It’s NFL Draft week, and the Seattle Seahawks will take center stage given their five picks in the top-95 of the draft order. It sounds a bit over the top but this is truly one of the most important drafts in franchise history, especially off the back of such a brilliant 2022 class that had a huge role in Seattle’s playoff berth. I’ve struggled to put together my thoughts on what the Seahawks should do, and so I’ve opted to take the route of what Seattle shouldn’t do come Thursday in Kansas City.
1.) Draft a running back early.
It does not take a genius to conclude that barring something remarkable over the next couple of weeks, the Seahawks will be going into the draft in search of at least one running back to back Ken Walker up. This year’s running back class is pretty deep, and the headlining name is Texas star Bijan Robinson, who figures to be the only one picked in Round 1.
I like Robinson a lot and believe he can be a great NFL player. Ideally he’s nowhere near the NFC West whenever he is picked. I also hope the Seahawks do not use an early pick on a running back yet again.
Don’t conflate a lack of depth with a need to load up at the least important position on offense. Are the Seahawks really going to spend a top-60 pick on a running back for the third time in six years? They would be the only team in the NFL in that time span to do so. And for what? The evidence is overwhelming that over the past decade, significant investment at the running back position (through big contracts and/or multiple Round 1-2 picks) has not resulted in Super Bowls. Seattle is somewhat of an exception with the Marshawn Lynch contract, but Lynch is absolutely not the number one reason the Seahawks won a title or even had a top-10 offense.
The Seahawks were the only team in 2022 to roster two running backs whom they drafted in Rounds 1-2. I know that Rashaad Penny got injured (again), but Seattle was 23rd in rush offense DVOA and a bottom-tier offensive line for run-blocking.
I like the running game and I like running backs, but I’m also not blind to their diminished value in today’s NFL. It’s the one position that can be rendered ineffective based on time and score. I’m going on a bit of a tangent here, but I fear that as the league is more geared towards the passing game than ever before, and as gaudy running back contracts become a thing of the past, the position could eventually be rendered extinct at an NFL level. It is not going to be financially viable to play at a position where their rookie contracts will be increasingly cheaper as more teams wait until the later rounds to draft them. We’re seeing more receivers and tight ends operate as running backs when needed, plus pop passes and quick passes to the perimeter are functionally running plays. But I’ll get to that another day.
Seattle has a wealth of resources, they cannot waste to run an offense that objectively does not win championships in today’s NFL. They can grab a running back or two Round 3 or later (Chris Rodriguez, Devon Achane, Tyjae Spears, just for some notable names) and still succeed. Go look at every top rushing team in the league and tell me how many of them have multiple running backs taken in Rounds 1 and 2. I’ll wait.
2.) Not take at least one wide receiver or tight end by the end of Day 2
The implied statement here is that the Seahawks need another pass-catching target. Marquise Goodwin’s departure means it’s Dee Eskridge or Dareke Young at WR3. I like the idea of Young given his versatility as a receiver and auxiliary fullback but that’s too small a sample size to trust in an increased role in the offense. Eskridge’s hype is entirely based off of a couple of cool preseason plays and a jet sweep or two in Week 1 of his rookie year before his concussion. He’s been oft-injured and ineffective when healthy.
On the tight end front, Colby Parkinson and Noah Fant are in contract years, whereas the popular Will Dissly is on the mend after his latest season-ending injury. Shane Waldron did a phenomenal job incorporating all of his tight ends into the offense as receiving targets, but those three collectively are not a high-ceiling unit for productivity.
Seattle needs at least a wide receiver whom, in a pinch, could be a viable second option in the short-term and/or have the potential to be a Tyler Lockett successor in the long-term. They do not need another deep threat; the Seahawks badly need chain-movers who get open and exploit zone coverage at an above-average level. Another quality receiver or a top-flight pass-catching tight end takes a significant load off of Lockett and DK Metcalf, and there should be plenty of opportunities through Friday night to take a top prospect or two.
3.) Draft Hendon Hooker before Round 3
I expect the Seahawks to draft a quarterback, whether it’s Anthony Richardson at No. 5 or someone else in the later rounds. Hendon Hooker has been a popular named linked to Seattle, and often within Rounds 1 and the top-half of Round 2. Hooker is already 25 years old, blew out his ACL last November non-contact, and would be highly unlikely to step onto an NFL field until 2024.
No doubt that Hooker was extraordinarily productive and light on turnovers in his two seasons with the Volunteers, but combine his age and recent injury with running a spread offense at Tennessee and that does not translate to spending a top-64 draft pick on him. That his stock has risen out of nowhere in recent weeks feels like draft guru speculation and nothing more.
I am not against taking Hooker altogether, or even totally against spread offense QBs in the NFL considering, well, Geno Smith ran spread and Air Raid at West Virginia, and Drew Lock is on the roster right now. Hooker’s proficiency as a play-action passer could intrigue the Seahawks by default, otherwise there’s going to be a heavy learning curve for Hooker after operating an offense where the reads were a lot more simplistic than your typical NFL system.
4.) Stand pat with all of their first- and second-round picks.
It’s been a running joke rooted in truth that Pete Carroll and John Schneider typically prefer to trade down, especially in earlier rounds. However, last year they did not trade any of their Round 1-2 picks, and in 2021 obviously their only Round 1-2 pick was Dee Eskridge. Even in 2020 they stood firm at No. 27 when drafting Jordyn Brooks, then traded up for Darrell Taylor before trading down to select Damien Lewis in the third round. The early-round trade downs haven’t been as prevalent over the past few drafts, but now’s the time to revert to type.
Seattle only has 52 players under contract and two of them are Michael Dickson and Jason Myers, so the Seahawks have a lot of holes to fill and even ten picks ain’t getting it done. I believe the Seahawks will keep No. 5 overall but No. 20, 37, and 52 will all be on the table for trade downs to acquire more picks. If there’s a lot of uncertainty about the upper-end talent in this year’s class but a lot of intrigue over the overall quality in Day 2-3, the Seahawks need as many bites at the cherry as possible to restock their own depth.
5.) Overdo it on defense
This sounds crazy given how shambolic the defense was for much of last season, but as I wrote after this year’s Super Bowl it is abundantly clear that offense gets you to and wins championships. Only three teams since 2010 have reached the title game without a top-10 offense by DVOA, whereas 14 teams have made it without a top-10 defense by DVOA. The last Super Bowl champion to win without a top-10 offense is the 2015 Denver Broncos.
Seattle’s defense is bad and they are going to be using the draft (in part) to rebuild a unit that has been no better than average and frequently been below-average for the past five years. This isn’t a call to not make any meaningful effort to fix the defense, but instead not to make the draft so defense-heavy. Unfortunately, the way the roster is structured I fear this is what will happen and offense will be an afterthought.
The Seahawks can compete and make a serious playoff run with an elite offense—check that, elite passing offense—and even an average defense. If you narrow the definition of elite to, say, top-5 by DVOA, it’s abundantly clear that an elite passing offense almost guarantees a playoff berth. An elite defense? Not so much.
Top-5 offenses by DVOA to miss the playoffs since 2010: 8*
* (The 2016 Washington team and the 2019 Cowboys missed with both a top-5 rush and pass offense. Neither had a top-5 defense.)
Top-5 pass offenses by DVOA to miss the playoffs since 2010: 8
Top-5 rush offenses by DVOA to miss the playoffs since 2010: 24
Top-5 pass offenses by DVOA to reach the Conference Championship since 2010: 31
Top-5 rush offenses by DVOA to reach the Conference Championship since 2010: 16
Top-5 defenses by DVOA to miss the playoffs since 2010: 20
No team with a top-5 offense and top-5 defense has missed the playoffs.
(All data from Football Outsiders)
Striving for balance is desired and having top-10 groups across offense, defense, and special teams is what the Seahawks had in 2012, 2013, and 2015. If that can’t be achieved, then at a bare minimum an upper-tier offense should be the number one priority for every team with championship aspirations, and the Seahawks were a pretty modest 14th overall (8th pass, 23rd rush) in 2022.
Want to maximize Geno Smith’s time in Seattle and simultaneously create an environment for a possible Geno successor to thrive in off the bat? Build this offense to go from good to great. That means investing more in the interior offensive line, adding more receiving talent, and (not early, as I already said!) getting a quality backup running back.
You can get linebackers and secondary players later in the draft or as UDFAs, as the Seahawks have repeatedly done for seemingly eons. I view defensive line as the only position (EDGE or interior) where Seattle is best served using high-end draft capital, but after that? Seattle won’t be a serious player in the Super Bowl picture until this offense (more specifically the passing game) is functioning at a consistently high level. It is a fool’s errand trying to recapture a formula that used to work, when it should be time to forge a new model for sustainable success.