The Seahawks are all about SPARQ, right?
Not so fast.
You can make an argument for such a focus on day three or during UDFA. The Seahawks try to max out every draft pick these days (no backup kickers) and often shoot for upside later on.
Kristjan Sokoli is a good example. He was a unique athlete with enormous potential. Seattle drafted him in round six with the intention of converting him from defensive tackle to center. His SPARQ score was off the charts. He was a physical phenomena.
He was also incredibly raw and inexperienced and couldn’t make the positional switch work. He lasted a year as a redshirt before being cut.
No big loss. It’s a sixth round pick. It’s a half-court shot on the buzzer.
If they can get the best athletes into the building and coach them up — you could end up with an exceptional player. Why not take the shot?
Here’s a list of later round picks where the players have had above average SPARQ scores:
R5 Luke Willson — 136
R6 Jeremy Lane — 128
R6 Eric Pinkins — 135
R6 Garrett Scott — 135
R6 Kristjan Sokoli — 155
R7 Jameson Konz — 150
R7 Ryan Murphy — 127
R7 Greg Scruggs — 132
R7 JR Sweezy — 127
You can also find examples where the Seahawks spent early picks on SPARQ stars. Bruce Irvin (144), Frank Clark (142) and Christine Michael (150) are the three.
However, the overall picture in rounds 1-3 is quite interesting and not as focused on SPARQ as you might think (especially compared to day three & UDFA).
Seattle’s first two picks last year were Germain Ifedi and Jarran Reed. According to SPARQ, Ifedi was only the 21st best athlete in the O-line class (scoring 111). The Seahawks could’ve taken Jason Spriggs instead, the #7 O-liner with a SPARQ rating of 123 (putting him in the 92nd NFL percentile).
George Fant was the #2 SPARQ O-liner (129) and joined the Seahawks as an UDFA.
Reed was even less athletic as the #47 SPARQ D-liner (101). He was only in the 23rd percentile for NFL players at his position. The Seahawks passed on more athletic D-liners with their first pick (Chris Jones, Vernon Butler) and even traded up to get Reed.
Seattle had five picks between rounds 1-3 last year:
Germain Ifedi — 111 SPARQ, #21 OL, 70th percentile
Jarran Reed — 101 SPARQ, #47 DL, 23rd percentile
C.J. Prosise — 120 SPARQ, #40 RB, 47th percentile
Nick Vannett — 106 SPARQ, #29 TE, 21st percentile
Rees Odhiambo — 83 SPARQ, #164 OL, 7th percentile
Not a single one of Seattle’s five early picks in 2016 ranked in the top-20 for their position according to SPARQ. Only Ifedi ranked above the 50th percentile in terms of NFL athleticism.
In 2015 the Seahawks did select Frank Clark as the #5 SPARQ EDGE rusher. There’s no doubting he’s a Greek God of an athlete. Yet with their second pick in the draft they traded up for Tyler Lockett — the #80 ranked wide receiver according to SPARQ.
That might surprise a lot of people because Lockett is assumed, not unfairly, to be a tremendous athlete. His SPARQ score however doesn’t represent this. He’s only in the 46th percentile for NFL receivers.
Furthermore, Seattle has consistently drafted receivers with a similar SPARQ score:
Tyler Lockett — 115
Golden Tate — 116
Paul Richardson — 118
Chris Harper — 116
Kris Durham — 116
Kevin Norwood — 111
Kris Lawler — 103
The best SPARQ receiver added in the Carroll era is Ricardo Lockette, an undrafted free agent who scored a 135.
This isn’t just the case at receiver either. The average SPARQ score of the cornerbacks drafted by the Seahawks is 115. 43 cornerbacks in the 2017 draft class scored higher than a 115.
The Seahawks have drafted six offensive linemen since 2010 in rounds 1-3. Here’s how they scored using SPARQ:
Russell Okung — 114
James Carpenter — 100
Germain Ifedi — 111
Justin Britt — 122
John Moffitt — 96
Rees Odhiambo — 83
And here are the O-liners they’ve drafted in rounds 4-7 plus select UDFA’s:
Mark Glowinski — 124
Terry Poole — 110
Kristjan Sokoli — 155
Garrett Scott — 135
JR Sweezy — 127
Ryan Seymour — 120
Michael Bowie — 86
George Fant — 132
Garry Gilliam — 122
Alvin Bailey — 110
Average (R1-3) — 104
Average (R4-UDFA) — 120
This backs-up the half-court shot theory. The Seahawks are mostly shooting at the buzzer on fantastic athletes on day three and in UDFA.
With their early picks, they have been known to draft the occasional SPARQ demon. Yet the evidence shows the Seahawks are not just using SPARQ to determine who they draft early. Positional ideals and specific physical traits appear to be equally if not more important.
— On the O-line there’s a strong focus on explosive performers (vertical, broad, bench press) rather than overall athleticism (as emphasised by our TEF study)
— At linebacker there appears to be a focus on short area quickness (short shuttle), general speed and explosive physicality (highlighted here)
— At cornerback we know they like length on the outside as they’ve consistently drafted players with 32 inch arms and a 77.5 inch wingspan (highlighted here)
— At running back they’ve consistently prioritised explosive traits ahead of speed, while drafting for a certain body type (approximately 5-11, 225lbs)
You can pretty much go through every position and identify the trends. Mentality, grit and physicality are important too.
Let’s go back to last years class. Why did Seattle draft each player, considering we’ve already established it wasn’t due to their SPARQ score?
Germain Ifedi — fantastic size, explosive tester, good TEF score
Jarran Reed — Toughness, great run defender, grit
C.J. Prosise — Fit Seattle’s size profile at RB, explosive
Nick Vannett — Good blocker, unique in the modern game
Rees Odhiambo — Had potential, wasn’t 100% pre-draft
Unique qualities. Traits such as size/length, short-area quickness or the way a player performed in the explosive tests. Attitude, mentality, grit. These appear to be at least as valuable as SPARQ in projecting what Seattle will do.
This year, Obi Melifonwu might be another Frank Clark or Bruce Irvin — an all-round dynamic athlete with limitless upside they just have to add. Ditto Kevin King or Tyus Bowser (for example).
Yet there’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t also draft a prospect early without a high SPARQ score. Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis, who recently visited Seattle, is a good example. He’s the #71 SPARQ cornerback this year, scoring a 109.8. He’s also really gritty, superb in coverage, makes plays and has the kind of mentality that fits this defense.
Everything people said about Jarran Reed a year ago.
So while SPARQ is a useful tool to compare athletic profiles and it certainly has a use in helping to identify potential day three or UDFA targets for Seattle — the evidence shows it’s not the be-all and end-all when it comes to projecting who the Seahawks might draft in the early rounds.
And while they might end up selecting a supreme athlete with their top pick this year, it’s arguably just as important to identify three things:
— What are the specified areas of need?
— What are the positional ideals (physical features or testing results)
— Who stands out? (length, grit, etc)