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Seahawks roster bubble: 5 players who've gone from 2-stars to reaching the NFL's doorstep
Seaside Joe 1261, 8/18/22: Cade Johnson, Myles Adams highlight the bounty of opportunities found among the undrafted free agents
Getting the news that he would miss at least the rest of the preseason with a hernia injury was surely frustrating for Ken Walker III, but this one obstacle is a joke compared to the road he was facing as a football hopeful coming out of high school three years ago. Most injuries heal. Being a recruit with a “two-star” label requires a lot more work, determination, and luck to get NFL teams to notice you than a twisted gut or a broken bone.
As mentioned many times throughout my series on Ken Walker III’s college career, he was so lightly recruited coming out of Arlington High School in 2019 as a two-star recruit that his only Division-I offer came from Wake Forest…the “Tim Duncan” football school.
Before he even plays in his first NFL game, Walker is already the best pro running back in Wake Forest history—challenge me on that, I dare you—and it wasn’t until he transferred to Michigan State in 2021 (the only Power 5 program to recruit him out of the portal) that he became a Heisman candidate and a consensus top-two running back in the 2022 draft.
Rashaad Penny can somewhat relate, having been a three-star recruit in 2014 who chose San Diego State over a handful of other mid-majors that end in “State” of places that aren’t states. Both Penny and Walker were far less touted as recruits than DeeJay Dallas (4 stars) and Travis Homer (3 stars, but chose Miami over Alabama, Notre Dame, Florida), the players listed behind them on the depth chart.
Something you will hear often is that there are more undrafted free agents in the NFL than any other individual “round” of the draft, but of course that’s because the pool of undrafted free agents is so much larger. Similarly, while there are about 30 or so five-star recruits every year and a large percentage of them will make the NFL (five-stars from 2019 include Travon Walker, Garrett Wilson, Charles Cross, Evan Neal, Kayvon Thibodeaux, Derek Stingley, and Kyle Hamilton…so basically, the top-15 of the draft), it is still fair to say that many players climb out of obscurity as recruits to become notable pro players.
But that’s also because there are so many more of those guys. By in large, the odds of making the NFL as a two-star recruit are so, so, so much worse than if you get noticed out of high school as a four or five-star prospect.
Walker’s ascent from being ranked outside of the top-2,000 recruits in 2019 to being the 41st pick in the draft in 2022 is one of the fastest turnarounds ever—typically, these players must wallow for at least a couple of years before being noticed—and he’s guaranteed a place on the Seattle Seahawks for at least another few years. Not everyone else on the roster is so assured, but Walker is not alone in being an unseen high school player to potentially making the Seahawks a better team in the near and long-term futures.
These are five other Seahawks looking to make their mark years after they were told that they couldn’t even make a Division-I roster.
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WR Cade Johnson
Rivals: 0 stars, 2016
Chose: South Dakota State over South Dakota
When Cade Johnson found out that he made it onto Seaside Joe today:
Believe it or not, it’s actually the easiest thing in the world to be able to hype any prospect as a future NFL star. I see it everyday at my job, writers/tweeters/media/fans are always cherry picking the necessary highlights or positive traits of a player, ignoring everything else, and building a case that confirms their bias.
Cade Johnson’s best attributes are more compelling than most because unlike the underwear athletes who usually get selected by the media as sleepers, Johnson has always been a productive receiver.
After ranking as one of the top receivers in Nebraska with 1,061 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior at Bellevue (different Bellevue) High, Johnson made one of the funnier recruiting decisions I’ve noted in my career: South Dakota State over just regular ole’ South Dakota.
Johnson redshirted, then had 318 yards as a freshman before breaking out as one of the top FCS receivers in the country over the next two seasons: 67/1,332/17 and 72/1,222/8. Were it not for the pandemic wiping out SD State’s 2020 season, Johnson may have had the type of 1,800+ yard campaign that sometimes gets players like him drafted out of FCS programs into the NFL.
As Johnson has said himself, “Talent can come from anywhere.” In fact, South Dakota State had two players drafted in 2022: RB Pierre Strong in round four to the Patriots and QB Chris Oladokun in round seven to the Steelers. Without looking it up, I know that’s more than some Pac-12 schools and Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert was also a Jackrabbit prior to being a second rounder in 2018.
Certainly production is one key towards getting noticed, but athleticism is also a necessary attribute for any player striving to win in the league, whether that be against their opponents on the field or against teammates for a final spot on the roster. It’s interesting that when it comes to the NBA, everybody realizes that genetic-based attributes like height are among the most integral traits towards having a professional career. But the same is just as true in the NFL: success almost always requires speed.
But while Cade Johnson is not a burner, his 4.49 40-yard dash and 1.59 10-yard split may be enough to get him a slot position in the NFL (where he played 83% of his snaps in college) and/or as a returner on special team, which he is also experienced and adept at. At least one person compared him to Tyler Lockett during his 2021 Senior Bowl appearance:
Lockett is slightly faster in the 40-yard dash, but GPS MPH times are comparable and Johnson’s hands—like Lockett—may be one of his best attributes.
There is no question that Cade Johnson has been making a name for himself since the Seahawks signed him as an undrafted free agent a year ago. He did not make the roster out of camp in 2021, but he’s stuck on the practice squad and the 90-man before getting a little more hype following this catch against the Steelers last Saturday:
Pete Carroll told the media on Wednesday that Johnson is making a move in the receiver room and implying that the former 0-star recruit and undrafted free agent has a legitimate case to be on the final 53-man roster this season. Can he do it?
The biggest question is: Who is Cade Johnson’s arch rival right now? The Seahawks have two receivers locked into starting and it would also be shocking if Dee Eskridge was left behind. Pete Carroll has given no indication that Freddie Swain has been demoted as WR3, and yet we have to assume that Eskridge and Marquise Goodwin are in competition to take that spot too. Seattle also drafted two receivers this year and even if they are seventh rounders, I think it’s safe to say that the Seahawks have some affinity for all of their young receivers. Johnson’s return abilities would only matter if the Seahawks weren’t confident in DeeJay Dallas, Swain, and Ken Walker to handle those roles. His opportunity as a slot would only matter if the Seahawks liked him more than Eskridge, Swain, and Goodwin.
So at this time, I’m still saying that Johnson is a practice squad player. But I don’t think cutting Goodwin would be a surprise, I don’t know that Swain is an adequate WR3, and I don’t know that Eskridge is going to be ready to start. Johnson’s fate should be easier to understand with two more preseason games.
DT Myles Adams
Rivals: 2 stars, 2017
Chose: Rice over Illinois
Listed as a center recruit in 2016, Adams immediately made an impact as a true freshman defensive tackle at Rice, posting nine tackles and a sack. He wasn’t necessarily that much more productive over the next two seasons, but the relatively lightweight defensive tackle (290) broke out as a senior with 42 tackles, 3.5 TFL, and one sack, putting himself into the NFL conversation.
And he’s also just super likeable.
Adams told NFLDraftDiamonds this he sees strength and conditioning and film study as two “crucial” areas of development, highlighting that he’s never afraid of the preparation it takes to become great.
As a Kinesiology major with a focus on sports medicine, I believe the first step to ensuring proper preparation in your role as a teammate and player is to make sure your body is in shape and ready for the task, and any task.
Studying film is just as crucial as strength and conditioning, because it prepares your mental approach to the game. Most individuals usually find it as a competitive advantage when they are both physically and mentally prepared to take on the task at hand.
A teammate noted that Adams’ greatest attribute is resilience, which has shown through his NFL journey. Adams was undrafted, then released by the Panthers at final cuts in 2020, then a free agent for almost three months prior to Seattle picking him up. Adams did not make the roster last season either, but promoted to the active roster in Week 15.
He’s now one of the most popular players on the 85-man roster who is sitting on the bubble.
Yes. I think that Myles Adams is going to be on the final 53-man roster and I think it will lead to a surprise cut or trade. Well, surprise for some other writers.
WR Dareke Young
Rivals: None, 2017
Chose: Lenoir Rhyne over not playing anywhere
There is not that much publicly available information about Dareke Young as a high school recruit because he may as well not have been one. I think we all know people from high school who were really good athletes, maybe even great football players, but who struggled to land a single offer from an FCS school and maybe wound up getting some reps at a junior college.
Which in itself is also pretty rare. Very few high school players will play at the next level and really Dareke Young was closer to being “your friend who peaked in high school” than he was to playing at Auburn or Coastal Carolina.
That obviously didn’t stop him.
Though Young played at Lenoir-Rhyne, it wasn’t long ago that the Patriots selected former teammate Kyle Duggar in the second round out of that same program. He didn’t even necessarily star at that program either, like Cade Johnson’s time at South Dakota State, but Young was clearly the most gifted athlete and that helped get him in front of NFL scouts eventually.
One of the absolute most annoying things that people do these days is find a trendy NFL player and then go compare all recruits to that one guy despite the “specialness” of said player being his uniqueness. For a while it was Tyreek Hill and now it is Deebo Samuel. So sure, that’s the comp that Young often gets but only because of his timing as a 2022 draftee.
However, it’s not being Deebo Samuel that will get Young onto Seattle’s roster and even Young knows that. In an interview prior to the draft, Young highlighted his love of special teams, saying “You’ll be surprised how many games are won on special teams.”
Sounds like a Pete Carroll player to me.
Yes. Dareke Young may be a longshot to ever develop into a starting NFL receiver (as all seventh rounders should be considered) but he’s shown that potential all throughout camp, in the preseason game, in the mock game, and there’s nobody else really blocking what he can do at the position. But most of all because he’s going to be playing on special teams and he might even be a captain there. Perhaps a better comp for Young would be Ricardo Lockette, not Deebo Samuel. If Seattle found a Lockette in the seventh round, that’s great too.
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S Joey Blount
Rivals: 2 stars, 2017
Chose: Virginia over Elon
If you can sense that Joey Blount only had two offers out of high school, you must be smelling that Elon musk. You wouldn’t be able to tell based on his 4.38 40-yard dash and 38” vertical.
Blount chose Virginia over Elon (because of course) and made the active roster as a true freshman, mostly on special teams. But over the next four years, Blount became a regular weapon in both the passing game and stopping the run, posting 19 TFL, 5.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, and nine interceptions over the 2018-2021 seasons. (He only played in four games in 2020.)
He has the athleticism to play in the NFL and he was productive in college, also getting noted as a “physical hitter” with strengths in tackling (hello, Pete) and maybe some weaknesses in coverage. There are also injury concerns because Blount, similar to other physical safeties like Kam Chancellor, hits really hard and also causes some damage to himself when doing so.
As an undrafted free agent rookie blocked on the roster by at least four players (Jamal Adams, Quandre Diggs, Ryan Neal, Josh Jones) and Marquise Blair, Bubba Bolden hanging around, it could be difficult for Blount to crack the 53 this time. He seems like a practice squad player who could challenge for a spot on the roster midseason or next year.
WR D’Wayne Eskridge
Rivals: 2 stars, 2016 (as a RB)
Chose: Western Michigan over Ball State
Eskridge is obviously different than the other four because he was a second round pick and is all but guaranteed a place on Seattle’s roster. Unfortunately, his lack of an impact on the team as a rookie, absences from practice this training camp, inability to stay healthy, and age (already 25) make it difficult to project Eskridge’s future on the Seahawks.
Re-imagine 2022 training camp and preseason with a completely healthy Eskridge. Is he playing with the 1s alongside DK and Tyler? Is he stealing the spotlight every other day? Is he playing against the Steelers and making the highlights that George Pickens had for the enemy? Are we projecting Eskridge as a breakout star in 2022 because of it?
None of that gets to be true because Eskridge hasn’t practiced and whether that’s his fault or fate, it is undoubtedly frustrating for Pete Carroll and somewhat deflating the prospect of Eskridge having a role on the Seahawks to start the season. If ever.
In Eskridge’s favor is the fact that nobody in the receivers room has made the choice difficult; there’s a handful of players to like, but nobody to love.
Look at the Jets: They drafted Denzel Mims in the second round in 2020 and still claim to have a place for him on the team, but in the meantime the Jets have signed Corey Davis and drafted Elijah Moore, Garrett Wilson. Mims is pushed to no better than WR4, but more realistically he’s either WR5 or off of the roster because Braxton Berrios is also ahead of him.
The Seahawks don’t have four receivers ahead of Eskridge. They still only have two, as far as we know. But the room is getting more crowded by the minute and Eskridge needs to show something against the Cowboys next Saturday. I mean, literally…show something. Be active. Something.