Making sense of the 2010 draft and the one prospect who got away
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The waiting was worth it for former Irish teammates Clausen and Tate
Pressure to succeed on Dez Bryant; team by team draft analysis, more
RENTON, Wash. -- My favorite draft weekend story: The Man Who Said No to the NFL.
I caught him as he pulled his car back onto his bucolic campus Sunday and prepared to buckle down for a long night of Italian homework. It's the kind of story we all need to hear, especially in a weekend like this one, when lives get changed forever, and visions of millions dance in 22-year-olds' heads. You see, on a New England campus, one player just said no to five teams that wanted him to come to their training camp this summer. I'll get to Scott Sicko later. But first, the news of the weekend, with some depth on the team that helped itself the most:
SEATTLE: Ever have one of those Dream Drafts that falls just right? The Seahawks did.
CLEVELAND: If you love the Colt McCoy pick, Browns fans, send a thank-you note this morning to GM Thomas Dimitroff, in care of the Atlanta Falcons.
CAROLINA: How does Jimmy Clausen fall to pick 48? The Panthers don't know, and they don't care.
Thursday, 5 p.m. PDT, Seahawks Draft Room. Nervous place. Quiet. Tense. First draft as a boss for coach Pete Carroll. First draft as a boss for GM John Schneider. Kansas City's on the clock with the fifth pick in the draft. The Chiefs are going to take either Tennessee safety Eric Berry or Oklahoma State tackle Russell Okung. Carroll and Schneider want Okung. They've heard the Chiefs could go either way. Tick, tick, tick. Minutes go by, three or four of them, and the call comes into the Seahawks: It's Berry in K.C.
Schneider hugs Carroll. "Needed that!'' Schneider said. "Here we go now.''
Schneider was around Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren and Mike Sherman and Ted Thompson in Green Bay and Seattle previous to taking this gig in January, and he's a big believer in momentum in a draft. If you get your first guy exactly the way you want it, then you don't have to re-configure your board to account for a position of great need. With franchise tackle Walter Jones expected to retire in a few days, and no left tackle on the roster, and Okung the highest-rated tackle, the position, and the player, was vital. Without Okung, they'd have had to reach for a lower-rated tackle either here or with their other first-round pick. "If we don't get the tackle there,'' Schneider said later, "we'd be pressing, and maybe we'd have to make some decisions for the short-term we really don't want to.''
The nerves are about to get worse.
After the sixth pick, Seattle likes Jimmy Clausen the quarterback and C.J. Spiller the running back. But the 'Hawks needed Earl Thomas the safety. Big position of need, a quarterback for the secondary. They feared a couple of teams. Cleveland, at number seven, and rumors that Philadelphia would trade up from its spot at 24 to try to get Thomas. Cleveland cooperated, taking Florida corner Joe Haden at seven. The other teams cooperated, leaving Thomas on the board, until Denver sat there at 13. Would the Broncos pick? Would they trade? Tick, tick, tick.
A trade. Denver trades with Philadelphia. Hearts sink in the room. "It's got to be Thomas,'' Schneider said.
Roger Goodell at the podium. "With the 13th pick in the 2010 NFL draft, the Philadelphia Eagles select ... Brandon Graham, defensive end, Michigan.''
Exhale. "We got it!'' Carroll hollered, and began high-fiving scouts and coaches.
But my favorite bit of drama happened in the second round, on Friday night. On the Seattle draft board, two names sat apart from the rest as the picks began to come off the board: Clausen and wide receiver Golden Tate, both of Notre Dame. Clausen seemed unlikely, because Schneider had traded for San Diego backup Charlie Whitehurst and already had Matt Hasselbeck in-house. But Carroll preached to anyone who'd listen that Seattle was in the business of taking the best player on the board.
My sense is that as these picks fell -- Seattle was at 60 in the second round, having traded down 20 spots in the round to get Whitehurst from San Diego -- there was no question Seattle would have taken Clausen if Carolina, at 48, didn't beat them to it. I'd seen Hasselbeck Thursday afternoon and told him I'd given Seattle Clausen at number 14 in my mock draft, and who knows, they loved him and they just might do it. "Whoa,'' he said. "Then I'm an ostrich. I've had my head in the sand. That would, uh, surprise me.''
Thank god for Carolina then. Look at the teams between 48 and 60, and figure one that would pick Clausen: San Francisco (maybe, but Mike Singletary loved Taylor Mays and picked him at 49), Kansas City, Houston, Pittsburgh, New England, Cincinnati, Dallas, Green Bay, Baltimore, Houston, Cleveland (which traded up in desperation at 59 to get running back Montario Hardesty). Maybe there'd have been a trade. Who knows?
So Clausen goes 48. Now Schneider's got to play GM. Far and away the best guy on their board now is Tate. But the calls start coming in. Lots of interesting players on the board and lots of teams trying to come up. Schneider's got an offer he likes a lot. If he'd go down a handful of spots (fewer than 15), into the upper third round, he could add two fifth-round picks. And if Tate had lasted this long, who's to say he wouldn't last an hour longer?
"You know, sometimes you reach a point in the draft -- we already had two fours and two fives -- where you say, 'How greedy do you want to be?' '' Schneider said. "There was so much separation between Tate and everybody else. Would we have lost him? I don't know. But at that point, the risk was just too great.''
They stayed at 60 and picked Tate. When Carroll called him to welcome him to the Seahawks, he told him to be ready for anything -- receiving, returning, rushing ... and yes, Wildcatting. Golden Tate might play Ronnie Brown in Seattle.
Now the Leon Washington story. (I'm skipping over LenDale White and Kevin Vickerson being handed to Seattle because flip-flopping picks in two low rounds was, in essence, Tennessee saying, "We don't want these guys any more, and if you give us a bag of footballs, they're yours.'') Interesting coincidence. The last running back/playmaker on Seattle's board early in the fourth round was Joe McKnight of USC. Carroll, obviously, recruited him. If he was still there in the fifth round, Seattle was going to take him. But the Jets took him in the middle of the fourth, meaning Washington, coming off a gruesome compound leg fracture, was now available.
"The Jets,'' said Schneider, "had several teams interested in him. They were gracious enough to let our medical people interact with theirs. When you're talking about a pick in the fifth round, and a player like Leon Washington, who we felt was going to be healthy enough to play at his level this season, the risk-reward ratio was a no-brainer.''
Most teams come out of a draft happy. Seattle came out a little north of happy. "I am jacked,'' Carroll told me as Friday ended. "If we did this right, and I think we did, we just helped our team for years to come.''
That's usually the idea. It's so sobering to realize that top draft picks have about a 50-percent washout factor.
Last point about the Seahawks: What an interesting scenario would have emerged if Seattle hadn't traded for Whitehurst (for a flip of second-round picks this year and 2011 third-round pick. Pretty high price, if you ask me, for a guy who's never thrown a regular-season pass in four years and was third on the San Diego depth chart) and still owned the 40th pick in the draft. As I said earlier, I think at 40, they would have picked Clausen. So essentially, here are the two scenarios that Seattle faced, with and without the man who bears a slight resemblance to Jesus Christ:
WITH A TRADE FOR WHITEHURST -- Seattle enters the season with Hasselbeck and Whitehurst the quarterbacks and multiple threat Tate added to a decent stable of wideouts ... but without a third-round pick in 2011.
WITHOUT A TRADE FOR WHITEHURST -- Seattle enters the season with Hasselbeck and Clausen at quarterback. But no Tate. And with the entire 2011 draft intact.
Tough call. This team would love to have Clausen for the long haul. Schneider believes in him. But my gut feeling is they'd rather have the Whitehurst/Tate combo.
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