RENTON — Shaquem Griffin had walked away from his cellphone, on his way to use the restroom, when it buzzed. His twin brother, Shaquill, recognized the 425 area code that flashed on the screen and started charging after his brother.
“I think I was more scared of him tackling me in the bathroom and not knowing what was happening than anything,” Shaquem said.
What already was the feel-good story of the NFL draft got an even better storybook ending on Saturday when the Central Florida star linebacker whose left hand was amputated when he was child was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the fifth round.
The phone call from Seattle general manager John Schneider set off a wild celebration within the Griffin family , which had gathered at a hotel in the Dallas area after Shaquem spent the first two days at the draft in Arlington, Texas, waiting for a phone call that never came. It was the Seahawks — the team that showed the most interest in Griffin from the start — who gave Shaquem the chance at his professional aspirations and with it a chance to be reunited with his brother.
Shaquill, who was a third-round pick by the Seahawks in 2017, became a starter in his rookie season. The brothers played together throughout their youth and at UCF before Shaquill entered the NFL a year earlier.
“I couldn’t ask for anything (else) in the world than the opportunity to be back with him,” Shaquem said.
Added Shaquill: “I was going to be happy no matter what team that gave him the opportunity. At the end of the day that’s all I wanted for him: for a team to give him a shot and give him an opportunity and take a chance on someone that is great.”
For Seattle coach Pete Carroll what stuck out as the interview the Seahawks conducted with Griffin at the scouting combine.
“He was just so expressive and so open to tell his story and tell what this opportunity meant to him in a way that moved us all,” Carroll said. “Just like those of you that have watched him he’s an extraordinary young man. He has a lot of messaging that he’s going to stand strong with and we’re all going to grow from I think. And aside from that he’s a really good football player.”
Griffin was the player everyone was hoping would get a shot in the NFL after being a star at UCF despite playing with just one hand. He was the American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year in 2016 and the MVP of UCF’s Peach Bowl victory against Auburn last season when the Knights went 13-0.
A groundswell of support got him an invitation to the scouting combine in Indianapolis, where he stunned onlookers by bench-pressing 225 pounds a staggering 20 times with a prosthetic left hand and then covered the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds. The performance at the combine turned Shaquem into a star, but it didn’t guarantee a team would give him a shot.
“It’s just so much. I’m extremely blessed,” Shaquem said. “It definitely was a tough three days. A lot of anxiety these few days, but I am ready to get up there and go to work and start something great.”
Shaquem’s position in the NFL is still to be determined. He was a force as an outside linebacker rushing off the edge at UCF, but at 6-foot and 227 pounds with blazing speed, he could transition to being the bigger safety Carroll likes to have on his defense. Carroll said the intent is to start Griffin at weakside linebacker and let him use his speed in different areas on the field.
Griffin’s college coach Scott Frost tweeted “About time,” after the pick was made. Seattle general manager John Schneider said there was no extra pressure felt to draft Shaquem with his brother already on the roster.
“I think the thing that stood out to me was somebody told me they had sat down with (Shaquem) for five minutes and they gained the same inspiration from him as they did the first time they were able to sit down with John Wooden,” Schneider said.
Griffin was waiting patiently in the green room through the first two days of the draft. He chose to spend the last day with his family at a nearby hotel watching. He sat through the entire fourth round without getting a call, but three picks into the fifth round the Seahawks called.
“It was up and down. The excitement, it’s crazy because you’re around so many great guys in that setting and you’re in the green room and you’re moving around and seeing how the anxiety is building up. Sometimes the pressure like that can break you and it is a lot of pressure,” Shaquem said. “But I knew how it was going to go. I knew I wasn’t going to be a first-round pick or anything like that. It was me making sure I was enjoying the moment that I was here in Dallas.”
Aside from Griffin’s selection, Schneider and coach Carroll made clear the Seahawks intent to re-establish the core tenants of how they want to play: run the ball, play aggressive defense and rely on field position.
It started in the first round with the selection of San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny and continued through the nine selections made.
Here’s what else to know about Seattle’s nine picks, including seven on the final day:
End of the road
The end may be near for the longest-tenured Seahawks player.
Seattle traded up in the fifth round to draft Texas punter Michael Dickson, who left school early for a chance at the NFL. Dickson was regarded as the top punter available in the draft and could be a sign that Jon Ryan’s tenure in Seattle is coming to an end. Ryan has been with the team since 2008 and has two years left on his contract with Seattle but counts $3.2 million against the salary cap in 2018 and $3.6 million in 2019.
Both Carroll and Schneider insisted Ryan will be part of the punting competition.
Dickson averaged 47.4 yards per punt as a junior, was a two-time Big 12 special teams player of the year, and was the Ray Guy Award winner in 2017. Perhaps most impressive, Dickson was the MVP of the Texas Bowl victory over Missouri after downing 10 of his 11 punts inside the 20-yard line.
“He can do stuff with the ball we haven’t seen yet so we’re really intrigued to see how that translates,” Schneider said.
Runnin’ down a dream
Seattle continued to focus on improving its run game on offense by drafting Washington tight end Will Dissly in the fourth round.
“We thought he was the best blocker in the draft,” Carroll said.
Dissly arrived at Washington as a defensive end but transitioned to tight end for his final two seasons. While blocking is his strength, Dissly also had 21 receptions and two TDs as a senior. Dissly is the first Washington player drafted by the Seahawks since another tight end, Jerramy Stevens, was selected in the first round in 2002.
It wouldn’t be a Seattle draft without at least one player switching positions. But this one makes sense as the Seahawks intend to use Tre Flowers at cornerback. Flowers was primarily a safety at Oklahoma State, but his size makes him a perfect fit for cornerback in Seattle. Flowers is 6-foot-3 with long arms and has experience playing some cornerback in college.
A gem of Seattle’s draft could end up being Ohio State offensive tackle Jamarco Jones, selected late in the fifth round. Jones was rated by Pro Football Focus as the No. 3 offensive tackle available in the draft, but was taken with the 168th overall selection. Seattle projects Jones as a left tackle.
For just the second time in nine drafts, the Seahawks used a draft pick on a quarterback. Florida International QB Alex McGough was selected with Seattle’s final pick, No. 220 overall in the seventh round. Seattle indicated this may be the year it takes a QB to develop behind Russell Wilson, the only other QB drafted by the team since 2010. McGough threw for 2,791 yards and 17 TDs as a senior, but suffered a broken collarbone in the opening minutes of FIU’s bowl game in December.
McGough did run some read-option in college and his mobility makes him a logical backup option to Wilson.