Last week at the owners' meetings, he was asked to describe what he's looking for out of that position.
"We’ve always looked at that spot as a first-, second-down guy," Carroll said. "And we want a guy that can really hold the line of scrimmage. In our division, people run the ball as much as they do, it’s really important to have a force at the line of scrimmage. What Ahtyba brought that was unique was that he has tremendous pursuit, and he really shows that he’ll chase the football. So he’s great at the point of attack, and then he also gives great effort."
It's standard practice in the NFL for teams to have specific job descriptions for each position. It seems obvious, but it's an important step in roster-building: identifying which traits and measurables matter to your specific scheme and organization and which ones don't.
At cornerback, the Seahawks clearly prefer players with length who can press at the line of scrimmage and use the step-kick technique that the team employs. According to Zach Whitman, the team has not drafted a cornerback with arms shorter than 32 inches since Carroll arrived.
Adhering to prototypes reduces the risk of drafting players who are not scheme fits. The measurables can involve a number of different categories based on position: height, weight, length, athleticism, etc.
But what about the exceptions? What happens when the team falls in love with a player who doesn't fit the prototype?
"I think it was Tom Landry who said once you make an exception, all of a sudden you turn around and you have a team full of exceptions," said general manager John Schneider. "So it really depends on the player, and you have to be very careful with the player you have selected and try to stay with your core philosophies."
When looking at the Seahawks' emphasis on measurables, a couple things stand out.
No. 1, what they focus on may be different than what other teams look at. Take wide receiver, for example. Tyler Lockett (5-foot-10, 182 pounds) ranked in the eighth percentile at his position for height, ninth in weight and fourth in arm length. Doug Baldwin, who had 78 catches for 1,069 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, measured in at 5-foot-10 at his Pro Day. While other teams might prefer bigger receivers with size and length, that's clearly not a priority for the Seahawks.
"We’re drafting for us and what we want," Carroll said. "We don’t evaluate for the league. We don’t evaluate for the guys on ESPN and what they think. We evaluate guys on how they fit our club and our style of coaching and play. And so we have to be connected in our mentality and our approach and our vision on how we see guys."
Carroll recalled his first draft with the New York Jets back in 1994. The team selected 5-foot-9 cornerback Aaron Glenn.
"He was an extraordinary football player," Carroll said. "He was the fastest guy in the draft at the time that I remember. He was a great athlete, a great returner, and he had a great career, and he was a small guy, It just depends on who it was. And I was part of the process with the Jets ... so it’s not always just that simple that a guy is 5-9. It's who is the guy and what is his makeup and what’s his speed and what kind of characteristics does the guy bring? Aaron was a great player and a great draft pick. ... Sometimes it works out."
The Glenn example is a good one because it illustrates the process of determining when to take a risk on an exception. The idea is to acknowledge the potential shortcoming, but figure out whether the prospect has other traits or qualities that can make up for it.
With Russell Wilson, some teams were turned off by his height. But then there was his elusiveness, his accuracy and his mental makeup. Safety Earl Thomas' size might have worked against him, but he had elite range, played with great physicality and possessed outstanding instincts and competitiveness.
Schneider, Carroll and the Seahawks believe in using measurables and try to avoid exceptions. But they are willing to bend when they identify a prospect who possesses traits that can make up for what might be a perceived shortcoming.
"John’s a football guy’s guy," Carroll said. "We’re not looking at height, weight, speed and what other people think. We’re looking at guys at how we can best utilize them and how we can match their talents to our system and all that. And so I think it’s integrally important that the football coach is connected to the process. I’m just part of that process. John is the one that really makes the magic happen in acquiring talent."