Monday, February 10, 2014
A Seattle blueprint worth following
By Nick Wagoner
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In the week-plus following the Seattle Seahawks' victory in the Super Bowl, there has been much discussion about a paradigm shift. The idea is that building a dominant defense to pair with a power running game and doing it mostly through the draft is the way to go rather than continuing to add weapons to build a dynamic aerial attack in the so-called "passing league."
Probably too much has been made of that considering that following Seattle's blueprint to perfection is a lot easier said than done. Draft and develop is the right idea but it's far more difficult in execution than elocution.
The Rams have a chance to draft someone like safety Earl Thomas with their two first-round picks this year.
In many ways, the Rams have followed a similar path to Seattle in their rebuilding, investing heavily in the defensive line and the defense as a whole. The NFC West division is built on a foundation of defense and the Rams have put resources into keeping up with Seattle, Arizona and San Francisco in that regard.
That isn't to say the Rams are trying to duplicate exactly what Seattle has done. Not that it's the wrong path to follow but with two picks in the top half of the 2014 NFL draft, there's one blueprint absolutely worth following for the Rams: doing everything possible to come up with a facsimile of Seattle's 2010 first-round haul.
For all the talk of what a find quarterback Russell Wilson was or what a steal the trade for Marshawn Lynch became, Seattle's path to the championship was largely set in motion by a pair of home run selections in the first round of the 2010 draft.
That year, the Seahawks had pick Nos. 6 and 14 and had needs at offensive tackle and free safety, among other spots. They had the additional pick from a trade the season before in which they fleeced Denver out of a future first-round pick in exchange for a second-round choice which became cornerback Alphonso Smith.
Seattle had a pair of fastballs right down the middle and hit them both of the park, selecting tackle Russell Okung at No. 6 and safety Earl Thomas at No. 14.
Okung has battled injuries but when healthy is one of the elite tackles in the game. He went to the Pro Bowl in 2012.
Thomas is the heart and soul of the "Legion of Boom" and has established himself as one of the game's elite players regardless of position. He has earned three Pro Bowl trips and been named first-team All Pro three consecutive years.
Coincidentally, of the Rams' needs heading into this year's draft, a big, physical offensive tackle and a rangy free safety rank pretty high in the pecking order. Although the sample size is too small to make sweeping declarations, the Rams did well with two first-round picks last year when they grabbed receiver Tavon Austin and linebacker Alec Ogletree.
General manager Les Snead is well aware of just how much having two first-round picks can alter a team's future.
"I even have a little chart hanging on my grease board that basically has every team that had 2 picks in the first round in the history of the draft and who they drafted," Snead said. "So basically what you're telling me is we've got to pick Hall of Fame players. We'd better prepare as thoroughly as possible."
Seattle landing Okung and Thomas is just one example of a franchise-altering first round. Perhaps the most famous two-pack of picks in league history is the 1996 NFL draft when Baltimore used the fourth pick on tackle Jonathan Ogden and the 26th selection on linebacker Ray Lewis. Ogden is already in the Hall of Fame and Lewis will join him soon after he becomes eligible.
Of course, Rams fans with a good memory might still have nightmares about that same draft. Armed with picks 6 and 18, the Rams took running back Lawrence Phillips and receiver Eddie Kennison. Those two whiffs certainly did nothing to help the Rams get back to respectability, especially considering they could have potentially had Eddie George and Marvin Harrison instead.
At first glance, this year's tackle class appears to have some elite talent with players like Auburn's Greg Robinson and Texas A&M's Jake Matthews. It remains to be seen whether any of the top safeties would merit a pick in the range of the Rams' 13th pick or if the Rams would even select one in the first round. Other positions will obviously be under consideration as well.
Expecting to land a pair of Hall of Famers like Ogden and Lewis is probably asking too much. But there's no doubt the Rams could do a lot worse than adding a duo like Okung and Thomas to fill positions of need.