Daily 49er

Make ‘em all count: Seahawks going for repeat

The Patriots’ and the Seahawks’ successes in the draft has them on the brink of a championship.

Oscar Terrones, Sports Editor

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“Building through the draft.”

It’s an old cliché most that newly hired General Managers use during their introductory press conference. It is a vague but satisfying explanation of how they expect to build the roster in the coming years. Some follow through, and others know it works as good lip service.

With only a few exceptions, no two teams are as committed or skilled at identifying undervalued talent through the NFL Draft as the New England Patriots or Seattle Seahawks. The abilities of both teams to develop limited players and turn them into stars is one of the biggest reasons these teams will face each other this Sunday at Super Bowl 49 in Phoenix.

Selecting a good player in the first round of the draft is not good enough anymore. There is no reward or praise for GM’s who draft a star player in the first round. With the best players available in the first round, it is expected of a team to pick someone who can make an impact immediately.

What separates the Patriots and Seahawks from other organizations is that they don’t need to rely on the first round to find star players and helpful contributors. A great example is Seattle’s vaunted defense, one of the best in football in the last few years.

Seattle has given up the fewest points per game the last two seasons. The 15.9 ppg they surrendered is more than seven points less (23.4 ppg) than the league this season. The Seahawks had the second best scoring differential in the NFL at 8.8 per game, meaning more often than not they were blowing teams out.

Seven of Seattle’s 11 starters on defense were drafted in the last five years alone, with only two of them being first round draft selections. Pro Bowl defensive backs Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman were drafted in consecutive years (2010 and 2011, respectively) out of the fifth round.

Pro Bowl linebacker Bobby Wagner was a second round pick in 2012, and staring cornerback and starting linebacker K.J. Wright were both selected in 2011. With this much talent, it’s no wonder Seattle is in position to win back-to-back titles.

The Patriots built their defense through a mix the draft, free agency and trades. While they have not received the same notoriety as Seattle, the Pats success in the draft has been integral in keeping them among the best organizations in football.

They have hit big on first round picks Vince Wilfork (2004), Devin McCourty (2010), Chandler Jones (2012) and Dont’a Hightower (2012). The later rounds have produced starting linebacker Jamie Collins (2013) and key back-up defensive backs Logan Ryan (2013) and Duron Harmon (2013).

The Patriots and Seahawks are mirror images of one another in many ways. Each of their starting quarterbacks were afterthoughts at the time they were drafted. They each have a head coach – Bill Belichick in New England and Pete Carroll in Seattle – who were fired from their first respective head coaching jobs.

Belichick was the coach of the Cleveland Browns from 1991 until 1995, when he was let go. Ironically, Carroll coached the Patriots from 1997-99 but was fired despite having a winning overall record. He took over the USC football program in 2001 and dominated the collegiate level for nine years before Seattle hired him 2010.

Now Carroll gets to face his former team with a roster constructed in much the same way that the Patriots have molded theirs.

The similar philosophies make this an interesting matchup. Both teams love running the ball with their power running backs — Marshawn Lynch for the Seahawks and LaGarrette Blount for the Pats. Neither team has great receivers, and the talented secondaries will prevent any explosive passing plays.

The Patriots will keep the game close in the first half. They won’t be able to contain Lynch, and quarterback Russell Wilson will make enough plays in the running and passing game to keep the Pats’ defense off balance. My prediction: Seattle wins 23-13.

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