, but typically slot guys don't go in the first round and Baldwin has instantly vaulted his stock by an immense measure. We're incredibly lucky to have him considering that we didn't even spend a draft pick on the guy.
CORNERBACK: Richard Sherman, Seahawks. Sherman is a star on the rise according to our game charting numbers, which place him fourth in the league in Success Rate. Sherman also leads all rookies with 19 passes defensed, according to the official count.
There were three corners taken in the first round: Patrick Peterson, Prince Amukamara, and Jimmy Smith. Many Seattle fans wanted the Hawks to take Smith, and even still it might be nicer to have Smith than James Carpenter, but we ended up getting something better than Smith when a 5th round pick was used on Richard Sherman.
Sherman was the 31st "DB" taken in the draft. Yes, that's right, and he was probably a better cover corner than Peterson last season and one of the top corners in the league after he was promoted to starter after Marcus Trufant got injured. The linked chart above, which doesn't have the full seasons measures in it, still has Sherman with a 69% success rate on 49 passes, 6.1 yards per pass, and 3.0 yards after the catch. Said in the article:
First, Richard Sherman, a rookie fifth-round pick out of Stanford who is playing at left cornerback for Seattle. He's given up a couple of really big plays (most notably an 83-yard touchdown by Victor Cruz in Week 5) but has otherwise been really good and really consistent. His best game was probably Week 8 against Cincinnati. He's listed with nine pass targets -- seven of those to A.J. Green -- and allowed just two receptions. He also was in coverage for two interceptions, one he picked off himself and one he tipped up so Kam Chancellor could pick it off. The other surprise is Dimitri Patterson, a journeyman scrub on his fifth team who is suddenly having success playing nickelback in Cleveland.
So yeah, Sherman locked down the top rookie receiver in the NFL. A player that was described as the potential next-in-line to Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson as a top receiver in the NFL. I have heard knocks on Green, but from watching five of his games so far this year I can tell you that he's incredibly annoying because he just has those hands, man. You can cover 99% of his body and he'll make the catch with the other 1%. But Sherman locked him down pretty good.
One of the rarest things in this league, especially with all of the rules that prevent corners from doing much, is a true cover corner. That's why players like Darrelle Revis are so highly coveted, because while you might have fifty wide receivers in the NFL that can do something, there's only a handful of corners that you can count on to put on an island and shut down a number one all on his own. In a division with Larry Fitzgerald, Sherman's value is immeasurable.
And finally, an HM for K.J. Wright:
The mention for Wright is short-and-sweet but well-deserved. Derek Stephens has written here on FieldGulls a considerable amount on why he loves Wright and had him ranked ahead of Sherman for much of the year, and finished the year ahead of Baldwin.
This shift to the smaller linebacker is due to the need for better speed and short area quickness, so that defenses can more effectively combat the pass-heavy offensive attacks that are taking over the league. Wright can hang with the little guys though. His explosive first step and fluidity in space in combination with the length and size allow him to cover some impressive real estate quickly. He's a solid starter who may never make a Pro Bowl, but should give the team no reason to need a replacement at the position for several years. A true long-term starter.
The success of a player like K.J. Wright is what excites me about Bobby Wagner and Korey Toomer. Pete and John found a gem in the fourth round and gave me some hope that they know what they're doing with their defensive selections, especially when you add in the success they found with 5th round picks Sherman and Kam Chancellor the year before. So by taking Wagner in the second, I can only assume he'll be All-World and that Toomer will be a solid contributor before long.
Of course, one player and one draft does not define another (Mark LeGree) but it gives me hope and the linebacking corps went from looking like the best group on this defense not long ago (Aaron Curry at the time he was drafted, Lofa Tatupu, LeRoy Hill, and David Hawthorne) to a weakness (by the time that Curry, Tatupu, and Hawthorne were all gone) to a potentially capable-to-very-good unit again with a bright future.
The Seahawks 2011 draft actually reminds me a lot of the Seattle Mariners 2010 draft. The M's were left without a first round pick and in baseball, you're basically finding organizational filler for 98% of the draft so it's worrisome when you don't get a chance to pick in the first. The M's wound up taking Taijuan Walker, a raw and mostly unknown pitcher that few of us knew what to make of. Only two years later, Walker is one of the top prospects in baseball and easily one of the top pitching prospects in the game, if not the best.
The Hawks 2011 draft found them without a 2nd round pick and thus far first rounder James Carpenter has been ineffective (and now probably out for next season) while John Moffitt has been hurt and inconsistent. So on the surface, the draft could have easily been a wash and left the Hawks without much. What did they wind up with?
Wright, Sherman, Baldwin after the draft, and several other interesting young men in Kris Durham, Byron Maxwell, Pep Livingston, Malcolm Smith, and Ricardo Lockette. That's damn impressive for a draft that has so far returned very little from the first three rounds.
Add in the 2010 draft with Earl Thomas, Russell Okung, Golden Tate, Walter Thurmond, Kam Chancellor, and Anthony McCoy and you see how quickly this team has started to fill its 53-man roster with young, talented, relatively-cheap players that are forming the core of a potentially-good-for-a-very-long-time (don't want to say dynasty just yet, of course) team.
We've spent a lot of time in the last few weeks discussing the 2012 draft class, and that's all well-and-good, but more importantly we should recognize that Pete and John have thus far shown themselves to have a very good group of men as scouts and talent evaluators, finding players that fit their scheme and what they want to do on the football team. And it's not just the eyes that tell us that. It's not just the yards they gain or the yards they don't allow. As we can see from the advanced stats from Football Outsiders, the geeks like us too.