As the 2022 NFL Draft inches closer, the Seattle Seahawks continue through the first offseason without Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson in almost a decade. Drafted back to back in the second and third rounds of the 2012 draft, the pair were the unquestioned leaders of their respective units and the last remnants from the glory years that saw Pete Carroll and John Schneider hoist a Lombardi for the only time in franchise history.
So, as fans scour big boards hoping to find that Day 3 value pick that can become the next Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman or K.J. Wright, the arrival of the first round and the highest draft pick the Hawks have held since 2011 brings promises of the infusion of young talent. However regardless of what one believes regarding the future of the team, the simple fact of the matter is that the early drafts under Pete and John brought lots of success to Seattle. The 2012 draft led to 17 Pro Bowl appearances between Wagner and Wilson, on the heels of a half dozen Pro Bowls from K.J. Wright and Richard Sherman in the 2011 draft class and the 14 Pro Bowls of the 2010 group of Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Golden Tate and Kam Chancellor.
However, after that 2012 draft things changed. Drastically.
Since 2013 the Seahawks have made 80 picks in the draft, with just five of those 80 making the Pro Bowl during their career. Of those five, four were elected to the Pro Bowl just a single time, and the lone player of the five to make multiple Pro Bowl teams made the Pro Bowl zero times while with Seattle. That, of course, leads to the question of what happened?
Or perhaps, posed better, the question could be better posed as what changed?
And the answer to that question is simple: everything.
Certainly there’s been no shortage of words spilled in recent years about the move of the league to be more passing centered. Whether that is teams across the NFL passing at the highest rate in history, leading to far more scoring and a strategically different game than was played decades ago, or whether it is the league office continually pushing forward rules changes to further push the game to the air. Those rules changes in recent seasons have included an increased emphasis on protecting defenseless receivers, a greater focus on illegal contact by defenders in the secondary and the elimination of chop blocks, all of which worked to push throwing more advantageous relative to handing the ball off than it had been. However, even though teams are passing more often than they have at any point in the past, the passes that are being thrown are shorter than at any time in league history. In short, the past decade has seen the game change drastically.
That said, the changes to the game itself are far from the only way the league has evolved over time. Specifically, the rookie wage scale has altered the fundamental landscape of the draft and the positional value associated with it. Over the past ten drafts there have been a total of three defensive tackles selected in the top ten, which is fewer than the four defensive tackles selected in the final two drafts prior to the adoption of the rookie wage scale. Assuming the 2022 draft doesn’t see a running back taken in the top ten, it will mark four years in a row that no running back has been drafted in the first ten picks since Saquon Barkley was selected second overall in 2018.
In contrast, the top of the 2021 NFL Draft was all about the passing game: three quarterbacks, three wide receivers, a pair of cornerbacks, a tight end and an offensive tackle. That’s the logical continuation of the ever-increasing reliance of teams on throwing the ball, and represents a shift in positional value for the draft process. It’s a shift that has seen some teams get left behind, while others look to capitalize on the opportunities it presents.
For Pete Carroll and John Schneider in 2022, the question becomes whether the draft process will be revamped and retooled similar to the restyling of how the team plays on both sides of the ball, or will they stay true to their path. It’s a path that allowed them to celebrate winning the only Super Bowl in franchise history after the first 28 players they drafted made a combined 33 Pro Bowls, while the last 80 players selected by the team have combined for just seven.