Seahawks’ draft wild card is finding a TE to potentially replace Jimmy Graham

Seahawks' draft wild card is finding a TE to potentially replace Jimmy Graham

Seahawks’ draft wild card is finding a TE to potentially replace Jimmy Graham

The Seahawks could go in a number of different directions other than offensive line, cornerback or safety in the first round. There are several athletic edge defenders in this class who could draw their interest. And adding some interior pass-rush could be attractive too.

Really, the only positions that would surprise me in the first round are quarterback, running back and off-the-ball linebacker.

But the biggest wild card for the Seahawks in this draft could be tight end. They have just one tight end under contract past the 2017 season — last year’s third-round pick, Nick Vannett.

This is a loaded class of athletic tight ends, many of whom appear to have higher upsides than Vannett. That means the Seahawks could feel comfortable waiting, but it’s also possible that they spot a difference-maker in the first three rounds and pounce.

Remember, the Seahawks took a look at TE Jared Cook in free agency. Russell Wilson completed 73.7 percent of his passes (third), averaged 10.27 YPA (third) and posted a QBR of 88.7 (second) when the Seahawks went with two or more tight ends last season. Overall, 18.6 percent of Wilson’s dropbacks came out of two (or more) tight end sets. The Seahawks could be looking to bump that number up in 2017.

The Seahawks drafted Vannett last year because they liked his blocking, but he didn’t end up making an impact as a rookie. Graham is going into the final year of his deal, and the Seahawks have to consider a future in which he could be on another team in 2018.

Seattle has five picks in the first three rounds. It’d be no surprise to see the Seahawks use one of those on a pass-catching tight end.

The best stretch of Wilson’s career came in the second half of 2015, and yes, there’s reason to believe he can get back to that form in 2017.

Wilson battled through three different injuries last season and was playing behind a shaky offensive line. He’ll have a nice set of weapons in Doug Baldwin, Graham, Tyler Lockett and C.J. Prosise. The run game and protection should be better.

It’s impossible to predict injuries, but as long as Wilson can stay relatively healthy, he should have a big year.

As for Marshawn Lynch, he first has to be reinstated and agree to contract terms with the Oakland Raiders. If I were the Raiders, I wouldn’t give the Seahawks anything for Lynch. What’s Seattle going to do? Let him show up and pay him $9 million? That’s not happening.

But if the two sides do end up working out a trade, maybe the Seahawks net a conditional seventh-round pick. Or they could potentially swap picks in a late round. If John Schneider is able to get anything more than that, he may finally win NFL Executive of the Year.

One thing to keep in mind is that the Seahawks had three or more wide receivers on the field for about 68 percent of their snaps in 2016. Eleven personnel (one RB, one TE, three WRs) is the grouping they use the most.

Having said that, there’s absolutely an opportunity for Paul Richardson to earn more snaps in 2017. He was on the field about 32 percent of the time in 2016 and is entering his contract year. After Lockett went down late last season, Richardson saw more playing time. In the last four games (playoffs included), Richardson caught 15 balls for 213 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Lockett is expected to be ready for Week 1, but he’s coming off a serious leg injury. Jermaine Kearse will look to bounce back after an extremely inefficient season a year ago.

But the bottom line is this is Richardson’s best chance (and maybe his last) to make his mark on the Seahawks’ offense.