RENTON, Wash. — Through his three years as the general manager of the Seattle Seahawks, John Schneider has made his way by going against the grain. To Schneider, conventional wisdom is what he makes it, and in conjunction with head coach Pete Carroll, Schneider has made a series of moves that have not only surprised the rest of the league, but also defined a Seahawks team that is the hottest in the NFL right now.
While the league was fawning over Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and a host of other first-round quarterback picks in 2012, Schneider took West Virginia defensive end Bruce Irvin with the 15th overall pick. It was seen as a strange move by those who were not aware that the smaller, faster Irvin was misplaced in the 3-3-5 defense he played in college. Schneider knew better, saw that Irvin would succeed in Carroll’s multiple fronts, and he got the NFL’s rookie sack leader in return. In the second round, Schneider pulled the trigger on Utah State linebacker Bobby Wagner, who is now a legitimate candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
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Of course, it was the third-round pick that really set Schneider and the Seahawks up for success in 2012. He and Carroll decided on Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson, who was seen by many teams to be too short to succeed in the pros. All Wilson has done since then is beat out veteran incumbent Matt Flynn, take change of the offense on a team that has scored 150 points in its last three games, and stand just one touchdown pass away from Peyton Manning’s record for touchdown passes thrown by a rookie. If Wilson can throw two scores against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, he’ll roll past Manning’s mark of 26.
It’s more than the splash picks, though. Schneider has as deep a draft board as anyone in the NFL, and an absolute belief in the type of players Carroll needs. That’s how he plucked Stanford’s Richard Sherman in the fifth round of the 2011 draft — in his second year, Sherman has transformed into perhaps the best cover cornerback in the NFL. He paired Sherman with Brandon Browner, a former Denver Broncos camp washout who was imported from the Canadian Football League. Wagner was paired with K.J. Wright, a fourth-round pick from the 2011 draft, to give the Seahawks two of the rangier linebackers in the league. That Seahawks secondary is rounded out by Kam Chancellor, a fifth-round pick in Schneider’s first draft in 2010, and first-round pick Earl Thomas, who might cover more ground than any other safety around.
And when Browner was suspended four games late in the season for a violation of the league’s PED policy? The Seahawks were able to throw sixth-round rookie Jeremy Lane in Browner’s place, and Lane used his speed and trail ability to keep the ball rolling. In last Sunday’s 42-13 win over the San Francisco 49ers, Lane and seventh-round picks J.R. Sweezy (a converted defensive tackle now playing offensive guard) and defensive end Greg Scruggs played significant roles. Jerry Reese of the New York Giants once told me that personnel guys earn their paychecks in the second and third days of the draft. By that standard, Schneider deserves a raise, no matter how much he’s making.
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True to form, Schneider would not make himself available to the media this week, even as so many of his picks are paying off. He’d rather grind tape and find the next great value than bring attention to himself. But Carroll had no trouble gushing about his GM when I asked him how the two men worked together.
“To see our philosophy and approach to play the young guys come to life, this is really the culmination of the ‘three-year’ approach, and it showed up this year successfully,” Carroll said. “You can see that we had a terrific draft, and we utilized those guys, and they have grown to where they are regular football players for us now. They’re either regular contributors, or they’re starting. It’s real clear to me that have been a good part of our way of thinking. We still feel like we’re in the early stages, we’re still just getting going, but we have been through three drafts, and he’s done a marvelous job with the draft, and with all of the transactions that we’ve gone through.
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“We weren’t just making moves to make moves; we were just trying to learn what we needed to do because we adjusted when our players started to fit the bill we didn’t have to continue to make those moves. So we’ve adapted well together in that. For me, he’s an absolute joy because we can talk about everything, work through everything, and understand that we have to come to an agreement using all of the strengths and the savvy that we have, and we turned around a pretty good project. I can’t imagine anybody doing a better job general managing than John has done. He’s just done an incredible job, and part of that is supporting me so that I can do what I want to do. I hope we just continue to push really hard and compete really hard at every single turn and every opportunity, and if we keep doing that we’re going to keep growing and getting better at thinking. That just makes us stronger. John has been great.”
Great enough to get our nod as the NFL Executive of the Year. There are other worthy candidates — Ryan Grigson of the Indianapolis Colts, Ted Thompson of the Green Bay Packers, Rick Smith of the Houston Texans, Thomas Dimitroff of the Atlanta Falcons, Les Snead of the St. Louis Rams, and Trent Baalke of the San Francisco 49ers. The teams of execs doing things right in Denver and Washington, D.C. deserve praise as well, but this is the year that Schneider has seen his own vision bear the most fruit.
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