Despite the rarified air that comes with holding the fourth pick in the first round of Saturday’s NFL Draft, the Seahawks are keeping their philosophical feet firmly planted.
Their draft board has been stacked. The evaluation process is down to fine-tuning. Club president Tim Ruskell and vice president of player personnel Ruston Webster are squinting at the outside world through bloodshot eyes, the residue from countless hours of meetings and video study in preparing for this pivotal process.
But, they also were smiling Thursday during a news conference at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.
“Obviously, it’s an exciting, important time of this football team,” Ruskell said. “We feel very good with our preparation and where we’re at. We know that we’re going to bring some players in that are going to give us some energy and help this team as we go forward. So we’re excited about that.
“It’s been a long process. A lot of hard work. But it’s a labor of love. We all have passion for this.”
Regardless of the business-as-usual approach, things are different this year – the fifth with Ruskell and Webster overseeing the draft.
There’s a new coach, Jim Mora. A new offensive coordinator, Greg Knapp. A new defensive coordinator, Gus Bradley. New approaches on both sides of the ball – more balance on offense, more aggressiveness on defense.
Oh, and then there’s that fourth pick overall – the highest the Seahawks have selected since they traded up to the third spot 1997.
But there’s also a proven draft philosophy that Ruskell and Webster learned from Jerry Angelo and Rich McKay during their tenures with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Angelo is now general manager of the Chicago Bears, while McKay is president of the Atlanta Falcons.
It involves selecting the highest-rated player on your board, placing a high premium on character and not reaching to fill a need.
“We factor in the character, as well,” Ruskell said. “When it’s close, we say, ‘OK, what kind of person are we getting? At what level do we believe this person has passion for the game?’
“That can be the deciding factor. Of course, you can throw need in and value at the position. So those three factors.”
With that said, here’s a look at three high-profile players that will be tempting if available to the Seahawks on Saturday:
- Aaron Curry. The Butkus Award-winning linebacker from Wake Forest is considered the safest pick in the draft. He’s also a player that might not be there at No. 4, because the St. Louis Rams (No. 2) and Kansas City Chiefs (No. 3) also like him.
But Curry is a player who could fill an immediate need by stepping in for Pro Bowl linebacker Julian Peterson, who was traded to the Detroit Lions last month.
“Aaron Curry can do a lot of things well,” Webster said. “He has some ability to blitz. He’s got a feel in (pass) coverage. Smart player. Big. Fast. All those good things.”
- Michael Crabtree. The ridiculously productive wide receiver from Texas Tech was the trendy pick for the Seahawks, before they signed T.J. Houshmandzadeh in free agency and a physical at the scouting combine in February detected a broken bone in Crabtree’s left foot that required surgery.
“Crabtree is a competitive, physical wide receiver, with good quickness and hands,” Webster said. “He’s kind of one of those guys who is angry after the catch. He doesn’t go down, he goes for more. A talented guy.”
- Mark Sanchez. The USC quarterback has become one of the fastest risers in this draft. True, he started only 16 games for the Trojans. But his talents have attracted the Seahawks – as well as teams that might be looking to trade up to the fourth spot like the Washington Redskins (No. 13), New York Jets (No. 17), San Francisco 49ers (No. 10) and Denver Broncos (No. 12).
Asked about Sanchez, Webster offered, “I see a good decision-maker. Accurate thrower. Excellent feet. Ability to move in the pocket. Throws with good timing. Doesn’t hold the ball. Not scared to make a tough throw, if he has to. I saw a competitor.”
Question: Would the Seahawks be willing to trade out of the fourth spot with one of the other teams that covets Sanchez?
“As I’ve all along, we will listen to that,” Ruskell said. “Absolutely, we will listen to that. I don’t know what’s real and what’s not, in terms of what will happen on Saturday.
“And nothing would happen prior to that.”
There has been talk, from Ruskell, among others, that this draft lacks the franchise-quality players who justify being selected – and paid – as Top 5 picks. It’s a situation that has prompted the Seahawks to look at top of this draft class differently.
“The ceiling on those guys is good,” Webster said. “They are talented players. It kind of sounds like they’re not talented, but they’re very talented.
“We also look at the floor. What I like about those players that we’re considering is they’ve got a great floor. So if they’re not at their ceiling, their floor is still pretty good.
“That is part of our philosophy.”