RENTON – J.R. Sweezy and Greg Scruggs watched for three days, and heard more than 200 names announced before they were drafted in the seventh round this past spring.
Each day was an insult, every name a thorn they won’t forget. Until finally, they were invited by Seahawks GM John Schneider to come to the Refuge of the Overlooked, where Pete Carroll coaches a Roster of the Perpetually Motivated.
It is as if it is whispered in the ear of mid- to late-round draft picks every day: Yes, you were passed over. How did that feel? You want to show them, don’t you? It took us a while to get to you, but now that you’re here, you’ve got a chance. Just look around, there are many others just like you.
“I am forever grateful to John Schneider and coach Carroll,” said Scruggs, a Louisville product and the 10th and final player the Seahawks drafted, who has turned into a promising defensive lineman.
“Those guys saw something in me, and they allowed me to get my reps and to get evaluated. They gave me a foot in the door, so I don’t want to make them look bad. I want to prove every day that they made the right decision.”
Once Sweezy was picked by Seattle in the seventh round, he saw their recent history of success with lower-round guys, and knew it was a place he’d get a fair chance.
“It doesn’t matter (what round) you were drafted,” Sweezy said. “If you’re on this team, going 100 miles an hour, you’ve got a shot to make it. They don’t care who you are or where you were drafted, if you listen to the coaches and do what they say, you’ve got a shot.”
Sweezy could be the best example yet, as a converted defensive lineman who is challenging for a starting spot at right guard.
In the previous two drafts, since Schneider and Carroll arrived in Seattle, fourth-rounders and below, including undrafted free agents, have turned into a Pro Bowl safety (Kam Chancellor, fifth round 2010), a Pro Bowl cornerback (Brandon Browner, FA 2010), last season’s leading receiver (Doug Baldwin, FA 2011), All-Rookie Team cornerback (Richard Sherman, fifth round 2011), and a starting linebacker (K.J. Wright, fourth round 2011).
Chancellor, a big-hitting strong safety, lasted until the fifth round because he struck most scouts as a tweener-type who never found the right position.
“The Seahawks looked at me, looked at the film, and saw something in me; that’s big, that’s an opportunity not everybody gets,” Chancellor said. “You feel a loyalty and commitment to them and you want to pay them back for taking that chance on you.”
Chancellor stressed that the selection is only the first part. Having the coaching staff give you a legitimate look is the second part.
“It’s hand in hand, like two brains working together,” Chancellor said of Schneider and Carroll. “They have a great relationship.”
Sherman waited into the fifth round of the draft, in part, because he had been a converted receiver with little experience at cornerback. He made the team, though, and after a few injuries sidelined others, he found himself starting.
“It says a lot about their cohesiveness as a front office,” Sherman said. “A lot of teams bring in late-round guys and sit them for years and years and then cut them and then bring in some more late-round guys. Here, they give you a shot to prove yourself. It says a lot about what they believe in, what they think constitutes a football player. It shows they believe in their system and believe in their scouting.”
Mid- to late-round picks are not the complete package according to accepted NFL specifications, otherwise they would have been taken higher. The trick is to identify their strengths and decide if they mesh with the team’s needs. Sometimes they’ve been passed by because of injuries or unconventional size, or playing out of place.
And it hasn’t always worked for the Seahawks.
Mark Legree (5th 2011) and E.J. Wilson (4th in 2010) didn’t make the team. Others, Walter Thurmond (4th 2010), Dexter Davis (7th 2010), Jameson Konz (7th, 2010) fought injuries.
This season’s crop looks promising, with fourth-round running back Robert Turbin (Utah State) showing strongly in the preseason, as well as the likes of Sweezy and Scruggs impressing.
Sweezy is particularly intriguing as he had never played offensive line at North Carolina State. Schneider saw his athleticism and line coach Tom Cable investigated further, liking what he saw.
“We hit it off from the beginning,” Sweezy said of his meeting with Cable. “Baltimore mentioned (a conversion to offense) but never pursued it. Coach Cable was the first one to ask me about it. I was hoping and praying just to get the chance. I was blessed enough to land in this situation and I’m going to try to make the best of it.”
Sherman uses former Stanford teammate Doug Baldwin as an example of the Seahawks looking past conventional scouting evaluations. Baldwin went undrafted.
“If you look at his film his senior year, he was a monster, going up over two or three guys to make catches,” Sherman said. “The Seahawks saw how he was as a football player. So much of the draft is about the guys who are hyped and have the accolades and hoopla for some reason. Our guys, like Kam and K.J., those guys are great football players who didn’t have the hype. But they showed their faith in us and belief in us.”
Scruggs feels more than a bit of an underdog’s motivation every day at practice.
“I think the low-round guys make up for what they may have lacked (in measurables) with their heart, their effort and their passion,” Scruggs said. “A lot of the success low-round guys have is because of that chip on their shoulders. I know I am forever grateful for the opportunity to prove myself.”
The opportunity creates a sense of loyalty, Sherman said.
“You want to show them, you want to pay them back,” Sherman said. “I appreciate you taking me, I appreciate you giving me a shot; I’m going to make it worth your while.”
Sweezy and Scruggs both said that the successes of other low-rounders in Seattle have given them confidence in their own chances. Likewise, Sherman said the veterans on the team all know that anybody who’s been brought in might contribute immediately.
“Sure, you tend to believe in them,” Sherman said. “You believe everybody can be a player. It’s showing again this year; the late-round guys are doing great. It proves there isn’t a big difference between a first-rounder and a seventh-rounder once you get on the field.”firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8440 @DaveBoling