NFL Draft 2011: Seahawks Surprise With James Carpenter, Open Doors for Day 2

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NFL Draft 2011: Seahawks Surprise With James Carpenter, Open Doors for Day 2
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
Part of an offensive line that blocked for a Heisman trophy winner, the unexpected right tackle of the future for the Seattle Seahawks.

At pick No. 25 of the 2011 NFL draft, a juicy situation had developed for Seattle. Muhammad Wilkerson, Jimmy Smith, Gabe Carimi, Andy Dalton and Da’Quan Bowers had all “slid.” Cam Jordan taken by New Orleans at No. 24 may have impacted Seattle’s plan for No. 25, but talent of need was on the board for Seattle.

With those five names being tossed around as potential draftees on war-room blogs everywhere as the pick timer wound down, the Seahawks finally turned in their pick with nine seconds remaining.

In conclusion on my thoughts about Pete Carroll and John Schneider's pre-draft presser, I noted the mood surrounding the draft "seemed on par, an attitude of unorthodox diligence with enthusiasm and humor, headed into Thursday."

So when James Carpenter, Offensive Lineman, Alabama (6’4”, 321) came in as the selection, not the choice that most Seahawks fans expected and even fewer predicted, I shouldn't have been surprised. But I'll admit, I certainly was.

In the view of outside opinion, Carpenter's selection in Round 1 was surprising and scrutinized. Draft analyst Rob Rang did note on the Seattle Times draft chat that three teams in the end of the first round thought Carpenter was the most underrated lineman in the draft, Seattle obviously one of them.

Seattle claims to have been targeting Carpenter since last May. He's a JUCO transfer and two-year player at Alabama with tremendous upside; no trade offers were more appealing than taking Carpenter. Schneider on Carpenter; “(The mentality he demonstrates) he’s one of those guys that will change the culture of our team.”

Your grade for the Carpenter pick

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Carroll called Carpenter aggressive and nasty; coming from Nick Saban’s program suggests Carpenter understands an NFL system and the grind of playing for a tough offensive line coach.

He’s not nearly as consistent run-blocking as in pass protection and sometimes lacks a consistent fire. He gained a reputation from some draft experts, a reputation Tom Cable refutes, as a finesse blocker.

However, Carroll described him as “a road grader, he wants to bury you.” Carroll praised Carpenter’s foot movement off the ball, leverage, attitude and versatility.

Seattle believes Carpenter can play four offensive line positions and will be a versatile starter of the future, the initial projection at right tackle. Carpenter’s versatility stood out from day one to Cable, a massive, strong body that adds to the toughness along the entire line. The acquisition of Carpenter is the first major roster move that exudes Tom Cable’s influence.

In selecting an offensive tackle, Seattle theoretically made the smart move in finding a potential right tackle of the future that can rotate along the line if needed. The offensive line can now be built in between the tackles.

Carpenter is a player I was familiar with among a group of second-day linemen. Ben Ijalana and Will Rackley I thought to be comparable, versatile early-mid round prospects; raw size and athleticism at tackle later in the draft contributed to Carpenter being left off my board. If on the board, he would have been between the two players above.

Who would you rather have taken?

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But Seattle pursued Carpenter, described by John Schneider as their “top-rated guy,” with the likes of Gabe Carimi and Derek Sherrod on the board, not to mention the group at the top of the page.   

Seattle believes Carpenter can be a better fit for the program than all of those listed above, and that’s a dream list for most if choosing a "top five players to fall to Seattle at No. 25" before the draft.

The new regime in Seattle has been in no way shy about pursuing their guys, the acquisition of Charlie Whitehurst for a 2011 third-round pick the bold decision of 2010.

An interesting parallel to note: Two or three teams competed for Whitehurst last offseason, and two other teams were reportedly interested Carpenter at the end of the first round.

Seattle is continuing to make the offbeat decision if it feels it's the right decision. Carroll in the post draft presser,, “At this stage in the program, it’s important we get some hard-nosed, tough guys that can offer flexibility.”

This time around, however, Carroll appeared much more confident. “We’ll show in time that this was a terrific pick for us. We have to take these steps along the way to build the program to where we want to be.” 

Carroll admitted it's not the sexiest move, but a confident move needed to go in the championship direction.

What should Seattle do with their second round pick?

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Looking ahead to day two

The first thought I highlighted from Carroll and Schneider’s Tuesday presser was the following.

One of the main impressions I received from their press conference was that the extended offseason and the extra time to collaborate with scouts and scheme with coaches in concurrence with the lockout could lead to a few “against-the-grain-with-the-media" picks.

Seattle showed early in the 2011 draft to continue to expect the unexpected; it is oblivious to white noise and builds the organization with its vision in mind, a sign of a championship organization.

The added time in the offseason should continue to play a role in the 2011 draft, as Seattle may have guys it targets with a very specific role in mind.

Carroll used the word “complementary” in describing their approach to filling the roster with new players during the Tuesday presser, that quote now standing out more in my mind due to the Carpenter pick.

Going forward, both into the draft and free agency, Carpenter’s acquisition begins to create clarity.

Will this have any effect on the re-signing of Tyler Polumbus, as Carpenter can replace Polumbus as the team’s versatile, developing starter at tackle or spot guard?

What position should Seattle address in round two?

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What about Stacy Andrews? Carroll called him and his hefty salary a factor at right tackle in 2011 weeks before the draft but said Thursday evening Carpenter would get his shot to compete and start at right tackle. Andrews' days are becoming numbered in Seattle, barring a return to near Pro Bowl form.

In terms of draft strategy going forward, I believe the Carpenter pick was savvy in creating versatility for the combination of possible picks to round out the draft. Seattle maybe has attempted to fill two spots on the offensive line with one pick.

Carroll has continued to praise the depth on the interior offensive line within the program. Is it a smokescreen, or is Carpenter a complement to that depth, the player Seattle needed to remove its focus away from the offensive line going forward?

Carpenter played guard only at the Senior Bowl and not at Alabama, but his willingness to transition was part of the initial likening for Tom Cable.

Seattle now has options on day two. Day one proved the importance of versatility along the line of scrimmage; does Carroll give himself and new defensive line coach Todd Wash a project for the other side of the line in the form of a big, mean, explosive lineman? This would be a logical direction if Seattle plans to continue fortifying the line of scrimmage.

A fast, aggressive, versatile defensive back could be an appealing option as well.

Andy Dalton, Ryan Mallett or Colin Kaepernick could be an unexpected visitor to the party at pick No. 57 and will attract both Seattle’s attention and phone calls from other teams; good value is possible either way.

If we learned anything from Round 1, it's that we can’t count out a complete curveball, such as the uber versatile University of Washington linebacker Mason Foster.

Seattle became more active as the 2010 draft progressed, day three the peak of its activity with two trades, including the acquisition of Leon Washington. Whether or not teams will be able to trade players on day two or three in 2011 is currently unknown.

Seattle found its contractor to help lay the groundwork on the offensive line, in the first round, for the second year in a row; an unorthodox selection, but the Seahawks stayed true to their word in starting by upgrading the line of scrimmage. 

Seattle heads into day two of the draft with only one pick, but more than likely a variety of tricks up its sleeve to complement its day one selection.

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