Seahawks willing to take calculated risks in draft

RENTON — Little that Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll do on draft weekend is predictable.

When you think they need a linebacker or a lineman, they go ahead and use their first pick on a running back. When they need a pass rusher, they don’t take the “sure thing” you’ve heard of, but instead go with Bruce Irvin.

But if there is anything you can expect from a Seahawks draft under Carroll and Schneider, it’s that they’ll unearth some late-round steals on Saturday.

There are a lot of reasons that the Seahawks have found stars like Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor in the fifth round or mined even later rounds for guys who have played significant roles: Anthony McCoy (sixth round), J.R. Sweezy, Malcolm Smith and Gregg Scruggs (all seventh-rounders). For starters, volume helps. Schneider’s penchant for trading back and acquiring picks means he gets more chances than most GMs to find those Day 3 gems. And the fact that Carroll gives those late-round picks every opportunity to win jobs also makes a big difference.

But perhaps the biggest reason why the Seahawks have found so many good players late in the draft is that they are willing to take some calculated risks on players with health concerns or on- and off-field flaws.

Sherman was considered a raw prospect having only been a corner for two years. Chancellor was thought to be too big for a safety. Scruggs and Sweezy had both been arrested in college, and McCoy failed a drug test. Yet all have turned out to be very valuable late-round additions.

That willingness to roll the dice in the late rounds was on full display Saturday. We’ll have to wait a while to know if those risks are going to pay off or not, but at the very least you can say for now that the Seahawks got some very intriguing — and yes, potentially flawed — late-round prospects.

With their first pick in the fifth round, the Seahawks took Jesse Williams, a defensive tackle who many consider a first-round talent, but who is coming off of knee surgery. Throw in the fact that the Australian, who took up the game in his late teens, is by his admission a bit raw, and he is a player with tons of upside but also enough medical risk that teams passed on him for four-plus rounds.

With their very next pick, the Seahawks took LSU cornerback Tharold Simon, who at 6-foot-2 is built exactly the way Seattle likes its corners. But, oh yeah, he was arrested on Thursday in his home town of Eunice, La., and charged with public intimidation, resisting arrest and unnecessary noise.

Fifth-round pick Luke Willson is a tight end who had only nine catches last year, but has so much athletic upside that the Seahawks fell in love with him despite that lack of production. Sixth-round pick Spencer Ware was suspended by LSU in 2011 for testing positive for synthetic marijuana (cue the jokes about him being able to legally smoke the real stuff here). Seventh-round pick Michael Bowie was dismissed by Oklahoma State for an unspecified violation of team rules, which is how he ended up at Northeastern State.

“He was picked where he was picked for a reason,” Schneider said. “He’s had a little bit of a background, and he needs to overcome those things, and if he overcomes them he has a chance to be an excellent pro.”

But let’s not lump all of these guys together and say the Seahawks are assembling a team of thugs. It’s be naive to assume that a contrite apology means none of them will ever find trouble again — Leroy Hill taught us that. However, Schneider and company are doing some serious research before they pick these players.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with Tharold,” Seahawks area scout Ed Dodds said. “He’s a really good kid, he wants to please. He called me as soon as that happened. As far as specific, we’ll just wait to see what shakes out, but we were comfortable. Me and him talked, and I talked to other people down there, so I don’t see it an issue.”

Simon’s transgression is the most noteworthy not necessarily because of the severity of it, but because of the timing. But hearing Dodds vouch for him and hearing Simon tell a very different version than what was on the police report, you can see why the Seahawks believe Simon can be a player who thrives in a defense perfectly suited to his skill.

“I’m embarrassed about what happened, because it shouldn’t have happened,” Simon said. “Right now my focus is just to get up to Seattle and compete and play some football.”

As Schneider points out, “Quite honestly, if you went through every prospect in this draft, there’s a lot of guys, everybody has their issues.”

As the draft goes on, looking past those issues, if they are not too severe, can pay off. Scruggs was a so-called “character risk” — and I use quotes because it’s a dangerous leap to go from what might be one, isolated incident to judging a person’s character — because of a DUI arrest. However, you’d be hard pressed to find a more likeable guy in Seattle’s locker room, or a player who gets out in the community more.

“At a certain level, you have to be willing to accept those risks,” Schneider said. “We don’t draft guys unless we feel like we’ve kind of laid it on the line with them.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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