2018 draft class finally paying dividends for Seahawks

After already being deemed a bust by some, the class is a big part of Seattle’s late-season surge.

By Bob Condotta / The Seattle Times

RENTON — NFL coaches, general managers and scouts often say you need to wait a few years to fairly judge a draft class.

The reality, though, is that sometimes really elite draft picks — and classes — declare themselves pretty quickly.

No one really needed long to know that the Seattle Seahawks struck gold in 2010 (Earl Thomas, Russell Okung, Golden Tate, Kam Chancellor), 2011 (Richard Sherman, K.J. Wright), or maybe most notably in 2012 (Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Bruce Irvin).

And maybe the quick progression of many of those players spoiled Seahawks fans into wanting to make equally snap judgments about some of the team’s draft classes since then.

Seattle’s 2018 class, though, is beginning to show the risks in making hasty conclusions.

Even a few months ago, it was hard to know what the Seahawks really had in some of the players in what was a nine-man draft class — seven of whom remain on the roster.

But as Seattle has again hit its trademark second-half-of-season surge, it is the emergence of some of the most notable members the class of 2018 that has proven key.

Running back Rashaad Penny, Seattle’s first-round pick a year ago, has had his best two-game stretch the past two weeks with a combined 203 yards on 29 carries with two touchdowns while also catching a 13-yard pass for another score.

Defensive end Rasheem Green, Seattle’s second pick in the draft taken in the third round, has also had his best two-game stretch the past two weeks with six tackles, one sack and two forced fumbles.

Linebacker Shaquem Griffin, the fourth pick for Seattle taken in the fifth round, has had his three best games the past three weeks in a new role as an edge rusher on passing downs, with two quarterback hits and helping cause a fumble against the Eagles.

And cornerback Tre Flowers, Seattle’s fifth pick in that draft taken in the fifth round, has had two interceptions in the past two games after having only one in his previous 24 games, compelling coach Pete Carroll to say this week that Flowers is “playing a more complete game.”

Then there’s tight end Will Dissly, Seattle’s third pick in that draft who emerged not only as a starter this season, but as one of the best receiving tight ends in the league before suffering an Achilles injury at Cleveland; punter Michael Dickson, who has rebounded from a little slump early in the season and has downed eight of his past 10 punts inside the 20; and offensive lineman Jamarco Jones, who earned nothing but praise for his effort in two starts in place of injured guard D.J. Fluker in October.

Even one of the two picks no longer with Seattle is beginning to come on — defensive end Jacob Martin, who was traded to Houston as part of the Jadeveon Clowney deal and played sparingly early on for the Texans, has become a regular part of the team’s defensive line rotation over the past month and has 2.5 sacks and four quarterback hits in the past two games.

The only player of the nine picks for Seattle in 2018 who has not played in an NFL game this season is seventh-round pick quarterback Alex McGough, who is currently on Houston’s practice squad.

Carroll says players such as Green and Penny — who each dealt with injuries as rookies, and Penny also this season — just needed some time to get healthy and then find the opportunity to contribute. Same, in a sense, with Griffin, who has been a special teams regular throughout, but wasn’t going to beat out any of the team’s veteran linebackers anytime soon and needed to have a role carved out with which he could get comfortable and made the best use of his skills.

“We’ve not questioned the class at all,” Carroll said. “We like the heck out of those guys and they’re getting so much play time now, they’re really in the groove.”

Having young players find that groove late in the season has also been a Seattle trademark under Carroll and a reason he often points to for the team’s noted success in the second half — the Seahawks are 48-17 in the months of November, December and January in the regular season since 2012, the most wins of any team in the NFL.

Judging classes, though, isn’t just a fan and media thing. Wilson and Wagner often refer to their pride in how the 2012 draft class has proven wrong some of the lukewarm-at-best assessments that were made at the time.

And in the moments after Flowers made his interception in the fourth quarter against the Vikings that led to a TD that made the score 34-17, it was on his mind, too.

“He was so jacked about it,” Carroll said. “He was talking about that class a little bit when he came off the sidelines there, he was fired up about it.”

Suddenly, so is everybody else.

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