The NFL Draft is a staple landmark in the league calendar for a lot of reasons. Not only does it provide hundreds of young men the realization of their lifelong dream, but it also paints the picture for the direction of each franchise.
Free agency sets the table for what teams do in the draft. While the best strategy is to draft the best players available, that’s not always the case. Teams consistently stack their draft boards base on a myriad of factors, including team needs. The Seahawks were able to accomplish getting players that both filled needs and checked off positions of significant value. They also defined their direction in two major ways moving forward in the post-Russell Wilson era.
Let’s take a closer look at their defined direction after making nine selections in the 2022 NFL Draft:
Reload the Defense
The Seahawks have been known by their defense for the majority of the last 15 years. The advent of the "Legion of Boom" was built around star safety Earl Thomas with a myriad of late draft picks that hit on a massive level. The likes of Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, and Kam Chancellor all being selected on day three and making multiple Pro Bowls and All-Pro teams is a feat that is difficult to attain. On the surface, it feels like general manager John Schneider might have been able to do it again and he started the defensive rebuild on day two of the draft.
Boye Mafe is an explosive prospect that the Seahawks got at an inherent value. Valued in the top-25 on my big board, Mafe is an athletic freak who garnered a pressure on every six pass rush attempts at Minnesota. The tough part to quantify is how well he will be able to play in a true full-time role. The Golden Gophers prioritized a true rotation in the trenches, leading to their best player having a season-high 480 snaps. Mafe brings immense versatility and potential, as he has the size, freaky athleticism, and power to thrive as both a 5-tech base end and a hybrid outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
The real coup for the Seahawks was the cornerbacks they got on day three. The position was one that they were projected to target at least once in the draft with nobody truly solidified as a starter long-term. Not only did they get two quality prospects at a value, but they drafted two different types of corners with plus-value. Coby Bryant was Sauce Gardner’s running mate at Cincinnati and received a myriad of targets because he was opposite of the fourth overall pick. It's safe to say he rose to the challenge. Per Pro Football Focus, Bryant’s 10 interceptions and 37 pass breakups throughout his career was the genesis of him winning the Jim Thorpe Award in 2021. While he doesn’t have elite speed or athleticism, he has the ability to play right away and develop into a quality cornerback No. 2, which was likely highly valued considering the next selection's projection.
Tariq Woolen is the most unique prospect in the draft class. An absolute freak athlete, he is 6-foot-4 (99.9th percentile height) and 208 pounds with a 40-yard dash time of 4.26 seconds. At UTSA, he was a receiver for the first three years before moving to cornerback. Because of that, he is still a major project. The flashes of brilliance are on a different level but the lapses show a player that is still a year or two away from being a starter. The key will be refining his instincts and that will come with more reps and coaching at the NFL level. Even with the team transitioning from its previous Cover 3-heavy scheme, this feels like a perfect fit for Seattle and the player.
Establish the Run
Over the entirety of his tenure in Seattle, Pete Carroll has made it a top priority to run the football and have invested massive resources and capital into the running back position. From trading for Marshawn Lynch to to signing Eddie Lacy to drafting C.J. Prosise and Rashaad Penny in more recent years, Carroll and Schneider have always emphasized the position through a variety of means.
In their latest major investment at the position, the Seahawks snagged electric runner Kenneth Walker III from Michigan State with the 41st overall selection. After starting his career at Wake Forest and not getting enough playing time, Walker III hit the jackpot at Michigan State in a pro-style offense perfectly suited for him. The Spartans made him the feature back and he delivered by being Pro Football Focus' top back in both yards after contact (1,168) and explosive runs of 15-plus yards (30). He hasn’t had much of an opportunity to be a receiver out of the backfield but flashed the potential to be one. He represents a complete back despite his slightly smaller stature and his biggest area of improvement will be pass protection and blitz pickup.
As far as fit, depending on Chris Carson's health coming off of neck surgery, Walker III could see extensive carries early in a platoon role with Penny. Given where they drafted him, it's possible he could be the starter by the end of his rookie season.
Solidify the Trenches
The interesting aspect for Seattle's running game is how the offensive line was prioritized in the draft. Schneider has been rightfully criticized for the overall lack of resources put into the line over his tenure as general manager, as the team has consistently put a mediocre group in front of Russell Wilson over the years and failed to hit on draft picks up front.
But the second that Wilson departed for the Broncos via trade, Schneider flipped the script and made it a top priority in this year's draft. Since he took over in 2010, he had only selected six offensive lineman in the first three rounds of the draft and hadn’t taken one in the first round since 2016. He also did in both 2010 and 2011. This became the first draft in his tenure where he took two offensive lineman in the first three rounds, using a pair of picks on Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas.
Looking closely at these picks, the intriguing aspect with these selections is their profile. The Seahawks have made it clear that their desire is to run the football but the two offensive linemen they selected played in the Mike Leach Air Raid system in college at Mississippi State and Washington State respectively. The Air Raid is a high-efficiency style offense that uses the short passing game in lieu of a traditional rushing attack. The routes run by receivers are chosen based on coverages. The running concepts that are used tend to be inside zone and draw plays. Unlike other top tackles in the draft, Cross and Lucas have much more limited experience with pro-style rushing concepts and overall exposure to the running game as a whole.
At the college level, according to Pro Football Focus, Cross logged only 357 run blocking snaps on nearly 1,700 total snaps (21.5 percent). As for Lucas, even with the Cougars running a bit more in his final season in Pullman, he only had 811 run blocking snaps on 2,195 total snaps (36.9 percent).
On film, both Cross and Lucas showed the capability to translate as run blockers. Nut they are a projection due to needing a lot of experience and growth technically with elements like pulling and down blocking. Can they get there? Absolutely, but it will take time and great coaching from Andy Dickerson.
After dealing away Wilson and cutting Bobby Wagner, the Seahawks seem to be in a true rebuild. But with this draft class, I can see both Carroll and Schneider convincing themselves that they are a lot closer to contending than they appear at this moment on paper. Of course, quarterback remains the huge question mark. Drew Lock has a lot of arm talent but hasn’t been able to put it together. If he lives up to Carroll’s belief in him and beats out Geno Smith in training camp for the starting job, the Seahawks have an opportunity to make some noise with this exciting crop of incoming rookies ready to contribute right away.