SEATTLE – When evaluating NFL draft picks, the same debate often ensues. What is more important: The player a team gets, or which pick the team uses to acquire him?
Most experts try to find the the perfect balance.
“I try to take both things into account,” Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com said. “The value of the selection, certainly if a player is selected late or even is an undrafted free agent, then clearly there’s a little bit more of a surprise factor.”
But Rang said what ultimately matters most is how well the player performs, regardless of where he was drafted.
“I don’t care if you pick them No. 1 overall,” he said. “A Hall of Fame player is a great pick every single time.”
The Seahawks have drafted three Hall of Famers, all of whom were selected in the top six picks. More recently, Seattle has earned a reputation for finding value later in drafts, landing a franchise quarterback in the third round and three-fourths of the Legion of Boom even later than that.
So what makes the ultimate draft pick? In addition to Rang, we talked with Q13 sports director Aaron Levine, sports reporter Michelle Ludtka, producer Marc Rosen, photojournalist Steve Schrammeck, as well as a host of other knowledgeable producers, editors and reporters around the newsroom. This year’s draft will be broadcast on the home of the Seahawks, Q13 FOX, with Draft Day coverage beginning at 6 p.m. Wednesday, 4 p.m. Thursday and 3 p.m. Friday.
Yesterday we looked at the worst picks in team history. Today, it's time for the best.
To simplify things, we did not include players who were drafted by other teams and then acquired by the Seahawks, such as Steve Largent. Nor did we include any of the great undrafted free agents Seattle has signed over the years like Doug Baldwin and Eugene Robinson.
Here’s how it shook out:
10. Michael Sinclair, drafted in the 6th round (155th overall) in 1991 out of East New Mexico.
Not much was expected of Sinclair. As a sixth-rounder, the defensive end remains the highest draft pick out of East New Mexico State. He was an afterthought in a draft in which Seattle took quarterback Dan McGwire in the first round and kicker John Kasay in the fourth.
By 1995, however, Sinclair settled in as a starter on a line that featured Hall of Famer Cortez Kennedy and future Pro Bowler Sam Adams clogging the middle. Sinclair wreaked havoc off the edge, racking up 53 sacks over the next five seasons, including an NFL-leading 16.5 sacks in 1998. He was named to three Pro Bowls and finished his career with the second-most sacks (73.5) in franchise history.
He also earned a ringing endorsement from Rang.
“Michael Sinclair is one of the Seahawks’ all-time best draft picks,” he said.
9. Shaun Alexander, drafted in the 1st round (19th overall) in 2000 out of Alabama.
The Seahawks' only NFL MVP was known for racking up eye-popping numbers behind a punishing offensive line.
With Hall of Famer Walter Jones and Pro Bowler Steve Hutchinson leading the way, Alexander ran for 9,453 yards and 100 touchdowns over eight seasons with the Seahawks.
His 1,880 yards and 27 rushing touchdowns in 2005 helped propel Seattle to its first Super Bowl appearance and earned him the NFL’s highest individual regular-season honor.
Some have downplayed Alexander’s success over the years, giving more credit to the line than the running back. But one thing is certain, no one in team history found the en d zone as often as Alexander. His 112 total touchdowns are good for a team record, 11 more than Hall of Famer Largent, and 15th all time.
8. Earl Thomas, drafted in the 1st round (14th overall) in 2010 out of Texas.
It was somewhat of a surprise when coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider used their second draft pick as leaders of the franchise on Thomas. Not because Thomas was a safety. The surprise was that the safety they chose was not the three-time All American Carroll had just finished coaching at USC. That was Taylor Mays, who played high school football at O’Dea in Seattle and seemed a perfect fit for Carroll to build a defense around in the NFL.
When the Seahawks selected Thomas at No. 14, Mays was available and he later admitted that it came as a bit of shock.
After Mays was taken in the second round by the rival 49ers, he lashed out at Carroll, saying he thought the Seahawks coach had misled him prior to draft.
Mays played one season for San Francisco before being traded to Cincinnati. He started 15 games in his career and hasn’t played in the NFL since 2015.
Meanwhile, Thomas is on his way to a Hall of Fame career as the heat-seeking missile at the heart of the Legion of Boom. He’s a six-time Pro Bowler and a three-time All Pro.
“Clearly (Mays) was upset that his former college coach overlooked him and didn’t draft him,” Levine said. “But Earl Thomas ended up being the right choice by a long shot.”
7. Kenny Easley, drafted in the 1st round (4th overall) in 1981 out of UCLA.
The original Enforcer, Easley combined the speed of most free safeties with the tackling ability of a middle linebacker.
It was no surprise the Seahawks used the No. 4 overall pick on the three-time consensus All American out of UCLA. Even fellow Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, who played at USC and was taken four picks after Easley by the 49ers, labeled his college rival as the best safety he’s ever seen.
Easley set the tone immediately at the back end of the Seahawks' defense. In 1984 he led the NFL with 10 interceptions, returning two for touchdowns, and earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Easley later teamed with Robinson in the defensive backfield to create Seattle’s first tandem of Pro Bowl safeties before his career was cut short by injuries.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017.
6. Kam Chancellor, drafted in the 5th round (133rd overall) in 2010 out of Virginia Tech.
Chancellor was taken in the same draft as Thomas, but with a lot less fanfare.
Instead of being anointed with franchise-molding expectations, Chancellor’s goal as a fifth rounder was to just make the team. In his first season, he did not start a game, played mostly on special teams and recorded only 16 tackles.
But by year two, he was the everyday strong safety alongside Thomas. The two combined to watch over what would become the most menacing defensive backfield in the league.
They were both selected as Pro Bowlers in 2011 and would share the field for most of the next six seasons.
Chancellor finished 2017 with a neck injury and his future status is uncertain. But even if he never plays another down, his place on this list is secure.
5. Cortez Kennedy, drafted in the 1st round (3rd overall) in 1990 out of Miami.
Kennedy did more than just clog the middle, although he was pretty good at that. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 305 pounds, he might never have been contained by a single blocker.
Starting his career alongside Seahawks stalwart Joe Nash, Kennedy became the second Seattle player to earn NFL Defensive MVP honors after Easley in 1992. He was virtually unblockable that season, racking up 92 tackles, 14 sacks and forcing four fumbles even though the Seahawks finished just 2-14.
After Seattle drafted Sam Adams in 1994, the two teamed up to create a run-stuffing wall in the middle of the Seahawks' defense.
Kennedy was named to eight Pro Bowls and was a three-time All Pro. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
4. Bobby Wagner, drafted in the 2nd round (47th overall) in 2012 out of Utah State.
Wagner is a tackling machine. Since entering the league, the Seahawks' middle linebacker has recorded 843 total tackles in six seasons, the most in the NFL during that time.
He was taken a round before Russell Wilson in what may have been the best draft in team history, and was without a doubt a heck of a one-two coup.
“Those are the two best back-to-back picks in Seahawks franchise history,” Levine said. “They are the leaders of the offense and defense to this day.”
Wagner’s name has been in the discussion the past few seasons for Defensive MVP and he was rated as the best linebacker in the NFL last season by Pro Football Focus.
He’s been named an All Pro three times and has been to four consecutive Pro Bowls.
3. Walter Jones, drafted in the 1st round (6th overall) in 1997 out of Florida State.
Big Walt was the anchor of one of the best offensive lines in NFL history.
Along with Steve Hutchinson, Chris Gray, Robbie Tobeck and Sean Locklear, Jones and the Seahawks dominated the trenches throughout the 2000s.
Together, they paved the way for an MVP season for Alexander and helped lead the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl appearance.
They were all excellent, but Jones was the key.
Drafted after Shawn Springs in 1997, Jones played his entire 12-year career with the Seahawks, starting all 180 games he played at left tackle. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler, a four-time All Pro and a first ballot Hall of Famer in 2014.
Through it all, he allowed an average of two sacks per season and was flagged for a total of nine holding penalties.
2. Richard Sherman, drafted in the 5th round (154th overall) in 2011 out of Stanford.
Long before he tipped a pass away from Michael Crabtree and sent the Seahawks to their second Super Bowl, Sherman was a little-known prospect out of Stanford.
After starting his college career as a receiver, he made the switch to defense. Many analysts said the late start to the position would trouble Sherman in the NFL. Some thought the fifth round was too high for him to be selected.
Then he got on the field and showed off his uncanny ball skills.
As a rookie, Sherman snagged four interceptions in just 10 starts. Then he grabbed eight picks in both 2012 and 2013. His 32 interceptions since 2011 are five more than anyone else in the league during that stretch, and are tied with Easley for fourth in team history.
“Hall of Fame worthy,” Ludtka said of Sherman. “I feel like he is the quintessential definition of what a solid cornerback should be.”
1. Russell Wilson, drafted in the 3rd round (75th overall) in 2012 out of Wisconsin.
The Seahawks made a lot of great draft picks from 2010-2012, but none changed the franchise more than Wilson.
As draft expert Rang put it recently, “He’s the one that made the Seahawks more than just a dominant defense. They never had a consistent Pro Bowl caliber, every-single-year-MVP-caliber quarterback.”
And now they do.
Taken five picks after the Jacksonville Jaguars selected punter Bryan Anger, Wilson is the perfect balance of a great player and an outright steal in the draft.
He was the sixth quarterback taken in 2012. Twenty-four players taken ahead of him did not play a down in 2017. He’s been named to four Pro Bowls and led the Seahawks to two Super Bowls in six seasons, helping Seattle claim its only title less than two years after being drafted.
Q13 executive digital producer Dusty Lane may have said it best, “He’s the only true franchise QB the Seahawks have ever had, and they found him in the third round. Best. Pick. Ever.”