The first pass rusher off the board in the 2012 NFL Draft went to the Seattle Seahawks. Only, I bet it wasn't the name you thought it would be. Quinton Coples? Nah. Melvin Ingram? Nope. Chandler Jones? Negative. How about some Bruce Irvin? Yes, please. The Seahawks have been known to surprise on draft day and they certainly did not fail to shock with the unexpected selection of West Virginia pass rushing specialist, Bruce Irvin. If it makes you feel any better, because he was the first of his group to go off the board this year, it's clear that Pete Carroll and John Schneider had West Virginia's Bruce Irvin as their highest-rated pass rusher, and they got their man.
At West Virginia, Bruce Irvin became known as a guy with freakish athletic ability. At 6'3" and 245 lbs., he has the versatility to play in either a 2-point or 3-point stance off the edge. He is incredibly elusive. His game is not overpowering, but his speed is astonishing. Irvin is regarded as the fastest pass rusher in the draft and his combine numbers prove it. Irvin clocked an official 4.50 second forty-yard dash (he reportedly has run in the low 4.4's before), a 6.70 second three-cone-drill, and had a 33.5" inch vertical jump. All of those tests were the fastest or the highest among other pass rushers and defensive ends.
It speaks volumes to me, that when the Seahawks had the pick of the litter, they still chose Bruce Irvin- even when they could have selected any other defensive end or pass rusher in the entire draft.
To be effective, Irvin has to play in space. He either has to create that space by himself, or he needs to rely on others to make that space for him. Thankfully, the Seahawks defensive line is loaded with size and strength thanks to Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane, Jason Jones, Alan Branch, and Chris Clemons.
Irvin's kryptonite is the fact that once an offensive linemen engages with him and gets his hands on him, he is handicapped in close-quarters combat. Despite his lack of overpowering size, Irvin actually plays the run quite well. He has superb range and he does a solid job of keeping the run contained. With the Seahawks adept defensive line, they won't need to feature Irvin in run packages and can utilize his speed in creative pass rushing situations.
The Seahawks can play in an "under" front which would place the Sam (strong side) linebacker on the line of scrimmage. This would typically force the Hawks to play in a "quarters" defense. Or the Seahawks could play in an "over" front which is the more conventional 4-3 defense. This means the Hawks can go with their "hybrid" 4-3 defense (over/under principles) and utilize their personnel. The lines between the 4-3 and 3-4 defense are truly blurring. Pete Carroll pushes the limits with his personnel packages and Irvin should be adeptly utilized as a result. Irvin can play on the edge and he can run blitz or delay blitz up the middle. Considering his blazing speed, I wouldn't be surprised if the Seahawks even dropped Irvin back into coverage on occasion.
I have to be honest, when I heard NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announce that the Hawks selected Bruce Irvin from West Virginia, I was instantly filled with intrigue. I wasn't bummed out at all, it just piqued my interest.
I consider the Seahawks to be legitimate contenders to win the NFC West this year. Maybe I'm just a crazy diabolical fan, but last season down the stretch they showed that they were developing the composure and toughness that a championship caliber team must possess. The Seahawks defense lacked a serious threat to pressure the quarterback and Bruce Irvin addresses that need. Not only does Irvin address the need, but he also gives the Hawks an additional draft pick because of the trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Seahawks gave the Eagles their 12 pick in exchange for the Eagles' 15th pick. The Hawks also gained the Eagles' 4th and 6th round picks. Not only did the Hawks get their man, but they also gained two extra picks.
Bruce Irvin might not have been a "projected first round" pick. But he does have one irreplaceable skill that is elite. That is his ability to get to the quarterback. Irvin has absurd quickness. His "get-off" from the line of scrimmage is raved about by all draft analysts and he is considered to be the quickest pass rusher in the draft class.
Bruce Irvin is not your traditional defensive end. He is a true pass rush specialist. He brings an entrée to the table that the Seahawks have been starving for. Bruce Irvin will apply pressure to the quarterback and he can be a constant pain on opposing teams.
With Brandon Mebane, Alan Branch, and Red Bryant taking care of the line of scrimmage, Irvin should find himself with open lanes to get to the quarterback. I'm already starting to imagine seeing Bruce Irvin lined up just off of Red Bryant's hip in a 2-point stance and then seeing Bryant bull through the offensive line and then in a flash of thunder and lightning Bruce Irvin will rain down his fury on the opposing teams quarterback.
Much like the San Francisco 49ers' Justin Smith helped open up pass rush lanes for rookie sack artist Aldon Smith last year, Red Bryant and Bruce Irvin could become a terrifying tandem this year. With the massive 6'4", 323 lb. Red Bryant to play off of, Irvin should find himself some holes to burst through to get to the quarterback. Red Bryant can occupy the blocker and give Irvin room to utilize his speed to find a lane into the backfield. Also, Irvin can run stunts with other members of the defensive line to help identify and take advantage of various mismatches.
If the Seahawks want to win the division, they have to match, if not top, the San Francisco 49ers. Last year the 49ers, drafted Aldon Smith (#7 overall) and he immediately paid dividends for the Niners defense. I might be sipping the Pete Carroll Kool-Aid, but I think Bruce Irvin can be a guy that racks up double-digit sacks and delivers "X-factor" talent to the Seahawks pass rush.
I love the prodigious speed and upside of Bruce Irvin. Yet at the same time, I can't help but wonder why in the world the Hawks drafted Irvin with the 15th overall pick? Why not trade down once again and garner even more picks in the draft? Ultimately, the Seahawks claim that they got the guy they targeted, so I can't really complain. Pete Carroll and John Schneider said that they specifically targeted Irvin and even rated him as their highest pass rusher. At the end of the day, I trust the Seahawks coaching staff and front office.
In total, Pete Carroll and John Schneider have drafted 18 players for the Seattle Seahawks. Of those 18 players, 16 of them are still on the team. The Seahawks first round draft picks have not exactly been pure gold (outside Earl Thomas), but the front office undoubtedly has the ability to identify unique talent. The Seahawks have found Pro Bowl players in the fifth round like Kam Chancellor. They've scouted Canada and discovered Brandon Browner. They have drafted a starting linebacker in the fourth round in K.J. Wright. As an undrafted free agent, Doug Baldwin was scooped up and then he went on to lead the team in receptions and yards as a rookie.
Based on that track record, I have faith that the Bruce Irvin selection will pay monstrous dividends in the future. If Bruce Irvin did not have a special talent, then Seattle would not have selected him so highly. Bruce Irvin is a rare breed of athlete and his ability to wreak havoc in the backfield will hopefully leave the 12th Man chanting "BRUUUCE" for numerous seasons to come.
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