Bruce Irvin and a wild night in NFC West

April, 26, 2012
4/26/12
11:36
PM ET


RENTON, Wash. -- There were no bold strikes up the draft board for NFC West teams Thursday night.

There was resignation among those hoping the St. Louis Rams would emerge with a No. 1 wide receiver for quarterback Sam Bradford. The Rams traded down instead, taking LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers after wideouts Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd vanished from the talent pool right before St. Louis picked.

There was the expected in Arizona, where the Cardinals went with Floyd over tackle Riley Reiff, no slam dunk but a widely projected scenario in recent weeks.

There was waiting in San Francisco, where the 49ers did not pick until No. 30, where they selected Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins shortly after two top guards landed elsewhere.

And then there was utter shock in Seattle, where the Seahawks used the 15th overall choice for a player with more time logged in jail than in the mainstream media mock drafts circulating recently.

The Seahawks could have had pass-rushers Quinton Coples, Melvin Ingram or Chandler Jones, but instead they went with West Virginia's Bruce Irvin, a former junior-college transfer with a rough past, a sensational first step and a history with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who once recruited him to USC.

Irvin is not Charles Haley, Chris Doleman, Derrick Thomas or Dwight Freeney. He is not even Von Miller or Jevon Kearse. The Seahawks think he'll become that type of player quickly, however, and they are not shy about leaving that impression. It's an upset if Irvin fails to reach double digits in sacks this season, to hear the Seahawks speak of him.

"This guy comes off the ball like Dwight Freeney and Von Miller and Jevon Kearse," general manager John Schneider said.

Irvin is not for everyone. At 6-foot-3 and 248 pounds, he's a pure pass-rusher, not a player with the strength to anchor against the run on early downs. Irvin represents what Carroll wants for the "Leo" role manned capably by Chris Clemons in recent years. Irvin will play immediately as a situational pass-rusher. The plan will be to groom him as Clemons' successor eventually.

"He is exactly the makeup that you are looking for," Carroll said. "This goes all the way back to Charles Haley and Chris Doleman and Derrick Thomas. That is the kind of effect this guy has a chance to have. He has a lot to learn. He is going to have to grow up with us and learn our system. But the makeup of this player is so rare. He looks like a carbon copy of Von Miller rushing the passer."

Seattle spent big to retain run-stuffing defensive end Red Bryant in free agency. The money Bryant commanded means he'll be on the field for early downs. And with Clemons coming off an 11-sack season, that meant the Seahawks weren't looking for an every-down defensive end. They were looking for a player with a unique set of skills, and Irvin fits on that front. His 6.7-second time in the three-cone drill was the fastest for any player at the scouting combine.

"This position is so rare to find a guy that runs this fast," Carroll said.

Irvin follows a pattern in Seattle. Bryant is much bigger than the typical defensive end. Brandon Browner (6-4) and Richard Sherman (6-3) are taller than the typical cornerback. Kam Chancellor is the biggest strong safety in the league. Earl Thomas might be the NFL's fastest free safety. Linebacker K.J. Wright stands 6-4 and is rangier than most.

Now comes Irvin, who played wide receiver in high school before flunking out as a junior. Irvin was living on the streets for two years, at one point keeping his possessions in a bag. He spent a couple weeks in jail after allegedly robbing a drug dealer. Irvin pulled himself together, earned his GED and landed, eventually, on the football team at Mount San Antonio College.

"I went through a lot of stuff in my life," Irvin said. "I've seen a lot. The average person would not be on this call."

Nothing came of a more recent arrest for destruction of property.

[+] EnlargeBruce Irvin
Randy Litzinger/Icon SMIThe Seahawks are looking for Bruce Irvin to produce big-time sack numbers out of the gate.
"The Lord knew it was B.S.," Irvin said, drawing laughter from reporters huddled around a conference-call speaker at Seahawks headquarters.

A year ago, the Seahawks shocked draft analysts by selecting tackle James Carpenter with the 25th overall choice. Carpenter hadn't appeared in many first-round mock drafts, but the Seahawks weren't the only team with a first-round grade on him. Pittsburgh and Green Bay also liked him. An injury derailed Carpenter last season, making it tough to evaluate that choice. The Irvin selection was similar in that virtually no one projected the move.

So far, though, Carroll has usually been right when targeting specific defensive players for specific roles. And there is precedent within the division for surprise first-round selections making an immediate impact.

The 49ers selected Aldon Smith seventh overall last year when few projected the Missouri pass-rusher to San Francisco. Smith, unlike Irvin, was widely considered a top-15 prospect by analysts. Smith finished his rookie season with 14 sacks, finishing behind only Miller in defensive-rookie-of-the-year balloting, even though conventional wisdom suggested Smith would need time to develop.

Smith succeeded right away largely because the 49ers used him properly, asking him to do the one thing he could do best: rush the passer.

The bar has been set high for Irvin.

"I'm just a great athlete," Irvin said. "I'm going to do great things for this organization. The sky is the limit for me."

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