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Senior Bowl An Important Step In Draft Evaluation Process For Seahawks

Seahawks director of college scouting Matt Berry checks in from the Senior Bowl to discuss this phase of the draft evaluation process.

American offensive lineman Emil Ekiyor Jr. of Alabama (55) runs through drills during practice for the Senior Bowl NCAA college football game Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023, in Mobile, Ala.. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
American offensive lineman Emil Ekiyor Jr. of Alabama (55) runs through drills during practice for the Senior Bowl NCAA college football game Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023, in Mobile, Ala.. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

When the 2023 NFL Draft kicks off on April 27, the Seahawks will be in position to add multiple difference-makers to their roster thanks to a haul of draft picks that's unlike anything Seattle has enjoyed during the Pete Carroll-John Schneider era.

Thanks to the trade that sent Russell Wilson to Denver last year, the Seahawks hold the No. 5 overall pick, as well as their own first-rounder at 20th overall, and Seattle also will pick twice in the second round, including near the top of the round with Denver's pick.

Being prepared for this or any other draft is a year-long process for the Seahawks and every other NFL team, and a very important part of the draft process has been unfolding in Mobile, Alabama this week as many of college football's top prospects take part in the Reese's Senior Bowl.

Throughout the fall, scouts watch college football games and talk to people they know at colleges to try to get to learn as much as they can about draft prospects, but these postseason college football all-star games like the Senior Bowl, the East West Shrine Bowl and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, to name a few, are the first chance for scouts to really get to know the prospects. And since the Senior Bowl, which is run by executive director Jim Nagy, a former longtime Seahawks scout, draws the best talent of the college all-star games, this week in Mobile is a particularly significant piece of the puzzle.

"This is the first opportunity to interact with prospects and get to know who they are," said Matt Berry, the Seahawks' director of college scouting.

As Berry describes it, teams do their research in the fall, then they test out that research in the winter and spring leading up to the draft. Almost all of Seattle's scouting department is in Mobile this week—Berry notes the Seahawks want an inclusive personnel department, meaning pro and college scouting takes part. Before heading to Mobile, several scouts were in Las Vegas for the Shrine Bowl, which overlaps with the Senior Bowl, and before that they were in Pasadena for the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. Every college scout, Berry says, will attend at least three of the college all-star games.

"We're taking our research from the fall and putting it to the test," Berry said during a break between Senior Bowl practice and meetings scheduled for later in the evening. "That's really what we do all spring. We try to confirm what we found out in the fall, or we try to find the hole in our hypothesis of who each player is. It's a big research process—these are who these people are supposed to be, this is what we hear about them. Is that right, or is it something else?

"The most important thing is it's our first interaction, for the most part, with the prospects. So we get to begin our conversation with them, begin the journey to get to know them and to see who they really are. We get to know them, we figure out what questions we have. We've done all this research in the fall and have background, and we have certain preconceived notions about who they are from the school visits and what we've seen on tape and the sources we've talked to. But this is the first time we really get to put those notions to test. To see if the player matches who we think they are. And if they don't, it's a great starting point to know what questions we need to figure out at the combine and pro days throughout the rest of the spring."

Another big part of the Senior Bowl compared to an event like the NFL Scouting combine is that there is actual football being played. Seeing some of the best players in college football face each other in practices, and seeing them have to learn new schemes and plays in a short time, gives scouts a lot of new information they may not have seen watching college tape.

"This is football, whereas the combine, you're just kind of confirming the athlete in the drills," Berry said. "So I think there's more meat to this event, you get more out of it from a football sense. But the combine is the first opportunity we get to interact with a bunch of the underclassmen and the top prospects."

The Seahawks are coming off a 2022 draft in which they selected nine players, seven of whom made significant contributions on offense, defense or special teams, including Rookie of the Year finalists Tariq Woolen and Kenneth Walker III, and starting tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas. That class should be a big part of Seattle's future going forward, but with so much draft capital at their disposal this year, the Seahawks know they need to once again be on their draft game in order to add to what already looks to be a bright future. Getting April's draft right is a process that started not long after that impressive 2022 class arrived in Seattle, and it continues this week and beyond.

"You look at it foundationally, it kind of all builds on itself," Berry said. "You do the fall season, you're doing all the background research, you're watching tape, you're coming up with who you think guys are as players and people. Then you get into the spring and you're starting to test that. Is this guy who we think he is? Does this guy fit this role we're going to ask him to play? Does this guy fit our culture? What are the questions we have to answer? All those things, it all builds on itself from fall to the all-star game season to the combine to the pro days, to, finally, April with the draft. We take everything into account, all our interactions. We'll probably interact in person with these guys five or six times between all-star games, combine, zoom calls, pro days, 30 visits, all those things. They all build on each other and you're always trying to get to the center of who a person is."

Knowing what he knows about this year's draft class, and about the way the Seahawks operate under Carroll and Schneider, Nagy is excited to see what his former team can get done with four picks in the first two rounds of this year's draft, including No. 5 overall.

"That's a really advantageous position to be in, and I know John and Pete haven't been there very often, so they're excited about this opportunity," said Nagy, who spent five seasons as Seattle's Southeast area scout before taking over operation of the Senior Bowl. "They're fired up for this draft.

"Obviously it's a monumental decision to trade Russ, but what they've been able to do with last year's draft, and the capital this year—they have two first, two second this year. I think it's really an exciting time to be a Seahawks fan. I mean, usually when you transition the way they're transitioning, usually there's a true dip there. You're going to have some down years. For them to be able to—it looks like they're going to be able to flip this in a rather seamless transition—is incredible. The Russ trade looks like it's going to work out in their favor and with this year's draft class and with the current draft class that just got through their rookie years, those guys are all going to be in many cases significantly better players in year two. Then add on all the draft capital they have for this year. They're getting more talented and they're getting younger at the same time, which is pretty exciting."

Take a look back at some of the best photos of the Seahawks rookie class from the 2022 season.

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