When the NFL draft kicks off Thursday night, Seahawks general manager John Schneider, head coach Pete Carroll and the rest of Seattle's scouts and coaches will be looking at a somewhat pared down version of their draft board.
The Seahawks haven't drastically overhauled the way they evaluate talent heading into Carroll and Schneider's ninth draft together, but what they have done is determine that they want to have fewer names on their board this year.
"You evaluate your drafts all of the time," Schneider said Monday. "You're constantly evaluating what you think you did well and what you need to improve on. I think one of the things we've done is really cleaned up. There's aren't as many names on our board. You have to have certain criteria to be on our board and we're making less excuses for players, I would say."
This isn't the case of the Seahawks making big changes as much as it is getting back to how they did things early in the Carroll-Schneider era.
"It just looks cleaner," Schneider said. "It's easier to study, it's easier to figure out where the ledges are, the drop-offs, or where the strengths are. Again, we're just trying to get back to… In 2010, 2011, 2012, we had less numbers, just in general. And then for one reason or another, we continued to add more and more players and it's just too much."
Added Carroll, "I think this year we've taken another step in refining the process. I think we're more precise about some things and information that we're gathering, and I think it's allowed John to clean the board up more clearly than ever. I think that's what's happened. So we might not have as many numbers on the board because we're more tuned in to specifically to guys that really fit. I think it's a really positive thing. And it has to do with a lot of factors too. It has to do with the background people that are helping us with our information gathering and putting stuff together and the assessment of it—we're just better than we've been. We feel really good about the fact that we've been able to do that."
So how did the Seahawks' draft boards become a bit more crowded over the years? Schneider noted part of it was that, as the roster became stronger following those incredible 2010-2012 draft hauls, "You end up trying to get more and more guys on your board to figure out, while the draft's going on, 'OK, are we going to be able to acquire this player? Should we move back to acquire that player? How's that guy going to fit in?' And it just became harder for some of these guys to make the team."
Now they'll head into the 2018 with fewer names on the board, even if it means telling a scout who worked all year on a player that that particular player won't have a draftable grade.
"I think our process, our guys doing the evaluation were working so hard and digging into so many guys, we had evaluations on tons and tons of guys, and in that, kind of in respect to the work that we did, we kept them alive and kept them on the board and gave them a chance to be part of the process," Carroll said. "But we've just refined it much more so, and John's comfortable with his guys, they've zeroed in and been willing to eliminate some guys from the draftable numbers, really for all the right reason. It's really not going to affect us at all, we're still going to make the same choices, guy are going to be on the board and there's going to be plenty of numbers. But I think really it's been a process that has gotten us to the point where we're just clearer and more precise. And the guys are mature about, 'OK, I know I spent 10 months on this dude, but he's not going to be on the board.' We were able to get through that, and it has just made us cleaner. It's not going to change anything in terms the picks or choices or any of that. All of those evaluations are still done. As we get into the free agency part of it after the draft is completed, all of those names and numbers are still available to us, so I just think we're better than we've been and more willing to pare it down."
As for what goes into the process of paring down their draft board, Schneider said it's everything ranging from character concerns to medical issues to the always difficult process of "knowing what's in a man's heart."
"There's so much information on every individual—the medical portion, the orthopedic portion, the psychological portion, all the testing that goes into this, the functional movement stuff, the character stuff, right?" Schneider said. "At some point, there's red flags, usually on everybody, but what happens is you end up kind of ignoring some of those red flags if you feel like you have a specific need or fit for a player. I think it's happened in the past, it'll probably happen in the future, but we just want to limit those. You never truly know the whole package, right? You never truly know what's in a man's heart. So we just work our tails off to try to find it out. We're still doing it. We're not going to be done until like Wednesday night or whatever."
Part of the evaluation process this year is finding players who want to push for playing time and compete for jobs, even with some of the best players in the NFL. Wanting competitive players is nothing new for the Seahawks, but Schneider has brought up that particular point several times this offseason, noting he wants player who aren't intimidated competing with players they might have grown up idolizing.
"That's another part of our evaluation," Schneider said. "Just because you're talented doesn't mean you're going to come in here not be in awe of Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner, Russell Wilson or whomever. We've got to get back to bringing guys into this building that are ready to compete with those guys and not just be happy to take a second seat or a backup chair. Pete's whole deal is it's all about competition. We need to get those guys that want to come in and compete. This class, they were in eighth grade or freshman year when these guys were in the Super Bowl so they're playing them in Madden and all of that stuff."
And with a significant amount of roster turnover taking place this offseason, Carroll has sensed an energy in the building that should only foster that level of competition he wants to see in 2018.
"There's been tremendous excitement around the building going into week two now of phase one (of the offseason workout program)," Carroll said. "There's an energy about the guys that are here in this locker room that's exciting. The coaches can all feel it, everybody in the building can feel it. In that regard, it might feel a little bit like a few years ago. There's a real juice about it right now and real excited about it. We haven't had a chance to be on the field with the players yet, but next week we'll get even closer to what's going on. But guys have come back in great shape, we have very few guys who are hurt. There's a lot of guys who are out here ready to work and getting ready for the opportunity so there's a great sense about it and we're really fired up about it."