Since Pete Carroll and John Schneider took control of the team in 2010, the Seahawks have assembled one of the best rosters in the NFL, thanks in large part to the work they have done in the draft.
Schneider and his scouting department have shown a knack for evaluating talent and finding value, while Carroll and his coaching staff have been able to develop that talent, repeatedly turning late-round picks into starters and even Pro Bowlers and All-Pros.
The Seahawks didn't build a championship-caliber roster through the draft alone—there were trades to acquire impact players like Marshawn Lynch and Chris Clemons, and shrewd free-agency additions of players like Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril—but so much of Seattle's nucleus is made up of players selected in the past six drafts. With that in mind, let's take a look at the best picks, by round, made by Schneider and Carroll's Seahawks.
First round: FS Earl Thomas, 2010, No. 14 overall, 2010
The Seahawks had already used one first-round pick in the 2010 draft when they were on the board again with 14th pick, which had been acquired in a trade with Denver the previous year. Having filled a glaring need at left tackle by taking Russell Okung, an eventual Pro Bowler, with the sixth pick, trading down might have made a lot of sense for the Seahawks. Schneider has made a habit of trading back in the draft to acquire more picks, and a young, rebuilding team might have been tempted to acquire more picks by moving back from No. 14, but in Earl Thomas, the Seahawks saw a player who was too special not to pick.
In Thomas, the Seahawks acquired a key piece to Carroll's defense, a rangy free safety who helps eliminate big plays by opposing offenses. Thomas has been named to the Pro Bowl five times, first-team All-Pro three times and second-team All Pro once.
Second round: LB Bobby Wagner, No. 47 overall, 2012
Identifying talent is only part of the puzzle when it comes to the draft. Teams don't just need to find players who they think can help their team, they also need to then get a good feel for where those players might be drafted. Schneider has developed a very good feel for that the draft over his years in NFL front offices, which paid off in a big way in the 2012 draft. It's no secret—now at least—that Schneider and the Seahawks really liked Russell Wilson heading into the 2012 draft. And considering how important of a position quarterback is in the NFL, it wouldn't have been unreasonable for the Seahawks, if they really liked Wilson, to take him in a third round, even though Schneider's intel told him Wilson would likely be a third-rounder. Why mess around when it comes to landing a quarterback, right? Well Schneider and company stuck to their draft board, and instead of taking Wilson a round earlier than they needed to, they waited, still got their man in the third round, and were able to draft Bobby Wagner in the second round, landing an eventual first-team All-Pro who has helped anchor a historically great defense.
"That savvy it takes to figure out where guys fit and what expectations you can build around a player for his availability and all of that, that's instinct, that's background, that's good upbringing and training, it's all of that stuff that allows you to make those kind of decisions," Carroll said of Schneider's ability to read the draft. "Because those are gut decisions, there's not formula for that. John and his guys, they're great at it. We really trust that those feelings through the process, this rigorous process they get through that they go through to get to draft day, really allows us to believe that we're going to make good choices. We go very boldly with the choices, as we always have in those situations, but there is a lot of it that just comes right from the gut, you've just got to feel it out. That's where the mix of the people—sometimes it's not the guy who says something, it's the guy who doesn't say something—it's all the wonderful processing it goes through that's really exciting to see our guys carry out so well."
Third round: QB Russell Wilson, No, 75 overall, 2012
Perhaps no draft pick in franchise history has worked out better than Seattle finding a Pro Bowl quarterback with the 75th pick of the draft 2012. The Seahawks had recently signed Matt Flynn, one of the top free agent quarterbacks on the market, and they also had Tarvaris Jackson, who had played well in 2011 despite a serious pectoral injury, so not many people were expecting Seattle to pick a quarterback in 2012 who might actually compete for the starting job. But when the third round got going, and with Wilson still available, the Seahawks were able to get a player who would eventually become one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, five picks after a punter was selected.
Almost as important as the decision to pick Wilson was Carroll's willingness to let a rookie contend for the starting job right after investing serious money in a free agent. It's one thing to preach competition; it's something else to actually let a three-man quarterback competition play out well into August. That's what Carroll did, however, and Wilson won the job and never looked back, eventually helping lead the Seahawks to a championship.
The third round was good to the Seahawks again last year, with Seattle trading up to No. 69 overall in order to pick Tyler Lockett. Lockett not only established himself as one of the league's premier return men, earning first-team All-Pro honors as a returner, he also became a big part of Seattle's offense, catching 51 passes for 664 yards and six touchdowns.
Fourth round: LB K.J. Wright, No. 99 overall, 2011
The 2011 draft is best known for the star-power at the top, with the first seven picks, and 12 of the first 16, all going on to eventually earn Pro Bowl honors. But for the Seahawks, 2011 was a draft with great value in the late rounds. Starting with Wright in the fourth round, the Seahawks drafted three players on the third day of the draft who would become eventual starters—Wright, Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell—and a fourth, Malcolm Smith, who started 16 games in four seasons, primarily as an injury replacement, and went on to earn Super Bowl MVP honors.
Wright, who led the Seahawks in tackles in 2014 and 2015, has become a force at the weakside linebacker position in Seattle's defense, which especially impressive considering it is the third linebacker position at which Wright started for the Seahawks. Wright was initially a strongside linebacker in Seattle's defense, but ended up playing middle linebacker to fill in for an injured David Hawthorne early in the 2011 season. After settling in at strongside linebacker while also being the backup middle linebacker for his first three seasons, Wright moved to weakside linebacker in 2014 when Bruce Irvin started playing linebacker, a move that has freed him up to become an even bigger playmaker in Seattle's defense.
Fifth round: CB Richard Sherman, No. 154 overall, 2011
The toughest call on this list comes in Round 5, which is where Seattle selected two of its best defensive players in consecutive years. In 2010, the Seahawks picked Kam Chancellor in the fifth round, and after a year of playing on special teams while serving as Lawyer Milloy's backup, Chancellor became a force in Seattle's secondary, helping set the tone with his physical play while earning Pro-Bowl honors four times and second-team All-Pro honors twice.
But arguably even better than getting Chancellor with the 133rd pick was landing Sherman with the 154th pick a year later. Sherman began his rookie season third on Seattle's depth chart behind Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond, but injuries eventually put Sherman in a starting role, and he never looked back, developing into one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Sherman, a three-time, first-team All-Pro, has 26 regular-season interceptions since 2011, the most in the NFL over that span. Last season, Sherman expanded his repertoire, spending more time than he has in previous seasons moving around the field to cover an opponent's best receiver.
Sixth round: CB Jeremy Lane, No, 172 overall, 2012 and CB Byron Maxwell, No. 173 overall, 2011
It's hard to pick between two six-round picks turned starting cornerbacks, so we'll call it a tie. Maxwell, who took over a starting role in 2014 after Brandon Browner left in free agency, enjoyed a productive 2014 season that landed him a big contract with Philadelphia. Lane might have stepped right into that vacancy last season if not for the serious knee and arm injuries suffered in Super Bowl XLIX, but instead he came back late last season to help solidify the secondary, splitting time between the nickel role and right cornerback with DeShawn Shead. Injuries have kept Lane from establishing himself as a regular starter, but the Seahawks still thought highly enough of him to make him a priority in free agency, and whether it's as a starter or in the nickel role, expect Lane to have a big role in 2016.
Seventh round: G J.R. Sweezy, No. 225 overall, 2012
The first of Tom Cable's defensive lineman converts was, so far at least, his most successful. Sweezy went from a raw project in 2012 to a highly sought-after free agent this offseason, which was good for Sweezy, but unfortunate for the Seahawks, who lost him to Tampa Bay.
Sweezy being the fourth 2012 player to make this list after Wagner, Wilson and Lane speaks to just how good of a draft class the Seahawks had that year. All 10 players drafted by Seattle that year are still in the NFL, with six of them—Irvin, Wagner, Wilson, Jaye Howard, Lane, and Sweezy, all earning big multi-year second contracts over the past two years. The Seahawks also added starting receiver Jermaine Kearse and Shead as undrafted free agents that same draft weekend.
Undrafted rookie free agent: WR Doug Baldwin, 2011
At one point late last season, 24 of the 53 players on Seattle's roster had come into the NFL as undrafted free agents. That list included Doug Baldwin, who was on his way to leading the NFL in touchdowns and other starters like Kearse, Shead, Michael Bennett, Thomas Rawls, Garry Gilliam and Patrick Lewis. So while most of the attention this weekend will be on Seattle's nine draft picks, don't sleep on the players the Seahawks sign after the draft ends.
Back in 2011, the Seahawks couldn't sign undrafted rookies immediately after the draft because of the lockout, but when the league and the NFLPA agreed on a new CBA in July, one of Carroll's biggest targets was Baldwin. With a little assist from Richard Sherman, Baldwin's Stanford teammate and 2011 draft pick, Carroll convinced Baldwin to sign, and he went on to become Seattle's most consistent receiving threat over the past five seasons.
With the 2017 NFL Combine underway, take a look back at some current Seahawks at their own NFL Combines.