Note to Seahawks fans: If you're looking to be blown away on draft day, you'd best find a proxy team for which to cheer. High drama and fan fascination are of no interest to Seattle team president Tim Ruskell; this is not a man who enjoys thinking outside the box when acquiring new blood.
The box is full of conditions for admission to this team. If you want to be part of this particular adventure, you'd best be as NFL-ready as possible. Years of starting for a big school are important, and if you're coming out early, you'd best be truly special. Consistent production is absolutely required unless injury is a factor. Academic excellence is an indicator, but football intellect is key. Those fancy-schmancy things you did at the Combine are only relevant if they translate to the field. Perhaps most of all, your character and ability to lead and follow with aplomb are mandatory.
The Seahawks picked two players in the first two rounds who seem to have all the vitals. And according to Ruskell, they got the two they wanted. "That was the perfect scenario, to get Jackson and Carlson.," he said. A fairly common theme for personnel men when they take the podium following their draft picks, but Rob Rang, the Senior Draft Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, believes that the Seahawks absolutely had Jackson and Carlson targeted all the way.
Ruskell was very happy when he could trade down three spots with the Dallas Cowboys in the first round and still get the player he desired. By moving from 25 to 28, he also picked up the 30th pick in the fifth round (163rd overall) and the 28th pick in the seventh round (235th overall).
Jackson's versatility will allow the Seahawks to gain the same sort of edge that the Super Bowl champion New York Giants had with lineman Justin Tuck last season. Projected as an end pending Michael Strahan's retirement decision, Tuck moved inside following Strahan's return and became a living nightmare for quarterbacks who tried to move up in the pocket while Strahan and Osi Umenyiora were attacking them right and left.
"Of all the defensive ends in this draft, Jackson is probably the best at that," Rang said, when asked about the overall skillset of Seattle's newest defender. "He was used at defensive tackle at times at USC, he was used as a left end, at right end -- he was even used a little bit out in space in coverage." And Ruskell said in his press conference that the plan is to occasionally migrate Jackson over guard in pass-rushing situations.
Despite the fact that Jackson started 51 of a possible 52 games for what amounts to the NFL's 33rd team, he was the lost man in this year's late first-round draft class. Many saw the possibility that the Seahawks would take an end because that was where the talent would fall, but most guessed that Clemson's Phillip Merling or Miami's Calais Campbell would be the pick. Rang's explanation of why Jackson was overlooked in many pre-draft analyses is actually a fairly good reason why he's now a Seahawk.
"Being a four-year starter at USC, it got to the point where people knew what he had. Some of the juniors, like Campbell or Merling, were viewed as players with a little more upside, fairly or not. For some teams, that upside is so tantalizing, they're going to rank them a little higher. Certainly that upside is tantalizing for fans, because you're looking for a player who’s going to be a future Pro Bowl prospect. At the same time, teams that feel like they're Super Bowl contenders want players who can keep the team at a premium level."
In his four-year career at USC, Jackson put up 181 tackles (108 solo), 52 tackles for loss (including 17 in 2007), and 30.5 sacks. The 6'4", 271-pound Jackson suffered a thigh bruise and groin pull in 2006 that limited his effectiveness, but he bookended that year with 10-sack seasons in 2005 and 2007.
While Jackson comes into a defensive end rotation already stacked to the gills with talented youngster Darryl Tapp and reigning NFL sack leader Patrick Kerney, Carlson will be asked to fill a glaring need right away. In the near-decade that Mike Holmgren has coached the Seahawks, the tight end position has been his white whale.
Holmgren kept banking on the promise of Jerramy Stevens and accepting the reasonable production of Itula Mili, but Mili eventually gave out and Stevens' predilection for antisocial behavior (now, THERE's an understatement) left the team dependent on the 35-year-old Marcus Pollard in 2007. As much as Pollard's dropped pass in the end zone in the playoff loss to the Packers resonated with Seahawks fans and made him this generation's Jackie Smith, the Seahawks basically got what they asked for. By trying to extract a miracle season from a player nearly out of gas, Holmgren was living on borrowed time.
Carlson matches Jackson's ability to do many things well, but none so spectacularly that he’ll jump off the film. He started 31 games for the Fighting Irish, totaling 100 catches for 1,093 yards and eight touchdowns. Still, Carlson is not all about numbers. He's the best of the true tight ends in that he's just as adept at blocking as he is at catching the tough pass over the middle.
"Carlson brings instant starting ability," Rang said. "Most other tight ends in this class, be it a Fred Davis, Dustin Keller or Martellus Bennett ... they may have a higher vertical jump or better pure speed, they don't come in with the ability to be an excellent route-runner. There isn't that experience in a complicated passing offense, where they're expected to make checks at the line of scrimmage -- whether they'll have to release and go into a route, or block at the line.
"These are things that the other tight ends could learn, but the Seahawks are hoping -- almost expecting -- that John Carlson will be able to step in and become the starting tight end."
The Seahawks have five picks in day two -- they traded up with the Baltimore Ravens from 55 to 38 in the second round to insure that they'd get Carlson, and they had to give up their third-round pick to do it. With a fourth, a fifth, a sixth and two sevenths, Seattle will be focusing on depth in several different areas, They still need help at defensive tackle, and linebacker is a need. Secondary and quarterback picks would not be a surprise; nor would a running back at some point in time.
About the players they select
on Sunday, you'll know one thing -- they will fit the Seahawks' inviolable parameters
for new talent. Tim Ruskell will leave the surprises to someone else.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, and he writes NFL previews for the New York Sun. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.