After three days of watching draft picks play touch football in their skivvies, the question arose: Which of the rookies the Seattle Seahawks drafted will be the one to have the most immediate impact?
The answer requires premature speculation based on limited evidence and an ignorance of the many unforeseen variables that can affect the outcome over time.
So, you know, the kind of stuff we do here.
Last year at this time, coach Pete Carroll announced that rookie third-rounder Russell Wilson was being tossed into a three-man battle for the starting quarterback job. How many fans’ optic nerves were damaged by the massive eye-rolls that generated?
Turned out OK, right?
So, we should first note the players that Carroll mentioned as guys ready to be thrown into position competitions — receiver Chris Harper, tight end Luke Willson and cornerback Tharold Simon. Similar comments were made about the two drafted defensive tackles, Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams.
But a big part of making an impact this season is getting the best chance to see action. Running backs Christine Michael and Spencer Ware could earn spot duty, but Marshawn Lynch isn’t likely to be dethroned as the franchise back.
Willson will be the fastest of the tight ends, but veteran Zach Miller will remain the workhorse after his versatility and toughness were re-emphasized in the playoffs a season ago. Simon, too, has physical gifts but is in a fairly deep stack of cornerbacks and Hill looks like he can earn a place in the rotation of big guys in the middle of the defensive line.
But one guy has the best chance to get on the field and start scoring touchdowns in a hurry.
At 6-foot-1, 234 pounds, Harper is different than Seahawks receivers in the past. He’s a converted quarterback who started out at Oregon and transferred to Kansas State, so he’s still learning the position, which was probably why he was available in the fourth round of this year’s NFL draft.
But Harper has shown he can get separation from coverage with his strength, and he turns into a running back after the catch. He caught two deep touchdowns during rookie minicamp, one at full speed over the shoulder and another in which he had to dive to reach the ball to the end zone.
“He can really catch it … he’s a big, solid dude, like we thought,” Carroll said. “I don’t think there’s any ball that he’s out of; if he’s got his hands on it, he can catch it.”
And here’s the key phrase from Carroll: “He’ll be competing; he’ll be right in there. We will not hesitate to throw him in. There’s a case of a guy who, right away, early on, he’ll go right in with the first group.”
Harper will benefit from having five active receivers for most games, and the likely appeal of being a big, fast guy on special teams.
At least in terms of body-type, some have compared Harper to Anquan Boldin. Boldin has made three Pro Bowls and is respected for his toughness and durability. It’s fair to point out that Harper is 14 pounds heavier than Boldin, yet has much better sprint speed, clocking a 4.5 in the 40 compared to Boldin’s 4.7 at his combine.
Williams, the 326-pounder out of Alabama, is another who might be quick to find a spot, in this case the one vacated by departing free agent Alan Branch. Williams has a lot to learn about technique, but has big-time, upper-body strength and a versatility that led Carroll to suggest he might get looks at every place on the defensive line except the Leo rush-end.
Simon, meanwhile, is a fifth-rounder out of LSU with some sketchy off-field credentials, but Carroll was direct in saying: “By the time we get him to camp, I would think he could compete with our guys.”
You may recall that Simon was the player arrested on charges of public intimidation the week of the draft. Well, the weekend minicamp provided considerable evidence that Simon engages in a great deal of public intimidation of wide receivers while in press coverage. He’s big, physical and aggressive from snap until after the whistle.