We all know that the Seahawks like the players they chose in the draft — otherwise, why did they draft them — but I don’t think that I personally took stock at the time of what Seattle’s 2017 class really means for the future of the team. That part of it didn’t really hit me until Pete Carroll’s comments on Thursday to Brock and Salk:
“This was a very strong draft in the DB section, so it just kind of happened that we had opportunities to get guys. We may put together one of the great backup groups you’ve ever seen and that may be what this is for the future, that would be a great thing that happens. But meanwhile, we’re going to allow these guys to compete to start, and that pushes Earl and it pushes Kam and it pushes Sherm and it pushes everybody out here, that’s how that goes, and they know that. This whole program is built on competition, and they expect that to happen. People don’t really like that, that’s just the way it is. We didn’t set out to try to redo the secondary for right now or for the future, we just had an opportunity to get some great players who can add to this team and make us more competitive.”
We all knew that the Seahawks were likely to add some secondary players early in this draft due to the injuries to DeShawn Shead and Earl Thomas, among other things, but Carroll’s comments really pound home that the draft was not meant to just band-aid their deficiencies; these were players that they drafted not to be fill-ins and not to be backups, they were picked because the team thinks they’re great. As previously noted by John Schneider, they had first or second round grades on seven of these guys. The only expectations on any draft pick is that they’ll compete to be great.
I’m just a little shocked that I didn’t take more of a hold of the idea that the players taken in the middle of this draft weren’t just filling immediate needs or depth, but I think the reason I did that was because we knew Seattle needed a starting-capable corner and depth at safety.
However, these moves were not made for those reasons.
Prior to 2017, Pete and John had only drafted ONE defensive back earlier than the fourth round: Earl Thomas, 14th overall in 2010, their second pick in Seahawks history. The next-highest defensive back drafted by the pair was that same year, pick 111, and it was Walter Thurmond. This year, Pete and John took cornerback Shaquill Griffin 90th overall, safety Delano Hill 95th, and safety Tedric Thompson 111th, same as Thurmond.
These are relatively high picks for any team, but for Pete and John to take secondary players in the late third and early fourth round, it’s practically like them saying these guys are top 20 picks.
Griffin is the highest-drafted corner in Pete and John history, and there’s a reason for that. As Rob Staton of SeahawksDraftBlog puts it:
“There are a couple of occasions where he really flashes as an athlete. On one free-release over the middle he makes up so much ground to undercut the route and the play the ball. On a deep ball he ‘ran the route’ as you often see with Richard Sherman and made a nice PBU. He can hit and his frame is quite stout for a taller, longer cornerback.
It’ll be really interesting to read the first few reports from training camp on how’s he picking up the technique because this will probably be a complete ‘start from scratch’ situation. It’s hard to be optimistic about his chances of starting as a rookie but he is a 4.38 runner at 6-0 and 194lbs with an 11-0 broad and a 38.5 inch vertical. He’s a special athlete. Hopefully that will give him a leg-up in the pro’s.”
The issue is that for now Griffin appears to be an athlete moreso than a capable cornerback. In the NFL, and with Carroll, that sort of thing can seemingly change overnight. Probably not literally, but Carroll is one of the absolute greatest secondary minds in football history; he should go into Canton on his reputation with cornerbacks and safeties alone, if nothing else. Griffin may not contribute much as a rookie, or he could be put out there and have his highs and lows, but the idea with Griffin is definitely that he can step into a role in the future of being a top-10 cornerback. He was taken 64 picks earlier than Richard Sherman was, so the expectations are certainly there for him to step into a starting role eventually.
Hill is a tackling machine and his versatility means that we don’t really know what his future holds. He could be the future at nickel cornerback that the Seahawks have been seeking, or as a rangy strong safety who becomes a jack of all trades. Hill is another one who doesn’t seem to be on track to be a huge contributor next season, but one or two years down the line could be a major star for this defense. He seems to have the playing style that will make him a Seattle favorite, but his football skills could take awhile to catch up. That’s okay. Sherman and Earl Thomas seemed to be incredible right out of the gate, but Kam Chancellor, Byron Maxwell, Shead all took time to develop.
Third in line here is Thompson, and while it would be a disservice to any player to compare him to Earl, he could at least be the guy that makes the coaches feel more comfortable about the future of free safety. As we saw last season, not only did the defense collapse with Steven Terrell taking over as starter, but Thomas questioned his desire to get back onto the field. Even though he recanted, Carroll and Schneider can’t feel great about the reminder that the luxury of Earl could end at any moment. That was the first time since they were hired that they had to find out what life-without-Earl looks like, so they couldn’t really know that Terrell or anyone else was going to be a total disaster. Thompson is not a good tester like Griffin and Hill, but he was one of the best coverage safeties in college football and they decided to go with production over 40 times. He seems to constantly be around the football and could be something that the secondary has really lacked for the last couple of seasons: A creator of turnovers.
And I won’t be forgetting sixth round pick Mike Tyson. Sure, Tyson went later than the other three. He is more of an unknown, having played for Cincinnati, a school not known for football. But if Pete and John are intrigued, I would be intrigued. Tyson could also wind up at cornerback, and his versatility/ability to contribute on special teams, will be a part of what helps him stick with the team until it could be his time to take on a bigger role. Maxwell was a sixth round pick. Sherman only went about one full round ahead of where Tyson went. The fact that he was an unknown could actually be a good thing.
All told, Seattle ended up making more drastic moves in the secondary than I even expected. It may not have been in the first or second round, but the Seahawks drafted three defensive backs in the top 111 picks, whereas in Pete and John’s first seven drafts, they had only selected two total. Griffin, Hill, Thompson, and Tyson may not end up being more than depth in 2017, but within a couple of years, these guys could be the next version of the Legion of Boom — that’s a tall order given that the current unit is the absolute soul of the team, but it seems like Carroll is excited about the potential for it coming to fruition. Now I’m excited too.