It was Disney On Ice (Or, maybe it was The Nutcracker. It doesn't matter.)
Years ago, a woman I was dating complained bitterly about a holiday tradition of seeing Disney on Ice with her grandmother every December. It was one of those holiday traditions that began when she was a little girl but had long ago outlived its usefulness. "Holiday girl time with grandma" had morphed into the worst kind of family ritual -- a pure obligation.
Now as it happens, I'm an asshole. So I was like:
Me: Why don't y'all just find something else to do? You actually like the time with your grandmother around the holidays. You just don't like Disney on Ice. And, well, how could you? Two grown women sitting up in Disney on Ice. It's undignified. (Okay. I didn't say those last few sentences, but my poker face is also not the best.)
You want me to just tell her?
Her: No. Don't you say a word. You don't understand anyway. She talks about Disney on Ice every time she sees me throughout the year, even in the summer. She orders the tickets months in advance. She would be crushed if we didn't go. I was talking to my mom, who was all, "You know how much your grandmother enjoys that time together."
As it turns out, the next time she saw her grandmother she let it slip that she didn't overly like Disney on Ice and was getting a little old for it. (She blamed me for that.) But, it just so happens that grandma felt the same way. She was really hoping my ex would suggest something more... you know... fun, but was hanging on for the sake of tradition. She wasn't deriving much pleasure from the experience, but didn't want to let go of Disney on Ice lest she lose even that time together. She basically just assumed that the specific ritual is what brought them together, and she wasn't gonna be the one to let that go.
Once they got that out in the open, the two resolved to spend time together at the holidays, which is what they both wanted and understood as important. But, instead of mystifying Disney on Ice, which had long since lost any magic it ever had, they scheduled other events together.
The moral of the story? Well, I don't wanna throw my shoulder out patting myself on the back, but hooray for assholes.
The point of the story? It's an allegory y'all. In it, draft analysts are the grandmother and post-draft grading is their Disney on Ice. NFL fans focused on the draft are my ex-girlfriend. I'm still the asshole. Now, if I were writing the story from scratch I'd actually talk to the grandmother.
Me: Check this out gramdma. Draft grading has become the worst. Your granddaughter hates it because it is no longer attached to the meaning that made it special back when she was a little girl. Back then she used to get really excited about your post-draft grades because she didn't know better. Now she's all grown up (giggety), and she can't get excited about that anymore. She still loves you, and wants to spend time during the draft holiday season. She just wants to do something else with you.
Grandma: You know, you really are an asshole but--
Me: Yeah, I know. It's a gift.
Grandma: Don't interrupt. That's rude. Still, I see your point. Do what though? We've been doing grades for so long.
Post-Draft Themes: A Diagnostic Approach
We can (or at least should) all acknowledge that the day after the draft we don't know much about the future. Only time will tell whether a given draft (or given prospect) will work out for the reasons we expected, work out for different reasons, not work out for the reasons we expected, or not work out for different reasons. It shouldn't be a big deal to simply concede that we flat out don't know how things will play out. You don't get grades in school after you choose your courses but before you take them. That'd be pretty dumb.
Still. The draft is significant enough that it seems like a waste to just say, "We can't know anything until training camp and really 3-4 years down the road." So, what to do? I think a good approach to post-draft talk is diagnostic rather than predictive. In other words it is more important to talk about what you think a team is trying to do to address personnel and how the draft figures into the process. (Some analysts do this, but the grade format detracts from that in a fundamental way.)
The great thing about Pete Carroll and John Schneider is that they're fairly straightforward about what they're doing, which makes it easy to pull out a few underlying themes when you look at the draft haul.
The Draft Haul
Round 1, Pick 26 (31): Germain Ifedi, OL Texas A&M
Round 2, Pick 18 (49): Jarran Reed, DL Alabama
Round 3, Pick 27 (90): C.J. Prosise, RB Notre Dame
Round 3, Pick 31 (94): Nick Vannett, TE Ohio State
Round 3, Pick 35 (97) (Comp pick): Rees Odhiambo, OL Boise State
Round 5, Pick 8 (147) (From Patriots): Quinton Jefferson, DL Maryland
Round 5, Pick 34 (171) (Comp pick): Alex Collins, RB Arkansas
Round 6, Pick 40 (215) (Comp pick): Joey Hunt, C TCU
Round 7, Pick 4 (243) (From Patriots): Kenny Lawler, WR Cal
Round 7, Pick 26 (247): Zac Brooks, RB Clemson
Add to that, the reported free agent tryouts and signings (which should finalize in the next couple days). Seattle is clearly targeting athletic defensive in UDFA.
Major Theme: Getting Back to Badass
In their post-draft presser, they must have referred to competition in training camp a proverbial "umpteen" times. Well, that's an axiom for them. What's interesting is the major and minor themes around competition in a given off-season.
One major theme is fairly clear from this year's draft. Seattle is re-loading athletically. Schneider was really clear about this. He wants the team to get back to being a badass bully.
If you look at the other teams generally considered to be in their championship window they've all improved their athletic profile the past few seasons, in no small part because of Seattle. The hurt the Seahawks put on the Broncos in the Super Bowl reminded me of when Nebraska bulldozed Steve Spurrier's Gators to win a national title. No matter what else, in football the team with the biggest baddest dudes has an advantage. Spreading the field can offset some of the advantage but not all of it.
Seattle still fields one of the NFL's most athletic rosters, but look at Arizona and Carolina, Denver and Kansas City. Look at Oakland. The gap has closed. Schneider wants to address it.
To me, this theme is less about any particular players Seattle selected than it is about the volume of picks and rookie free agents connected to Seattle. In the broad brush strokes Seattle approached this draft almost like a team worried that its championship window had closed. Not with fear or desperation, but a serious commitment to re-loading. This front office is throwing some serious athletes at certain positions on this roster to see what shakes out.
Minor Theme: Pass Protection is Not Just For the Offensive Line
The selection of OT, Germain Ifedi will confirm for some that Seattle continues to undervalue pass protection. That may turn out to be more right than wrong, but I'd counter that Seattle is taking a more holistic approach to its pass protection issues. The offensive line is part of it, but it works at three levels--in the backfield, at the line, and down the field.
- Backfield. The single most important player in any pass protection scheme is the QB. He has so much control over what the pass rush can accomplish. The next leap forward for Russell Wilson as a QB is to cut in half the unnecessary sacks and pressures he gives up--NOT the offensive line, him. Just cutting those instances in half with no other improvements would likely have take last year's pass pro from dysfunctional to aiight early in the season. That alone may have sent Seattle to a 3rd consecutive Super Bowl. To me, that's what all the "quarterback master's degree" stuff coming from Pete Carroll was all about--getting Wilson to understand pass protection.
- Line of scrimmage. I am not implying Wilson caused the offensive line breakdowns in pass pro. It looks like they're going to address problem most directly at the interior positions. At the presser they didn't just talk about Joey Hunt (TCU) as a potential starter at center, even though he is undersized. They talked about him captaining the offensive line and making calls from day 1. They're keeping Ifedi at RT, which may move J'Marcus Webb to LG and Britt to swing G/T. This year, the best pass protectors may win the starting interior spots. In addition, I found the Vannett selection intriguing. Based on scouting reports I believe the team sees him as a deluxe Anthony McCoy or Tony Moeaki, primarily an in-line blocker who help seal the edges but also brings value on 3rd down.
- Downfield. What happens downfield is often the forgotten piece to pass protection. Route combos and receivers who get open quickly is a time-tested way to help pass pro. The past couple seasons Seattle has added uber-quick WRs (Lockett, Richardson, and to be fair Harvin). They want Wilson to get a ball out of his hands to help negate pass rush. However, another way of aiding pass pro that became apparent with Kearse's great season is with a WR who can use his body and reach to make contested catches. Kenny Lawler, though not the same kind of athlete as Kearse, is cut from that cloth.
Minor Theme: Replacing Lynch is About Being Multiple
It appears as though the team will take a very different approach to the running game in the post-Lynch era. Although they have bristled at the term RB-by-committee, the running game may look more like it did on Cable's Atlanta and Oakland teams. Now, we don't know which of Thomas Rawls, Christine Michael, Cameron Marshall, C.J. Prosise, Alex Collins, and Zac Brooks will be on the roster, healthy, and active on Sundays. What we can say is that Seattle has a clear prototype RB body, but they also value a broad array of styles and skill sets at the position. Most notably, they have picked up multiple RBs in Marshall, Prosise, and Brooks that bring serious value as receivers.
I'm not even sure the team knows what will shake out of this mix at RB, but Seattle may yet become the killer screen team I've predicted they would be the past couple seasons.
Minor Theme: Seattle is Hedging on Michael Bennett
I'm not at all suggesting that Seattle is trying to run Michael Bennett out of town. In fact I'm pretty sure they aren't. However, it is notable that they made a (heretofore) rare trade up to acquire Quinton Jefferson. Then they showered him with praise at the press conference, comparing him directly to Bennett.
Black Santa has been awesome, but do not be confused about what lessons the team learned from Kam Chancellor's holdout. Having negotiating leverage is one thing. Having a viable plan B if--for whatever reason--a player is absent is another thing entirely. The front office will do its level best to avoid a scenario where it lacks a viable plan B in the future.