Seahawks Championship Defense Built Mainly With Mid To Late Round Draft Picks

The Seattle Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos 43-8 Sunday evening in Super Bowl XLVIII and they did so with stellar play by their defense that included forcing four turnovers and pressuring quarterback Peyton Manning in the pocket most of the game. You might be surprised to know, however, that only two of the Seahawks defensive starters on Sunday were drafted in the first two rounds.

Safety Earl Thomas was drafted in the first round of the 2010 draft and inside linebacker Bobby Wagner was drafted in the second-round of the 2012 draft. Wagner led the Seahawks in total tackles in the Super Bowl, while Thomas chipped in seven total tackles and a pass defensed.

Outside of Thomas, the rest of the Seahawks secondary is comprised of players drafted in the fourth round or later and that includes cornerback Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, both of whom are former fifth-round draft picks.

The Seahawks defensive line that hounded Manning for most of the game really includes some surprises. Linebacker/defensive end Bruce Irvin, who didn’t start on Sunday, is of course a former first-round draft pick, but the rest of the rotation, as you can see in the table below, were drafted in the third round or later with Chris Clemons, Michael Bennett and Tony McDaniel all being former undrafted free agents.

The Seahawks scouts, front office and coaching staff really deserves a lot of credit for putting this championship defense together as seven of the 11 defensive players that started the Super Bowl were drafted by them. In addition, of the 22 defensive players that the Seahawks dressed on Sunday, 15 were either drafted by them or originally signed following drafts as undrafted free agents. Even linebacker Malcolm Smith, who was the MVP of the game, was drafted by the Seahawks in the seventh round in 2011.

As a means of comparison, the Steelers starting eleven on defense to close out the 2013 season included five players that were drafted by them in either the first or second round. Ziggy Hood wasn’t a starter to close out the season, but when you consider how much he played, you might as well bump that number up to six. Had LaMarr Woodley stayed healthy, he would increase that number to seven.

How The Seahawks Super Bowl Game-Winning Defense Was Built

 LB Bruce Irvin1st2012Seahawks
 DB Earl Thomas1st2010Seahawks
 LB Bobby Wagner2nd2012Seahawks
 DL Cliff Avril3rd2008Redskins
 DL Brandon Mebane3rd2007Seahawks
 DL Red Bryant4th2008Seahawks
 DL O’Brien Schofield4th2010Cardinals
 LB K.J. Wright4th2011Seahawks
 DB Walter Thurmond4th2010Seahawks
 DB Kam Chancellor5th2010Seahawks
 DB Richard Sherman5th2011Seahawks
 DB Byron Maxwell6th2011Seahawks
 DB Jeremy Lane6th2012Seahawks
 DL Clinton McDonald7th2009Bengals
 LB Malcolm Smith7th2011Seahawks
 DL Michael BennettUDFA2009Seahawks
 DL Chris ClemonsUDFA2003Redskins
 DL Tony McDanielUDFA2006Jaguars
 LB Michael MorganUDFA2011Seahawks
 LB Heath FarwellUDFA2005Vikings
 DB Chris MaragosUDFA201049ers
 DB DeShawn SheadUDFA2012Seahawks

  • Rob H

    Aaron Smith, Keisel, Harrison, Foote,Taylor, etc. We did the same thing building our great defenses, the combination of a couple of mediocre at best drafts, combined with letting some homegrown talent get away (Lewis) really killed us. So far, last years draft looks pretty good, hopefully Jones, Thomas, and Williams will take a step up next year. If we’re able to follow that up with a good haul in this draft we can right the ship again fairly quickly. Since I don’t think our front office and scouts all of a sudden forgot what they’re doing, I’m pretty confident that they will get things turned around.
    I would like to see a few adjustments made by LeBeau over the off-season to make it at least a little less difficult for rookies to contribute early on. We don’t have the veteran talent to allow them the luxury of taking a couple of years to learn it anymore. A little less of the cushion between the DB’s and receivers would be nice as well, but I won’t hold my breath on that.

  • mem359

    Now that the defense has a lot of the credit for the SB win, it will be interesting to see how Seattle handles the second contract for these players. If they want to keep the group intact, those could be some big contracts, and the start of cap woes. If the front office continues to identify promising young players, then they might reload instead.


    they extended Chancellor in the off season. Sherman and Thomas are going into their final years of their rookie contracts. It will be interesting to see what they do in the off season.

  • 243546

    When a team can consistently identify quality mid-round talent, and knows how to coach those players up, they don’t have to worry about spending a lot of money to keep a team together. They just reload.

  • steeltown

    Sherman and Chancellor are beasts

  • RW

    I think that says a lot about how we might approach this draft… perhaps going offense in the first couple of rounds might not be a terrible approach. It is true that there are some incredible ILBs drafted in the first, but it seems like there are plenty more that one could name that were drafted well after or picked up as UDFA (Burfict comes to mind immediately as one of those guys). It wouldn’t surprise me to see us go TE, WR in the first two rounds, and then grab the tall CBs/Safeties that every team covets in the 3rd/4th rounds. This year’s Burfict, btw, looks like Max Bullough. I wouldn’t mind taking him anywhere in the 5-7 range – he’s a heck of a LB. Anyway, this is just food for thought, because other teams might start looking at DBs differently and start taking chances on them earlier. In that case we might miss out, but I think with Lake and LeBeau running the scouting dept, we should be able to identify some great athletes that can be moulded (much like Sherman) in the later rounds.

  • Rick M

    When someone does something over and over (i.e. identifying good draft choices in later rounds), you know they have a formula that works.

    This will sound awfully simplistic, but if I was in a football GM or head scout I would go back on all these young talents found in later rounds and watch game tape to see what I and other teams missed, if anything. You can’t over-react to Seattle’s good drafting, but clearly they are hitting on a number of good players bypassed by the other teams. What are they seeing, and what college flaws are they discounting when they chose these guys? If there is a commonality, introduce it in our drafting.

    That’s probably a way too simplistic, but I’d expend the effort regardless.

  • Steve

    We had 3 rookies contribute on Defense last year. These guys are right out of College, it takes time for all players time to adjust. Drafting OT in the 1st two rounds that can’t pass block is costly. Playmakers are rare and needed with speed on our team. LeBeau is not the problem, shitty play is.

  • Rob H

    Never said LeBeau was the problem, his resume speaks for itself, and I definitely never mentioned his age (which is irrelevant). That being said, every good coach has to make adjustments to fit changes in personnel from time time, he didn’t have to worry about that for years because our defense was loaded and he could let the young guys spend a year or two learning all the complex schemes, that luxury no longer exists. As Art II said last year, they have to find a way to get the younger guys on the field faster. Next season your going to have even more young guys coming to join the three you and I both mentioned, as the transition from a veteran to a young defense continues. It’s simply common sense to want to make that transition easier.

  • cencalsteeler

    A few observations. Both teams did not stretch the field much, a lot of high percentage short passes. Seattles front collapsed the pocket, disrupting Mannings timing and got their mitts up a few times to bat/tip some balls. With so many high percentage throws, Seattle’s lbs. seem to be that hybrid type, who cover those short passing lanes well. (They also read the dump passes and screen plays very well, too). Seattle’s defensive backs swarm the ball and wrap up and tackle. Big difference I notice, Seattle doesn’t give breathing room. The Steelers secondary gives too much cushion. If a receiver catches a ball, there is enough time for the receiver to adjust, make a juke, and run for extra yards. Seattle’s secondary does not give them that opportunity. When comparing the Seahawks and the Steelers, the front is getting there. The linebackers are comparable and not far away, but the secondary is by far the unit that needs the most attention, IMO.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    Thats the problem with draftboards that have certain players going too early but i feel if thats the position you need get the the player you want then because with movements teams do during each round and pretty much based on our late round picks in our playoff era that player is highly unlikly to be around so get who you want when you want should always be the motto best player availabe should be plan b

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    Im thinking get wilson some more weapons early and reload the def in later rds for depth which is exactly what we should do but reversed

  • John Hinton

    Good post…what I love about Seattle’s style of play is how their DBs give NO cushion. It drives me insane watching the cushion that the Steelers give each week.

  • CrazyTerry

    SBXL Steelers D was built with only two1st round picks (OK 3, if you include the free agent Farrior). The rest were 3rd round or below, if my memory serves me right. The problem is the way Lebeau builds his defenses, unless you have a sure thing like Hampton who keeps it simple, do we really get value on D by drafting so high. And has lebeau done enough to adjust to the bradys and mannings? He adjusted very well to Manning in the 05 playoffs, but even then that D did not do what Seattle did yesterday.

    We need more pressure up the middle. More interior guys who can bat down or deflect passes. Heyward and Keisel can do that . But the others, not so much.

  • John A Stewart

    Low draft picks Super Bowl Champs = Good Coaching

  • dkoy85

    I think they could trade back and accumulate a 2nd or 3rd round pick, pick up a top TE then get a top cb or wr in the second and do the opposite in the 3rd since cb and wr are deep. If the players turn out to be starters then that to me is the most successful draft we had in a while.

  • Steve

    You can never see on stats a player heart. Was watching a football show Sunday morning, it was talking about Tom Bradys line in the draft. Didn’t say anything good about Tom. Whoever wrote that bio up needs fired.

  • Jollyrob68

    Both were awesome at Th Sr bowl practices and Were there in the 4th for the Steelers to draft but they didn’t.
    I really want a new DC

  • Douglas Andrews

    Those guys are pretty good but it also shows what a good pass rush can do for the secondary as well. Those guys pushed the pocket pretty well as we saw P Manning make some rushed throws. Couldn’t help but think if we could have generated more of a pass rush what our D would have looked like. Bet our secondary would have looked a lot better also

  • Steve

    Biggest problem is how long the season is and how much quicker the game is. Quickness cannot be taught but it can be worked on. Williams had one of the toughest spots on the field and IME did well. People on this site have asked for LeBeau to retire, I am not pointing it to you. Some older people’s minds are much sharper than people 20 years younger, because they take care of themselves. Carroll looks like a person in his 40’s the way he runs around and this is what I was referring to.

  • Douglas Andrews

    Seattle can generate a good pass rush something we lacked. Hard to put our DB’s out on an island if we know that no one is probably even gonna pressure the QB. I too am yelling at the TV when I see those 10 yard cushions especially on 3rd and 5. It’s like saying were gonna give you another set of downs to beat us.

  • Douglas Andrews

    It’s easy to figure out a D if we don’t generate a pass rush. Our Defense is always going to look mediocre if we don’t get pressure on the other teams QB period. Most of that falls on the LBing core not Lebeau.


    A lot of them are PAC 10 guys.

  • Dan

    To me when a DB gives a big cushion, that’s essentially saying I’m not as quick as this receiver so I need time to adjust when he makes a cut. I’d rather let him catch the ball and tackle him later than defend the pass. Solution: Better, faster DBs.

  • Dan

    I kept thinking early in the game that Peyton looked like he was playing scared. It looked like he was getting rid of the ball earlier than he really needed to. On the other hand when he held on to the ball for an extra beat, the guy hit his arm when he was throwing resulting in an INT. Interesting to hear the DBs later say the receivers were playing tentative, not blocking. It was clear that only one team last night had fire in their hearts.

  • cencalsteeler

    Ahhhhhh. The last sentence is something I’ve been barking at this last season. One of the missing elements in the Steelers locker room. I used to love the intimidating factor the Steelers used to impose on their opponents. Nothing pisses me off more now than seeing an opposing team having fun on the sidelines, joking around, and being care free. That tells me we are too soft and the intimidation factor is no longer there.


    I think CT is on point about LeBeau…imo the Steelers have been very successful, making it hard to knock it, but we had a long run with great players perfectly suited for their jobs in the DEF system starting with Hampton and working out.

    As the talent has changed…not only are the players not as talented, but they are not all perfect fits for his system…we’ve seen him make subtle changes (less blitzing, more bend/not break style) to keep the DEF competitive through the transition, and that shows the guy can still coach, but his base 3-4 DEF is going to be pretty avg. until they can get pressure on the QB again. Freeing up the DEs to be more pass rushers I think helped Heyward become more productive…Woodley imo now is probably a better 4-3 DE now than a OLB in this scheme.

    Where they’re drafted matters, but I think a more player friendly system I think will help get younger players up to speed much quicker.


    SEA has done a great job drafting on DEF…those guys have grown up in the system, playing fast because the scheme is not complicated…they fly to the ball…but the fact is, they have a lot of expensive cap hit players on DEF and a few on OFC because their QB is playing on a 3rd round rookie contract.

    They have a 2 year window…instead a $800k cap hit…then Wilson ’16 starts getting paid like a real starting QB with a $7 or $8mil per season cap hit…if SEA is lucky.

    If they are to sustain this level of play, they will have to keep the pipeline going because they won’t be able to pay Clemons, and Sherman, and Wilson, and Tate, and…

    It does make you wonder, is having a franchise QB worth it?

  • dgh57

    We drafted V. Williams ans S. Thomas who aren’t scared to lay the wood to someone. At least on paper we’re headed in the right direction. Maybe we’ll get lucky and land a player like a Calvin Pryor which would make for a awesome secondary at the Safety position!

  • Dan

    Indeed. It is a shame when our nastiest play of the year is our 3rd string center hiting a guy in the nuts during a fumble pile up. If only the ghosts of Lambert, Greene and Blount would show up and the league’s camera’s and refs wouldn’t.

  • dkoy85

    I agree but think were moving in the right direction with Williams and Shark and the most important player- Cam Heyward. I think his motor and physical play will be what is needed to lead the defense to be physical.

  • Douglas Andrews


  • Douglas Andrews

    Lebeau doesn’t get a pass. I believe he could make some changes to the blitz scheme especially when it looks as thought teams have picked up on it. I agree with you about the type of players being brought in. We need a lot more speed on Defense and a few more playmakers for sure.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Few things to factor in; Pete Carroll actually trusts his players, which boost the learning pain and confidence. The team didn’t had nowhere to go but better. Russell Wilson aren’t even close to his second contract, and they plays the system to unit’s strengths. Tomlins need to give players Timmons treatments, not counting Jarvis Jones because they started him over a relatively young Pass-Rushing OLB who was obviously better. This show a mismanagement within our defensive unit, so in a concept we know who’s at fault (lookingat you, Kevin Colbert and Dick Lebeau) overall, our defense can’t be any worse and… that’s a kind of a good news for developmental prospects. 2014 draft ought to be the biggest defensive draft we will see.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    What does Lebeau’s conditioning got to do with coaching? Lebeau has flaws and they showed. Starting Jarvis Jones over Jason Worilds? Misused Ziggy Hood? Didn’t start Cameron Heyward until very recently? No more nickel downs for Shamarko? No schematic adjustments? Lebeau most definitely are the HOF, among if not the best defensive coordinators in the league but yes… he is now our biggest coaching staff with obstacles that should be his time to go.

    Had Larry Foote not got IR’ed, Vince Williams wouldn’t have grown. If Cameron Heyward never started (this was ALMOST the case) we’d probably draft a Notre Dame to replace our D-lineman (thankfully unlikely) and among other bad decisions that Lebeau had made. I don’t want to see him to go but at same time this is Steelers’ franchise, not some high school level job where loyalty matters if you suck.

  • Steve

    Worlds never did well at the rolb position, it was not until he moved to the left, when Woodley got hurt that he came on. LeBeau wants to go out a winner as Bus did. He is a Great Football Teacher. Where did I say anything about LeBeau’s conditioning? Was talking about the difference in speed of the Game between College and Pro. How was Ziggy misused? Shark is a favorite of mine. Talk about workout warriors. He has a legacy of pushing around a car on campus at night when he couldn’t sleep. With both his parents deceased he is helping to raise his siblings, quite a man.

  • Richard Cetrone

    Your absolutely right. We seem to draft corners in later rounds lately and take time to develop them hoping to find that gem and when we finally do we let him get away. Very frustrating.

  • Josh Knepshield

    I agree with you more than the other guy, but Ziggy was misused a little. He is a 4-3 gap shooter and we use him as a 3-4 gap clogger.