No first-round pick, but Seahawks excited for flexibility in draft

RENTON — This NFL draft reminds John Schneider of his and Pete Carroll’s first one together leading the Seattle Seahawks five years ago.

In 2010, Seattle’s new, eager general manager and coach waited around the Virginia Mason Athletic Center for what seemed like forever, from picking Earl Thomas 14th overall to choosing Golden Tate with the 60th-overall choice in the second round.

“We had a huge gap there before we took Golden and I remember Pete being like ‘Oh, my!’ It was a long time. ‘When are we going to pick again?’” Schneider recalled last week.

“I just asked him to go outside and shoot hoops for a while.”

Time for the coach to break out the basketball again on Thursday.

Barring a last-minute trade that seems less likely than Carroll winning the next NBA scoring title, these Seahawks will be the first team since the 1994-97 San Diego Chargers to not have a first-round pick in three consecutive years. This year, Jimmy Graham is essentially Seattle’s first-round choice; last month Schneider traded his 31st-overall pick to New Orleans along with center Max Unger to get the star tight end and the Saints’ fourth-round selection Saturday.

“We’re not picking until 63 right now, so that’s a lot of people to see come off your board, especially with the way first rounds usually go,” Schneider said of Friday’s second round, when his team has the first of its league-high 11 picks this year.

“It gives you a lot of flexibility to either move, stay where you are or move back. I meant move up, because I think there is going to be some anxious people waiting until 63.”

None more than Carroll. Yet he can temper his anxiety knowing he traded out of the first round to get the league’s most productive tight end the last three seasons.

“When you acquire a player of Jimmy’s caliber with the 31st pick, that makes it that much easier to sleep at night knowing that we wouldn’t be able to get a player like that,” Schneider said.

Having only one pick through the draft’s first two rounds isn’t the worst situation this year, either. This draft’s talent is considered almost evenly distributed beyond the top guys that will go in round one; most see the difference between fourth- and second-round prospects as small as it’s been in years.

Sports Illustrated reported the Seahawks only had 16 players — half the opening round — rated as first-round talent this year (though Schneider never confirmed that assessment). The GM has said the team estimated the 31st-overall pick will cost $3.1 million against the 2015 salary cap. Seattle used that saved money to absorb some of Graham’s $40 million Saints contract plus sign Cary Williams from Philadelphia to a three-year, $18 million deal to be departed free agent Byron Maxwell’s replacement as a starting cornerback.

Schneider and Carroll have drafted 48 players since they took over the team in January 2010. Of those four dozen, 42 are still in the NFL and two are playing in the Canadian league. They’ve drafted 30 guys in the last three years. All 30 are still in the NFL.

Of those 48 draftees since 2010, 27 (56 percent) have become key Seahawks contributors, with 18 of those 27 starters. Seattle selected 11 of those 18 starters in rounds three through seven, far from the marquee, hyped first round.

That includes Russell Wilson (third round, 2012), Richard Sherman (fifth round, 2011), Maxwell (sixth round, 2011), Super Bowl 48 Most Valuable Player Malcolm Smith (seventh round, 2011), Kam Chancellor (fifth round, 2010) and J.R. Sweezy (seventh round, 2012).

This year with the 11 picks — including four compensatory selections in rounds four (No. 134 overall), five (170) and six (209 and 214) — the Seahawks have a stockpile from which they can make a deal. They can move higher in a round if they sense another team is about to take a new starting left guard (Donovan Smith of Penn State? Colorado State’s Ty Sambrailo?) or center (Oregon’s Hroniss Grasu?), a big wide receiver (Dorial Green-Beckham, formerly of Missouri? Devin Funchess of Michigan?), or defensive line (Houston’s Joey Mbu) or secondary depth (Tray Walker of Texas Southern?) Seattle likes and needs.

Good thing for the Seahawks this draft is rated highly for depth on the offensive line, at defensive tackle and at wide receiver.

Actually, it will be a surprise if Seattle doesn’t trade within a round or three on Friday (the second and third rounds) or Saturday (rounds fourth through seven). Schneider has made 25 trades involving picks from his first five drafts as Seahawks GM.

“We see all the same guys (for the first round),” Schneider said. “But then once you get into the second round it’s kind of like it’s very much up in the air. I think that’s the most exciting part for us is that, ‘OK these guys, we really like them and where do we move? And do we have to move up? Can we move back? Do we move up to get one of them? Can we move back to get two of them?’”

So while the antsy, let’s-go Carroll is outside letting off steam with free throws, Schneider will be inside the VMAC scheming even more picks. The GM that dismantled the roster with more than 200 transactions and 12 draft trades in his first year to construct the two-time defending NFC champion is attracted year-round to his wall of prospects’ names at Seahawks headquarters.

Of all the responsibilities Schneider has — negotiating contracts, signing and releasing players, keeping a rapport with the roster, coordinating with agents and the coaching staff, team executives and owner Paul Allen — the draft that begins Thursday is at the top.

“It’s extremely important. We have all these things going on, and I always end up at the draft board. It tells you how important it is,” Schneider said.

“It’s huge. It’s our primary mode of acquisition.”

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