Having nine draft picks, including three of the first 41, is a great way to load an NFL roster, but the obvious caveat is that the team making those picks needs to get them right.
And while three games is far too small of a sample size to evaluate a draft class, the very early indication is that the Seahawks did well to set themselves up for the future with their 2022 picks.
The Seahawks opened the season with three rookies in every-down roles, with fifth-round pick Tariq Woolen starting at cornerback and with first-round pick Charles Cross and third-rounder Abraham Lucas starting at the two tackles spots. Fourth-round pick Coby Bryant has taken on the nickel corner role—essentially a starting job—the past two games, while second-round pick Boye Mafe has come on strong as his playing time has increased, leading Seahawks coach Pete Carroll to say that the outside linebacker needs to play more. With second-round pick Kenneth Walker III working his way back from a hernia that kept him out of the opener, he is still building his way up to more playing time, but has looked explosive on limited touches, including a field-reversing 21-yard run last week.
That's five rookies out of nine picks making big contributions early on, including three in full-time starting roles, and all of them have not just been playing, but are more than holding their own as they adjust to NFL competition.
"It's a fantastic class, it really is," Carroll said. "This is a great sign as we move forward. These guys are going to get better. They are going to get better in the next three to four weeks, they are going to make improvements in the next three to four weeks as they go. They put three weeks behind them and they got another one and another one and you just keep adding."
Yes, the Seahawks are 1-2 and have some issues to clean up on defense—as Carroll said, the Seahawks need to get going—but as they work their way through that, a reason to be really excited about Seattle's prospects moving forward is a rookie class that looks like it can be a foundational part of the team's future.
And when Carroll talks about the rookies and team having a bright future, he isn't talking about some distant future two or three years down the road, he means the immediate future as in this week's game against Lions and every game that follows.
"Heck yeah," Carroll answered if he was talking about making strides this season, not further down the road. "The next few weeks I think we can make strides. And these guys can't help but learn and grow and they're out there playing and all that as we all put it all together. If you like the Seahawks, how can you not be fired up of what Geno (Smith) has done? He has done a great job for us. That's just one of the factors, but it's a factor that was a question mark, and now you can see him. I'm really fired up about that."
Getting significant playing time out of any rookie is significant for an NFL team, but perhaps no player's quick development is more encouraging as that of Woolen, a fifth-round pick out of UTSA who began his college career as a wide receiver. Yes, finding a pair of starting tackles in one draft is a huge deal when it comes to building a roster, but Cross was a Top 10 pick, meaning he was expected to be a starter from Day 1, and while Lucas was a third-round pick, it became evident in camp and the preseason that he was NFL ready. But Woolen, who at 6-foot-4 ran a 4.26-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, was seen by most to be a more raw project who might someday develop into a starting-caliber player. Instead someday became Week 1, and Woolen has, despite a few of the expected rookie bumps in the road, looked every very much like a player who is ready for a starting role now, and whose upside is nearly limitless.
"I am, I got to be honest with you," Carroll said when asked if he was surprised by Woolen's rapid development. "I didn't know. I didn't know a ton of background about him, just the regular part of the draft and all, and a guy that we knew were interested in because of the measurables. He's been way beyond that. He's been way better than what we could have projected. It's really because his mentality is really solid. He's seemingly very comfortable with the opportunity and he's open for criticism, and open for critique and getting better. You can talk to him in the games and he's calm and poised and all. Really, he's off to a great start and to make a huge play last week and a huge play this week to get a pick, that's a pretty big deal in three weeks. Let's just go slow about it, we don't need to pat him on the back too much, he's doing fine and we'll get him going. I'm really fired up about his contribution.
"I think anytime you start a rookie corner, you make a big statement in there. However, he earned it. He just flat out earned it. He came out here and did well from day one, route after route after route. It really was his work against Marquise (Goodwin) that really elevated our opinion of him because he hung with him on a bunch of different routes in camp and we can see that he can handle the speed and was very consistent about it. And really with the young guys, you wonder if they are going to be consistent. You don't know because they haven't been out there, they haven't shown you, so you don't know what to go on. But he gave me, and I know Karl (Scott) and Clint (Hurtt), he gave us all enough confidence that he would have a shot at it. He's three weeks old so he's just getting going."
Similarly, these Seahawks feel like they're just getting going as a team three weeks into the season. It's hardly been perfect thus far, hence the 1-2 record, but with a quarterback who is exceeding most people's expectations and a rookie class full of playmakers, Carroll sees a bright future—and present—for his team.
"We have to maintain a vision down the road here, because we are going places," Carroll said. "And when we can function that clean on offense, and you can count on your QB to be that much on it and really doing a good job taking care of the football as well, it gives us really big expectations. So we've just got to get going. There's no time, but the future looks bright."
Go behind the scenes with team photographer Rod Mar as he shares moments from Week 3 vs. the Atlanta Falcons on September 25, 2022 at Lumen Field. Eye On The Hawks is presented by Western Washington Toyota Dealers.