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Late Round Strategy, Lack of Picks Help Seahawks Harvest Strong Undrafted Free Agent Class

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SeahawkMaven
SeahawkMaven
 2021-05-06

During a typical NFL Draft, Seahawks general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll don't speak with the media until the conclusion of the seventh and final round.

But there was nothing typical about this year's draft for Schneider, Carroll, and the rest of Seattle's scouting and personnel departments. In part due to the inability for scouts to travel to games and the cancellation of the 2021 combine resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the team "opted out" of the draft by dealing four picks in three separate trades to acquire safety Jamal Adams, defensive end Carlos Dunlap, and guard Gabe Jackson.

This left the Seahawks with only three picks - easily the fewest of any NFL team - heading into last week's festivities. Rather than trade back multiple times or ship away future picks to recoup picks this year, they wound up making just three selections, once again showcasing that the franchise wasn't comfortable evaluating this year's draft class amid circumstances.

After packaging two late-round picks to trade up with the Bears to pick No. 208 for Florida tackle Stone Forsythe, the Seahawks didn't have another pick left. And Schneider planned for it to stay that way, as indicated by the fact he and Carroll began their press conference before the seventh round even began.

"Thank you guys for doing this," Schneider said to open the press conference. "We’re not picking any more, so we wanted to be ready to get back up there and start being able to recruit as soon as the draft was over. So, I appreciate you adjusting your schedules for us."

It was certainly an odd departure from how Schneider and Carroll have done business in the past. Each of the past two seasons, they were coordinating last-minute deals to trade future picks to move back into the seventh round to select Hawaii receiver John Ursua and LSU tight end Stephen Sullivan, two players they didn't believe they would be able to sign as priority undrafted free agents.

But in this unprecedented draft, Seattle deployed a significantly altered their approach. As expected, Schneider indicated he made calls about trading down from the 56th pick in the second round as well as the 137th pick in the fourth round. However, in both cases, potential deals fell apart and they selected Western Michigan receiver D'Wayne Eskridge and Oklahoma cornerback Tre Brown.

Between those picks, Schneider did trade down from pick No. 129 to No. 137, which netted Seattle a sixth-round pick from Tampa Bay. But as he told reporters, that decision appeared to be built around the thought process of eventually trading up to select Forsythe, who was held in high regard by consultant Steve Hutchinson. Adding another pick would have potentially allowed them to go after the 6-foot-8 tackle a bit earlier than they did.

"There was a situation where we could have gone back even further after we worked with Tampa, to see if we could get Tre [Brown] a little bit later, which we just decided that was not the thing to do, we needed to just pick Tre," Schneider explained. "But, with the thought of acquiring another pick to try to get up to go get Stone [Forsythe]. So, I want to say it was in the 190s that we tried [to trade up], and then it literally seemed like two hours."

Looking at how the situation played out, it's clear Schneider and Carroll were far more concerned with quality than quantity in this particular draft. They were able to land a speedy deep threat, a physical corner with special teams prowess, and a potential heir apparent for Duane Brown, filling three important needs and finishing their draft midway through the sixth round.

As Schneider noted to start the press conference, that last statement is especially key. The Seahawks already felt confident they would be a top draw for undrafted players due to their history of developing such players coupled with their lack of picks. Moving up to make their last selection allowed them to shift their focus solely to recruiting talented players who had yet to hear their name called.

While Seattle has yet to release an official list of undrafted players signed to contracts, 12 players have reportedly done so and the group includes several notable names, including receivers Cade Johnson and Tamorrion Terry.

A standout at the Senior Bowl in January, Johnson caught 162 passes for 2,872 receiving yards and 28 touchdowns during three seasons at South Dakota State. He also was a dynamic kick returner for the Jackrabbits, returning two of them for touchdowns as a freshman. Though he isn't the most explosive or biggest receiver, he's a precise route runner with elite quickness who should be able to compete for snaps out of the slot immediately in Seattle.

Offering a vastly different skill set, the 6-foot-3, 207-pound Terry presents another big-bodied "X" receiver option who creates matchup problems with his speed, size, and catch radius. Drops and injuries have been issues for him, but he's only two years removed from producing 1,188 yards and nine receiving touchdowns for Florida State and like Johnson, he has a legitimate shot to compete for a reserve receiver role with the Seahawks.

Aside from those two standout receivers, Schneider and Seattle's personnel staff took advantage of their extra time to recruit by snagging several potential gems at other position groups.

A Shrine game invite, University of Montreal standout Pier-Olivier Lestage plays a physical brand of football and could have a chance to push Kyle Fuller for a backup center role. California tackle Jake Curhan served as a four-year starter in the Pac-12 and Mississippi State guard Greg Eiland started a bunch of games in the SEC, giving the Seahawks a trio of intriguing young offensive linemen to develop.

In the backfield, Louisiana Monroe's Josh Johnson gives the Seahawks a powerful 215-pound bruiser with quality speed and explosiveness who also excels as a pass protector. Former five-star recruit B.J. Emmons also signed and due to his pedigree, he may be a player worth watching this summer despite subpar production at Alabama and Florida Atlantic.

Defensively, Virginia Tech tackle Jarrod Hewitt emerged as one of the better interior pass rushers in the ACC over the past two seasons. At 290 pounds, he's naturally built to play the 3-tech role in Seattle's scheme and could push Cedric Lattimore for a reserve rotational role.

Army linebacker Jon Rhattigan and North Carolina Central cornerback Bryan Mills both received buzz as potential late day three picks, but the Seahawks were able to lock both of them up shortly after the final draft pick was made. Rhattigan's athleticism and tackling ability should allow him to compete for special teams snaps, while Mills has good size and length as a developmental outside cornerback in Seattle's Cover 3-heavy scheme.

The Seahawks also added German linebacker Aaron Donkor through the International Player Pathway Program earlier this week. Boasting impressive physical gifts, if he's not ready to see the field quite yet, the team will have the flexibility to keep him without using one of their 10 practice squad slots to allow them to develop him.

Time will tell how many of these undrafted players wind up making a legitimate push for a 53-man roster spot. But there's no denying Schneider and Carroll would have been hard-pressed to persuade this many talented players to come to Seattle in previous years. Even given the team's stellar reputation, the opportunities simply were better elsewhere.

However, that was not the case this year for a variety of reasons. Players knew the Seahawks had limited draft picks and a tight salary cap also created issues retaining veteran reserves. The organization took advantage of this and wisely strategized to create additional time to pursue the best players available, which Carroll believes will lead to a very competitive training camp this summer.

"We’re situated very well right now. If the new guys and a couple of the free agents have a shot can come in here and make a spark and add something to us and give us a little flash or something on special teams or whatever they can bring, we’re going to be a very, very competitive team. I have no hesitation in saying that. I’m excited about that."