There’s plenty of frustration festering around Seahawks fans when it comes to the progress, or lack thereof, from many of their draft picks in the last few years. The 2017 rookie class featured potential stars in Shaquill Griffin, Nazair Jones, and Chris Carson, but even then all three missed some time due to injury, with Carson missing 12 games as Seattle missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Malik McDowell missed the whole season and may never debut, while third rounders Delano Hill and Amara Darboh barely played. Second rounder Ethan Pocic played several positions, but struggled at times and is not necessarily a beacon of hope for 2018. It’s also hard to believe that Tedric Thompson, practically a third rounder, was on the roster for the entire season given how little he participated on game day.
And the 2016 draft class is even more shunned than their 2017 counterparts by plenty of Seahawks fans.
Germain Ifedi has not played well at either guard or tackle, C.J. Prosise has missed 21 games, Rees Odhiambo has not played well at either guard or tackle, and Nick Vannett has remained buried on the depth chart despite opportunities to win more snaps. The bright spot being Jarran Reed, but you’d hope for more long-term starters than that from a 10-person class. There is Alex Collins, but “there” is now Baltimore. (And we’ll see if he ever cleans up that fumbling habit anyway.)
All of that being said so that this can be said: It’s only been two years, at most.
Players can often become the player they look like in their first two years (If you dominate immediately, you’re probably very good, and if you are awful immediately, you probably won’t be great), but so many buck these trends that there’s no good reason to start making long-term decisions based on a sample size of up to 32 regular season opportunities.
What if we had done that with Doug Baldwin?
Baldwin had zero draft pedigree in 2011, because he was not drafted. Every team passed on him multiple times and when nobody even took a seventh round chance on him, the Seahawks made their plea to Baldwin that they just had to have him. He responded with an excellent rookie season (83 yards in his debut, 136 yards in his fifth game, team-leading receiver) but he displayed absolutely zero chemistry with Russell Wilson in 2012.
Through three games together, Baldwin caught 4-of-10 targets for just 23 yards. That’s 2.3 yards per target. They found some connection the following two weeks (5 catches for 111 yards), but then Baldwin got injured (on Thursday Night Football, go figure) and missed two games, never re-tracking himself in line with Wilson. What was Baldwin at that point?
After 2012, he was a receiver that nobody wanted to draft, with two years under his belt, one of which was decent as the best option on a bad team, the other of which was significantly underwhelming, and he didn’t seem to be a good match with the guy who was now entrenched as the franchise quarterback. That was Baldwin in 2013. That’s why Seattle opted to trade a first and third round pick for Percy Harvin.
The team had Harvin, Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, Zach Miller, Marshawn Lynch, and Luke Willson. As far as we know, Baldwin was going to be option number four, five, or out of the picture in 2013. There wasn’t a lot to pin on Baldwin as a guy you “absolutely had to have” except for the belief from his coaches and teammates based on what they know of him and about him as a person. That does not mean that we can always take teammates and coaches on their word (in fact, I’d say the opposite is almost true) but it probably is what keeps guys like Baldwin afloat and around until the next opportunity presents itself.
That opportunity was just Rice and Harvin getting injured, which made Baldwin’s re-rise to power all the more predictable.
Baldwin had 50 catches on 72 targets for 778 yards in 2013 and that kept him around and extended to the point where he’s become one of the 10 or 15 best receivers in the NFL today. It’s not that unlike the story of Tate, Paul Richardson, or Jermaine Kearse after their first two or three years. Same for Kam Chancellor after one, or Byron Maxwell after two-and-a-half. Patience is a necessity for long-term success.
Some of Seattle’s latest draft picks will fail. But at least a few will succeed. The key now is finding out if the Seahawks — and the fans — hold out with the right ones.