Seattle Seahawks 2011 NFL Draft Grades: Speed, Smarts, Versatility and Attitude
The Seattle Seahawks went into Day 3 of the draft with seven selections, facing a fair amount of outside criticism about their approach to the first two days.
As expected, Day 3 was the day Seattle anticipated most, the opportunity to build the core of the team and unravel the depth of the draft. Schneider in the post–Day 3 presser, “It was a fun day today, actually today was the most fun.”
Seattle employed a version of a strategy that I highlighted as a possibility going into Day 3, an approach that could be a solid complement to their offensive line fixing ways through Day 2.
Seattle took six defensive players with seven picks on Saturday, largely selecting a group of linebackers and defensive backs that complement the roster and create legitimate competition throughout the defense.
In terms of sticking to the plan, complementing the roster and finding guys that fit into the program, I think Seattle finished strong on Day 3.
The true importance of “fit” and versatility for Seattle became clear through the 2011 draft. Schneider mentioned they created “some cool little niches” for some guys, further verifying they drafted foreseeing a specialization of role for certain players.
While I do believe they did a solid job in building the roster towards the future, I do agree there is traction to the arguments that Seattle missed opportunities in this draft; perhaps getting too caught up in the obscure avenue of thought.
Former Seahawk and now ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer ripped Seattle as the draft proceeded through the middle of the seventh round; he believes Seattle “absolutely whiffed” on the draft and his love for the city and organization doesn’t cloud the fact he’s “blown away and hurt” they could miss so badly.
The strongest of a variety of opinions surrounding Seattle’s 2011 draft, let’s take a more level-headed look at Seattle’s up and down Day 3.
K.J. Wright (6’3”, 246), LB, Mississippi St, Rd. 4, No. 99
Not a primary need, Wright is a potential leader. Though still raw, his upside lies in his athleticism and the potential to contribute in more than a variety of ways.
I had Wright smack dab in the middle of Round 4 on my pre-draft board, a consensus third- or fourth-round pick. I like this pick for Seattle.
I considered Mason Foster an option for the Seahawks to take in Round 3 because of his versatility; Wright brings a similar skill set. He's smart and instinctive, but has more range and size to play multiple positions and rush the passer. Oh, Wright also really enjoys watching film.
Wright studies hard and wants to be a complete linebacker, a team captain at Mississippi St.
His rare 80-inch wingspan, 4.7 speed and solid tackling skills places him as a strong side linebacker, Leo or even as a candidate to play various roles in Nickel and sub-packages, both on the line and in coverage. He has solid instincts against the pass, but will have to improve his fundamentals in his backpedal and transition.
He will bring scheme versatility and a strong complement to place side by side with Aaron Curry in various formations. I believe he was the right pick to begin Day 3 for Seattle, an under-the-radar decision that I think will ultimately be looked at as a strong value pick.
Kris Durham (6’5”, 214), WR, Georgia, Rd. 4, No. 107
Yes, this pick was a “reach,” the against-the-grain-of-the-media pick of the draft for the Seahawks. There were more than a couple proven receivers on the board at No. 107 that Seattle could have taken, such as Tandon Doss, Greg Salas, Cecil Shorts and Edmund Gates. Durham was widely viewed as a sixth or seventh round pick, not on my pre-draft radar.
So what did Seattle see in Durham? Schneider “Durham was an underrated guy in our opinion…can take the ball out of the air, 4.51 speed. He can run really nice routes, drop his hips and has some wiggle to him. He adjusts to the ball downfield.”
Then this: “Kansas City actually called right after that pick because they had a private workout with him this week…they were real excited about him. So we had to make sure, adjust to make a spot to get him. That was pretty cool.”
In the little film available on Youtube, he showed that "wiggle" and downfield prowess, with especially strong hands and the potential to become a red-zone threat—flashbacks of Joe Jurevicius for anyone?
I see Durham as a Ruvell Martin–like prospect in Seattle’s offense—ironic that Durham has been working out with Whitehurst in Georgia, Martin’s 62-yard double-move catch and run one of the biggest passes of Whitehurst short career.
If Durham can grow into his 6’5” frame, improve his body control and durability—bad ankle in 2008 and torn labrum in 2009—he has a chance to become a major downfield threat for Seattle. He averaged 20 yards per catch his senior season at Georgia, a promising sign.
Seattle is very excited about this pick, but there is no doubt pundits will continue to scrutinize this decision in the months, possibly years, to come; Durham definitely has talent, their excitement warranted.
Seattle hopes Durham can complement Mike Williams, also playing a backup role if needed; if Seattle missed big with this pick, one of the picks Trent Dilfer eluded to, the scrutiny will certainly become warranted.
Richard Sherman (6’3”, 195), CB, Stanford, Rd. 5, No. 154
I believe this is a solid pick, as I had Sherman tabbed as fifth-round prospect on my pre-draft board; a raw prospect with intelligence, size and work ethic.
Carroll wanted Sherman at USC to play corner—he chose Stanford in an effort to overcome the socioeconomic limitations of growing up in Compton—but Sherman began his career at Stanford as a receiver. Sherman caught 81 balls before switching to corner.
He credits his time at receiver for being helpful in the transition to corner, especially in reading body language and tendencies. Sherman’s IQ is a major asset to the Seahawks secondary.
His transition to corner is far from over, Sherman needs to work on his backpedal and hips. However, if he can mature and maximize his skill set on the next level, Sherman has the intelligence and athleticism to become a playmaker.
Both Schneider and Carroll gushed about Sherman’s length to control the line of scrimmage. The change in roll to a press corner may help him mature more quickly as a complete tackler, appearing capable, but inconsistent in that area during college. He is not a good tackler in space and needs to develop a defensive physicality in his game.
To me, this pick draws similarities to Carroll’s pursuit of secondary coach Kris Richard for a coaching role after his playing days at USC. Sherman’s acquisition will test the theory that Carroll’s expertise, due to his familiarity with the current college player pool, is an advantage for Seattle.
The fact that Carroll has continued to want Sherman brings this pick under the microscope for me, as I expect that Sherman can turn into a solid corner as he becomes more polished. If not, this will be another big miss for Seattle and this stretch of picks will be remembered as a crucial gaffe in Seattle’s re-building process.
Mark LeGree (6'0", 210), FS, Appalachian St., Rd. 5, No. 157
Taking LeGree three picks after Sherman was a smart follow-up pick in adding secondary depth. LeGree sat a few spots below Sherman on my board, so I believe this pick made sense for Seattle.
Sherman is raw with upside, while LeGree is extremely experienced; a three-time consensus FCS All-American, he left college as the Division I active leader in interceptions with 22.
Three straight seasons of five or more interceptions and six or more pass breakups shows his consistency finding the football. Schneider: "He's a tough guy with great range. Just a great guy...a good hitter. We'll be able to do some cool stuff with him.”
Carroll added, “When we took Earl last year, we wanted to make sure we took a guy that made plays. Well, this guy has made a bunch of them.”
He is a physical free safety with high football IQ, solid measurables and leadership abilities. If he can harness physicality into better tackling fundamentals, LeGree can become a solid combination safety to potentially replace Jordan Babineaux and Lawyer Milloy.
Byron Maxwell (6’, 202), DB, Clemson, Rd. 6, No. 173
The third of three straight picks focused on the secondary over the three picks in Rounds 5 and 6, a "clump" of players Schneider cryptically referred to in the pre-draft presser, Seattle reached a bit for Maxwell. However, he has a really high upside.
Seattle had many other choices with this pick, such as a defensive lineman, H-back or quarterback. However, Seattle may have found a cornerback with unique toughness. Schneider: “He's a great special teams player, last guy in the weight room, last guy out on the practice field.”
He is a pure athlete with 4.4 range speed that is extremely raw, but extremely physical--check out the body slam around the one minute mark in the video. His struggle to earn a starting spot until his senior season is somewhat of a concern.
Maxwell has a strong build for a tall corner, with above-average athleticism and explosiveness. He is not an ideal one-on-one man corner, but he’s a solid player on the line of scrimmage and in zone support.
Hes got the skill set to become a hard hitting, sub package corner/strong safety that can be a factor on special teams.
Maxwell and LeGree, back to back, adds depth to the group of Kam Chancellor, Brandon Browner and Josh Pinkard; Seattle has improved the competition at the position and it's a toss up who will be active opening day.
Seattle proved the secondary is in major transition into 2011, but has created competition that involves more of their type of guys. The best case scenario is finding four new players for the secondary rotation in 2011, with two to three fresh, consistent faces a reasonable expecation.
Lazarius “Pep” Levingston (6’4”, 292), DL, LSU, Rd. 7, No. 205
This was a pick that Seattle again raised eyebrows with, but not in a good way.
Simply put, this is the Pete Carroll experimental pick along the defensive line of scrimmage. Schneider said of Levingston, “He played defensive line in the SEC and at that point I felt this would be a pretty good guy to get right here.” He is a guy Seattle hopes to plug and play in 2011.
Levingston appeared in 48 games at LSU, but less than half of them as a starter. He can move across the defensive line and is comfortable playing either side. Long arms, big hands and a 40 time in the 4.8-4.9 range projects him as competition for depth at the 5-technique, a lighter and less powerful version of Red Bryant.
Levingston will have to work to make the roster; he’s got a whatever-I-need-to-do-for-the-team work ethic as shown by his game log. A strong offseason and a quick transition to a versatile role is his best chance of making the roster.
No matter what, many will question why Seattle passed on Greg McElroy. In their post-draft comments Seattle made it clear they believe Charlie Whitehurst is up and coming, his two starts not nearly enough to pass a legitimate judgement. Seattle has a plan in place for free agency, and appeared confident they will execute.
If Seattle remains thin at quarterback and "pep" becomes the 2011 version of E.J Wilson, this selection has the potential to become one that haunts Carroll and Schneider come 2013.
But if he makes the roster and plays a role along multiple positions on the defensive line, Carroll and new defensive line coach Todd Wash will draw credit. We'll just have to wait and see.
Malcolm Smith (6’, 229), WLB, USC, Rd. 7, No. 242
Seattle may have saved their best value pick for last; I had him between Sherman and LeGree on my pre-draft board in the fifth round. A great bookend, value pick to the Wright selection.
Smith is the prototypical weak side linebacker for Carroll’s scheme and allows for Seattle to potentially move Hawthorne inside for a permanent role.
Carroll: "This is one of the best athletes at his position in the draft.” He’s a linebacker with 4.44 speed, great instincts and the second test of the 2011 draft in terms of judging Carroll’s advantage with college talent. Carroll said, “I trust our information on him is right on the mark about what he can become.”
Carroll's previous experience with Smith and his older brother Steve play a major role in this decision. “He had an up and down college career, being sick"—he has a rare stomach disease that required surgery, and currently effects his diet and weight—"and banged up, but when he finally got it right against big-time competition he was lights out."
His combination of skills fits to become of the main tacklers in Seattle’s defense. Smith is a bit undersized at 229 pounds and needs to add bulk to become a consistent three down linebacker.
Smith’s combination of speed, quickness, awareness, instincts and small stature draw comparisons to another undersized, Tampa-2 weak side linebacker, Derrick Brooks. A high school running back, he plays defense with that type the agility.
Beyond his on the field skills, Smith’s unique off-the-field situation I believe is a testament to daily mental toughness. Smith may be one of the unlikely starters, and sooner than expected, from the 2011 draft.
What Was Accomplished on Day 3?
Day 3 of the 2011 draft loosely paralleled Seattle's 2010 season. They started fast with K.J. Wright and dynamic versatility in the defensive backfield, and finished strong with the addition of Malcolm Smith.
Schneider summed it up, saying, "We improved the speed and athleticism," after focusing on strength and toughness up front.
Unfortunately for Seattle, one of their favorite parts of the draft process is currently on hold. “We would love to right now be on the phones, recruiting, brining guys in…especially with the conversation aiming towards mini-camp in two weeks.”
Last year, Seattle got the 284-transactions-in-year-one merry-go-round spinning after the draft. For now, they have to wait before adding a whole new pool of players to compete.
Focusing on what Seattle gained this weekend, how does the newfound speed and athleticism affect the team into 2011?
It’s possible Earl Thomas is the only sure starter, as of this time, for the secondary in 2011; the competition at the cornerback position is now deep. Marcus Trufant will have to compete with a batch of hungry, young corners to keep his starting job throughout the 2011 season and Walter Thurmond now has a variety of competition mates.
There is a plethora of possibilities in projecting how the Seahawks linebacking corp takes shape into 2011; does Aaron Curry finally assume a main role attacking the line of scrimmage and the quarterback? If Will Herring returns, Seattle will have six linebackers that will fight to see the field in 2011.
Schneider acknowledged they do hope for the return of Brandon Mebane and not drafting a defensive tackle will, to an extent, increase the pressure for his return.
On offense, I see the Seahawks making due on their regret of holding Golden Tate back, as noted in the pre-draft presser, and giving Durham a role in the offense; assuming he earns it.
If he is able to bulk up and become a more stout blocker he could become a complete receiver.
In terms of the whole draft, Seattle held form to their board and didn’t panic during the draft process; regardless of outside opinion, its a positive sign the organization believes they held course and remained composed.
Its clear the Seahawks were extremely confident in their preparation for the entire process, Carroll iterating that confidence starting days after the loss in Chicago. They are confident and excited about how the program grew stronger through this process, which will continue when they can sign un-drafted players.
Seattle was scattered in the final years of the old regime, the opposite of the theme of the new regime. It's hard to argue the vision of continuity and direction Seattle displayed when speaking about this draft.
They added strength up front to accentuate their play makers on offense, and found a whole new crop of defensive talent chock full of athleticism and playmaking ability; A group of players with natural football instincts that create a balanced combination of natural leaders, film-room rats and weight-room warriors.
Maybe not premier content and a few missed opportunities, but a very sound structure and clear direction yielded a crop of nine players, the majority of which will compete for a starting job in 2011.
Heading Up into Opening Day?
Carroll is always an optimist, but I really do get the feeling they are pleased with this draft. White noise is not an issue for this organization, and that's a good thing.
The mood remained constant throughout the draft week pressers, confident and light; the duo continually articulate in their cryptic portrayal of the "we're building something big here" feeling that exudes as they grinned about their draft, after all three days.
But more importantly, Carroll understands now its solely their job to prove they got it right with the 2011 draft class, simply for the success of the franchise.
I'm not going to attempt to level with their enthusiasm; I do think Seattle put together a solid draft, a B with hidden upside to a B+/A-. Seattle may have found a handful of defensive starters for 2012 on Day 3 alone.
Carroll summed it up early in the presser, and re-iterated his point towards the end; “We think we have found guys that fit what we are looking for, and we don’t care about outside opinions. We know what we thought about them so it worked our very well…(later on) that’s the way I’ve always looked at it (over the years), we’re looking for unique qualities. We try to accentuate that uniqueness."
A unique combination of leader and front office is needed to successfully be different in what's commonly described as a copy-cat league.
It should be clear at this point Seattle hasn't bought into the copy-cat mentality; their about doing whatever it takes to win and their philosophy is on a unique line of thinking.
Last time I checked, only one team hoists the Lombardi trophy every year, that team unique to the rest.
The Seahawks didn't win a Lombardi on Day 3 of the 2011 NFL draft, but they capped off their offbeat approach to a draft unlike any other.
A draft that has some people on the outside thinking Seattle hit their ceiling, while the people on the inside are busy building the next floor.