Seahawks stick to draft trademark with picks switching positions

May 2, 2015, 6:41 PM | Updated: Apr 8, 2016, 10:50 am
Seahawks general manager John Scneider was drawn to Obum Gwacham because of how hard he played. (AP...
Seahawks general manager John Scneider was drawn to Obum Gwacham because of how hard he played. (AP)
(AP)

The Seahawks’ newest pass rusher has an appetite for Chipotle, a motor that doesn’t stop and a resume that includes three years catching passes in the Pac-12.

That makes Obum Gwacham just another Seahawks’ draft pick.

After all, this is a team that has now drafted three defensive linemen with the stated intention of playing them on offense, not to mention finding an All-Pro cornerback with a fifth-round pick in 2011 who was skinny and talkative and started his college career at Stanford as a wide receiver.

On Saturday the Seahawks picked Gwacham, who started at Oregon State as a receiver before switching to defensive end, where he earned general manager John Schneider’s attention with not how well he played but how hard.

“He came back after watching him and said, ‘Hey, wait until you see this guy,’ ” said coach Pete Carroll, summarizing Schneider’s scouting report. “And it was talking about how hard he played. He just caught his eye that way.”

It’s also a key to understanding one way in which Seattle has found starters in the nether regions of the draft, whether it was picking Richard Sherman to torment quarterbacks or choosing J.R. Sweezy to block for them.

“It’s so crucial for people to play at their fullest energy output,” Carroll said. “It’s so crucial for guys to play with great effort that when we see somebody who is out there (like that), we want them to be part of the team and we’ll figure it out almost.

“It’s such a commodity that we cherish so much.”

But even by Seattle standards, Gwacham’s transition is severe. He played three years at receiver before moving to defense as a senior, a position switch that allowed him to fully explore the boast in his Twitter bio that he is Chipotle’s No. 1 fan.

It’s also a storyline that I used to consider cute in the NFL. An offbeat experiment like when Seattle drafted Tony Jackson – a tight end out of Iowa – with the intention of playing fullback. Jackson didn’t make it out of training camp.

In 2010 – John Schneider’s first year as Seattle’s general manager – the Seahawks chose Jameson Konz in the seventh round, an athlete with a freaky combination of size and speed who had struggled to stay healthy and never made much of an impact during his college career at Kent State.

A late-round flier. That was the description pinned on Konz, who started out as a receiver before moving to tight end and finally practicing as a pass rusher. In two years with Seattle, he played only on special teams.

That was more than a diversion, though. It provided a template for how Seattle would approach the later rounds of the draft.

Step one: Find a guy with an eye-popping combination of size and speed.

Step two: Overlook an overall lack of productivity in college.

Step three: Show patience as he adjusts to a new position.

It’s a recipe that found the Seahawks a starting right guard in Sweezy, who played defensive line at North Carolina State before being selected in the seventh round of the 2012 draft. It also worked midseason when Seattle claimed running back Allen Bradford off waivers and switched him to linebacker, where he saw the field first in Seattle and later with the New York Giants.

Schneider was asked on Saturday whether Seattle sees a bigger potential payoff for a player who is relatively new to a position. That the return on a late-round investment, so to speak, might be bigger if that new position really fits the player as it did first with Sherman and later with Sweezy.

“I don’t think that’s us in particular,” Schneider said. “I think a lot of people do that. We just try to find and accentuate all the positives in all the players.”

Well, Seattle is certainly doing something right. In fact, the Seahawks have done so much right that when they draft a player in the sixth round who converted from wide receiver to defensive end, eyebrows aren’t arched in skepticism but instead anticipation as everyone is looking to find what the Seahawks saw in a player like Gwacham.

“He is extraordinary,” Carroll said. “He flies all over the field. He doesn’t know what he’s doing so we know if we can coach him up and harness that.”

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