It’s funny how my Seahawks fandom led me astray in this draft. Like a lot of people, I had REAL tunnel vision when it came to the first round of this draft, and especially with the #5 pick. I never legitimately believed we’d take a quarterback there, but I left that door open a crack just in case. Really, what I expected was we’d take the best defensive lineman available. Either Will Anderson (if he was still there) or Jalen Carter/Tyree Wilson (whoever the team believed in more). As many expected, the Texans drafted Will Anderson; as literally no one expected, they drafted him AFTER they also took C.J. Stroud (when they traded up with Arizona for the #3 pick). Other than that, the top 4 went chalk: Bryce Young #1 to the Panthers and Anthony Richardson #4 to the Colts. Will Levis is somewhere still sliding harder than a fireman on a greased up fire pole.
What I didn’t do before the draft was put one ounce of effort into studying first round cornerbacks or wide receivers. What’s the point? The Seahawks never take a receiver before the second round, and never take a corner before the third!
There’s two ways to look at this draft for the Seahawks so far: you’re either with us or against us. You’re either a fan of your team taking the Best Player Available, or you’re not. There are normally 32 picks in the first round of an NFL Draft; this year there was 31 because the Dolphins got dinged for tampering and lost their pick. However, that doesn’t mean there are 30+ players with “first round grades” heading into a draft. Usually there’s anywhere from 12-18 or so, true, legitimate blue chippers. This year’s class was deemed to be weak in comparison to recent drafts, so the odds of the Seahawks getting two elite players with first round grades – when their second pick was #20 – seemed pretty remote.
I would call this draft a qualified success, because the Seahawks got two players with true first round grades. But, obviously, the Seahawks didn’t address their greatest need (the defensive front seven), and that might come back to haunt them.
You can’t be a football fan and not have heard some chatter about Devon Witherspoon, cornerback from Illinois (our pick at #5). Really, all I knew heading into the draft was that he was one of the best cornerbacks in this draft, he excelled in press coverage, and he was elite against the run. As soon as I heard that, I thought, “Well, he sounds like an ideal Pete Carroll cornerback; too bad he’ll be gone by the time we take our first corner of this draft!”
He’s 6’0, 180-something pounds. Notably – in the post-round interviews – Pete Carroll compared him to Troy Polamalu, which is incredibly high praise. It’s hard not to be a fan of his style of play, I think he’ll fit in beautifully with what the Seahawks want to do on defense. That being said, he doesn’t strike me as a Sauce Gardner type. He’s not far-and-away the best cornerback in this draft (even though he was picked first, and would probably get the most first place votes). Washington and New England both took cornerbacks at 16 and 17 respectively who are in the conversation (particularly the Oregon guy, who I’d also heard rumblings about pre-draft).
The big question with Witherspoon will be: is he a lockdown corner? Or is he just a good all-around athlete? Is he a Richard Sherman, or a Shawn Springs? Say what you will about Springs, but he was never a lockdown guy; he was fine.
Of note to Seahawks fans in the market for a defensive lineman, Tyree Wilson ended up going #7 to the Raiders and Jalen Carter went #9 to the Eagles (of course). It’s interesting how the defensive end market shook out, because there were a number of quality names still available by the time the draft got to #20. I don’t know if these guys are going to be worth a damn as pros, but names I’d heard about pre-draft included Myles Murphy (28th to the Bengals), Nolan Smith (30th to the Eagles, of course), and Felix Anudike-Uzomah (31st to the Chiefs). There were also a couple of semi-interesting defensive tackles taken after we picked, including Mazi Smith (26th to the Cowboys) and Bryan Bresee (29th to the Saints). We’ll have to keep our eyes on those guys, and just imagine what they might’ve looked like in Seahawks uniforms.
At some point in the run-up to #20, I tweeted out how I thought it would be funny if the Seahawks continued to buck their organizational trends by taking “that amazing tight end” with our other first round pick. Dalton Kincaid was who I was referring to; he ended up getting selected by the Bills at 25. Nevertheless, we did buck trends, but went wide receiver instead.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba is more-or-less the consensus best receiver in this class, at least heading in. But, kinda like our cornerback pick, JSN doesn’t sound like a grand slam, no doubter home run, a la Ja’Marr Chase or Justin Jefferson. Maybe just a half-step down.
He’s 6’1, 196 pounds. He was the very best Ohio State wide receiver in 2021, before a hamstring injury severely limited his 2022 season. He can play anywhere – inside and outside – he has great hands, he gets open. He’s going to be a BIG asset for this team. I’ve heard him being compared to Doug Baldwin, which: sign me up! I wonder if he’s like a blend of both Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf. I love the pick already for what he’s going to mean to this offense on third downs, but I’ll be curious to see what his high-end potential is on big plays downfield. A non-crazy Antonio Brown is the ceiling you’re looking for. I imagine the floor is – as always – Nelson Agholor.
Here’s the thing with these two picks: it doesn’t matter if you’re in the Best Player Available camp or the Draft For Need camp, because cornerback and wide receiver ARE needs for this team.
Sure, Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant were drafted last year and made names for themselves as rookies. But, we still needed a starter opposite Woolen who isn’t Mike Jackson. I would also argue that Woolen is more of a cover corner, and not necessarily a guy who lowers the boom on opposing players. I cringe every time I see Woolen try to tackle a running back. We needed to throw a wild animal into our secondary. Devon Witherspoon is going to learn so much from the likes of not only Woolen, but Quandre Diggs, Julian Love, and even Jamal Adams (for the half a game he’s healthy for).
And I would argue – in spite of having two 1,000-yard receivers in Metcalf and Lockett – the Seahawks had a bigger need for a third receiver than they did for another corner. Are you as sick and tired of Dee Eskridge as I am? Are you over these 1-year retreads like Marquise Goodwin? Are you looking for a little more than a 6th/7th rounder or an undrafted guy, like Freddie Swain, Dareke Young, or Penny Hart?
Three-receiver sets are the norm nowadays, even with a team that runs as much as the Seahawks do. The fullback is out. You’re either going with a third receiver or a second tight end. So, there’s going to be no shortage of plays for JSN on the field in this offense. He gives us probably the best wide receiver room in football (certainly in the NFC anyway), he’s insurance in case Metcalf or Lockett get banged up, and he’ll help us replenish for when Tyler Lockett one day decides to hang ’em up. Sure, Lockett is signed through 2025, he keeps his body in shape, and he’s careful about not taking brutal hits. But, he’s 31 this year. There’s a potential out in his contract before 2024, so you never know when it’s all going to come to an end for an older player. Waiting until after Lockett is gone to replenish the wide receiver room sounds like a terrible idea. Get a rookie in there now, have him learn from Lockett while he still can, and now you’ve really maximized that pick!
Granted, even though the Seahawks did draft for need, they weren’t the most pressing needs. To that, I say, let’s see what happens over the next couple days. Should be quite interesting.