"We're always grading for our team, we're not grading for the league. We're trying to project who's going to be here, who's not going to be here, who they'll be competing with." - John Schneider
For the 2nd year in a row, CBS Sports/NFL Draft Scout's Derek Stephens has teamed up with spreadsheet master Davis Hsu and created a revolutionary way to track the draft by implementing what we're calling the "Seahawks Draft Matrix". This year's version - Version 2.0 (and you can check out what Derek and Davis did last year here) -- grades 347 college prospects (347!!) against 69 current Seahawks and is what pro teams would call a 'Horizontal Draft Board.'
Background on the Draft Matrix:
Derek has gone through hundreds of hours of film in order to write his reports for CBSSports/NFLDraftScout.com and Lindys' Draft Guide, and has thus determined grades and rankings for draft-able players at each offensive and defensive position. He has then (drawing on his experience as a longtime Seahawks fan/expert and writer here at Field Gulls) contrasted those grades and rankings to existing Seahawks players, so as to emphasize which draft prospects could potentially upgrade current Seahawks players.
This is what the Seahawks do in the run-up to the Draft in all of their meetings, and it's similar to the board they use in their Draft Room on Draft Day.
As I wrote in my article focused on the scouting process from a few months ago, teams in the Ron Wolf tree of scouting (like John Schneider's Seahawks) more typically use a horizontal draft board, where draft prospects are graded and compared to players on that current roster. "We grade for our team," John Schneider explains, "we don't grade for the league. Our board basically represents that. We grade a guy based on whether we think he can compete with Bruce Irvin or Malcolm Smith or Bobby Wagner, and that's the way our board falls."
"I can't speak for other organizations," he continued, "but as for our group, we know our coaches have trust in us as far as acquiring players that fit what they're looking for, or fit a certain position. They're going to compete, and obviously for them to do that, the trust in the coaches to teach, work, and develop those players. And Pete's main philosophy is all about competition. So, he opens that door, and you have a chance to play."
"When we're selecting players, we're giving the coaches players who are legitimate competitors at each position. Rather than having a head coach who has his mind made up and he's not going to change and be flexible, Pete is very flexible in terms of the players that we can provide."
This was echoed by Seahawks Director of College Scouting Scott Fitterer. "We breakdown each player from just a pure athletic standpoint at the beginning. We breakdown their game as it is now. Then we put them through the filter for our team - because we grade specifically for our team, we don't grade for the NFL. So they have to fit our scheme."
"Pete and his staff have done a great job of telling us what exactly they're looking for," Fitterer notes. "And then some guys just have such a unique skill set that our coaches are great at adapting and letting players come in. If they think they can make plays, they'll figure out a role for them. They'll create a role if they have to. The flexibility of this staff is incredible that way."
In other words, Seattle wants to select players that can compete with and hopefully beat out players at different positions on their roster. This makes draft day a little more hectic. It's a process that is grounded somewhere near "best player available," but more flexible based on need and depth.
So how is this applied on Draft Day?
Former Packers scout Marc Lillibridge, who spent time working side-by-side with John Schneider under Ron Wolf, knows just how this goes. "There were times where we'd get into debates on whether we were going to take, say, a linebacker or a defensive end," he told me. "Or if we were going to take a quarterback or a defensive back. So I think it just comes down to, in those cases, nine out of 10 times, from people I've talked to and been around and had conversations with, if it's a dead heat between two players, it comes down to need. You go with need.
"So, you're saying you're taking the best available player, but if you're loaded at, say quarterback -- you have two great quarterbacks and your board is sitting there tied with Derek Carr and, say, Phillip Gaines, the corner from Rice. They're both the exact same [score], but at corner you have two legit starters but then your nickel guy is coming up for a contract after next year and in two years, your other corner is up, then that's really all you have. Then, in that case, you're probably going to end up taking the corner."
This is where moving up and down the board becomes a strategy. And this is where things can get really complicated and stressful. "In those kinds of situations, it's a moving target. You want value, "Lillibridge said. "You ask: 'do we think there are any teams behind us that really want Carr? Can we trade out and get Gaines two spots lower? Or maybe four spots lower?'"
He plays out a scenario:
"Let's say that you have Gaines as a 7.2 and let's say you have Antone Exum from Virginia Tech as a 7.1. You say, if we trade back four spots, Carr goes, the team after that takes Gaines, and then we know the third team probably doesn't need a corner. Would we then be okay with taking Exum with that next pick? Or, do we feel that Gaines is worth that 0.1 in score differential? Does it make that much of a difference? Those kinds of conversations are going throughout the whole draft, and you're doing that with every position."
It's worth noting here:
While Derek and Davis have placed 347 players on their board, most NFL teams will have closer to 150-175 names on theirs because they will fail certain players based on medical conditions, character concerns, size requirements, and scheme fit. So, an average NFL team will have scouted all of these players (and hundreds more) but their final 'front board' has fewer names than this. Their "backboard" will include perhaps another 100-200 players that they hold in reserve or see as UDFA types.
The Seahawks Horizontal Draft Matrix...
How to use the Matrix:
1. Click on the link below to view and follow along during the draft
1. Right Click on the PDF file that opens with the link below, and select "save as".
2. Name the file and save it to your computer.
3. Print it off
4. Track the draft by crossing off each selection
There are a few things to note:
- Blue highlighted players are existing Seahawks players
- Any draft prospect with an asterisk (*) next to the name is an Underclassman
- Click on player names (with underlines) to read their scouting reports at CBSSports.com/NFLDraftScout.com.
The Grading Scale
Here's a look at what these grades represent, both for NFL Draft prospects, and for existing Seahawks listed in the matrix:
- 7.5 to 8.00 - Pro Bowl Player | Elite Talent
- 7.0 to 7.50 - High Performer | 1st Rounder
- 6.5 to 6.99 - Starter | 2nd Rounder
- 6.0 to 6.49 - Borderline Starter or Future Starter | 3rd Rounder
- 5.6 to 5.99 - Solid Backup | 4th Rounder
- 5.5 to 5.59 - Special Teams, Spot-Rotational Player | 5th-7th Rounder
- 5.0 to 5.49 - Practice Squad Candidate | 7th Rounder or UDFA
- Sub 5.0 - No roster spot
As for the "VALUE":
As for the "Round" number that we've placed each player in, this is not a prediction as to where we think the player will be selected, but rather, is an indication as to the "value" at which we've graded that player. Thus, if we've assigned a player to the 3rd round, but he's selected in the 2nd round, by our grade, that would be a "reach".
It's nearly go-time.