A somewhat unexpected highlight of the latter portion of the Seattle Seahawks season has been the great play of back-up (now starting) corner Byron Maxwell. In a defensive backfield loaded with household names and marquee talent, Maxwell was thought of at the start of the season as little more than a capable second option. However, with Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond both out, Maxwell has been thrust more prominently into the spotlight in recent weeks and he’s performed admirably. Let’s take a look at some basic numbers.
For the season, the Clemson product has 28 combined tackles (23 solo). He recorded his first career interception during the Seahawks week 14 loss against San Francisco and has continued notching takeaways ever since. He grabbed two more INTs in the 23-0 win against the Giants and snagged another in the season finale against St. Louis. That’s 4 picks in his last 4 games of extended work. He’s also looked good in coverage, filling in about as well as fans could have hoped for in the absence of two important members of the secondary.
So, who is this guy? Could be a first-round draft pick, right? In actuality, Maxwell is a 6th rounder, taken 173rd overall in the 2011 draft. His performance in the last part of the season can be seen as a demonstration of the fairly accurate (if somewhat cliché) “next man up” philosophy that the Seahawks and Pete Carroll constantly preach to the fans and media. But more importantly, he’s an example of how the Seahawks front office has been able to maximize the back end of the draft to gain elite level play from players that they select in the later rounds. There are plenty of other examples of this on the roster that speak to this.
For instance, there’s probably no better bargain in football right now than Russell Wilson. It’s been well documented that the Seahawks were able to scoop up Wilson in the 3rd round. (Names of players selected before Wilson include Ryan Broyles, A.J. Jenkins, and Jacksonville punter Bryan Anger, among many other people that you have probably never heard of). Also, consider this: Wilson was paid $526,000 this season. Compare that to the salaries of his fellow 2014 Pro Bowl quarterbacks Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Cam Newton and Philip Rivers and you’ve got yourself a bargain. While Wilson doesn’t yet have the pedigree of some of these other names, he quarterbacked the team to a 13-3 record, a #1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. That’s about as good as you’re going to get for a 3rd round quarterback who, as some people often forget, is still only in his second year in the league.
This shows how crucial the later rounds of the draft can be and how much value you can really get once you get past the first round. Check out some of the other late-round draft picks from recent years that have contributed to varying degrees this season.
S Kam Chancellor-6th round
TE Luke Willson-5th round
LB Malcolm Smith-7th round
LB K.J. Wright-4th round
WR Jermaine Kearse-Undrafted
WR Doug Baldwin-Undrafted
We often hear athletes and coaches make the tired contention that injuries aren’t an excuse and at the NFL level and that the next player in line simply has to “do their job” if the first-string guy gets hurt. But truthfully, it’s more interesting than that. The Seahawks seamless integration and strong play of their back-ups show that it is possible to put together a strong all-around roster by drafting and scouting intelligently and not falling victim to an over-reliance on the first and second round. It’s a calculated process. This year, the formula has come to fruition. Even in spite of injuries and suspensions from some of their key contributors, smart drafting and a tactical approach from the front office have allowed the 2013-14 Seahawks to perform to the expectations.