IRVING, Texas – Raise your hand if you knew Malcolm Smith before the playoffs or if you even remembered that's who raised the Super Bowl MVP trophy after last night's Seahawk siege.
Anyone? It's OK. The 31 other teams who passed over him for six rounds in 2011 probably didn't know him well either.
Some teams can turn late-round draft picks and undrafted players into contributors. The Seahawks figured out how to turn them into the most feared defenders in the league. They're a step ahead of the rest of the league in that department and hoisted a championship trophy as evidence.
All but two of the Seahawks' defensive starters against the Broncos were either drafted by Seattle or undrafted altogether. Let's delve further:
- Of the 11 defenders to take the field first for Seattle, eight of them were drafted in the fourth round or later.
- Of the 13 Seattle players with at least two tackles on defense in the game, eight went in the fourth round or later. That includes two players who went undrafted. The other six were all drafted by the Seahawks. Only two of those 13 players were drafted by other teams.
- One of those players, Richard Sherman, is now the most feared cornerback in the league. He went in the fifth round in 2011. The Seahawks' fifth round pick the year prior was Kam Chancellor, a 6-3, 232-pound behemoth of a safety who happened to record nine tackles and an interception against Peyton Manning on Sunday.
- Of those 13 players with multiple tackles on defense, 10 came to the NFL in 2009 or later. This is a young Seahawks defense that Seattle's staff has molded into the league's best while reaping the benefits quickly without having to pay for loads of second contracts.
The Seahawks' late draft picks weren't just contributors in the Super Bowl. They were stars.
After the game, Smith reportedly called his group of fellow defenders – that unheralded group of forgotten late-rounders and undrafted afterthoughts – a bunch of misfits who people said wouldn't be anything. He said they play with that chip on their shoulder. It doesn't take a seasoned NFL scout to notice the edge Smith referred to. [embedded_ad]
Even the backups to the starters follow the same mold. When Brandon Browner, a key cog to the Seahawks' secondary at cornerback, got suspended, what did the Seahawks do? They plugged in Byron Maxwell, a sixth-round pick of Seattle's in 2011 to start opposite Sherman. The defense didn't lose a step. Maxwell was the one who forced a fumble on Demaryius Thomas during the rout.
Seattle's made a habit of turning late-round gems into the most dreaded defenders on one of the most physical and intimidating defenses in the game, taking the art of finding value in the draft to an unmatched level. It's a level the Cowboys will need to eventually flirt with if they're to hoist a Super Bowl trophy again in the near future.
The Seahawks have drafted six Pro Bowlers since 2009. They've stockpiled picks (they've had at least nine picks in every draft since 2010) and turned many of them into valuable starters, regardless of when they were selected.
The Cowboys improved their drafts in recent years and unmasked some gems along the way in Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, DeMarco Murray and Tyron Smith, among others. But, as with most teams, the rate at which their mid-to-late round draft picks have contributed isn't on par with a team like Seattle's.
The Seahawks will eventually have to pay the piper. Their late-round picks will turn into free agent commodities in coming years when their first contracts run up, but Seattle got the Super Bowl trophy before that happened.
For the Cowboys to get in the Seahawks' position, particularly given their cap situation, they need to take a page out of Seattle's playbook and figure out how to replicate the Seahawks' ability to get supreme value throughout the draft. Easier said than done, as the rest of the league also knows.