As Draft Day Approaches...

In the week leading up to the draft, it is wise for us to look back at recent Seahawk history and see if it can yield some clues for what they may do this year. This is somewhat challenging considering the radical changes that took place prior to last year's draft.

As draft day approaches, many pundits are working at a fevered pitch forecasting daily with draft boards and mocks. With the age of the internet, any 12 year old geek with a Compaq can become a "guru" by publishing a flashy web-site on a small chunk of Al Gore's virtual real-estate. Much of it is regurgitated information passed on from site to site to the point where the now developed draft network looks more like an inbred Appalachian homestead than an intelligent discussion of draft day possibilities.

Perhaps the greatest problem is that most of us (yes, I am on of these dim-witted half-breeds) approach the draft with knowledge of just one team's inner workings . . . if we're astute enough to even pay attention to our own team's draft history and tendencies. Oh, we can line up needs and plug players into them as the mock-picks roll by, but how often are we informed by the following information:

1. The Patriots under Bill Belichek rarely, if ever, draft underclassmen. Scratch Steven Jackson from their list. They also draft football players above raw athletes. As a result they will take players without positions (Dan Klecko) and players with multiple positions (Eugene Wilson), and figure out what to do with them later.

2. The Steelers typically draft with an eye on future needs more than current holes. They are magnificent at plugging next year's aging free agents with this year's rookies.

3. The Jets, Eagles and Cardinals are the most prone to bite on the latest hype, often to detrimental results. Whichever player is the latest high-riser is most likely to go to one of those teams.

Of course, the list could go on, as every team has it's own strategies. Some fill needs, others stick with a fairly strict best player approach (or best athlete in some cases). And sometimes, things as subtle as a change in defensive coordinators can radically change the approach.

So, obviously, in the week leading up to the draft, it is wise for us to look back at recent Seahawk history and see if it can yield some clues for what they may do this year. This is somewhat challenging considering the radical changes that took place prior to last year's draft. We changed defensive coaching staffs and replaced our old GM with a new one. We really only have one draft upon which to base a pattern. Prior to Ray Rhodes joining the team, previous coordinators Fritz Shurmur and Steve Sidwell were firmly in the BIG Defensive End camp . . . Lamar King, Brandon Mitchell, Antonio Cochran, Anton Palepoi: all over 285 pound ends. Rhodes, however, has since played a role in signing Chike Okeafor and Grant Wistrom, two starting ends that are less than 270 pounds.

But looking at last year's draft, there are a few trends remaining that may help us in our hopeless quest to predict the draft:

1. Holmgren and his cronies will draft athletes over players. Their board at #11 as chaos ensued last year consisted of Marcus Trufant, Terrell Suggs and Jimmy Kennedy (in that order). The first two were great athletes (who both also happened to be good players), while the latter (who met the greatest need) was a mediocre athlete with solid production at the college level. They passed on a solid player at a position of high need simply because a better athlete was available. We also tend to stick to certain physical prototypes (big corners and wide receivers, guards who have good agility).

In 2003, this worked like a charm, as it did in 2001 (Koren Robinson and Steve Hutchinson). Other times it can fail miserably, as is 2002 (the athletic but raw Jerramy Stevens and Palepoi) and 1999 (Lamar King).

2. The Seahawks have a tendency to value their draft picks. Holmgren has expressed an interest in trading up every year, but it has not happened because in his opinion, the price has been too steep. We also will trade down often to acquire mid round picks (especially Holmgren's favorite 3rd round picks) if the athlete we are looking for isn't there.

Again, sometimes this has worked well (getting Robinson in a trade down in 2001), and at other times it has bit us (trading down for Stevens in 2002 rather than picking the less athletic Daniel Graham).

3. For whatever reason, the team is enamored with players that have played multiple positions during their collegiate careers. Perhaps this is related to point #1 (great athletes), but there are some tendencies even with this trend. For instance, Robinson and Taco Wallace are both former running backs that converted to receiver late in their careers. This demonstrates a solid ability to run with the ball after the catch. Matt Hill and Wayne Hunter are both former defensive linemen playing offensive tackle. This may give them an edge psychologically in understanding the player across from them and it also demonstrates a nastiness that Holmgren loves in his linemen. Likewise, Ike Charlton and Ken Lucas were both former wide receivers who were drafted as corners. Another psychological edge for sure, but it also shows good hands and ball tracking skills.

4. Character is accounted for. Now before we have people up in arms about Stevens, Hunter, Chris Terry and Ken Hamlin, we should define what most NFL people consider being "character." For the most part, it's not related to off the field behavior (except in obvious extreme cases), but instead it focuses on teamwork, on the field effort, and competitiveness. Say what you will about Stevens off field antics, but he is a good worker and team player who has given solid effort through out his college and pro career in practice and on game day.

5. In addition, you must pay attention to what the front office says about the kind of personnel they generally are looking for. This is where you have to discern the fire from the smoke. Never trust them when they mention a name (Daniel Graham and David Terrell for instance). But when Holmgren says they want a middle linebacker who can be a two-down run stuffer and quarterback for the defense, it's worth listening to. Or when Rhodes says he values Chad Brown and Anthony Simmons for their versatility (good in coverage and blitzing as well as run defense), it's good to make note of.

What does all this mean for 2004? It means we can probably rule out some names that a lot of people will be disappointed to see crossed off their wish lists. Jonathan Vilma (too small for the middle), Vince Wilfork (weight and motivation concerns), and Will Poole (too short) come to mind. It also means we can look at some players who might have an edge. Randy Starks (super athletic player with tackle size and experience at end), Chris Gamble (two-way athlete with high upside), Vernon Carey (guard with tackle skills), and Will Smith (super high character team player).

If you are expecting a prediction here and now, I'm sure to disappoint. One thing I've learned through years of trying to predict the draft is that it's impossible to do. Even the best get it wrong 60% of the time, mostly because NFL draft rooms have tighter lips than Bill Clinton's closest comrades. Factor in draft day trades and bizarro picks (Calvin Pace in the 1st round?), and it really is a crapshoot.

I will say this, with not a lot of dire needs, and quite a few future big-time free agents, expect the Hawks to surprise you on draft day.

They always do.


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