NFL Draftmas came and went Thursday evening, and Seattle made two picks in the top twenty. The first round started normally, with Carolina selecting QB Bryce Young and Houston selecting QB CJ Stroud. After that, there were several plot twists in a row, with multiple teams moving up in the top 10 to get a better shot at the players highest on their draft boards.
By the time Seattle was on the clock with the fifth pick, two of the most realistic options for them were already gone to other teams. Edge rusher Will Anderson Jr was taken #3 overall after Houston traded back into the top 5. Indianapolis drafted QB Anthony Richardson at #4, which left Seattle in a tough spot. They were thought to be high on Richardson and Anderson Jr, but that still left them with Carter, who would be a great addition to their run defense.
Not only was Carter still available, but there were also highly graded offensive tackles and edge rushers that would be a good fit as a top-five pick. Seattle called an audible with the clock winding down and took cornerback Devon Witherspoon. And most Seattle fans gave their usually friendly television set a frustrated look and muttered, “What the hell?” And began to Google Devon Witherspoon because while he was a highly graded prospect, he wasn’t someone Seattle had been rumored to be even sniffing at #5.
The most interesting part of this is not just that Witherspoon wasn’t expected to go that high but also that cornerback wasn’t something Seattle needed to address with a top-five pick. And even if secondary had been high on their wish list, Witherspoon doesn’t exactly fit the mold of a Seattle cornerback; he’s not particularly long, tall, or fast, which are usually what Pete Carroll looks for. Witherspoon does play smart for such a young corner, so perhaps that was enough for Carroll to overlook his lack of physical traits usually found in a guy paid to shadow and chase people for a living. Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez may have been the perfect fit for Carroll’s plan on defense. Still, for now, Witherspoon is in Seattle, and Gonzalez was selected by New England, another team with a recent history of churning out quality corners.
Given that there were players graded above Witherspoon still on the board, this pick is tough to grade, but I’m giving it a B-. Witherspoon could be a weekly starter as soon as the season opener. Still, we’ll have to wait and see if he can provide an immediate impact on a roster that already had one, if not two, good cornerbacks that know the system, where a defensive lineman like Carter or Wilson could have pressured opposing QBs and given receivers less time to get open.
Seattle wasn’t done at number five; they held onto their pick at #20 and took wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba to add to their offense. JSN was considered the top-graded receiver going into the draft, and it was surprising to see so many receiver-needy teams passing on him, and hopefully, Seattle got a top-10 talent at the 20th pick. Tyler Lockett won’t be able to play forever, but he will be a great mentor to JSN, and it will be fun to see them paired with DK Metcalf this season. Geno Smith was one of the top QBs in the league last year, and now he gets another weapon to open up the offense.
That said, Smith-Njigba doesn’t arrive without concerns. Although he put up great numbers in college, he only played three games in his junior year and only recorded five total receptions in those games. Not five per game, five total across three games. Seattle may get a very well-rested young athlete to attend training camp, but they may be getting a player that hasn’t been active in a contact sport in almost two years.
Seattle needs weapons in their offense, and JSN should be able to help them immediately, but like their first pick, they drafted for the seasons to come and not someone that can fill a void and flip them from a surprise playoff team into a contender. It’s strange because this is not how Carroll designed his team more than a decade ago that appeared in two Super Bowls. This pick could be a sure thing, but right now, it feels more like Seattle was trying to get a safe player because they went high risk on their first pick. JSN should be an improvement over D’Wayne Eskridge in three receiver sets, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have looked at other options like edge rusher, so I’m giving the pick a grade of B.
Overall Seattle came away with two players considered top 20 prospects, but this isn’t the direction most felt they were going to go, so it’s tough to feel positive, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad draft. They got two outstanding players who should help their team, but they weren’t the best player on the board at the time, and they also weren’t considered their biggest needs, so they broke the two biggest rules of the draft.
It’s possible the top of the draft unfolded differently than they expected, which threw them off, but they are paid the big bucks to make the tough decisions, so let’s hope these weren’t rash choices. They still have two picks in the second round and another in the third round to go after a QB and defensive line, and they can still find some help for their offensive line in the later rounds. It wasn’t a bad draft-mas, it just wasn’t the one we expected.
Who knows, maybe in five years, these picks will look like they were the best choices on the board.