NFL DRAFT: Seahawks glad they have Branch, even as they watch first round pass by Print
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Thursday, 26 April 2007 12:46
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 KIRKLAND, Wash. (AP) -Like most general managers, especially those with deep roots as a scout, Tim Ruskell cherishes his hot list of the top prospects in the NFL draft.
Months and years of film study, campus visits, player and coach interviews and investigation create that list. The hotter the list of Seattle players gets, the better Ruskell's Seahawks are going to be for years to come.
But this weekend, Ruskell's ``hot list'' is going to need a heat lamp.
How cool will it be? Instead of containing top college stars Marshawn Lynch, Dwayne Jarrett or Ted Ginn Jr., it will include Zach Miller, Ben Patrick and Brandon Mebane - names only draft addicts likely know.
The Seahawks don't begin picking until 55th overall, deep into Saturday's second round. That could mean nine hours of waiting before Seattle gets to start filling needs at tight end, guard, safety and defensive line.
``We know about who is going to go in that area, and yeah, it would be great to have that,'' Ruskell said this week, referring to Lynch, Jarrett, Ginn and others likely to be selected late in the first round. ``But we kind of know that is the deal. So we are focused on the guys who are going to be there at 55.''
Blame Deion Branch for putting Ruskell's hot list on ice.
Last September, the Seahawks traded their first-round choice to New England for the former Super Bowl MVP. The wide receiver and the Patriots were locked in a lengthy holdout. The next day, Seattle gave Branch a $39 million, six-year contract - with $23 million guaranteed over the first three years.
So a centerpiece to their offense is far more useful to the Seahawks right now than that 24th overall pick the Patriots received.
``I think it makes our draft look pretty good to have Deion Branch as a first-round pick,'' said Ruston Webster, the Seahawks' vice president for player personnel who began working with Ruskell when both were scouts with Tampa Bay in 1988.
When Ruskell worked under former Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay a few years ago, the Buccaneers did a study of first-round draft choices. Ruskell said that over 15-20 years, ``50 percent were busts.''
So the Seahawks' spin is that they are glad to have Branch and glad to be escaping what Ruskell calls the first round ``crapshoot,'' for a year, anyway. And because the defending three-time NFC West champions do not have urgent needs for wholesale rebuilding, it may not be so bad having to wait to choose perhaps a less-ready prospect first - such as Mebane, a fast, run-stuffing defensive tackle from California who some say lacks good technique.
They would love for Miller, who had 144 catches in three years at Arizona State, to replace the departed Jerramy Stevens as the pass-catching tight end coach Mike Holmgren covets. But Miller's likely to be gone at No. 55.
The more raw Patrick, a tight end from Delaware, may be there.
``We have the luxury ... we can afford to wait on a guy and develop a guy,'' Ruskell said. ``We are really not hostage to any one position going into this draft.
``Ruston and I have not always been in that situation, and sometimes that lends itself to making a mistake. You push a guy up because of a need, but we don't have to do that.
``If the best player is a wide receiver or a safety when we get to that point, we will gladly take him.''
Those are two of Seattle's more stocked positions. Behind Branch are Darrell Jackson - whom the Seahawks explored trading over the winter - Nate Burleson, Bobby Engram and D.J. Hackett. Seattle also signed free agents Brian Russell and Deon Grant to presumably start at safety, which the Seahawks think is an extraordinarily deep position in this draft.
The second round has been good to Seattle recently. That's where the Seahawks found Lofa Tatupu, a supposedly slow, undersized linebacker from Southern California who became a Pro Bowler as a rookie two years ago. Now, he's the indispensable leader of the defense.
Other second-rounders who have become Seahawks starters this decade include defensive backs Ken Lucas (now with Carolina), Ken Hamlin (who recently signed with the Cowboys) and Michael Boulware.
Maurice Morris, taken in 2002's second round, is Shaun Alexander's backup at running back. And pass rusher Darryl Tapp had such a good rookie season last year as a second-rounder that Seattle released veteran defensive end Grant Wistrom this offseason.
 

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