Coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider had a decision to make. The team wanted to add more picks, so sliding back into the Vikings' spot at No. 106 carried some appeal. But the Seahawks had not addressed defense to that point in the draft, and Mississippi State outside linebacker K.J. Wright was a player they had been targeting.
"It is rare that you would find a linebacker with that much length (6-foot-4) and 4.6 speed," Carroll said after the draft. "We need that flexibility."
K.J. Wright, who was drafted by the Seahawks with the No. 99 pick, was the last 4-3 strongside linebacker drafted.
This seemed a bit improbable. After all, teams selected 24 more linebackers over the remaining 155 selections. Surely one of them could have provided what the Seahawks wanted from Wright, right? Not necessarily. The more I studied those selections, the more I understood what Carroll was talking about. Wright was the fourth and final 4-3 strongside linebacker selected in the draft. All were gone among the top 100 selections.
The NFL has become so specialized, particularly on defense, that players are increasingly difficult to categorize. Seeking fresh perspective on the 2011 draft, I reclassified the 254 players chosen into 20 positional categories, based largely on how teams plan to use them. The process was imperfect because teams view players differently, and some players transcend easy categorization. But patterns that emerged were helpful in bringing the big picture into clearer focus.
Breaking down linebackers into five categories across 3-4 and 4-3 schemes was particularly helpful.
Teams selected one 4-3 strongside linebacker in each of the first four rounds, but none thereafter. They selected 12 4-3 weakside linebackers -- none in the first two rounds, five in the sixth and three in the seventh. That position carried less value relative to others based on when the players came off the board.
Nine of 11 4-3 defensive tackles went in the first three rounds, affirming how much teams value that position. Teams selected five 4-3 defensive ends in the first two rounds, then none until taking one in the fifth and four more in the seventh. Teams selected four five-technique defensive ends in the first round and one in the second, but none over the next four rounds.
I ultimately divided players into percentiles based on where they were selected in relation to other players from the same positional categories. Three NFC West players were the first players chosen at their specific positions. They were in the top percentile for their positions. Three, including Wright, were the last players chosen at their specific positions. They were in the bottom percentile.
The percentiles say nothing about whether individual players will succeed in the NFL. In some cases, players with lower percentiles probably carried more value at that moment in the draft based on how few prospects remained available at their positions.
Without categorizing players more specifically, we might not have any idea.
Overall, this draft featured 37 cornerbacks; 28 wide receivers; 24 running backs; 21 interior offensive linemen; 20 offensive tackles; 16 safeties; 13 tight ends; 12 quarterbacks; 12 4-3 weakside linebackers; 11 4-3 defensive tackles; 10 4-3 defensive ends; 10 3-4 outside linebackers; eight five-technique defensive ends; seven 3-4 inside linebackers; seven fullbacks; six 4-3 middle linebackers; four 4-3 strongside linebackers; four nose tackles; and two specialists. Two defensive linemen -- Kansas City's Allen Bailey and Baltimore's Pernell McPhee -- qualified as nickel pass-rushers.
And now, a look at all 35 NFC West draft choices, listed by how early they were drafted in relation to other players at their specific positions: