In 2009, the Seahawks had the good fortune of selecting a can’t-miss linebacker out of Wake Forest with the fourth overall pick in that April’s NFL Draft. Everyone agreed that Aaron Curry was one of the crown jewels of his class, a run-stuffing, pass-rushing beast of a man who, as multiple “insiders” would put it, was the most talented linebacker to arrive from the college ranks since Lawrence Taylor.
Unlike the Hall of Famer he was being compared to, Curry was considered a gem both inside and outside the confines of his workspace. A God-fearing 23-year-old with a beaming grin on the day he was introduced to fans, the ex-Demon Deacon was far more ministerial than devilish.
Curry was labeled, among other things, most mature, most physically-gifted, and most NFL-ready of his ’09 Draft counterparts. In Seattle, he would team with established veterans Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill to form arguably the most intimidating linebacking corps in the league.
Nearly every pundit deemed the Seahawks draft class a success. Even the seldomly-impressed caricature of ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr. was blown away, if not by the organization, than by the player. “While I don’t agree with the pick,” Kiper wrote, “it’s not a bad pick for the Hawks, especially since Curry was the No. 1 player on my board.”
Two-and-a-half years after what may have been the greatest day of his life, however, Aaron Curry found himself Oakland, the can’t-miss prospect having missed badly in Seattle.
The overwhelming consensus on Bruce Irvin is confusion.
It is Thursday, April 26th, 2012 and the Seahawks have just selected the defensive end/linebacker from West Virginia with the fifteenth overall pick in the Draft.
I am sitting amongst a room full of friends who are far from experts and farther from pleased. On the TV screen before us, ESPN’s resident experts are nearly as befuddled as my immediate constituents. Who is this guy? Where did he come from? Do the Seahawks know what they’re doing? Couldn’t they have gotten him later? Shouldn’t they have traded down? Is this for real?
In a heartbeat, he is labeled. Bruce Irvin is a stretch, they say. A stretch. Might as well be a scarlet letter. The “stretch” pick is the guy not nearly good enough to be selected where he was selected. The stretch pick is overvalued by one foolhardy front office. The stretch pick will likely be a dud, the type of player that every prognosticator will one day cite as their I-told-you-so pick from the past. Bruce Irvin is a stretch. It’s been decided.
No one can deny Aaron Curry’s physical talent.
When it comes to athleticism, the six-foot-two-inch, 255-pound behemoth is a freak of genetics seemingly bred for the game of football. He is as prototypical as they come for his position. And yet after three professional seasons, the 26-year-old has recorded a mere five-and-a-half sacks, forced only four fumbles, snared nary an interception, and found the end zone just once for a lone touchdown.
His rookie contract will not expire for three more years, and yet he is already a member of his second franchise. The six-year, $60 million contract Curry inked in the summer before his 2009 rookie campaign is good through the 2014 season. Whether or not he manages to exhaust all six years of that contract without being released is nearly irrelevant; Curry will make a whopping $34 million guaranteed — the most money ever guaranteed to a non-quarterback in NFL history — no matter if he plays another down of football or not.
Curry’s troubles are not criminal so much as they are existential. Unlike many draft busts before him, the former first-rounder has not been plagued by drugs, alcohol, financial difficulties, women, or a penchant for the nightlife. Married with one child, Curry appears to be the ideal human being, let alone pro football player.
No, his vices came through more unusual means. The existence of social media, and more specifically Twitter, were what corrupted Curry’s relationship with a Seahawks fan base that grew weary of his antics with each passing day. Unlike so many athletes and celebrities who use social media to connect with others, Curry surrounded himself with an army of doe-eyed fans that began to vanish as their hero became more and more irrational in 140-character spurts. For one thing, the linebacker gained a fondness for engaging in arguments with his followers. For another, when he wasn’t fighting to save his reputation on the internet, he would post short diatribes with strong religious undertones, a divisive subject no matter one’s beliefs.
Worse yet, Curry found a way to let every snippet of every comment directed towards his Twitter handle seemingly get the best of his emotions. It quickly became clear that, fair or unfair, the man’s downfall was sitting squarely between his ears.
To put it bluntly, Curry is a head case. And because he’s a head case, all of his innate physical ability is trumped by his own mental shortcomings. Even those who weren’t exposed to Virtual Aaron Curry via Twitter paid witness to senseless outbursts on the gridiron, unnecessary penalties that cost Curry playing time and eventually led to his departure from Seattle.
For all the can’t-miss hype, Curry missed because he wasn’t ready for the pressures of the NFL, and more precisely, wasn’t prepared to adeptly handle failure. He had seldom fallen short before. And when Curry fell miserably short to unreasonable hype in Seattle, his career fell off the deep end.
There are no Hall of Fame comparisons for Bruce Irvin.
The six-foot-three-inch, 245-pound defensive end convert was considered one of the best edge rushers in the 2012 Draft, but that’s where the hype machine stopped churning. Most fans didn’t even know his name, let alone which all-time great he most resembled.
Irvin is 24 years of age, a good two years older than most of the other draftees in any given year. He has been arrested. He dropped out of high school at one point. In the weeks leading up to the Draft, he was cited by a police officer for vandalizing a sign perched atop a vehicle (charges were eventually dropped). If there’s anything Bruce Irvin knows, it’s how to rebound from his own mistakes.
We don’t know much about his play yet. We’ve heard some good things. We’ve heard some bad things. He might only be a third-down pass rusher. But on the other hand, he could be a double-digit sack machine for years to come. We don’t know what to think about that physical ability. There’s video on YouTube, but video on YouTube often showcases the good much moreso than the bad. YouTube video is biased. Helpful, but biased. So when it comes to his play, when it comes to Bruce Irvin the athlete, we’ll just have to wait and see.
But we’ve heard him speak. And if there’s one thing separating the “stretch” from the “can’t-miss,” it’s Irvin’s ability to charm an audience.
Bruce Irvin has charisma. On top of that, he comes across as a normal (i.e. real, down-to-earth, genuine) type of dude. When he talks, you find yourself smiling and nodding. The man joked on radio that he was performing a swim move on that fateful sign atop that ill-parked car that happened to find itself in the way of his arm. I laughed when I heard that. How could you not? The man made what was seen as a criminal act seem harmless, even comedic. That takes some sort of personality.
Whatever is going on inside Irvin’s head appears to be the type of thing that might very well go on in the heads of you, me, and many others just like us. Did you ever get that feeling from Aaron Curry? Because I didn’t. Aaron Curry was to me what Spanish was to Ron Burgundy. I’m not saying the man was crazy, but I like to think of myself as fairly rational.
Irvin, however, can speak like a normal human being, sound like a normal human being, interact like a normal human being, and radiate authenticity like a normal human being. In spite of all the transgressions in his history, Irvin for all accounts and purposes, appears to be a normal human being. Maybe I’m glossing over his character with too broad a brush, only time will tell. But for now, I’ll go with my gut on this one.
There is no formula for the NFL Draft. A “can’t-miss” might please the talking heads, but in hindsight, does anyone really care about placating a bunch of soothsaying suits? Likewise, a “stretch” might get you an “F” on the post-draft report card, but will that grade generate wins or losses in the long run?
If there’s anything we know for certain here in Seattle, it’s that the “can’t-miss” can, in fact, miss. We’ve seen it before. Not just with Aaron Curry, but he happens to our most recent example. He struck out badly. We were all wrong about him.
If we were wrong about him, is it possible we could wrong about the “stretch” pick being such a stretch after all? Certainly.
Bruce Irvin has fallen short before. He’s recovered.
Aaron Curry was the perfect specimen who fell flat on his face on the game’s biggest stage. He still hasn’t recovered.
So who would you rather have?