Super Bowl 2014: Examining five key Seattle Seahawks draft moments
Draft-day gambles like Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson (among others) helped the Seahawks go from 5-11 in 2009 to the Super Bowl in 2013.
The NFL abbreviation might stand for National Football League for most but in Seattle it just as easily represents Not For Long, as in the tenure of most players on the roster.
Since inheriting a team that went 5-11 in 2009, head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have completely overhauled the roster. In their four years at the helm, the Seahawks have made nearly 850 roster transactions and only four players -- defensive tackle Brandon Mebane , defensive end Red Bryant , center Max Unger and punter Jon Ryan -- were on the roster before Carroll's jump from USC. No one remains on the roster from the Seahawks loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL.
Like every other team in the league, the Seahawks have supplemented their roster with veteran free agency. Defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril were key additions this season.
Veteran trades are rare in the NFL, but not in Seattle since Carroll and Schneider arrived. While Percy Harvin generated the most buzz, the single most important addition to the roster has probably been Marshawn Lynch , who was stolen from the Buffalo Bills for a pair of late-round picks in the 2011 and 2012 drafts. Passionate and productive defensive end Chris Clemons was also a key pickup who arrived via a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.
The lifeblood of any successful NFL team, however, remains the draft. Carroll and his coaching staff identify the key characteristics for each position on the field. Schneider and his personnel department are tasked with finding the collegiate players who possess these traits. It is a marriage of philosophies that is rare in today's ego-driven NFL and has resulted in draft-day larceny for the Seahawks.
The Five Draft Day Decisions that played the biggest role in Seattle's success are ranked below.
5. DT Brandon Mebane, No. 85 overall, 2007 draft
While Carroll and Schneider certainly deserve the bulk of the credit for the Seahawks' ascent as NFC Champions, the cupboard wasn't completely bare when they arrived in Seattle. Since being selected out of Cal in the third round of the 2007 draft by a braintrust that included head coach Mike Holmgren, general manager Tim Ruskell and vice president of player personnel Ruston Webster, Mebane has anchored Seattle's stout front four, starting 107 of a possible 112 games during that time. Listed at 6 feet 1, 311 pounds, Mebane blends power and surprising initial quickness to shut down interior running lanes, playing a critical role in the middle for the Seahawks' top-ranked defense.
4. DE Red Bryant, No. 121 overall, 2008 draft
Like Mebane, "Big Red" was also drafted before Carroll joined the club. A defensive tackle at Texas A&M, Bryant floundered at the position in his first two seasons in Seattle and appeared to be on the verge of being released by the new regime. In a coaching move that demonstrates Carroll's brilliance as much as any he's made since in Seattle, the head coach advocated moving Bryant to the five-technique defensive end role in his hybrid scheme, taking advantage of the 6-4, 329-pounder's massive frame, long arms and great strength to handle double-team blocks on the perimeter. With only 2.5 sacks during his three seasons as Seattle's starting defensive end, Bryant isn't going to earn Pro Bowl consideration any time soon but the team captain's toughness and leadership makes him as critical to Seattle's success on the defensive side of the ball as any player among a talented front seven.
, No. 133 overall, 2010 draft
Chancellor's partner in the deep secondary -- free safety Earl Thomas -- might just be the Seahawks' best player and his selection as the No. 14 overall pick of the 2010 draft has proven to be a brilliant move. The speed and instincts with which he tracks down interceptions from center field is akin to the way the great Ken Griffey Jr. used to rob opponents of home runs across the street for the Seattle Mariners. As the NFL increasingly turns towards the pass, Thomas' value increases as no safety in the league possesses his sideline to sideline range.
Whereas Thomas provides the speed, Chancellor provides the leadership and thunderous hits that inspired the Legion of Boom nickname. His selection roughly 120 picks after Thomas makes him the best value in a 2010 draft class that ranks as one of the best in Seahawks history. Besides Thomas and Chancellor, the Seahawks also nabbed Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung with the No. 6 overall pick, as well as wideout Golden Tate (No. 60 overall), the team's leading receiver in 2013. Cornerback Walter Thurmond , selected No. 111 overall, would start for many clubs but has struggled to stay on the field due to injuries and a suspension for substance abuse.
, No. 154 overall, 2011 draft
While his brash persona has threatened to make him a villain, Sherman's emergence as a lockdown corner is one of the truly remarkable developments in the NFL. As a receiver for much of his career at Stanford, Sherman certainly possessed the ball-skills scouts were looking for, as his 20 interceptions since being drafted three years ago, can attest. The physicality and awareness with which Sherman now plays, is a credit to his own hard work as well as Seahawks' defensive backs' coach Kris Richard, a defensive back who started under Carroll's Trojans from 1998-2001 and played four seasons in the NFL in Seattle and San Francisco.
Sherman uses his long arms and lanky 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame to blanket receivers. While physically gifted, he's also a technician, showing impressive use of hands to impede would-be pass catchers as well as excellent route-recognition to cut in front of the ball. No cornerback is more effective when the ball is in the air, as Sherman possesses excellent body control and patience to locate the ball and either deflect to towards teammates (as was the case in the game-clinching interception in the NFC Championship) or simply intercept the ball, himself.
, No. 75 overall, 2012 draft
While Sherman's improvement since joining the Seahawks has been remarkable, it is Wilson's continued spectacular play that makes him the easy choice as the Seahawks' top draft decision. Before the 2012 draft, Wilson was viewed by many as an experiment. Scouts recognized that he possessed virtually everything necessary to star in the NFL except height. Given the "short" list of quarterbacks who had overcome the lack of size to even develop into capable starters, however, Wilson was the sixth passer selected despite setting an FBS-record with a 191.8 passer efficiency rating. Wilson's success in the NFL stems from traits he demonstrated in guiding North Carolina State and Wisconsin to success. He is perhaps best known for his improvisational skills, demonstrating deceptive agility and speed to evade defenders as well as the vision and poise to keep his eyes downfield for receivers breaking open late. An underrated element of Wilson's play is his efficient over-the-top release, which results in his passes rarely getting knocked down at the line of scrimmage and good accuracy to all levels of the field, including while on the run.
Perhaps most impressive of all, however, is Wilson's composure. during his first two seasons in the NFL, he has directed 10 game-winning drives. When the pressure is most intense, Wilson has shown a calm that belies his experience. It is a belief in his own talents that helped convince Schneider to pull the trigger in Round 3 of the 2012 draft and Carroll to hand Wilson the starting role after beating out free-agent addition Matt Flynn .
Should the Seahawks win Sunday, Carroll and Schneider will look like genius. Wilson, meanwhile, will join Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger as the only quarterbacks to win a championship in their second season in the league.
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