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Stop judging draft picks too soon

Atlanta Falcons v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr /Getty Images

Lately, a recurring theme among Seahawks fans that we’ve been discussing a lot at Field Gulls recently is the claim that “Pete Carroll and John Schneider are bad at drafting now.” The claim is largely built on the lack of great finds from 2013-2017, a span of five drafts. Working against Seattle the most right now is that 2013-2014 indeed had few rewards.

Part of that is due to the fact of the Seahawks moving first round picks for veterans in 2013 (and again in 2015) and moving down from the first round to the second round in 2014, as well as 2017. We’d have to include the value of Percy Harvin and Jimmy Graham in two of those cases, and Graham was more valuable from 2015-2017 than nearly any tight end could have been if drafted in the first round.

However, there is no remaining player from the 2013 Seattle class (Spencer Ware’s been the most valuable player of the 11 members of the group) and the only player left from 2014 is Justin Britt. Then the 2015 group saw five of the seven players do little-to-nothing for the Seahawks (Mark Glowinski the only standout of those five), but the value of Frank Clark as a second rounder and Tyler Lockett as a third rounder (we far too often treat him like a former first rounder) has been really good.

So if you want to judge Pete and John on their 2013-2015 draft classes, I say go ahead. If you want to call 2013-2015 among the worst in the NFL from that period of time, you may have a very solid argument. The draft picks in that three-year span delivered them Jimmy Graham, Tyler Lockett, Frank Clark, Justin Britt, Percy Harvin, Mark Glowinski, Paul Richardson, Cassius Marsh, Christine Michael, Luke Willson, Jordan Hill, and little else, while Ware has had some very good moments with the Chiefs. I’d say that sounds closer to “average’ than “the worst” but I haven’t done research beyond what the Seahawks did. Maybe I’ll leave that for next time.

That being said, if you are judging Pete and John for their 2016-2017 draft classes, by nearly any measure beyond the completely obvious like picks who are no longer with the team, I’d say you are not giving much respect to the process that we’ve come to know over decades of football history or may not know much about how these things typically work.

You can’t condemn — or praise — a GM based on draft picks with less than three years of NFL experience. If you did that, you might actually reward Colts GM Ryan Grigson with the 2012 Executive of the Year award over John Schneider. (Though that was also a stupid decision at the time and not just in hindsight.)

Players often take a few years to develop in the pros and could look like future Hall of Famers or like garbage in the beginning, only to completely turn it around for better or worse. Rather than pick some obvious choices from yesteryear, let’s see what’s going on with some players who are right in the middle of really establishing who they are as pros as compared to when they were rookie and second years players.

Let’s look at some players from the 2014 draft:

Demarcus Lawrence, Cowboys, 34th overall

After a rookie season in which Lawrence missed nine games and had zero sacks, surely Cowboys fans were pessimistic about his prospects and the future at edge rusher. (There was also that wacky turn of events in the playoff win over the Lions.) He had two sacks in two postseason games, but the team signed Greg Hardy and drafted Randy Gregory anyway. However, by his second year, I’m sure things were much more positive: 55 tackles and eight sacks. That hope was crushed in year three though, when Lawrence was suspended, missed seven games overall, and had only one sack. I doubt there was a strong push to extend Lawrence at that point and he had back surgery in the offseason, but it probably would’ve saved Dallas a lot of money; Lawrence of course had 14.5 sacks last season and was given the franchise tag, costing the Cowboys $17.1 million to retain him for 2018 alone.

Injuries, suspensions, lack of production, and now Lawrence is one of the highest-paid players in the NFL.

Amari Cooper, Raiders, 4th overall

Cooper is one of 10 players in NFL history to record at least 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first two seasons. After two years, Cooper would belong in a class only belonging to players like Randy Moss, Odell Beckham, and A.J. Green. It’s the way you might feel about Michael Thomas right now. However, Cooper is coming off of a horrid season three, with 48 catches, 680 yards, 50% catch rate, and nine drops. He ranked 65th in DYAR, behind players like Josh Doctson and Deonte Thompson. Much of his production came in a 210-yard game against the Chiefs, but he required 19 targets to get there. I still like Cooper, of course, but how much does your perception change on him today compared to your thoughts on him one year ago?

Jeremy Hill, Bengals, 55th overall

1,124 yards as a rookie, 11 touchdowns in year two, and and 29 rushing touchdowns through three seasons, which ranks tied 23rd all-time with guys like Marshall Faulk, Gale Sayers, Arian Foster, and Edgerrin James. Hill had 116 yards and zero touchdowns in year four, signing a one-year, $1.3 million deal with the Patriots this month.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, 38th overall

Of course, many Seattle fans knew the risk-reward of ASJ and that volatility expectation has not disappointed. Seferian-Jenkins was drafted over guys like Marqise Lee, Paul Richardson, Devante Adams, and Allen Robinson, but he had just 42 catches for 559 yards through two seasons, missing 16 of 32 possible games. Then after two games in 2016, Seferian-Jenkins was arrested under a DUI suspicion and released by Tampa Bay that same day. He was claimed by the Jets and had 10 catches for 110 yards in seven games. ASJ was not a hot commodity by any means and well of his value as an early second round pick in 2014, but after a decent fourth season (50 catches, 357 yards after serving a two-game suspension) he was able to secure a two-year, $10 million contract with the Jaguars.

Marqise Lee, Jaguars, 39th overall

From 15 catches for 191 yards and one touchdown in year two (behind Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns as the clear starters), to 119 catches for 1,553 yards in the two years since; Lee is now the number one after the departures of Robinson and Hurns, playing on a four-year, $34 million contract that he just signed.

Jason Verrett, Chargers, 25th overall

10 games missed as a rookie, Pro Bowl cornerback in year two, 12 games missed in year three, 15 games missed in year four.

Dee Ford, Chiefs, 23rd overall

Here are Dee Ford’s sack totals:

2014 - 1.5

2015 - 4

2016 - 10

2017 - 2 (10 games missed)

Jadeveon Clowney, Texans, 1st overall

Even Clowney has had to go through the ups-and-downs of easily-adjusted expectations. He was considered as exciting of a prospect as possible in 2014, then an injury wiped out all but four games, with Clowney recording zero sacks. In year two, he played in 13 games with nine starts, making 4.5 sacks. So through two seasons, he missed 15 games and had 4.5 sacks. Many Houston fans were not happy and not ready to sit through another disappointing season from Clowney. However, he’s played in 30 of a possible 32 games since, recording 15.5 sacks, four batted passes, three forced fumbles, and among the league-leaders in tackles for a loss, QB hurries. It’s hard to imagine that there are many edge rushers who’d be more highly valued than Clowney today, but after two seasons, Texans fans were fed up that he wasn’t immediately fantastic.

Myles Garrett was immediately fantastic for the Browns last year, even having missed five games, but who knows what will happen in the next two years to either support or deny those happy expectations?

Morgan Moses, Washington, 66th overall

Third round picks with injuries? Moses can relate. He made just one start as a rookie and was placed on injured reserve with a Lisfranc injury. He unexpectedly won the starting right tackle job over rookie Brandon Scherff in 2015, and has since become one of the most reliable right tackles in the NFL.

Davante Adams, Packers, 53rd overall

88 catches for 929 yards and four touchdowns through first two seasons.

149 catches for 1,882 yards and 22 touchdowns in the last two seasons.

Almost as if players can get better with more experience and opportunities.

Ja’Wuan James, Dolphins, 19th overall

Four years in, the Dolphins don’t even really seem to know what they have. That’s probably because James has started 16 games twice (2014, 2016) and missed half of the season twice (2015, 2017) and his play otherwise has been inconsistent. That’s why they are contemplating trading or releasing him to save on his $9.3 million salary, but given what year it was, that would either same crazy to do or crazy not to do.

Sammy Watkins, 4th overall

Over 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns during his first two seasons in Buffalo, traded after his third season, not franchised by the Rams after his fourth season, and then a wild $16 million APY from the Chiefs in free agency. How would you judge Watkins after four years? How does it differ after two? After three?

Paul Richardson, 45th overall

Of course, Richardson is one of the greatest examples of all. For the first three years of his career, up until his incredible catches at the end of 2016, fans wanted little part of Richardson. His draft status and potential mixed with his injuries (torn ACL in 2014, missed basically all of 2015) and lack of production when healthy (2016), had a lot of people wishing he was no longer a daily reminder of passing over opportunities to draft Lawrence, Joel Bitonio, Marqise Lee, then Stephon Tuitt, Trent Murphy, Timmy Jernigan, Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, and Jarvis Landry. (Not to mention an appearance by Jimmy Garoppolo. How many of these names also represent guys who you thought very differently of in 2014-2016 than you do today?)

And yet in 2018, Richardson’s signed a $40 million contract with Washington and those same fans are wondering, “How will the Seahawks replace Paul Richardson?”

All it took was one healthy season as a starter and 703 yards. That was easy.

As for Seattle’s picks over the last two years, this is a list of names remaining from those classes: Germain Ifedi, Jarran Reed, C.J. Prosise, Nick Vannett, Rees Odhiambo, Quinton Jefferson, Joey Hunt, Malik McDowell, Ethan Pocic, Shaquill Griffin, Delano Hill, Nazair Jones, Amara Darboh, Tedric Thompson, David Moore, and Chris Carson.

Forget about the fact that that makes 16 players remaining from the two most recent drafts, which seems abnormally high. Or that Ifedi, Reed, Griffin, Pocic, and Carson are starters, while Odhiambo, Jones have filled in for starters. Ifedi is on a perfectly normal development curve for right tackles, with his true judgment year coming in 2018 — at least way moreso than a reasonable person would judge Ifedi on his rookie season or his first season at right tackle in the pros. Griffin is ahead of the curve for starting corners, playing like a legitimate first round talent who went near the end of round three.

Many of these names haven’t even gotten opportunities yet because the starters are too good. Opportunities appear to be opening up for them in 2018, especially Vannett, Hill, Jones, Darboh, Moore, and if healthy, Prosise and McDowell. You can judge a person for even a day or work, of course, but know that you are only judging them for the work they did that day. Only a fool would use that day to judge them for the rest of their careers. Maybe Ifedi will get worse. Maybe he will get better. Maybe Prosise will get healthy. Maybe he’ll never play again. We don’t know. Maybe John Schneider and Pete Carroll are worse talent evaluators than Scot McCloughan and that’s been a root cause of some problems since he left. Maybe.

I just won’t judge Pete and John on a “maybe.”