As the first top 10 pick for the Seahawks in more than a decade in the 2022 NFL Draft, Charles Cross enters the NFL with a tremendous amount of talent and potential at his disposal.
Just 21 years old, Cross became one of college football’s premier pass guards in Mississippi last season, delivering sensational performances against loaded SEC opponents like Alabama. In his last matchup against the Crimson Tide last season, he didn’t concede a single pressure on 66 pass-blocking snaps and finished the year with just two sacks and no extra quarterback hits on 719 pass-blocking snaps.
As a result of his consistent excellence, Cross received First-Team All-SEC honors and First-Team All-American recognition from ESPN and Sporting News, ending his college career in style.
But as Cross embarks on the beginning of a long, hugely successful NFL career in the Pacific Northwest, which he and Seattle hope will keep the pressure on the blind side’s young protector intact. Chosen ninth overall in the wake of the departures of legendary icons Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner, the onus lies on him to deliver as one of the building blocks for the franchise’s next contender.
Even at 6ft 5, 315 pounds, that’s a lot of weight for a young man like Cross to carry on his shoulders. The triumphs of past tackles picked by the Seahawks so early in the draft won’t ease the strain either.
In its 47 years of existence, Seattle has made just 17 picks in the top-10 and has made three such selections since 2002. Prior to Cross’s pick last month, only three of their previous top-10 picks were used for tackles, but each of these players have made their mark in their own way.
Back in 1992, after a disappointing 7-9 season that resulted in the firing of coach Chuck Knox, the Seahawks selected Ray Roberts of Virginia with a 10th overall pick. He found his way onto the starting lineup on Day 1 in left tackle, started all 16 games of the regular season and helped Chris Warren run 1,000 yards for the first time in his career.
While Seattle didn’t remain a factor in the AFC West over the next two years due to poor quarterback play, Roberts started in 30 of 32 regular-season games. He played at the Pro Bowl level, opening Warren run lanes to explode for 2,617 yards and 16 touchdowns in that span. While he failed to play both times in Honolulu, Warren credited in large part the play of the left tackle in front of him.
Injuries ended Robert’s fourth and final season in Seattle, limiting him to 11 games without starts. He landed in Detroit as a free agent the next season, but played at a high level in difficult circumstances during his tenure in the Pacific Northwest and proved to be a solid pick in hindsight. On more competitive teams, he might have earned a Pro Bowl nod or two.
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Two years after Roberts left, the Seahawks again invested a top 10 pick in left tackle, this time selecting Florida State’s Walter Jones sixth overall. Although it was several years before he won his first Pro Bowl in 1999, “Big Walt” quickly emerged as one of the best blind side defenders in NFL history, winning six All-Pro selections and nine Pro Bowl selections in his illustrious 12-year career.
Remarkably, an instant starter from the start, Jones gave up just 23 sacks in more than 5,500 pass-blocking reps. He was also flagged for holding just nine times in his entire career and playing with excellent technique and discipline. Few, if any, other tackles can match such absurd numbers in 180 games played.
Shortly after hanging up his cleats in 2010, Jones was named to the NFL All-Decade Team of the 2000s and was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a first-choice in 2013. He is one of only three retired players in franchise history with his jersey number and one of 14 members of the ring of honor.
Immediately following Jones’ departure, coinciding with the arrival of general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll, the Seahawks ushered in another era by leading their future left tackle. Picking Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung sixth overall in the 2010 NFL Draft, they immediately strengthened their frontline.
During his six seasons with the franchise, Okung struggled with ongoing injury woes and failed to play once in all 16 regular-season games. However, when healthy, he was instrumental in Seattle’s rise to prominence, including winning a Pro Bowl selection while starting 15 games to defend a rookie starter in Wilson in 2012. He also started at both of the team’s Super Bowl appearances in 2013 and 2014.
Arguably a top-10 tackle throughout his tenure with the Seahawks, while Okung may never have quite lived up to expectations, he nonetheless proved a top pick that played an important role in their run to the Lombardi Trophy.
Looking back in the present, Cross makes a move to Seattle in similar circumstances to all three of the above tackles that were top 10 picks. Either way, the team was in the midst of a quarterback transition and coming off a bad season, ready to rebuild the base around new left tackle. In a way, he’s seen as a savior coming to town in one of the most important positions in football.
Fair or not, as Roberts, Jones and Okung did before him, the Seahawks clearly expect Cross to win an immediate starting job over sixth-round Stone Forsythe in 2021 after deciding not to reprise Duane Brown to sign or add proven veterans to the position during free agency. If he’s as special a talent and person as the franchise believes he should be, he should be able to handle such pressure, and publicly he’s lived up to those high expectations so far.
Since his call-up, Cross has been off to a great start, earning multiple praise from Carroll during the team’s rookie mini-camp last weekend. Until the pads move on, however, it’s unclear how he’ll react when faced with NFL pass rushers. Coming from an airstrike program where he never worked out of a three-point stance and rarely ran blocked, there will no doubt also be growing pains adjusting to Seattle’s pro-style, run-centric offense.
With that in mind, both coaches and fans need to put their feet on the brakes and be patient. Cross replaces Brown and follows a long string of successful left tackles in front of him. Cross may need a little more time before he starts unleashing his potential and really filling those gargantuan shoes. But if the Seahawks play their cards right and allow him to develop at the right pace without increasing the pressure too much, the sky will be the limit for him.