The Seahawks could use their first selection in this week’s draft, whenever that pick comes, on a number of positions. Any of the five spots across the offensive line could realistically be addressed and so too could defensive tackle, 5-technique or LEO. While a spot along the trenches appears most likely to be the first position given a boost by a rookie, a wide receiver should be expected to be added some time on the draft’s second day—as this regime has done five times in 10 years.
Though they already have the foundation—and centerpieces—of an extremely talented wide receiver corps, Seattle needs to complement Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf’s skill sets. In Lockett, they have a route running savant who can find space in a phone booth, separate over the middle and underneath or take the top off the defense; in Metcalf, they have an explosive play waiting to happen, a receiver with excellent awareness of his size and limitless potential. To add a true possession receiver to Russell Wilson’s leading duo would be to give him potentially the most versatile pass-catching group of his career.
On day two of the draft, a pair of receivers stand out as the perfect match.
The latest in a line of big-bodied athletic pass catchers from Notre Dame, Claypool has enjoyed a superb pre-draft process, first with a strong showing at the Senior Bowl and then a starring role at the Scouting Combine. Claypool began the lead up to the draft surrounded by questions about whether he would end up at tight end in the NFL, but after testing in the 98th percentile among wideouts at 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds, it became clear he would stick to receiver.
Claypool’s skill set, size, and usage make him a perfect fit to play alongside Metcalf and Lockett. On vertical routes, he moves with great fluidity, chewing up the cornerback’s cushion and gliding downfield. He’s tidy in and out of his breaks, and when coming back to the ball he turns fluidly. While Claypool’s size advantage over defensive backs is an innate advantage, he still possesses a strong understanding of leverage and positioning in the short and intermediate areas, putting himself between the defender and the ball to create easy wins.
The big question mark surrounding Claypool—and why it is disappointing he was not able to do the three cone or short shuttle in Indianapolis—is his ability to create yardage after the catch. However, that would not be a huge problem on the Seahawks, where the majority of a receiver’s yardage is created before the catch.
In analyzing Claypool’s size and athletic profile, and on-field ability, it becomes obvious he would fit seamlessly into Seattle’s offense. From what we are able to glean about his mental makeup, that is only furthered. Claypool was able to get on the field as a freshman by being a willing, and excellent, special teamer. As his status within the Fighting Irish program grew, his presence in the game’s third phase did not lessen. Similarly, his competitive toughness consistently appears as a blocker. On the field and in the locker room, Claypool would fit right in.
In another year with a more shallow draft class, USC’s Michael Pittman could have a case to be the first wide receiver drafted—instead, he is among the best receivers in this year’s second tier. At 6-foot-4 and 223 pounds, the former Trojan brings fantastic size and contested-catch ability to the position. A better prospect than Claypool but with similar styles of play, Pittman too would be the perfect player alongside Lockett and Metcalf in the Seahawks’ wide receiver corps.
While Pittman doesn’t have the long speed to get vertical in the same manner as Claypool, he is more polished running vertically, consistently stacking his defender. He has excellent body control deep as well, tracking the football and adjusting with ease. At the top of his route, Pittman depends on his superior size and physicality to manufacture space for himself—but upon creating that space, he does well to box the defender out of the play. Like Claypool, the majority of Pittman’s production comes before the catch. Pittman is a supremely natural catcher, reaching out and plucking the ball consistently.
Despite Pittman’s seemingly obvious fit in Seattle’s offense, there is reason to wonder if he’ll be a strong candidate in their draft room. In their draft trends at receiver, speed (40-yard dash time) and explosiveness (broad and vertical jumps) are the constants. Since 2010, the Seahawks have drafted seven wide receivers who projected outside or had possession-based games. Of those seven, six broke 4.5 seconds in the 40, with only Kenny Lawler slower. Pittman is just short of that threshold, at 4.52 seconds. Will that be enough to keep Pittman off Seattle’s board entirely? Unlikely. Will it lead them to favor other, possibly less skilled, receivers over him? Almost certainly.
In a loaded wide receiver class, the Seahawks should be well-positioned to leave Thursday or Friday with an immediate impact player at wide receiver and hopefully, one who meshes perfectly with the existing skill sets there. Should Seattle wait until Friday to strike, there will be a pair of high-ceiling possession players to target.