Analysis: How Seahawks Can Improve Draft Capital in 2021

It's no secret the Seahawks lack much of a presence in the 2021 NFL Draft, boasting just three selections in the late April event as of now. Matty F. Brown explains how general manager John Schneider can improve Seattle's draft situation.
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The Seahawks lack draft picks in 2021. After winning the NFC West in 2020 with a 12-4 record, finishing as the conference's No. 3 seed, Seattle is set to pick at No. 56, No. 129, and No. 250. To put the value of these three selections into context: it’s the lowest draft capital any team has held since 1999.

Before answering how the Seahawks can add to their meager draft arsenal, let’s first explore whether they actually need to improve the situation they find themselves in. After all, 2021 figures to be a draft like no other thanks to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some 128 underclassmen declared early for the 2021 NFL Draft—an increase of 13 from 2020’s total of 115 entrants. The notion the pandemic would add to the number of college players wanting to get paid earlier, given the increased risk of free football, doesn’t appear to be sound given that in 2019, 135 players opted to forego the remainder of their respective collegiate careers.

A much bigger factor is the lack of consensus on player value. The cancellation of the NFL combine testing has seen less reliable pro day numbers become the only way to build athletic profiles. NFL teams do use scout-timed figures, yet the combine was also a valuable tool for general managers and evaluators to feel each other out; now they have been left relying on high profile quarterback pro days.

One traditionally reliable barometer for analysts was mock drafts, but the valuable gauge of league feel now appears to be messier than ever. In addition to the at-times questionable pro day numbers, 2020 football was also limited for many prospects, with some unable to play games as planned while others opted out entirely. Finally, NFL area scouts were restricted in visiting campuses to gain a deeper feel for prospects.

The NFL is still impacted by COVID-19. Many teams are opting out of offseason workouts, Seattle included. While the Seahawks felt they achieved a lot virtually, the impact of no in-person offseason activity was obvious in 2020: defenses stunk league-wide. This season's rookies are likely to have a more difficult offseason than is typical for a newcomer, much like it was for last year's class.

Higher picks may be less valuable and the always uncertain draft will be an even greater crapshoot. I’m sure all of the above was a big consideration for Seattle when they were building into this 2021 situation.

The Seahawks still need more draft picks though. Having a franchise quarterback on the roster will limit a team’s cap space in a way that means the draft is essential for replenishing a roster with competition and depth.

Seattle always looks to enter the draft with no obvious holes on the roster. Yet, at the time of this writing, the team has clear openings at receiver and SAM linebacker. They require much better future planning at cornerback and left tackle. Their every-down, prototype 3-tech defensive tackle was cut over contract disputes. An upgrade at center is something they tried in 2020 and must attempt again this offseason. In short: the Seahawks have more needs than three low-value picks and a few undrafted free agents can satisfy. The immediate draft needs I wrote about in January remain unchanged.

John Schneider is a proven navigator of the draft landscape. Even without the combine to get the ball rolling on draft-day deals, it’s safe to assume the Seahawks' general manager will find ways to move all around the draft through trade downs and trade ups. 

Do NFL general managers have a résumé? Possibly. Anyway, if Schneider has/had a CV, his 2019 draft-dealing would feature prominently. That year, he transformed a total of four picks into 11 selections.

Finding Trades Via the Jimmy Johnson Value Chart

Yes, the low 2021 capital Seattle has is not comparable to 2019. Creating a better situation remains possible, however. The Jimmy Johnson trade value chart is a solid starting point for proving this point. While it’s not as up-to-date or precise as the models teams use today, it does indicate how the Seahawks can get this done.

First: accept that Seattle won’t pick at No. 56. This selection is given a value of 340 points by the Jimmy Johnson trade value chart. The Seahawks could quickly trade down with a team looking to jump up for ‘their guy’ in the second round. 

Take the Saints, who hold pick No. 60 (300 points). They could offer Seattle that selection and and their fourth-rounder at No. 133 (39.5). Math was never my strong point, to be fair. I was too busy doodling football fronts, but, by my calculations, that’s the Seahawks giving 340 points for 395.5. Seattle moves down four picks in the second round and gains an additional fourth-round selection; meanwhile, New Orleans gets their 'must-have' in this scenario.

Seahawks receive:

  • No. 60 (second round)
  • No. 133 (fourth round)

Saints receive:

  • No. 56 (second round)

From there, Seattle could trade out of the second round entirely to gain further capital. The Browns are a really intriguing trade partner given their position in the third round. They also pick at No. 59 in the second round, so let’s say they fancy a back-to-back flex. With the Seahawks possessing No. 60 overall (300), Cleveland could offer third-rounders No. 89 (145) and No. 91 (136). 

Seahawks receive:

  • No. 89 (third round)
  • No. 91 (third round)

Browns receive:

  • No. 60 (second round)

Okay, maybe I’m getting fired as general manager after making Jimmy Johnson angry and trading 300 points for 281. Still, in this scenario, the Seahawks would have:

  • No. 89 (third round)
  • No. 91 (third round)
  • No. 129 (fourth round)
  • No. 133 (fourth round)
  • No. 250 (seventh round)

Mock Draft Simulator 

I’ve also been playing around with Pro Football Network’s mock draft simulator, which appears to be honoring Jimmy Johnson’s model too. In it, the Chargers offered me picks No. 77, No. 97 and No. 118 for No. 56 and No. 129. That’s a better spread of picks than my trade chart centric attempt, although this outcome bears one less fourth-rounder. The value of this trade, per the Johnson chart, shakes out to 383 points versus 375 in the Seahawks' favor and gives them a total of:

  • No. 77 (third round)
  • No. 97 (third round)
  • No. 118 (fourth round)
  • No. 250 (seventh round)

There are countless possibilities and it won’t just be a one-trade-only draft. Not close. I expect Schneider to move back into particular rounds so that he can access certain tiers of player, with Seattle not wanting to miss out on ledges or prospects they are especially keen on. Examples of what this could be for: a long cornerback who meets their athletic thresholds and tape on day two; one of the last Interior offensive linemen before a drop off; a priority free agent on day three.

Tradeable Assets

Trading future picks will be at play, with the Seahawks currently holding seven in 2022. 

Of course, the 2019 ‘water into wine’ draft started with the team trading star pass rusher Frank Clark for a first-round pick and a future second. The Seahawks moving a player in 2021 for draft capital is not out of the question. However, it appears far less likely than it did a few months ago.

The Russell Wilson murmurings appear dead, although a surprise draft day trade (the Jets could still pull it off) would definitely give Seattle serious capital. Jarran Reed was the obvious move and that situation deteriorated into a catastrophe that left the Seahawks with nothing. Tyler Lockett, theorized as a potential trade chip, just signed a blockbuster extension.

Moving safety Quandre Diggs would make zero sense given the difficulty Seattle experienced in finding a starting free safety before he was acquired for a fifth-round pick. Jamal Adams, the man who Schneider traded so much for, is a bizarrely popular trade move amongst certain sections of the fanbase. Yet, the strong safety’s best football is still to come in Seattle, despite an injury-impacted 2020 that still featured incredible flashes and ended with the single-season sack record for defensive backs. Adams is everything the Seahawks could dream of from a strong safety in their defensive scheme, including a high motor that is essential for building the unit.

Another theorized pick-gainer has been 2018 first-round running back Rashaad Penny. I’m not sure who's trading for a ball carrier coming off a serious knee injury, let alone a player who has struggled to impress in NFL snaps that haven’t bordered on gadget usage (majority toss play success).

The free agency arrivals of defensive linemen Kerry Hyder Jr., Al Woods, and Aldon Smith raise potential questions about the futures of L.J. Collier and Rasheem Green. The defensive line competition does look fearsome. However, I’m not sure whether the pick Collier or Green would garner is worth it—unless the league values Collier far higher than expected.

With nearly all of these player-for-picks trades, it's easy to wonder: what would the Seahawks achieve here? You’re left with the timely reminder that young, quality, established players are better than the lottery of a draft pick. For the 2021 Seahawks roster, it’s better to rely on the trade downs, trade ups, and future picks.