Seahawks see ‘special traits’ in two picks

RENTON — Well what do you know, the Seahawks surprised us with draft picks.

Shocking, I know.

Receiver seemed like a position of need, so it was hardly a stunner that Seattle took one Friday with their first pick, No. 45 overall. But we all foolishly assumed that a team that currently employs undersized pass catchers like 5-foot-10 Doug Baldwin and 5-11 Percy Harvin would be looking for a big body at receiver. Nope, instead they picked Colorado speedster Paul Richardson, who is 6-feet tall and weighs all of 175 pounds.

Most draft experts had a third-round grade on Richardson, and taking him early in the second round would probably be described as a reach — as would their choice of Missouri tackle Justin Britt later in the second round — if not for the fact that nobody is foolish enough to rip Seahawks draft decisions anymore, no matter how unconventional. Funny how winning a Super Bowl will buy you a little bit of credibility in the court of public opinion.

As well-respected NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock put it, “Pete Carroll and John Schneider, their (reputation) is better than mine.” Which is basically another way of saying, “I didn’t think this guy was a second-round pick, but I’m not about to second-guess the defending champs.”

And while the Britt pick is a pretty obvious case of a team addressing a need — the Seahawks lost right tackle Breno Giacomini in free agency, and also have question marks at guard — the Richardson pick is one that tells us a lot about the way Seattle evaluates players.

No, Richardson wasn’t the big-bodied receiver who would complement the freakishly athletic Harvin, but that wasn’t what the Seahawks were focusing on when they evaluated him. Instead, they saw something Pete Carroll talks about so often — a special trait that allows a player to stand out even when placed amongst some of the world’s best athletes. He may not do it all, but he does one thing incredibly well.

“We’re kind of about guys with special traits, and he’s a guy who had something different and something exceptional, and that’s what drew us to him,” Seahawks southwest area scout Matt Berry said.

Richard Sherman didn’t have elite speed, by cornerback standards, or perfect technique coming out of Stanford, but he had rare length and the extreme competitiveness that helped him become the best cornerback in the game. Russell Wilson was thought to be too short, but in addition having a lot of other physical tools, he had that certain “it” factor, the ability to make players gravitate to him, that defines the game’s best quarterbacks.

That approach works because Carroll — in what might be the ultimate expression of his always-optimistic personality — finds that unique trait or two, then worries about accentuating the best in that player rather than focusing on fixing his flaws. This is how Red Bryant (too big, can’t pass rush) and Chris Clemons (too small, seemingly making him a liability against the run) could both start at defensive end on the same team.

In the case of Richardson, that special trait is the blazing speed, combined with other factors that help him overcome his one perceived deficiency, that had Seattle so high on him. How high? Well if you take general manager John Schneider at his word, Richardson was the pick the Seahawks had ready at the end of the first round Thursday before they made the trade with Minnesota to move back.

“He’s too rare for us to pass up,” Schneider said. “He had like 184 targets and three drops. He’s incredibly fast, explosive, can play inside, outside. We’re really excited about that.”

That approach also is a big plus for Seattle scouts, who know they aren’t out there looking for the perfect player, but rather looking for that thing or two that will allow a player to excel in Seattle.

“It’s awesome,” Berry said. “It’s really cool. When we identify a guy that we think is going to fit in here and get coach excited about him or get the offensive staff excited about him, you know that they’re going to find a place for them to be successful and play to their strengths.”

The Seahawks’ approach led to a Super Bowl win, but it’s hardly infallible, especially at receiver. Kris Durham was a rare combination of height and speed, but he’s now in Detroit, and Chris Harper was supposed to be the big-bodied, physical presence at receiver, but he didn’t survive the final roster cuts. Even so, the Seahawks are again taking a chance on a receiver who may not be everyone’s idea of a second-round pick, but who is a player in whom they saw something special.

“I really think he’s the guy with the best quickness in and out of his breaks, and that explosive down-field strike ability,” Carroll said. “He’s just an exciting guy to bring to camp … How big is Doug, how big is Percy? I know there’s some concern about that, but we love the way our guys play, the productivity and effectiveness that they have, so we didn’t have any problem with that at all. We love how fast he is.”

Even five years into the Carroll-Schneider regime, we still have very little idea what the Seahawks will do with their draft picks. But one safe bet is this: when they see a player with very rare, special traits — even if we can’t identify those players ahead of time — they’ll take that player, even if it doesn’t make sense on the surface, and even if the decision will be met with a lot of confusions. Though again, the more the Seahawks win, the less head-scratching their unpredictable draft-day decisions become.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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