The top-10 undrafted free agent rookie seasons under Pete Carroll
Seaside Joe 1217: These 10 undrafted free agents helped contribute to the Seahawks right away
Since Pete Carroll took over the Seattle Seahawks in 2010, they have had 72 appearances by a rookie undrafted free agent. This list will be a judgment of several factors, so anyone who wonders “What about (THIS PLAYER)?!?” in the comments section should be aware that the player may not qualify under these circumstances:
Was the player an undrafted free agent?
Was the player a rookie?
Did the player play significant snaps as a rookie?
That’s why you won’t see Jermaine Kearse. It’s not a judgment of Kearse’s career. It’s a list based on how these players did as rookies. Kearse had three catches for 31 yards as a rookie in 2012.
Everybody on this list posted at least 2 AV (adjusted value via pro-football-reference) during their rookie campaign and no Seahawks player not on this list posted more than 1 AV under those terms. That includes Ricardo Lockette, who had 1 AV, and DeShawn Shead, who had 0 AV.
The rest of the order is of my own determination.
10. LB Brock Coyle, 2014
Undrafted out of Montana, Brock Coyle had 11 tackles as a rookie in 2014, appearing in 293 snaps (71%) on special teams. He also had 65 snaps on defense, half of which came in a win over the Raiders.
Coyle didn’t play defense in the playoffs that year, but was a consistent regular on special teams and made one tackle in the Super Bowl.
9. G Jordan Simmons, 2018
After a college career at USC that was tarnished by injuries, Simmons signed with the Raiders in 2017 but was cut before the season. He stayed on the practice squad and then was picked up on waivers by Seattle the following September. Therefore, 2018 was Simmons “rookie season” and he made six appearances with the Seahawks.
They were really good appearances too.
But Simmons spent 2019 on injured reserve and then returned in 2020 for a career-best 593 snaps (64%) at guard. Simmons went back to the Raiders in 2021 but he is back on the free agent market again and looking for another chance right now.
8. C Patrick Lewis, 2014
The Seahawks should have never traded Max Unger.
Lewis went undrafted out of Texas A&M in 2013, then spent that year bouncing from the Packers to the Browns to the Jaguars. He was claimed off waivers by the Seahawks in 2014, months after they traded Unger to the Saints, and Lewis was thrust into action that season after Carroll admitted his mistake by counting on Drew Nowak.
Lewis made nine starts and had 600 snaps in 2015, but that would be his final NFL season with more than one appearance. He was briefly with the Bills in 2016.
7. RT Garry Gilliam, 2014
Pete really went hard in the undrafted free agent territory during Seattle’s bid to repeat. But like Lewis, Gilliam was another offensive linemen who maybe had expectations higher than reality should have allowed.
Gilliam made 80 snaps on offense, 68 on special teams, and was anointed as an heir apparent at left tackle. Heir apparently not.
Gilliam did make 29 starts over the next two seasons, but then went to the San Francisco 49ers in 2017 and his career kind of just puttered out from there.
6. TE Cooper Helfet, 2014
A very handsome guy who has 52,600 followers on Instagram right now.
Helfet went from Johns Hopkins to Santa Rosa Junior College to Duke, then signed with the Seahawks as a UDFA in 2012. He kept going at it year after year, finally making the team in 2014, his third in the NFL after two practice squad campaigns.
Helft had 12 catches on 24 targets for 185 yards and two touchdowns in 2014. The Seahawks unfortunately lost the two games he started. He had seven snaps in the Super Bowl that year, plus another 12 on special teams.
5. RT Jake Curhan, 2021
I don’t think Curhan is getting quite enough credit for his play last season. On one hand, the Seahawks drafted Abe Lucas and that is not a vote of confidence in the right tackle position. On the other, Curhan is only 24 and perhaps he shows up to training camp ready to play the best football of his life.
A three-year starter at Cal (that would have been four if not for COVID), Curhan could have been an acceptable fifth round pick for some team but instead became a high-quality undrafted free agent; something Seattle really needed after only making three picks. He made five starts (essentially six) and played in 405 offensive snaps—and the offense was able to play its best football of the season during that stretch. Because of Curhan? No. But Curhan wasn’t holding the Seahawks back either.
4. LT George Fant, 2016
If you knew that the Seahawks were grooming George Fant so that one day he could play good football for the New York Jets, would that have been acceptable?
Fant played one season of tight end at Western Kentucky—at 270 lbs—then almost added 30 lbs prior to entering the 2016 NFL Draft as an offensive lineman with exceptional size and athleticism, but little hope to be drafted because of his lack of experience. It wasn’t signing with the Seahawks after the draft that was surprising, Fant was destined to become a developmental project for some team, it was the fact that he won a backup job behind Bradley Sowell in spite of his lack of snaps on a football field.
And then all of a sudden, George Fant started 10 games for the Seattle Seahawks essentially during the same year that he was learning how to play offensive tackle.
He was better than anyone could have expected, but not good by any means. Fant tore his ACL in the 2017 preseason, spent most of 2018/2019 as a part time #6 offensive lineman, then signed with the Jets in 2020 on a three-year, $30 million deal. The Seahawks should have given him that contract. Fant has started 29 games with New York over the last two seasons and it could be argued he is much better than the other tackle that the Jets added that year, Mekhi Becton.
3. DT Poona Ford, 2018
The thing that is most distinct about Poona Ford should be familiar to Seahawks fans: He’s probably the shortest defensive tackle in the NFL. After a decorated career at Texas, earning Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2017, the media had a soft spot for a big guy named “Poona” and there was some shock that he went undrafted. But for the most part, it seems like Poona Ford was graded out as a 7th round/UDFA going into the draft and that’s what happened.
Maybe sometimes it’s smarter to just draft the “soft spot” guy because Poona Ford has obviously been an NFL player since his first offseason with the Seahawks.
Ford only appeared in 231 defensive snaps during his rookie season but had posted three tackles for a loss and 21 total tackles in 11 games. His playing time has increased each year and now Poona Ford is set to have the highest cap hit ($10.075m) on Seattle’s roster in 2022. He was the only defensive tackle in the NFL listed under 6-feet last season.
2. RB Thomas Rawls, 2015
A star that burned out all too quickly. Rawls only had 73 carries over his first three seasons at Michigan, then ran for 1,103 yards and 10 touchdowns in nine games with Central Michigan in 2014. Had Rawls played college football six or seven years later, he probably would have transferred much sooner and been able to choose a different school than Central Michigan, but that would not have done much to save him from potential injuries.
The Seahawks don’t get enough credit for the 2015 NFL Draft class, as they added Frank Clark, Tyler Lockett, Mark Glowinski, and Rawls despite not having a pick in the top-60 selections. I remember Danny Kelly writing a number of articles at Field Gulls that offseason that highlighted the exceptional work being done by Rawls as an undrafted free agent… and being skeptical every time because undrafted free agents so rarely become notable NFL players plus Danny was also doing the same for Rod Smith, another UDFA running back on Seattle’s roster that year. But then sometimes those signings work out great. (And Rod Smith nearly had a career with the Cowboys.)
Marshawn Lynch would never get revenge for the end of the Super Bowl, as he was injured in Week 3 and that opened the door for Rawls as he rushed for 104 yards on 16 carries against the Bears that day. Two weeks later, he had 169 rushing yards against the Bengals, more than Lynch had ever had in a single game in his career. Lynch then returned and Carroll pulled Rawls out of the gameplan almost entirely—hard to believe then, even more frustrating with hindsight—before Rawls rushed for 209 yards and added 46 receiving yards in a win over the 49ers in Week 11.
Even though this stat is almost entirely built off of four performances, Thomas Rawls led the NFL with 5.65 yards per carry in 2015. He broke his ankle against the Ravens in Week 14, which opened the door for a return by Christine Michael, and for all intents and purposes ended Rawls’ career.
1. WR Doug Baldwin, 2011
In Carroll’s first season back in the NFL as a head coach, he revived the career of Mike Williams, a former star of his at USC who had a disastrous first five years in the league. Williams caught 65 passes for 751 yards in 2010 and Seattle resigned him with the hope that at 27, there was at least a few more good years left in the tank.
But the receiving star for the 2011 Seahawks would be Williams. It would not be Sidney Rice, the high-profile free agent signing from the Vikings. It would not be Golden Tate, the team’s second round pick a year earlier. It would not be Deon Butler, a third round pick only two years earlier. It would also not be Ben Obomanu, the team’s second-leading receiver in 2010.
The rookie season had by Doug Baldwin in 2011 still stands out as one of the all-time great first campaigns by an undrafted free agent. It wasn’t just that Baldwin’s 788 yards were even more than Williams’ team-leading mark from 2010, but he was way more efficient (9.3 yards per target, 60% catch rate) and the talent was evident from his first minicamp to his first training camp to his first preseason.
Baldwin had 83 yards and a touchdown in his first NFL game and he posted 136 yards in his fifth NFL game. Surprisingly, the Seahawks’ upgrade at quarterback in 2012 proved a hindrance to Baldwin’s development, but he and Russell Wilson were on the same page by 2013, and they eventually became one of the all-time great connections in franchise history.
"The Seahawks should have never traded Max Unger." ahh, in BOLD.
Only one thing ,George Fant's $30 million contract seemed very high. I would venture the Seahawks might not have offered half that. I loved when Fant came in as the extra lineman things happened. I am happy for George from the outside he seemed a good fellow. This is one that got away. There aren't that many players the Seahawks have let go that have gone on to have a career like Fant. I think many teams look at Pete Carroll as an astute judge of talent and charector. I maybe wrong but the Jets looked like they reached for Fant. As it turns out it was a bargain and his next contract will be a doozy