Unheralded, undrafted Seahawks receivers making most of opportunity
NEWARK, N.J. -- If Super Bowl XLVIII reaffirms anything, it should be that football scouting is not a science. Consider the Seahawks. Despite all the money, time and effort that goes into evaluating prospects, four of their wide receivers were not drafted and three spent time on a practice squad. It's not uncommon for undrafted players to make it in the league or even become dominant players. However four at one position on one team is almost unheard of.
"When you pick a guy, you pick him based on the information that you have and what he has done in the past," said one general manager. "But one of the most important things about personnel and drafting is the situation you put a guy in, the situation he goes to. You could send those same four guys to 15 other teams -- and I could name the teams, but I won't -- and you'd probably never hear from them again. But it makes all the difference in the world when the coaches like them and believe in them and develop them and the kids themselves are willing to do whatever it takes to get better."
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll lives by the "Always Compete" mantra. He doesn't care where a guy went to school, how many accolades he received, or whether he was drafted high, low or not at all. His primary focus is on how you perform once you're on the field. Which brings us to:
Doug Baldwin. There were 254 players selected in the 2011 draft; the 5-foot-10, 189-pound Baldwin wasn't one of them. The former Stanford Cardinal has been playing with a "boulder" on his shoulder ever since. As a rookie he led the team's receivers in yards (788), catches (51) and touchdowns (four), and this season he has consistently come up with big plays, particularly in the playoffs. For instance, his 24-yard catch on third-and-3 early in the fourth quarter helped stall a Saints rally and set up the decisive touchdown, and his 51-yard reception against the 49ers led to the Seahawks first points after they trailed 10-0 against the 49ers. He finished that game with six catches for 106 yards.
NFL scout: "The knock on him coming out was his lack of size and speed."
Seahawks GM John Schneider: "It blew my mind that he wasn't drafted, because he was a really, really interesting short-area separation guy, but you could also see him play outside. I remember they were playing Arizona State and he caught a post where he had a guy on his back and he just adjusted to the ball and ran by his man. So it wasn't like he was just a quick, inside slot guy. He has a unique ability to set people up and drop his hips, and he has great hands. But as a man he's just an extremely confident, tough, tough guy."
Jermaine Kearse. There were 253 players selected in the 2012 draft; the 6-1, 209-pound Kearse wasn't one of them. In fact, he spent the first two months of his rookie season on the practice squad and caught just three passes for 31 yards for the season. But the former Washington star -- he ranked second in career catches (180), yards (2,871) and touchdowns (29) -- has been a big-play guy from start to finish this season. His 43-yard score against double coverage provided the decisive score in a 12-7 win over Carolina in Week 1, and his 35-yard touchdown on fourth-and-7 against the 49ers gave Seattle its first lead in the NFC title game.
NFL scout: "His issue always has been his [lack of] separation quickness. He uses his size well to box out-shield defenders, and he's one of those guys that has a knack for going up to get the ball. But you never really see him extend and high point it."
Schneider: "He's a very natural route-runner. Has a smoothness about him. Adjusts to the ball very well down the field, and can run the underneath stuff."
Ricardo Lockette. The 6-2, 211-pounder was among those not chosen in the 2011 draft. If there were an award for perseverance, he'd win it after being released five times by three teams, each of which had him on the practice squad at some point. This is his second stint on the active roster; he was there for two games as a rookie and had two catches for 105 yards, including a 61-yard score. His greatest contribution has been on special teams this year, but he does have five catches for 82 yards.
NFL scout: "Good size with very good speed, but was very raw coming from a small school at Fort Valley State."
Schneider: "He's still a raw receiver with extreme, crazy talent. He can run, he's strong, he's very tough, and he's still learning how to play the game, but he's getting better every week."
Bryan Walters, who entered the league as an undrafted rookie with San Diego in 2010, did not catch a pass this season, but he intrigues Schneider as a slot performer. If you've never heard of him, don't feel ashamed. Most people can't name the Seahawks' receivers. Everyone knows Percy Harvin, if not for his ability to change games as a receiver, a runner or a returner, then for his inability to stay healthy (he has played fewer than 40 snaps since being acquired from Minnesota in an offseason trade). They also might know Golden Tate, a former second-round pick who played at Notre Dame. Beyond them?
Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who will seek to stop the Seattle offense on Sunday, was asked this week to name the Seahawks' top four receivers. He paused before breaking into a hearty laugh and said: "Why you gotta put me on the spot like that?"
The Seahawks undoubtedly will try to get Harvin involved as much as possible. They didn't sign him to a potential $67 million deal to use him as a decoy. But if the Seahawks have shown nothing else this season, it's that their receiving corps is prepared to meet the challenge. In fact, as counterintuitive as it may seem, they could be more dangerous because there isn't a dominant No. 1 guy for defenses to focus on.
"It's always hard when teams have more options because you have to find ways to cover everybody and make sure they don't take over the game," says Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. "That's how their team is built. And they've got a quarterback who can get it to anybody at any moment, because he extends plays better than anybody.
"All I know is that their receivers go hard, I don't care where they were drafted (or not drafted). These GMs, they don't always get it right. Draft status, I don't care. A good football player is a good football player; sometimes they get overlooked. One thing about these guys is that they're still standing right now, and I've got to deal with them."