I don’t believe there’s much point in second guessing draft picks, because the process is so hit or miss and because of that process the Seattle Seahawks’ strategy of frequently trading down to accumulate more picks is generally sound. However, I do enjoy a good story and the story of the Seahawks’ 2017 draft is particularly intriguing, in hindsight.
the 30 for 30 on the draft legacy of seahawks og 26th pick would be incredible: takk reuben foster kevin king cam robinson & leek oh what a web we weave pic.twitter.com/QJNI2HtSOi— beat valley (@beat_valley) December 11, 2017
As we all know Seattle ended up drafting Malik McDowell 35th overall, in the second round, after trading down several times from the 26th pick of the first round. McDowell has yet to play professional football after reportedly getting into an all-terrain vehicle accident over the summer and suffering severe head trauma. To add some glare resistance to that black mark, McDowell got himself misdemeanor arrested this weekend for arguing over a bar tab or something.
The pick baffled observers at the time because, although depth is always a concern on the defensive line rotation, the Seahawks had Pro Bowlers at both defensive end spots, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, a rising star in Frank Clark, plus a recent second round pick at defensive tackle, Jarran Reed, playing the same position Leek McDowell played in college. Seattle must have had some sense it might plan to move on from Ahtyba Rubin, the one-technique Reed ended up replacing, but it also probably expected Quinton Jefferson returning from injuries suffered in his rookie year. Anyway, it never hurts to add pass rush and McDowell reportedly was set to play outside as well as on the interior before his injury. There’s also another story about McDowell’s work ethic and stuff in his last year at Michigan State, but he was also a dynamic player as a junior and this here is not really a draft profile critique.
The real reason fans expressed disappointment in the pick was because the Seahawks’ “biggest needs” heading into the draft were supposedly offensive linemen, cornerbacks and safety. Local fans in particular voiced their interest in recent Washington Huskies defenders Buddha Baker and Kevin King, both of whom were available when Seattle had been first scheduled at the 26th slot.
But the Seahawks traded that pick to the Atlanta Falcons, who chose outside linebacker/defensive end prospect Takkarist McKinley. McKinley has been outstanding for the Falcons, with five sacks as a reserve while playing all 13 games in a system notably similar to Seattle’s under Dan Quinn. That’s ostensibly the role McDowell could have played, and obviously more availability than McDowell offered so far, but Seattle also got picks that became Delano Hill and Chris Carson out of the trade, so those prospects have future value at least.
Also also, Baker and King were still available at the 31st pick that Atlanta had given up. I’m not gonna recap all the permutations in too much detail because it’s been covered a million times, but the Seahawks then traded that pick to the San Francisco 49ers, who chose Reuben Foster, a very good prospect who Seattle didn’t really need but who has shown signs he will become a very good player for the Seahawks’ division rivals, in between early injuries. Before Seattle could draft in San Francisco’s place, the Green Bay Packers took King, who started five games for the Packers before his season too ended last week. Whatever. The Seahawks got a pretty good future cornerback later in the draft in Shaquill Griffin.
Some other players mocked at the time to Seattle included Ryan Ramczyk and Forrest Lamp. The New Orleans Saints selected Ramczyk at 32, right before Green Bay took King and before the Seahawks next opportunity, who has been a starter for 13 games and key contributor to the Saints’ rushing success in 2017. Lamp, chosen a few picks later by the Los Angeles Chargers, missed the whole regular season with a blown ACL. However, Cam Robinson out of Alabama, a third tackle who had first-round potential according to many experts, too remained on the board.
The Jacksonville Jaguars wanted Robinson so bad they traded up one slot, to 33 from 34, even though they had recently traded for Miami Dolphins left tackle Branden Albert. That move turned out fortuitous when Albert tried to leverage his desire for a new contract by fake-retiring/holding out from Jaguars camp. Seattle picked a cornerback they later cut, Mike Tyson, with the extra pick from Jacksonville, and the Jaguars also later waived Albert. The Seahawks of course then chose Malik McDowell.
So, like I wrote Monday morning, it was Robinson anchoring the left side of the Jacksonville offensive line that held Seattle without any sacks Sunday, and specifically Robinson who absorbed Frank Clark’s best pass rush moves. I don’t think it’s fair to resort to blaming McDowell for his accident or blaming the Seahawks for trading down, or their apparently preference for McDowell over the other talents available—but it is fascinating to consider how that matchup pitting the 34th overall pick Robinson against the 35th pick McDowell, assuming he subbed some snaps for Clark, might have turned out had McDowell played and developed healthy this year. With luck in McDowell’s recovery that one-on-one duel can be a showcase event four years in the future.
I’m not the offensive line expert who can tell you if Robinson has been a stellar player for the Jaguars as a rookie, but he seems like he would have been a better replacement for George Fant than converted guard Rees Odhiambo turned out to be, and possessing a solid performer like that could have saved Seattle from the salary cap hell they’re in after trading for Duane Brown—however good Brown has been. The reports on Robinson coming out of school were rather similar to McDowell: high potential with seeming disinterest at times, plus a marijuana charge. Pro Football Focus grades Robinson as just a poor player, 74th among all tackles, so if you can trust those grades maybe the grooming period for Robinson would have been just as bad as for Odhiambo—but Robinson looked splendid enough Sunday that it made me consider all these draft machinations a second time.
Nobody could have seen the injuries to Fant and McDowell coming. Baker got chosen a selection later than McDowell, by the Arizona Cardinals, and who knows what other picks Seattle might have made differently if they felt they needed another defensive end or tackle early in the draft? There would probably be no Ethan Pocic or Nazair Jones and a whole waterfall of alternatives that makes the mental exercise too chaotic to consider (as much a fractal universe as the entire mock draft process ever is). But I also don’t blame Seahawks fans if their mouths gaped just a bit watching Robinson on Sunday, and hoping it drives Clark—and McDowell—to keep getting better.