Earlier this month, Matthew Berry was promoted to Seahawks senior director of player personnel. With the Seahawks brass preparing for this week's NFL Combine, Berry took some time to discuss what goes into preparing for the draft.
In the last month, Berry and the Seahawks scouting department have traveled to some of the top collegiate showcase games to put faces and personalities to the film they've been studying year-round. The beginning of February took the team to the Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas to the Senior Bowl in Mobile. From there, they got a closer look at some of the best Black-college football talent at the HBCU Legacy Bowl in New Orleans. While still in New Orleans for the HBCU Legacy Bowl, Berry gave insight into how the evaluation process works for Seattle before heading to Indianapolis for the Combine. .
"We just got through our pre-combine draft meetings," said Berry. "We had a week where we went virtual, where we talked about free agents, the guys that are not on our front board. So basically, everybody from minicamp tryouts, to 90-man, to a guy we feel like is a good player but not quite on the level of a player that we have on our draft board. So we did that for a week, I'm thinking it was like 2,100 players that we discussed. Then we came in for 10 days, and we covered about 330 players in 10 days, where we actually go through the process and watch them as a group. We present the characters and we compare them and build our initial draft board. So that's really intense, and in my role, I'm also doing all the administrative things to help us prepare for the combine."
Another big task this time of year is getting coaches caught up on this year's draft prospects. While preparing for the draft began last spring for the scouts, coaches were focused on the 2022 season.
"We're getting the coaches ready so that they can start their process of evaluating prospects," Berry said. "The week we came in for meetings is when coaches got off their postseason vacation, so they're starting to get into free agency and the draft process for the first time. You're trying to figure out what questions you need to get answered throughout the spring. That's the biggest part of it. It's all about finding the right fit. The player has to have the talent, but the right culture-fit in who we want. They'll fit the style of play we want to do. They'll be able to learn at the rate that we need to learn at in our culture. I think we did a good job last year, really the last few years that fit in our locker room. It's really a big research project and you're trying to answer as many questions that you have on the prospects as you can, and challenging as many preconceived notions that you have from the fall to try to figure out where the truth on each of these guys lies."
One thing Carroll emphasizes in players is grit—there’s an entire episode of The Sound dedicated to how Carroll pulls the best out of his players and finds players that fit the mold—and Berry discussed some of the ways the team tries to identify, in a short interview at the combine, if a player has what it takes to fit into Seattle's culture.
"Every player is different," Berry said. "Every player is in a unique situation and has a unique backstory. You go into a school and the narrative you're presented on a player might be 70 percent truth, so you're trying to find guys that have shown for a long period of time the ability to focus on football. Guys that maybe have been doubted and proved people wrong, guys that have a chip on their shoulder. Part of it is what they've demonstrated over the course of their career, and then you talk to them, take all of that research that you've done throughout sometimes two seasons, and you begin to develop a relationship with a prospect. Then you get to feel what's motivating them, what's driving them. Guys that have that drive, edge, chip on their shoulder, that comes across when you talk to them. You can't fake it. So that's what we're trying to distill through the process of our interviews and figure out which guys have that, and which don't. You're really trying to get a player to be authentic in your presence, be themselves, and that's when you can see."
In 2008, Berry joined Seattle as a Southwest area scout, rising to national evaluator in 2014. In 2015, Berry was named director of national scouting, a role he served until his latest promotion. From discussing the importance of day-three selections and undrafted free agents, to scouring every level of NCAA football for talent, Berry's value on building relationships with players and schools is a metaphor for the player-first environment Carroll and John Schneider have built in Seattle. Berry also provided more insight into what the combine interview process looks like for the Seahawks.
"To think you're going to figure out a 18 to 22-year-old in a 17-minute interview at the combine is foolish," he said. "If you're going to base your decision on one or two interactions, you probably won't have good results. With the underclassmen, this will be our first interaction with them in Indianapolis. We try to develop relationships with these guys over a period of time to try to see where they're coming from. Because everybody has a different background. I don't know if the direct approach, if there's an issue that you're concerned about, is the best way to do it. If they're in an environment with six to 10 people they've never met in their lives, there's usually cameras in the room, the kids are under stress just from the environment. It depends on the person and how many interactions we've had with them and how we'll approach the interview with them. Most of the time it's going to be 'Hey this is where the player is coming from, this is something to be aware of.' I'll give it to coach—Coach Carroll leads the interviews—and then we'll turn to football pretty quickly.
"The idea is to really get the player comfortable to be themselves, so the second, third or fifth time you talk to them, if there's something to be concerned about, there's more trust there. There's more care to do that process. There's some teams that are really direct and cross the line with the questions. But if you know something and you already know it, why do you need to ask the player? If the time's right, then you can confirm it at a later date. Or in a setting that's not as formal and intimidating, which helps protect the player."
Berry and the Seahawks front office will look to bolster a 9-8 team that earned an NFC Wild Card berth. For 15 years, he's shown a commitment to helping Seattle build a winner regardless of his title.
Check out photos from Wednesday, March 1 at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.