Seahawks shouldn’t count on next year’s QB class to save them just yet

As Drew Lock and Geno Smith battle to be the Seahawks’ quarterback in 2022, it’s hard not to think about 2023.

Maybe the Seahawks’ QB a year from now will be Lock or Smith.

Certainly, the Seahawks are holding out every hope that Lock, who is only 25 years old, can fulfill the expectations that greeted him as the 42n/a overall pick of the 2019 draft and show he could be the team’s long-term answer at quarterback in the post-Russell Wilson era.

But first he has to beat out Smith, who has been running the first team during the first two weeks of OTAs (organized team activities). Smith earned that status in large part because of his previous three years with the team, which has helped make him a popular presence in the locker room, his performance in three games last year as a backup (notably, a 5-to-1 touchdown -to-interception ratio) and a superior knowledge of the playbook.

Pete “Always Compete” Carroll undoubtedly sees value in making Lock earn the job on the field.

(Former UW and Lake Stevens star Jacob Eason, the only other QB on the roster, doesn’t appear a legitimate contender for the starting job.)

Smith turns 32 in October, and fair or not his status as a backup for the last seven years since he was a starter for the Jets in 2013-14 leaves the impression he’d be a temporary solution if he were to win the job, a scenario that would also mean Lock isn’t the long-term future.

Which would put the Seahawks back at square one at quarterback, unless the team does something else this season such as add Baker Mayfield. All signs indicate that would only happen if Mayfield is released by the Browns, with the Seahawks (and apparently every other team) uninterested in making a trade and picking up his $18.8 million guaranteed salary for 2022.

A report this week stated the Browns will not cut Mayfield, hoping (against hope?) to eventually find a trade partner to take on at least some of that salary.

The Wilson trade and the QB depth chart had many national pundits expecting the Seahawks to take a quarterback in the 2022 draft.

Despite having four of the first 72 picks and nine overall, they didn’t select a QB. That led some to conclude the team really does believe in the potential of Lock and wants to give him a fair shot.

There’s undoubtedly truth in that.

Maybe more to the point is that the 2022 QB class was considered as lackluster as any in recent memory, with only one taken in the first round — Kenny Pickett of Pitt to the Steelers at 20th overall, the first time only one QB went in the first round since 2013.

No worries, pointed many out.

With two picks in the first round in 2023 and two more picks in the second — its own and Denver’s via the Wilson trade in each round — the Seahawks have all the assets they need to move up as far as needed to get whichever QB they might want a year from now should QB still be a need.

That’s a class that on paper appears to be loaded at quarterback, led by 2021 Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young and Ohio State’s CJ Stroud, who was fourth in the voting.

To this, former Seahawk scout Jim Nagy, who is the executive director of the Senior Bowl, says not so fast, noting that many mock drafts this time a year ago had a handful of quarterbacks going in the first round, just as the ones do now for 2023.

While it’s easy to criticize mock drafts, they are a reflection of the general consensus of analysts and NFL personnel at the time.

“I think that’s kind of a lazy narrative that happens every year,” Nagy, a Seahawks scout from 2013-18, said recently in a phone interview of the idea that teams might have passed on QBs this year because next year’s class will be stronger . “It’s almost like the Alabama running-back narrative; that whoever the next Alabama running back is he’s going to be better than the last guy.

“If we rewind the calendar to a year ago, everyone was mocking Spencer Rattler as the No. 1 overall pick and Sam Howell as a top-five pick and Emory Jones as a top-10 pick.”

Jones, who Pro Football Focus had going sixth overall in a 2022 mock draft published in May 2021, had a middling season at Florida last year and recently transferred to Arizona State. Rattler lost his job at Oklahoma and transferred to South Carolina, while Howell didn’t put up the same numbers in 2021 as in 2020 and fell to the fifth round, passed over by the QB-needy Seahawks five times.

It’s also easy to find mock drafts from this time a year ago that have other QBs taken in the first round such as JT Daniels (a former USC Trojan who recently transferred for a second time from Georgia to West Virginia), Kedon Slovis (who, like Daniels, began his career at USC and recently transferred to Pitt) and Carson Strong (who despite a strong statistical year at Nevada went undrafted).

Pickett, the one QB who did go in the first round, was generally considered a mid-round pick at best a year ago, further illustrating how much things can change.

“It’s premature,” Nagy says of anointing next year’s QB class as full of potential franchise saviors. “We can sit here and talk about how good next year is going to be, but only time will tell with those guys.”

The Seahawks will undoubtedly be watching the top QB prospects of 2023 closely.

Here’s a look at 10 QBs who appear to be among the top prospects for the 2023 draft:

Bryce Young, Alabama

The 6-foot, 190-pound Young is rated No. 2 on ESPN draft maven Mel Kiper Jr.’s 2023 Big Board behind his teammate, linebacker Will Anderson. The Seahawks hope their season won’t be that bad to draft him there, but maybe they could get him with a trade up? Whether Young can be a success in the NFL at his height figures to be highly debated as the draft nears. “His size is absolutely going to get picked apart next year,” Nagy said.

CJ Stroud, Ohio State

Stroud is right with Young as the top QB prospect in the draft, and his size is not an issue — Stroud is 6-3, 218. What will be debated is the history of Ohio State QBs struggling to make the transition to the NFL. His stock might be helped if Justin Fields has a big second year with the Bears. Said Nagy: “CJ Stroud is going to get picked apart because he’s coming from Ohio State, and he’s going to face the whole Ohio State thing they all face of when was the last good one (in the NFL)?”

Tyler Van Dyke, Miami

Kiper has Van Dyke as his third QB on his Big Board following Young and Stroud. Van Dyke has the requisite size — 6-4, 224 — and a 25-6 TD-to-INT ratio last season in his first year as a starter.

Will Levis, Kentucky

The 6-3, 232-pound Levis, who played sparingly at Penn State in 2019 and 2020, was a revelation in his first year at Kentucky in 2021, leading the Wildcats to a 10-3 season while throwing for 24 TDs and rushing for nine more.

Anthony Richardson, Florida

Richardson has yet to start a game for the Gators and has thrown just 59 passes in two seasons. But he’s already getting first-round buzz — Kiper has him 13th on his Big Board — because of eye-popping tangibles (he’s listed at 6-4, 237), a rocket arm and an impressive performance in spring practice. Oh, and check out his 80-yard TD run last September against South Florida.

Cameron Ward, Washington State

Yep, WSU fans, a QB you have yet to see play is already getting talked about as a potential first-rounder next spring. The 6-2, 223-pound Ward comes to WSU after spending two years at FCS Incarnate Word, where he averaged 357.5 passing yards per game in 2021. A recent USA Draft Wire mock draft had Ward, who is a cousin of Seahawks safety Quandre Diggs, going fifth overall—to the Seahawks. College Football News recently ranked Ward fourth on its list of QB draft prospects for 2023. Wrote Luke Easterling of Draft Wire: “Ward could be a superstar for the Cougars this season, and a top-10 pick wouldn’t be far-fetched. ”

DJ Uiagalelei, Clemson

His performance last season — a 9-to-10 TD-to-INT ratio — during a disappointing season has raised some questions about his NFL future, and he has to prove some things this year. But there’s that rocket arm and that 6-4, 240-pound frame coupled with enough mobility to rush for 308 yards.

Tanner McKee, Stanford

Stanford went just 3-7 in McKee’s 10 starts last season in his first year as the starter, so this one is all about projection. But more than a few draft analysts think he could go high next year if he declares. Pro Football Focus recently rated him third on his list of top five QB prospects for 2023 behind Young and Stroud writing “in his first season as a starter last season, he showed a number of high-end NFL traits.” Those traits included leading the Pac-12 with a 65.4% completion percentage. And a recent mock from The Athletic had McKee going 25th overall—to the Seahawk.

Hendon Hooker, Tennessee

The 6-4, 218-pounder had Russell Wilson-like stats in his first season with the Vols after transferring from Virginia Tech with an astounding 31-3 TD-to-INT ratio and 616 yards rushing on 137 attempts. That Tennessee went just 7-6 last year is the only reason there isn’t more buzz.

Jake Haener, Fresno State

So the former Husky may not yet be considered as much of an NFL prospect as the others on this list. But he’s definitely on the radar. At 6-1, 195 there will always be questions about his size. His production isn’t an issue after he threw for 4,096 yards last season at Fresno State including a combined 753 against Oregon and UCLA in a close loss to the Ducks and a win over the Bruins. But he also no longer has his coach, Kalen DeBoer, who is at UW.

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