You know the ones.
"Happy Firstday To You"
"Condolences, Matt Barkley"
"Get Well Soon, Jadeveon Clowney"
"Welcome to the NFL. You're my bitch now. Signed, Roger Goodell."
One person who won't be receiving a first round greeting card this year is John Schneider. For the second time in three years, the Seahawks traded away their first rounder weeks before the draft. In the other of those three years -- 2014 --they acted like Jordan, Jonathan, Donnie, Joey, and Danny and ended up "hangin' tough" for the entire first day at 32 before finally trading back with the Minnesota Vikings. Which means that the last time Seattle actually picked in the first round was 2012 when they traded back to 15 and drafted Bruce Irvin.
Now, an interesting fact about the Green Bay Packers is that Julius Peppers is the only player on their roster that was drafted by a team besides the Packers, but he is also one of seven former first round picks on Green Bay. That's still on the low end, as 18 teams currently have at least eight former first round picks on the roster, and on average each team has 7.625 first round picks on the roster.
(The .625 is usually Darrius Heyward-Bey.)
It's not unusual for teams to gravitate towards first round picks, whether it's hoarding them before the draft or adding former first round picks through free agency and trade, because they are typically the most athletic players and at least at one point, seemed like the total package. Historical data supports the idea that players picked in the first round are better and last longer on average, but it also shows that hundreds of players not picked in the first round have enjoyed incredible success and in some cases, are better than their first round counterparts.
But while I'm focused on breaking the world record for saying "first round" the most times in a sentence, the Seahawks are focused on first place -- and they've managed to get their in each of the last two years despite jettisoning themselves from day one of the draft. They're hoping that strategy pays off again but it goes even deeper than spending 31 on a Graham:
After seeing 2011 first round pick James Carpenter sign with the New York Jets, and thus far not re-signing Kevin Williams, Seattle now has only four former first round picks on the roster, which is tied with the Washington Redskins for the fewest in the league. Those four include only three by the Seahawks -- Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, and Irvin -- and the other being Marshawn Lynch, the 12th overall pick in 2007 that was acquired by Seattle in 2010.
When you think about it, the Seahawks built the best team in the NFL from 2012-2014 despite having only one major hit in the first round (Thomas), plus a moderate hit (Okung) a decent hit (Irvin) and a Carpenter.
Most former 1st round picks:
|Team||Former 1st rd picks||# Drafted by said team|
A closer look around the league at the teams that covet first round picks reveals the true value of these players when only held in the context of the fact that they were first round picks. This does not mean that first round picks don't usually become better players than their counterparts on average (they do -- although the non-first rounders eventually win out due to quantity) only that plenty do not pan out.
Many of next year's Super Bowl favorites -- the Seahawks, Patriots, Broncos, Packers, Cowboys, Colts -- got to where they are by realizing the true value of the draft (and undraft) as a whole, rather than just the cream of the crop prospects. This is further emphasized by the fact that the Cleveland Browns have had five first round picks in the last three years (and if they don't make a trade, are about to make that seven first round picks in four years) yet still look to be a last place team.
But it also doesn't mean that avoiding the first round works for everybody.
The other franchise currently with four first round picks on the roster, the Redskins, got there by trading three of them for one player: Robert Griffin III. If anything happened to Griffin, or if he just plain busted, then they gave up three high draft picks for nothing. I don't personally believe this is necessarily true yet, but for the last two years it has definitely looked that way.
Conversely, what did Seattle get for their last three first round picks? Let's just add it all up.
Seahawks trade: 2013 25th overall pick, 2014 32nd overall pick, 2015 31st overall pick, 2013 seventh round pick, 2014 third round pick, Max Unger
Seahawks receive: Percy Harvin, Jimmy Graham, Vikings 2014 second round pick (40th overall, traded to Lions with a 2014 fifth round pick for 45th overall (Paul Richardson) and a 2014 fourth round pick (traded to Bengals, received picks used on Kevin Norwood, Garrett Scott) and a 2014 seventh round pick (Kiero Small)) and a 2015 fourth round pick.
So once again to make a comparison, Washington used the sixth overall pick in 2012, the 39th overall pick in 2012, the 22nd overall pick in 2013, and the second overall pick in 2014 to acquire one player.
Seattle used three low first round picks, a mid-round pick, a late pick, and a very good center to acquire two incredible veteran athletes and a handful of draft picks, a few of which could still turn into starters on the team. And if one of these star veteran athletes doesn't work out (which is what happened with Harvin) they aren't crippled. The Seahawks also never traded a first round draft pick before knowing how valuable it was. They dealt them only after they had known what position it would be in and how it compared to their draft board.
In 2014, they thought that the draft was deep enough that they might get a really good player at 32. When the last player they pegged as a first rounder went off the board (I believe this was Dominique Easley, who went to New England) they made like a tree and got the hell out of there.
Overall, "first round pick" is just a label that doesn't necessarily mean anything. It's as that girl who won't be seen in public with me or let me call her my girlfriend always says: "I don't like labels." Drew Brees was selected 32nd overall but isn't a first round pick because the NFL only had 31 teams at the time.
We attach ourselves to the idea of a first round pick though because it's easy, it's sexy, and to their benefit, it means a different kind of rookie contract. But some GMs will tell you that in many years, the difference between 31 and 101 isn't that great. That's why, with comp picks, John Schneider could be selecting as many as 11 players, and it won't matter to him if they all come at 63 and later.
After all, "63 and later" is where they got Kam Chancellor, K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Malcolm Smith, Russell Wilson, J.R. Sweezy, Jordan Hill, Luke Willson, and Justin Britt.
That's where you build the true core of your roster. That's how you end up sending a postcard from the Super Bowl to all those teams constantly picking at the top of the first that says, "Wish You Were Here?"