Early this spring you could have tracked the status of Seahawks rookie draft choices with a down marker.
The team had four. It was the fewest in the league.
But then general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll worked phones like Snapchatting teenagers. They offered and bartered and eventually traded their way to 11 total picks in April’s draft.
Three months, two minicamps and one set of offseason workouts later, those 11 rookies are preparing to begin their first NFL training camp. When it kicks off Thursday at team headquarters along Lake Washington in Renton, some of those 11 rookies will have better chances than others to play—and start—right away this fall.
The rookie with the most direct path to starting when the games get real Sept. 8 against Cincinnati?
It’s not the Seahawks’ top pick.
It’s their third one. Their hulking wide receiver.
Let’s break down the status of Seattle’s 11 rookie draft choices, ranked in order of chances to start early and perhaps often this season:
1. Metcalf, second of two second-round picks, wide receiver, Mississippi.
The national pre-draft workout phenomenon has the inside track to being the starting “X” receiver, on the line of scrimmage opposite the tight end.
He’s 6 feet 4. He’s 229 pounds. He has run 40 yards in 4.33 seconds. He was reputed to have 1.9 percent body fat before the draft.
He’s the huge, physical and fast wide receiver coach Pete Carroll loves but has rarely had in his 10 years leading the Seahawks.
Metcalf wowed Carroll, his assistants, Seahawks defensive backs and just about everyone with eyes with his performances during minicamps and organized team activities (OTAs) in May and June.
“(He’s) maybe even more unique than we thought coming in,” Carroll said.
This month Metcalf and Russell Wilson have been working out together in Southern California, playing pitch in catch at UCLA to stay sharp for the start of training camp.
Metcalf is a more varied and polished route runner than advertised coming into the draft. That’s the result of him drilling fundamentals for months this winter with Jerry Sullivan, the renowned, 74-year-old receivers guru.
“It’s almost like, what doesn’t excite you?” Carroll said of Metcalf.
Metcalf will get every chance during the four preseason games next month to be what Seattle lacked last season with Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett as its top receivers: a huge target for Wilson to loft passes to even, and sometimes especially, in tight coverage.
Jimmy Graham was that guy before he signed with Green Bay in the spring of 2018. Brandon Marshall got a chance to be that guy last summer. Then the six-time Pro Bowl selection dropped four passes in less than two games in September. The Seahawks released him in October.
We are about to see Metcalf compete and perhaps seize that job.
2. L.J. Collier, first round, defensive end, Texas Christian.
Collier had one, splash season at TCU, his final one there last fall. He’s shown to be more of an interior, power pass rusher than an faster, edge one.
The fact he remained behind well-traveled veteran Cassius Marsh and unheralded Branden Jackson at defensive end on the first-team defense during OTAs and minicamp last month showed Seahawks coaches want Collier to grow into his role for this season and beyond.
Yet pass rush—inside, outside, any side—remains the defense’s and entire team’s biggest concern entering training camp. Ziggy Ansah, the 2015 Pro Bowl end with Detroit who Seattle signed this offseason, is unlikely to be on the field until at least deep into August following shoulder surgery. Ansah could be the Seahawks’ top pass rusher instantly. But he hasn’t played 500 snaps in any season (31 per game) since that starring ‘15 season with the Lions.
Collier will get his chances during the preseason, many of them featured ones while Ansah remains in recovery instead of practicing mode.
3. Marquise Blair, second round, strong safety, Utah.
The Seahawks drafted Blair with their second pick because of his hard hitting on ball carriers in the Pac-12.
“Like a silent assassin. This guy is, like, scary tough,” general manager John Schneider said.
He is going to begin training camp on the physically-unable-to-peform list. Seattle made that designation last week, after Blair missed minicamp last month with a hamstring injury he got in OTAs.
The pre-camp PUP list is a procedural move to maximize potential roster flexibility. Blair remains on the 90-man offseason roster, but being on PUP allows the team to put Blair on PUP to begin the regular season if it needs to and not have him count against the 53-man roster limit then.
Not that there is any indication Blair won’t be deep in competition for the starting strong-safety job by then.
The Seahawks aren’t convinced Tedric Thompson, the 2017 draft choice from Colorado, is their long-term answer at free safety to replace departed Earl Thomas. If they were, they wouldn’t have drafted Blair in round two.
Bradley McDougald was one of the most effective Seahawks of 2018 while replacing retired Kam Chancellor at strong safety. McDougald would rather play strong safety. He thinks he’s best for the defense there. Yet Carroll sees McDougald, who has also excelled at free safety spelling an injured Thomas in previous seasons, as perhaps Seattle’s best coverage defensive back.
If Blair hits Seattle’s opponents and brings them down immediately as effectively as he did Utah’s, he could be the strong safety with McDougald at free safety this season. Lano Hill, the third-round pick from Michigan in 2017, is another option at strong safety. But he is coming off a cracked hip that ended his 2018 season early.
Training camp and the preseason games will determine if, and how soon, Blair becomes a starter as a rookie.
4. Ugo Amadi, third of three fourth-round picks, safety, Oregon.
He’s listed as a free safety. But the 5-foot-9, 201-pound Amadi intrigues Seahawks coaches for how effective he was as a nickel defensive back inside covering slot receivers in the Pac-12.
Nickel is a key job open entering camp.
Justin Coleman was overlooked for how good he was the last two seasons for Seattle as the nickel, fifth defensive back. He was basically a starter. The Seahawks have been in nickel more than two-thirds the time the last few seasons in the pass-happy NFL. That makes nickel more important than the strongside linebacker in base defense, which Seattle’s been in less than a third of snaps in games.
The Seahawks re-signed Akeem King to a $1.4-million, one-year deal with thoughts he could replace Coleman, who signed for $9 million per year with Detroit in March.
That was before they drafted the intriguing Amadi.
5. Phil Haynes, second of three picks in the fourth round, guard, Wake Forest
A physical, road-grader like run blocker like starting guards D.J. Fluker and Mike Iupati, Haynes didn’t take up football until late in high school. Yet could get a chance to start this year, if form from recent seasons at guard holds for 2019.
Fluker missed six games last season for Seattle. He missed seven the year before that, for the New York Giants. The 32-year-old Iupati is entering his 10th NFL season. He’s played in just 11 games the last two seasons, for Arizona. He hasn’t played in all 16 games of a regular season since 2012, when he was with San Francisco.
Haynes will begin camp on the PUP list, too, with another unspecified injury.
6. Demarcus Christmas, second of two sixth-round picks, defensive tackle, Florida State.
Rarely is a sixth-round pick more likely to start as a rookie than third- and fourth-rounders. It speaks to how thin Seattle is along the defensive line.
Defensive tackle Jarran Reed had sports-hernia surgery relatively late in the offseason, coming off his surprising 10 1/2 sacks from last year.
Christmas got some time with the starters on the interior of the defensive line during minicamp last month. Then he apparently got an undisclosed injury, because Wednesday he went on the PUP list for the start of camp.
7. Gary Jennings, first of three picks in round four, wide receiver, West Virginia.
The Seahawks drafted Jennings as part of what Carroll said was a top priority to getting bigger and faster at wide receiver, to better take advantage of Wilson’s accuracy on deep passes in 2019.
The coaches aren’t yet sure exactly what they may have in Jennings, who was a big (6-1, 216) slot receiver in WVU’s spread offense. He missed most of the preseason OTAs and minicamps with a hamstring injury.
The need for his skills is there.
8. John Ursua, seventh round pick, wide receiver, Hawaii.
He’s just 5-9 and 182 pounds. But Seattle traded back into the end of the draft with New England to get Ursua rather than risk losing him to another team in undrafted free agency.
Ursua led the nation in touchdown catches last season at Hawaii as its slot receiver inside. He’s quick. If he learns how to get off the line of scrimmage against NFL defensive backs, he will get a chance to help Tyler Lockett in the gaping void at slot receiver vacated by Baldwin retiring this spring.
9. Cody Barton, third-round pick, linebacker, Utah.
The versatile Barton is ranked this low as likely to start as a rookie not because he isn’t talented. He stood out to Seattle’s coaches at both inside and outside linebacker at Utah, and was the Seahawks’ first-team inside linebacker for much of the offseason practices while Bobby Wagner watched drills awaiting his new contract.
It’s just that Wagner is going get the richest contract for an inside linebacker in the NFL, maybe in the first hours or days of training camp. And Pro Bowl veteran K.J. Wright re-signed for a prove-it year at weakside linebacker after his knee limited him into November last season.
It will take another injury to Wright, or a rare one to Wagner, for Barton to start. The Seahawks expect the rookie to contribute plenty, particularly on special teams.
10. Ben Burr-Kirven, fifth-round pick, linebacker, Washington.
Same thing that applies to Barton fits Burr-Kirven.
The Huskies’ former defensive play-maker will begin camp on the PUP list. He had sports-hernia surgery soon after the Seahawks drafted him in April.
11. Travis Homer, first of two sixth-round picks, running back, Miami.
Homer impressed coaches with his pass blocking in college, and that skill will give him a chance to be the new third-down back.
Homer is competing with J.D. McKissic and last-chance C.J. Prosise for that job Mike Davis had for some of last season. Davis signed this offseason with Chicago.
Homer is unlikely to start as a rookie, with 1,100-yard rusher Chris Carson returning from offseason knee surgery and 2018 first-round pick Rashaad Penny expected to get more carries this season.