The Seattle Seahawks entered the 2015 NFL Draft without a first-round draft choice after sending it to the New Orleans Saints in exchange for prolific tight end Jimmy Graham. Essentially a quiet observer on the first day of the draft, general manager John Schneider may have compensated for the inactivity by landing a pair of potential draft gems in Michigan defensive end Frank Clark (No. 63) and Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett (No. 69) in the late second round and early third round.
Both Clark and Lockett figure to provide a boost to a team seeking a third trip to the Super Bowl. Their rookie contracts should also provide some flexibility to go with their production, which was a similar refrain to the keen move to select quarterback Russell Wilson with the No. 75 pick three years ago and strengthen the roster due to his bargain contract.
Entering the final season of his rookie deal that will net the 26-year-old $1.7 million in 2015, Wilson’s contract gave Schneider plenty of space to extend defensive backs Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas lucrative long-term deals, as well as defensive end Michael Bennett. It could also be noted that Sherman and Chancellor, both late round picks, played under cheaper deals that allowed Seattle to develop into a monster defensive club.
The "Legion of Boom" defensive backfield may keep Seattle in the Super Bowl mix for several years to come. The running game may not have much of a drop off either with Marshawn Lynch landing a three-year, $31 million extension in March.
All the while, Wilson efficiently ran the offense with a 98.6 career passer rating, and 72 passing touchdowns compared to a mere 26 interceptions off 1,252 attempts. Wilson and the Seahawks are presently negotiating a contract extension, a laborious process that head coach Pete Carroll told ESPN after the draft was “going a little slow, but ongoing” and that Seattle was “waiting to hear from their [Wilson and his reps] side.”
Barring a shocking turn of events, Wilson is expected to stay in Seattle, and that’s where Clark and Lockett enter into the equation. Thanks to the NFL’s rookie salary cap, neither will make more than $700,000 next season and should only get a minor bump in their second seasons. That allows Seattle to use much of their projected $33.2 million in salary cap space for 2016 on Wilson.
But its not all about the dollars when it comes to Clark and Lockett.
Clark was kicked off the Wolverines squad in November after facing domestic violence charges, but the Seahawks have decided to take a chance on him and may have found a workhorse of a pass rusher who can compete immediately. In his final two years at Michigan, Clark racked up nine sacks and 25.5 tackles for a loss in a very competitive Big Ten conference.
Clark is expected to be slotted right behind Bennett, and his presence might be important next season. The Seahawks are looking to improve a pass rush that was No. 20 in the league with just 37 sacks last year. Carroll, who has seen some excellent young defensive ends from his days at USC, has raved about Clark's toughness and potential.
In addition to Graham controlling the slot and serving as a massive red zone target, Lockett could become the consistent playmaker Seattle fans were expecting out of Percy Harvin. The Seahawks were in need of another receiver, as well as a returner, and Lockett can fill both of those voids. Lockett has the speed to make Seahawks fans forget Golden Tate.
Though he slipped in the draft due to his size (5-foot-10 and 182 pounds), Lockett’s work in his last two years with the Wildcats shows why Seattle might have landed the steal of the draft. With the fifth-best 40-yard-dash time among receivers at the NFL Scouting Combine, Lockett showed the speed that allowed him to snag 101 receptions for 1,515 yards and 11 touchdowns in his senior year. Scouts also praised his route running and his competitive spirit. He also is a "high-character" player, and has been praised for his intelligence.
“We wanted a returner in this program so badly," said Carroll. "I am thrilled we got him. He is such a special return guy. He is going to be a terrific receiver, as well.”
The ground game has been a strong suit for Seattle, with Lynch contributing four straight years with at least 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns, and Wilson rushing for 11 scores and 849 yards last season alone. But the passing game needed an injection of energy, and Schneider appears to have found his guy. Lockett may fit perfectly with Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, and it wouldn't be surprising if he emerges as an unsung hero in the unit in 2015.