On April 19, 1997, the Seattle Seahawks made one of the most important moves in franchise history.
Swapping first round picks with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, along with sending them a third round pick, Seattle used their newly acquired No. 6 overall selection to draft one of the greatest Seahawks of all time: Walter Jones.
Jones played just one season at Florida State, yet was highly regarded as one of the best tackles in the ’97 Draft. He was the second offensive lineman taken, behind future Hall of Famer Orlando Pace, who went No. 1 to the St. Louis Rams.
And while Jones was highly targeted by the Seahawks coming into the draft, he wasn’t their first pick. That was Shawn Springs, a cornerback out of Ohio State who was taken third overall. Amassing 20 interceptions with 27 passes defended, his seven years in Seattle pales in comparison to what Jones would go on to achieve.
It’s hard to find a flaw in Jones during his 12 year career.
From 1997 to 2008, Jones started all 180 games he played in, and was featured in 14 or more games in 10 straight seasons (1998-2007).
Jones was the centerpiece of an offensive line that help Seattle reach the post season promised land. Up until 1999, the Seahawks hadn’t reached the playoffs since 1988. In his 12 seasons, Jones helped Seattle win five division titles, and reach the first Super Bowl in team history.
Not only was the Seahawks perennial left tackle dominant, he was consistently dominant.
Over his career, Jones surrendered just 23 sacks, an average of once out of every 248 passing plays, or two per year. He was flagged for holding just nine times in his 180 starts.
The awards followed his play, as Jones was voted to nine Pro Bowls during his career, a franchise record. He also was named an All-Pro six times, and the 2000s All-Decade team. Seattle would go on to honor Jones by retiring his jersey and placing him in the Seahawks Ring of Honor. Then, in 2014, Jones was elected to the Pro-Football Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot.
The biggest knock against Jones in terms of “Greatest Seahawks Draft Pick” is that he was drafted early in the first round and was expected to be a contributing factor to the team.
But does the position a player is drafted have that much foresight into the eventual success?
In 2012, the Indianapolis Colts drafted Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick. Luck was a star quarterback at Stanford and a consensus top-player in the draft by most analysts and teams, so much so that the term “suck for Luck” originated down the stretch of the 2011 season by teams who were in the mix for the No. 1 pick.
In his rookie season, Luck helped lead the Colts back to the playoffs and set numerous passing records. At the end of the year, Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson won NFL Executive of the Year.
Many argued that Grigson only won because he did what he was supposed to do in drafting the best player out of college, something that every other team would have done.
However, ultimately, they still had to pull the trigger.
The same can be said about the Seahawks selection of Walter Jones, or any other top draft pick.
Sometimes it works out…
Sometimes it doesn’t. (Dan McGuire, Steve Niehaus and Aaron Curry can all attest to this)
General managers and head coaches have to trust themselves and their staff to properly evaluate whether college talent will translate over to the league and their team.
Jones is one of the best Seattle players of all-time, and where he was drafted doesn’t change that. The passionate and winning Seahawks culture of today can be attributed to a process that was started back in the late 90s; a process that was headlined by an outstanding offensive line and one of the best left tackles to ever play the game.
When it came to selecting Walter Jones, Seattle hit an absolute home run. And in comparison to all other picks in franchise history, it’s not even close.