[Leif is the first of several new writers you'll be seeing in the days ahead. If you guys like his work, he'll become a more pemanent part of the writing team for the site, so be sure to leave feedback in the comments below. -Ed.]
To be a successful franchise, you need to know how to draft. For a prime example, take a look at the Green Bay Packers, who won a Super Bowl after suffering more injuries than any other team in the league, including 17 players on IR. Losses of that magnitude would cripple most teams, but due to their ability to draft well the Packers had solid depth at every position. While building that championship-caliber roster, the team avoided blockbuster trades for players, nor did they overspend on big name free agents, preferring instead to build through the draft. In fact, the only big offseason pickup the Packers made was Charles Woodson in 2006.
The Seahawks, on the other hand, are in transition mode and have been for quite some time, largely due to their inability to draft effectively. Clearly, hiring Tim Ruskell in 2005 did not work out, but letting Ted Thompson go that same year to become Green Bay’s GM was an even bigger mistake. If we had kept the right GM, it’s possible that the Seahawks could have been the ones celebrating a few Sundays ago instead of the Packers. Seattle did bring in John Schneider last year after he helped Thompson build that championship team in Green Bay, and hopefully he can make up for the blunders the team has had in recent drafts. To get a feel for what Schneider is trying to overcome, I want to take a look back at the last few years of Seahawks drafts, beginning with 2005.
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Round 1 (#26 overall), C Chris Spencer
Along with Jason Brown, Spencer was considered one of the top centers available in the 2005 draft1. At first, we all optimistic about Spencer’s ability to come in and eventually replace Robbie Tobeck — even Mike Holmgren said he was a future pro bowler. But after Tobeck retired, Spencer started every game of the 2007 season at center but was bothered by shoulder and thumb injuries. Then came 2008, when he was troubled by a back problem that eventually landed him on IR after 11 games. In 2009 he was again troubled by injuries, prompting coach Jim Mora to call him out in a press conference for being “soft.” I don’t agree with the way Mora handled the situation, but I do think Spencer’s injury history makes him somewhat “soft” and that isn’t something that should be tolerated in an offensive lineman.
There have been times when Spencer has done a decent job, but his play isn’t consistent and he still has problems making protection calls for the line. I believe Spencer could be an average center if he stayed healthy, but that won’t cut it for Seattle. After watching him start at center for five years and still not develop, I’d say it’s time to either let him go or sign him to a lower contract to provide depth for the o-line. Let’s just hope that if he isn’t re-signed that it doesn’t turn in to Kevin Mawae all over again.
Round 2, LB Lofa Tatupu
This is one of Ruskell’s bright spots. In his rookie year, Tatupu came out and led the Seahawks defense on their way to a Super Bowl, and in his first three years made three pro bowl appearances and totaled over 100 tackles per season. Since 2007, however, he has been plagued by injuries and surrounded by a bad supporting cast. As long as he’s in Seattle the defense will belong to Lofa because of his ability to lead, but he needs to stay healthy and start making more plays. Tatupu is an intelligent, instinctive player, but he’s also undersized and he has yet to live up to that big contract he signed in 2007. Effectively, he’s being paid top 5 linebacker money, but his play hasn’t been up to that standard. After getting both knees scoped this offseason, Tatupu will enter the 2011 season with no nagging problems and no excuses for not playing like the linebacker he was in his first three seasons in the league.
Round 3, QB David Greene
We all remember the lefty out of Georgia who we thought could have a future with the team. Drafted based on his potential, his struggles with accuracy, poor decision making, and inability to read defenses made this a wasted pick. After he left the Seahawks, Greene went on to play for the Patriots and Chiefs, but couldn’t hold down a roster spot with either team. He later turned down an opportunity to workout for the Giants, opting to retire instead.
Round 3, LB Leroy Hill
Injuries to starting linebacker Jamie Sharper thrust Hill into the starting lineup in his rookie year, and he did well, totaling 72 tackles and 7.5 sacks from the outside linebacker position. Along with fellow rookie Lofa Tatupu, Hill was one of the major contributors on defense that helped the team reach Super Bowl XL. Hill played well enough in the years after that to be tagged as the Seahawks’ franchise player in the 2009 offseason, but the team later removed that tag after drafting highly touted Wake Forest LB Aaron Curry number four overall. That didn’t stop him from re-signing with Seattle for a 6 year, $38 million deal, although he later took a pay cut to remain with the team. After coming up with big play after big play in his first few seasons, Leroy Hill was supposed to be a fixture at outside linebacker in Seattle, but since then his play has declined, his off-field troubles have worsened, and his injuries have started to pile up. With the emergence of David Hawthorne, it looks like Hill no longer has a future with the team.
Round 4, T Ray Willis
This pick I like. Willis has often been hurt, but despite that his play has been consistent when he’s been given opportunities at right tackle, plus he has good size for the position. A team captain in 2009, he was also the only offensive lineman to start all 16 games that season. A second-day selection, by the time training camp rolled around Willis was an afterthought in most assessments of the team, but he shouldn’t have been. After all, we’re talking about a guy who was a top tackle for one of the nation’s elite college football programs. Willis had his pick of agents leading up to the draft, and only fell to the fourth round because of an ankle injury. I believe he can become a solid RT for the team, and hopefully Pete Carroll will keep him around as quality depth in 2011, if not let him start outright.
Round 5, LB Jeff Huckeba
Round 6, TE Tony Jackson
Round 7 LB Cornelius Wortham and T Doug Nienhuis
None of these players lasted with the team long enough to have an impact.
Overall, this was a boom and bust draft for Ruskell, with just three good picks in Lofa Tatupu, Leroy Hill, and Ray Willis. This was also the only year Ruskell used a top pick on an offensive lineman until he drafted C Max Unger in the second round four years later. 2005 was one of Ruskell’s best drafts, but it was above-average at best.
1 Brown was later drafted by Baltimore with a fourth round pick.