One of the rituals of the NFL post-season is fans of the non-participating teams measuring their guys against the participating teams, to judge whether next season might be THE season, or whether contention remains distant as the first light from The Big Bang — at the far edge of the universe.
For Seahawks fans Sunday, that pastime means nearly all the focus is on 49er-Rams, for obvious reasons. But the AFC game features a team in its fourth consecutive conference championship.
In an era when consistent excellence is hard to come by — more than a quarter of the NFL is changing head coaches — what the Kansas City Chiefs have done is remarkable.
It’s not just Patrick Mahomes.
This week the Pro Football Writers Association rolled out its annual awards. Its All-NFL first team had no one from Kansas City. The second team had two players.
What was impressive was the all-rookie team. The Chiefs, already rich in quality veterans, had three players selected — C Creed Humphrey, OG Trey Smith and LB Nick Bolton.
Humphrey was one of KC’s second-team selections, along with veteran DT Chris Jones. According to Pro Football Focus, Humphrey, the former Alabama star, was the top-rated NFL center in 2021, and fifth-best O-lineman overall.
Starting next to Humphrey in the KC line was Smith (6-5, 329), from Tennessee, whom PFF graded as the No. 11 overall guard, and top rookie among guards with at least 1,000 snaps.
Bolton, from Missouri, had a team-leading 112 tackles, and 11 tackles for loss, making him the ninth rookie since 1999 to record 110+ tackles and 10+ TFLs in a single season.
Three quality starters as rookies for the defending AFC champs.
The Seahawks, who had only three picks after having trading away draft capital to win big in ’21, were in position to get two of the three.
In the second round, the Seahawks selected WR Dee Eskridge with the 56th pick. The Chiefs took Bolton at 58, and Humphrey at 63.
In the sixth round, the Seahawks selected LT Stone Forsythe with the 208th pick. The Chiefs took Smith with the 226th pick.
As the season played out, the Seahawks had bad injury luck.
Eskridge had a severe concussion in the first game, and played minor roles in only 10 games, catching 10 balls in 20 targets for 64 yards, and four rushes for 59 yards. Their fourth-round pick, CB Tre Brown, turned into a minor revelation at midseason, but injuries limited him to just 225 snaps in five games, including three starts.
Forsythe, drafted as a project in the hope he would develop into the successor to incumbent LT Duane Brown, played all of 14 scrimmage snaps and 44 special-teams snaps.
By the always optimistic account of coach Pete Carroll, Brown is expected to return healthy and start at left corner. If the Seahawks can re-sign pending free agent D.J. Reed, the starting cornerback positions are settled, including the return of injured Marquise Blair at slot corner. Those developments would be large for the defense.
Carroll is also thrilled with the promise of Eskridge as the No. 3 reliever. But, he’s a third receiver. As for Forsythe, who knows? The coaches seem to like him, but what else would they say?
To grade the latest Seahawks draft, well, it’s an incomplete, but for 2021 alone, it’s an F. The Chiefs get an A.
What Seahawks fan, and quarterback, wouldn’t have preferred Humphrey over starter Kyle Fuller on that fateful October day at the Loo when Rams DT Aaron Donald charged toward Russell Wilson.
The Seahawks’ choice is Example Eleventy Billion of why the NFL draft is instantly impactful every year. The Chiefs started two rookies in the interior O-line and finished third in the regular season with 397 yards a game. In two post-season contests, they’re averaging 515 yards and 42 points a game.
Their success isn’t all about the spectacle of Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. The Chiefs drafted two difference-makers, players available to the Seahawks, that helped them to a fourth consecutive year at the pinnacle and a triumph in one of the most exhilarating playoff games in history.
Since 2012, the Seahawks drafts have been a franchise vulnerability. That’s widely understood; if you want to refresh your memory, here the complete list from Pro Football Reference. It took until a 7-10 season to expose the talent shortfall.
The Seahawks have had successes, several other teams have worse ledgers, and Seattle was 12-4 a year ago. Yet draft misses forced the Seahawks into mid-season trades for veterans that may have worked short-term. But the cost has come due. With only three picks last April, the Seahawks couldn’t afford to miss; but some bad luck led them to a near-whiff for 2021. The Chiefs, meanwhile, flourished.
Asked at his season-ending presser how he assessed the past five years of Seahawks drafts, Carroll was generous.
“There’s always guys in there that you like more than you thought you would, or that didn’t turn out as well as you thought they would,” he said. “I think we’ve done a really good job in general. We’ve been able to meet some needs when we had to, other times we were surprised like crazy by the output of guys.
“I like our creativity at draft time. I like our flexibility. We’ve always moved and created stuff for us that we thought would help us number-wise, or position-wise. We’re planning on staying the course on that as much as we can and being as active and competitive as possible.”
All of that may be true. Also true is the Seahawks have won one playoff game in five years. The Chiefs have won eight in four years, counting this season.
In the AFC Championship, keep an eye on the O-line, just for fun. Or, maybe you call it something else.