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Third-day picks, first-round talents

Posted Feb 26, 2013

Richard Sherman. Kam Chancellor. K.J. Wright. Each played a vital role on the Seahawks’ No. 4-ranked defense last season. But they also have another thing in common: All were selected on the third day of the NFL Draft.


There’s a lot to like about Richard Sherman.

The Seahawks’ cornerback was voted All-Pro in his first full season as a starter in 2012, when he led the NFL in passes defensed (24) and the league’s No. 4-ranked defense in interceptions (eight). He’s also long (6-feet-3), long-limbed (6-5½ wingspan) and definitely not lacking in confidence.

And remember, he was a fifth-round draft choice in 2011.

As one league scout wondered aloud while discussing Sherman at the NFL Scouting Combine last week, “How did they get this guy in the fifth round?”

Who better to answer that than the man who made that pick – the 23rd selection in the fifth round and 154th overall?

“Richard is a big, long, athletic, smart, extremely confident individual that for one reason or another was being moved between receiver and defensive back,” general manager John Schneider said. “That happens. At Stanford, they were trying to figure out where he should play, what his best position was.”

Sherman has found a home – at cornerback, and with the Seahawks.

“He does a great job,” Schneider said. “He just has that air about him, like all great corners.”

THIRD-DAY DANDIES

The Seahawks have had success finding players on the third-day of the NFL Draft. Here’s a look at the players on the 53-man roster for their divisional playoff game against the Falcons who entered the league as late-round draft choices or undrafted free agents:

Fourth-round picks (6): LB K.J. Wright (2011), DE Red Bryant (2008), RB Robert Turbin (2012) and DL Jaye Howard (2012), who were drafted by the Seahawks; and FB Michael Robinson and KR/RB Leon Washington, who entered the league with other teams.

Fifth-round picks (5): CB Richard Sherman (2011) and SS Kam Chancellor (2010), who were drafted by the Seahawks; and OT Breno Giacomini, OT Frank Omiyale and DE Patrick Chukwurah, who entered the league with other teams.

Sixth-round picks (4): TE Anthony McCoy (2010), CB Byron Maxwell (2011), CB Jeremy Lane (2012) and S Winston Guy (2012), all drafted by the Seahawks.

Seventh-round picks (6): LB Malcolm Smith (2011), DE Greg Scruggs (2012), OG J.R. Sweezy (2012), who were drafted by the Seahawks; and QB Matt Flynn, DT Clinton McDonald and OT Mike Person, who entered the league with other teams.

Free agents (15): WR Doug Baldwin (2011), S Jeron Johnson (2011), WR Jermaine Kearse (2012), OL Lemuel Jeanpierre (2010), OG Rishaw Johnson (2012), TE Sean McGrath (2012), DB DeShawn Shead (2012), LB Allen Bradford (2011) and LB Mike Morgan (2011), who were signed by the Seahawks; and P Jon Ryan, CB Brandon Browner, S Chris Maragos, LS Clint Gresham, LB Heath Farwell and K Ryan Longwell, who entered the league with other teams.

But then “finding” Sherman in the fifth round was not a dart-in-the-dark selection for Schneider and the Seahawks. In the three drafts since Schneider and coach Pete Carroll were hired in 2010, the club has selected two other starters on the third day of the draft – strong-side linebacker K.J. Wright, a fourth-round pick in 2011 who finished second on the team in tackles last season; and strong safety Kam Chancellor, a fifth-round draft choice in 2010 who was third on the team in tackles last season after finishing second in 2011, when he played in the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement.

These third-day picks also have included guard J.R. Sweezy, a converted defensive lineman who started the final two games of the regular season and both playoff games as a rookie after being a seventh-round pick last year; cornerback Jeremy Lane, who made three starts and was a standout on special teams as a rookie last season after being a sixth-round pick; linebacker Malcolm Smith, a seventh-round selection in 2011 – with a compensatory pick, no less – who started three games last season and also scored one touchdown and set up another on special teams; and tight end Anthony McCoy, a sixth-round pick in 2010 who caught three touchdown passes last season.

So much for the how-they’ve-done aspect. But how have the Seahawks been able to mine the third day of the draft and uncover these nuggets?

“There are tons of players out there who can help your team, it’s just a matter of identifying those players and how they fit,” said Scott Fitterer, the Seahawks’ director of college scouting. “I think our scouts do a great job of really working the back end of the roster.

“That’s what really separates good scouting staffs. A lot of times, it’s easy to grade Rounds 1-3. Those guys jump out on tape and those are easy evaluations. It’s the guys in Rounds 4-7 and free agents, there are some good football players down there and it’s our job to go in, break them down, identify those players. That’s what we’ve done.”

It takes a lot more work, not to mention a little luck at times.

“Through the spring, as guys workout, we leave no stone unturned,” Fitterer said. “We look everywhere.”

One of those stone-turners is Matt Berry, the scout who works the Southwest region for the Seahawks. In 2010, the team had two first-round draft choices and each came from Berry’s region – Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung (Oklahoma State) and All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas (Texas). Last year, the club selected middle linebacker Bobby Wagner in the second round and running back Robert Turbin in the fourth round. Both played at Utah State, and guess whose region that was?

“You’re always just looking for good football players,” Berry said when asked about also being successful with third-day picks. “The guys at the top obviously have the skill set that’s a little different than the guys at the bottom. But a lot of times, it’s just other circumstances.

“So it’s finding those guys who can fit what we do. It may be that they can do three or four things that make them successful in our scheme where they might not be in another scheme.”

That same philosophy has helped the Seahawks score with other teams’ third-day picks – fullback and special teams co-captain Michael Robinson, a fourth-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers who signed with the Seahawks in 2010 after being released; Pro Bowl kick returner Leon Washington, a fourth-round draft choice by the New York Jets who was acquired in a draft-day trade in 2010; right tackle Breno Giacomini, a fifth-round draft choice by the Green Bay Packers who was signed off their practice squad in 2010; and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, a seventh-round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals who was obtained in a trade in 2011.

When the teams that drafted these players gave up on them, the Seahawks stepped in and gave them the opportunity to step up.

Tennessee Titans general manager Ruston Webster also says the credit for finding players on the third day of the draft starts with the scouts.  
     
“You just have to rely on your scouts. They’re a big part of that,” Webster, the Seahawks’ vice president of player personnel for four year before joining the Titans in 2010, said last week at the Combine. “You have to know what you’re looking for. You have to look for those guys that might have instead of multiple outstanding traits maybe have one positive trait that fits what you do, either offensively or defensively.

“So I think, really, that’s the key. That is really the scouts’ time. That’s when they’re pushing for their guys. They take a lot of pride in those guys and finding players in rounds four to seven, and even in free agency.”

Ah, free agency. The Seahawks also have hit on rookies signed after the draft during their three years under Schneider and Carroll – wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who led the team in receptions after being signed in 2011; Jeron Johnson, who also was signed in 2011 and has become the third safety in the Bandit defense and a special teams standout; and linebacker Mike Morgan, another core special teams player who also started a game last season. 
  
The keys to finding those rookie free agents is the same as it is for uncovering players on the third of the draft – being diligent, thorough and willing to put in the extra work to find prospects that fit what you do.

“We don’t feel we ever have all the answers,” Schneider said. “We feel like we’re providing players for a coaching staff that is willing to give everybody an equal opportunity. So in doing that, it just gives you confidence to be able to do all the research and keep asking more and more and more questions and never feel like you completely have it licked in terms of the evaluation process.

“So I think our scouts have done a great job of continually asking more and more questions and searching for more and more answers on the down-the-line players. Then I feel our coaching staff has done a great job of being open-minded to trying to accentuate those players’ strengths and compensate for their deficiencies.”

It has proved to be a joint-venture process that leaves scouts from other teams to wonder aloud just how the Seahawks found Richard Sherman in the fifth round.

Game Rewind: Seattle Seahawks