John Schneider has been involved in the NFL Draft for two decades and admits that he even dreamed of doing it when he was a kid growing up in Wisconsin.
But this year’s NFL Draft, Schneider’s fifth as general manager of the Seahawks, is different from any in his past.
For starters, this is the latest draft in NFL history. Then there’s the fact that the Seahawks are Super Bowl champions. That delayed Schneider’s full-emersion involvement in the process, and also leaves the Seahawks with the last pick in the first round on May 8. Schneider also enters this draft with just six picks this year, compared to 11 last year; and the depth he and coach Pete Carroll have acquired since they arrived in 2010 will make it difficult for rookies to have an impact as the Seahawks defend their Super Bowl title.
But even with all that change upon change for the Seahawks and the league, Schneider and his staff will not deviate from the way they prepare for the NFL Draft and conduct themselves during the three-day selection process.
“We don’t look at this draft any different than we did when we got here,” Schneider said Wednesday during a Q&A session at Virginia Mason Athletic Club with reporters who cover the team.
“We’re always grading for our team, we’re not grading for the league. So we’re trying to project who’s going to be here, who will not be here, who they’ll be competing with.”
That was the case with last year’s draft class, as tight end Luke Willson was selected in the fifth round with a specific role in mind; seventh-round pick Michael Bowie got eight starts because since-departed-in-free-agency right tackle Breno Giacomini was injured; and the other picks saw limited or no action, but figured into the down-the-road approach.
The Seahawks lost three defensive linemen from their Super Bowl team – ends Red Bryant and Chris Clemons, who were released and signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars; and tackle Clinton McDonald, who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency. But waiting in the wings are Greg Scruggs, a seventh-round pick in 2012, and Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams, third- and fifth-round picks last year. The Seahawks also lost cornerbacks Brandon Browner (New England Patriots) and Walter Thurmond (New York Giants) in free agency, and with an eye on that possibility selected Tharold Simon in the fifth-round last year.
The Seahawks already have used two of their picks in this year’s draft in trades to acquire other players. Their third-round selection, along with their first-round pick last year, went to the Minnesota Vikings in the trade for wide receiver Percy Harvin last March. They sent their seventh-round pick to the Oakland Raiders two weeks ago for quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
As with Harvin last year, Schneider considers the value of the player acquired greater than the value of the pick – or picks – surrendered. That from a GM whose philosophy is rooted in the-more-the-merrier philosophy when it comes to draft picks.
And it’s difficult to argue with him. Just look at the Seahawks’ defense that led the NFL in average points and yards allowed last season, as well as turnovers, and then carried the team to its impressive 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2. Starting cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Bryon Maxwell where fifth- and sixth-round picks in 2011. Strong safety Kam Chancellor was a fifth-round pick in 2010. Middle linebacker and two-time leading tackler Bobby Wagner and nickel back Jeremy Lane were second- and sixth-round picks in 2012. Linebacker Malcolm Smith, the Super Bowl MVP, was a seventh-round pick in 2010.
So Schneider not only likes draft picks, it’s hard not to like what he has done with them in his first four drafts with the Seahawks – starting with the selections of All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas and Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle Russell Okung in the first round of the 2010 draft; quarterback Russell Wilson in the third round of the 2012 draft; and all those third-day picks where he found first- or second-day talents.
Schneider shifts the credit for this youth movement to Carroll and the way his staff is willing to use younger players earlier. It’s something Carroll learned during his ridiculously successful nine-year stay at USC, in between his stints as a head coach in the NFL.
“Coach Carroll and his staff, they’ve played with young players at USC,” Schneider said. “They’re used to it. They don’t have a preconceived notion about you need a veteran. The easiest thing to do is sign the veteran. The hardest thing to do is take a young player and coach him up and spend extra time with him and develop them and get them ready to play.
“And this staff has shown an ability to do that, year in and year out. And that’s a commitment. That was part of the partnership with Pete and I that we were going to accentuate the strength of these players. We’re not going to harbor on the negatives. We’re going to try to do whatever we can as an organization to help them compensate for their deficiencies. We’re going to do whatever we can to coach them up and develop them and get them to reach their ceiling as quickly as they can.”
And the work doesn’t stop once the draft is over, as the Seahawks have signed wide receivers Doug Baldwin (2011) and Jermaine Kearse (2012), linebacker Mike Morgan (2011), defensive end Benson Mayowa (2013) and defensive backs Jeron Johnson (2011) and DeShawn Shead (2012) as rookie free agents after the selection process has been completed.
“We’re trying to acquire as many guys as we possibly can and then put it out there during the summer (in training camp and the preseason) and see what happens,” Schneider said. “I think Doug is a great example of that.”
Despite all the changes in this year’s draft, because of the way last season went, Schneider smiled and offered, “I’d rather do it this way.”
This NFL draft is very different, but John Schneider’s approach isn’t.