The Seahawks 2022 draft class played a big role in the team's success this past season, with Seattle going 9-8 to reach the playoffs for the 10th time in 13 seasons under head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider.
But as impressive as initial returns were for this draft class, what might be even more significant than the 2022 success is what that group could mean for the team in 2023 and beyond. With Tariq Woolen making the Pro Bowl and tying for the league lead in interceptions with six, and with Kenneth Walker III leading all rookies with 1,050 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, with Abraham Lucas and Charles Cross holding things down at tackle, and with the likes of Coby Bryant, Boye Mafe and Dareke Young also making significant contributions, there's a great young foundation in place for a franchise that heads into this year's draft with four more picks in the first two rounds, including the No. 5 overall pick.
"It was very, very fortunate for our guys to have this much exposure this early in their career," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "There is so much to be gained. In the midst of the first season of young guys playing, it's just a monster of issues and concerns. What will happen is that all of the noise will quiet for them, their vision will expand, things will slow down, and all of those normal things that happened are such a valuable gain for us as a group. It's not just going to happen to one guy, we have a number of guys on our team. There are four or five guys on defense and there are three or four guys on offense that will all come back, and they will be vets as they turn the corner. It doesn't mean that they will have their game altogether, but they will be so much further ahead. It's hard to describe to you guys how much clearer things will look, and how they will feel like, 'How did I not know this and survive the season?' Hopefully, we can really navigate those each individual players to gain the most that they could possibly gain from this good experience that they have had. It's so valuable that they had all of this play time."
Jim Nagy, the executive director of the Senior Bowl, saw six of Seattle's nine picks in person last year in Mobile, Alabama, and the former Seahawks scout likes what his former team was able to pull off.
"Obviously they got incredible immediate return on that class," Nagy said in a phone interview. "Usually with the rookies it's hard to get many of those guys on the field and get major contributions from them, but especially guys that played significant roles like Abe (Lucas)— both tackles—Kenneth Walker, (Coby Bryant). The overall class, they got incredible production from, and then the story of that draft class is Tariq Woolen."
And it wasn't just that the Seahawks got a lot of players who contributed in last year's draft, they also got immediate contributions at premium positions that command higher salaries for high-end talent were a team to go shopping in free agency. Outside of quarterbacks and edge rushers, two of the highest-paid position groups in football are offensive tackle and cornerback, and in Cross, Lucas, Woolen and Bryant, the Seahawks got four high-end players at those spots—plus they also have Tre Brown, a 2021 draft pick, as a viable starting option at corner moving forward.
"That's huge," Nagy said. "Short of a rookie quarterback contract, you can't think of a much better position to be in. You've got four players locked down at premium positions… That's a great position to be in. You get so much roster flexibility in terms of where to allocate resources when you're paying two tackles and two corners on rookie contracts, it's a great spot to be in."
And before everyone turns their attention to the 2023 draft and the Seahawks' two first-round picks, let's take a look back at what the 2022 class was able to accomplish:
Round 1, No. 9 overall: LT Charles Cross
General manager John Schneider referred to Cross as a "pillar at left tackle" for the Seahawks not long after they made him the ninth overall pick, and he was very much that as a rookie, starting all 17 games and playing all but two of Seattle's 1,093 offensive snaps.
Along with Lucas, Cross helped the Seahawks offense thrive while being just the third team since the 1970 merger to start rookies at both tackle spots. Geno Smith had a Pro-Bowl season, setting multiple franchise records and leading the NFL in completion percentage, while Walker became just the second rookie to rush for 1,000 yards in franchise history despite starting only 11 games.
"It's hard to imagine, because this hasn't happened, that this occurred," Carroll said of the rookie tackles contributing so much. "Both guys come out of it healthy and feeling good. They can have great offseasons to bank on the experience that they've had. They won't all grow the same, they won't all take the same out of this experience, but we are going to try and maximize this as much as possible to help them really be a whole jump ahead of where they were."
Round 2, No. 40 overall: OLB Boye Mafe
The Seahawks used the first of back-to-back second-round picks on Mafe, adding a player who would become an important part of their outside linebacker rotation. Mafe started three games and played in all 17, playing 37 percent of Seattle's defensive snaps, a number that defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt made an effort to increase late in the season.
Mafe contributed 3.0 sacks as a rookie, including one in a Week 18 win that helped Seattle reach the playoffs, but where he stood out most was in run defense, something that should help him grow his role next season.
Round 2, No. 41 overall: RB Kenneth Walker III
Walker began his rookie season as Rashaad Penny's backup, limiting his touches, but when Penny went down with a season-ending leg injury, Walker exploded onto the scene, showing why the Seahawks were so excited to land him in the second round.
Not long after Penny's injury occurred in New Orleans, Walker scored on a 69-yard run, jumpstarting a season that would see him rush for 1,050 yards and nine touchdowns, both totals leading NFL rookies, as did his five 100-yard games.
And while Walker showed off his big-play ability right away, also scoring on a 74-yard run in a Week 7 win, he was more consistent down the stretch, rushing for more than 100 yards in each of Seattle's final three regular-season games.
Round 3, No. 72 overall: RT Abraham Lucas
As mentioned above, Lucas and Cross teamed up to be big factors for Seattle's offense, with Lucas starting 16 of 17 regular-season games, missing just one due to a knee injury. A local product who played at Archbishop Murphy High School before going to Washington State, Lucas, much like Cross, came to Seattle with some questions about his run-blocking ability having played in a spread offense in college. But starting at the Senior Bowl and continuing on into a preseason in which he won the starting job, Lucas showed he could be a physical, nasty run blocker in addition to a strong pass-protecting tackle.
"There's certainly a lot of benefits to playing in the Senior Bowl, but the ability to play outside of the scheme that you were in in college is certainly near the top of that list, and I think Abe's a great example of that," said Nagy. "Being able to come down here and play more of a pro style run game, you saw that during the week. You saw him come off with pad level, you saw him sustain, you saw some things at the second level, you saw the physicality. Probably the biggest thing is you saw the physicality, you saw him finish, you saw toughness. He was able to come off and really be the aggressor during Senior Bowl week, and that's what you saw in Seattle as well."
Round 4, No. 109 overall: CB Coby Bryant
Despite being an outside cornerback throughout a standout career at the University of Cincinnati, Bryant made the switch to nickel corner during training camp, and played well enough in his new spot to win that job, which in today's NFL is essentially a starting position even if he isn't technically listed as a starter most games—Bryant played 65 percent of Seattle's defensive snaps for the season.
There were some growing pains, as would be expected for a rookie in a new position, but Bryant showed a lot of positives, including a knack for creating turnovers with four forced fumbles, tied for second most in the NFL, as well as multiple interceptions that were negated by penalties away from the ball.
"At the end of the day, I'm extremely happy that I was able to play with these guys," Bryant said. "I learned a lot, not just in football but in life. It was a great year… Playing a new position and playing the whole season, I think it went well. Obviously, there's room for improvement, so the biggest thing is taking what I did this year and adding on to it next year."
Round 5, No. 153 overall: CB Tariq Woolen
The Woolen pick was an intriguing one from Day 1. Not only was he a lanky former receiver selected by Seattle in the fifth-round, leading to instant Richard Sherman comparisons; he also was one of the most physically gifted players in the draft, running a 4.26-second 40-yard dash at the combine while posting a 42-inch vertical leap.
Yet for all of those physical traits, nobody saw Woolen's rookie season coming. He not only won a starting job out of training camp, but also went on to become Seattle's first rookie defensive player selected to the Pro Bowl since Lofa Tatupu in 2005. Woolen will be the first to tell you there are things to clean up, but his debut season was something special, a campaign that included six interceptions, a Seahawks rookie record that also tied for the NFL lead, 16 passes defensed, three fumble recoveries and a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown.
"He'll see so much more than what he was seeing right now," Carroll said. "It's a freaking blur like it's a storm blowing at him. We're trying to sort it all out. It will be much better for him. He can be a complete player. He can do it all. He'll be able to be a run factor when he needs to be. He needs to learn all the different nuances that happen with all the different alignments and positions that he gets put in and be able to be as solid as that as when he is outside lined up on guys. He's really best when he is lined up on the guy and covering him. He's really clear on how that works and that's when his eyes are tight to what he is looking at. It's the other stuff, the experience stuff that he is going to grow at, but he had tremendous experiences this year to learn. He's really curious and anxious and wants to be great. He was really broken up about the (Wild Card loss). He didn't like his game at all last week. His heart is in the right place to get good. I think the sky is the limit for him for sure."
Nagy loved what he saw from Woolen at the Senior Bowl, and as a result was surprised he lasted until the fifth round, but like everyone else, he didn't quite see this kind of rookie season coming.
"Him being only a two year player at the cornerback position, I thought it might take a little time, but I still thought he would go in the top 100 picks because of the upside," Nagy said. "But the fact that they got him on the field and he played at a Pro Bowl level, and really a Rookie of the Year level, just speaks to what the coaching staff did. It's one thing to identify players in the draft and select them, but then it's getting them developed quickly and on the field quickly, hat's off to Coach Carroll and the defensive staff to get Tariq out there and get that immediate return."
Round 5, No. 158 overall: OLB Tyreke Smith
Smith battled hip injuries in training camp and spent his rookie season on injured reserve, but the Seahawks are excited to see what the Ohio State product can bring in 2023.
"He should be able to be fully recovered, ready to go," Carroll said. "We didn't get anything done this year, but good hopes for the future. He's an active football player. He can be a factor for us."
Said Nagy, "He's long, he's combative, good edge setter at the point of attack and he plays really hard, and the motor stood out at Ohio State. He's really good at jacking up the run at the point of attack. It's going to be hard to run outside of him, and then when the ball goes away from him, he chases it… And he's got some get-off; he's got get-off quickness to him. So when you have those things, you've got a chance to become a three down player. I think at minimum next year when he comes back, he's the guy that can have a role on run downs, because he can set the edge and he's a guy that will run around and chase things down."
Round 7, No. 229 overall: WR Bo Melton
Melton showed flashes in the preseason and training camp, but was waived prior to the start of the season, then signed to the practice squad. Green Bay eventually signed Melton off Seattle's practice squad in December.
Round 7, No. 233 overall: WR Dareke Young
Young was able to make the 53-man roster despite being a seventh-round pick out of Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, and while his contributions were limited early in the season, he eventually developed into one of Seattle's top special teams players, particularly standing out as a gunner on punt coverage.
Young also saw his role increase on offense late in the year, and while his final numbers were modest—two catches for 24 yards, plus a spectacular sideline catch in Week 15 wiped out by a penalty—he showed coaches enough that he'll have a chance to take on a much bigger role in 2023.
"I really liked Dareke," Carroll said. "I thought he had a real chance to being a factor. He did so many positive things toughness wise, the physical part of the blocking, the catch-and-run with the couple of chances that he's had, but we've seen it. We know what he's got. His work on special teams was excellent. He was an excellent factor. We have really high expectations of what he can contribute. We have to help him with his belief in himself on how good he can be because we've really seen that he has great potential. He's a really strong, physical kid, and he loves to play that way. He's really smart. He's a really smart kid. We love that guy."
Undrafted Free Agents
In addition to those draft picks, the Seahawks also got contributions from undrafted rookies, most notably safety Joey Blount, who had eight special teams tackles, tied for second most on the team, in 11 games before his season was cut short by a knee injury. Outside linebacker Vi Jones spent most the season on the practice squad, but appeared in three games, contributing on special teams, while outside linebacker Joshua Onujiogu appeared in one game, also spending most of the season on the practice squad.
Take a look back at some of the best photos of the Seahawks offense from the 2022 season.