Who will the Seahawks pick at No. 26 overall?
A desperately needed, ready-to-start offensive lineman? A defensive tackle? Another pass rusher? A cornerback?
Before we find out — or even try to guess who — it’s instructive to know Seattle’s how.
The Seahawks’ track record in a half-dozen of these draft crapshoots says that general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll will select players with qualities most others don’t see. They will base their picks on values most teams don’t have.
And don’t bet on the Seahawks using their first pick in a first round since 2012 when the draft starts Thursday in Chicago.
Seattle has four choices among the first 100 picks. That’s tied with Denver and New England for second-most in this draft. The only teams with more top-100 picks are the Titans and Browns (six). Tennessee and Cleveland got many of those in their recent hauls from trading with the quarterback-starved Rams and Eagles out of the first- and second-overall spots, respectively.
The Seahawks have nine selections overall — for now, anyway. That’s two fewer than they had entering last year’s draft. But if Seattle’s form holds, Schneider and Carroll are going to change from those nine choices.
They’ve acquired 27 picks in trades since they arrived in 2010 to run the Seahawks. They’ve made deals that have added choices in every draft. The only year Seattle didn’t have multiple trades involving draft picks was 2011.
There is a practical reason Schneider has traded down, and in particular out of the first round, so often: He wants more picks because he believes his coaches are attracted to younger players.
“Coach Carroll and his staff, they’ve played with young players at USC,” Schneider said. “They’re used to it. They don’t have a preconceived notion about you need a veteran.
“The easiest thing to do is sign the veteran. The hardest thing to do is take a young player and coach him up and spend extra time with him and develop them and get them ready to play. And this staff has shown an ability to do that, year in and year out.
“And that’s a commitment. That was part of the partnership with Pete and I, that we were going to accentuate the strength of these players.”
As for those players, they tend to be, well, different.
The most famous example is Russell Wilson. You know the story: Many considered the Rose Bowl quarterback from Wisconsin too short for the NFL before Seattle took him in the third round in 2012. That was two rounds after everyone said the Seahawks reached badly to take pass rusher Bruce Irvin out of West Virginia, a supposed one-trick pony with a checkered background.
Wilson arrived one round after some linebacker named Bobby Wagner from Utah State was the Seahawks’ second-round pick that year. Jeremy Lane was a sixth-round choice few had heard of out of Northwest Louisiana. In the seventh round that year, Seattle got a defensive tackle from North Carolina State, J.R. Sweezy, to play guard in the NFL.
Draft “experts” panned Seattle 2012 draft as one of the league’s worst. All of the above became starters. They propelled the franchise to its first Super Bowl title within two seasons. Wagner is an All-Pro. Wilson is now the Seahawks’ $87.6 million cornerstone and pop-culture star. He had the most victories over the first three years of a QB career in league history, with two Super Bowl starts.
“We’re drafting for us and what we want,” Carroll told reporters at last month’s league meetings in Florida. “We don’t evaluate for the league. We don’t evaluate for the guys on ESPN and what they think. We evaluate guys on how they fit our club and our style of coaching and play. And so we have to be connected in our mentality and our approach and our vision on how we see guys.
“We’re not looking at height, weight, speed and what other people think. We’re looking at guys at how we can best utilize them and how we can match their talents to our system and all that.”
In last year’s draft, the Seahawks took a controversial first pick months after he’d been kicked out of his college program. They took a defensive lineman from Albania to be an offensive lineman.
“We always like the uniqueness, and we look for the guys that have something special about them,” Carroll said at the end of the 2015 draft.
“Special” can mean that beyond obvious natural talent, how fiendish a player is about every, minute aspect of preparation for a practice — let alone a game.
That defines Earl Thomas. He became the second player Carroll and Schneider drafted for Seattle, 14th overall out of Texas in 2010. Since then, Thomas has become a three-time All-Pro, a five-time Pro Bowl safety and Super Bowl champion.
“Special” can also mean a specific physical attribute for a particular position. Zach Whitman of SB Nation found the Seahawks have not drafted a cornerback with arms shorter than 32 inches since Carroll became their coach in 2010.
Some draft predictors think Seattle will take acclaimed cornerback Eli Apple from Ohio State if he’s still available at No. 26. But he may not be the apple of Carroll’s eyes; his arms measured 31 3/8 inches at the combine.
But speedy Artie Burns of Miami? His arms are Seattle looooong: 33 1/4 inches.
The Seahawks go even further to find attributes that are not easy to measure.
“We want these guys coming in with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove,” Carroll said.
For Carroll and Schneider, that often means a player overcoming a disadvantaged upbringing or off-field legal issues. Those are supposed “red flags” in NFL pre-draft evaluations that pull many players off teams’ boards.
Such as Frank Clark. He’s the defensive end no one expected the Seahawks to draft with their first pick last year. Clark had obvious skills as a fast pass rusher. But he’d been kicked out of his college program at Michigan in November 2014 after an arrest and brief jailing on suspicion of domestic violence, plus a case when he was a freshman of stealing a laptop computer from a dorm room.
Many teams weren’t going to draft Clark. At all.
“We went way back to where Frank comes from. He grew up in Baldwin Village down in Southern California, a very difficult, difficult setting,” Carroll said after drafting Clark.
Carroll knew Baldwin Village more than probably any NFL coach. It’s a neighborhood he has walked recruiting as USC’s coach and while involved in his nonprofit “A Better LA.”
“He had family issues … and he moved to Cleveland,” Carroll said of Clark. “He moved into a school district in an area and wound up in a high school setting in Glenville, with a coaching staff and coach that I know personally for years from recruiting — a very well-structured system in helping a young man grow and to prepare himself for later life.”
After a rookie season of situational pass rushing, Clark is poised for a bigger role in Seattle’s top-ranked defense in 2016.
More than height, weight and speed, the Seahawks most value the face-to-face interviews they have with prospects at the combine and in their 30 pre-draft visits at team headquarters that the NFL allots each team. League rules bar on-field testing or timing at these official pre-draft workouts.
That’s exactly how the Seahawks want to learn about their potential draft choices — off the field, in an interview.
“It starts with the measurables, and the attitude of the person, and the grit, the makeup. His background. His character. What he’s all about,” Schneider said last year.
That was on the day much of the league was also wondering what the Seahawks were doing drafting Kristjan Sokoli for their offense. He was a defensive tackle born in Albania and out of the University of Buffalo.
Another guy perhaps only Seattle would have drafted.
“He’s one of our 30 guys that we brought in, too,” Schneider said of the pre-draft visit. “To be able to come in and look the guy eye-to-eye and feel the passion.
“Of all the guys we selected, they all have different reactions when you call them and let them know what’s shaking. And he was so intense, he was like, ‘I’m not going to disappoint you.’ ”
You can’t measure that with a stopwatch.
“It starts with the measurable,” Schneider said, “and then I have a coach that’s willing to go ahead and dive into all those intangibles and work with that and teach. It’s huge.”
In particular, the Seahawks ask veteran line coach Tom Cable to maximize intangibles: drive and grit and competitiveness. The Seahawks are as likely to draft an athletic defensive lineman in later rounds — or even sign a college tight end as an undrafted free agent after the draft (Garry Gilliam, Penn State, who started last year for Seattle at right tackle) — as much they will take a polished college blocker. That’s especially true with today’s college offenses rarely having linemen ready to “plug and play” in the NFL. Prospects today are rarely even in three-point stances because of so many no-huddle schemes, spread formations and quick passing in the college game.
“To have a coach like Tom, who’s willing to dive into those intangibles, that’s where it starts,” Schneider said.
“If he’s comfortable with it, then we go from there.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle