Alex Bannister - diamond in the rough

Every scout dreams of finding that one truly special athlete. It is the greatest reward imaginable - to find that hidden gem of a player, who, for whatever reason, hasn't yet appeared on the radar of every other scout in the country. The first time I saw Alex Bannister of Eastern Kentucky play, I thought I had found my hidden gem.

After Randy Moss scored 17-touchdowns during his rookie season in 1998, the league was thrust into a frenzy to find more tall and fast wide receivers that has Moss' physical makeup. Every wide receiver in the country that was 6'2 or taller and could run a 4.5 or faster was being heavily scouted.

Through a tip, I heard of an angular, speedy wideout for tiny Division 1-AA Eastern Kentucky. Though traveling to scout the player in person was impossible at the time, I did arrange for some game film to be sent out.

In that film I was introduced to Bannister. He was very tall (6'5, in fact) and played with a speed uncommon anywhere, much less in the Ohio Valley Conference. He was double and triple teamed by defenses on nearly every play and was always a huge deep threat. Everyone knew Bannister could take any pass to the end zone on any given play. The fans knew it. The coaches knew it.  The Indiana State defense knew it. He still caught a total of seven balls for well over 150 yards and three long touchdowns.

I arrived in Mobile, Ala. with great anticipation after hearing that Bannister would be attending the Senior Bowl. He was among the players most talked about in scouting circles. Though acknowledged scouting organizations such as National and Blesto had confirmed 4.2 times on record, every scout on the planet wanted to see if this kid was for real.

When he arrived, it was a day late, and the conditions on the field were sloppy. Furthermore, Bannister didn't appear to be the football talent that I had originally hoped. While he was very tall, it seemed the vast majority of his height came from his very long, very thin legs. He didn't come off the line with great quickness, lacked fluidity in his route-running, and took a while to achieve his true speed.

Corners who timed much closer to 4.5 than 4.25 were having no trouble blanketing him down the sidelines. Besides not appearing as fast in person, it was clear that Bannister needed a lot of work on his routes and actual receiving skills. His legs were so long he had to take several choppy steps or was forced to round off the corners just to run his route effectively. Veteran collegiate cornerbacks could see his struggles and could make the transition to defend the route. He didn't snatch the ball out of the air, but allowed it to thump against his shoulder pads.

But, the raw skills were there. He'd struggle with seven-yard outs, and then turn up the field and be in position to make an incredible 40-50 yard catch. Thus, while he did drop on many teams' boards after the Senior Bowl, he was, I can assure you, on the minds of every NFL club as the draft approached.

Wanting every player to succeed is just part of the business of being a scout. It seemed the natural fit for a talent like Bannister was a down-the-field attacking offense with solid veterans in place to help groom young, cocky receivers. Minnesota came to mind, as did San Diego since Norv Turner would be running the offense. Seattle, with its need for young receivers who could play immediately, didn't seem a likely option.

But alas, in the fifth round Seattle selected Bannister. And, they have, according to those who have been able to watch him this season, perhaps found one of the biggest sleepers of the draft. Bannister's professional work ethic and the coaching of Mike Holmgren and his staff has the rookie receiver running much more precise routes and snatching the ball out of the air rather than catching it against his pads.

It is exciting to watch this development, as Bannister is finally surrounded by players as physically talented as he. Rather than his play leveling off, as predicted by many, he accepted the challenge and raised his play. On a team that needed warm bodies at wide receiver throughout all of training camp, Bannister proved to be the star. He hung in there and was seen many times catching passes in practice that only a receiver with such size and speed can make.

In many ways, Bannister's potential as a special teamer is just as exciting. While Seattle fans have suffered through inconsistent football for many years now, one thing that has remained constant is individual talent on special teams. Be it Bobby Joe Edmonds, Michael Bates, or Fabien Bownes, the Hawks have always had speed and aggression here. Bannister has rivaled future Pro-Bowl special teamer Fabien Bownes in his coverage of kickoffs, and showed an incredible burst and anticipation when he blocked a punt during preseason.

All of this said, I would hesitate to pencil Bannister into your fantasy football lineups too soon. He does have a lot to learn and could drop some passes this year that may leave you scratching your head and clamoring for the days of Daryl Turner. However, the kid will also likely make some of the most spectacular catches of the year for the Seahawks. He may not be in there as a receiver on every third down, but he'll get his shots and might make a few plays of the week, either at receiver or special teams.

Boomer's Draft will provide frequent stories to SeahawksInisider this season, which will feature notes, news and information on last year's Seahawk draft class and the upcoming 2002 NFL Draft. Some of these will be free and others will be a feature of the SeahawksInsider Premium Ticket. Sign up now for a monthly or annual pass to the SeahawksInsider.com Premium Ticket. Hey, it's cheaper than a beer at Safeco!

A former football coach, Rob "Boomer" Rang, has become one of the country's top draft experts. Thank goodness he lives in the Northwest and is a Hawks fan!

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