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Solving John Schneider: How the Seahawks have fared in the first-round of the NFL draft

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Washington Pro Day Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Over the next few weeks we will take a look at the 10 drafts that John Schneider has performed as general manager of the Seattle Seahawks. The goal is simply to observe patterns that have become apparent over time - both success and failure - as a result of the tendencies that Schneider has in the draft. Specifically, we are interested in how the Seahawks have fared evaluating talent: (1) in specific rounds, (2) by position, and (3) in trading up or down.

General John and the building of an empire, part 1: the first pick

Here’s a snapshot of most recent Seahawk drafts:

As well as the early years out of the gate that made Schneider famous in Seattle:

Seattle’s first selections are of particular interest because of Schneider’s perceived insistence in trading down, and because fans are still not over Germain Ifedi. Let’s examine.

The Seahawks first selections (including 14th overall Earl Thomas) are as follows:

  • Russell Okung
  • Earl Thomas
  • James Carpenter
  • Bruce Irvin
  • Christine Michael (2nd round)
  • Paul Richardson (2nd round)
  • Frank Clark (2nd round)
  • Germain Ifedi
  • Malik McDowell (2nd round)
  • Rashaad Penny
  • L.J. Collier

Schneider only has seven first rounders to evaluate, and that’s with two in one year. So 60% of the time Schneider has taken a first round player, and 40% of the time he either has traded down (2017) or traded the pick away earlier (Jimmy Graham for 31st in 2015, etc).

There’s also this streak to consider:

So Schneider likes to move around a lot. We’ll look at the effectiveness of that later. But once the Seahawks finally do make their selection, how is Schneider as a top-level talent evaluator?

Inconsistent.

Russell Okung - Left tackles are one of the hardest positions to find, and Okung was a good one. Two time Pro Bowler, nine-year starter, and had only missed seven games in his most recent six years until being injured much of 2019. He’s also had an entire season with no holding penalties AND an entire season of no false starts. Many a Seahawk fan would give part of their season tickets to have an offensive lineman not do either of those things. A

Earl Thomas - The A plussest of A plusses. Nothing to add.

James Carpenter - Carpenter was drafted as a tackle but only panned out as a guard. Seattle did not exercise the 5th year option on his rookie deal. He has never made more than $5.5 million, and PFF ranks him at the low end of average year after year. That is a very good career as a middling starter in a tough position, but it is not very good as the 25th overall pick. C-

Bruce Irvin - While he never developed into a top-end edge rushing specialist, Irvin had a productive rookie season and was generally a very useful player. One might hope for some sort of Pro Bowl or something, but alas. Irvin made the 2012 All-Rookie team, was in the NFL’s top 100 once (2018), and a one-time AFC Player of the Week. He also had six forced fumbles in 2016 which feels like another thing Seattle could use these days. B

Christine Michael - This pick sucked, and was a constant reminder of how the Seahawks were one slot from having Eddie Lacy instead, until they ultimately did get Lacy a couple years ago and he sucked too. Michael never was able to put it together, and his troubled tenure was short-lived, including his short return. F

Paul Richardson - An inconsistent and flashy receiver, who performed admirably in some big situations until he was allowed to test free agency. He landed in Washington for $8 million that Seattle was not willing to pay. Richardson definitely took a while to get going, Unfortunately, the success of Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf have cast a shadow on Richardson’s legacy, as they really raised the bar on what a 2nd round receiver is capable of. C

Frank Clark - This was considered a risky move, one that the Seahawks organization had to defend at the time. It’s not like Pete Carroll has ever shied away from character concerns, but he does not ordinarily draft them so high, and domestic abuse allegations are not things to be taken lightly.
One part of the organization, Clark was widely regarded as an excellent teammate. The only person that Seattle fans have ever actually seen Clark punch is Germain Ifedi, who very well could have deserved it. Clark developed into an effective and non-injured pass rusher, something the Seahawks had exactly none of this season. At the end of the second round, considering the four years and trade value they got out of the pick, this was quite successful. A-

After a three-year drought, Seattle returned to making a 1st round selection. Schneider’s team took all that cumulative wisdom and planning to select Germain Ifedi.
Words cannot express how polarizing this pick has been. Not really between the fans, because the general consensus is that Ifedi is about three and a half steps below not good. But a more startling contrast between the fanbase’s opinion and the coaching staff’s trust you would be hard pressed to find. Four years later and he’s the every game starter and no one’s taken his spot yet. Seeing as how he was pick 31, when you’re really talking more about second round talent than anything else, I think Ifedi was a D+ who improved into a C+/B- range, and fully anticipate plenty of naysayers in the comments.

Malik McDowell - 2017 will always be interesting because the draft was full of late gems, capped by easily the worst draft tragedy in Seattle’s history. Never making it to any significant team practices before his mystery-shrouded injury, McDowell is the type of legend a team wishes they weren’t associated with. It’s unfortunate all the way around, and potentially held back much of Seattle’s momentum. F

Rashaad Penny - He’ll give Ifedi a run for his money as the most polarizing first-rounder. We questioned him quite a bit at Field Gulls for making it look quite like he was going to be washed early this season. His injured finish to the 2019 season rivals Dissly in terms of disappointment. Such a devastation for a young athlete who looked every bit like he was going to show us all what arbitrary letter he deserved to have at the end of this paragraph. Trending up

L.J. Collier - He cannot be labeled a bust permanently, simply because we’ve seen such second-year improvements out of Penny and Rasheem Green. But he was a bust. Seemingly nobody liked the pick at the time, and he hasn’t done anything to prove doubters wrong yet. D- maybe?

Making Lemonade out of Observations

The biggest immediate takeaway is the lack of home runs after the two in 2010. Seattle’s best players for eight consecutive seasons have not come in the first round, or several times in the second round either. Michael, Richardson, and Clark, mark a three-year stretch where Seattle’s top pick was not retained past the original rookie contract. Depending on Rashaad Penny’s immediate future, the Seahawks could easily have another such three-year drought coming soon.

That puts a huge amount of pressure on later draft picks (which do well, more later) and free agency.

Which, for the record, Schneider generally handles like a team that is hitting well on their draft, and obviously that is not always the case. Schneider tends to overpay guys just a bit in order for them to be willing to sign one-year deals - Luke Joeckel being the worst offender.

The second observation is that when Schneider drops, he really drops down hard. Malik McDowell marks Seattle’s only early second-round pick. Of the first picks taken in the second-round, the Seahawks have Richardson at 45, Clark at 63, Michael at 62. They’ve never taken a player into training camp between picks 32-44.

What does that mean, you ask?

Absolutely no idea. But Schneider is apparently not all that interested in just dropping 10 or so spots from their 27 average to take someone in the early 30s. In fact, our favorite name in this article Germain Ifedi marks the only player taken in the 30s at any point in John Schneider’s Seattle tenure.

So he either prefers to wander around the back of the first-round (three of past four drafts) or drop way back somewhere like the end of the second.

Another: it’s not really fair to say that Schneider can’t evaluate skill positions because he did find Chris Carson, Russell Wilson, Tyler Lockett, and D.K. Metcalf. However, as a first pick? Thanks but no thanks let’s go somewhere else. Richardson, Penny, and Michael do not a fearsome trio make.

And before we forget, let’s give Schneider a final grade. Using a very scientific process approaching Pro Football Focus mathery, I averaged all the grades given per player on a 0-5 basis and John Schneider graded out at a C with a C- breathing right down his neck. This is for post-draft success of the first player taken (plus Earl) only. Top-level talent evaluation. Or, as is the convoluted case here, how good is the best player you’re bringing in after you’ve traded away a better shot at a sure thing in the top of the draft?

In this case, it’s not always working out, and is part of what led to the 10-6 and 11-5 “rebuilding” seasons that the Seahawks recently had to endure.

But in all honesty, there’s some glaring holes on this roster that did not exist until 2015, and that starts with the draft. Which starts at pick number one, and goes for many hours until the Seattle Seahawks finally join the party.