Seattle Seahawks

Quiet Seahawks seek athletic linemen in annual crapshoot

Stanford offensive lineman and Puyallup High school grad Joshua Garnett runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in February in Indianapolis.
Stanford offensive lineman and Puyallup High school grad Joshua Garnett runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in February in Indianapolis. AP

OK, so you want to know how if not who the Seahawks will draft. You want to know whether they will finally get those offensive linemen we all say they must have.

“We’re not gonna tell you anything,” Pete Carroll said on the eve of the first round of the NFL’s annual college crapshoot, which begins Thursday in Chicago.

The coach was smiling. But he was speaking the truth.

A secret to the success he and general manager John Schneider have had in drafting and in predicting the players that other teams will draft so they can plan: The Seahawks keep secrets in house.

Each year, many of the players Seattle selects get on the phone with media members minutes after their selection and say they’d never or barely heard from the Seahawks before they were drafted.

“I think ‘stealth’ about nails it,” Carroll said.

More draft coverage

And stealth works. Schneider and Carroll have drafted 56 players since taking over the Seahawks six years ago. An impressive 42 remain in the NFL. That includes 22 still with Seattle.

How good is that? Their 75 percent rate of success for players whose careers last at least six years comes in a league whose players union lists the average career life span at 3.3 years.

Even your dog knows the Seahawks need, almost desperately, offensive linemen. Problem is, quality college offensive linemen are getting fewer in number — plus harder to project into the pros.

That’s because today’s blockers have been, since “grade school,” as Schneider said, playing from a standing-up, two-point stance in spread offenses. They aren’t learning to drive run-block as linemen had done for, oh, since football was invented. They aren’t even pass blocking for long because these spreads mandate the quarterback to get the ball out so quickly in college now.

That’s part of the reason the Seahawks have drafted two defensive linemen to convert to offense since 2012: former starting guard J.R. Sweezy, now with Tampa Bay, and Kristjan Sokoli, also in the sixth round, last year.

“There’s a lot of kids playing both ways, defensive line, offensive line (out of high school). And defensive line is just a little bit sexier and they’re going to go that route. So those numbers come down,” Schneider said. “That’s why you’ve seen us in the past try to make a couple of these conversions, because you can’t just go out and pick them off a tree in the backyard.”

Carroll was USC’s coach in more of a pro-style offense until 2010. He says this year’s draft has the biggest gulf between college football’s offenses and the NFL’s.

“There’ll be guys we’re looking at who have never been in a stance before; they’ve always been in two-point stances,” Carroll said. “So there’s transitions that have to take place. In the end, you’ve seen in the last couple years some strong adjustments by college offensive coordinators to adjust the way guys are coming off the ball. They’re not as aggressive and physically oriented as we like them to be.

“I looked at a couple guys this week and I couldn’t find a running play where a guy came off the ball and knocked a guy off the football. There’s not even a play in the game. So it’s hard to evaluate what a guy’s going to be like. We learn to, but it’s not the same as it’s always been.”

The Seahawks will be drafting at No. 26 overall, and top-rated Alabama center Ryan Kelly and, perhaps, tackles Taylor Decker of Ohio State or Jason Spriggs of Indiana still may be available. But coveted tackles Laremy Tunsil of Mississippi, Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame and Jack Conklin from Michigan State likely will be long gone.

WATCH: John Schneider on Seahawks being good at hiding draft intent

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider keep their draft plans close to the vest.

Gregg Bell gbell@thenewstribune.com

So the Seahawks may wait — and panic their fan base — before taking multiple offensive linemen in the second or third rounds Friday, or the later rounds on Saturday. Schneider and Carroll have sought bulk and value in offensive linemen in late rounds in their previous six drafts. They’ve counted on veteran line coach Tom Cable to train those late-round picks and undrafted free agents the Seahawks’ way to block.

They have drafted 12 offensive linemen in six years. Five of those dozen have come in the last two drafts, as former top picks Russell Okung and James Carpenter left in free agency and center Max Unger was traded.

Schneider and Carroll drafted nine of those dozen blockers in the third round or later. Four of those later-round picks eventually started for the Seahawks.

So if they don’t go with an offensive lineman first or even second, what will they do?

The Seahawks need younger, athletic defensive linemen. Robert Nkemdiche of Mississippi and Noah Spence from Eastern Kentucky (after leaving Ohio State) are top pass rushers who have off-field issues. They are top-five talents whose concerns may drop them to No. 26. The Seahawks have a history of deep investigations before drafting players others deem undraftable (Bruce Irvin, Frank Clark).

But don’t rule out another Seahawks trade out of the first round. They’ve done that in the last three years.

Schneider said this week that a huge reason he traded his pick at the bottom of last year’s first round to New Orleans — to get star tight end Jimmy Graham — was that the Seahawks only had 16 players rated as first-round quality, anyway.

If Schneider and Carroll don’t have at least 26 players they deem worthy of a first-round pick on Thursday, they likely will trade down for the fourth consecutive year.

After that, look for the Seahawks to return to their attraction for athletic, long-armed cornerbacks, physical running backs and prospects who seem to be wild cards. Almost every year the Seahawks draft players at positions that are not exactly ones of need, because those guys have impressed Schneider and Carroll with their background, makeup and intangibles.

Schneider said the Seahawks had 200 names on their draft board before their medical staff vetted some for injury and surgery concerns. That’s about 70 more than in a usual draft.

“This is our seventh, and to us it’s the most impressive one so far in terms of the sheer numbers of players,” Schneider said. “There are 100 juniors, so …

“We have already seen two huge trades doing at the top of the draft, so I think we are going to see a lot of really fun stuff. Exciting time.”

Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle

Seahawks mock draft

A look at who the Seahawks might draft in each round of the 2016 NFL draft, barring trades:

1st round (No. 26 overall): Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Mississippi.

2nd round (No. 56): Joshua Garnett, G, Stanford.

3rd round (No. 90): Caleb Benenoch, OT, UCLA.

3rd round (No. 97): Max Tuerk, C, USC.

4th round (No. 124): Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas.

5th round (No. 171): Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU.

6th round (No. 215): Devon Cajuste, WR, Stanford.

7th round (No. 225): Terenn Houk, TE, BYU.

7th round (No. 247): Alex McCalister, DE, Florida.

Gregg Bell: gbell@thenewstribune.com

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