Seahawks Open 2016 Season With League-High 24 Undrafted Players On 53-Man Roster

For Tyvis Powell, the disappointment of going undrafted was quickly replaced with the pressure to make a potentially life-altering decision. Like the rest of the top undrafted rookies last spring, Powell had numerous teams trying to sign him, and the Ohio State safety ultimately decided to sign with Seattle not because the Seahawks presented the weakest roster at his position, but rather because he knew he’d get a fair chance to show what he can do.

The appeal of signing with Seattle came down to two things for Powell—a chance to learn from two of the league’s best safeties in Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, and also the number 26. That’s the number Powell heard during Seattle’s recruiting pitch, telling him how many undrafted players were on Seattle’s roster at one point late last season. Twenty-six players who, just like Powell, were told “no thanks” by 32 teams over the course of seven rounds of a draft, and who still found a way to make it in the NFL.

While at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center for a pre-draft visit last spring, University of Washington defensive lineman Tani Tupou heard the same thing from former Husky teammates Kasen Williams and Kevin Smith—if you end up here, you’ll get a real chance to compete for a job.

Four months after Powell and Tupou signed with Seattle after the draft, they became two of the seven undrafted rookies to make Seattle’s 53-man roster along with quarterback Trevone Boykin, cornerback DeAndre Elliott, tackle George Fant, receiver Tanner McEvoy and long-snapper Nolan Frese.

“That was one of the main things that sold me—other than learning from one of the best secondaries—when they said it was 26 players on the roster last year who were undrafted,” Powell said. “It kind of motivated me like, ‘OK, now I can see that there are other guys here who made it.’”

Added Tupou: “When we first came in here, they told us that from the get-go. And a bunch of my former teammates, Kasen, Kevin Smith, hearing it and seeing it from them… The first time visited here, Kevin and Kasen told me, ‘If you just work hard, good things will happen.’”

When Seahawks coach Pete Carroll talked excitedly about the depth on this year’s team during training camp, he wasn’t just talking about veterans or even a draft class for which the Seahawks have very high hopes; Carroll also knew that his team added a lot of talent in those frantic moments that followed the 2016 draft.

It would be easy to look at 15 rookies making the team, seven of them undrafted, and question a team’s depth, but really the Seahawks see just the opposite—this year’s rookie class came in with the talent and competitive attitude that allowed it to improve the roster’s depth while also making it younger.

“We really thought this was a great, competitive roster and we thought things could turn out like this and guys could show up like this, so (seven undrafted rookies) is a good number,” Carroll said. “I don’t know what other teams are doing, but it’s a good solid number, and it’s a statement of picking the right guys and battling when they got here and competing in camp to make it through. It’s not easy.”

For the Seahawks, giving undrafted players a legitimate shot to make the team and contribute is nothing new. Sometimes undrafted players step in and take on big roles almost immediately, as was the case with receiver Doug Baldwin in 2011 or running back Thomas Rawls last year, while other times players work their way up from the practice squad and eventually become big contributors, which is what occurred with players like receiver Jermaine Kearse and defensive back DeShawn Shead.

As Powell remembered hearing from the Seahawks, Seattle at one point had 26 undrafted rookies on the roster late last season. This year, they open the season with 24 undrafted players, the most in the NFL (Indianapolis is second at 20). That list of undrafted players includes a number of starters and key parts of the offense and defense like Baldwin, Shead, Rawls, Kearse, Michael Bennett, Garry Gilliam, Tony McDaniel, Bradley Sowell and Mike Morgan, as well as all of Seattle’s specialists, kicker punter Ryan, kicker Steven Hauschka and Frese.

“I think yeah, we have an edge,” Bennett said of his fellow undrafted teammates. “I think we got that hunger. I think when you have guys that are undrafted, guys that’ve been in the middle round, you tend to have a certain amount of hunger for the game. I think a lot of guys are hungry for success. This team breeds hunger. The way coach Carroll talks about competition—all competition is is somebody who wants to eat more than the next person. That’s how it is on this team. I think we breed that to the young guys, and I think it goes off. The guys that leave here, you see them on different teams and you still see their hunger. I think the undrafted guys are really the guys that show the team how to work really hard. You see Doug Baldwin; you see all those guys that are like that, to see Bradley Sowell, the tackle, me, so many different guys that worked really hard to be where they’re at.”

The Seahawks have drafted well over the years, adding star players and starters in mid-to-late rounds like Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, K.J. Wright, Jeremy Lane, Luke Willson and others, but they’ve also thrived because they allow undrafted players a real chance to compete with those draft picks for jobs.

“What I like about here is that everyone gets a chance to compete and showcase their ability,” Kearse said. “John Schneider and Pete Carroll allowed (this year’s undrafted rookies) to do that, and they just made the most of their opportunities.”

The Seahawks hope every draft pick works out, but Carroll’s “always compete” philosophy also means that a team with the highest of expectations is happy to head into the 2016 season with 24 undrafted players and 29 who were drafted, including just two first-round picks—Earl Thomas and Germain Ifedi.  

“If you’ve got that hunger inside of you, you can make anything happen,” Powell said. “It doesn’t matter how you got here, it’s what you do when you get here.”

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Take a player-by-player look at the Seattle Seahawks 53-man roster following Saturday's NFL-mandated roster reduction.

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