Call him the biggest reach in the draft, or call him one of the most astute picks made by the Seahawks, either way Bruce Irvin was the 15thpick in the first round of the 2012 draft and will be given every opportunity to prove worthy of the pick.

So what were John Schneider and Pete Carroll thinking when they decided the linebacker from West Virginia was their man?  When you look at the way the Seahawks operate as a whole, using the first rounder on Irvin actually makes sense.  After all, this is the same team that turned the mountain of a man Red Bryant, at nearly 330lbs is large by even DT standards, into a right-side collapsing defensive end; then manning the left side with a converted linebacker who seems completely undersized for the job in Chris Clemons.  Both players experienced a renaissance at their new positions; Bryant is considered the most important player on the DL, while Clemons has turned from being a marginal veteran into the Seahawks’ most effective pass rusher. 

Continuing with the same outside-the-box thinking, the Seahawks also have a thing for oversized DBs, turning perennial training camp cut victim Brandon Browner into a 6’4” beast of a cover corner, who made the Pro Bowl as an alternate in his first year of actually making an NFL roster after several tries.  So with those unorthodox moves that actually paid off, Schneider and Carroll have earned the benefit of the doubt, especially when it comes to defensive personnel.  So while Irvin doesn’t look like a great value pick up front, let’s take a closer look at what he’s all about and how he’ll fit in.

To understand Irvin better, you have to look back on his high school years and transition to college, and why there were worries by teams and pundits alike about Irvin’s character.  Irvin grew up in a rough neighborhood in Atlanta and like so many other youths, ended up running with the wrong groups of kids.  He dropped out of school in the 11thgrade, and that really could have been the end of the story, if not for Irvin’s tenacity.  He ended up studying for an earning his GED, then went off to junior college (Mt. San Antonio College) and became one of the most sought-after JC prospects in the nation as an outside linebacker.  That’s actually the first time Carroll had seen Irvin, as he tried to recruit him to USC; so Carroll has a better understanding of Irvin’s capabilities than the average coach.

Irvin ended up at West Virginia for his junior and senior seasons, first earning 2ndTeam All-Big East honors with 14 sacks in 2010, then 1stTeam All-Big East with 8.5 sacks in 2011 at the defensive end position.  He was considered one of the best pass rushers in the country, even though at 6’3” and 243lbs he was undersized even by college standards as a hand-down defensive end.  He had enough upper body strength to hold his own more often than not against the run, but he won’t be expected to do a whole lot of that in Seattle; in fact, I would be very surprised if Irvin was in the game on anything but 3rddowns and other obvious passing situations.  While most pundits believe Irvin will be used in an OLB capacity, it seems like Carroll has other plans; namely as a defensive end in the Chris Clemons mold.

So what can we expect out of Irvin in his rookie season?  From his blazing 4.50 speed, he’ll be a terror to any OT that isn’t too fleet of foot; likely, teams will only have to see Irvin run around OTs a couple of times before they realize they’ll have to try to chip him with a RB during pass situations, which will effectively reduce the number of receiving options an offense has.  Considering his flat out speed and foot quickness, I would think anything less than double digit sacks will end up being a disappointment, even in a situational role.  In the NFC West, the three quarterbacks are actually susceptible to being rattled; Sam Bradford, Kevin Kolb, and Alex Smith have all shown to crumble under an intense rush, and Irvin gives the Seahawks the best chance at rattling those cages.

My feeling is he’ll generate around 10 or 11 sacks his rookie year, and will end up actually out-producing Clemons in that capacity.  I also have a feeling Carroll will dial up some situations with both Clemons and Irvin on the field, both moving around to different areas of the field to be a big-time nuisance to offenses.  We’ll have to wait until training camp before we see more of what the Seahawks plans are, but one thing is for certain; Irvin will get every chance to prove that not only was he not a reach at 1.15, but was a downright value.