With their first pick of the 2015 NFL draft, the Seattle Seahawks ended up with a player who is guaranteed to finish his career with at least three Pro Bowls, 51 touchdown receptions, and be considered a game-changer at his position.
Tight end Jimmy Graham.
They had to relinquish that first round pick (31st) in this draft, and ship an additional fourth-rounder and former All-Pro center Max Unger to New Orleans in the trade for the veteran Graham in March.
But there’s no question, the Seahawks used that first round pick to land the best player available.
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So, Seahawks fans, as you twiddle your thumbs for the first day and a half of the draft, as you watch the other teams take prospects, remember that the Seahawks already have a full-grown NFL star in the prime of his career.
Think about his value as the new 6-foot-7 target for quarterback Russell Wilson.
Think about his rare ability to stretch the field like a giant wide receiver who creates mismatches in every game he plays.
Think about him in the red zone, where the Seahawks of 2014 were 20th in the NFL, scoring touchdowns at a modest 51 percent rate. Picture defenses lining up in their goal-line unit to defend against a Marshawn Lynch plunge, and then seeing Graham split out where few can defend him man-on-man.
There was nobody in this draft, certainly not at the bottom of the first round, who could frighten opposing defenses the way Graham can do immediately.
Yes, they had to give up their best and most consistent offensive lineman in Unger. He was smart and tenacious and anchored a line that has been a patchwork of fill-ins the past couple seasons.
Fact is, though, it’s going to be easier to find somebody to replace Unger than trying to draft somebody with the skills and physical gifts of Graham.
On Friday and Saturday, the Hawks must collect a handful of offensive linemen. They’ll look for guys who won’t need a long apprenticeship, and they’re hard to find. It takes time to learn the game, particularly pass protection.
It’s not just the loss of Unger that creates the vacuum up front. James Carpenter, a first-rounder in 2011, left as a free agent to the New York Jets. Carpenter didn’t perform up to his draft status, and it seemed as if he finally burned through his “scholarship.” Still, he had built some experience that will be hard to replace.
They must address secondary depth, and add more bodies on the defensive line. And across the board, the need is to unearth young players who can compete — without blinking or backing down — every day with the hyper-competitive Seahawks starters on hand.
As the newbies develop, Graham will make all the wide receivers better because he mandates attention. He helps Lynch by attracting defenders. He makes Wilson better even if he’s under pressure. If the protection is spotty, it’s going to be less risky for Wilson to chuck-and-duck in the direction of Graham.
The Saints pass the ball considerably more than the Seahawks, so offering Graham’s stats to project his productivity in Seattle is difficult.
But look at the potential. In 2013, he pulled in 16 receiving touchdowns and averaged 14.1 yards per catch. No Seahawk has ever had more than 13 TD receptions in a year (Daryl Turner, 1985).
So, it was boring at Seahawks’ headquarters Thursday evening. At one point, coach Pete Carroll peaked in and joked, “Don’t tell anyone, we’re taking a tight end.”
Good crack, coach. But like all good humor, it’s based in the truth.
They already got the player they most needed.