John Schneider is on the clock.
This weekend’s draft is crucial for the Seattle Seahawks — but particularly Schneider.
Schneider has been exceptional as Seattle’s general manager since 2010, drafting seven players who would turn into Pro Bowl picks in just his first three seasons.
His leadership role in the franchise and his successful collaboration with head coach Pete Carroll have been key in the Seahawks becoming annual conference contenders.
But recent drafts haven’t met the expectations set by his early prescience. The team’s depth has suffered and the core of veterans is aging.
Here’s an easy comparison to where the team stands.
The Seahawks that walked off the field with a divisional round loss (30-28) at Atlanta after the 2012 season was filled with young stars on the rise.
The Seahawks that walked off the field with a divisional round loss (36-20) at Atlanta after the 2016 season was filled with aging stars and few young reserves as replacements with obvious star-level potential.
That 2012 team was on its way to the Super Bowl. That 2016 team was on its way … where?
This draft will go a ways to determining that direction. It will be up to Schneider and his personnel people to find the new core, the stars of ’18, ’19 and beyond.
Last spring’s draft could prove to be a winner in the long run, but so many players were injured and missed time that nothing is certain. The top four picks, Germain Ifedi, Jarran Reed, C.J. Prosise and Nick Vannett, all gave flashes of high-grade potential.
A sophomore leap by those players will take pressure off this season’s incoming group.
Maybe that 2016 crew turns into Schneider’s big rebound. Fact is, it needs to happen soon.
Of the four Seahawks voted to the last Pro Bowl, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett are 31, Richard Sherman is 29 and Bobby Wagner will be 27 when the season starts.
Schneider has to find the next Avrils and Bennetts and Shermans.
Schneider met with the media Monday morning, sitting at the same table in the same auditorium he occupied eight years ago, as a bit of an unknown 38-year-old freshly hired off the Packers’ personnel staff.
Some of us thought it was a reach. But it was genius.
He and Carroll were gangbusters in those early drafts. They shared a vision, high energy and collaborative simpatico so rare at the NFL’s high levels.
On that first day, Schneider was asked to identify a personnel move made by the Packers that had his fingerprints on it. He refused to answer. “We don’t go there,” he said, meaning that there’s no room for individual praise in such matters. It was the best answer he could have given.
He still looked like a junior scout at that point, but he showed a lot of savvy and a glorious absence of ego.
He seems to be driven by the same motives now, even after the team’s two Super Bowl appearances.
Schneider said the draft preparation is the same as it’s always been, with some tweaking and adaptation along the way, of course.
If anything, he’s even a little more locked down on how much he’ll share at this point, as his session Monday amounted to half an hour of agreeably delivered vague responses.
Early on, Schneider hinted that he had one special area of evaluation, another column on the draft board, that he wouldn’t share. We came to learn that it was some projection of the player’s grit. It’s taken them a long way.
Asked Monday about the things he’s learned about the draft through the years, he wouldn’t give it away. A couple years ago, he answered that question by confessing that the times he’s gone wrong, it’s been because he tried to compare a prospect to somebody in the league he was familiar with.
But players are too different in their internal mechanisms and their level of drive and determination to make that an effective barometer.
This weekend will be another chance for Schneider to test his systems and beliefs toward recapturing the early magic that took the Seahawks to the top but maybe has them, now, at a tipping point.