RENTON — Nobody had a better NFL draft than Jake Locker.
Everybody had a better draft than Roger Goodell.
The Seahawks? Hmm . . .
The Huskies hometown hero rallied his market value in the postseason past all expectations, to the first rounds eighth pick, by Tennessee, where the incumbent is 38-year-old Kerry Collins.
Goodell, the NFL commissioner who was battered by a judge into lifting the lockout hours before the draft Thursday, was booed lustily and frequently by the crowd in New York’s Radio City Music Hall, adding further embarrassment to an already galling after-season of labor controversy that was pointless from the start.
And the Seahawks, thwarted in their desire to trade down from the No. 25 pick in the first round, went for the inevitably unsexy but necessary choice of offensive lineman, then took a guy who himself believed was second-round material.
“I didn’t think it would be this early,” James Carpenter told a roomful of reporters by phone at Seahawks headquarters Thursday night. Neither did most self-proclaimed draft experts.
Naturally, coach Pete Carroll was effusive over the pick (and yes, Carroll is effusive over vegetables at dinner): “Quite frankly, our highest-rated guy came to us. He’s tough, nasty, aggressive . . . we want to change the culture to a tougher team.”
As to the question of whether Carpenter constitutes a reach, GM John Schneider said, “Fans should take reassurance that we’ve been busting our tails since May on covering this guy. He never changed.”
Carpenter is certainly big enough (6-4, 321 pounds), and pedigreed enough (all-SEC at Alabama) to start at right tackle, a job Carroll handed him in the presser after the first round ended. The mass speculation had him available in the second round.
Carpenter’s NFL stock rose at the Senior Bowl in January, where pro coaches had him work at left tackle, his primary college position, left guard and right tackle, the latter seemingly his likely place in a Seahawks line that in 2010 was so devastated by injuries that Schneider was pulling guys off the street to suit up.
Wrote NFL.com analyst Pat Kirwin from the Senior Bowl: “Expectations coming in were that of a fourth-round-type player, but his execution and athletic ability were better than anticipated. Guys like Carpenter need to put back-to-back days together to keep pushing their stock up.
“Carpenter has an athletic body and the feet to play on the left side. He also shows effort and results as a run blocker. One GM I was standing with called him ‘impressive’ with a smile on his face, which told me Carpenter’s moving up. Carpenter plays with enough effort to make it in the NFL.”
Don’t know whether that GM was Schneider. He did allow as to how the Seahawks were working the phones through the entire 10-minute allotment prior to the pick to trade down for more picks. He said there were two deals that went away, and another from which the Seahawks walked away.
Nothing wrong with that, but it does give pause to the longtime Seahawks fan who has grown weary over less-than-average first-round picks. Even though the regimes were different, Seahawks fans can’t help but recall other first-round disappointments such as defensive end Lawrence Jackson, cornerback Kelly Jennings, center Chris Spencer and D-lineman Marcus Tubbs.
After scoring well in the first round of the draft last season with left tackle Russell Okung (No. 6) and cornerback Earl Thomas (No. 14), the Carroll regime was unlikely to make a splash at 25, particularly after stating publicly that they were eager to trade down for more picks in the six rounds Friday and Saturday.
Local draft expert Rob Rang of Nfldraftscout.com had Carpenter going 31st to Pittsburgh, so at least one opinion wasn’t far from the Seahawks.
“(The pick) is not as exciting as a flashy wide receiver,” Carroll said. “But we need hard-nosed tough guys.”
Carroll used the word “tough” so many times referring to Carpenter that he was asked to explain it.
“Imposing his will,” he said. “There’s no better way to exemplify it than showing it up front.”
For a team that finished 31st in the 32-team NFL in total rushing yards (29th in yards per carry), it really didn’t matter that the Seahawks somehow won a division title. When the O-line wasn’t injured, it was soft, and when it wasn’t soft, it was confused. That, apparently, is not the case with Carpenter.
Told that one TV draft analyst described Carpenter as a “finesse left tackle,” the Seahawks’ new assistant head coach, Tom Cable, resisted a snarl. He did say, “I wouldn’t have drafted him if he were a finesse left tackle.”
For the Seahawks, who had fanciful thoughts of filling a hole at quarterback, the selection of Carpenter represents no flash and all gnash. But when a team can’t run the ball, it has to rely on the worst division in the history of pro football to advance the cause.
That isn’t happening again.
Locker will be the king of Tennessee, and good for him. Carpenter will be among the princes charged with getting a first down from third-and-2 on a rushing play, a rare and wondrous thing in Seattle.