No matter how this season concludes, no team will enter the off-season feeling better about its future than the Seahawks. Seattle has a young, talented, fast, physical, deep, and relatively cheap roster. Then, to top it all off, we have one of the league's best young quarterbacks - a quarterback who came at a fraction of the cost of his competition. We won't be waiting until the second round to make our first pick in 2013 and 2014 like the Redskins. Nor will we be trying to continue a youth movement like Colts. The Seahawks will be looking to truly establish themselves as a feared contender.
One could easily make a case for the Seahawks moving toward more of a BPA (best player available) approach. However, that's not the philosophy that totally revitalized an abysmal roster in just three years. Pete Carroll and John Schneider have meticulously filled needs with early picks. Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, James Carpenter, and John Moffitt were all given starting positions straight away. Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson were both given the opportunity to compete for a starting job. And while not a 'starter,' Bruce Irvin filled a clear role as a third down pass rusher and is also the heir apparent to Chris Clemons at the Leo spot. Only Golden Tate failed to have an immediate impact, and he has since claimed the starting job at split end.
The Seahawks still have a few needs, albeit small ones compared to the past couple years, and I suspect we'll try to fill at least a couple in the first three rounds. Four positions stick out to me as areas to upgrade; wide receiver, tight end, 3-technique DT, and weak-side linebacker. Right tackle, cornerback, and 5-technique DE are three lesser needs if a special talent were to fall farther than their value. In a near future post I'll do a little forward scouting on the already apparent possible first round picks for the Seahawks. But for right now let's stick to needs and some draft forecasting.
Many Hawk fans, myself included, want Russell Wilson to have all the weapons he needs to reach his full potential and drive this offense. Tate and Sidney Rice have started fulfilling their substantial potential this season. But we're still an injury away from a frighteningly weak receiving corps. That's no state of being when you have a young franchise quarterback. Time to add at least one more dangerous receiver this off-season.
Tate, Rice, and Doug Baldwin are very capable receivers and well suited for their respective roles. However, we lack a true deep threat and Wilson likes throwing it deep. We need a receiver who can create separation down the field. Yet I hesitate to believe we'll use a first round pick on a WR. The need is there but not the defined role or future starting position. Further, speed goes early but such a narrow requirement can be found past round one. It's a possibility in the first but for now I tend to think we'll look elsewhere.
Drafting a tight end is another option for giving Wilson more weapons to target. Unlike a WR, a receiving TE would have a clear and defined role to fill. Carroll and Bevell could finally enact the plan they had for Zach Miller and John Carlson, before Carlson was lost to IR for the season. Anthony McCoy emerged as a viable receiver against Arizona. But his greatest strength is as a blocker and becoming a viable receiver rests a long ways from becoming a threat worth regularly targeting.
It wouldn't be a flashy pick, but pairing Miller with another dependable TE could really open up the playbook. Wilson and said tight end would have years to develop a rapport and we already know about Wilson's knack for hitting the tight end down the seam. Such a pick would also help the running game and in turn, the threat of play action. TE appears one of the safest bets for an early pick by the Seahawks.
On the other side of the ball, the base defense is presently too dependent on Chris Clemons to generate pressure. Pete seems pretty committed to having a space-eater at the 5-tech so the 3-tech remains the only clear path toward improving the base pass rush and this is a very strong draft class at defensive tackle. However, the Seahawks require greater production at 3-tech more than they require more youth. How confidently can we rely on a rookie defensive tackle, even a first round pick, to come in and produce right away?
This situation screams out for a high profile free agent signing. Randy Starks from Miami and Richard Seymour from Oakland seem like ideal fits. Plugging in a starter right away would fill the short term need for production while still leaving the door open for Jaye Howard and Greg Scruggs down the line. Without a clear long term starter, the Hawks could capitalize on the strength of this class by adding another developmental prospect who wouldn't be expected to start right away.
At weak-side linebacker, Malcolm Smith has played well in the absence of Leroy Hill - who has lost a step. It seems that the guard has changed. Smith has the talent and now the opportunity to force himself into the equation as a potential long term starter. It's on him though to help Pete forget the durability risk that his lack of size presents. He can cement his fate as starter or back-up with a major impact or major injury over the last few games of the season. The spectrum of production in between will help or hurt him but his fate will be left in the hands of the draft and where value presents itself.
In any case, the position is thin and a draft pick will probably be used here. Smith has real talent and upside so I can't see him projected as the veteran baseline for a future starter like Barrett Ruud was projected with Bobby Wagner. Smith could easily win the competition and then we will have wasted an early pick. At this point I see either a first round WLB being given the job straight away or a middle round WLB competing with Smith in the preseason.
So, in summary, right now, tight end is the only position I'm positive will be considered in each of the first three rounds. Wide receiver, 3-technique, and weak-side linebacker all have circumstances that can still make them more or less beneficial to draft in the early rounds. Let me know your thoughts.