Seahawks coach Pete Carroll explained the value of all the stop-watch squinting and player interrogations at the annual NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
“We know we’re gonna turn up some gems,” he said.
The track record of Carroll, general manager John Schneider and the scouting staff validates that claim.
But the immediate functional effect is less obvious these days, and prompts the question: Once you get them, what are you going to do with them?
Of the 11 players drafted last spring, only one – tight end Luke Willson – was active in the Super Bowl.
In essence, the 2013 draft class was redshirted.
Willson and the other three drafted rookies on the 53-man roster at the end of the regular season added a modest 13 starts, 89 rushing yards, 20 catches and seven tackles to the 2013 Seahawks’ totals.
With more than 800 roster moves during their regime, Carroll and Schneider went from casting a wide net to operating a very exclusive fraternity. In the past year, 23 of the Seahawks’ castoffs have been talented enough to land on other teams’ active rosters.
Yet, if tempted to question the point of this drafting exercise, the Super Bowl offered the perfect explanation: This year’s draft picks might end up being the stars of the 2016 Seahawks.
Let the 2011 draft serve as an example. Sixth-rounder Byron Maxwell and seventh-rounder Malcolm Smith spent most of their first two seasons as backups and special-teamers.
Smith got a few replacement starts in 2011, but Maxwell had no starts and just six tackles in his first two seasons.
If a player hasn’t earned a spot as a starter by his third season, it’s fair to wonder if his “scholarship” is running out. But the Seahawks’ patience earned major dividends.
When Brandon Browner was injured and then suspended, Maxwell stepped in at right corner and intercepted four passes in the final four regular-season games. He came up big in the Super Bowl, too, forcing a fumble.
Smith also came on as a replacement starter and his streak of big plays was capped with an interception return for a touchdown that helped him become Super Bowl MVP.
So, yeah, those qualify as a pair of low-round draft “gems” who just needed some time to be polished and mounted in the right setting.
Another example: When the Seahawks used a second-round pick in the 2013 draft on Christine Michael, a Texas A&M running back coming off a spotty season, it seemed inexcusably redundant.
After all, they had a youngish (27) Pro Bowler in Marshawn Lynch and a promising second-year back, Robert Turbin, in hand.
No, they didn’t need Michael at all in 2013. But the workhorse Lynch now has nearly 1,100 touches (rushes and receptions) in the last three regular seasons and postseasons – more than anybody in the NFL.
When factoring in the reality that every time he touches the ball it resembles a freeway pileup at rush hour, the toll of his cumulative collisions has to be triple that of other backs.
Michael is the insurance policy. Carroll last week tabbed him as the Seahawk most likely to have a breakout season.
Because they’ve been so sharp at discovering draft talents and free-agent supplements, the Seahawks are now in a position to draft for the future rather than immediate need.
But the clock is ticking.
Contracts for Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson could be cap-busters, in which case an infusion of talented and young (read: cheap) apprentices will come in very handy.
Schneider said it’s a priority to keep this team intact as much as possible. That’s not a reality in the contemporary NFL.
So, in the meantime, they’re in Indianapolis scanning prospects in search of a seventh-round pick who will be MVP of the Super Bowl three years from now.