RENTON, Wash. – B.J. Irvin couldn’t stay out of trouble as a youth. So when he arrived at California’s Mt. San Antonio College in 2009, B.J. became Bruce.
And while Bruce Irvin hasn’t been completely clear of off-field problems, his freakish athleticism landed him a spot in the first-round of the NFL draft on Thursday night.
The Seattle Seahawks pulled off a major first-round stunner when they selected Irvin, a pass-rushing specialist, out of West Virginia with the 15th overall pick.
Once again, Pete Carroll went unconventional.
The surprise wasn’t that Irvin was drafted. At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds with explosive speed off the edge, Irvin was considered a likely second-day pick, especially with more known names like Quinton Coples, Melvin Ingram and Chandler Jones still available when the Seahawks pick arrived.
But that didn’t stop the Seahawks from taking the player they feel can bring the most impact at a spot where Seattle needed help. Chris Clemons had 11 sacks last season, but no one else for Seattle had more than four.
“This is the kind of guy that puts fear in offensive tackles,” Carroll said.
Irvin played two seasons at West Virginia and had 14 sacks as a junior and another 81/2 sacks his final season. He’s categorized by the Seahawks as a “Leo,” a specialized spot in Seattle’s defense that calls for the ability to pressure the quarterback, but also drop off into pass coverage when needed.
Irvin is expected to be solely a pass-rush option to start as Carroll and general manager John Schneider raved that Irvin is the best pure pass rusher in the draft. But they both believe he can eventually develop into an every-down defensive end.
“I love eating quarterbacks,” Irvin joked during a conference call where his confidence and swagger was never in question.
The Seahawks’ selection was made after Seattle traded with Philadelphia, moving down from No. 12 to No. 15 and acquiring two picks in the later rounds of the draft, where Schneider and the Seahawks have been so successful the past two seasons.
But no one could have guessed Irvin would be Seattle’s selection.
His backstory is long and filled with mistakes. Growing up in Atlanta, Irvin was academically ineligible to play high school football and did a stint in juvenile jail for burglary. Irvin said it would have been easy to stay down the road of trouble, but he took a divergent path.
That’s where B.J. departed and Bruce showed up.
“I went through a lot of stuff in my life. I’ve seen a lot of stuff and the average person who went through what I went through would not be on this phone with you right now,” Irvin said. “I could have went the other way. I could have gone right but I chose to go left. When I chose to go left, I told God I wasn’t going back to what was trying to suck me in and I surrounded myself with a lot of positive people.”
Irvin eventually earned his GED and landed at Mt. San Antonio College in California. His athleticism first had coaches using him as a safety – he played wide receiver in high school – but was eventually moved to outside linebacker, where he became one of the top junior college prospects in the country.
It was at this time that Irvin and Carroll first met and started a relationship that eventually helped Irvin land in Seattle. The background that Carroll learned while unsuccessfully trying to recruit Irvin to USC became the foundation for what Seattle used in vetting its pick.
There was some additional vetting needed recently. Irvin was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for an incident in March at a sandwich shop. Irvin said he was in court earlier this week, where the charges were dismissed.
“One of the primary things when you are looking at something like this is what has the guy had to overcome in his life, talking about building character and toughness and everything,” Schneider said. “And this guy has had a rough story, there’s no doubt about it.”
Seattle did its best to not let on they were interested in Irvin. The sides had a long talk at the NFL combine, but there were no visits or special meetings arranged thereafter. Schneider said Seattle considered trading back past No. 15, but didn’t want to get too cute with the situation and have someone else jump up. Irvin believed there was a slight chance he’d go in the first round, but that if he did the draft number would be in the 30s.
Irvin will immediately get his shot at making an impact. Clemons has become Seattle’s prototype for playing the LEO position in its defensive schemes. Carroll said coaches have already figured out ways for the Seahawks to get Irvin and Clemons on the field together. At the very least, Irvin will likely become a third-down rusher when 325-pound defensive end Red Bryant comes off the field for passing situations.
“This is a rare guy and a rare chance to get a guy like this,” Carroll said.
“You just don’t see many of them, so we’re really thrilled about this,” Carroll said. “Going in we knew we needed to up our pass rush and this was exactly what we were able to address. We’re really pumped about this.”