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Charles Cross is a rarity: 5-star prospect, premier NFL prospect, and drafted by the Seahawks
Seaside Joe 1160: Pete Carroll's best prospect ever?
During his tenure at USC, Pete Carroll was accustomed to attracting the top high school recruits in the nation. It started with Reggie Bush and a player named Whitney Lewis in 2003, his first two five-star recruits with the Trojans, and Lewis was forced by his parents to go to USC over Florida State.
But one year later, Carroll had eight five-star recruits choose USC, including Fred Davis and Keith Rivers.
Over the years, Carroll would nab commitments from premier five-star recruits like Ray Maualuga, Mark Sanchez, Taylor Mays, Allen Bradford, Everson Griffen, Joe McKnight, Matt Kalil, Tyron Smith, Devon Kennard, and Matt Barkley. If memory does me a solid, only Bradford would eventually play for Carroll in the NFL—and not even at his original position or side of the ball.
When Carroll left the Trojans for the Seahawks in 2010, he also gave up his ability to choose his new recruits. At least, for the most part.
If Seattle was going to be as successful as Carroll had intended, then the Seahawks would have to do so only after losing out on every premium draft prospect that there was on the board… year… after year… after year… after
The great news: That did happen!
Though it is hard to see the six-bedroom house for what it was while it’s currently engulfed in flames, the Seattle Seahawks didn’t finish with a losing record in any season from 2012 to 2020. So for Carroll, like it is for Bill Belichick or now-former Steelers GM Kevin Colbert, and often the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs, you don’t get to test drive the newest, flashiest… shall we say Tesla in the year 2022?
Since we’re talking about stars already, maybe the newest one of these, landing in your locker room:
Instead, Carroll had to “settle” for getting former five-star recruits until after they had given their rookie contract years to some other team or when they had little pro value remaining: Jadeveon Clowney, Carlos Dunlap, D.J. Fluker, Sheldon Richardson, Jordan Simmons, Terrelle Pryor, Robert Nkemdiche, and Jacob Eason are most, if not all of those names.
Then there were other times when Carroll could draft a former five-star recruit. But those players, like the vast majority of five-star recruits, were not nearly as attractive when they entered the NFL draft as when they were coming out of high school.
Christine Michael was a five-star recruit out of Texas in 2009 who chose to play at A&M. Entering the draft after the most underwhelming season of his four-year Aggies career (88 carries, 417 yards, but 12 TDs in 11 games), Michael was the 62nd pick of the 2013 draft.
Spencer Ware was a five-star recruit out of Ohio in 2010, choosing to go to LSU, but his best season was also kind of his worst season (Ware’s lone chance to be the number one back, he fell from 7.3 YPC as a freshman to 4.0 YPC as a sophomore) and he dropped to the sixth round. Carroll made him the 194th overall pick.
Rasheem Green was a five-star recruit out of Gardena, CA in 2015 (if you ever make it to Gardena, go to the King’s Hawaiian bakery/cafe—yes it’s the same King’s Hawaiian that makes the rolls) and he attended USC. Green did post 10 sacks as a junior, but he was a dominant college defensive tackle who would have to transition to 5-tech defensive end in the NFL and that made him far more of a project than a sure thing. Carroll tabbed his services with a third round pick, 79th overall.
By far the best NFL prospect/former five-star recruit who Carroll has ever landed IN the NFL Draft is Malik McDowell. A five-star recruit out of Michigan in 2014, McDowell stayed close to home and played at Michigan State over offers from Alabama, Florida, and Ohio State. McDowell’s mother was vehemently against his decision to play for the Spartans, saying that “Malik is not mature enough to make this decision” and citing that he had no knowledge or interest in their academic program.
Quick, somebody hire Malik McDowell’s mother into their scouting department.
After an All-American campaign as a sophomore, McDowell appeared to stop trying as a junior, then bombed his pre-draft interviews, and fell to the Seahawks in the second round after they traded down multiple times. And yes, I repeat, Malik McDowell is the closest that Pete Carroll has ever come in the NFL to getting a former five-star recruit as a premium NFL Draft prospect.
Until Charles Cross.
In 2010, the Seahawks chose Russell Okung (three-star recruit) and Earl Thomas (four-star recruit, not ranked in the top-100 for 2007), the two best draft prospects of Carroll’s 13-year Seattle tenure until now.
During my own tenure of writing about the Seahawks—which dates back to 2011 on a full-time basis—I’ve always been so confused by a sentiment shared by many Seattle fans that the team simply doesn’t know how to draft offensive linemen. Or that they constantly screw up their first round picks. It’s not that I’m unaware of the professional performances of said former first rounders/fringe first rounders/”Tom Cable selections” at offensive line.
It’s that I AM aware of how the typical late first round tackle performs in the NFL. I AM aware of the fact that while there will always be draft steals, it will also always be true that the best prospects will fly off the shelf to those teams with the earliest picks. Rare are those exceptions who fall to Seattle’s draft position, such as DeKaylin Metcalf—the 70th overall recruit in the 2016 class and a receiver who wouldn’t draw any “boos” if he had been selected in the top-15 picks of the 2019 draft.
How he fell to 64 will always be as much of a mystery as it is a steal.
It’s not reasonable to expect the Seattle Seahawks to find the next Russell Okung without a draft pick comparable to the one that Carroll had to use to select Russell Okung. That’s why the team eventually had to make the trade for Duane Brown after relative shots in the dark like Jamarco Jones, Terry Poole, Justin Britt, and Germain Ifedi turned out to not be draft steals.
And yes, if Ifedi had turned into a five-year starter at left tackle, that would have been a major surprise and a huge steal for Seattle: Germain Ifedi has actually had the exact type of career that I would expect out of the 31st overall pick.
You can’t equate all first round picks as coming from the same tree, let alone the same branch.
But if you’ve been waiting for that opportunity to harshly judge a Seahawks draft pick because of weighty expectations, then welcome to Charles Cross. If he’s not the long-term answer at left tackle, then that will be a disappointment. I can’t think of any Seattle draft pick since Okung that could be realistically place in that same bucket.
Can you? Let me know in the comments.
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Charles Cross was a five-star recruit out of Laurel, Mississippi in the 2019 class, ranking first in the state, third at his position, and 17th overall in the country.
But after his junior year, Cross was only a three-star recruit, 56th at his position, and he committed to play at Florida State. He was considered “long, lean, and athletic” and a “great fit” for FSU’s run-based, power tempo attack.
But then in November, Cross—now a four-star recruit—decommitted from the Seminoles and reopened his recruitment. Cross tweeted:
"After a lot of praying and talking with my family, I have decided to de-commit from Florida State University and re-open my recruitment," Cross posted on Twitter.
Those prayers came after the ones that helped him rise up to 19th in the nation at tackle and 203rd overall. Less than three weeks later, Cross announced that he was parlaying his increased value into a chance to stay close to home, choosing the rapidly rising program at Mississippi State. He was now the 11th-best OT recruit in the nation.
Though Cross was a big fan of offensive line coach Marcus Johnson, one of the main reasons he chose the Bulldogs, the staff was wiped out when head coach Jim Moorehead was replaced by Mike Leach and the air raid offense in 2020. The offense went from 41 rushes per game in 2019 to 18.5 per game in 2020. Thankfully, this did not really impact Cross, who only played snaps in parts of three games during his true freshman season.
And the pass-first air raid offense fit Cross exceptionally well: He had the fourth-most pass blocking snaps in the nation (528) in 2020 and he was immediately Mississippi State’s best offensive lineman, which is doubly good for players who occupy left tackle. Cross was then PFF’s highest-graded pass blocker in the entire SEC as a junior in 2021.
Would Cross have been just as successful if he had landed in a run-first offense, like at Florida State or under Moorehead at Mississippi State? It’s quite possible: He was the second-highest graded run blocker in the SEC in 2021 too, but on far fewer opportunities than most tackles.
Now a left tackle for Pete Carroll, and entering the NFL as most people’s top-rated LEFT tackle prospect in the draft, Charles Cross will get said opportunities to run block. He also sets the stage for a future quarterback of the future as a pass blocker, and one unlike any prospect that Carroll has had at the position since Okung in 2010. And in at least one way, Charles Cross is unlike any prospect that Carroll has ever drafted.
At least in the NFL, Carroll doesn’t have to worry about parental interference.