One of the most recognized names in the industry, Rob Rang has been covering the NFL Draft for more than 20 years, with work at FOX, Sports Illustrated, CBSSports.com, USA Today, Yahoo, NFL.com and NFLDraftScout.com, among others. Rang's opinions and evaluations are his own and do not reflect those of the Seahawks.
Longtime Seahawks fans may get a case of déjà vu when watching the tape of this year's top NFL prospects.
That is because some of the top prospects this year boast athletic traits eerily similar to those offered by some of the greatest players in Seahawks history.
This is not to suggest that the college prospects listed below will go on to enjoy the same degree of success in the NFL that these Seahawks legends captured. Or, for that matter, that this year's rookie crop can't exceed what their Seahawk doppelgangers achieved. Every player is their own individual, of course. Player comparisons, fair or not, are among the most common requests in this business.
And when you are a life-long Seattle-area resident (born, like the Seahawks, in 1976) and have evaluated as many football players as I have over my 20+ years in the scouting business, certain iconic traits – such as Hall of Famer Walter Jones' unbelievable blend of size and athleticism, Russell Wilson's magical improvisation and Richard Sherman's long arms and galloping strides – tend to stand out.
There are players in the 2022 draft class whose success at the college level is due to similar strengths.
Here is my Top 5 list of prospects whose tape brought back memories for me of Seahawks, dating back to the Kingdome.
Offensive Tackle Walter Jones = Evan Neal, Alabama
If you had any thought that I might take some low-hanging fruit to kickoff this article, you were mistaken with a bold comparison to the Hall of Famer Jones, the most physically dominant player in Seahawks history.
Remarkably agile despite a massive frame, Jones toyed with defenders, delivering this immortal block in the NFC Championship against the Carolina Panthers, literally paving the way for Seattle's first trip to the Super Bowl.
At nearly 6-foot-8 and 337 pounds, Neal is among the roughly .005% of the humans on Earth even larger than the Seahawks legend, but it is the ease with which he moves that is even more reminiscent of "Big Walt" than his girth. Jones, for perspective sake, measured in at just under 6-foot-5 and at 301 pounds at the 1997 NFL Combine before Seattle made him the sixth overall selection.
A seven-time All-Pro and member of the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team, Jones was both dominant and durable.
Neal has a long, long way to go to justify this projection, but the freakish traits are undeniable.
And like Jones, Neal is not "just" remarkably gifted. He's also proven reliable, starting as a true freshman at mighty Alabama and excelling at three different positions for the Crimson Tide, moving each offseason to fill holes left by ex-teammates graduating on to the NFL.
As good as Neal is already, the 15 starts last season at left tackle were his first at the position, so some growing pains should be expected in the NFL. Neal is already a physically dominant player just growing into his frame. In a few years, I expect him to be a perennial All-Pro candidate.
Quarterback Dave Krieg = Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
Seahawks fans hoping to find a Wilson clone in the 2022 NFL draft might be better served thinking back further in team history, with Pittsburgh's late-blooming Kenny Pickett reminding me of Krieg, Seattle's quarterback throughout my youth.
For fans too young to remember, Krieg made the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent out of Milton College, which hasn't fielded a football team since 1982. He almost literally came out of nowhere to become the most productive quarterback in Seahawks franchise history when he left in 1991, after a full dozen years with the team. Krieg would go on to play seven more years in the NFL, retiring in 1998 at the age of 40 with more yards (38,147) and passing touchdowns (261) than some of the guys in Canton.
Smart and accurate, Krieg was a three-time Pro Bowler with his career-high 32 passing touchdowns in 1984 second in all of the NFL behind only some guy named Marino.
Ironically, Pickett passed Marino as Pitt's all-time leading passer earlier this year, which, in itself, came out of nowhere. Pickett threw just 13 touchdowns in each of his two previous seasons prior to exploding for 42 in 2021, earning him the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as the nation's top senior quarterback as well as ACC Player of the Year accolades.
While perhaps not as explosive as some of the run-first quarterbacks in the league, Krieg and Pickett are each gamers, showing the competitiveness and creativity to make something out of nothing.
In fact, it wasn't always the pretty passes that I remember most with Krieg. It was the zany improvisational ability he showed.
And no one ever questioned Krieg's grit. I will never forget watching this gutty game-winner to beat the late, great Derrick Thomas and the Chiefs in Arrowhead.
Pickett has improvisational ability and underrated athleticism, as well, and plays with a similar chip on his shoulder.
If there is a slight red flag about how similarly Krieg and Pickett match up it that they both possess relatively small hands for the position with fumbles being an issue for both quarterbacks throughout their respective careers.
Krieg led the Seahawks to a 70-49 record over his starting career in Seattle. Pickett is the most pro-ready quarterback in this class and projects as a similarly dependable field general, and one who might be able to challenge for playing time as a rookie.
Wide Receiver Tyler Lockett = Jahan Dotson, Penn State
The original inspiration behind this article, the 5-foot-11, 178 pound Dotson is such an on-field clone of Lockett (5-10, 182) the duo could swap IDs. Like Lockett, Dotson is simply blessed with terrific straight-line speed, change of direction and balance. Just as Lockett did out of Kansas State, Dotson is also entering the NFL as a very accomplished route-runner, truly appreciating the nuance of altering one's gait and setting up defenders with explosive cuts to create easy throwing lanes and gain the trust of the quarterback.
I mean, when you run routes like Lockett, easy touchdowns are there to be had.
Dotson scored 25 touchdowns over his career at Penn State and he was just as capable at getting open in space.
It is easy to focus on the sharp cuts with slight speedsters like Lockett and Dotson, but it isn't "just" the quickness which makes them so undefendable, however. Watch how sneaky Lockett is in getting downfield here, for example.
Former Seahawks scout (and current Senior Bowl executive) Jim Nagy noticed the same savvy route-running and explosiveness with Dotson.
And, of course, longtime Seahawks fans know that Lockett's best asset – along with his athleticism, durability and commitment to the team – may very well be his sticky fingers. Drops simply don't happen when the ball hits Lockett's hands.
Soft, reliable hands are one of Dotson's trademarks, as well.
Cornerback Richard Sherman = Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, Cincinnati
With all due respect to the large list of stars on both sides of the ball who have starred in Seattle during the Carroll-Schneider regime, perhaps no one has earned more player comparisons over the years than Sherman, whose long arms, sticky coverage, receiver-like ball skills and reliable open-field tackling made him a prototype for others to aspire.
For about a decade, it seemed that every brash, long-armed cover corner that entered the draft would be compared to Sherman by at least a couple of the top draft analysts with it similarly becoming standard for mock drafters to ignore any defensive backs for the Seahawks who failed to measure in with at least 32" long arms.
Perhaps the trait that made Sherman the most unique among his fellow pass defenders was his unbelievable ball skills. Few before or since at his position was such a weapon as an interceptor, dating back to his days as a wide receiver at Stanford.
Of course, for many Seahawks fans, it was not an interception made by Sherman, but a deflection of a pass from Colin Kaepernick to secure the Seahawks' flight to the 2013 Super Bowl that serves as his most iconic moment.
It is appropriate to highlight Sherman's smothering of Michael Crabtree in the end zone when discussing "Sauce" Gardner, as the trash-talking 6-foot-3, 190 pounder (with 33.5" arms) never allowed a single touchdown reception over his college career.
Like Sherman, Gardner possesses uncanny fluidity for such a tall cornerback, corralling receivers off the line and pestering them throughout the route. His height and body control allow Gardner to remain in the hip pocket of receivers, barely giving ball-catchers any daylight for their quarterbacks to operate.
It would be a significant departure from past practice for the Seahawks to select a cornerback early in the 2022 NFL draft. After all, since Schneider and Carroll joined forces, the earliest the team has drafted a cornerback was 90th overall (Shaquill Griffin) back in 2017.
Gardner is such a clean fit in Seattle's scheme, however, that the club may need to consider at No. 9 overall, especially after he checked the final boxes with elite straight-line speed and agility at the Combine.
Off-ball Linebacker Bobby Wagner = Channing Tindall, Georgia
It is perhaps appropriate that Tindall and his Georgia teammates defeated Alabama to win the 2022 National Championship as it was Wagner's performance against another SEC powerhouse, Auburn, back in 2011 that served notice to scouts across the country that he was a star in the making. Wagner, then wearing No. 9 for Utah State, was the most disruptive player on the field in the 2011 season-opener for both teams, racking up 10 tackles, including two for loss and a sack to nearly power the Aggies to a stunning road upset with the Tigers ultimately prevailing 42-38.
Auburn's former four and five-star recruits were stunned with Wagner's instincts and closing speed and the future Hall of Famer brought that range and reliable open-field tackling ability to Seattle, where he was named an All-Pro six times and twice led the entire league in tackles.
Throughout much of his career, Wagner's speed to the flanks made it virtually impossible for rivals to beat the Seahawks to the outside.
And he wasn't just fast, Wagner offered the prototypical frame for a middle linebacker with a compact, well-muscled frame and he delivered crushing hits to opponents – ball-carriers and would-be blockers, alike.
Wagner was such a foundational piece for the Seahawks, in fact, that it might appear the club will have difficulty in replacing him. Normally, it would, as linebackers with his frame and proven 4.4 speed don't come around very often.
This year's draft class is loaded with talented off-ball linebackers, however, with Tindall offering an almost uncanny resemblance to Wagner in terms of raw sheer explosiveness. The 6-foot-2, 230 pound Tindall blew scouts away at the Combine, clocking in with a 4.47 second time in the 40-yard dash and leading all participants this year with a staggering 42" vertical jump.
Given his time with the Seahawks and the fact that he scouted both Wagner and Tindall in Mobile, the Senior Bowl's Nagy knows better than most how well their speed translates to the NFL.
There just is no substituting this kind of athleticism, especially given the creativity and skill position talent in the NFC West.
But make no doubt about it, linebacker will always be a position that demands physicality and in this regard, Tindall also looks like a younger version of Wagner, taking on and shedding would-be blockers with ease and delivering consistent knockdown stops at or behind the line of scrimmage.