J.R. Sweezy and the Seahawks' home-run swings
For a seventh-round pick, making an NFL team's 53-man roster is an accomplishment.
It doesn't always happen. In fact, it doesn't usually happen. Only one of the four players Seattle picked in the seventh round the previous two years was on the roster when the regular season began.
A seventh-round pick seeing some time with the first-unit? That's fairly unheard of.
Now, a seventh-round pick who is changing positions accomplishing all of that is utterly, undeniably shocking.
J.R. Sweezy's success this camp got me thinking about Seattle, its draft strategy and risk tolerance. Specifically, Sweezy is one of the home-run swings that general manager John Schneider has made an annual activity in the second half of the draft. These picks have involved a position change and a huge gap between the player's ceiling and the floor.
In 2010, the Seahawks took Jameson Konz from Kent State, a player who'd never really found a position in college. They plopped him at tight end, moved him back to defense last year and so far he has been active in one game during what has been an extreme struggle to stay healthy.
Last year, it was Richard Sherman, a cornerback Seattle chose in the
fourth fifth round. He moved from receiver for his last two years at Stanford, and at the time he was drafted, two Stanford attendees who shall remain nameless told me (separately) that Sherman was the single most frustrating player they watched on the Cardinal the two previous years.
Now, it's Sweezy, who is converting from defensive line. He is the fastest offensive lineman on the Seahawks roster, undeniable tough and his background on defense has given him a sense for what tactic an opponent's going to apply and when.
Now, there is certainly a learning curve. He's got to learn to anticipate the snap count instead of reacting to an opponent's movement. He's got to be careful about driving into the opponent so hard that it leaves him vulnerable to whiffing.
But so far, Sweezy's transition has been remarkable to the point that he's certainly challenging for a roster spot and perhaps even a candidate to play.
Did Seattle pick him with the expectation this transition would be so good? Not necessarily, but they certainly envisioned it as a possibility. They also knew it could be a complete and total failure. After all, the guy hadn't played offensive line since before high school.
There is more upside with a pick simply because there is greater room for improvement. It's the same philosophy that led the Boston Red Sox to draft Shaq Thompson, the California safety now at Washington. Yes, everyone had a laugh about his uncomfortably brutal batting record in minor-league baseball last season. But the Red Sox knew that possibility when they picked him given his skill level. Their belief was that the upside of an athlete his caliber -- if he developed in baseball -- was worth the risk of a late-round pick and some money.
Seattle has taken a similar approach with players who have made or will make a position switch. The possibility that guy might really take off in a new spot or make a breakthrough is worth the possibility that he won't.
Look at Sherman a year ago. Here's a 6-foot-3 player who's still learning cornerback, which makes it possible that he'll experience a breakthrough or make a quantum leap. That's unlikely to happen with someone who has spent eight years at a specific position. For better or worse, you know what you're getting.
And in Tim Ruskell's five years as president, my conclusion on his draft strategy was that he sought to minimize risk while evaluating potential. He didn't take fliers or swing for the fences in the later rounds, and while I would argue that produce many abject busts -- guys who simply couldn't play in the NFL -- he had such a preponderance of singles that his slugging percentage was unacceptably low. Linebacker Lofa Tatupu was the only player Ruskell drafted in Seattle to make the Pro Bowl.
Now look at Seattle's draft record in Schneider's first two years. There have been some undeniable misses. E.J. Wilson was a fourth-round pick released during his rookie year. None of Ruskell's fourth-round choices washed out that early. As for Seattle's projects? Well, Seattle appears to have hit on two out of three with Konz's difficulty staying healthy continuing through this year as he's been bothered by a shoulder injury.
Going two for three is an average any player would take, let alone someone swinging for the fences.
This is not to say the Seahawks are embarking on some "Moneyball" methodology that is going to change the way NFL teams evaluate talent. It is pointing out the Seahawks have shown a tendency to take one of their picks in the latter half of each draft on someone who is a bit of a project so to speak, a player in transition. And while Konz has been mostly injured, the success of Sherman and progress of Sweezy speak to the value of that kind of calculated risk.