On draft days, Seahawks give their scouts a voice in defense of picks
RENTON, Wash. -- The anonymous scout has become one of the more insidious (and we'll say it: useless) components in the pre-draft process. Freed from the constraints under which most must operate when they put their names on their opinions, anonymous scouts throw agendas for their teams and come up with "reports" on prospects that come straight out of Mean Girls. It creates buzzy copy, but in the end, one would like to hear from the scouts with names, to hear the truth from people willing to own it, and to insure that Mr. Anonymous actually exists, and isn't the creation of an analyst looking to create his own cottage industry of malevolent gossip.
Which is why the Seattle Seahawks won the 2014 draft in one specific way. All NFL teams will make their head coaches and general managers available to the media on each day of the selection process, and some teams will throw their directors of college scouting to the wolves. But in the interest of transparency, the defending Super Bowl champs had their regional scouts available after each one of their key picks, and it was a fascinating addition to the weekend.
Makes sense, really, because the current Seahawks are heavily scouting-invested. GM John Schneider started as a scout for the Packers in 1993, moved up into player personnel roles for three different teams (Chiefs, Redskins, Seahawks), and spent 2002 through 2009 as the right-hand man for Packers GMs. He got his start in the NFL by writing letter after letter to former Green Bay GM Ron Wolf, asking for a position as a volunteer scout, and it took him almost two decades to get his own GM position. So, it resonates that Schneider is going to let his scouts have their day in the sun.
The Seahawks traded out of the last pick in the first round (allegedly after the Patriots selected Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley 29th overall), allowing the Vikings to move up and take Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Schneider told me Thursday that Seattle's philosophy would not change based on anything the team's division opponents did unless the cleaners accidently erased the board, and he sounded confident that his scouts had done their homework.
“There were some good players there, but we had the opportunity to grab another pick, a fourth-round pick, another player," he said. "We saw value with the trade and just decided to pick tomorrow. Now we just have to see how tomorrow goes. Right now we’re picking 40 and we’ll see what happens.”
The Seahawks traded down again, grabbing more late-round currency from the Lions, and finally made Colorado receiver Paul Richardson their first selection of the 2014 draft with the 45th pick. Soon after, Southwest area scout Matt Berry talked about why he pounded the table for the 6-foot, 175-pound young man who caught 83 passes for 1,343 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013.
Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado -- Second round, 45th overall pick
The primary thing that set Richardson apart for Berry? Richardson pretty much carried that offense by himself.
“He’s kind of unique," Berry told me. "You see the skillset and you’re watching and you keep telling yourself he’s too small, he’s too small, he’s thin, and all he does is get open and make plays and make catches. Everybody on the field knows that he’s who they’re trying to go to and he still comes through. Then when you’re around him, you kind of get a feel for who he is, his makeup and confidence, his competitiveness. You really buy in.”
The Seahawks and Berry also had to navigate the fact that Richardson originally committed to UCLA but was one of three players subsequently booted from the program after pleading a felony theft charge down to a misdemeanor. The Seahawks did their background work, had Richardson speak to their team psychologist (not an occurrence meant to single Richardson out, the team clarified), and marked it down to youthful indiscretion.
“It’s really an immature incident that was blown out of proportion," Berry said. "I think he’s moved on, he was basically a high school senior that hadn’t even started college yet. There’s a guy at Washington (defensive end Josh Shirley), his cousin at Arizona (receiver Shaquille Richardson), and they all kind of moved on from that.”
In the end, no matter what tape Schneider, receivers coach Kippy Brown and head coach Pete Carroll watched, they would rely on Berry for the detail. Berry, for his part, finds his job easier because he works for a team that tries to find the unique attributes in every prospect.
“It’s awesome. When we identify a guy that we think is going to fit in here and can get Coach excited about him or get the offensive staff excited about him, you know that they’re going to find a place for them to be successful and play to their strengths. I think Paul is no different from anybody else that you have seen. Guys that we have brought in later in the draft, [and] they have found roles. I think that’s how it will kind of transpire.”
Justin Britt, OT, Missouri -- Second round, 64th overall pick
When selecting an offensive lineman, the Seahawks welcome a more boisterous voice to the process -- assistant head coach and offensive line maven Tom Cable. Cable runs that line as much as Carroll puts his stamp on Seattle's defense, though with less remarkable results to date. Since he came on board in 2011, Seattle has cycled through various project blockers, moved former first-rounder James Carpenter from tackle to guard, cut ties with former third-round guard John Moffitt, and kept trying to find those long-term starters to complement left tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger. Seattle is particularly thin at the guard position, but they didn't stick at 32 and take UCLA guard Xavier Su'a-Filo, nor did they pounce as Stanford's David Yankey plummeted all the way to the fifth round. Instead, Cable recommended that his team select Missouri tackle Justin Britt with the last pick in the second round.
Britt is a tough guy, to be sure, and that appeals to Cable above all, but his 2013 tape at left tackle left a lot of people wanting. NFLDraftScout.com gave him a fifth-round grade, but Cable was insistent when he spoke to Seattle media on Friday that Britt is a right tackle, and it's the 2012 tape at that position that must be watched.
"Style of play, who are they playing against, how much they played in their college career," he said about how Britt stood out. "I got excited about watching him play [Jadeveon] Clowney. I thought there’s a guy that it wasn’t too big, he didn’t worry about it, he was very physical with him. Then the more I started studying this guy, all the way back to when he was younger, the traits of toughness and competitiveness just kept jumping out at me. I think I got a little lucky too watching him a year ago as a junior as a right tackle. Because he did some things I thought were a little awkward at left tackle this year. Wasn’t all that comfortable with that part of it, but then I didn’t see him being a left tackle in this league. As I started to dig into him and found him playing right tackle as a junior, it was like, there he is.”
The Seahawks will certainly hope so -- they passed on more prominent prospects, and it will be on Cable to make the fit work.
Cassius Marsh, DL, UCLA -- Fourth round, 108th overall pick
Seattle lost its third-round pick this season in the Percy Harvin trade, and Schneider couldn't trade back in. Instead, Seattle waited and picked up Marsh, who played tackle when star pass-rusher Anthony Barr (who went ninth overall to the Vikings) worked off the edge and end when Barr flared out to a more traditional linebacker role. Marsh put up 12 sacks in his last two seasons, even though he was washed out at times when playing inside (which happens when you stand 6-foot-4 and weigh 252 pounds). Seattle's defensive line is built on gap versatility, and West Coast area scout Tyler Ramsey brought that up first.
"Cassius was really versatile for them," Ramsey said. "He came in closer to 300 pounds, played a little three-technique for them, and as he progressed, he’s been a three-and-a-half-year starter there, he moved outside and played some five-technique, stood up, came off the edge, so really his versatility as a rusher is what stood out about him. He plays with his hair on fire, he’s all over the field. Really good with his hands. Playing a multitude of spots, kind of like [recently re-signed lineman Michael] Bennett. Kind of in that same mold, a 6-4 guy that can play all over the place.
"Pete always talks about the unique traits, and with Cassius it was the effort and the hand use and the versatility. You still like guys like Red and big dudes that can hold the point. Cassius is just kind of rare in his full set of skills."
"Red" is Red Bryant, Seattle's former enormous five-tech end and dominant run-stopper. Marsh has played up to 300 pounds, so the Seahawks seem to see him as raw clay, malleable into any number of potential roles. That's a common trait among Carroll's defensive players.
Kevin Norwood, WR, Alabama -- Fourth round, 123rd overall pick
Schneider has said that he will look at a draft prospect's overall mental and emotional makeup now perhaps more than ever -- the Seahawks have a young locker room full of alpha personalities, and there's no room for the meek, or anyone inclined to measure his mark before trying to make it. You hit the ground running, or you'll get flattened. Perhaps more than any other Seahawks pick this year, Kevin Norwood was praised for his intangibles off the field and toughness on it. Nine years ago, Hurricane Katrina put a tree through the roof of his Gulfport, Mississippi home. Now he has a bachelor's degree, a master's degree (sports management), and he's made big plays for one of the NCAA's most prominent programs. From a makeup perspective, Southeast area scout Jim Nagy insisted that Norwood checks all the boxes.
"I’ve had some experience scouting players that have been through Katrina, and they really have a lot of substance," Nagy said. "It shows they are really mentally tough, they have overcome a lot. He has two degrees. He’s one of the best kids in the program. He was voted year-end captain by his teammates, with A.J. McCarron and C.J. Mosely. There are a lot of those intangible things that he brings to the table."
Of course, none of that would mean much if he couldn't play, and the Seahawks view him as an undervalued bigger receiver who can win physical battles and make plays with a consistent catch rate. When scouting a receiver in a conservative program with a limited quarterback (same thing the team did with Richardson), it becomes crucial to isolate the player's attributes above all. Norwood caught 38 passes for 568 yards and seven touchdowns last season, and it's clear that Seattle sees higher potential in each of those categories.
"He’s a guy, when I was watching him, thinking he was going to be a more productive pro than he was a college player, just because of a function of what they do," Nagy concluded. "More of a controlled passing game. They have a lot of weapons at Alabama, they don’t just concentrate on one guy. They spread the ball around. You have to watch more and more tape; go back to previous years, things like that."
Kevin Pierre-Louis, OLB, Boston College -- Fourth round, 132nd overall pick
Of all the scouts made available to the media through the weekend, Southeast area scout Todd Brunner made the boldest prediction about the player he brought to the table. Brunner was hired by Seattle in 2012, after spending the previous 11 years in the 49ers' organization. Thus, he was part of the team that scouted and selected Penn State linebacker NaVorro Bowman in the third round of the 2010 draft. Since then, Bowman has become one of the NFL's best players -- he was certainly worthy of consideration for the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year award.
When discussing Pierre-Louis, an undersized college defender like Bowman was, Brunner didn't delay in making that comparison.
"This kid is unbelievable," Brunner said. "I just talked to him on the phone. He’s my favorite kid in this whole draft. Regardless of the grade I gave the guy, he is my favorite player in this whole draft, just to watch. He plays with energy, the guy is all over the field ... He can fit anywhere. He has ability to play. The coaches will decide what they want to do with him. Athletically, he can play anywhere. You just find a spot, and he’ll play.
"There was a guy when I was down in San Fran, that he reminds me of, that we took. That would be NaVorro."
Well, that's a tall order, and Schneider backed the hype down at the end of the draft.
"Whoa, slow down, Todd," Schneider said with a laugh. "Guys get excited when you pick guys in their area. Todd scouted NaVorro at Penn State and was with the 49ers when they took him, and in his mind that’s who he reminded him of. That was one of the themes we stuck with. You could see they played a very similar position in college."
The 6-foot-1, 232-pound Pierre-Louis did show a lot of range -- to the point where he looks like a safety at times -- but it'll be a while before he shows the level of play that Bowman now does. Then again, Bowman came out of college at 6-foot-1, 242, and didn't really hit the big time until his second season in the NFL. So, as they say, you just never know.
From the fifth round on, as the process accelerated, the Seahawks went into lightning round mode, and left the comments on the final four players selected (Middle Tennessee State defensive tackle Jimmy Staten, Marshall offensive tackle Garrett Scott, San Diego State safety Eric Pinkins and Arkansas fullback Kiero Small) to Schneider and Carroll at the end. Points of interest: Seattle intends to try the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Pinkins as an edge cornerback, in the mold of former Seahawk and current Patriot Brandon Browner, and Small was singled out by Carroll and Schneider for the fact that he broke 26 opponents' facemasks in college. It will be years before we know how this draft class works out, but in making their scouts available for questions through the weekend, the Seahawks took the transparency battle, hands-down. More teams should do so, if only to make this arduous process far less ... anonymous.