The 2017 draft class podcast and thank you

May 8th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Below you’ll find the final podcast of the 2017 draft season. Kenny and I run through Seattle’s class and discuss why it should be considered a really good haul for the Seahawks.

This will be my final post for a while. I want to thank the great community here for making this place what it is. When I started writing the blog in 2008 I never imagined I’d still be doing it nearly 10 years later. This is completely 100% down to you. Your contributions, civility and support.

We’ll start again during training camp, into pre-season and then dig into the new college season. If you only discovered the blog in the weeks leading up to the draft — come and check it out from September onwards. It’s arguably the best time to talk draft as we identify possible targets for the Seahawks.

I’ll leave you for now with the podcast below. It’s time to reintroduce myself to my wife, three-year-old son and three-month old daughter. Thank you again for everything.

 

Breaking down the draft class: Amara Darboh & Shaquill Griffin

May 4th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

A Seattle-type of receiver

It’s very easy to see why the Seahawks liked Amara Darboh.

“He was one of those guys that we were laying in the weeds on him a little bit… They give you so much information on him and he checks so many boxes that he was one of those guys that you didn’t really have to spend a ton of extra time on.”

Those were the words of John Schneider shortly after the third round concluded.

When you run through ways to define a Seahawks receiver, Darboh ticks all the boxes:

— Gritty backstory
— Battled adversity
— Good route runner
— Willing blocker
— Good awareness when working back to the QB
— Ample size

He’s also clearly the best overall athlete they’ve drafted at receiver. His SPARQ score was a 127. PauL Richardson was previously the best athlete they’d drafted with a 118. All of Seattle’s drafted receivers apart from Kenny Lawler have been in the 111-118 range for SPARQ. That translates to the 50-60th percentile range in terms of NFL athleticism.

Darboh is in the 84th percentile.

According to SPARQ he’s the most athletic receiver they’ve had since Ricardo Lockette. Not the quickest or the most sudden — but the most athletic overall. Will he be tasked to fill Lockette’s shoes? Someone who can make the occasional big play on offense but more importantly provide an immediate intensity on special teams?

There are similarities between the two. Lockette is 6-2 and 211lbs compared to Darboh’s 6-2 and 214lbs. Lockette’s forty time (4.41) is marginally quicker than Darboh’s (4.45). There’s a three inch difference between their broad and vertical jumps.

The Seahawks spread their targets around but everyone knows Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham are going to get the lions share. Jermaine Kearse, Paul Richardson and Tyler Lockett are going to eat up most of the rest (health permitting). Darboh’s primary focus in 2017 could be special teams and trying to recreate everything Lockette brought to the roster despite his minimal role on offense.

So what do you see on the field?

On occasions he was let down by an inaccurate quarterback at Michigan. The Ohio State game was a classic example of this. It felt like he was constantly having to adjust to catch the football. Throws behind, throws too high or low. Initially he showed great concentration to haul in a couple of circus catches on poorly thrown balls but eventually his luck ran out.

On one route he perfectly dissected the Ohio State secondary to find a soft spot in the zone. He was wide open — but the throw was high and wide to his left. He tried to adjust and got both hands on the ball but it fell incomplete. On the next drive Wilton Speight tossed an ugly interception with a minute to go in the third quarterback. Ohio State rapidly turned the pick into seven points on offense and a straight forward 17-7 lead suddenly turned to 17-14 in a flash.

How would they respond? A quick three-and-out after the Speight threw an easy slant on third down behind Darboh for an incompletion.

The good news is Darboh was clearly the go-to receiver for most of the game. He had a handful of vital third down conversions and the play of the game from a Michigan perspective.

Ohio State had a seven point lead in overtime and it was fourth down for Michigan. Fail to score a touchdown here and it’s game over. Darboh was being covered by this years #11 overall pick Marshon Lattimore. He absolute destroys him with a clever side-step to the outside before firing inside on a slant. He creates immediate separation and gets open for the touchdown. It’s not a great throw (low and awkward) but he brings it in with two hands.

If he can make it look that easy against Lattimore — Darboh has a shot in the NFL. Any scout who was banging the table for Darboh over the last few months probably went to that tape over and over again.

What else did he show in the three Michigan games I watched for this piece?

Concentration is the thing that stands out — catching the awkward throws and the savviness he shows in running routes. He isn’t particularly sudden and he won’t create separation sprinting downfield on a go-route. He wins with instinct and technique and his route transition is very good.

Working back to the quarterback is so important in Seattle’s offense, especially on the scramble drills. Darboh gets nice depth on his routes and reads the situation before reacting to provide his QB with a target when the play breaks down. This is a big plus for the Seahawks.

He had a fantastic route working the seem vs Illinois. On this occasion the throw by Speight was perfect, dissecting three defensive backs. Darboh lined up in the slot, sprinted to the gap in the zone coverage and made a difficult catch in traffic while anticipating a big shot.

He sells the deep route well before breaking it off to work inside. Nice depth on his routes allows him to assess the best way to get open.

For Seattle’s offense it was also good to see him motion across the line (ala Doug Baldwin) on the option pass (although he was levelled by a defender on one of these vs Northwestern).

He also had some spectacular grabs at the sideline, showing off excellent body control to torque and make the completion while getting both feet in bounds.

There are some weaker areas too. There was very little evidence of any YAC potential. He’s not a sudden athlete and he’ll need to battle and be physical to get open at the next level as a consequence. His best routes were down the seem and the inside slant — he’ll need to find a way to be more effective down the field and perhaps try and become a bit quicker to nail the intermediate routes.

What does the future hold for him? The Seahawks can save $5m by cutting Jermaine Kearse in 2018 and they might feel that’s a necessary move to save money. If that happens — he has a year to show he can take on Kearse’s semi under-appreciated role. He’s a valuable blocker in the run game and while 2016 was a down season for Kearse — he’s had some of the biggest catches in franchise history.

It’s easy to look at Darboh’s size and physical profile and imagine this is a case of planning ahead. For now, he needs to show he can be something akin to Ricardo Lockette and help Seattle’s special teams take a step forward in 2017.

Shaquill Griffin — lot’s of potential but lot’s to learn

Seattle’s turnover numbers are shrinking. In 2016 they had 19 takeaways, one less than bottom dweller San Francisco and good for 22nd in the NFL overall. Let’s compare that to previous years:

2012 — 31 takeaways (#5)
2013 — 39 takeaways (#1)
2014 — 24 takeaways (#20)
2015 — 23 takeaways (#16)
2016 — 19 takeaways (#22)

It’s not a surprise that the numbers have fallen. The peak occurred when Seattle was on the rise and teams didn’t really have an answer for their defense. By week two of the 2014 season, Philip Rivers drew up the blueprint to slow down and limit the unit with a highly conservative, short passing, zone-busting antidote.

We may never see 39 takeaways again in a season with this group because teams just don’t test them in the same way anymore. And in fairness, they don’t need 35-40 turnovers. They do need more than 19, however, if they want to be better in 2017.

This draft class seems to be something of an attempt to rectify the situation.

For starters, the best way to create more opportunities for the secondary is to improve the four-man rush. Malik McDowell should provide some help in that regard and the upgraded D-line rotation should keep Seattle’s pass rush fresh and relatively consistent.

The second plan at a revival seems to be better depth in the secondary and adding playmakers.

Here’s the top-four defensive backs in college football last season in terms of passes defended:

#1 Tedric Thompson — 23
#2 Ahkello Witherspoon — 22
#3 Rashard Fant — 20
#4 Shaq Griffin — 19

Seattle drafted #1 and #4 on the list.

Thompson and Griffin shared 11 interceptions in 2016 and 31 PBU’s.

It’s probably not a coincidence they’re now both in Seattle.

There’s not a ton of Griffin tape available on Youtube. You can see him against Arkansas State and Michigan and quite frankly, watching either game is a bit of a waste of time. The UCF defensive scheme, if you can call it that, is one of the worst you’ll ever see. I can’t work out what they were trying to do. It’s maddening.

Hugh Millen did a good job summing up the problem on 950 KJR:

“I watched this kid. Good body, good frame, runs well. I think he’s been coached poorly.

He gives up the inside too much. The way he plays press, he has his hands-up at the line of scrimmage. Well, the Seahawks teach ‘hands-down’. He’s head-up or outside, why is he doing that? Seahawks teach ‘inside-eye’. There are a lot of things they’re going to do with him from a techniques standpoint.

He doesn’t process route concepts in front of him, he gets beat where he is stuttering his feet, and you ask ‘why is he doing that?’ He doesn’t understand how the slot receiver is impacting him even though he is covering the outside receiver. So there are a lot of signs to me that he doesn’t have the polish mentally about playing corner.

I think what Seattle feels like is ‘we’ll teach him the Seahawks way’. There are a lot of things he’ll do [differently] in their channeled outside coverage, like, he’s going to turn his ass to the QB, and he’s going to be playing inside-out, trying to stay on top, and he’ll never have to worry about deciphering those concepts.

So there are a lot of reasons for them to feel that this guy can play their brand of cornerback.”

Here’s what I saw watching the two UCF games. Time and time again Griffin would line up way-off in coverage, offering this enormous cushion to the receiver. He’d consistently give up a free release then show the receiver inside inviting him to attack this huge zone of open space. It made the safety isolated and asked so much of the cornerback to recover and play the ball.

The best way to describe it is it’s the polar opposite of the way Colorado’s much more effective defense plays. Colorado challenges the cornerback to win at the red-line narrowing the strike zone for the receiver and putting the advantage on the playmaking free safety (Tedric Thompson) to play the ball.

UCF’s safety had no chance. They were caught in no-man’s land. And it’s virtually impossible to judge Griffin based on this tape because of the way he’s asked to play.

Furthermore — you see blown coverages, DB’s running into each other, bad angles from the safety. The secondary is a mess.

In the Arkansas State game Griffin gives up one of the worst touchdowns you’ll ever see. He offers a free release on an inside slant. The receiver just runs into the space between the safety and cornerback, it’s an easy pitch-and-catch and the WR just saunters in for the score. They never even give themselves a chance.

There are a couple of occasions where he really flashes as an athlete. On one free-release over the middle he makes up so much ground to undercut the route and the play the ball. On a deep ball he ‘ran the route’ as you often see with Richard Sherman and made a nice PBU. He can hit and his frame is quite stout for a taller, longer cornerback.

It’ll be really interesting to read the first few reports from training camp on how’s he picking up the technique because this will probably be a complete ‘start from scratch’ situation. It’s hard to be optimistic about his chances of starting as a rookie but he is a 4.38 runner at 6-0 and 194lbs with an 11-0 broad and a 38.5 inch vertical. He’s a special athlete. Hopefully that will give him a leg-up in the pro’s.

Looking at their previous draft picks at cornerback — Griffin is by far the most athletic they’ve added. It’s no coincidence he’s also their earliest pick at cornerback too. The potential is enormous in terms of physical profile. This coaching staff has worked its magic on DB’s in the past. It might take a little time for Griffin to be in a position to start but when he gets there, he has the upside to be a very interesting player.

 

Breaking down the draft class: Delano Hill & Tedric Thompson

May 3rd, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Delano Hill loves to tackle

If you want to know what Delano Hill is all about, watch the video above. It’s his performance against Ohio State at the end of last season.

One thing stands out — he’s a tackling machine.

Hill wore a number of hats at Michigan, lining up as a single high safety and in a two-deep zone, handling the LOS and covering the slot.

Tackling and versatility are his calling cards.

That’s not such a bad thing because in 2017 he’s going to provide competition and security. He’s not going to unseat Kam Chancellor or Earl Thomas and the Seahawks seem to really like Bradley McDougald as a ‘big nickel’.

Hill is one for the future. Chancellor didn’t start as a rookie either. They needed options and depth.

Let’s start with what he does well.

He’s an adept tackler. In the Michigan games I revisited for this piece I didn’t notice a single missed tackle. PFF ranked him tenth for tackling efficiency in 2016. It’s a surprise he’s only tenth.

Frequently he was the last line of defense as a deep safety needing to make a crucial stop. There were plenty of times, strangely considering Michigan’s talent on defense, where a QB, RB or WR managed to break into the open field for a big gain. On every occasion Hill eventually made the tackle.

Whether it’s close-range or in space, Hill squares up nicely and hits the mark consistently.

There weren’t any crunching hits of note but that’s probably in part due to his measured tackling form. He’s not a heat-seeking missile but he’s technically very assured. Don’t mistake that for a lack of physicality. He isn’t Kam but who is?

His speed shows on the rare occasions that he blitzes. Against Michigan State he levelled the quarterback on a blitz from deep safety, forcing an incompletion. When he can put his head down and go from 0-60 that’s when you see the 4.47 speed he had at the combine.

It also shows when he’s covering the flat. Several Michigan opponents tried to clear out the outside zone with an inside route isolating the safety against a quicker receiver. On each occasion, without fail, Hill read the play quickly, sprinted to the ball carrier and delivered a big tackle.

There are instances too where he showed well covering the slot. He surprisingly handled Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel on the two occasions they went 1v1. The first play was a hitch route from Samuel — Hill was touch-tight and even though the pass was errant, had it been on target Hill was in position to make a play. Here’s the coverage on the second play. It’s flagged but it’s an example of how well he stayed with Samuel (who ran a 4.31 at the combine):

He doesn’t make a lot of plays lined up at the LOS but there was one really good play against the read-option vs Michigan State. He had the awareness and speed to take away the option to the running back, forcing the QB to hesitate. He then levelled the QB for a TFL.

He also did a good job covering tight ends from the slot, was never boxed out and had no issue mirroring crossing routes against a bigger target.

Hill’s size is also a big positive. He’s 6-1 and 216lbs with 32 1/8 inch arms. His wingspan is even more impressive at 77 1/2 inches.

How good is that? See how some of the longer cornerbacks in the 2017 class compare:

Kevin King — 77 7/8
Gareon Conley — 76
Quincy Wilson — 75 7/8

Richard Sherman’s wingspan is half an inch longer than Hill’s.

Essentially, he has ideal Seahawks length.

Now onto some of his limitations.

We’ll come on to Tedric Thompson in a moment and really the two players are polar opposites. Hill has 4.47 speed but looks stiff when he lines up at free safety and needs to cover a large area of the field. Thompson ran a 4.60 but is rangy and quick.

Teams didn’t test Michigan deep all that often and it’s possible he was told to hold position and play quite a restrained role (like Jabrill Peppers at LB). Still, you’d like to at least see a handful of plays where he’s matching-up in space and making a break on the ball. On the few occasions when he was asked to handle the deep pass, he was a little bit stiff.

The stats lend weight to this argument:

Tedric Thompson PBU’s in 2016: 16
Delano Hill PBU’s in 2016: 3

He’s also not a physical tone setter when he lines up in the box and there were instances where he got blocked out of plays relatively comfortably by TE’s. He occasionally takes poor angles to the ball carrier when playing deep. He seems to be better working through traffic from the slot and he did a decent job containing the outside when he lined up at nickel.

Essentially he does most things very well but he’s more solid than spectacular. He’s a tackling machine who doesn’t miss — but he might not provide many big plays or turnovers.

Even so, there’s plenty for the Seahawks to work with here. Chancellor wasn’t the finished product as a fifth round pick in 2010 and Hill likely wasn’t drafted to start straight away. He has the straight-line speed and length they like, the character and attitude and he’s versatile. His highlight reel won’t be as interesting as Justin Evans or Budda Baker — but he might be the more rounded football player.

Tedric Thompson is faster than he tests

There’s one area where Thompson and Hill are very similar — and that’s their ability to cover the flat. They were uncannily similar when opponents tried to clear out the outside zone.

Apart from that, they are quite different players.

Sometimes a player plays faster than he tests. Thompson never looks like a 4.4 runner (he ran a 4.60 at the combine) but somehow, he still manages to fly around the field and make plays. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. He isn’t a twitched up dynamic athlete. Yet there he is, time and time again, playing the ball.

In fairness part of it is down to Colorado’s well coached secondary. The cornerbacks consistently win at the red line, narrowing the strike zone for quarterbacks and opening up major opportunities for the safety’s. If the receiver is getting caught up against the sideline, it just increases the space for Thompson to read, react and play the ball. Two of his picks from last year were 50% on his range and ability and 50% on the job of the cornerback.

Seattle also preaches red-line defense so hopefully he’ll get the same kind of advantage if he ever starts for the Seahawks.

Teams were reluctant to throw the ball downfield against Colorado. Stanford only attempted a handful of downfield passes with disastrous consequences:

1st deep shot — incomplete, tight coverage with safety help

2nd deep shot — Thompson interception by the left sideline, ball slightly overthrown and Thompson lays out to make a spectacular diving catch.

3rd deep shot — Thompson’s second interception. He’s playing centerfield in a three-deep zone, he makes himself small in coverage to deceive the quarterback and sits on a seem pass. Textbook safety play.

One of the big advantages Seattle has is the unwillingness of most opponents to challenge Earl Thomas. Colorado benefitted in a similar fashion with Thompson. Those who tried it on were generally punished.

Overall his performance against Stanford was very good. On one play he lined up at the LOS and took on the tight end, fighting off the block and drawing a holding call before dumping Christian McCaffrey on a stretch-run for a TFL.

He’s not the most explosive player but he’s tough. His tackling technique isn’t Delano Hill-good but I didn’t see him miss a tackle in the four games I watched for this piece. He’s not a big hitter but he seems to get the job done.

Against Utah he flashed exceptional red-zone cover skills working against the tight end. Utah schemed a clever route for the TE to block down and then sit behind the D-line uncovered. Thompson saw the play developing and broke on the ball, tipping it into the air and almost forcing a turnover on third down. The TE just stood in stunned contemplation, wondering how he hadn’t scored.

In the fourth quarter of the same game he covered the tight on an inside slant, again making a great break on the ball after gaining position early in the route.

And, unsurprisingly, he had his customary rangy interception with 10 minutes left in the game — running from centerfield to the right sideline to pick off a deep shot (think Earl Thomas vs Atlanta, 2012). He also picked off a hail mary against the Utes.

Thompson might not be the same type of athlete as Earl Thomas — but you’re going to think twice about taking him on.

Production wise, there wasn’t a better defensive back in college football in 2016. He led the nation in defended passes with 23, averaging 1.64 a game. That average is significantly better than his peers — Tre’Davious White for example at LSU only managed 1.33 defended passes a game.

Thompson’s seven interceptions trailed only Rasul Douglas and Tavarus McFadden (eight) and he ranked fourth in the nation for pass break-ups (16).

The Seahawks struggled to make big plays and force turnovers in the secondary in 2016. It’s probably not a coincidence they drafted not only Thompson but also Shaquill Griffin (four picks, 15 PBU’s, 19 passes defended — #4 in the NCAA).

Thompson’s best fit is at free safety and while he might be simply a reserve option to Earl Thomas — the Seahawks can at least feel better about the depth they have behind their all-pro. Nobody will ever fully be able to replace Earl if he gets injured again — Thompson at least gives them a better opportunity to avoid a complete collapse in a worst case scenario.

 

Breaking down the draft class: Malik McDowell & Nazair Jones

May 2nd, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

A lot of the reaction to the Seahawks draft class has been based around one question:

This was a great draft for cornerbacks. Why did they wait until pick #90 to take one?

The answer lies in the first sentence. It was a really deep, solid group of cornerbacks. This was a year where you could find one in round three. It wasn’t a draft littered with interior defensive linemen. If you wanted one, you had to get in there early.

Let’s use the NFL.com gradings (compiled by Lance Zierlein) as an example:

Interior D-line grades for players available in the #26-35 range:

Malik McDowell — 6.2
Chris Wormley — 5.8
Demarcus Walker — 5.6

Interior D-line grades from pick #90:

Montravius Adams — 5.6
Nazair Jones — 5.5
Jaleel Johnson — 5.6

Cornerback grades for players available in the #26-35 range

Kevin King — 5.8
Quincy Wilson — 5.7
Ahkello Witherspoon — 5.7
Fabian Moreau — 5.7

Cornerback grades from pick #90:

Shaquill Griffin — 5.6
Cordrea Tankersley — 5.7
Cam Sutton — 5.6

If they’d drafted Kevin King (5.8) and Montravius Adams (5.6) the total grade value is 0.4 weaker than Malik McDowell (6.2) and Shaquill Griffin (5.6).

That’s not insignificant.

The aim had to be to come out of this deep class with more than one potential defensive starter. By drafting the D-liner first and using the depth at cornerback to your advantage — the Seahawks addressed two positions in a satisfactory way.

Furthermore, they weren’t the only team to use this approach. The Dallas Cowboys, despite an extreme need in the secondary, took Taco Charlton with their first pick despite admitting they had a second round grade on him. The reason? They knew they could get cornerbacks later. They couldn’t get a pass rusher they liked later.

I mentioned this in our draft review on Saturday — but it feels like we all got caught up in the ‘cornerback depth hype’. When you’re constantly told by the pundits that it’s a great cornerback class, there’s a tendency to let it re-shape your opinion on what the Seahawks should or shouldn’t do.

Following the defeat to Atlanta in the playoffs a lot of people were talking about improving the O-line as a priority and possibly targeting Calais Campbell in free agency. Cornerback was seen as a need because of the Deshawn Shead injury — but we also knew how the Seahawks operated. Wait until the mid or later rounds and draft to develop.

Somewhere between January and April, a lot of people (myself included) determined cornerback (slot or outside) was the main need.

It absolutely was one of the needs — but not any more or less important than interior pass rush of the offensive line.

If you could go back in time and tell yourself the Seahawks would draft a player the coach and GM specifically compared to Calais Campbell and a technically gifted offensive lineman from the SEC — the January version of you would probably be doing cartwheels.

Furthermore, Shaquill Griffin isn’t just a guy they found among the scraps of a good cornerback class. In 2016 he ranked fourth for passes defended in the NCAA:

#1 Tedric Thompson — 23
#2 Ahkello Witherspoon — 22
#3 Rashard Fant — 20
#4 Shaq Griffin — 19

Notice Seattle drafted #1 and #4 in passes defended. Griffin also ranked sixth in the nation for pass break-ups (15) and he had four picks.

So while we can quibble about McDowell’s perceived effort problems in 2016 or the boom-or-bust nature of this pick — let’s also realise there’s a very clear method behind what the Seahawks did on Friday.

Ten days before the draft I wrote a piece about McDowell visiting Seattle, noting I didn’t think he would be picked by the Seahawks because of his personality and nature. A typical Seahawk is Nazair Jones (who we’ll come onto in a minute) — all fire and brimstone. McDowell didn’t really fit the bill.

Ultimately I called that one very wrong. McDowell’s potential and upside, plus Seattle’s relentless search for a dynamic inside/out rusher, was much more important than the personality he expressed to the media.

In fairness we did acknowledge that he could be a target if they traded down:

If they do ultimately draft him, they’ll believe in the size and quickness — they’ll think he’s possibly worth the risk because his talent is extreme. If they did select him you’d give them the benefit of the doubt because of his extreme ceiling. D-liners don’t have to be press conference stars but they do need to be ready to go to war every week. We saw Nkemdiche in Arizona in 2016 with his great physical profile basically be a total non-factor as a rookie. The fear has to be that McDowell could be similar.

That said — there aren’t many players with the ability to anchor and bull rush inside combined with the quickness to play the edge and get to the QB. He could be really good. Can you trust him to be great though? And if he falls to #26 with this physical profile, isn’t that in itself a warning sign?

It might be that they’re willing to trade down, possibly into early round two, and that could be the type of range where they feel comfortable taking a chance on McDowell.

It’s time to put those words into practise and give the Seahawks the benefit of the doubt. You’d never question his potential — it was always about his character fit in Seattle. Now that they’ve actually drafted him, it’s time to focus on what he brings to the team.

For starters, he’s always had a very natural and rare athleticism for his size. Here’s a recruitment video from Rivals before he committed to Michigan State. Immediately you can see why he’s different:

McDowell makes it look so easy. He was already listed at 6-6 and 292lbs when he entered college. He was a legit 5-star recruit, garnering offers from Alabama, Florida State, Florida, Oregon, Notre Dame, USC and UCLA. When you see all of the big names on the list — you know he’s special.

Really that’s what you see in his MSU tape too. When McDowell’s playing at his best, he makes it look ridiculously easy. Teams will throw a double team at him and he has the foot speed and quickness to just side-step both blocks and break into the backfield. On other occasions he’ll drive the double team into the backfield. He bends the arc as an EDGE rusher better than most 260lbs rushers and there’s evidence of him one-arm bull-rushing a guard into the quarterback’s lap.

In one play against Purdue in 2015 he lines up opposite the left guard and has the foot-speed to stunt to the outside, round the left tackle, draw a holding penalty and destroy a pulling tight end who came in to support the tackle. He made the sack. It’s an incredible play for a player with his size.

In a 2015 play against Oregon, McDowell drove the center three yards deep his own backfield on fourth and goal leading to a turnover on downs. The rest of the LOS remained stationery.

When pundits say he can be absolutely dominant at the next level and one of the top players in the NFL — they aren’t exaggerating. That’s his ceiling.

So why did he last to pick #35?

You don’t really need me to point it out by now. He slouched through the back-end of a bad season for MSU in 2016. The sight of him walking around in the backfield as heated rival Michigan scored a touchdown was the straw that broke the camels back. He started the year being touted as a top-10 lock. By December nobody was talking about him.

Still, he had a chance to regain some momentum during the off-season. Yet the reports from the combine were not positive:

“Worst interview we did,” said one team. Added another: “Awful interview. Awful.”

“Does he love football? Is he going to work? I can’t figure out what makes this kid tick. He might be the type who, maybe he falls and it lights a fire under him. I don’t know. But I need that light on more often, and he didn’t like it when we asked him about that. McDowell might never fully show his full skill, but passing on him also means you’re missing out on a potentially rare talent.”

This is maybe where the Seahawks have an advantage in their approach. Some teams will pair his introverted personality with a questionable love for the game. Carroll and co. likely just see another opportunity to develop a unique talent.

‘Learn the learner’ as Carroll said in one of the press conferences during the draft.

After all — there aren’t any reports of any off-field incidents. He’s never been arrested. He’s never been kicked off the practise field, fought with a teammate or failed a drugs test. There are just some sloppy games at the end of a bad season.

There are some technical flaws that are well advertised. His pass rush repertoire is quite basic. He generally plays out of control, going all-out to get into the backfield while often ceding a running lane or failing to handle his assigned gap. His over-exuberance was well highlighted in a rush against Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramcyzk when he put his head down and charged at Ramcyzk, who just nudged him to the ground using his momentum against him. The running back piled on top and took him out of the play. It was too easy.

There are possibly justifiable reasons why McDowell struggled with technique. His stance isn’t particularly good when lining up inside — but then he was asked to play nose tackle for MSU. It’s an ill-fit for a 6-6, 295lbs lineman and likely only came about because he was the only player on the roster capable of absorbing double teams. It’s not unfair to suggest he compensated on technique just to survive — because despite his unique size and talent, he’s not a nose tackle.

Because he’s shown evidence of a productive bull-rush, extreme power and fantastic heavy hands — it’d be nice to see him first and foremost develop a consistent power move. This could help him create more splash plays and play within himself more. You don’t always have to have a clean run to the QB if you can shove the guard or center into the quarterback. You’re also better placed to keep your eyes up and read what the running back is doing.

These are fairly minor things overall and you’d expect a 20-year-old to need some guidance. Coming to work every day with Michael Bennett could be the best thing that ever happens to McDowell. It should also help him come out of his shell a little bit as a character too.

He’s one of the most natural, rare athletes at 6-6 and 295lbs. Considering there aren’t many really good interior rushers in the NFL — you can certainly argue this was a shot worth taking. Especially given Seattle’s desperate need for an interior rusher stretching back many years.

The Seahawks ranked third in sacks last season with 42. The team in first place, Arizona, had 48. They blitz a ton so it’s understandable — but they also had Calais Campbell anchoring the line and controlling the offense. It’ll take time for McDowell to get anywhere near that level — but if he can disrupt the interior, command extra blockers and make life easier for the edge rushers — watch out.

Seattle wants to use a four man rush to make plays in the secondary. When they put McDowell, Bennett, Clark and Avril on the field — they might have the most dangerous four-man rush in football.

Notes on Nazair Jones

For this study I watched two games — Duke and Stanford.

The first thing to notice about Jones is his personality. It seems Red Bryant-esque. It’s hard to know for sure but watching the North Carolina games he looked like the emotional leader. High intensity, big personality. The type of BAMF a lot of us wanted to see drafted this year.

It’s fun to think about Jarran Reed playing next to Naz Jones in base. That’s a couple of dog’s right there. It’s even more fun to think about Malik McDowell and Quinton Jefferson rotating in for passing downs. The future of Seattle’s D-line appears to be in good shape.

Jones’ length really stands out on tape. Like McDowell he has nearly 35 inch arms. He can press a blocker and keep his frame clean. He’s got a really nice initial punch to jolt O-liners off balance. It helps him control his gap and make plays in the run game — plus quite often he disengages to make plays in the backfield. He had 9.5 TFL’s in 2016 and broke up three passes.

He’s tailor made to play inside. He’s strong in the lower body with minimal bad weight. He carries 304lbs very well on a 6-5 frame. He’s not too heavy and that helps when he occasionally has to work down the line and chase down a running back.

We highlighted after the draft that short-area quickness appears to be important for Seattle’s D-liners. Jones ran a 4.63 short shuttle and Malik McDowell a 4.53. Jordan Hill ran a 4.51 in 2013 and Jaye Howard a 4.47 in 2012. Quinton Jefferson ran a superb 4.37.

While Jones is the slowest of the group in this area, he still flashes that sudden change of direction and ability to exploit gaps when he wins with initial contact. There was one play against Duke where he just won with get-off to break into the backfield and before the quarterback had time to think, Jones was hitting him for the sack.

It was assumed he might just be a Tony McDaniel replacement — someone who can be stout and anchor the LOS on first and second down. There’s at least some potential for Jones to be more than that. If nothing else, he’ll likely be more of a threat on those early downs to create some pressure.

He can also compete. In the Bowl game against Stanford (the one where Solomon Thomas dominated) Jones had a really strong performance. On one sack he fights through traffic, ploughing through the center and one of the guards to get to the QB.

His get off can be really good. You see examples where he times the snap count to perfection and just wins because he’s the first man off the ball.

Jones is also patient and importantly for this scheme — his gap control is good. He allows plays to develop before reading the running back and making the stop.

It’s possible I just watched Jones’ best two games of the season. I’ve seen it suggested he needs to be more consistent, that he doesn’t have effective counters and he isn’t much of a pass rusher. I didn’t see much evidence of that and I think playing within a loaded D-line rotation will mean he can be a better pass rusher than people realise.

I feel a little bit guilty for not spending more time on him during the draft season because his play and intensity is a good fit for the personality of this defense. I’ll admit I was put off by his lack of explosive traits (8-5 broad, 24.5 inch vertical). With a stream of brilliant, explosive D-line athletes entering the league — Jones tested very poorly. We missed out on discussing a really fun player due to a red herring on athleticism, so that’s on me.

That’s possibly one of the reasons he was available in the late third round.

Jones has the attitude and skills to be a valuable addition. He appears to have the character to develop into a strong voice in the locker room over time.

When Seattle won the Super Bowl in 2013 they had a loaded D-line rotation. For the first time since 2013, they seem to have the same kind of depth following this draft.

 

Breaking down the draft class: Ethan Pocic

May 1st, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

John Schneider and Pete Carroll were quick to highlight Ethan Pocic’s versatility and ability to play multiple positions. This is already being construed as a negative by some of the media. ‘Why can’t they just put a guy in a position and keep him there‘. It’s a legit question to ask overall — but arguably not so with Pocic.

The Seahawks are facing a bit of a dilemma over the next 12 months. Justin Britt played very well at center in 2016 and there’s no reason to suspect we’ll see any regression this year.

In free agency the O-line market exploded. It wasn’t a big surprise to see Kevin Zeitler get a five-year, $60m contract. What followed, however, was a shock:

Russell Okung — four years, $53m
Matt Kalil — five years, $55m
Ricky Wagner — five years, $47.5m
Andrew Whitworth — three years, $36m
T.J. Lang — three years, $28.5m
Kelvin Beachum — three years, $24m
Larry Warford — four years, $34m
Ronald Leary — four years, $35m
Mike Remmers — five years, $30m

Such is the desperation for even average O-line play, the NFL emptied their wallets in a mad rush of OTT spending.

What did Kelvin Beachum do in his one year with the Jaguars to justify $8m a year? Has Matt Kalil ever looked like an $11m a year left tackle?

Much of this was provoked by a mediocre O-line draft short on solutions. However, there’s nothing to suggest 2018 will be much better. There isn’t a cluster of top-notch O-liners ready to turn pro. Next years spending could be very similar.

For that reason, it pays for the Seahawks to be prepared to lose Britt.

If he has two solid years as a starting center, it’s not improbable someone will be willing to pay him at least $8-10m a year. The Seahawks are very clinical in how they view the value of their own players. They’ve let others walk for less in the past.

They also face a difficult cap situation. According to Spotrac, they’re projected to have $28.5m in free cap next year. They can save another $11m by cutting Jeremy Lane and Jermaine Kearse — but how much of that free room is going to be used to keep Kam Chancellor and Jimmy Graham?

If you take $8-10m off the board to keep Britt, you probably aren’t re-signing Chancellor and Graham together.

There are other players to consider too. If Luke Joeckel delivers on the potential that made him the #2 overall pick in 2013, wouldn’t you want to re-sign him? What about if Eddie Lacy has a big year? Or Bradley McDougald?

There are multiple players on this roster competing for a payday in 2018.

This doesn’t mean Britt is definitely going to leave. If he has a fantastic 2017 season an $8-10m contract could be justified. He might hit the market and find his value is in the $6m range — and that’s totally affordable.

But it’s not the worst idea in the world to have a contingency plan. By drafting Pocic they essentially have a player who could start at guard or tackle in 2017 and be your center of the future by 2018.

If you re-sign Britt, he stays at tackle or guard.

The benefits are obvious. You aren’t desperately searching for a new center in 2018 and facing the prospect of having to start a rookie. You can start someone with intimate knowledge of Seattle’s scheme.

In this instance — it seems like Pocic’s versatility isn’t just a case of being able to move him up and down the line. It’s a case of being prepared for all eventualities with Britt.

Let’s get into Pocic on the field. I watched three games over the last couple of days — Alabama, Missouri and Auburn.

Here are my notes:

According to PFF, Pocic hasn’t given up a sack or a QB hit since 11/7/2015 (16 consecutive games). He’s a controlled, balanced blocker and his best aspect is his hand use. It’s really top notch. When he locks on to a block, you rarely see a defensive lineman disengage. He locks his hands inside with ideal placement and executes time and time again.

— Because his hand-technique is so adept, he’s quite a ‘subtle but successful’ blocker in the run game. He’ll turn and control the defender and open up running lanes. He has the hip-torque to manoeuvre defensive linemen when engaged and even against bigger, stronger nose tackles he had success opening up lanes right at the heart of the LOS. Many of LSU’s best runs for both Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice came right up the gut.

— LSU pulled the center fairly regularly, something you don’t often see. Pocic shows good mobility and patience, managing to get to the second level relatively comfortably. When he gets there he isn’t Garett Bolles. He’s not burying linebackers and safety’s — but he’ll wait for his block to develop and execute. If the Seahawks want to get him on the move at the next level as a pulling guard, he can do it.

— Against Auburn, LSU actually pulled Pocic and had Fournette run behind him to the perimeter (using Pocic as a lead blocker). It’s to Pocic’s credit that he looked completely comfortable in this role.

— There were two issues that showed up regularly enough to mention. Against bigger nose tackles he can be pushed into the backfield. When he has to plant his feet and drop the anchor he can struggle. He doesn’t have the greatest power base in his lower body and it’s an area where he can improve. His height doesn’t help and he will lose leverage from time to time. Montravius Adams had a couple of big wins vs Pocic for Auburn, so did the Missouri interior D-line.

— It’s not a lost cause situation — on a couple of occasions he handled Missouri’s massive nose tackle Josh Augusta (who signed with the Patriots as an UDFA) with great hand placement and hip torque to turn the defender out of the play (leading to big runs for Derrius Guice). With a bit of extra strength in the lower and upper body he can make improvements here. Better to need to work on core strength than teach hand placement and technique from scratch.

— The second problem came against elite get-off. He can be a step slow off the snap at times and if a defender can guess the snap-count or just burst off the LOS he has a hard time recovering even with a guard lined up either side of him. This could be an issue if he ends up moving out to tackle.

— I was expecting a bad performance against Alabama because for the second year in a row LSU were completely shut down in the run game. Leonard Fournette only really had two unproductive games in his college career, both because Alabama’s D-line mercilessly dominated LSU’s O-line for four quarters. Upon reflection, the production probably had more to do with a lack of respect for LSU’s passing game than anything the blockers did wrong up front. Pocic certainly didn’t have a bad game. There were multiple occasions where he played beyond the whistle, blocking down and showed a nasty streak. LSU’s handful of good runs in the game came running behind Pocic at center. He wasn’t shoved back once against ‘Bama which was a contrast to the Missouri/Auburn games. This was a positive performance against the best D-line rotation in college football.

— If anyone was wondering if the Seahawks will be adjusting their scheme any time soon — think again. LSU ran a very clear ZBS and Pocic is the definition of a zone blocker. He’s better in space, he’s more mobile/agile than physical/big and he’s a technique blocker. He’s not a mauler.

— We spent a lot of time talking about explosive traits (and with good reason based on Seattle’s recent drafts). Pocic scored a 2.81 in TEF which was good enough to crack the top 10 for explosive traits this year but it’s quite a bit lower than their previous draft picks. It might not signal a sea change in philosophy but it perhaps suggests they needed this type of skill set on their O-line.

— It’s believed they were interested in Ryan Kelly a year ago. His TEF score was very similar to Pocic’s (2.84) and he too was a very technically sound blocker. He’s perhaps a little less scheme-dependant (Kelly could play man or zone, Pocic looks like a pure zone) but it’s possible Seattle has been looking for this type of technical, athletic, agile blocker. It’s perhaps indicative of how raw they feel they’ve been in recent years — taking very inexperienced, physically superior projects and trying to coach them up. Pocic is much more polished.

— Pocic’s vertical jump and broad jump are very similar to Alex Mack’s.

— For some time now Seahawks fans have been asking for this type of player to be picked. If you wanted them to focus on a technically gifted blocker who will carry less of a learning curve but maybe isn’t quite as explosive or with a ridiculous ceiling, you’re getting your wish. Pocic isn’t going to be Lane Johnson at the next level. He might be a more athletic Max Unger.

— What is his best position? It’s hard to say. He has the agility and footwork plus the hands to potentially play tackle. You do worry how he’ll cope against the elite EDGE rushers of the NFL, especially if they can combine a great get-off with an effective bull rush. As an interior player he does a good job opening up subtle running lanes and he seems very comfortable working inside. Guard for 2017 and possibly center for the long term would be my early projection.

A quick note to finish — Seattle’s most expensive UDFA was Purdue offensive lineman Jordan Roos:

Carroll and Schneider spoke very highly of Roos immediately after the draft, stating he had a draftable grade.

He scored a 3.38 in TEF so there’s a lot of athletic potential here. He would’ve been the most explosive O-liner at the combine (topping Forrest Lamp’s 3.23). His score is so high because of a terrific performance in the bench press at his pro-day:

But perhaps the most interesting thing about Roos is the way his appearance changed so dramatically during his time at Purdue:

Carroll and Schneider were very positive about his potential. He’s a name to watch in camp. Seattle might lack a big name, top of the range left tackle. They have a lot of solid competition on their O-line overall though.

Tomorrow I’m going to write-up Malik McDowell and Nazair Jones.

Here’s a nice video breaking down what Pocic does well:

 

10 names to watch for the 2018 NFL draft

April 30th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Firstly, don’t forget to check out our review of Seattle’s 2017 draft class from yesterday. It’s a detailed look at not just the players drafted but also the thought process on what should be considered a positive class overall.

I’m starting to get into the 2017 group and will have some notes in the coming days. In the meantime, I put this together a couple of weeks ago.

Ten names for 2018…

Saquon Barkley (RB, Penn State)
If they can both stay healthy, the 2018 draft could be dominated by two really exciting running backs. It’s hard to separate the two names at the top of this list. If you want to know how Penn State suddenly returned to relevance in 2016, look no further than Saquon Barkley. He’s a genuine X-factor at running back with freakish power and athleticism. He can do a 600lbs squad and reportedly managed a 4.38 forty on campus to go along with a 4.00 short shuttle, a 10-1 broad jump and a 380lbs bench. Stud.

Derrius Guice (RB, LSU)
Guice is a fantastic talent capable of being a Heisman candidate if LSU can cobble together a passing game and remain relevant deep into the season. He’s incredibly sudden and explosive with enough size (5-11, 212lbs) to get the hard yards. He plays with a Thomas Rawls level of intensity. His performances against Texas A&M and Arkansas when Leonard Fournette was injured were incredible. Guice is must-watch TV. He ran a 4.38 forty on campus two years ago at a heavier 219lbs. You see that breakaway speed on tape along with incredible cut-back and change of direction ability and he can stop on a dime and accelerate unlike virtually any other running back in college football. He is incredible.

Vita Vea (DT, Washington)
With so many Huskies turning pro this year, it was a bit of a surprise that Vea didn’t join them. There’s every chance he would’ve been a top-15 pick. Players like Vea are rare. Not only does he have the size and length to control the LOS and anchor as a nose tackle — he also has plus athleticism at 6-5 and 332lbs to impact plays in the backfield. He had five sacks last season. Reports suggested he was informed by NFL sources to get in peak shape and enter the 2018 draft. If he achieves this, a top-10 grade is entirely possible for a player who could be the next Haloti Ngata.

Bradley Chubb (EDGE, NC State)
It was a major surprise when Chubb announced he wouldn’t be turning pro this year. Last season he recorded 21.5 TFL’s and 10 sacks and there’s a very good chance he would’ve been a first round pick. He’s a high-intensity pass rusher with a great personality. He’s the cousin of Georgia running back Nick Chubb. If he can match Nick’s SPARQ-destroying performance before his knee injury, he could land in the top-10 next year. At 6-4 and 275lbs he’s versatile can rush inside or out. His standout performance might’ve been the ‘Hurricane Bowl’ against Notre Dame last year. He dealt with the conditions better than anyone.

Arden Key (EDGE, LSU)
In high school Key was already benching 245lbs and squatting 410lbs. He has gradually become a major impact player for LSU, setting a school record for sacks in 2016 with 12, accumulating 14.5 TFL’s. Recent reports had Key stepping away from the program for ‘personal reasons’ but he recently confirmed he wouldn’t be sitting out the season. Teams will be looking into the situation as he prepares to turn pro in the next year — but there’s no doubting his potential at 6-6 and 238lbs with room to grow. He’s similar to Leonard Floyd (top-10 pick a year ago) but could stand to add extra weight.

Trey Adams (T, Washington)
Big, long and athletic — Trey Adams is one of the few emerging left tackles with a big opportunity to forge a successful pro-career. He plays in a good offense to judge his potential and he’s big — listed at 6-8 and 309lbs but more likely in the 6-6 range (where you want him to be). He moves well on his feet for his size and shows the ability to get into position, set and finish blocks. He plays with toughness and enjoys run blocking. If there were more players like Adams in college football, the NFL would feel a lot happier.

Minkah Fitzpatrick (S, Alabama)
With so many studs on the Alabama defense it’s difficult to stand out sometimes. Fitzpatrick managed it multiple times in 2016. He had six interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), five TFL’s, seven PBU’s and a forced fumble. He ran a 4.05 short shuttle at the 2013 SPARQ combine while jumping a 37.5 inch vertical. He’s an intelligent, savvy ballhawk who could be a major leader and component of Alabama’s defense next season with so many big names departing for the NFL this year.

Sam Darnold (QB, USC)
The same thing happens every year. We pour over the quarterbacks in a draft class and declare next years crop to be better. Darnold is the latest example of a prospect being vaulted into the spotlight a little prematurely. He’s a converted linebacker and hasn’t even been a college starter for a full season. At times his play is majestic and he clearly has an innate, natural flair for the position. He extends plays, he has the arm strength and accuracy. There is so much to like. He also has some erraticism to his play and there are ‘Jake Locker moments’. He has a ton of potential but he’ll be under a lot of pressure to live up to the hype this year.

Connor Williams (T, Texas)
A former High School teammate of Solomon Thomas, Williams has really blossomed from a three-star recruit to a genuine NFL prospect. Measurables will be key for Williams. He isn’t big — listed at 6-6 and 288lbs last season. He needs to get into that 305lbs range and he doesn’t look incredibly long in the arms. He’s a very willing run blocker with natural bend and foot speed. There’s a major edge to his play, built off an intriguing backstory. He and Trey Adams have much higher ceilings than the more often discussed Mike McGlinchey at Notre Dame.

Derrick Nnadi (DT, Florida State)
He’s only really scratching the surface of what he’s capable of. In 2016 he emerged as a highly impactful, mostly two-down defender. He had 10.5 TFL’s and six sacks. He and Demarcus Walker lived in the backfield and played off each other. Nnadi has the power to handle the run and the quickness, power and an effective swim/rip to break into the backfield. He’s 6-1 and 312lbs so perfectly sized to act as a disruptive interior presence.

 

Draft review: Seahawks focus on toughness, trenches

April 29th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Build up the trenches.

That seemed to be the focus for the Seahawks not just in this draft — but over the last few years in general.

Look at the high picks they’ve spent on the O-line and D-line since 2014:

2014 — Justin Britt (R2), Cassius Marsh (R4)
2015 — Frank Clark (R2), Terry Poole (R4), Mark Glowinski (R4)
2016 — Germain Ifedi (R1), Jarran Reed (R2), Rees Odhiambo (R3)
2017 — Malik McDowell (R1), Ethan Pocic (R2), Naz Jones (R3)

You can also include Quinton Jefferson considering he cost a fifth rounder in 2016 and a fourth rounder this year.

Not all of these picks have worked out or will work out — but this looks like a concerted effort to make the O-line and D-line groups as deep and as competitive as possible.

That’s no bad thing.

Fans often look back at the 2013 roster and pine for that level of play to return. The Super Bowl winning team had a deep rotation on the D-line and a competent, physical (if unheralded) O-line.

In recent years Seattle’s O-line play has regressed as the unit got younger and their D-line depth ceded to divisional rivals Arizona and Los Angeles.

Perhaps it was time to change that?

The game against the Cardinals in week 16 possibly played a part in determining Seattle’s plan in this draft. Not only was it a great example of how impactful a great defensive line can be, it also highlighted Seattle’s inability to handle the challenge. They lost in the trenches on both sides of the ball in that game. As a consequence Seattle surrendered a bye week in the playoffs and a home divisional round game.

Seattle’s 2017 draft class

Round 2 | No. 35 overall — Malik McDowell (DT, Michigan State)
Round 2 | No. 58 overall — Ethan Pocic (OL, LSU)
Round 3 | No. 90 overall — Shaq Griffin (CB, UCF)
Round 3 | No. 95 overall — Delano Hill (S, Michigan)
Round 3 | No. 102 overall — Nazair Jones (DT, North Carolina)
Round 3 | No. 106 overall — Amara Darboh (WR, Michigan)
Round 4 | No. 111 overall — Tedric Thompson (S, Colorado)
Round 6 | No. 187 overall — Michael Tyson (S, Cincinnati)
Round 6 | No. 210 overall — Justin Senior (T, Mississippi State)
Round 7 | No. 226 overall — David Moore (WR, East Central)
Round 7 | No. 249 overall — Chris Carson (RB, Oklahoma State)

Reflections on the draft

— It’s possible to get caught up in the strength of a class sometimes. We were perhaps guilty of that with the DB’s available. It’s worth remembering what we were saying immediately after the playoff defeat to Atlanta. Here’s the piece I wrote right at the start of the off-season. What were we talking about?

“Bigger, faster, stronger has to return”

“They’ll have four picks between rounds 1-3. That should be enough to add a defensive lineman or EDGE, two defensive backs (CB, S) and a running back”

“Key veteran additions: Calais Campbell (or another interior D-liner) Veteran tackle (via trade or free agency)”

The Seahawks certainly got bigger, faster and stronger. They added two D-liner’s and two defensive backs in the first three rounds. They added a veteran tackle (Joeckel) and a running back (Lacy). And while they didn’t get Calais Campbell, Pete Carroll and John Schneider both referenced him when discussing Malik McDowell.

This class might not be what fans were expecting a few days ago — but it’s the type of class a lot of fans were asking for in January.

— The Seahawks didn’t really do anything different at cornerback this year. Walter Thurmond was the #111 pick in 2010. Shaq Griffin was the #90 pick. From now on we’ll say the earliest they’ve drafted a corner is the late third instead of the early fourth round. It’s not exactly a sea change. Seattle has a way of doing things at cornerback. They find their ‘types’ and draft to develop.

— 32-inch arms is officially more important than 77.5 inch wingspan. Shaq Griffin has 32 3/8 arms (above average for a CB) but only a 74 3/4 inch wingspan (below average for a CB). Griffin is the first corner drafted by Seattle with a sub-77.5 inch wingspan. Pete Carroll stated firmly they view Griffin as an outside cornerback. This is something to consider in future drafts.

— A year ago John Schneider mentioned a desire to become the bully again. They didn’t get there in 2016. This draft class feels like another attempt to achieve that goal. Whether it’s spending two early picks on linemen, drafting a corner who excels in run support or going back to the D-line in round three — Seattle clearly wanted to add even more physicality to this group.

A couple of weeks ago we discussed how SPARQ is a bit of a red herring for the Seahawks and the draft. It’s regularly assumed they go with the ‘best athletes’ early and often. This draft class is further evidence that this isn’t really the case. For example, Ethan Pocic is the 76th most athletic O-liner in the class and only in the 27th percentile of pro-linemen. However, he was a top-10 TEF scorer (explosive qualities & intelligence >>> overall athleticism on the O-line). Malik McDowell ranked at #16 for defensive linemen in terms of SPARQ and is only in the 48th percentile. Delano Hill is only the 52nd ranked safety in SPARQ and is in the 32nd percentile. Tedric Thompson is in the 12th percentile and was the 95th ranked SPARQ safety. It’s not that the Seahawks don’t draft really good all-round athletes any more (see: Shaq Griffin and Amara Darboh) but this class reaffirms that they focus on unique qualities and position-specific traits.

— The Seahawks regularly refer to self-scouting and I like to do a bit of that with the blog too. We talked about a lot of different players this year. I didn’t, however, spend enough time on some of the players they drafted on day two. So that’s on me. A year ago I failed to recognise the potential of Nick Vannett landing in Seattle. This year I should’ve paid more attention to Ethan Pocic and Naz Jones in particular. My promise to this community is to keep learning lessons from every draft class to try and make the coverage interesting and resourceful.

— I have since had a chance to quickly look at some of Ethan Pocic’s tape. While the 2016 game against Alabama isn’t a particularly great O-line performance for LSU overall, Pocic certainly didn’t have a bad game. There were multiple occasions where he played beyond the whistle, blocking down and showing a nasty streak. LSU’s handful of good runs in the game came running behind Pocic at center. He wasn’t manhandled like you might expect given the poor offensive production — in fact he most definitely held his own. This was a positive performance against the best D-line rotation in college football. It’ll be intriguing to watch more of him over the next few days. According to PFF, Pocic hasn’t given up a sack or a QB hit since 11/7/2015 (16 consecutive games).

— The key to the Pocic signing appears to be versatility. Carroll noted that in the press conference following the conclusion of round three. In 2017 he can compete at both guard spots and right tackle. Let’s not underestimate how difficult it might be to re-sign Justin Britt next year though. If he commands a salary of $8-9m — the market rate for even average offensive linemen these days — the Seahawks might decide that’s too rich given their limited cap space. They chose not to pay the likes of J.R. Sweezy, James Carpenter and Breno Giacomini $5-6m a year. Ideally they’d probably like to keep Britt but it’s not a bad idea to have a contingency plan if the price is too high (and in the process avoid needing to start a rookie in 2018 if Britt does move on).

— Future and current cap savings could be a strong consideration with this draft class. Aside from Pocic/Britt — Amara Darboh potentially makes Jermaine Kearse expendable next year when they can save $5m by cutting Kearse. They’d save $6m by cutting Jeremy Lane in a year, so adding Shaq Griffin was vital. The Naz Jones signing possibly eliminates the need to re-sign Tony McDaniel or look at other veteran defensive linemen. Even Delano Hill is a possible hedge for Bradley McDougald considering he only signed a one-year contract. This could be a concerted effort to provide competition in the middle class of this roster (much needed) and make vital cap savings in the future.

— Pete Carroll and John Schneider spelled it out yesterday — they’ve been chasing a dynamic interior rusher for some time. These players are few and far between and it’s why Calais Campbell is earning $15m a year in Jacksonville. The Seahawks might be taking a small gamble on Malik McDowell considering some of the concerns about his attitude and effort (detailed here). The upside potential, however, is you get a player the rest of the league covets. There aren’t many 6-6, 295lbs defensive linemen with McDowell’s length, quickness, athleticism and power. It can be argued, quite comprehensively, that nothing will upgrade this defense more than a dynamic interior rusher. And suddenly the Seahawks have a group up front that includes Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Frank Clark, Jarran Reed, Athyba Rubin and Malik McDowell. If people want the 2013 defense to return — it’s worth remembering how important the D-line rotation was to the Super Bowl winning roster.

— ‘Hey Malik it’s John… don’t forget our conversation, OK?‘. Those were the words of John Schneider to Malik McDowell as Seattle made the pick. If you’re as nosey as I am, you’d really love to know what was said in that conversation!

— McDowell’s pass rush repertoire needs enhancing first and foremost. He relies on a club/swipe to attack the edge and a stunt/swim working inside. Both moves can be effective but if you’re predictable, pro O-liners will work out a counter. There’s evidence of him bull-rushing a double team into the backfield and even using a one-armed bull-rush to penetrate. He just didn’t use these kind of moves all that often. This could be the #1 thing to emphasise and promote as a rookie. If he can develop a consistently effective bull-rush, considering how powerful and long he is, he could be an impact player even in year one. It’ll also help McDowell to play within himself and more in control. He showed time and time again he can get into the backfield at MSU but he didn’t have many splash plays because he’d put his head down and charge. He doesn’t need tons of sacks — if he can move the QB and unsettle him, he can still have a big impact. A good interior bull-rush to combine with his go-to moves would be a nice start. When he lines up at DE it’d be nice to see him develop a nice inside-counter.

— We talked about this quite a lot before the draft — Seattle made free agent moves at linebacker, the secondary and on the O-line. The one area they didn’t address? Interior D-line. It seems like free agency set them up to go with McDowell.

— It appears the short shuttle is important for defensive linemen in Seattle. Malik McDowell ran an excellent 4.53 and Naz Jones a 4.63. In comparison, Jonathan Allen ran a 4.50, Tim Williams a 4.57 and Takk McKinley a 4.62. Seattle drafted Jordan Hill in 2013 after he ran a 4.51 and Jaye Howard in 2012 after he ran a 4.47. Quinton Jefferson ran a 4.37. There’s enough evidence here to suggest short area quickness is important for the Seahawks when it comes to interior D-liners.

— Delano Hill had the fifth fastest forty time by a safety at the combine. Considering he weighed 20lbs more than Budda Baker, he ran a very similar forty time (Baker 4.45, Hill 4.47). Hill’s time also compared favourably to Obi Melifonwu (4.40) and Josh Jones (4.41). All three are ‘bigger’ safety’s capable of playing in the box or as a Buffalo.

— Shaq Griffin basically had a complete workout at the combine. Aside from ticking the size/length boxes for Seattle he also had a 38.5 inch vertical, an 11-0 broad jump, a 4.14 in the short shuttle and a 4.38 forty yard dash. His physical profile is top notch — now it’s just a case of coaching him up to make the most of these physical skills.

— We’ll really study and analyse the third round picks over the next few days but here are some notes by others on the players drafted by Seattle:

Eric Galko says Naz Jones is a ‘perfect fit’ in Seattle

E.J. Snyder graded Delano Hill in round three, stating: ‘Despite all the other talent in the Wolverine’s secondary Delano was often the straw that stirred their drink’

Tony Pauline was a big fan of Seattle’s decision to select Shaq Griffin

Ethan Young highlights Amara Darboh’s route running savviness

— Tedric Thompson is a very talented safety and a great value pick in round four. He led the NCAA in passes defended last season (23) and recorded seven interceptions and 16 PBU’s. He averaged 1.64 passes defended a game, which is a terrific number even for a defensive back. He really jumped off the screen when watching Colorado in 2016. He’s a rangy, playmaking free safety who will provide special teams value and needed depth behind Earl Thomas.

Here’s what I wrote about Thompson in a piece earlier this year:

Give him a lane to the ball carrier and he’ll get there. Throw it deep? You’re taking a chance against this type of speed. On the mid-range throws he’ll break on the ball and make a play with instinct and athleticism. It’s very difficult to fit throws into small windows at the second level with Thompson lurking. His field awareness is also good, putting him in a position to make plays and deceive quarterbacks.

This is kind of what we saw from Earl Thomas at Texas. He had eight picks in his final season in college. While Thompson will find it difficult to match Thomas’ level in the NFL — as a backup worthy of being developed over time, there are worse projects the Seahawks can take on.

— The Seahawks drafted three safety’s and signed Bradley McDougald in free agency. It’s a sign of their need to replenish the depth behind Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. It’s also a hint that they might be willing to play more three-safety formations or really commit to more of a ‘Buffalo’ or 4-2-5 style defense.

— I’m a big fan of the Chris Carson to pick to complete the draft class. The Seahawks have a consistent profile at running back. After the combine we noted the minimal number of RB’s that fit this profile within this class:

The Seahawks have a type (explosive tester, around 5-11 and 220lbs) and the ones best matching it are Alvin Kamara, Aaron Jones, Brian Hill and Chris Carson. Kamara might be a top-45 pick and out of contention but Jones, Hill and Carson could provide day three value and extra competition.

He’s 6-0 and 218lbs, jumped a 37 inch vertical and a 10-10 broad. He was challenged by the coaches at Oklahoma State to run with greater toughness and physicality and he answered the call in 2016. Carson has a chance to compete for a roster spot — which is all you can ask for with a seventh round pick.

Kenny and I conducted a podcast at the conclusion of round seven, reviewing day three and Seattle’s draft in general:

 

Live Blog: NFL Draft Rounds 4-7

April 29th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Use this as an open thread. Reaction to come below, plus a podcast later. I’ll also be posting a Seahawks draft review after the seventh round.

Round 2 | No. 35 overall — Malik McDowell (DT, Michigan State)
Round 2 | No. 58 overall — Ethan Pocic (OL, LSU)
Round 3 | No. 90 overall — Shaq Griffin (CB, UCF)
Round 3 | No. 95 overall — Delano Hill (S, Michigan)
Round 3 | No. 102 overall — Nazair Jones (DT, North Carolina)
Round 3 | No. 106 overall — Amara Darboh (WR, Michigan)
Round 4 | No. 111 overall — Tedric Thompson (S, Colorado)
Round 6 | No. 187 overall — Michael Tyson (S, Cincinnati)
Round 6 | No. 210 overall — Justin Senior (T, Mississippi State)
Round 7 | No. 226 overall — David Moore (WR, East Central)
Round 7 | No. 249 overall — Chris Carson (RB, Oklahoma State)

Round four — #111 — Tedric Thompson (S, Colorado)
This is a really good pick. Thompson led the country in defended passes in 2016 (23 PD’s). That’s 1.64 passes defended a game. He also had seven interceptions. I wrote about him February. He jumped off the screen whenever you watched Colorado. He’s a true centre-fielder who covers ground quickly and makes plays. He’s a nice insurance for Earl Thomas if he misses any more time in the future. Good character too. Great value here. Thompson was named PFF’s best coverage defender in 2016.

Round six — #187 — Michael Tyson (S, Cincinnati)
So far the Seahawks have drafted three safety’s. He tied for second in the AAC with five interceptions in 2016 and managed 4.5 TFL’s. He ran a 4.56 at the combine and he’s 6-1, 204lbs. Tony Pauline says this about Tyson: “Tyson was a playmaker as well as an opportunistic defensive back who helped put his team in position to win games. He has limitations, but Tyson could surprise at the next level as a traditional strong safety or in a zone system.” The Seahawks might be taking PFA’s at this stage. It would’ve been challenging to convince another safety to sign as an UDFA after drafting Hill and Thompson. It’ll be easier to convince O-liner’s to sign considering they’ve previously given guys opportunities to start (George Fant, Garry Gilliam).

Round six — #210 — Justin Senior (T, Mississippi State)
The Senior Bowl wasn’t an exhibition of O-line play this year. Justin Senior was a good example of that. In the pass rush drills to start the week, it was difficult to watch Senior. Day one was not his friend and he struggled badly. However, he grew into the week and showed some improvement. That’s somewhat encouraging and it shows he can take coaching. He’s not a great athlete (8-2 broad, 5.55 forty) and might end up being some camp competition only. He has the size they’ve tried at tackle in the past.

Round seven — #226 — David Moore (WR, East Central)
Moore is 6-1 and 219lbs (big body) and ran a good looking 4.43. He managed a 36.5 inch vertical and a 10-4 broad. He doesn’t have a bio on NFL.com so I can’t offer much info. He caught 57 passes for 878 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Moore says the Seahawks showed a lot of interest in him. Seattle, more so than other teams, appear to really trust their regional scouts to find guys off the general radar. His physical profile is very similar to third round pick Amara Darboh.

Round seven — #249 — Chris Carson (RB, Oklahoma State)
I really like this pick to finish. The coaches at Oklahoma State called him out for being soft as a runner. He took it to heart and showed major improvement in his final year in college. It’s well established by now that Seattle has a ‘type’ at running back. Size matters — between 5-10 and 6-0 in height, around 220lbs is the key. They’re not overly concerned with speed but they love explosive traits. Carson had a 37 inch vertical and a 10-10 broad. He’ll add another body to the competition and he has a shot to stick on the roster.

 

Live Blog: NFL Draft Rounds 2/3

April 28th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

I’ll be posting live analysis on Seattle’s picks. At some point Kenny and I will be doing a reaction podcast so stay tuned. Feel free to use this as an open thread too. I’ve been asked by several members to request you don’t tip picks.

Seattle’s remaining picks

Round 2 | No. 34 overall
Round 2 | No. 58 overall
Round 3 | No. 90 overall
Round 3 | No. 95 overall
Round 3 | No. 102 overall
Round 3 | No. 106 overall
Round 4 | No. 111 overall
Round 6 | No. 187 overall
Round 6 | No. 210 overall
Round 7 | No. 226 overall
Round 7 | No. 249 overall

For a full draft tracker, click here.

Round two

#34 TRADE with the Jacksonville Jaguars
The Seahawks moved down one spot to #35, acquiring a sixth round pick (#187). It’s unclear why Jacksonville felt obliged to make this move. They ended up selecting Cam Robinson (T, Alabama).

#35 Malik McDowell (DT, Michigan State)
The Seahawks have been looking for an inside/out rusher for a long time. They decided to take the chance on McDowell. If he delivers on his potential he can be a monster, combining with Frank Clark to solidify the core of the D-line for the long term. Furthermore, there’s much more depth at cornerback than on the D-line. McDowell is an exciting talent but his personality and character question marks led to this fall in the first place. Seattle’s challenge is to get the best out of him consistently for 16 games. They did meet with him — so they clearly feel comfortable with his character and personality. The upside potential is huge.

There are things to work on. His pass rush repertoire is limited and he tends to play out of control at times. His gap discipline isn’t great and while he often breaks into the backfield, he struggled to register splash plays in certain games. His effort at the end of 2016 is well debated. The fact is — Pete Carroll backs his staff to get the best out of players. And McDowell has the kind of talent they love to get their hands on.

Jason La Canfora says the Seahawks would’ve taken McDowell in round one and had he not been available, they would’ve targeted Kevin King (taken by Green Bay at #33).

I didn’t think the Seahawks would take him because his personality, gap discipline and effort didn’t scream ‘Seattle’. That doesn’t mean I don’t like the pick now it’s happened. This team can coach. They’re taking a shot at greatness with this guy.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of his tape by Brett Kollmann:

#58 Ethan Pocic (OL, LSU)
The Seahawks don’t move up — and this one is a little bit surprising (to anyone who’s followed the blog anyway). Pocic wasn’t on our radar so we slipped up there. I’m not sure he was on anyone’s radar for Seattle in round two. With a number of big name players still on the board, this is an intriguing one. It’ll be good to get into some of his games over the next couple of days.

Firstly, it’ll be interesting to see where they decide to use Pocic. He played center to finish his career at LSU but he’s 6-6 and 310lbs. He’s not the longest O-liner (33 inch arms) or particularly explosive (2.81 TEF). Is he a hedge against Justin Britt being out of contract? Will he play guard or get a shot at tackle? He was reportedly well respected at LSU and praised for his leadership. This is one we missed on big time. It’ll be fun to get into his tape.

For the second year in a row Seattle goes OL-DL with their first two picks. And it’s another high pick on the O-line. Jason La Canfora says the Seahawks believe he can play all along the line including tackle.

#90 Shaq Griffin (CB, UCF)
The Seahawks met with him at the VMAC. He gave up some plays at UCF, there’s no getting away from that. However, he’s tough and physical. The Seahawks will like his attitude and he’s a better athlete than shows up on tape — running a fantastic 4.38 at the combine and a smooth 4.14 short shuttle. He could compete in the slot and at outside cornerback. One thing we learnt from this draft? The Seahawks truly are committed to the 32-inch arm benchmark.

#95 Delano Hill (S, Michigan)
Of all the Michigan players draft so far, Hill stood out on tape the least. He’s a good athlete and he has reasonable size. He also has the 32-inch arms and his wingspan is +77.5 inches too. He ran a 4.47 and had a nice 4.27 short shuttle. Hill could compete at the big nickel, special teams and safety. They needed some depth here.

#102 Nazair Jones (DT, North Carolina)
His 24.5 inch vertical was a little off-putting but he ran a 4.63 short shuttle at 6-5 and 305lbs which is pretty much in Seattle’s previous range. Jones has 35 inch arms and he’s tough. He’s not going to be much of a pass rusher but this is looking like a meat and potatoes type of draft class for Seattle. They likely see him as a younger, cheaper version of Tony McDaniel.

#106 Amara Darboh (WR, Michigan)
The two Michigan receivers were very similar in terms of value. Jehu Chesson was the big name a year ago but he didn’t have the breakout year everyone expected. Darboh instead wrestled away a lot of his targets and had a more consistent and productive season. He’ll likely push Jermaine Kearse and compete on special teams initially.

Overall thoughts on day two

This isn’t a sexy draft class filled with big names (or amazing athletes for that matter). This seems to be about toughness, attitude and physicality. Instead of reloading the LOB the Seahawks are seemingly trying to get bigger and more physical in certain areas, while creating cost-savings down the line. If Jones replaces McDaniel this year, Darboh could make Kearse expendable in a year and Pocic could even push Justin Britt into free agency if he asks for too much money.

This is a group that might not form a new core down the line but they’ll compete and contribute. In McDowell they have a potential star if he develops as intended. The rest of the class appears to be about solidity.

They’ll pick five more times tomorrow with picks in round four (x1), six (x2) and seven (x2). There are lots of big names still available including Dorian Johnson, Isaac Asiata, Samaje Perine, Chad Hansen, Bucky Hodges, Jake Butt, George Kittle, Carlos Watkins, Vince Biegel, Carl Lawson, Anthony Walker Jr and Desmond King.

 

Day two of the draft primer — Seattle set to pick at #34

April 28th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

This could be pretty straight forward.

How much time did we spend discussing Obi Melifonwu and Kevin King?

Highly athletic players enter the league every year — but hardly any combine size, length, quickness and explosion like Melifonwu and King.

In terms of pure upside and ceiling, both players are off the charts.

Let’s recap why they stand out so much.

Since 2010, only four CB’s have run a sub-4.00 short shuttle and measured with 32 inch arms (Seattle’s apparent cut-off):

2017 — Kevin King (3.89)
2016 — DeAndre Elliott (3.94)
2015 — Byron Jones (3.94), Tye Smith (3.96)
2010-2014 — No qualifiers

The Seahawks drafted Tye Smith and signed DeAndre Elliott as an undrafted free agent. They might’ve taken Byron Jones had they not traded their 2015 first rounder to New Orleans for Jimmy Graham.

Look at how King compares to the rest of the defensive back class in the short shuttle:

Kevin King — 3.89
Quincy Wilson — 4.02
Budda Baker — 4.08
Obi Melifonwu — 4.09
Fabian Moreau — 4.12
Jamal Adams — 4.13
Ahkello Witherspoon — 4.13
Chidobe Awuzie — 4.14
Shaq Griffin — 4.14
Gareon Conley — 4.18
Shalom Luani — 4.21
Rasul Douglas — 4.26
Sidney Jones — 4.28
Cordrea Tankersley — 4.32
Tre’Davious White — 4.32

The fact King is able to express this level of short area quickness at 6-3 and 200lbs is quite unnatural. Then you throw in a 39.5 inch vertical, a special 6.56 three-cone and a 4.43 forty yard dash and he’s pretty much the ideal ball of clay to mould at the cornerback position.

Furthermore, before the draft we highlighted the issue of wingspan within this class. The Seahawks haven’t drafted a cornerback in the Carroll era with a sub-77.5 inch wingspan. Despite all the hype around this group, only six cornerbacks had the kind of length Seattle has tended to favour:

Kevin King — 32 (arms) 77 7/8 (wingspan)
Ahkello Witherspoon — 33 (arms) 79 3/8 (wingspan)
Marquez White — 32 1/8 (arms) 77 3/8 (wingspan)
Treston Decoud — 33 (arms) 77 1/4 (wingspan)
Brian Allen — 34 (arms) 78.5 (wingspan)
Michael Davis — 32 1/4 (arms) 77.5 (wingspan)

The Seahawks haven’t drafted a cornerback earlier than the fourth round since 2010. If they were ever going to buck this trend, it’d need to be for a very special athletic profile.

That is what King possesses.

Obi Melifonwu could also be considered in the same way. Some teams will think about trying him at cornerback. And if you view him as a corner, his numbers also match-up to Seattle’s apparent desires:

Height: 6-4
Weight: 224
Arms: 32.5
Wingspan: 79 1/4
Forty: 4.40
Vertical: 44
Broad: 11-9
Short shuttle: 4.09
Three-cone: 7.05

He has the arm length and wingspan, the explosive broad jump, the fantastic forty yard dash and the short-area quickness.

And who can forget Carroll and Schneider’s reaction to his forty yard dash at the combine:

They could try him at corner, at big nickel, as a hedge for the future at strong safety.

Is he a fit for the Seahawks’ mentality on defense? According to PFF, he finished 2016 ninth in run-stop percentage and 17th in tackling efficiency among safety’s.

John Schneider said they didn’t lose anyone they wanted moving from #26 to #34.

This all could be very predictable for the Seahawks today.

That said, while there’s plenty of evidence to suggest they will look very closely at King or Melifonwu, there are other names to monitor too.

You’ll notice how high Quincy Wilson is on the list of those short shuttle times above. He doesn’t have the wingspan or the broad jump they’ve typically drafted before — but there’s something about his style of play and attitude that says ‘Seahawks’. He might also be in a better position than King and Melifonwu to have a relatively quick impact in 2016.

It’s very easy to imagine the Seahawks liking Wilson a lot.

Jourdan Lewis isn’t big but his tape is really good and he’s gritty working in the slot. Chidobe Awuzie is still available — a player with tremendous versatility to play the slot and drop back into a cover-2. Budda Baker can act in a similar role.

There are so many good defensive back options available — they might be tempted to move down again.

Two big name offensive linemen in Forrest Lamp and Cam Robinson remain on the board. It’ll be interesting to see where they’re drafted today. Not that long ago Daniel Jeremiah was tipping both to go in the top-20. Are they falling for legit reasons or will the Seahawks see an opportunity to get some value here? For me both players are in the 30-45 range in terms of talent in this class and I highlighted that in my big board. Lamp is the most explosive O-liner in the draft according to TEF.

We’re also at the point now where value comes in to play. Marcus Maye, Zay Jones, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Dalvin Cook and others could be attractive.

The D-line also provides plenty of possible options including Malik McDowell, Demarcus Walker, Tyus Bowser, Daeshon Hall, Chris Wormley and Tim Williams.

We’ll see whether Seattle’s priority is to go for value, to replenish the Legion of Boom, add to the pass rush or find another O-liner.

And with four picks in round three, plus an early fourth rounder acquired from San Francisco, it seems increasingly likely they will move back into the top-50 to get another one of the names above — making for a high-value, very productive start to the draft for the Seahawks.

Green Bay will impact things at #33. They too are very much in the market for cornerbacks.

It’s been said many times over the last few weeks — the grades at pick #22-30 are going to be very similar to the grades at pick #40. If you want value in this draft, you want to be picking where the Seahawks are today with the ammunition to move up and be aggressive.

This should be a lot of fun.

Seattle’s remaining picks

Round 2 | No. 34 overall
Round 2 | No. 58 overall
Round 3 | No. 90 overall
Round 3 | No. 95 overall
Round 3 | No. 102 overall
Round 3 | No. 106 overall
Round 4 | No. 111 overall
Round 6 | No. 210 overall
Round 7 | No. 226 overall
Round 7 | No. 249 overall