By John Boyle
In Sunday’s Herald, I looked at how difficult it will be for this year’s draft class to find playing time as rookies. As we saw last year, the Seahawks’ talent and depth makes it a lot harder for rookies to make an instant impact than it was in the first couple of seasons under Pete Carroll and John Schneider.
That being said, we know that at least a couple players drafted over the weekend, or signed as undrafted free agents after the draft, will play significant roles during the 2014 season. Obviously some players have clearer paths to playing time than others, but in Carroll’s always-compete world, everyone, even those undrafted rookies, has a shot, be it through injuries, which are both an unfortunate and inevitable part of football, or by just outperforming a veteran ahead of them. .
The players have yet to practice with their new team, meaning even Seahawks coaches are unsure how they’ll fit in, so trying to project how players will fit in is ridiculously premature. Nonetheless, there isn’t much else we can do at this point other than speculate, so let’s take a look, player by player, at how each member of the 2014 draft class could break through on a loaded roster:
WR Paul Richardson, Colorado
Richardson was Seattle’s first pick in this draft, so it would be a disappointment if he doesn’t carve out some sort of role for himself. Receiver might be the second-hardest position, after quarterback, for rookies to find success right off the bat, so Richardson can’t be expected to be an every-down player this year. Richardson’s speed, however, should be enough for him to find a role as a big-play threat in three or four-receiver sets.
Richardson was too important to Colorado’s offense to be used much on special teams, but he said he hopes to prove himself as a returner, and if he proves capable of that, that could be another way he could make an early impact, especially with Seattle needing to replace Golden Tate on punt returns.
T Justin Britt, Missouri
Britt’s path to playing time is pretty clear-cut. He’ll compete with Michael Bowie for the starting right tackle job, and as the Seahawks have shown with players like James Carpenter, John Moffitt and J.R. Sweezy, they aren’t afraid to throw rookies out there right away. Even if Britt can’t win a starting job out of training camp, he has enough versatility that he should be able to make the team as a player capable of backing up at multiple positions, and a versatile backup is a need for Seattle with Paul McQuistan leaving in free agency.
DE Cassius Marsh, UCLA
The Seahawks need to add to their pass-rush rotation with Chris Clemons gone, and Marsh will get a chance to get into that rotation. The Seahawks only have four established linemen who saw significant playing time last year (Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Red Bryant and Tony McDaniel), five if you count Bruce Irvin, who spent time at strongside linebacker and as a third-down pass-rusher, so there is room for any number of players to earn a role on a defense that likes to rotate linemen.
Also helping Marsh’s case is his versatility. He played defensive tackle and end at UCLA, and Seahawks GM John Schneider compared him to Bennett, which means Marsh could compete for time at multiple spots.
WR Kevin Norwood, Alabama
Schneider said repeatedly Saturday how surprised they were to land Norwood late in the fourth-round, and while his production was modest at Alabama, the 6-2, 198-pound receiver certainly has the measurables.
Norwood is praised for being a “clutch” player, is considered a high-character guy, and has plenty of intelligence—he’s leaving Alabama with bachelor’s and master’s degrees—but he’ll need all of that to win a spot in a crowded receiver group.
One thing Norwood has going for him over many of Seattle’s other receivers is size, particularly if Sidney Rice’s knee injury limits him in offseason workouts or training camp. Even though the Seahawks love the speed of players like Richardson and Percy Harvin, Carroll still likes big receivers, so Norwood will have a good shot to find some sort of role, especially if he proves himself to be valuable on special teams.
OLB Kevin Pierre-Louis, Boston College
On the surface this looks like a pick with the future in mind—both K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith are the final years of their contracts—but to hear Schneider and his scouting department rave about Pierre-Louis, even comparing him to All-Pro NaVorro Bowman, makes you think he’ll have a chance to compete for playing time. It’s also worth noting that the Seahawks have had a very high “hit” rate on linebacker draft picks, and that for them, a fourth-round pick is a pretty significant investment in that position, so they’re clearly pretty high on the extremely-athletic, albeit undersized linebacker from Boston College.
At the very least Pierre-Louis should have a big role on special teams, but don’t discount the possibility of him pushing an incumbent for playing time at linebacker as well. As good as Malcolm Smith was late last season—it wasn’t just his Super Bowl MVP performance—he wasn’t a regular starter for much of the season, getting most of his opportunities because of injuries and Bruce Irvin’s suspension, so nothing is a given at outside linebacker for Seattle.
DT Jimmy Staten, Middle Tennessee
As mentioned above, only a handful of Seattle’s linemen have significant experience, so Staten, like last year’s rookies Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams, will get a chance to work their way into the rotation. Staten has also shown versatility in his career, so he could even get a look at the five-technique end position, though Carroll said that they see Staten as an interior lineman for now.
T Garrett Scott, Marshall
As you might expect, the path to immediate playing time becomes less clear as we get further into the picks—though as Seattle’s past history has shown, even late-round picks can contribute early in their careers. Scott is an incredibly athletic lineman, and he says he’s comfortable playing multiple positions, so that should help his cause. Even so, he’ll have work to do to earn a job, let alone playing time, but as seventh-round pick Michael Bowie and undrafted rookie Alvin Bailey showed last year, players who seem like long-shots at this point can end up having significant roles.
CB Eric Pinkins, San Diego State
Pinkins is moving from safety to cornerback, so he could have a tough time making an impact right away, but Carroll and Schneider both seemed very excited about the prospects of using the 6-foot-3, 220 pounder in press coverage. With Brandon Browner gone, and with Tharold Simon, who was injured his entire rookie season, an unknown, little is settled beyond Seattle’s top three cornerbacks, Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane. So even if Pinkins is a bit raw starting out, he’ll be in the running to earn a backup job. If he struggles to adjust, look for Pinkins to land on the practice squad where the Seahawks can see how he develops, knowing that if he doesn’t work at cornerback, they can also look at him back at safety.
And as is the case with any late-round pick, standing out on special teams would go a long ways towards Pinkins’ chances of sticking around.
FB Kiero Small, Arkansas
The Seahawks aren’t expected to re-sign Michael Robinson, so Derrick Coleman is the likely starter at fullback, but that’s hardly written in stone. Whether Small pushes Coleman for the starting job or not—and don’t forget Spencer Ware in that discussion as well—he’ll need to establish himself on special teams, because even if the Seahawks are one of the few teams that still uses a fullback, they still expect their fullback or fullbacks to be very involved on special teams. The Seahawks carried two fullbacks for much of last season because Coleman and Robinson both had big roles on special teams—it’s why two fullbacks were often active at the expense of running back Christine Michael—and Small could earn a job that same way.