The day after becoming first-round picks, Devon Witherspoon and Jaxon Smith-Njigba were at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center to be introduced as the two newest members of the Seahawks, a pair of players the Seahawks are expecting to do big things for the franchise.
"We're thrilled to get to this moment right here," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said as he and general manager John Schneider joined the team's two first-round picks on stage for their press conference.
On Thursday night, Schneider and Carroll explained why they were so excited to select Witherspoon, a player Carroll compared to Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu, and Smith-Njigba, the first receiver selected in this year’s draft, and on Friday after a flight to Seattle, the two rookies discussed the experience of joining the Seahawks and what lies ahead.
Here are five takeaways from Friday's press conference:
1. Both rookies have "a real competitive mentality."
One of the things Carroll and Schneider have pointed to when asked about the success of last year's class was the competitive nature of those 2022 draft picks. And while there are still plenty more players to add this weekend, the Seahawks once again feel like they are adding players with the right makeup and mindset when it comes to Smith-Njigba and Witherspoon.
"There's nothing like having that chip that you've got something to prove to bring out the best," Carroll said. "Both of these guys have the makeup of the real competitive mentality, and you know how much we love that around here. That's what I was fired up about—with both these guys—and I talked a little bit about it last night about Devon—that you can sense that there's a special connection that they got something to prove. Our best guys we've always had here, whether they were draft picks or free agents or wherever they came from, there was a makeup to them that separated them from others. Everybody's competitive at this level, but some guys just feel it a little differently than others. I think both these young men are going to show you what it means to them and then how important it is for them to find their way to make their spot here and make the position that they fill and the role that they get to play really obvious. I'm really fired up about it. Because you all know how I always talk about it and these guys are really the real deal. So, it's a huge part of their makeup and their value and all of that and it's going to be part of their success story too."
2. Smith-Njigba is looking forward to learning from DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
When he was at Ohio State, Smith-Njigba was part of a talented trio that also featured 2022 first-round picks Garret Wilson and Chris Olave, and in Seattle he'll look to form another great trio with Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.
"I'm excited to get in that room and learn and watch those guys," he said. "I know a little bit, for sure, what they do on the field and what they're about on the field, but excited to be in the present with them and get to work with them."
Both Olave and Wilson had 1,000-yard seasons as rookies, with Wilson winning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors (though Kenneth Walker III received more first place votes), and their immediate success in the NFL gives Smith-Njigba some extra confidence heading into his rookie season.
"Most definitely, it gives me confidence, but at the end of the day you've got to prove it and I'm excited to get to work and try to do that," he said.
3. Witherspoon enjoyed talking football with Carroll during his pre-draft visit.
As Carroll explained on Thursday night, he came away very impressed with the time he spent with Witherspoon when the cornerback took a pre-draft visit to Seattle. A day later, Witherspoon said the feeling was mutual.
"Just the way he was able to just talk ball with me," he said. "We went over a couple press technique things, just the way he broke it down to me, it's a lot of little things that add up to the big things. So just the way he broke it down to me and the way I was able to learn, I kind of picked up on it kind of quick."
4. Witherspoon's mom gets a big assist for his football success.
By this offseason, it was clear that Witherspoon not only had an NFL future but was going to be a first-round pick, but it wasn't that long ago that he had other ideas about his athletic future.
"I had hoop dreams," he said.
In fact, Witherspoon didn't play football until his junior year of high school, and only at the urging of his mother, who like several family members of both players, was in attendance at the press conference.
"I still wanted to be on that court," he said with a laugh. "But my mom convinced me to come out. So ever since that I day I just never looked back… So without her I wouldn't be here."
"Good for mom," Carroll added. "Nice call."
5. Last season's injury was a learning experience for Smith-Njigba.
After a huge 2021 season in which he had 95 catches for 1,606 yards, Smith-Njigba was limited to just three games last year after suffering a hamstring injury in the season opener. As challenging as that season was, and as much as it may have hurt his draft stock—Schneider noted Thursday that a healthy-in-2022 Smith-Njigba likely would have been a Top-10 pick—he sees last season as a learning experience he can benefit from in the long run.
"Toughest thing I had to go through as an athlete," he said. "But I leaned on my family. My family was here for me. Learned a lot about myself and my love for the game. So I'm appreciative, I appreciate that moment because it's only up from here."
Seahawks first round picks Devon Witherspoon and Jaxon Smith-Njigba met with local media at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, Wash. on April 28, 2023.