Heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, the Seattle Seahawks are no worse off than they were when the 2017 season ended.
That statement may shock some fans considering the team lost cornerback Richard Sherman, defensive end Michael Bennett, tight end Jimmy Graham, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and wide receiver Paul Richardson (to name a few) since the end of last season.
If you look at it position by position, things aren’t quite as gloomy as they appear. In most spots, the Seahawks are either the same or better than they were at the end of December.
Granted, the end of last season wasn’t so good. However, the idea that the team has gone downhill over the offseason losses isn’t true.
Let’s take a look, along with who might make sense for the Seahawks in the draft that starts Thursday and continues through Saturday:
Offensive line – Better.
The addition of D.J. Fluker at guard is a major improvement. Fluker (6-5, 340) is a bulldozer as a run blocker and should help the Seahawks get back to a power running game.
The offensive line still has question marks at right tackle (Germain Ifedi hasn’t shown he can get the job done) and whatever guard spot Fluker doesn't play (Ethan Pocic should improve over his rookie season). They go into the draft better overall and likely will take an offensive linemen early in the draft.
Another big reason the O-line is better involves a non-player move. Mike Solari is the new OL coach, replacing Tom Cable. Solari is a no-nonsense guy. He will use more man-to-man blocking schemes where Cable emphasized a zone-blocking scheme. In other words, less thinking and more muscle, allowing players to use their instincts.
Draft need _ High.
Who would I pick? Will Hernandez, G, Texas-El Paso. A bulldozer at 6-2, 340. The Seahawks could move Pocic to tackle.
Running backs _ No change.
And that’s not great, but the Seahawks will get Chris Carson back after missing most of his rookie season with a broken ankle. Carson looked promising in four games, but he’s a seventh-round draft choice with a lot to prove.
Mike Davis also played well down the stretch. Whether or not either man can be a lead back for a team that wants to emphasize the run is uncertain at best.
Draft priority _ Mandatory
Who would I pick? Sony Michel, Georgia. Plays big in big games and a solid pass-blocker. Great burst at the line of scrimmage.
Receivers – Equal.
The Seahawks lost Paul Richardson, but signed former Arizona receiver Jaron Brown and added Marcus Johnson as part of the Bennett trade with Philadelphia. At 6-2, 205, Brown adds a physical presence outside that Richardson didn’t have.
The same is true for Johnson (6-1, 205). Johnson, however, is a complete unknown after spending 2016 on the Eagles practice with limited playing time last year. So no gain and no significant loss here overall.
Draft Priority _ Needed.
Who would I pick? Dante Pettis, Washington. Good hands, gains separation and the all-time NCAA leader in punt return TDs with nine.
Tight end – A mixed bag.
The Seahawks had no intention of re-signing Jimmy Graham, but probably would have liked to keep Luke Wilson, who signed with Detroit. They added veteran Ed Dickson, who gives the team vastly improved blocking over what the Seahawks got from Graham, which was next to nothing.
Seattle loses the one thing Graham did well, which was a true scoring threat near the goal-line. At 6-7, Graham would post-up on defensive backs for TD receptions. But he also dropped too many passes elsewhere on the field and was no help as a blocker at the line of scrimmage.
Again, if the goal this season is to get back to a power-running game, the Seahawks are much better off with Dickson at tight end. He also can help with pass blocking edge rushers.
Draft need: Late round.
Who would I pick? Jordan Thomas, Mississippi State. Huge guy at 6-6, 275 and could really help the season with blocking on the edge.
Quarterback – The same.
Lots of unnecessary drama here with no changes overall. Russell Wilson’s management team got it’s dander up because Seahawks general manager John Schneider went and watched quarterback Josh Allen work out.
That led to all kinds of ridiculous speculation about Wilson being traded. Not happening in 2018 and who knows what could happen in 2019, but watching Allen work out was no reason for Team Wilson to get offended.
The real drama happened when the Seahawks planned to bring in Colin Kaepernick for a work out, but backed out when Kaepernick reportedly wouldn’t list his future plans. Translation: “Are you going to stand for the anthem.”
When news got out about the Seahawks “postponing” a Kaepernick meeting it set off a social-media wildfire on both sides of the issue, along with an avalanche of media attention.
A day later the Seahawks signed quarterback Stephen Morris, who has yet to play in an NFL game in four seasons since leaving the University of Miami. The Seahawks also re-signed back-up QB Austin Davis.
Seattle could have dramatically improved its quarterback depth with Kaepernick, but let politics get in the way.
Draft need: Maybe
Who would I pick? Kyle Lauletta, Richmond. MVP of the Senior Bowl and an accurate passer with an instinct for finding the open man.
Defensive end – Not as good.
This is the one spot where the Seahawks may have an overall loss. Bennett played hurt all last season and still had 8.5 sacks. Trading him meant the Seahawks also rid themselves of all his non-football distractions. Soon after the trade Bennett was arrested over an incident in the 2017 Super Bowl at Houston when he allegedly pushed an elderly security guard.
Dion Jordan steps into the starting spot for now after showing a lot of promise last season with four sacks in five games. However, Bennett was a Pro-Bowl player for the Seahawks, not something easily replaced.
Obviously, the Seahawks were much better at the start of last season with Cliff Avril as a starter. The neck injury probably has ended Avril’s career.
Draft need: Fairly high
Who would I pick? Hercules Mata’afa, Washington State. And undersized DT in college with exceptional quickness and a relentless motor.
Defensive tackle – Better depth.
The Seahawks knew it was unlikely they could afford to keep Sheldon Richardson, who signed with Minnesota, so they signed two veteran defensive tackles from the Vikings to replace him – Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen.
Seattle also has talented young DTs in Jarran Reed and Nazair Jones, the likely starters in 2018. Richardson was a disruptive force inside, but the Seahawks are better overall here than they were in 2017.
Draft need: Low.
Who would I pick: Breeland Speaks, Mississippi. At 6-3, 305, he had seven sacks last season. He can play the nose, 3-tech or 5-tech.
Linebackers – Slightly better.
Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and outside linebacker K.J. Wright are rocks on the Seattle defense. The other outside spot is better with the acquisition of Barkevious Mingo, who will give the defense an additional pass-rushing threat outside.
But depth is a big issue here and the Seahawks will need to add players as backups.
Draft need – Moderate.
Who would I pick? Shaquem Griffin, Central Florida. Don’t let his having only one hand fool you. He can do everything well. His twin brother is Seattle cornerback Shaquill Griffin.
Cornerbacks – A wash.
Yes, a Seattle icon is gone in Richard Sherman. But Sherman wasn’t playing at the end of last season because of a ruptured Achilles tendon. It was painful for the fans to see him sign with the 49ers, including some bad feelings from Sherman after he left.
In essence, the Seahawks and 49ers swapped cornerbacks when Seattle signed Dontae Johnson, who started all 16 games for San Francisco last season. Johnson is no Sherman and isn’t going to be. He probably is as good as the Seahawks had in Byron Maxwell, who was started in place of Sherman at the end of 2017.
Shaquill Griffin returns at the other cornerback spot after an impressive rookie season. Cornerback still could be an early draft selection for the Seahawks.
Draft need: High.
Who would I pick? Josh Jackson, Iowa. Physical corner the Seahawks love. It will take staying in the first round to get him.
Safeties – The same (so far).
Both starters from last season are back from the end of last season _ free safety Earl Thomas and strong safety Bradley McDougald. As is the case with Avril, it appears Kam Chancellor’s career is over from the neck injury he suffered early last season.
The unknown here is Thomas and whether he returns or is traded. If a team is willing to give the Seahawks a first and third-round pick for Thomas (possibly the Cowboys), then Thomas may have played his last game with the Seahawks.
Thomas has a year left on his contract. Re-signing him would cost in excess of $50 million. He still is the best free safety in the game. The rest of the Legion of Boom is gone. For the right price, the last LOB member may be gone, as well.
Priority – Moderate.
Who would I pick? Chucky Williams, Louisville. Big-hitter and an outstanding special-teams player.
Kicker – Better.
Sebastian Janikowski is 40 years old and probably not the kicker he once was. Nevertheless, Janikowski still is dramatically better than Blair Walsh, who was a factor in the Seahawks failing to make the playoff last season.
Sea Bass (as the league knows him) has 55 field goals of 50 yards or longer in his 17-year career and 86 percent success rate on kicks under 50 yards.
The Seahawks also signed Jason Myers to compete for the kicking job, but Sea Bass is the likely replacement for Walsh.
Draft Priority – Low.
Who would I draft? No one, but if the Seahawks want to use a seventh-round pick, Daniel Carlson (6-5, 215) of Auburn is the guy.
So there you have it. You can make a case that the Seahawks actually are better at several spots right now than they were when the disappointing 9-7 season ended last year.
That’s not good enough. They need to have their best draft since the remarkable 2012 class if they hope to reach the lofty heights set by the era that ended last year.