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April 29, 2014 at 10:46 AM

Counting down the Top 25 Seahawks draft picks of all time — No. 10 FS Earl Thomas

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WHEN DRAFTED: 2010, first round, 14th overall

COLLEGE: Texas.

SEAHAWKS CAREER: 2010-present

WHY HE’S ON THE LIST: Okay, so I finagled things a little to get Earl Thomas (above in a John Lok photo) on this list today. But I figured this would be a good day to review Seattle’s drafting of Thomas in 2010. Recall that the Seahawks had two first-round picks in 2010 — the No. 6, which was their own and which they used to take Russell Okung, the team desperately needing a new left tackle with the retirement of Walter Jones.

And then Seattle took Thomas with the No. 14 pick, which it got in one of the more remarkable moves in team history, a 2009 draft day trade with Denver in which the Seahawks dealt their 2009 second-rounder for the Broncos’ 2010 first-rounder. As explained well here, Denver wanted to move up to cornerback Alphonso Smith, who hasn’t played since being with Detroit in 2010.

Safety was an obvious need for the Seahawks, who had played in 2009 largely with the trio of Deon Grant, Jordan Babineaux and Lawyer Milloy.

Many figured Seattle would take USC’s Taylor Mays, who had played for Pete Carroll, who just a few months earlier had left the Trojans to come to Seattle. Mays was taken later in the second round by the Bengals 49ers, No. 49 overall.

Instead, Seattle opted for Thomas, one of the first signs that people who figured Carroll would favor USC players would be mistaken, and that the Seahawks would be a hard time to predict under Carroll and John Schneider.

I thought it would be interesting to recall what Carroll and Schneider said about Thomas on draft day.

In his overview of the draft that day, Carroll said:

“Then to get Earl (Thomas) where we got him – everybody in Texas raves about the competitiveness of this kid.  It’s exactly what we’re looking for.  And the playmaking ability, the pass defense that he brings, the excitement that he’ll bring with his great speed and ability is something that we needed desperately and fortunately John (Schneider) pulled it off and got it done for us.  So we’re really excited about it.”

Asked about the plan for Thomas, Carroll said: “We plan on him playing free safety for us.  We want to put him in a position where he can use his instincts and his range.  In our system, we move our safeties around a lot.  They both have responsibilities for playing up and back and all that but we’d like to feature him as a guy that will be around the football when it’s in the air as much as possible.  All the breakups he had last year, eight picks, breaking Jerry Gray’s all-time record at the University of Texas.   Jerry (then an assistant coach with the Seahawks) asked me to say that.  It’s really something we need and we plan to feature and there’s a lot of stuff he can do in coverage so we’re going to fit him in that way.”

Asked why the team wanted Thomas instead of Mays, Carroll said: “We care a lot about our guys and all that but we had made a declaration, we thought we saw something really unique in Earl and all that playmaking ability.  I think he had something like 24 pass breakups and eight picks or whatever the heck it was for the year – extraordinary numbers – and something that we needed desperately to add to our team.  He jumped out.  He’s unique in that he has the ability to play corner and he has played man to man on slots and he’s done a lot of other things.  He’s played some cornerback for them that showed a real credit to his ability level that we’ll be able to really feature in some unique ways.  We thought he was the best guy in the draft at doing that kind of stuff.  The other side of it is, yes, I love Taylor Mays and everything he stands for and all that.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.”

Then Carroll gave this lengthy scouting report of Thomas: “We couldn’t help but see his playmaking ability.  He’s got great speed.  He ran under 4.4 – 4.3 something on timing day at Texas and pulled up.  It shows up on the field.  There’s a tremendous burst.  He also is an all-around athlete and really well-equipped athlete.  He played baseball and basketball and all that.  You see those natural skills come out in his ball skills, in making plays on the football.  He can work his body to get in front of guys and make plays and knock the ball down and make his interceptions.  He’s also an excellent returner once he gets the ball in his hands on the interception returns, just make things happen in a special way.  He also played on the slot quite a bit in their nickel stuff and was very effective there and made a lot of stops there in critical situations, getting in front to knock the ball down and the kinds of things that really classy corners do.  So right from the beginning, John (Schneider) would tell you, he could play corner or safety, and because he has those skills, he could easily be a corner in our system.  But I think our need and the ability to free him up to cover a lot of ground is what we’re hoping to show as we put it together.  Earl needs to be out where he has a lot of space and is covering a lot of ground – deep middle stuff, half-field coverage stuff – and then we’ll be able to drop him down on wide receivers any time we want to, which gives us some other special qualities which we can do some things that you can complement because you can do that.  And there aren’t very many guys who really do that well.  He’ll be as good as anybody in the NFL in short order in being able to cover wide receivers as well as playing that free safety position.”

I’d forgotten that Thomas and Okung visited Seattle on the same trip. Carroll said: “Yeah.  John (Schneider) had this thing figured out a long time ago.  That’s why we were able to put out those hints and clues like we did.”

Schneider, asked if he was surprised how the draft unfolded, recounted how he thought Cleveland at No. 7 might take Thomas. The Browns instead opted for cornerback Joe Haden, who has been solid but not quite Earl Thomas. He also mentions thinking the Eagles would take Thomas at 13. The Eagles instead took DE/LB Brandon Graham out of Michigan, who has had a spotty and somewhat injury-plagued career.

Said Schneider: “First of all, I was surprised by the speed and there were a couple jumps – when Philadelphia moved, I thought Philadelphia was moving for Earl (Thomas).  I think throughout the league there was a general feeling that he was really a guy that people were targeting, anywhere from Cleveland to 12, 13, 14, 15, right in there.  Cleveland was seven.  I was surprised.  I thought that’s who they were trading up for.  They picked a very good football player.  There are always surprises going through.  It’s just based on the way you spend so much time consecrating your team and evaluating the board based on your needs, so there’s always little surprises all the way through but everybody sees things a little bit different.”

Asked if the team thought about trading down from 14, Schneider said yes, but that the team always wanted Thomas.

Said Schneider: “Yes there was temptation to move back.  Earl (Thomas) was identified early as a player that if he made it to us, we would not move back.  We wouldn’t unless somebody came with something incredibly strong.  Our cut-off was really at Earl.”

It’s been evident for a while now that Seattle really hit on that draft (also getting Golden Tate in the second round), one that was graded at the time as the best in the NFL by Mel Kiper, who gave it an A.

Today offers more proof as Thomas will officially sign his four-year, $40 million extension.

 

 

 

 

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