Seahawks’ next three opponents show why a top QB draft pick doesn’t always pan out

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota (1) runs out of the pocket against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of an NFL football game, Sept. 11, in Atlanta. 

RENTON — Despite the Seattle offense being mired in a six-quarter scoreless streak, Geno Smith has not looked like the problem.

Smith has completed an NFL-best 81% of his passes with just one turnover, and the rousing win against Denver doesn’t happen without his two early touchdown passes.

But whether he is the answer remains to be seen. This season appears to many like one in which the Seahawks are setting up to find their long-term quarterback next year — with the assumption that Drew Lock isn’t the future if he couldn’t beat out Smith. 

But even if neither Smith, who turns 32 in October, nor Lock proves to have any staying power, the hope for this year is to show improvement with the rest of the roster, then add a QB in the offseason, and voilà, let the good times begin anew.

The next three weeks, the Seahawks will come face-to-face with three teams whose quarterbacks illustrate well the precariousness of thinking that the missing QB piece is easily found.

Each of the next three weeks the Seahawks face a QB who was once a first or second overall pick, two of whom were also Heisman Trophy winners, all regarded on draft day as franchise saviors and all instead now trying to revive/keep alive their careers with new teams — Atlanta’s Marcus Mariota Sunday at Lumen Field, Detroit’s Jared Goff the following Sunday and New Orleans’ Jameis Winston on Oct. 9.

In fact, the run of facing a quarterback who was a first or second overall pick extends to Seattle’s fourth game in the next four weeks, Arizona’s Kyler Murray on Oct. 16. Murray is in just his fourth year, still too early to draw sweeping conclusions.

But the other three are now in what feels like full journeyman status, in their seventh or eighth seasons and on either their second or third teams. 

Winston and Mariota — each Heisman winners taken first and second in 2015 — were there for the taking for anyone this offseason as free agents, including Seattle, who apparently didn’t want either. Goff, the first overall pick in 2016, could potentially be available this offseason depending on what Detroit wants to do with his contract.

The three have combined for just three playoff wins and a 3-4 postseason record — two by Goff for the Rams in 2018 when they advanced to the Super Bowl. Mariota is 1-1 in the postseason and Winston has never started a playoff game.

Of the three, only Goff has a winning regular season record at 46-38. Winston is 34-45 and Mariota is 29-34.

“You would think with the first pick in the draft you would get someone who was really at the top of their game for 10 years," said Randy Mueller, who was general manager of the Seahawks from 1995-98 and later GM of the Saints in 2000-01 and the Dolphins from 2005-07. “It just hasn’t happened (with those three)."

Mueller is quick to say the finger can’t be pointed solely at the quarterbacks themselves saying “these decisions are so much an organizational success or failure that it’s hard to blame the player. … There are just so many things involved from the top on down when it comes to these guys succeeding."

One of those factors, injuries, has most hampered Mariota, who won the Heisman in 2014 when he turned in a 42-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio and ran for 15 other TDs in leading Oregon to the college football championship game.

After a promising first three years that included a memorable comeback wild-card playoff win at Kansas City following the 2017 season, a litany ailments that included a broken fibula, a nerve issue in his throwing arm and a knee sprain began to take their toll, and he lost his job in 2019 to Ryan Tannehill.

Winston and Goff simply ran out of favor with the Bucs and Rams, respectively, after each also showed promise early. Winston made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, and Goff had the memorable run to the Super Bowl in 2018.

But Winston’s Tampa Bay career unraveled after he led the NFL in interceptions in 2019 with 30, and the Rams decided they’d rather have another former No. 1 pick — Matthew Stafford — as their QB instead.

“I think quarterbacking is the hardest thing to evaluate," Mueller said. “It is for sure not that easy (to just find a franchise QB) and the thought that to just assume that is to be assumed you’re a fool sometimes. There is nothing that is an exact science about it."

And indeed, in some ways the jury is still out on each of the three with Stafford as proof that a new surrounding can change the perception of a former overall No. 1 pick, winning a Super Bowl at age 33.

Mariota, who spent the last two years as a backup with the Raiders before signing a two-year contract worth up to $19 million with the Falcons in March, is just 28 years old. 

And he has shown flashes of why he was the No. 2 overall pick in his first two games with Atlanta, throwing for 411 yards and two TDs and rushing for 88 and one TD. 

“I’ve always liked him," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said this. “I’ve always liked his athleticism and his running ability. He’s always been able to do a little bit of everything well. He can even throw the ball too. He kind of got mired in a backup role. He looks like a starter to me. He’s back at it and he’s doing great."

But a late fumble that helped New Orleans come back in Week 1 and an interception that ended a comeback attempt last week against the Rams have some fans in Atlanta already clamoring for who they hope will be the Falcons' QB of the future — rookie Desmond Ridder of Cincinnati, a third-round pick last April.

But just as most assume the Seahawks will be on the hunt for a QB this offseason — with Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Alabama’s Bryce Young at the top of the list — many think Atlanta will be, too,

A CBSSports.com mock draft this week had the Seahawks taking Young second — right after projecting Atlanta to take Stroud.

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