RENTON, WA - Moments before reporters began blitzing him and general manager John Schneider about a dramatic trade rumor-filled offseason revolving around quarterback Russell Wilson, coach Pete Carroll crawled out from behind a cutout of himself and took a seat at the podium. With a big smirk on his face, you wouldn't think his team held a league-low three picks in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft, including just one selection in the first three rounds.
After Schneider made his opening statement commemorating the life of former Packers general manager and close friend Ted Thompson, Carroll made sure to remind fans and reporters that while the team won't pick in Thursday night's opening round, they already obtained their prize last July.
"I would say, about the draft, our No. 1 pick is Jamal Adams, and that's a heck of a pick," Carroll said. "He had a really good year leading into getting drafted by us No. 1, and it would have cost us another No. 1 to get that done, that incredible of a football player we saw last year, and we're really excited about the future too."
Acquired from the Jets in exchange for two first-round picks and a third-round pick, Adams earned Second Team All-Pro honors and Pro Bowl recognition in his first season with the Seahawks. The star safety broke former Cardinals star Adrian Wilson's single-season record for sacks by a defensive back in just 12 games, bringing additional star power to Carroll's defense.
Despite needing time to get comfortable in a new scheme and battling multiple injuries, including broken fingers and a torn labrum in his shoulder that required offseason surgery, Adams' presence makes it easy to understand why Carroll and Schneider aren't phased by not having a pick in the first round.
However, while Adams enjoyed a strong campaign to help justify the hefty price tag for his services, he wasn't the only player the team gave up significant draft capital to acquire last offseason. Months before Schneider pulled the trigger on the blockbuster trade to bring the disgruntled safety to Seattle, he addressed another position of need on defense by ironically trading up with New York to select Tennessee defensive end Darrell Taylor.
Speaking with reporters after the third round concluded last April, Schneider indicated Taylor was under consideration one night earlier when they ultimately opted to draft Texas Tech linebacker Jordyn Brooks instead. Fearing the standout pass rusher wouldn't last to pick No. 59, he packaged that pick along with another third rounder (pick No. 101) to jump 11 spots to ensure the Seahawks didn't miss out on him.
“From the get-go this morning, we were on it trying to move the whole way,” Schneider said at the time. “We were trying to go up pretty high to get him.”
Unfortunately, unlike Adams, Seattle didn't get to see what Taylor could do during the 2020 season. Though the team had a rare pre-COVID-19 visit with him at their facility and Schneider said doctors "felt good" about his medical situation, he played with a fractured fibula at the end of his senior season and had a titanium rod inserted into his leg to repair the injury.
Starting training camp on the Non-Football Injury list, Taylor dealt with numerous setbacks as he tried to work his way back from the operation. After previously being quoted as saying the rookie had a chance to "contribute early," Carroll's tune changed as the season progressed and he became far more pessimistic about him returning.
Taylor eventually did return to practice when the playoffs kicked off in January, opening the door for him to still make his NFL debut if the Seahawks advanced. But a wild card loss to the Rams prevented that opportunity from coming to fruition, bringing a lost rookie campaign to a close.
More than four months later - and more than a year after Seattle traded up for him - Carroll and Schneider provided encouraging updates on Taylor's status on Wednesday. Per Carroll, he has been lifting and working out at the team facility and whenever the team does return to the field, he should be ready to go.
"I just saw him in the hallway today, he seems to be doing a great job," Schneider said. "I talked to our trainers, he's working his tail off and he's really excited to get going."
"It looks like if everything just continues to progress that he’ll be full-go in any of the work that we go at," Carroll added. "So that’s a big positive plus for us and we’re excited about it. He's here in the building every day, so that really helps us know that he's being taken care of really well and all the best should lie ahead for him."
Back healthy, the biggest question revolving around Taylor now is: where will he play in 2021?
When the Seahawks first drafted Taylor, Carroll told reporters he was a perfect fit for the LEO defensive end spot, citing his size, speed, aggressiveness, power, and flexibility. When rushing off the edge, he made the most of his chances, leading the SEC in quarterback sacks during his final two seasons with the Volunteers.
Interestingly, Tennessee listed Taylor as a linebacker during those two seasons and though he still rushed the passer with high frequency, he also proved himself capable of dropping back into coverage. Carroll referenced this flexibility last April, as Seattle does occasionally mix in zone blitz schemes where the LEO defensive end spot drops into the hook/curl or flats.
But when examining all of the moves made by Seattle this offseason, it's worth wondering if Carroll has something else in mind for Taylor next season. The team re-signed Carlos Dunlap and Benson Mayowa in free agency, while recently-signed Aldon Smith could also be in the mix for snaps at the LEO role. Alton Robinson also remains on the roster and played well in limited action as a rookie.
With those four players all on the depth chart, Taylor could be hard-pressed to earn consistent playing time rushing off the edge. Some even speculated those signings were made due to concerns about his long-term health.
However, K.J. Wright still remains unsigned and the Seahawks currently have limited options at the SAM linebacker spot in his absence. Just as the team did with Bruce Irvin following his rookie season back in 2013, Taylor has the size and athletic profile to excel as a hybrid linebacker who can set the edge, blitz, and drop back into coverage when called upon. Such a move would create a far clearer path to immediate playing time and wouldn't prevent him from still seeing action on passing downs as a situational pass rushing defensive end either.
Of course, Carroll and Schneider both kept the door open for Wright to eventually return, most likely after the draft. If that does happen, then the odds of Taylor moving to the SAM position would seem remote, at least in the short-term.
Regardless of where they decide to play him, Carroll and Schneider can't wait to see what Taylor can provide on the field and expectations remain high for the twitchy rusher. After not logging a single snap and having no chance to contribute for a division champion, he's still technically a rookie and if he splashes as hoped, his delayed arrival could have the impact of a game-changing first round pick.