John Schneider has had a ton of success in the draft over the last four years. When he talks about his approach, I listen. Putting together comments he made from a series of interviews before and after the draft, I believe he added a new criteria to his evaluation system this year, and I think it was a direct result of seeing fourth round draft choice Chris Harper wash out a season ago.
Harper was, ironically, one of the few picks that national draft pundits applauded in the Seahawks 2013 draft class. He was 6’1″ and over 220 lbs of receiving power, who accumulated more than his share of memorable catches at Kansas State. He was brought in with an eye on the impending free agency of both Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin in 2014. Harper was given every chance to make the roster, but never stood out through training camp. Instead, it was Jermaine Kearse who stepped forward, and boy are the Seahawks fortunate that he did. Sidney Rice was not playing well and went down with injury, Stephen Williams was let go, and Percy Harvin was lost for almost the whole season. If you think Schneider is unaware of his fortune in that situation, you do not know Schneider. He misjudged a player in the draft, and it nearly cost his team.
Schneider was heard on multiple occasions this year talking about looking for players that could “fit in this locker room.” He often elaborated by saying that the young guys needed to be able handle the challenges that the likes of Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and the rest of that secondary will pose on every play of every practice. Harper never rose to the occasion. He shrunk from it, and visibly lost confidence as the camp went on.
Kearse had almost unreasonable confidence for an undrafted player who had barely sniffed the field as a rooke. It showed from play-to-play. He woofed right back at members of the L.O.B. and gained steam with each catch. Harper may have had physical tools that eclipsed other receivers on the roster, but he did not have the makeup.
That is why you heard so much discussion about Paul Richardson meeting with team psychologist Michael Gervais. That had nothing to do with Richardson having some red flag that needed vetting. It had everything to do with seeing the impact the best secondary in the NFL can have on the psyche of a young, developing receiver who is not equipped to handle failure.
Another telling comment from Schneider during a pre-draft press conference was in answer to a question posed about his mentor Ron Wolf. Wolf apparently said that general managers needed to have amnesia about bad picks. Schneider is not one to call out his former boss, but he was quick to say he had essentially the opposite approach. When a draft choice failed, he felt it was his responsibility to analyze every aspect about why it didn’t work, adjust their ranking and evaluation system, and attempt to reduce the chances of making the same mistake twice.
Chris Harper was a mistake last year. He may also be the reason that Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood become fixtures in Seattle for years to come.