The Seahawks have long claimed they look for rookies with “grit” who have overcome early life challenges. They think it gives those guys an edge and makes them better competitors.
“All come in with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove,” Pete Carroll said, repeating what he and John Schneider say every year.
They got “grit” guys again on Day 2 of this draft, moving up to take pass rusher Darrell Taylor and then moving down and picking guard Damien Lewis. Both overcame rough childhoods that included their dads being imprisoned (and Taylor’s mom died of breast cancer when he was a high school sophomore).
Carroll and Schneider think those hurdles — plus years of big-college experience — prepared these guys to play in the NFL as rookies, especially in a year when there will be no rookie minicamp and prep time likely will be minimal.
Like first-rounder Jordyn Brooks, who was homeless for a while with his family, these are “guys that don’t necessarily need a ton of handholding,” Schneider said.
Taylor, who was a team captain at Tennessee and has a 21-month-old son, said he wants to be a better father than his was.
Lewis, whose dad was imprisoned on drug charges when Lewis was in eighth grade, said, “I had to grow up real early at that time.”
Lewis also has worked for everything he has gotten, going to JUCO first and then turning himself into a star at LSU. LSU coach Ed Orgeron, who coached under Carroll at USC, thinks Lewis will be a 10-year starting guard in the NFL. (We’d settle for him just being better than Seattle’s last LSU pick, Ethan Pocic.)
Schneider said the Hawks considered drafting Taylor in the first round. Schneider and his guys worked the phones furiously Friday to move up for him. They finally got the Jets, at 48, to make a deal – which cost Seattle the 59th and 101st picks (the Earl Thomas comp pick).
“We view him as one of the very, very top pass rushers,” Schneider said of Taylor, who had an 18.6 percent pass-rush win rate at Tennessee and tallied 16.5 sacks the past two years.
Carroll said Taylor (6-4, 267) is the prototype for Seattle’s LEO position – famously occupied by Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril and Frank Clark over the years. Carroll called Taylor a “really important pick for us to get.”
Taylor played both linebacker and end at LSU, but he said Carroll told him he will be a pure edge rusher in Seattle. Basically, it looks like the Hawks got their next Clark. Whether he contributes as a rookie is a big question. The Hawks have not fared well with rookie rushers (Rasheem Green and L.J. Collier) the past couple of years. If Taylor could replicate Bruce Irvin’s rookie season (eight sacks), that would be great.
Taylor sounds both confident and self-aware: “I think I’m really great in the pass rush. I have a really good long arm stab and I can use speed and power moves, so I think I bring a lot to the table. I have power. I have speed. I think I need to get better at using my hands and being more technical with that. Being coached up by the guys in Seattle, I think they’ll help me do that and now help me be the best pass rusher that the NFL will see this rookie season.”
Taylor was rated a Day 2 guy because he was hindered by a stress fracture in his leg last season and few knew how he was recovering after having a rod inserted in his leg in January. He actually was the last pre-draft visit to the VMAC before the NFL shut down all facilities (which was before states began shutting their economies). Taylor said he feels “healthy as a horse” and has been training outside, running when possible.
Schneider said it helped that Seattle was one of the only teams to get Taylor in for a visit to check on his recovery from the surgery. Of course, the fact that they were so anxious to move up to get him meant they were not certain which teams might also have enough intel on him.
Taylor is the eighth player Schneider has moved up to draft in the last five years, and hopefully he follows in the footsteps of Tyler Lockett, Jarran Reed and D.K. Metcalf. (The others were Quinton Jefferson, Michael Dickson, Cody Barton and John Ursua.)
Taylor has work to do to challenge for playing time. NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein said, “He needs to transform from a set-it-and-forget-it roadblock into a shed-and-tackle playmaker. His rush lacks instincts and counters. … The toolbox has plenty in it, but additional development as a pass rusher might be the difference between functional backup or dangerous starter.”
The Seahawks still need to add the veteran lead pass rusher we all keep harping about, whether it’s Jadeveon Clowney or Everson Griffen or another rusher who will command double teams. Then Taylor can work into the LEO rotation with Benson Mayowa and Irvin.
As for Lewis (6-2, 327), Carroll said he will compete with D.J. Fluker (6-5, 340) for the right guard spot: “He won’t take a backseat to anybody. He’s going to come in and battle for it. That’s part of the reason we took him. We wanted him to come in and battle to play, and all of that competition will make us better.”
That has media and fans speculating that Fluker will be released, because it would save the Seahawks about $3.7 million against the cap. But it is presumptuous to think the rookie will bump Fluker, who has largely played well for Seattle and probably is a better pass blocker right now.
Even if Lewis somehow were to beat him out, the Hawks need all the quality depth they can muster. So don’t expect Fluker to be cut. (Justin Britt is another case, especially since the team ostensibly has replaced him with B.J. Finney and will get a whopping $8.5 million in cap space by letting him go.)
The Hawks have 19 offensive linemen on the roster, which constitutes a quarter of the roster. “Just trying to get as much competition as we possibly can to protect our quarterback,” Schneider said. “We think we have the best quarterback in the National Football League and we have to figure out the best group to protect him.”
Also recall that the new CBA allows teams to activate a couple more guys each week, with one of them needing to be an offensive lineman. That lends itself to Seattle keeping 10 or 11 linemen.
After Lewis became a Seahawk, Russell Wilson told him: “Man, you ready? We’re trying to win the Super Bowl over here. We don’t play (around). We’re trying to make it happen this year.”
Lewis said, “He was fired up about it, and I’m fired up about it. I’m ready to make it happen.”
We’ll see whether he and Taylor can.