I did a sort of mock FAQ a couple weeks back after selecting Michael Bush in our SB Nation mock draft and found that it worked pretty well to organize my thoughts. So here's another mock FAQ (or is that moq? Wait, no, that's stupid) reviewing Seattle's 2007 draft.
...but first: I grew up in the provincial northeast, New Hampshire to be precise, and have never fully adapted to the public confessional, myspace/livejoural atmosphere of the west. However, I feel inclined to say I'm a little lackluster this morning--er, early afternoon, after a long, sleep-poor night. Let's just say the floor beside a gurney ain't no place to get shuteye. Writing this will make a fun little diversion, because what is sports if not escapism? So powered by coffee as black as a whale's heart, onward to the FAQ.
Why the hell did we draft two wide receivers and no tight end?!?
This might seem like a bungled move at first. Holmgren's reliance on the tight end to stretch the seam is a football truism repeated into gospel. Almost every major draft guide and website listed tight end as the Hawks' foremost need, and after seven rounds and eight picks Seattle failed to acquire even one. The punctuating moment for most people's disappointment came in the seventh when Northwest feel good story extraordinaire and workout maestro Michael Allan went to the Chiefs one pick before our selection. My reaction at the time was that Tim Ruskell had gambled and lost, but a couple hours later word came that Seattle had signed Joe Newton to a UFA contract and Ruskell's plan suddenly came into focus.
For years Seattle suffered under the yoke of Jerramy Stevens' potential, well, take a deep breath Seahawks fans, Newton puts on no such airs. He's a big-bodied player who lacks the top end speed to consistently stretch the seem. He's a good route-runner, and more importantly for a middle threat tight end, very good at finding soft spots in the zone. Whereas in year's past Stevens presented an honest deep threat between the safeties, Newton is more likely to run short hook, out and middle crossing patterns. Newton's greatest receiving strength is in the red zone where he can use his size and ability to box out defenders to pull in jump balls. Stevens was always sort of a sissy around the goal line, so Newton will be a welcome change.
Most importantly, though, Newton's signing offers pretty solid evidence that Holmgren is moving away from the double wide "I" formation that has been the bread and butter of his offense for years. Seattle has a wealth of wide receivers and a player in Nate Burleson who can effectively stretch the seam from the slot. Stevens liked to play matador against the pass rush, practically forcing Holmgren to send him deep; expect Newton to spend more time around the line of scrimmage, be it blocking or chipping the defensive end before releasing on a short pattern, and for the Hawks to run more three and four wide receiver sets.
You can't expect national media outlets to stay up with each individual team's shifts in offensive philosophy, so gird your loins for some harsh evaluations of how Ruskell handled drafting a tight end, just don't take it seriously.
...but why draft two receivers?
Simple: value, depth and the chance that one, like D.J. Hackett, turns into something special.
The value argument is simple. Courtney Taylor was a very productive receiver at Auburn. He's a smooth route-runner with soft hands and the ability to fight for the ball in traffic. He's not, however, very fast. He also had a bit of a blunderous day at the combine, thanks in no small part to a group of inaccurate quarterbacks. The net effect was that a player who could have gone in the late second/early third in a less wide receiver heavy draft fell to the late sixth. By this time next year Taylor could be pushing for a starting job and Seattle could have moved another overpaid wide receiver (cough Burleson cough) for another draft pick.
Jordan Kent's role is a little harder to project. He's big and fast, plus, and I know everyone likes to hear this ever since Antonio Gates' emergence, a former basketball player. Ruskell doesn't take a lot of high upside risks, but that's exactly what Kent is. An excellent size(6'4")/speed(he lettered in track) guy who could make a fearsome H-Back if the need ever dictates. Kent flew under the radar because 2006 was his first big football season and because a foot injury kept him out of the combine.
Who's the best player Seattle drafted?
Easily, Josh Wilson. Wilson is small and may never develop into an effective cornerback in man coverage, but he's got the instincts, closing speed and mean-streak to excel in zone. Therefore, he's a John Marshall guy. Marshall is of the school of thought that pass defense starts with the pass rush. Disrupt the quarterback, force mistakes and have an opportunistic secondary to mop up. If that's Wilson intercepting the errant pass, watch-out, because he's liable to take any ball he touches to the house.
Ruskell has said that Wilson will compete for the nickleback position right away, but I can't help but wonder if his future might be at safety. Paired with Grant, they'd form an almost impenetrable cover-2 shell. His size would also be less of a concern there, too. I haven't heard any rumor or innuendo about Wilson moving spots, but as we near the season don't be surprised if he gets some looks at safety.
Which pick am I least thrilled with?
That would have to be Brandon Mebane. Mebane is a super-high motor type. A player who frustrates linemen with his explosive first step, snap-to-whistle, first-to-fourth tenacity. I mentioned in another thread that Mebane has very good pass-rushing technique, but he's not a very good pass rusher. Does that sound like Rumsfeldian double-speak? Here's what I mean: Mebane knows how to shed blockers, he's well muscled and slippery and his core strength allows him to play low, but with power. Were he faster he would make an excellent pass rusher, but Mebane is not fast and he's not that agile. He's also not particularly strong, and that's what concerns me.
The knock against Mebane is that bigger linemen can engulf him, essentially taking him out of the play. Well, Brandon, the linemen just bigger, faster and tougher. Seattle is looking for Mebane to tie up multiple blockers like he did in college, but that might be a stretch. Mebane isn't very projectable and unlike a lot of rookies, can't be expected to develop much over the next few years--he's a finished product in both the good and bad sense.
On a side note, terms like motor, grit and instincts are usually thought of as character traits rather than physical traits. That leads to a lot of inaccurate assumptions, like that a player who has never played with a high-motor can be coached into playing that way. While a quality like Mebane's motor seems intangible, it doesn't mean that there isn't a perfectly scientific, biological reason he's able to play at such a high energy level throughtout the game, like a preternatuarally strong heart or an abnormal hypothalamus, for instance. My point is that when evaluatiing a player, traits like motor shouldn't be assumed to be malleable while a trait like speed is static. Both can improve or decline, but both tell us something about the player that isn't likely to change too much over their careers.
Beside Taylor, who was the best value pick for the Hawks?
That would be Baraka Atkins. Atkins is a big, powerful defensive end who lost himself a lot of money with a poor work-ethic and a questionable commitment to the sport. The talent is there, but the performance has never been.
Atkins is a child of privilege. As I'm sure you've read by now, his father, Fredd "Glossie" Atkins, is the mayor of Sarasota. Baraka is a smart kid, but he's developed a reputation as a fast talker who could find ways off the practice field and out of the weight room. The question is has the light gone on for Atkins? Has he committed himself to football, or is this just another dalliance?
We can't know Atkins' intentions, but we do know that he's entering a great fit. With Kearney, Tatupu, Peterson and now Wilson and Mebane, Seattle offers an environment of hard work and dedication that few in the NFL can match. Holmgren is a strong-willed coach, but not a bully, and he and Marshall should be able to reason with the young man.
Atkins' upside is tantalizing. He has great NFL size and showed surprising quickness at the combine. If things click, he could be that rare end that provides strong pass rush while anchoring the outside against runs.
What player do I feel I know the least about?
That would be Mansfield Wrotto. Wrotto is considered a quick player that moves well laterally. He performed well in college, manning left guard and left tackle duties for Georgia Tech, and busting holes for presumed 2007 Heisman candidate, Tashard Choice. He's a former defensive tackle, who for optimists, means he has a lot of untapped potential, for pessimists, means he's not likely to contribute next year and who for realists, means we just don't know that much about the guy.
That's the problem. He under-whelmed at the combine, putting up some shockingly bad numbers: a 1.83 in the ten, an 8.34 on the cone, but complained of hamstring tightness. He then stood by his numbers at his pro day, perhaps still ailing from whatever he hurt at the combine. Qwest doesn't have the most forgiving turf, so I hope this isn't a trend.
Wrotto is an excellent kid, need proof? Read this interview with Scout.com, he's almost hilarious in his politeness. He learned the offensive line position very quickly at Tech, and scouts love everything short of his technique. An understandable flaw given his inexperience. Wrotto has the potential to be a very good guard, but for a team that must be thinking right guard in 2007, he's a little bit of wildcard.
That's why you pick up Steve Vallos in the 7th. Vallos is a four year starter out of Wake Forest who can play guard or center. Vallos isn't considered a long-term starter in the NFL--considered too small and too weak to ever be a starter. Funny thing, though, the guy too small and too weak added fifteen pounds and put up 32 bench reps at his pro day. I think Vallos is more pro-ready than Wrotto and in the long-term could serve as a backup at both guard spots and center. Don't be surprised to see him get some regular season snaps in at right guard, too. Scouts don't love Vallos' size, but he strikes me as an awful strong sleeper with very little downside.
Who haven't we talked about?
Will Herring. Herring is a S/LB tweener in the Michael Boulware mold. Herring is tremendously agile, but most scouts think he's a step too slow to ever play safety in the pros. For Seattle Herring can man Leroy Hill's OLB spot on third downs, the SS spot on obvious rushing downs and upgrade a special teams unit that is short of playmakers. It's hard to predict the upside of a player of Herring's ilk, but however he's used, he should contribute.
How about the ones that got away?
Michael Bush is the most frustrating of the bunch. If I had one major criticism of this year's draft, it would be that Seattle failed to acquire a quality running back--a need most fans underappreciate. Demarcus Tyler wasn't ever going to be a Seahawk and neither was Paul Soliai, but both will be interesting to track over the next couple of years. Doug Free is considered by most to be too tall to play guard, so I don't think he or Brandon Frye were ever targeted by the Hawks. Allen Barbre went in the fourth before the Hawks had a shot at him. Kevin Boss gets to wait behind Jeremy Shockey's ego, a sad development for a kid who looks like he could be very good. Allan gets to study under the greatest receiving tight end in NFL history on a soon to be very bad Kansas City team. I think fans might have overstated his talent, anyway. Finally, a name that didn't get mentioned much around here, but, who, I think will be kvetched about for years to come is Ben Patrick. Patrick didn't fit Seattle's needs, but stumbled into a dream situation in Arizona. Expect Ken Whisenhunt to find many curse-worthy ways to use him over the next few years.
So what's the final verdict on the Hawks 2007 draft?
Another score for Ruskell. The Hawks' GM works in unconventional ways that often lead to premature criticism, by me for one, but when the day is over you can see an intelligently orchestrated plan materialize. Seattle didn't make any splashy trades, they didn't pick up a pair of potential franchise players in the first round the way the 49ers did, but Ruskell once again maximized the value of each pick, filling our roster's most pressing needs and grabbing some tantalizing potential at DB and WR. Seattle is now a much better, more complete and younger team than they were three days ago. Missing a first round pick and without mortgaging the future, Seattle still easily recorded the second best draft in the division. A-