NFC West gets more competitive

RENTON — When the Seattle Seahawks traded away their first-round pick in this year’s NFL draft to acquire Minnesota wide receiver Percy Harvin, general manager John Schneider explained that the decision was a no-brainer.

Schneider’s reasoning for trading the 25th pick to the Vikings, along with a seventh-rounder in this year’s draft and a 2014 third-round pick, was that the Seahawks would have had to give up similar compensation if they were going to have a chance to trade up for an impact player like Harvin in this draft class.

“I understand why you would look at the compensation, but this is a highly unique player,” Schneider said last month. “If you placed Percy in this draft, there would be some pretty strong arguments about how high he would go, and it would be pretty darn high.”

Schneider added that moving up even five spots would probably cost that third-rounder he gave up, and said, “So really this is kind of a slam dunk for us.”

During the first round Thursday, another NFC West team made a trade that validated that line of thinking. In order to move up from 16th to pick No. 8, the St. Louis Rams gave up a second-round pick, moved down seven picks in the third round, and sent a seventh-rounder to Buffalo. The Rams used that eighth pick on Tavon Austin, an undersized but dynamic receiver from West Virginia who projects to be a very Harvin-esque player.

In other words, if the Seahawks were going to get a game-changing receiver this offseason, it was either make the move they did, or give up just as much compensation for an unproven rookie (though that rookie would be a lot cheaper).

What that Austin pick also did was make the Seahawks’ signing of cornerback Antoine Winfield even more important. Austin is exactly the type of speedy, undersized receiver that has at times spelled trouble for the Seahawks. (Remember Miami’s Davone Bess running away from Marcus Trufant last year?). Winfield was one of the league’s best corners last year when it came to covering slot receivers, so the fact that the Seahawks upgraded at the nickel cornerback position became even bigger now that they’ll have to face Austin twice a year.

The Rams trade was just part of a very active first round for the rest of the NFC West on a day when the Seahawks didn’t do much of anything. Before the draft even started, Pete Carroll poked his head into the media room and joked, “You guys get to work. We’ll see you tomorrow.”

In addition to trading up to get Austin, the Rams traded back from the No. 22 pick to No. 30, getting a third-rounder (92 overall) and a sixth (198), then used the 30th pick on Georgia outside linebacker Alec Ogletree.

The 49ers were also active, which was hardly a surprise considering they came into the draft with a whopping 13 picks. Rather than wait to pick 31st, San Francisco moved up to No. 18, giving up only a third-round pick for a pretty big jump up in the round. San Francisco used that pick to address one of its few glaring needs, taking LSU safety Eric Reid. The 49ers have a need at safety because they did not re-sign two-time Pro Bowler Dashon Goldson.

The 49ers won’t wait long today to pick again. They have the second pick of the second round, which they acquired in the trade that sent Alex Smith to Kansas City.

The Seahawks, meanwhile, don’t pick until the 26th pick of the second round, though they do have enough mid-to-late round picks that trading up would be possible. Schneider’s history, however, suggests that any move would be backward. In all three drafts under Carroll and Schneider, the Seahawks have moved back in the second round: trading back in 2010 as part of the Charlie Whitehurst trade; trading completely out of the second round in 2011; and moving back a few spots last year before taking Bobby Wagner.

The Arizona Cardinals came into to the day with the seventh pick, which they used on North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper. That may seem early for a guard — Cooper is the first to go in the top 10 since 1997 — but it addresses a definite need for the Cardinals, whose line was a mess last season.

In addition to the 56th overall pick, the Seahawks are also scheduled to pick in the third round today (No. 87). The encouraging news for Seattle is that Day 2 of the draft worked out pretty well in 2012, with the Seahawks landing middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and quarterback Russell Wilson.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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