This will be the first in a short series of articles evaluating the Seahawks’ draft haul. These are basically gut reactions to the picks, sprinkled with a little bit of roster philosophy, and topped off with a smidgen of Seattle-centric tape analysis.
When I sit down to grade an NFL draft, I’m often reminded of the legendary film critic, Roger Ebert. He took a lot of flak for highly rating odd or unpopular movies while giving low marks to mainstream hits. When asked why he rated the movies the way he did, he responded that he didn’t rate movies based on how much he enjoyed them. In fact, he often gave low scores to movies that he very much enjoyed, while giving four or five stars to movies he found boring or tedious. While that seems counterintuitive, he explained that he rated a movie based on how well it achieved the goal its creators set out to achieve.
I take a similar approach to my grades for NFL drafts. Rather than assigning my own measuring stick by which to evaluate the picks, I try to understand what the team was seeking to accomplish. I may think a particular position is their highest need, or that a specific player fits their scheme the best, but no matter how well I think I know the team, its schemes, and its current state, the front office will always know better. Even the most incompetent organization has multiple contingency plans outlining years ahead of them, and they employ dozens of people specifically assigned to planning, scouting, and budgeting. So who am I to make a snap judgement on the quality of their decisions?
In fact, attempting to grade an NFL draft within the first week after it happens is an exercise in futility. A safe rule of thumb is to allow at least three years before coming to any definitive conclusions about a player or draft class. Different teams target different types of players for different reasons. Some teams look for instant contributors with a high floor and a low ceiling, guys they can rely on to provide safe, consistent production from day one. Other teams prefer to draft for upside, and they target raw athletes with high ceilings who take a couple years to adapt to the speed of the NFL. There is no single, consistent, reliable mold by which to evaluate a player selection.
With all that being said, the Seahawks break the mold even more than any other team. It is impossible to predict which players they’re going to select, and nearly as hard to project how they’re going to use them once they’re on the roster. They were roundly panned by most analysts after each of the three drafts they’ve conducted since Pete Carroll and John Schneider took over the team, and each year, all of those analysts have eaten a lot of crow. Carroll and Schneider know what they’re doing, and until they demonstrate that they don’t, they deserve the benefit of the doubt.
The Seahawks’ 2013 draft class raised some eyebrows. When everyone expected them to spend their first pick on an outside linebacker or a defensive lineman or even an offensive tackle, they drafted one of two positions nobody expected: running back. The other unlikely position was quarterback, and if they’d jumped for Matt Barkley, I’m not sure people would have questioned it as much as they questioned the Hawks’ selection of Christine Michael. Why a running back? It actually made a lot of sense after I considered it for a bit.
Seattle wants to run the ball. They’ve stated it repeatedly and emphatically. They are a run-first team, and they’re not ashamed of it. Marshawn Lynch is an extremely physical runner, and though he’s only 27 years old, he’s dealt with a number of nicks and dings over the last few years. He’s signed through 2015, but his contract structure is such that he becomes relatively inexpensive to cut after the 2013 season. Running backs don’t age well, so if he drops off a cliff, they need a contingency plan. They drafted Robert Turbin last year, and he has some potential as a feature back, but he may be best-suited as a change-of-pace back. Finally, Leon Washington was released this offseason, opening up a roster spot for a running back.
Michael was considered by many to be the most talented running back in the draft. He’s a freakish athlete, and at 5’10” and about 220 pounds, is exactly the size Seattle prefers. He’s a physical, aggressive, one-cut-and-go runner who fits Seattle’s zone-blocking system to a tee. If Lynch is lost to an injury, Michael and Turbin can fill his shoes with aplomb. Not many teams have that luxury, and a run-first team like Seattle values it more than most.
So why did Michael fall to the bottom of the second round? Because the modern NFL has decreased the draft value of the running back position. When Arian Foster isn’t even drafted and becomes one of the best running backs in the league, and Alfred Morris is drafted in the sixth round and rushes for over 1,600 yards as a rookie, teams are less inclined to spend a high pick on a running back. They’d rather invest in their offensive line and passing game, and find an undervalued gem in the later rounds.* Michael was the fifth running back taken in the draft, with all five coming in the second round. Eddie Lacy, thought by many to be a sure first-round pick, was selected by Green Bay immediately before him.
He also had some injury concerns in college, as his sophomore year ended when he broke his tibia, and his junior year ended with a torn ACL. Some people questioned his character because he ended up in his coach Kevin Sumlin’s “doghouse” (as Mike Mayock put it), and he overslept and missed a couple of team interviews at the NFL Combine (apparently he had a bad cold and took some not non-drowsy cold medication to help him sleep at night).
All these things combined to drop him into the Seahawks’ range, but they couldn’t be happier. He’s the player they targeted and they got him. Since they’re the ones building the team, I’m willing to defer to their knowledge and expertise. Michael was their guy all along. Last year, they traded down in the second round and seemed to be targeting linebacker Mychal Kendricks. Philadelphia snagged him just before Seattle, leaving the Seahawks with Bobby Wagner. It worked out great, and it’s possible they were targeting Wagner all along. However, that little question mark might’ve given me cause the grade that pick a little lower.
In this case, they targeted Michael, they traded down and picked up two extra picks, and they still got Michael. So their grade for this pick is an A.
*In fact, the 2013 draft was the first draft in history without a running back selected in the first 33 picks. The first back drafted was Giovani Bernard, taken 37th overall by the Cincinnati Bengals.