Christmas In April?

Aaron Burtner has made his list, checked it twice, and is ready to grade the Seahawks' 2004 draft.

For GMs, scouting teams and coaches all over the NFL, draft weekend is something akin to Christmas: their heads are filled with dreams and wishes, and sleep is hard to come by. After the draft, they bring their new toys home and put them to use, seeing which ones will become favorites, and which ones are quickly cast aside.

I can recall a time in my own life when I reached maturity, and suddenly my Christmas gifts no longer consisted of things I wanted, and they became the things I needed. Gone were the gizmos and gadgets of childhood, instead replaced by car tires and microwave ovens. Such is the way of life as one grows up, I guess.

This year’s draft may mark the beginning of maturity for the Seattle Seahawks: that time when wants are replaced with needs, when dreams that were once wide open come sharply into focus. That seems to be reality for many fans looking at this past weekend’s draft. There was not a lot of flash or flamboyance, and very little to rouse excitement or even curiosity. What we got were tires: good tires, useful tires, but tires none the less.

Going into the draft, Mike Holmgren and Ted Thompson, with uncharacteristic candor, stated that the focus was on defense, and in particular the middle of the defense. It was so brazen a declaration, that many felt it couldn’t be true. It had to be yet another familiar Holmgren ruse designed to throw other teams and the media of the real trail.

Well, the proof is in the pudding, and the Seahawks went up the gut.

Starting in the first round, Holmgren was certainly tempted by superstar running back Steven Jackson inexplicably staring him in the face. This was the kind of pick Holmgren loves: high value, flashy, sexy . . . oh yeah, and on offense! And yet, after 14 ½ minutes of deliberation, the Seahawks brain trust wrote the name “Marcus Tubbs” on the draft card and sent it up to the podium.

Surprisingly, despite the fact that most pundits and fans agreed that the Seahawks needed a massive defensive tackle like Tubbs, there was almost universal disappointment. After years of crying for the Seahawks to draft a defensive lineman in the first round, many walked away saying “so what?”

It seems there were 4 options staring the Seahawks in the face, and the one they took was the one least favored.

  1. Trade up for Miami tackle Vince Wilfork. The team admits they tried to make this move, but in the world of talking heads and armchair experts, they didn’t try hard enough. Never mind that teams moving up in this draft almost universally paid a steep price to do so, or that many of the picks in front of the Hawks had already been subject to trades. Certainly there must have been something we could do, right?
  2. Trade down for more picks and still get either Tubbs or a comparable tackle. It’s a fine idea, except the Hawks knew that Cincinnati was already talking to Tubbs about selecting him right after our pick. A move like that might have brought us back to 2002, where we passed on Charles Grant and Daniel Graham and traded down to select Jerramy Stevens.
  3. Stay put and select Steven Jackson, using either him or Alexander as trade bait, or grooming him to replace Shaun in 2005. This is a very plausible scenario, and one that frankly I’m surprised didn’t happen. It’s almost exactly what we did in 2000, when we picked Shaun Alexander despite the presence of Ricky Watters. Trouble is, it wouldn’t have addressed any of our needs on the middle of the defense.
  4. Stay put and take the guy who had the most chance of having a positive impact on our team. In this case, that guy was Marcus Tubbs.

The question then remains, was Marcus Tubbs worth our pick? And of course, the answer remains to be seen. But by all accounts, other teams in that area were looking at him, including New England at #21 and Cincinnati at #24. And when you look at both his production and his skills, he certainly seems to be in the neighborhood of Wilfork and fellow tackle Tommy Harris. All of the tackles drafted after the top 3 tackles had either good production, or great physiques, but none had the combination of both that made Harris, Wilfork and Tubbs the top players at their positions. An added bonus is that Tubbs has more than adequate pass rushing skills that will allow him to be an every down player.

Of course, trading up for Wilfork would’ve been spectacular. But so are car wrecks.

More in the Middle:
The Seahawks followed true to their plan of shoring up the middle of their defense, drafting undersized linebacker Michael Boulware in the second with the intention of converting him into an oversized safety, picking up super-productive middle linebacker Niko Koutouvides in the fourth, and another defensive tackle, Craig Terrill, in the sixth.

The selection of Boulware has caused the most splash. He’s super athletic and was a great cover linebacker in college. But he always felt as if he was playing out of position as a 220-pound finesse backer. The move from linebacker to safety, which has been made successfully numerous times in the last ten years, should be easy for him. Unlike others who have made the switch (Adam Archuleta and Coy Wire most recently), Boulware is polished in coverage, possessing good instincts and great range in the open field.

It remains to be seen how quickly Boulware can make the transition. Holmgren and Rhodes both expect him to compete for a starting spot immediately, but that may be a bit much to ask. Regardless, he will be used extensively in nickel and dime packages, and should play a huge role on special teams.

Koutouvides was one of college football’s most productive middle linebackers the last three years, but was downgraded by a perceived lack of athleticism. According to coaches, teammates and opponents, nothing could be farther from the truth. Instead, Koutouvides is a gamer who loves to play, but doesn’t get caught up by hype. More than likely, he trudged his way through off-season workouts, just looking forward to putting on pads in the fall and playing football. While there may be some concern about his desire, these questions will likely be quickly answered this coming mini-camp when Niko starts knocking heads around with his physical style of play.

Grading out the Draft:
I’d like to keep an open mind about these players, believing the best until proven otherwise. But pre-judging is part of the off-season, and a huge part of the draft. So, while reserving the right to change my mind, here’s my blow-by-blow.

  1. DT Marcus Tubbs, Texas. Good but not great value, Tubbs is probably underrated. History says that late first round is a good place to draft a tackle, and Tubbs will likely be a solid player for Seattle from the get-go. Grade: B
  2. SS Michael Boulware, Florida State. As a linebacker, Boulware wouldn’t warrant anything higher than a 3rd round pick. But as a safety, he offers above average coverage skills with a linebacker’s instincts. Again, solid but not great value but should contribute immediately. Grade: B
  3. OG Shane Locklear, NC State. A great pick and great value. Locklear has top level skills, especially in the passing game. His agility also makes him a great fit for Seattle’s running game, as he’ll be excellent pulling and trapping. Some will compare him to last year’s 3rd round pick, Wayne Hunter, but Locklear is much more polished and ready to go than Hunter. I doubt Holmgren lets him start as a rookie, but Chris Gray’s days are definitely numbered. Grade: A
  4. MLB Niko Koutouvides, Purdue. A player that values production on the field over workout number, Niko has underrated athleticism to go with top-level instincts. Some will call him a thumper, but Niko was a great coverage linebacker in college, despite a perceived lack of speed. Smart and mean, he will compete but probably not win the starting job at middle linebacker. He may not be better than Solomon Bates, but he gives us options at that position. Grade: C
  5. WR DJ Hackett, Colorado State. Hackett was a recent fast riser, mostly because few people follow the Buffaloes. The questions about Hackett were never about his abilities as a receiver where he is a polished route runner with good hands and excellent technique out of the blocks, but whether he had the speed to compete in the NFL. A strong combine showing (a solid 4.50 40 time) answered those questions. Hackett will likely push Alex Bannister down to #5 on the depth chart, and should be ready to take over for Bobby Engram within the next couple of years. Grade: A
  6. DT Craig Terrill, Purdue. It seems the only thing Terrill has going for him is his connection with Koutouvides, who was a college teammate. Other than that, it’s hard to imagine what Rhodes sees in him other than a hard working, good-natured kid. He will work harder and smarter than anyone on the team or across the line of scrimmage, but in the NFL it’s not enough to try. Grade: D
  7. P Donnie Jones, LSU. Jones’ leg strength is phenomenal, and while the knock on him is his placement and consistency, he’s been pretty good in those areas statistically. Still, he’s got a long way to go unseating Tom Rouen, a wily veteran who’s days are numbered but who put together a solid year in 2003. Hard to get excited about a punter, but that rocket-launching leg makes him intriguing. Grade: C

Overall, the Hawks got solid value and potential starters early, and Hackett could prove to be a gem in the mold of Darrell Jackson. But they stumbled late, passing on some raw but talented players like Isaac Hilton and Bobby McCray to draft a blue-collar tackle and a special teamer. Grade: B-

Aaron Burtner is a regular contributor to Seahawks.NET. Feel free to send him feedback here. Top Stories