RENTON – With the season a few days from completion and head coach Mike Holmgren heading into retirement, the Seattle Seahawks’ focus soon will shift to the offseason and restoring the team to playoff contention.
At that point, team president Tim Ruskell and coach-in-waiting Jim Mora will begin the evaluation process and turn their attention to the April draft.
Seattle’s upcoming draft will be one of the more important ones in recent memory.
The Seahawks are assured of a top-10 pick, and they likely will have their highest pick available since 1997, when they drafted cornerback Shawn Springs with the third overall pick and offensive tackle Walter Jones at No. 6.
At 4-11, Seattle is tied for the fifth-worst record in the league with Cleveland and Oakland.
“I think it’s as important of a draft as they have ever had,” said Rob Rang, a senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com. “In making that transition, if they decide they are going to just rebuild the franchise around Jim Mora’s vision, then there’s a possibility they’re going to take an offensive lineman No. 1. There’s a possibility they’re going to take a quarterback No. 1. And if they go that route then they have to be right. Otherwise, you’re going to end up drafting in the top five year after year after year.”
Plenty of talent should be available to Seattle, with several juniors eligible for the 2009 draft expected to declare when the deadline comes on Jan. 15.
More underclassmen are entering the draft for two reasons.
First, there are rumblings that the NFL will change the collective bargaining agreement to curb the amount of lucrative salaries available to rookies. That has some juniors eying next year’s draft. Second, an underwhelming senior talent pool could have some underclassmen looking for a chance to improve their draft stock this season.
The Seahawks will be looking for an impact player, someone capable of reproducing the somewhat surprising success rookie tight end John Carlson has enjoyed this season. He was selected in the second round after his draft stock took a hit in the wake of his so-so performance at the draft combine in Indianapolis. Seattle did its homework and wound up getting a diamond in the rough with Carlson, who leads rookie tight ends in receptions with 53 for 613 yards and five touchdowns. With those numbers, Carlson also has set single-season team records in receptions and yards for tight ends.
“In some ways it’s sort of a helpless feeling,” Carlson said about the draft. “But there’s still a lot of excitement there, having the opportunity just to be in position to have a chance.
“Just to be a part of this whole process is an honor, and I tried to enjoy every part of it, even though it was challenging and at times stressful. But you know, I’m thankful to be where I’m at.”
Many mock drafts have Seattle taking Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree, a big, physical playmaker who could give the Seahawks’ offense a jump-start. Crabtree has yet to declare for the draft, but he is expected to be the top receiver available.
Other mock drafts have Seattle selecting offensive tackle Michael Oher of Mississippi as an eventual replacement for Walter Jones, who’s been spectacular at left tackle, making the Pro Bowl in eight of the past nine years. But he’ll turn 35 next month, and he recently underwent microfracture knee surgery and won’t be ready until training camp.
Other needs for Seattle include defensive tackle, cornerback, safety and perhaps quarterback, depending on how Matt Hasselbeck recovers from an ailing back and if the Seahawks believe Seneca Wallace has a future as a starting quarterback.
How Seattle drafts also will depend on what moves they make in free agency. Veteran Seahawks Bobby Engram, Leroy Hill, Rocky Bernard, Maurice Morris and Ray Willis have contracts that end at the close of this season. And Seattle will have enough room under the salary cap to pursue upgrades in free agency.
How Seattle selects come April will depend on whether Ruskell believes the team needs a total overhaul or just some fine-tuning.
If it’s the latter, Rang said, they better make good use of this draft.
“It’s absolutely imperative that they get themselves some playmakers,” Rang said. “Playmakers, whether on offense or defense, that can come in and make an immediate impact and be able to take this team back to the top of the NFC West.”
Seahawks Draft Watch
Here are some of the highest-rated players at each position Seattle might be looking at heading into the 2009 draft in April:
MICHAEL CRABTREE, Texas Tech (6-2, 208)
The skinny: Although he hasn’t declared, most observers expect Crabtree to be a part of the 2009 draft. If he does, Crabtree will be the best receiver available because of his size, ball-catching prowess and overall playmaking ability.
Rang’s take: “What excites me about him is that fact that he’s still very explosive out of his breaks. He doesn’t necessarily have that long speed. ... But at the same time he’s explosive, not just quick, but explosive out of his breaks and he does get that separation. And he has deceptive speed over the top, so I think he can be a deep target that way.”
JEREMYT MACLIN, Missouri (6-0, 198)
The skinny: A redshirt sophomore who has yet to declare for the draft, Maclin is perhaps one of the fastest receivers available. He has great ability as a returner but is still raw as a receiver and needs to work on his pass-catching skills.
Rang’s take: “He’s a very similar player in terms of big-play ability as Joey Galloway. ... He’s much more of a project as a route runner. He does have that explosiveness, but at Missouri he’s been allowed to freelance a little bit and he does need to work on that area.
B.J. RAJI, Boston College (6-1, 325)
The skinny: He was suspended last season because of academics but has rebounded with a good senior season, leading the Eagles in sacks with seven.
Rang’s take: “He’s more a mid-to-late first round pick. But he’s a prospect that if they wanted to address the middle of their defense, you put him next to Mebane and I think he would be a good fit at that point of the draft.”
TERRENCE CODY, Alabama (6-4, 375)
The skinny: Known by Crimson Tide fans as “Mount Cody,” he’s a decent athlete who moves well for his size. But there is some concern about how he can control his weight at the next level.
Rang’s take: “He’s a little bit better fit as a 3-4 (defensive alignment) nose guard. He can hold up at the point very well that way. But he’s not going to give you anything in terms of pass rush.”
ANDRE SMITH, Alabama (6-4, 341)
The skinny: Smith is another underclassman expected to leave. He won the Outland Trophy as the top offensive lineman in the country. Smith probably will not sneak past the top five because of his size and dominant run-blocking ability, but there’s concern about his weight and conditioning.
Rang’s take: “I’m not quite sure if he fits in beautifully with what Seattle tries to do because he’s not a great pass-blocker, but he’s absolutely dominant in the running game.”
MICHAEL OHER, Mississippi (6-5, 330)
The skinny: A first-team AP All-American, Oher returned to the Rebels for his senior season after declaring for the draft as a junior. He has the physical tools, but inconsistent play during the season might have his draft status sliding.
Rang’s take: “A dominant pass-blocker in terms of he has the pure, natural tools you’re looking for. But again he’s a player that, while he has been very successful, you do want to see a little bit more consistency, a little bit more toughness.”
EUGENE MONROE, Virginia (6-5, 315)
The skinny: Monroe is not as well known as the other two players on the list, but he has good feet for a lineman. Strength could be an issue.
Rang’s take: “He’s a player that while not necessarily a great left tackle fit, he could fit in nicely at right tackle should the Seahawks decide Sean Locklear is ultimately the replacement for Walter Jones at left tackle.”
TAYLOR MAYS, USC (6-3, 225)
The skinny: O’Dea grad is a hard hitter who can run and play in space. A first-team All-American and son of former NFL lineman Stafford Mays, Taylor has not declared for the draft.
Rang’s take: “With Taylor Mays you have a chance to get a player who I think can be a Pro Bowler for a long time.”
WILLIAM MOORE, Missouri (6-0, 228)
The skinny: The senior is a physical player who’s great in run support, but there are concerns about how he plays in space. An ankle injury has plagued him this season.
Rang’s take: “They move him up (for run support) so much that he’s almost like a linebacker.”
SAM BRADFORD, Oklahoma (6-3, 218)
The skinny: The Heisman Trophy winner is an underclassman and is undecided on whether he’ll return to Oklahoma for another season. He has good mobility and is very accurate throwing the ball.
Rang’s take: “With the West Coast offense you’re talking about a precision offense based on timing and accuracy, and he has those things. So he makes some sense.”
MATTHEW STAFFORD, Georgia (6-3, 235)
The skinny: He’s another underclassman still undecided in a down year for quarterbacks. Stafford has good arm strength and pocket presence.
Rang’s take: “The strongest arm in the draft. A player that absolutely has been able to put Georgia on his back at times and carry them to the promised land. But at the same time does throw the ball into coverage a little bit.”
MALCOLM JENKINS, Ohio State (6-0, 205)
The skinny: The senior has started all four years at corner for the Buckeyes. An all-around athlete with speed, he can also come up and provide good run support.
Rang’s take: “He’s solid. He’s reliable. He’s a very good player. He’s a good guy off the field. He’s everything you’re looking for.”
VONTAE DAVIS, Illinois (5-11, 203)
The skinny: The younger brother of 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. The redshirt sophomore has declared for the 2009 draft. He has great natural ability, but some draft observers believe has not improved from last season. Another bad sign, Davis was benched during the year by Illinois head coach Ron Zook as a wake-up call.
Rang’s take: “He’s a spectacular athlete. But he’s not quite the football player that Malcolm Jenkins is, although he may be a better player someday.”
Eric D. Williams, The News Tribune
The Seahawks’ opponent this week
ARIZONA CARDINALS (8-7)
Series: The Cardinals lead the series, 10-9, having captured a 26-20 decision at Qwest Field on Nov. 16, a game in which Cardinals wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin combined for 23 receptions and 337 yards.
So far: The Cardinals started out well, building a 7-3 record and clinching their first division title since 1975 by Dec. 7. However, they have lost four of their past five games, giving up a cascade of points, including 82 over the past two weeks. If they lose to the Seahawks, they will match the worst record by an NFL division winner.
Stats and stuff: Fitzgerald and Boldin are first and second in the NFL in receptions with 91 and 89, respectively. They are having a fine season because quarterback Kurt Warner has revived his career, throwing for 4,320 yards and 26 touchdowns. Until the Cardinals’ late-season collapse, Warner was being considered for the league’s MVP award. The Cardinals have the second-best passing offense in the league, averaging 289 yards a game, though their latest swoon has them giving up 27 points a game, which is 29th in the league. Rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie leads the Cardinals with three interceptions.
Did you know? The franchise traces its roots to the 19th century in Chicago, an amateur team affiliated with the Morgan Athletic Club. It became a charter member of the NFL in 1921 as the Chicago Cardinals.
9/7 at San Francisco, W, 23-13
9/14 Miami, W, 31-10
9/21 at Washington, L, 17-24
9/28 at N.Y. Jets, L, 35-56
10/5 Buffalo, W, 41-17
10/12 Dallas, W, 30-24 (OT)
10/19 Bye week
10/26 at Carolina, L, 23-27
11/2 at St. Louis, W, 34-13
11/10 San Francisco, W, 29-24
11/16 at Seattle, W, 26-20
11/23 N.Y. Giants, L, 29-37
11/27 at Philadelphia, L, 20-48
12/7 St. Louis, W, 34-10
12/14 Minnesota, L, 14-35
12/21 at New England, L, 7-47
Sunday Seattle1:15 pm
Frank Huhges, The News Tribune