Years ago when the Seahawks were setting their draft board, there was some disagreement on where to put a particular player’s name.
Eventually the player was slotted as a second-round pick, but not for long thanks to one of the most respected men in the room. Derrick Jensen, who his co-workers in the personnel department referred to as “The Velvet Hammer,” quietly but firmly made his opinion known.
“There were a lot of different opinions on this player,” recalled Scott Fitterer, the Seahawks’ co-director of player personnel and a close friend of Jensen’s. “Derrick, in a very subtle way—that’s why we called him the Velvet Hammer—walked up to the board, and said, ‘I see exactly what you’re saying.’ And then he grabbed the card and he pushed it all the way down to the seventh round. ‘But let’s look at this for a little bit and see how this feels.’ That was his personality, and everyone respected him because they knew he did his work. He had such a strong presence, but a gentle way about him. That’s what everybody liked about him. That’s what drew you in.”
Jensen, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Raiders as a player and highly-regarded talent evaluator with the Seahawks for 22 seasons before retiring in 2012, passed away Friday morning at the age of 60 after a nearly five-year battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. To honor Jensen, the Seahawks’ draft room at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center will be renamed the Derrick Jensen Draft Room.
“He’s a huge part of the Seahawks organization,” general manager John Schneider said. “He was just a classic. There are those guys who are the hidden characters of the National Football League, and he was one of those guys among all the scouts throughout the league. Everybody legitimately loved being at a school with him, scouting with him, going to grab a beer with him, whatever.”
Jensen retired after the 2012 season as ALS began taking its toll on his body, but he did make Seattle’s final two selections of the 2013 draft—via a phone call with Schneider and Pete Carroll—selecting Jared Smith and Michael Bowie. He also raised the 12 Flag prior to a game in 2013.
“I’ll always remember the toughness and courage he showed working that final season,” said Seahawks college scouting coordinator Kirk Parrish. “You knew he was in pain and it was affecting him, but he never complained or let it show.”
Jensen joined the Seahawks scouting department in 1991 and over the next two decades, he became known for finding diamonds in the rough. Like any good talent evaluator, he could recognize obvious talent—Jensen scouted first-round pick Shaun Alexander, the only Seahawks player to win league MVP honors—but where Jensen really excelled was finding players other scouts might have missed. During his career, Jensen helped discover undrafted success stories like Leonard Weaver, Jordan Babineaux and Ricardo Lockette, as well as seventh-round pick J.R. Sweezy, a college defensive lineman who became a starting guard.
“He was a great talent evaluator,” Fitterer said. “Everybody can evaluate the first, second and third round, but he took a lot of pride finding Leonard Weaver, Ricardo Lockette, Jordan Babineaux. He’d go the extra mile. He loved to find the guys down the line, that was what he took pride in.”
And in a line of work that can have a high rate of turnover, few things speak to Jensen’s talents as a scout as the fact that he enjoyed a 22-year career with one franchise, a career that could have lasted even longer if not for ALS.
“That in and of itself is so impressive,” Schneider said. “He was just one of those guys who just really wanted to know his area top to bottom, and didn’t really have aspirations about becoming a general manager or director or anything like that. He legitimately wanted to just own his area and do a good job, then have his time with his wife and son.”
Outside of football and his family, Jensen also had a passion for music, even writing and recording some original songs.
“He was really just a one-of-a-kind person,” Parrish said. “… He had other interests outside of football. He loved music—he actually made some music. He sang, he recorded a couple of songs, he played some guitar. He was way more than just football.”
And for all Jensen did to help improve the Seahawks on-field product over the years, what his former co-workers remember most is who he was as a person.
“He was just a great guy,” Fitterer said. “He was one of those guys who had a great sense of humor, a very dry sense of humor. It didn’t matter if you were on the third floor, down in the equipment room, scouting room, he just kind of weaved his way through the building. Usually we get caught in our own little world down in the draft room, but he was the one guy where—he just loved people—whether it was (senior vice president of human resources and administration) Cindy Kelley or (media services manager) Julie Barber, whoever, he’d go up and visit with them, he’d go visit Erik Kennedy down in the equipment room. He just knew everybody in the building and everybody in the building knew him. He was such a unique guy, such a strong guy.”
Longtime Seahawks scout Derrick Jensen passed away Friday after a nearly five-year battle with ALS.