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Seahawks bubble watch: What it would take for Tanner McEvoy to make the roster

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The 6-foot-6 former Wisconsin safety provides everything Pete Carroll wants, except more room on Seattle’s deep roster

NFL: Preseason-Seattle Seahawks at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Amid the excitement at the end of Saturday’s preseason opener in Kansas City, Trevone Boykin and Tyvis Powell might have written their names with ink on many 2016 Seattle Seahawks roster projections. While those undrafted free agents were already in most Field Gulls readers’ vocabulary before now, however, maybe a few fans impressed by Tanner McEvoy’s catches on the game-winning drive also started looking for ways to pencil the former Wisconsin multi-tool into the crossword puzzle that is the final 53-man group.

In some respects the fit would be natural. McEvoy’s two key grabs in that series perfectly showcase the way he can use his huge frame to position himself to outmuscle and out-extend defenders, and his knack for stalking the football (as a safety, McEvoy led the Badgers in interceptions last year). Monday, Boykin said McEvoy reminds him of Josh Doctson, the 6-foot-4 All-American and 22nd-overall pick in April’s draft who was Boykin’s favorite target at TCU. “A physical specimen not often seen at wide receiver,” as Owen Riese at Bucky’s 5th Quarter put it, the 6-foot-6 McEvoy exemplifies the large-bodied wideout Pete Carroll has repeatedly tried adding to Seattle’s arsenal (Mike Williams, Kris Durham, Kevin Norwood, Chris Matthews) and which they currently lack.

McEvoy also embodies the kind of grit Carroll loves to use to mortar his rosters together. After starting over twice following transfers from South Carolina and Arizona Western, McEvoy first failed to win Wisconsin’s quarterback job in 2013 and converted to wide receiver. But when an early-season wrist injury hindered his ability to catch properly, McEvoy later switched to safety.

By November that year, McEvoy’s sophomore season, The Badger Herald had already published a profile titled “A Remade McEvoy.” But McEvoy remade himself again in 2014 to seize the starting quarterback spot, and then did it once more by committing to safety as a senior after his quarterbacking style didn’t suit the incoming coach’s system (“committing” while still occasionally adding spot duty as a sort of Percy Harvin type blended with Kordell Stewart on offense). After the 2016 draft Riese called McEvoy’s three years in Madison “one of the oddest collegiate careers in recent Badger memory.” And that’s a school that had been through both the Russell Wilson transfer saga and former quarterback Owen Daniels’s conversion to tight end.

Some might view that as a record of disappointment, but add to that experience McEvoy’s not-altogether-unexpected draft day snub, and McEvoy has the fortitude of overcoming repeated setbacks on his journey to the NFL with a willingness to change modes. The blend of grit and versatility, plus the physical prototype, make him an ideal match for a Carroll-coached squad. I think McEvoy has the talent to make a league roster in 2016. The problem for McEvoy then is that in 2016 Carroll coaches these Seahawks, who happen to have the deepest group of receivers in the grey-haired assassin’s seven years in Seattle.

In the offseason I would have given McEvoy a better chance at safety (his favorite player is Ed Reed). Though McEvoy doesn’t have Earl Thomas’s quickness, his long strides make him adept at closing ground in a hurry so he’s known for his wide-ranging coverage that freed Wisconsin’s other backs to focus their assignments—much like Thomas does for Seattle. Considering the growing importance of dynamic, pass-catching tight ends, Big Blue View’s Alex Sinclair highlighted McEvoy to suggest that bigger safeties like him might be the future of the NFL. The Seahawks? They know about that, too.

It feels crazy to think of the Legion of Boom as not as stacked as Seattle’s “Don’t Walk” receivers room, but specifically at safety I didn’t see as many roster locks behind Thomas and Kam Chancellor and possibly Kelcie McCray. The likelihood of Brandon Browner working out was … less than 100, while McEvoy offered most of what you wanted from Browner, apart from the L.O.B legacy. Either way, and probably owing lots to Powell’s emergence, the coaches moved McEvoy yet again to receiver before training camp.

And here is where the limitations of the roster count hit hardest.

You might come up with a really perfect six-letter word but it won’t fit if the crossword answer only has room for five letters. With guys like Brandon Williams, Ryan Robinson, and Brandin Bryant already testing the boundaries of the roster elsewhere, I have a hard time figuring the team keeps more than five receivers on the 53.

Reportedly, McEvoy’s heroics in the end zone Saturday actually earned him repetitions with the first string Monday at practice. And despite his undrafted status McEvoy was embraced early in the offseason by circles of the 2016 class almost certain to make the team—as evidenced by his attending a Mariners game in June with Jarran Reed and Nick Vannett—usually a good indicator who is fitting in on the field. But again that was before he was a wide receiver. He’s obviously not surpassing mainstays Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett and Jermaine Kearse, while Paul Richardson can without doubt secure the fourth spot by remaining healthy.

That leaves McEvoy, Kenny Lawler, Kevin Smith, Kasen Williams, Deshon Foxx, Douglas McNeil, EZ Nwachukwu, Montario Hunter and anyone else you can name competing for just a single opening. When I wrote about it in May, I didn’t expect a rookie to claim that spot, and I still don’t.

Of course, none of those guys has McEvoy’s body measurables. As B5Q’s Riese puts it, “His potential as a receiver on the goal line is enticing.” We know that is something that has always made Pete Carroll chew his gum a little faster, but does having Jimmy Graham alleviate that need?

Which brings me to perhaps the best hope remaining for Tanner McEvoy to make this year’s Seahawks roster (I don’t suspect he would clear waivers for practice squad designation). Injuries could happen anywhere, and you never know when a random rash of ailments will strike any position. McEvoy could possibly still take advantage of misfortunes at either receiver or safety in the next few weeks—let’s hope they don’t arise. But among variables we can more directly forecast, if Graham doesn’t appear on track to play effectively early in the season and ends up on the short term injured reserve, that could open a role for a tall target in the red zone.

Because of his size, some draft scouts identified McEvoy as a tight end prospect as a pro, presumably with a little more weight added. If he stays with Seattle, with its dependence on run blocking from that position, I highly doubt he ends up there. But if Graham isn’t ready by September I could see the Seahawks using McEvoy like Graham in formations (Y-ISO) with a wide split end or from the slot, and justifying the roster hold with McEvoy’s reserve utility as a two-way replacement and his all-around athleticism contributing to the kicking game.

That’s not the best scenario for Seattle’s outlook, but at least it’s nice to see McEvoy display that potential should something worse turn up. How do you guys see it playing out?