The fallout of the NFL draft has finally begun to settle and the analysts, critics, “experts,” and people that are supposed to know have begun the regularly scheduled shelling of Seattle’s choices. While I can honestly say that I had no idea who Bruce Irvin was when we drafted him (I was expecting Chandler Jones from Syracuse), my first reaction wasn’t that of “how could they get it so wrong.” Instead, I thought to myself, “Do I really know all the players in college well enough to have an educated critique of this?” The answer, of course, is no.
There are people who are paid large sums of money to know this – Mel Kiper and Mike Mayock to name a couple – and even they were shocked by Seattle’s choices in the draft. Yet, they didn’t have the intellectually honest reaction that some had. Rather, they reacted as if Pete Carroll and John Schneider had no clue what they were doing and just napalmed Seattle’s future. This is the nature of pundits in all realms of punditry, though, and admitting you’re wrong or misinformed does not come naturally to them.
Another problem is that the Seahawks are not being built like a typical NFL team. They don’t draft the very best player available no matter what the position. They might not even draft the “very best” player in a position they need, instead taking the best player that fits what they are trying to do. Instead of trying to pool talent, generally, they are looking for players, specifically, that will complement their system. To evaluate Seattle’s draft picks, you need to view it through that lens. Of course that means one would have to dig a little deeper and take some time to understand what was going on up in South Alaska, but it means that the professional analysis would be that much better. For better or worse, Seattle is not your typical NFL team. (It’s also important to remember that it takes three years to actually be able to evaluate a team’s draft class.)
The way I understand Carroll and Schneider’s big idea, is that on defense they want a general framework in which they can plug in various players depending on the circumstances (opponent, situation, and desired outcome). Sometimes they might need a super-fast pass rusher within a 3-4 defense and plug in Irvin to create some pressure. Other times, they might be stopping the run, or just trying to make sure passes go incomplete. Pete Carroll likes having specific tools in the tool box for specific situations. That’s why he runs a hybrid 3-4 4-3 defense. And because of this, the Seahawks are not going to draft in the typical NFL fashion. Flexibility in specificity of players is valued higher than really good every-down generalists.