Will Seahawks’ 2013 rookie class make an immediate impact?

With rookies reporting to their first training camp on Friday, I thought it’d be a good time to go back and take a look at the impact rookies have had in the past three years since Pete Carroll and John Schneider took over.

It’s not that those past years are predictive of what this year’s rookie class will do—Carroll and Schneider have said repeatedly that the 2013 class will have a tough time winning jobs on a much improved roster—but it’s still interesting, with these rookies about to take the field for the first time as Seahawks, to catalog what the past three draft/undrafted free agent classes have done in their first years.

For the sake of keeping things simple, we’re going to look at the number of games started by rookies. And yes, that’s hardly a perfect measure of a player’s impact. For example, Doug Baldwin led the team in receiving as a rookie in 2011, but because he was the team’s slot receiver, not one of the two starting receivers, he started only one game. First-round pick Bruce Irvin didn’t start a regular-season game last year, but he led all NFL rookies with 8 sacks, but he didn’t start a game in the regular season because he was a situational pass rusher.

2010 draft class (Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Golden Tate, Walter Thurmond, EJ Wilson, Kam Chancellor, Anthony McCoy, Dexter Davis, Jameson Konz) 27 rookie starts: Thomas 16, Okung 10, Thurmond 1.

2011 draft class (James Carpenter, John Moffitt, KJ Wright, Kris Durham, Richard Sherman, Mark LeGree, Byron Maxwell, Pep Levingston, Malcolm Smith) 41 rookie starts*: Wright 12, Sherman 10, Moffitt 9, Carpenter 9, Baldwin 1.

*—While not a rookie, Brandon Browner was playing his first season in the NFL and started all 16 games.

2012 draft class (Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, Russell Wilson, Robert Turbin, Jaye Howard, Korey Toomer, Jeremy Lane, Winston Guy, J.R. Sweezy, Greg Scruggs) 38 rookie starts: Wilson 16, Wagner 15, Sweezy 3, Lane 3, Jermaine Kearse (undrafted) 1.

It’s kind of surprising looking back that, as improved as Seattle was last year, rookies still started more games than in 2010 when the Seahawks were in the midst of a rebuild. Of course nobody expected Wilson to start the entire season, which was a big factor in that.

And that brings me to my next point. As of now, it’s hard to see any rookies starting many games this season except for maybe Jesse Williams, barring of course significant injuries. Could Christine Michael win the starting running back job over Turbin if Marshawn Lynch was hurt? Sure. Or could Tharold Simon find himself starting at corner if Browner or Sherman went down? Of course. But what we don’t know yet, and what we may get a glimpse of this weekend, is what rookies will simply play so well that Carroll has no choice but to let that player compete for a starting job.

When talking about the success of Seattle’s young players under Carroll, his willingness to give rookies a real shot has been just as important in that process as has finding good players in mid-to-late rounds. It’s not just about identifying talent, it’s about given those players an opportunity to earn a role. There are plenty of teams in the NFL that would not have considered letting a seventh-round pick battle for starting spot at guard (Sweezy), never mind the fact that he was a converted D-tackle; or that would have handed a starting cornerback job over to a converted receiver who was a fifth-round pick (Sherman) when injuries took their toll; or most famously, that would have let a third-round pick (Wilson) compete for the starting job at quarterback after signing the presumed starter (Matt Flynn) in free agency.

Of course just because a player doesn’t start as a rookie doesn’t mean he won’t got on to make a big impact. In 2011, a year after playing behind veteran Lawyer Milloy, Kam Chancellor took over the starting strong safety job and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in his first year as a starter. Seattle’s second-round pick, Golden Tate, struggled to get on the field as a rookie, but last year he was a starting receiver and had seven touchdown receptions. Malcolm Smith, a seventh-round pick in 2011, played almost exclusively on special teams that year, started three games last season, and now has a good shot at earning the starting weakside linebacker job this year.

So yes, to really judge a draft class, we need to wait a few years to see what kind of impact a player has, but it will nonetheless be interesting to see what players in this year’s class are able to make an immediate impact.

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