Who might it be this year? Is there another Doug Baldwin? The next Thomas Rawls?
The Seahawks have a knack with sleepers and surprises, and there’s a number of candidates this season.
Coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider can be circumspect in comments about players showing promise. Who knows, they might need to try to bury a gem on the practice squad at some point. So why advertise?
But they give hints.
This time last year, Carroll occasionally tossed out a reference to that undrafted running back from Central Michigan, the kid named Rawls.
And by the time the season started, Christine Michael had been traded, Robert Turbin was waived, and it was Rawls backing up Marshawn Lynch. When Lynch got hurt, it was Rawls who went on to lead the NFL’s rushers in yards-per-carry (5.6).
Early round guys like Germain Ifedi, Jarran Reed, C.J. Prosise and Nick Vannett seem ready to fit into prescribed roles. So there’s no sleepers there. Here, though, is a look at fifth-rounders or below, or still-young free agents who haven’t had the chance to prove themselves, but seem capable of doing so.
▪ Undrafted free-agent Brandin Bryant. The grandson of a Nebraska star and racial pioneer Charles Bryant, Bryant is a 6-2, 289-pound swing defensive tackle/fullback in the Will Tukuafu mold. Tukuafu contributed the last two seasons as a goal-line defender and spot fullback.
Overlooked somewhat at Florida Atlantic, Bryant is obviously powerful but also impressively mobile. He ran a 4.81 40 and did 38 bench press reps with 225 pounds at his pro day.
Carroll loves versatile players with the physical talents to fit specific roles. Bryant has those. And when asked about undrafted free agents with the best “upside,” Schneider told ESPN710 radio that he thought it was Bryant.
▪ Fifth-round defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson. Justifiably, a lot of attention has been given to second-round DT Jarran Reed, who shows more versatility than he did in his primary role as a run-stopper at Alabama.
But Jefferson was seeing a lot of time with the first unit in OTAs and minicamp and looked pretty comfortable with his duties. Of course, Michael Bennett wasn’t on the field, so that opened some opportunities.
Jefferson is 6-4, 291, and Carroll said he can play almost anywhere on the D-line.
Plus, he’s married and already has three daughters, so he’s going to be hungry to make his mark. So often when Bennett is asked of his motivation, he mentions the expense of raising his three daughters. If that works for Bennett, it might push Jefferson in the same way.
▪ Fifth-round running back Alex Collins. At 5-10, 217, with dreadlocks pouring from the back of his helmet, Collins resembles Marshawn Lynch.
Without work in contact situations thus far, there was no evidence he can run through defenders like Lynch.
But his resume at Arkansas certainly seemed to warrant higher draft consideration. Collins rushed for more than 1,000 yards in his three seasons in the SEC. Only Herschel Walker and Darren McFadden had done that before Collins.
With Rawls recovering from his ankle injury, Collins will see a lot of action in the preseason.
▪ Barring the late addition of a free agent, somebody with very little experience will make this team at wide receiver. Kasen Williams and Doug McNeil III are two intriguing prospects.
Williams, a UW product, always has been a spectacular athlete. He was activated late last season and had one catch against Arizona. Through the offseason workouts that we’ve been allowed to see, he’s made a lot of plays, looking pretty physical getting the ball in traffic.
McNeil is bigger, 6-3 210, with Arena League experience. At 27, he’s been on and off the Seahawks practice squad and gotten a look at cornerback, too. He has zero NFL receptions, but he seems to make himself noticed with nice catches in practice.
Former free agent Kevin Smith (3 career catches) and seventh-round rookie Kenny Lawler also join the interesting competition for that fifth receiver spot.
▪ CB Trovon Reed was a wide receiver at Auburn. At 6-0, 191, he’s not as lengthy as a typical Seahawks corner, but he looks very athletic and hyper-competitive. One day in practice he tracked Baldwin on a route and made a diving deflection of what looked to be a certain completion.
It was an eye-catching effort.
▪ The absence of Bruce Irvin at strongside linebacker opens the way for a competition among veteran Mike Morgan, 2014 fourth-round pick Cassius Marsh, and 2014 sixth-rounder Eric Pinkins.
Pinkins was drafted as a big cornerback (6-3, 230), missed the 2014 season with a foot injury. He was moved to linebacker and was activated for the first time last November. At his pro day at San Diego State, he ran a 4.44 40.
That’s sometimes the kind of speed that can turn a sleeper into a starter.