How to properly doubt the Seahawks draft class

How to properly doubt the Seahawks draft class

Not satire. There’s a way to do it genuinely

If anyone on your friendly neighborhood Field Gulls staff is the eternal optimist, it is yours truly. I will very nearly always pick the Seattle Seahawks to win their division.* I will go into a viewing experience armed with reasons the Seahawks will prevail, anticipating a victory. Almost every time.

*usually a safe bet, after eight titles in the past 14 seasons, leading to three conference crowns

I’m the guy who kept repeating that XLIX’s abrupt gut-punch would not affect the team (whoops), that the offensive line would be better this season, and that season, and again that season, and finally this season (whooooops), and that even if they weren’t, Russell Wilson would overcome their errors anyway. I’m the guy who supported Tom Cable long after everyone else had jumped off his runaway train. Probable giant whoops. I’m the guy who banked on Jimmy Graham’s arrival ushering in a new era of offensive dominance.

Can’t help it. I’m an optimist. A sports optimist, at least. That being said, the headline above is no joke. I’ve found a way to question the process of Seattle’s five most visible picks of the 2018 draft. The first four guys, and the punter nobody saw coming in the fifth round. This piece is no parody, there’s no guile involved, there’s no gotcha twist at the end.

Everything can be questioned or panned, not because the Seahawks selected bad players, and most certainly not because I know better than John Schneider. Simply because there’s something to dislike about the process each time. Something serious. Something even an optimist might find to criticize. There’s a reason each pick was suspect, a reason each player isn’t perfectly right.

Yes, even for His Holiness Shaquem Griffin.

I don’t have inside knowledge that makes my opinion better than PCJS. I haven’t played organized football, ever; I haven’t been employed in it, ever, let alone for my entire adult life like those guys. I never would have picked Kam Chancellor in the fifth, K. J. Wright in the fourth followed by Richard Sherman in the fifth, then Russell Wilson in the third — much less in successive drafts. My Seattle Seahawks would finish fourth in the NFC West every season, because they would never win a game. By now, they’d have fled town and moved to Tulsa, where they would be called the Twisters or something just as unimaginative. It’s crazy to put my opinion up against Pete’s. The chance my points are shit: very high; the chance his points are brilliant: very high.

Nevertheless, the process can be credibly criticized each time. Just don’t come back to me in 2020 and say “u were wrong, chump” and expect any internet points, because all you’ll get is agreement. Trust Carroll and Schneider more than me, but listen to my whispers of doubt.

1.27 Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State

Penny is going to be a star. Maybe instantly, maybe next year. He’s going to become one of the faces of the team. He runs through and around people. (Beast Mode surely approves.) Penny has cuts that remind me, no joke, of Shaun Alexander. He sees creases, then the creases appear. His tape suggests he is a wizard.

Spots a secondary hole:


Grease in the crease:


He can even return kicks. Penny will score many times in a Seahawks uniform. He will sell jerseys, he will elicit high fives. He will improve the run game. He has to! Seattle was dead last in RB rushing touchdowns last season. With one. One measly TD.

But you could have gotten almost all, if not all, of his production from a much later selection, while adding a piece instead who would impact wins more than a running back.

Ben Baldwin wrote in February, after much research:

Rush efficiency explains only 4.4% of the variance in wins. You might as well guess randomly […] Pass efficiency explains 62% of the variance in wins in the NFL […] In college football, rush efficiency correlates more strongly with wins than in the NFL. Teams like Alabama, Stanford and Wisconsin have won with a power running game and a physical front seven on defense. The insignificance of running the ball is unique to the NFL.

Others before have pointed out the negligible impact of high rushing numbers:


Most recently, it has been argued that no matter how good the runner is, he’ll still be overdrafted. The whole article at numberfire is worth reading (warning: long), so here’s the conclusion and you can peruse all the details whenever:


True, maybe you can only get a guy who pulls linebackers like this


in the first round. But if 2018 Penny runs for 1,100 yards and scores eight times, it’s likely that the guy available at Will Dissly’s spot would have furnished 1,000 yards and seven TDs. And it’s likely neither rookie running back moves the needle on wins at all.

3.79 Rasheem Green, DE/DT, USC

Green is 20. He turns 21 next week. The process flaw is that it’s extremely unlikely he was the third rusher on Seattle’s board. And they could have gotten their third edge rusher at 1.27 — only Bradley Chubb and Marcus Davenport were off the board. Or their second, even, right? Who knows which defensive end Seattle had after Chubb?

Between 1.27 and 3.79, the following players disappeared to other corners of the league: Harold Landry, Breeland Speaks, Kemoko Turay, Tyquan Lewis, Chad Thomas, and Sam Hubbard. Green was the ninth pass rusher chosen. Clearly the Seahawks like him, because he’s in green and blue this morning. But it’s exceedingly likely one or two of the men listed above was rated higher on their board. Instead of getting their hands on a more complete defensive end in the first round and their rushing threat in the third our fourth, they ended up with Green. Who can still be a nice player — He reminds some of Michael Bennett, in his ability to line up all across the d-line.

Green’s also not likely to make an impact in 2018 due to his relative inexperience, making the pick a potentially big move for the future but not moving the needle much in terms of the pass rushing help that Seattle needs right now.

4.120 Will Dissly, TE, Washington

Tight end: A position of need! Great pick. Unless you believe that drafting for need is a bad idea because it compromises value. Then it’s another ding in the process column.

The more genuine criticism here would be that you’re drafting Dissly to boost the running game when it’s the passing game that needs another playmaker. You lost your team leader in touchdowns to a conference rival, you know passing efficiency correlates much more strongly to wins than running numbers, but you drafted a blocking tight end.

Dissly figures to compete with Nick Vannett for snaps right away. Given that the Seahawks’ tight end depth is presently kiddie-pool shallow, he figures to make the team, barring another McDowellian catastrophe. And if the Husky becomes a reliable downfield target, he’s a great pick. But the team stated he’s a blocker. The scouting reports stated the same. For him to be a factor in the passing game would be a bonus that would turn the pick into more “good results” than “good process.”

5.141 Shaquem Griffin, LB, Central Florida

Count me among Griffin’s wildest supporters. He has the drive, the pedigree, the passion, the swag, the nose for the ball, the backstory that makes him Seahawky.

What he doesn’t have is a position. For sure, Seattle has a plan on how to deploy him. Carroll and Schneider didn’t draft Griffin, then turn to each other and go, ah, nice one, buddy, pal, but where the hell are we gonna play him? They picked him because there’s a space for him on the field, and they have an idea where.

However …

If Griffin, who is 6-0 and 227 pounds, puts on plenty of weight, his speed may be compromised. Play him at roughly 230 pounds and he’s the lightest linebacker in the league, save for Malcolm Smith, also 6-0 and 225. And rushing the passer at that size isn’t what NFL teams ask their ends to do, because they’ll get pushed around.

Can they play him in the defensive backfield? Why not. But that’s an entirely new position to master, and one with a steep learning curve at that. Not to say he can’t do it, but then again in this scenario you’re not seeing any contribution from Griffin save for special teams, not for a while.

We’ve seen the Seahawks tinker with roles on the defense to make talents fit when their physical dimensions ought to be disqualifying. Red Bryant on the end, Bennett inside, Chancellor in the middle of the field.

Should Griffin fail, it probably won’t be because he lacks a left hand, or he lacks the drive to succeed at this level. It’ll probably be because he was a peg one notch too square to fit in the round hole of “NFL linebacker” or “NFL safety” or “NFL pass rusher,” and offenses were able to take advantage of the physical mismatch he presents. Those are limitations you can see coming right now.

I don’t believe any more than a handful of GMs across the league looked at Shaquem Griffin and said, “That dude can’t play football.” You watch the tape, you see the dude can play football. It’s a question of where, not if. And it’s not obvious the “where” will ever happen like it did at UCF.

5.146 Tre Flowers, DB, Oklahoma State

Flowers is a long defensive back. He played safety in college but the Seahawks have already listed him as a corner. There is no legitimate criticism to be formulated for Carroll using a fifth-round pick to patiently shore up the defensive backfield. Moving on.

Lastly, 5.149 Michael Dickson, P, Texas

It’s not the trade up that bothers me most. Seattle moved up in the fifth to grab Dickson, and it cost them a seventh. That’s a process problem again because it essentially means they got one less player to add to the UDFA pool. It essentially bumped all their UDFAs acquisitions back one, since they didn’t have the extra seventh rounder to get a head start on undrafted targets.

What’s more bothersome is that Dickson has to be SO much better than Jon Ryan, or display great longevity, to make the pick worth it.

It’s easy to like the process from a salary cap standpoint, with Ryan counting $3.2 million against the cap this season, and Dickson far cheaper. Ryan was unfortunately not one of the league’s best punters last year. Both by the metric developed here at Field Gulls by Sean Clement, and by regular punter stats. Finished 2017 17th in net average and 28th in percentage inside the 20. We’ve seen Ryan be better.

But that’s precisely why it’s reasonable to expect Ryan to regress to career norms, and perform again as one of the better-than-average punters. It’s even reasonable to expect he’d negotiate a pay cut to stay with the team that believed in him, that brought him his notoriety, his championship, his security, the ability to co-own a baseball team in the Northwest, wait what?

If you go with Dickson over Ryan, your cap savings are decent but not significant, and you exited the draft without a wide receiver or an interior lineman — spots where your roster is thinnest. Dickson has to exceed reasonable expectations to be worth it. He might well do so. But you’re betting on a best-case scenario.

* * *

Inevitably, a post criticizing the processes for Seattle’s highest picks will translate to “you sure don’t like their draft.” Strangely, I think this might be my favorite Seahawks draft since 2012. Carroll set out on a plan to return the team to what he believes brought the Lombardi to town five seasons ago: dominant running, tough defense and sparkling special teams. He took control of the direction of the franchise and made bold acquisitions with a clear goal in mind.

However, very little draft capital was spent on what I believe would turn 9-7 into 11-5 more quickly and efficently: better offensive line play, a bolstered interior pass rush, better receiving targets to boost pass efficiency, and better placekicking even. With those avenues sealed off and under construction until a later date, it’s hard to completely trust the process.

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