By Len Pasquarelli
The Sports Xchange
Panned by most observers challenging the wisdom of the choice, the Seattle Seahawks' selection of defensive end/linebacker Bruce Irvin with the 15th overall pick in Thursday night's first round, may have actually been one of the more timely moves in the early stages of the lottery.
In conversations over the past two days, The Sports Xchange has confirmed that several other franchises, including the one picking directly after Seattle, had the former West Virginia University standout rated as a solid first-round candidate and likely would have chosen the hybrid pass-rusher had he been available to them.
"He was," the general manager from one of those teams told The Sports Xchange late Friday night, "arguably the hottest player in the whole draft the past week."
That sentiment was shared by several personnel chiefs on Friday and Saturday.
There have been suggestions that Irvin, whose tale of personal redemption has become well-known over the last few days, might have even been available to the Seahawks in the second round. But given the interest from other franchises, as confirmed by The Sports Xchange, that is highly unlikely.
Among the several teams that either planned to select Irvin or had him on a "short list" of first-round candidates for consideration: the New York Jets (No. 16), Chicago (19th), Green Bay (28th) and San Francisco (No. 30).
Less than five minutes after the Seahawks plucked Irvin, with a pick that surprised many pundits, the telephone rang in the Seattle "war room." On the other end was a Jets' official, good-naturedly cursing a Seahawks' counterpart for having chosen the prospect New York planned to grab one pick later. San Francisco dispatched an assistant coach to meet with, and work out, Irvin two days before the draft. One of the teams intrigued by Irvin phoned him the week before the draft to indicate its interest in him.
The momentum elevating Irvin -- a former high school dropout, who served time in a juvenile correctional facility, obtained his GED, and played at Mt. San Antonio Junior College before starring at WVU for two seasons and registering 14 sacks (including 16 in 2010) -- pretty much flew under the radar of many draft analysts.
But, obviously, not of NFL talent evaluators.
Still, there was plenty of subterfuge involved.
There have been several stories, for instance, that Jets' coach Rex Ryan assured North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples in the days preceding the draft that he would be the choice at No. 16. But a team source acknowledged to The Sports Xchange that wasn't exactly the case. And remember, even if it had been, Ryan is prone to hyperbole. In 2010, he told then-free agent defensive end Jason Taylor that he would have 15 sacks if he signed in New York. Taylor had five.
Last season, Ryan predicted that wide receiver Derrick Mason could post 90-100 catches with the Jets. He had 13 in five games and then was traded. And, more notably, Ryan's guarantees of a Super Bowl have fallen short.
In the Bay Area, 49ers' general manager Trent Baalke suggested days before the draft that San Francisco had zeroed in on a specific player, and the perception after the club surprised many by choosing wide receiver A.J. Jenkins with the 30th pick was that the Illinois receiver was the guy targeted. But there are indications that the 49ers would have at least strongly debated Irvin as a possibility.
Of course, the plans by those other teams pondering Irvin were scuttled by Seattle.
The choice of Irvin, who notably was the first "edge" pass-rusher selected Thursday night, despite the availability of several better-known sack-noted players, elicited comments such as "head-scratcher" and "puzzling" from commentators. In draft headquarters around the NFL, however, there was no such criticism.
Especially from the several franchises that coveted Irvin and were burned by the Seattle move.