John Schneider admitted something to us last week that came as a bit of a surprise to fans. He said there is no golden wand that can be waved to magically allow general managers and scouts to see the future of NFL prospects.
That’s strange, because he and his crew certainly seemed to have one for a couple seasons.
If they’ve misplaced it, this might be the time to dust it off and wave it around a little.
Schneider, coach Pete Carroll, scouts and staff — in a layered collaboration — created the existing high expectations regarding talent procurement. Right off, they stocked the roster with young talent that ripened into an elite team.
They have fended off free-agency defections by bestowing top-dollar contracts upon their core of studs, and are left to balance out the salary cap with young rank-and-file players on the rise.
That’s how you beat the system in the NFL. That’s how the Seahawks got where they are. They scored big on Russell Wilson in the third round, Richard Sherman in the fifth, Kam Chancellor in the fifth, and so forth.
And when these guys and others hit their second contracts, the pressure is on to keep finding the next wave of young players who can help you win while staying under the cap.
The crucial time for the Seahawks this week is not Thursday or Friday, but on Saturday. Nine of their 11 picks heading into the draft are in rounds 4 through 7.
The first day or so of the draft is about finding the difference-maker, the immediate upgrade. The rest of it is mostly about finding cheap labor.
The problem is, when you get a team good enough to make it to consecutive Super Bowls, it usually has talented starters in place — leaving little room for the new guys to get their chances.
So, what are they going to do with 11 more rookies? It’s hard to refresh your young talent when there’s no place to put them.
Look at the roster on the day of the Super Bowl. The Hawks had 11 players from the 2011 and 2012 drafts, only five guys from ’13 and ’14.
It’s left the Seahawks with something of an unofficial gang of redshirts that haven’t had a chance to jump in and prove themselves in the way of Wilson, Sherman, Chancellor, etc.
Last year, only Justin Britt at right tackle was a consistent rookie performer. Life is rocky for rookie tackles in the NFL, but Britt showed the underrated quality of reliability by starting all 16 games.
Second-round receiver Paul Richardson saw action before ending up on IR, but defensive lineman Cassius Marsh, receiver Kevin Norwood and linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis dealt with injuries, leaving their promising qualities compromised by a lack of evidence.
The ’13 draft looked so much like this one, with nine of 11 draft picks on the final day, in rounds 4 through 7.
From that class, defensive tackle Jordan Hill looked game-ready before being IR’ed, but the team still can’t be sure about second-round running back Christine Michael. Fifth-round cornerback Tharold Simon has shown flashes of potential but also penalties and injuries. Fifth-round tight end Luke Willson has been solid.
Britt and Willson were the only two starters in the Super Bowl from the last two drafts. And the only rookie active for the Super Bowl on the Seahawk defense was undrafted free agent linebacker Brock Coyle, a reserve.
Consistently hitting on late-round players is rare, almost an art form. It’s one that Schneider’s crew made look easy. The by-product of such success is that you’re always drafting later, and you’ve already filled most of the starting spots.
There are promising young players on the roster, absolutely. But it’s hard to see anybody in the last two drafts — from 20 choices — who show the potential of a Sherman or Chancellor or Wilson.
The Hawks have masterfully identified, developed and contractually secured enough talent to keep them contenders for the near future.
But they have to find more young talent to sustain the inevitable cycle of roster replenishment.