The 2011 Seattle Seahawks were a strange team that somehow managed to improve as a collective unit while shedding big names and not making the playoffs.
Granted it's easy to argue the season wasn't a success given the team's 7-9 record, yet in hindsight when compared to the initial expectations many had for this team, it certainly gave hope to the masses.
Which begs the question, "What's next?"
Head Coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider are now entering year three in charge of the 'Hawks. Thus far, the two have managed to find quite a few gems through the draft with current Pro Bowl safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor coming to the team in 2010 through the first and fifth rounds respectively.
In 2011, Carroll and Schneider found two more defensive starters with Richard Sherman and K.J. Wright, both in the later rounds after selecting potential offensive line cornerstones James Carpenter and John Moffitt with the team's first two picks. Meanwhile the signing of Doug Baldwin at wide receiver after the draft was arguably the biggest steal of all...
Can the 'Hawks continue to fill in the pieces?
Predicting a full draft for one team at the beginning of February might seem a bit premature, but for fun let's take a look at some of the possibilities for the Seahawks.
Disclaimer: All picks guaranteed wrong come April...or your money back!
While it is certainly tempting to have the 'Hawks make a bold move and trade up for a QB or pass-rusher, it's hard to picture that actually happening.
Therefore, early fan favorites Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III and North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples will likely be gone by the time the team goes on the clock at No. 12.
Instead, I see the 'Hawks taking a slight risk here and selecting the much maligned, but very athletic Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
Yes, Burfict is not without issues, but at the same time that energy and skill could perhaps be honed in a way that will make 'Hawks fans forget Aaron Curry. Adding a player with a little bit of "swagger/attitude" could be what helps the 'Hawks defense inch that much closer to being one of the league's elite.
Finally, Burfict would also serve as insurance for the potential departure of either or both Leroy Hill and David Hawthorne.
Is Curry the 'Hawks answer for a pass-rusher?
This past weekend, the Marshall University defensive end managed to get on scouts' radar screens with his solid performance at the Senior Bowl.
Scout.com's Aaron Wilson reports, "Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry lacks the big-school pedigree, but that shouldn't stop him from succeeding at the next level. Curry gets off the ball with a great first step and uses his hands well to close in on quarterbacks."
Sports Illustrated's Tony Pauline also chimes in to state that Curry impressed:
With his ability to get penetration across the line of scrimmage. He was constantly in the backfield and his quarterback pressures in the first quarter caused a lot of problems for the South. On one occasion Curry bull-rushed the much larger Zebrie Sanders into the pocket which resulted in a loss of yardage. Curry has significantly improved his draft stock this week and a good combine workout could secure him a spot in the late part of Round 1.
If he slips past Round 1, the 'Hawks might be foolish to pass up on the 6'5", 249 Curry with their No. 2 pick.
Round 3 would seem to be the time Pete Carroll and John Schneider pull the trigger on a signal-caller.
At this point though, you could pencil in any number of choices from the crop of middle-to-late-round passers that will likely be available.
Cousins, though, based on feedback from the Senior Bowl. looks to be the early leader as Sports Illustrated's Tony Pauline reported from this past Saturday's game:
Cousins completed 5 of 11 passes for 115 yards, yet the stats tell a fraction of the story. Cousins made all the NFL throws from the pocket, displaying great speed on the ball while also putting touch on passes when required. His timing and accuracy was right on the mark as Cousins always gave his targets a good opportunity to make the reception. When he did miss on throws more times than not it was due to receiver error. It was important for Cousins to have a good game, as scouts questioned his judgment under center. At the Senior Bowl, decision-making was right on the money.
We still have a long way to go until April, but for today let's put the kid from Michigan State at No. 3.
Whether Marshawn Lynch is back in Seattle next season, no team can have too much help running the football in this day and age. Assuming Lynch returns to the 'Hawks, Mississippi State's Ballard could prove a nice complement with a little more power than Justin Forsett or Leon Washington.
Mike Herndon at AL.com describes Ballard, "As a 5-foot-11, 217-pound load who can take it the distance—five of his 10 touchdowns in 2011 were longer than 45 yards—Ballard may be the kind of mid-round value-pick NFL teams are craving."
Size, speed and power?
Pete Carroll and John Schneider tend to find those attributes appealing.
Factor in that, "he rushed for 1,189 yards in 2011, averaging 6.2 yards per carry, and had 968 yards as a junior, proving his short-yardage reliability with 19 touchdown runs that season," and you might have someone worth selecting halfway through the draft.
Another running back?
Until "Beast" inks a deal with the 'Hawks, this team cannot have enough runners.
The 6'0", 240-pound Baylor product may seem familiar to folks in the Seattle area, especially University of Washington fans following his performance at the Alamo Bowl a few weeks ago, where he shredded the Huskies for 200 yards on the ground.
ProFootballWeekly.com evaluated Ganaway as:
A big, strong, powerfully built back who was challenged by the coaching staff prior to his senior season and responded with the best year of his career, playing his best late in the season. Has the physical traits to carry the load as an inside runner in the pros, but must prove that he wants to be great and may require some time to adjust to the NFL game.
If the 'Hawks re-sign Lynch, Ganaway might get that time to adjust. If not, then he will need to prove he wants to be great that much faster. Also doesn't hurt to add someone versatile enough to play fullback.
Seems that twin tight end sets are all the rage these days. The New England Patriots have managed to march all the way to the Super Bowl with the pairing of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez giving defensive coordinators league-wide fits all season.
For the Seahawks, there is a possible home-grown solution available to them if they opt to resign John Carlson to pair alongside Zach Miller, but if the 'Hawks don't bring back Carlson...Plan B could come from the draft.
Michael Egnew of the University of Missouri at 6'5", 245 pounds might be the man to help the Seahawks get more bang for their buck out of Zach Miller in 2012.
Egnew, a First Team All Big 12 performer, "has shown nice athleticism for his size since being a football, basketball and track standout as a high schooler in Texas. That athleticism, as well as his height and strong hands, make him a valuable weapon down the seam as well as a red-zone target worth an early-round selection," according to CBSSports.com's scouting report.
Tight end isn't a major need for the Seahawks at the moment, but this selection might come as simply selecting the best athlete available on the board. If Egnew is still available by the Round 6, the 'Hawks could make a move.
At this point it becomes a bit of a challenge to speculate on who or what direction any team will go for in a draft, but if there was one unit this past season that could always use an extra body, it was the Seahawks offensive line.
In 2011 the O-line for the 'Hawks proved to be a work in progress...some highs, some lows, some progress and some injuries.
William Vlachos, at first glance, wouldn't seem like a guy you would use/waste a draft pick on to add to this unit and yet...
Often times scouts focus on physical attributes at the risk of missing out on some intangibles. At 6'1" and 294 pounds, he may not be the biggest, yet much like a certain Denver quarterback, this is someone who simply wins.
As a three-year starter, Vlachos helped Alabama to two national titles while blocking for the likes of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.
Perhaps his success can rub off at the pro level?
This one is a bit of a wild-card with a few possibilities at play for the moment. Regardless, it would seem the 'Hawks have another pick nestled somewhere in-between the fifth and seventh rounds based on the deal for Marshawn Lynch with the Buffalo Bills.
Given the uncertain nature of this pick, it would only seem right to go with an uncertain talent.
With the conditional late-round selection, I could see the 'Hawks going for some additional help along the defensive line in drafting 6'1", 331-pound DT/NT prospect Hebron Fangupo of BYU.
"In his one season at BYU, the USC transfer Fangupo has had a decent season. He has recorded 23 tackles with 5.5 tackles for a loss. Fangupo got a late start in football, so he may need to be developed for a year or two on the practice squad or back of the end roster before he can be a contributor," according to WalterFootball.com.
Similar to the situation with Marshawn Lynch and Terrance Ganaway, this pick will largely depend on what happens to Red Bryant.
If the 'Hawks re-sign Bryant, Fangupo might get the time to learn. If not, then he too will need to prove he's capable of making an impact.