Maybe the looming labor lockout increases the importance of this week’s NFL scoutng combine. Of course, if there’s no 2011 season, these prospects might age a bit before they put on anybody’s uniform.
With 25 free agents, the Seattle Seahawks appear to have more work to do than most teams, so they’d better be pretty clever when it comes to pinpointing talent to conscript through the draft.
But those who have watched the Seattle front office in action over the past year probably have a sense that general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll are somewhat less than daunted about diving into the great unknown.
Remember, last year at this time, Walter Jones was still a possible left tackle, and before the start of free agency, it looked as if Seattle’s three top receivers for 2010 might be T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch and Nate Burleson.
Schneider gave us a glimpse into their talent evaluation process last winter. At the combine, especially, players can tease you with measurables. But you have to trust your eyes, he stressed. The films of how the player performed in his games is the key component.
Is his 40-yard time important? Yes, if it helps him run away from players when he has the ball. Is his vertical leap worth noting? Yes, if he can come down from that height with the ball in his hands.
When the evaluation becomes time to make a pick, it’s not really a matter of need versus talent level, but a synthesis of the two. Prospects are rated on how they serve the Seahawks’ scheme. And that starts even before the combine.
The last time around, Schneider told us that building the offensive line was the first step. They ended up taking tackle Russell Okung with the No. 6 pick.
Schneider was asked if he would consider using the No. 14 pick for a safety. Yes, he said, if “that guy has a chance to be a Pro Bowl player.”
They took Earl Thomas of Texas, who pulled in five interceptions.
Would they be willing to take chances on character issues? On a case-to-case basis, if the talent warranted.
They ended up taking USC tight end Anthony McCoy in the sixth round. He’d been considered a second- or third-round talent before flunking a drug test before the combine.
Oregon cornerback Walter Thurmond was closely examined at the combine for the status of the knee injury that sidelined him most of the 2009 season and worried prospective employers. With talent that was once considered first-round worthy, the Hawks plucked him when he was still around in the fourth round, and he performed with promise as a rookie.
With last offseason as an indicator, it’s pretty clear they did just about exactly what they predicted.
As Carroll looked forward to this offseason after the Hawks were defeated by Chicago in the divisional round of the playoffs, he cited the top priority as building the talent and depth on both sides of the line.
Since the rushing attack had been such a concern, it’s most obvious that the prime goal will be in adding some offensive line help.
But then he also acknowledged the need for the team to settle on a path into the future at quarterback. Matt Hasselbeck is 35; backup Charlie Whitehurst is unproven. And there are easily a handful of prospects showing off their skills this week at the combine.
When Schneider outlined his philosophies last spring, he noted that almost all conventional analysis and priority goes out when it comes to taking a quarterback. If there’s a potential great quarterback still there when your time arrives, “you take the guy,” he said.
That commitment could be worth remembering this week as the Seahawks take another step into the unknown that could be the 2011 season.