With each of their first three picks of the 2010 draft -- OT Russell Okung, FS Earl Thomas and WR Golden Tate -- thought likely to win starting jobs for the Seattle Seahawks, their rookie class could be one of the more critical first-year groups in all of the NFL.
I've attended several OTA and training camp practices at the team's facility since the draft, including today's morning practice.
Considering that he was the last 2010 rookie to sign his contract and the gargantuan shoes he has to fill in taking over for Walter Jones, former No. 6 overall pick Russell Okung is certain to earn plenty of attention this season. So far, Okung has been characterized as "solid, but not spectacular" by those close to the team. He lined up with the second-team unit on Friday, his first practice since signing his deal, but had been moved up to the first-team today.
The more impressive players, thus far, have been Seattle's "other" first round pick, free safety Earl Thomas and second round pick, wide receiver/returner Golden Tate.
Thomas' instincts, quick feet and ball-skills have been on display. Though veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has been able to take advantage of the rookie's aggression, at times, Thomas has more than held his own. An interception in the end-zone was one of the best plays I saw during the June OTAs and he's consistently been in good position to make plays in training camp, as well. Considering Seattle's questionable pass rush and the rookie target on his chest, Thomas could be challenged early and often. With Thomas' ball skills and solid play from cornerbacks Marcus Trufant, Kelly Jennings and Josh Wilson, the 2010 No. 14 overall pick could enjoy a rookie campaign similar to the stunning breakout campaign that Jairus Byrd had last year with the Buffalo Bills. Byrd tied for the NFL lead with nine interceptions last season despite missing a couple games due to a groin injury.
Tate has been characterized to me by Seahawks' staff as having "made at least one big play each day" so far. His strong, compact frame and vision has already made him one to watch for the quick passes that offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates likes and he's shown a burst as a returner, as well.
The impressive leaping ability that characterized many of Tate's best plays for Notre Dame last year was evident this morning when he jumped high to snatch a deep pass downfield thrown by J.P. Losman. Trufant, however, was in perfect position to knock the ball out of Tate's hands as the two came down. Though the pass ultimately was incomplete, Tate's athleticism gives the Seahawks the big-play threat they've lacked since the days of Joey Galloway.
It is always tough to gauge how well rookies will be able to acclimate to the NFL based on their performances in training camp. Still, for a team desperate for an infusion of talent at so many positions, Seattle's "big three" rookies should be among those making an immediate impact in 2010.