Duke’s Issac Blakeney a big target to monitor

November 19th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Isaac Blakeney is 6-6 and could be an option for a team needing a big target

The Seahawks know they need to acquire a big receiver. That’s why they reportedly contemplated a trade for Vincent Jackson. It’s why they also supposedly contacted Denver, Cleveland and Indianapolis to ask about Julius Thomas, Jordan Cameron and Coby Fleener respectively.

Whether it’s a tight end or a big bodied wide out, they need to give Russell Wilson a player who can create a mismatch. Whether that’s over the middle running the seam or winning at the red line. It’s an absolute must for 2015.

Nobody should expect Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas to hit the open market. It’s also unlikely Julius Thomas and Jordan Camerson reach free agency (the franchise tag at TE is favorable, Cleveland also has millions in free cap space). It could leave the Seahawks in a bit of a situation. Either make another trade or turn to the draft.

There aren’t many 2015 eligible receivers with size. Amari Cooper is 6-1. Kevin White is listed at 6-3 but on tape looks like a solid 6-2. Devante Parker is 6-2, Rashad Greene 5-11 and Jaelen Strong looks 6-2 as well. The Seahawks don’t need 6-2. They need bigger.

Devin Funchess is 6-4/6-5 and about 235lbs. He’s played tight end and receiver. He could be an option based on pure physical potential. He’s inconsistent on the field, however. So was Eric Ebron and he ended up in the top ten. There’s every chance Funchess will go earlier than people expect if he tests well at the combine. Dorial Green-Beckham (6-5, 225lbs) could turn pro without playing a snap at Oklahoma — but you have to wonder how much interest he’d generate in the modern NFL given his background at Missouri (including domestic abuse).

As you can see the options aren’t great. I don’t necessarily expect the Seahawks to spend their highest pick on a receiver for the third year in a row (Harvin ’13, Richardson ’14). If they do wait until later, Duke’s Issac Blakeney could be one to monitor.

He’s 6-6 and 220lbs and has room to add more muscle without suffering any consequences in terms of speed. He’s very raw technically — he doesn’t high point the football and has a tendency to body catch. He doesn’t set up his routes particularly well and gets himself into awkward positions, creating difficult catching angles. He’s not a plug in and play receiver — which is kind of what Seattle needs. But they can’t force the situation and if it means playing the slow game with a guy like Blakeney — what choice do they have?

It’s no real surprise he’s raw. Duke spent years trying to work out his best position. He started at defensive end before spending time at safety. He then moved to offense and played tight end and slot receiver. It took four years — his entire time in college — to work out he’s best as an outside receiver. That’s a lot of wasted snaps and development.

The plus side is he’s incredibly difficult to cover. Look at the touchdown in the second video vs Syracuse and fast forward to 2:37. The quarterback loops one up for grabs in a 1v1 situation. The cornerback does a good job in coverage — he’s water tight on the receiver. And still Blakeney goes up and gets the football, destroying the corner and walking in for a touchdown. Seattle needs a guy who can make a play like that.

He appears to have long arms and he’s lean — he’ll have a fantastic catching radius. He looks like he could run in the late 4.5’s and if not — he’s a solid 4.6. He has enough speed to get downfield (see 1:46 in the Troy video). He’s not going to be a high pick but he’s a decent project. He’s also a well-spoken, intelligent player. Devante Parker and Devin Funchess are awkward during interviews, particularly Parker. There’s a temptation to read too much into stuff like this, but the Seahawks favor sparky, competitive players. They don’t mind outspoken. There are very few shy and retiring members of Seattle’s roster. Blakeney could be an option for the Seahawks.

You can watch Blakeney & Duke vs North Carolina on Thursday night.

 

Melvin Gordon tape vs Nebraska & more on Marshawn’s future

November 17th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

This could be the future of Seattle’s offense. Or maybe not. It depends what you want to believe.

The whole ‘Marshawn Lynch could be released’ dynamic still confuses me. Chris Mortensen and Ian Rapoport aren’t just random journalists trying to make a name here. The chances are there’s a fire at the heart of all this billowing smoke. Nobody’s reported the opposite have they? Nobody’s denying anything.

Pete Carroll spoke about his relationship with Lynch on Brock and Salk this morning. He was candid. He essentially admitted there was an issue relating to his contract and the hold out this year. Take a listen yourself:

It was a rare moment where Carroll let his media guard down. Not in a bad way. He’s adept at the ‘saying a lot without really saying anything’ approach all good coaches master. This was the real deal. As close to an admittance of some tension as you were going to get. And even then he made a point to add they’ll do their best to work through it this year.

But what about next year? That’s the key. There was certainly no denial here. No insistence that Lynch isn’t going anywhere. And considering he’s under contract for 2015 and still a fantastic and productive feature for the offense — it was an easy thing to say. “He isn’t going anywhere”. That reassurance never came.

So we go on wondering what the future holds. The reality is you better savor every one of those two yards runs that end up going for six or seven. You better enjoy those formal handshakes with the offensive line in the end zone. You better live through these six games because after that Beast Mode might be “all about that action” elsewhere.

It’s still unthinkable right now, especially with the way he’s playing. You hope there’s a way to make this work. Surely there has to be? Why would you cut your best offensive player, creating an extra hole that’d need to be filled? Yet we’re forced to dwell on this possibility every week because it keeps racing back into our lives — usually in the form of a national media report hours before the latest game.

As we’ve said on more than one occasion now (and I appreciate it’s stating the obvious) — replacing him won’t be easy. You’re making up for more than just the loss of a top, elite running back. You either need to put another really effective back in his place, or you need to bolster that passing game and bring in 2-3 players to compensate.

Hey — they might need 2-3 players anyway. It’d be foolish to expect Russell Wilson to perform miracles with a new contract worth around $20m a year. He’s lost Golden Tate, Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice this year. Throw the loss of Zach Miller into the equation too. He needs more at the receiver and tight end position. The Seahawks need to get back to winning the red line and challenging their receivers to make plays. For that they need the bigger bodies, they need a vertical threat too. They have to hope Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood develop — they also have to find more options in the draft or free agency.

Even after some surgery to the passing game, you’d be left needing to restore the balance and maintain your running identity. And that’s why Melvin Gordon remains a distinct possibility for the Seahawks in round one. At USC Carroll used a committee approach filled with 5-star recruits at running back. In Seattle, you get the sense they’ll only ever be as good as their top running back on offense.

I think this probably becomes a one-horse race in that regard. Todd Gurley is a fantastic player but an ACL injury this late in the season will almost certainly mean no combine or sufficient work out pre-draft. He could sneak into the back end of round one but it’d be a good team taking a gamble. After a couple of so-so drafts and the botched Harvin trade, I’m not sure the Seahawks can afford to start taking first round risks on an injured running back.

I pondered Gordon’s stock last night and still feel, even despite Gurley’s injury, a grade in the 16-32 range is fair. It’s a deep class and teams won’t feel totally pressured to go big at the position early (unless they’re trying to replace Marshawn Lynch, of course). It’s not beyond the realms of possibility Seattle ends up picking in the late teens — even if we hope it’s much later. That would put them in a good position to target Gordon.

The video above shows his record breaking 408-yard performance against Nebraska. As you can see, he’s a very different back to Lynch. He’s a lot closer to Jamaal Charles in style. There’s no dragging a defender an extra yard or two or a punishing stiff arm to extend a run. That has been Seattle’s staple for four seasons. Gordon will not replicate that wherever he lands in the NFL.

However, find him a lane and he’ll explode through it. Seattle has gone out of its way to draft run blocking offensive linemen. They’re good at it too. You can imagine Gordon playing for the Seahawks and having a lot of runs in the 0-2 yard range before breaking off a 40-yarder. He’d be a home run hitter and a chunk play specialist. He wouldn’t be a punishing inside runner. It would be a very different offense. But different doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.

It’s still early and this topic doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. Have a look at Gordon vs Nebraska for yourself and let me know what you think in the comments section.

 

Instant reaction: 6-4 Seahawks face a struggle after defeat in KC

November 16th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Russell Wilson and the offense couldn’t finish on a day Seattle’s defense struggled

This was a typical Seattle loss. A couple of units didn’t play great (defense, special teams). It felt like a long day after Kansas City’s long opening drive for a score. And yet at the end of the fourth quarter there they are with a chance to win the game.

They’ve lost four times this year all by single digits, three on the road. Three of those teams have winning records. The team that doesn’t, St. Louis, beat Denver today. It’s a tough break, but the Seahawks are 6-4 after this latest heart-breaker.

So often since 2012 they’ve found a way to win in these situations. Now they’re in a hole. The margin for error is almost non existent the rest of the way. What’s left: Arizona (H), San Francisco (A), Philadelphia (A), San Francisco (H), Arizona (A), St. Louis (H).

Look at that schedule. If they want to make the post-season, they’re probably going to have to win at least one — maybe two — of those road games. They’d also need a clean sweep at home.

The NFC West might be gone already unless the Cardinals suffer some sort of unlikely collapse. The 49ers won’t go away either. They’re up to 6-4 with two key road wins in New Orleans and New York.

It’s going to take a heck of a rally to make the playoffs with that run in. The Seahawks couldn’t defend the run today and every single one of those remaining opponents run the ball particularly well.

Right now 9-7 doesn’t seem unlikely — and it’s unlikely to be enough. It also wouldn’t be overly surprising. This isn’t a bad team, but it’s a team that’s had to deal with avoidable drama (Percy Harvin), injuries to key personnel and a drop in defensive talent. None of these are ingredients for a Super Bowl run. The good news is they’re good enough to bounce back. The bad news is — it might take an off-season to re-load.

Thoughts on the game

You could look at this two ways. On the one hand, even an average defensive performance could’ve won the day for Seattle. The Seahawks moved the ball efficiently, but Kansas City were like a hot knife through butter attacking a weak defensive front.

And yet on offense they get a 1st and goal with a chance to go ahead. The result? Zero points. They get the ball back at midfield and fail to convert on 4th and 1 to extend what could’ve been a game-winning drive. Again, zero points.

So while the defense and special teams will concern people the most after today — the offense missed two great opportunities late on to finish.

The most frustrating thing is how one-dimensional Kansas City were. Alex Smith was a passenger in this game. He was akin to a postal worker delivering a ball-shaped package to Jamaal Charles. It’s rare to see a team fall back on one element so prolifically against Seattle. Smith went 11/16 for a mere 108 yards. He was never pressured, never broke sweat apart from a slightly nervy possession on the Chiefs one-yard line. He wasn’t sacked and he didn’t take a single QB hit. Charles on the other hand ran against a defense that knew what was coming — and still put up 159 yards on 20 carries.

He’s an exceptional talent, no doubt. But the Seahawks had no answer. Most of his best runs included missed tackles. It seemed like the Chiefs had an easy seven yards on every first down. They were barely ever in third and long. The Seahawks never forced Smith, Charles or anyone on the Chiefs offense into a truly uncomfortable position.

The defense also forced two key turnovers and had two more key stops to give the offense a late chance. So it wasn’t all bad. But when it mattered, Seattle couldn’t make that game winning play — whether it was having an answer on defense after going up 20-17 or finishing one of their fourth quarter drives to re-take the lead.

Adding to a frustrating day was this tweet before the game:

Ian Rapoport continues to insist Seattle will move on from Marshawn Lynch in the off-season. Today was another day where you just have to ask, “Why?”

How can they not make this work for at least another year? Lynch was terrific again today. Even on a bounce-back day for Russell Wilson, he remains the key weapon on offense. His departure will create a huge avoidable hole that’ll need to be filled. Rapoport also continues to hint at big interest in Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. Spending a first round pick to replace your best offensive player when you have other big needs just seems, well, backwards.

Are the Seahawks even going to be in range for Gordon?

With Gurley out with an ACL, we can only guess where he’s going to go in the draft. Gordon’s stock might be on the rise after a record-breaking display yesterday (running for 408 yards) and Gurley’s agonizing injury.

More than anything Seattle has issues up front on defense. They lack depth and quality. They also badly need a big target for Russell Wilson. And yet there’s this idea that replacing Marshawn Lynch is actually going to be a thing.

Again, why?

Although it’s curious that Lynch didn’t head into the locker room at half time, choosing instead to stay outside in the cold. Pete Carroll was asked about it afterwards. Lynch, apparently, felt it was better to stay outside. Are we speculating too much to ponder whether there’s more to this?

There’s no way a team’s run defense should collapse in such a dramatic fashion minus one player. That happened today. Brandon Mebane is great — but his loss is emphasized by the lack of talent around him. Kevin Williams and Tony McDaniel, after a bright start to the season, just look decidedly average. Jordan Hill has never really got going in the pro’s. And beyond that…?

Kansas City didn’t have to work for their points today. It was Nebraska-esque (see: Gordon’s record breaking day yesterday).

A big part of it was a lack of quality and depth up front. It was also down to bad tackling and botched assignments. The linebackers struggled to read the Chiefs all day — Malcolm Smith appeared lost on several plays and ultimately out of position. K.J. Wright didn’t look comfortable after moving inside to replace the injured Brock Coyle (replacing the injured Bobby Wagner). Bruce Irvin didn’t have his usual ‘big play’ and also had a couple of key missed tackles.

Yet it’s much harder for a group of linebackers to make even basic plays when the defensive line is getting pushed around to the extent we saw today.

It was costly on a day Seattle’s offense moved the ball.

You couldn’t call it a flawless offensive performance, however. We touched on their inability to “finish”. At 24-20 in the red zone Seattle ran Lynch twice but also had two throws to Doug Baldwin including a fade on fourth down. It’s easy to say in hindsight, but a fade to a 5-10 receiver? It just didn’t play to the strengths of this team. It’s a low percentage play given the personnel on Seattle’s roster. And yet the big run up the middle on 4th and 1 moments later had ultimately the same result.

There were two big red zone plays that impacted the game. Jermaine Kearse also dropped a touchdown pass that would’ve given the Seahawks a 17-13 lead at half time. Seattle missed out on eleven points.

Justin Britt is struggling at right tackle. On one play today he failed to even lay a finger on Tamba Hali, who duly sacked Wilson on a 3rd and 8. The rest of the offensive line played well overall. You can forgive a few rookie errors, but Britt needs help on his side. Max Unger left the game with an ankle injury and could be done for the year. That would be a titanic blow.

Almost every week we hear about the impressive rookie class of wide receivers and the impact they’re having this season. Is it unfair to question why Seattle’s top pick in the 2014 draft — a receiver — is struggling to have an impact? They had to yank Paul Richardson off kick-returns early in this game. He isn’t providing a needed deep threat. Is he offering any different dynamic to the group?

It’s too early to write him off but after watching Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams, Martavis Bryant, Donte Moncrief and John Brown — all players drafted after Richardson — is it time to wonder if Seattle either a.) made a mistake or b.) just doesn’t know how to make the most of his skill set? The fact he’s even on kick-off’s looks a little bit like a team trying to force a role on a young player.

Receivers usually need time to settle into a new offense (see: Golden Tate). But the fact is — those other rookies are having an impact. Seattle’s not so loaded at the position that there’s any reason to hold him back.

Let’s not forget, they traded down twice all while targeting Richardson. Jordan Matthews went between 40-45 (after Seattle’s second trade down) and he too has managed to make an impact. Richardson has 72 yards and zero touchdowns with six games to play. It’s not the offense either. In comparison, Doug Baldwin had 788 yards as a rookie and four touchdowns.

The Seahawks look like a team that needs another receiver. And that’s frustrating after spending a second round pick this year, plus a first and third pick on the Harvin trade. It’s right up there with the needs on the defensive line. Why are they considering moving Marshawn Lynch again…?

 

Melvin Gordon runs for new FBS record

November 15th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Melvin Gordon ran for 408 yards against Nebraska

Stand by for some serious media love for Melvin Gordon this week. The Wisconsin running back ran for a ridiculous 408 yards today against Nebraska — breaking LaDainian Tomlinson’s 1999 record for most in a single game. He also added four touchdowns.

It’d be wrong not to acknowledge the achievement. Gordon was typically graceful racing away from defenders. He had success on the Jet Sweep and standard running plays to both sides of the field. This was a career day in every sense. An exclamation point on his pro-potential and candidacy for the Heisman.

Here’s some perspective though — this was a truly horrendous display by Nebraska. I’m not sure I’ve seen a worse defensive effort. Gordon topped 250 yards by half time and still there was no answer. If he’d played the full game he would’ve gone beyond 500 — no doubt at all. He was barely touched all day.

Gordon Melvin would’ve had a crafty 150 yards today. Melvin Gordon probably could’ve moonwalked through some of those running lanes and still won the game for his team. Wisconsin lined up, blocked efficiently and time and time again Gordon had massive holes to exploit. And Nebraska sat and watched it happen. No counter. No attempt to address the glaring problem. They tackled poorly, they watched him find the edge time and time again. He topped 400 yards on just 25 carries with 16.3 yards per run. If you’re going to do that, you need a bit of help from the defense.

If this game is the catalyst for Gordon to win the Heisman (and it probably shouldn’t be given Wisconsin’s powder-puff schedule), he might as well invite the Huskers D-line to help write his acceptance speech.

Putting all that aside, there is an awful lot to like about his potential. He’s such a fluid runner and a fantastic running back. Get him into the second level and he’ll turn on the jets and explode. He’s adept at finding the edge and turning the corner. He anticipates well, he has a terrific burst. He’s a true home run hitter. He surely has a more significant role in the passing game to look forward to at the next level.

He’s added muscle over the last year and looks capable of working into a pro-lifestyle. There are some slight concerns about his ability to run through tackles. In this game he had a sloppy fumble on a basic inside run. He’s not a pound it up the middle type who makes yards after contact. He’s a little bit like C.J. Spiller in that regard — a gazelle-like sprinter who’s at his best working in space (he appears to be more durable than Spiller). That’s not to say it’s a perfect comparison — he’s not a 4.2 runner but he’s perhaps a more rounded overall prospect.

In terms of his draft stock — Spiller went in the top ten in 2010. You could easily see Gordon going earlier than people think — it only takes one team. And yet a decent running back class and possible doubts about his between-the-tackles running could lead to a consensus grade in the pick 16-32 range.

Seattle has a very good run-blocking line. Some of the holes they created against New York last week would be a dream for Gordon. But it’d be some transition to go from Marshawn Lynch to Gordon. Pete Carroll complimented Jamaal Charles going into the Kansas City game but admitted he was at the other end of the spectrum to Lynch.

It’d be a sea-change for the Seahawks if they drafted Melvin Gordon to replace Beast Mode.

He’s an exciting talent though — the type you could imagine John Schneider falling for.

Staying with running backs — Ameer Abdullah had another tough day in this game. He’s still not 100% but a lack of size is really showing. Neither is he an electric speed demon — he’s a patient runner who needs time. He fumbled twice in this game (one was overturned with some degree of fortune). For me he’s a limited pro-prospect and more of a complimentary piece.

The best 2015 eligible running back after Gordon and Todd Gurley could be Indiana’s Tevin Coleman. He also had a big day today — recording 307 rushing yards in a loss to Rutgers. Keep an eye on this guy. Speed, size and patience. He’s a great competitor. He has a future at the next level.

Gurley also made his return from suspension today for Georgia against Auburn.

 

Seahawks face crucial weekend in Kansas City

November 14th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Russell Wilson won the starting job for Seattle during his last visit to Kansas City

If you care about your teams perception in the media, this is a vital game for the Seahawks.

There’s no point denying you care. Most people do. Including players. Dare I say including some coaches. Everyone wants respect. Fans in Seattle craved it for years and received it after the Super Bowl. They also saw what it leads to — the drama surrounding Percy Harvin, Marshawn Lynch and the bizarre links to Russell Wilson are great examples of unwanted attention.

It’s fair to say the current three-game winning streak hasn’t captured the nations imagination. Scraping past the winless Raiders at home, running all over a fading Giants team and pinching a victory from the slumping Panthers hasn’t got people excited about the Seahawks again.

At the start of the season people were tweeting “game over” when Seattle scored their first points. It was a little cringe-inducing, especially during the Oakland pre-season game and the San Diego loss in week two. The Seahawks weren’t invincible last year and they certainly aren’t this year. The Super Bowl beat-down of Denver raised expectations in the media. Expectations that were never going to be met.

Beat Kansas City on the road and people will sit up and take notice. And I think a lot of fans are ready for Seattle to be ‘noticed’ and ‘respected’ again. The Chiefs are a funny team — capable of destroying the Patriots and losing at home to the Titans. The perception is, however, that they’re a good solid team. They run the ball well, they rush the passer. They have a high-profile coach and they’ve won games since Andy Reid arrived in KC. If you want your Seahawks to get some respect, they need to win this game and make a statement.

Of course all of that is trivial in the ultimate goal. Winning is of great importance in an intriguing NFC West title race. With Arizona travelling to Seattle in week 12 — the Seahawks could actually share first place with a win in that game. It’s possible. The Cardinals, minus Carson Palmer, face a romping Detroit team this weekend. A Seahawks/Lions double sets up a battle for top spot at Century Link.

The 49ers also linger in the background after a dramatic victory in New Orleans last week. They go to the Giants in a game that could go pretty much either way considering how each team has played this year. If the Niners win and the Seahawks lose in Kansas City, Seattle drops back into third place in the division.

Every win counts.

The Seahawks are playing catch-up after the sloppy defeats to Dallas and St. Louis. In a wildly competitive division and conference they need to keep winning.

The Chiefs are a decidedly efficient football team. They excel in the red zone and on third down. They’re organised and don’t concede too many penalties. They have a good special teams unit. They lack explosive plays in the passing game — but when they get into a rhythm they’re tough to stop. Seattle had good and bad days against quarterback Alex Smith during his years in San Francisco. Rocky Bernard’s flattening of Smith lingers long in the memory bank. And yet he also did enough to beat a blossoming 2011 Seahawks team at Century Link. The 2012 encounter at Candlestick — the last meeting between Smith and Seattle — ended in a ‘death by dump off’ second half that felt like Chinese water torture to observe.

We might see more of this on Sunday. Smith hasn’t thrown a single touchdown pass to any of his receivers this year. He’s also without Anthony Fasano and Donnie Avery — meaning Travis Kelce is his best target (an inconsistent yet threatening mobile TE). Without a doubt KC’s best weapon is Jamaal Charles. In that 2012 Seattle/San Francisco game, Smith used the running back and full back on underneath/shorter throws to chip away with some success. Philip Rivers followed a similar path in week two.

If he gets into a rhythm it could be a long day. Smith has always been a frustrating player to watch. If he’s on-song against your team you get that ‘slow death’ feeling as he dinks and dunks his way to victory. Take that away and make him play from behind and he’ll frustrate his own fans in equal measure. He’s underrated as a mobile and elusive QB — but he’s never been a big play artist who can drag a team back into a contest with downfield throws.

Kansas City has a terrific pass rushing defensive line and should do a better job containing Russell Wilson than the shambolic New York Giants. What will they do? Feign the rush to keep him breaking the edge? Rush to make him uncomfortable? Washington and New York have shown this year what’ll happen if you refuse to respect his ability to get into space on the outside.

Make no mistake this is a legit opponent. Their three defeats were somewhat agonizing — a head scratching opening day loss at home to the struggling Titans. They were then narrowly edged out on the road in Denver and San Francisco. They started the year 0-2 but have since won five out of six — including impressive wins in Miami (34-15), San Diego (23-20) and Buffalo (17-13). They thumped New England (41-14) and St. Louis (34-7) at home.

The three defeats all carry a theme — poor stats for Smith. Here’s the numbers: 61/107 passing (57%), two touchdowns, four interceptions and an average of 205 YPG. As good as they’ve been with third down’s this year — they completed 1/12 against the Titans. In all three games the Chiefs trailed in the fourth quarter — putting more pressure on Smith to move the offense.

Aside from managing a fierce pass rush, ensuring Marshawn Lynch gets his carries and doing a better job protecting the football — Seattle needs to test Smith’s ability to lead a comeback. If they let the Chiefs play ball control it’ll be a long, frustrating afternoon of Jamaal Charles running it and Alex Smith throwing dump offs to the tune of 250 yards. If they get a lead and can put Smith on the spot — it’s probably their best chance to win. That will not be easy.

Last time Seattle traveled to Kansas City (pre-season, 2012), Wilson won the starting quarterback job with a virtuoso display. He might not need such an emphatic showing on Sunday — but he’ll need to make some plays. The Chiefs haven’t given up a single rushing touchdown all year. It’s no fluke. And while a heavy dose of ‘Beast Mode’ will be on the agenda, Wilson is going to need to rejuvenate his season after two rough outings.

 

T.J. Clemmings looks like another first round offensive tackle

November 13th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

It’s been a year of disappointments at the offensive tackle position overall. Cedric Ogbuehi (Texas A&M) hasn’t looked comfortable after switching to left tackle — conceding nearly double-figure sacks. Brandon Scherff (Iowa) is a good run blocker but doesn’t look convincing in pass protection. Cameron Erving (Florida State) hasn’t had the type of season most expected after a comfortable switch from defense to offense. All three players entered the 2014 season as potential top-15 picks. It’s debatable whether they’ll cling onto those grades.

Others have played well enough to enhance their stock. La’el Collins (LSU) is better served at guard at the next level but has had a terrific year at left tackle. Andrus Peat (Stanford) isn’t a punishing, physical player but he’s the best pass-pro pure LT eligible for the 2015 draft. Corey Robinson (South Carolina) has played well enough on a struggling team to warrant day one consideration.

T.J. Clemmings (Pittsburgh) is worth adding to the debate.

Like Erving he’s a defensive convert. He doesn’t have ideal length and that might be an issue. How long are his arms? He’s only listed at around 6-4. And yet watching him is an absolute joy. He’s playing at right tackle in college but that doesn’t mean much. Trent Williams played right tackle at Oklahoma. That’s probably more a review of his limited experience playing offense.

There’s just something about a lineman that loves to get to the second level that feels right. Clemmings doesn’t need an invitation — he flies to the next level and hunts down linebackers to block. He’s incredibly mobile — see the two screens to the right side where he immediately pulls and acts as a roaming blocker. He’s aggressive in the run game and knows how to turn a defender to create leverage. He’s capable of the highlight-reel block — knocking a lineman to the floor and finishing.

Against Duke he wasn’t really tested by a speed rush. We need to see that to evaluate his full upside. He did, however, handle all of the edge rush with credit. He absorbs blocks and doesn’t let up. He can kick slide well enough to consider a move to the left and his footwork looks good. Ideally you’d like to see a bit more of an initial jolt with those hands but he’s going to be a technical work in progress.

Overall he’s just a fun player to watch. I suspect he’ll be equally fun to coach.

Whether his future is on the right or left side — he definitely has first round potential. One to monitor as we move forward.

 

More on Marshawn Lynch and why he has to stay in Seattle

November 12th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

It seems the Seattle Seahawks can’t live with or without Marshawn Lynch.

You know the story by now. He’s their best offensive player and yet reports suggest they’ve grown tired of his act (a little bit like U2, I guess…).

He’s always been allowed to operate with a certain amount of free rope. And after recently signing a 4-year $30m contract — the Seahawks clearly didn’t appreciate him complaining about it a year or two down the line.

According to Chris Mortensen, they’re prepared to move on.

There’s a tendency in pro-sport for situations to change very quickly. You have to wonder if last Sunday’s franchise record running performance — led by Lynch — has changed a few minds.

We discussed the possibility of a re-think in the aftermath of the Giants game. I want to progress that debate today.

Replacing Lynch will be the toughest thing this franchise has to do in the post-Super Bowl era. You could argue running backs are easy to plug into an offense. How else can you describe 29-year-old Justin Forsett posting 5.4 yards-per-carry in Baltimore as the fourth most productive runner in the NFL? I think for most teams it’s a valid point. But not for Seattle. Not with Lynch.

He is so integral to this teams identity. He is a phenom, a truly unique runner that deserves to be remembered as fondly as any other running back since the turn of the century. His physical style, ability to break tackles, his attitude on the field. These are not easily replaced by just plugging in another player. The moment Seattle loses ‘Beast Mode’ the team will also lose a part of its identity. There’s no getting away from that.

He’s also a darn good player — the only true ‘star’ on the offense outside of Russell Wilson. The talent drop off will be difficult to overcome for an offense that can’t rely on a brilliant QB-and-WR partnership. Assuming you can’t add a superstar to compensate for his absence, you might need to bring in several players to make up for it. Think about that because it’s a realistic dilemma. Seattle can cope with Lynch and the current group of receivers. But take Lynch away and you might have to pump up that passing game with a couple of additions — not to mention probably adding a new running back.

Davis Hsu put together a detailed breakdown explaining why the Seahawks can afford to keep Lynch in 2015. It’s pretty clear they can keep him on the $8.5m salary he’s due next season. But there lies part of the problem. I suspect Lynch feels he deserves more — and the catalyst for his reported potential departure is that unhappiness and how it is possibly impacts the team.

The Seahawks might feel they’ve already shown enough loyalty by giving him a healthy contract extension that includes next season. A contract Lynch agreed to. Lynch can equally point to the huge deal they gave Percy Harvin for not a lot of return. The Harvin trade wasn’t so much a catastrophe in terms of the draft outlay as it was belittling the ‘look after your own’ mantra the team was preaching. Players like Marshawn Lynch had given everything to the Seahawks and were being out-earned by an outsider. They played with fire giving Harvin an elite contract — only to quickly shuffle him out the door this season.

If Lynch was as much of a problem as Harvin he probably wouldn’t be here either. That at least offers some hope that this isn’t a relationship beyond repair. With the salary cap expected to rise again this off-season (and again in 2015) there’s no reason why they couldn’t reward Lynch with a further pay increase for next year — and still extend the contracts of Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner and others (J.R. Sweezy is receiving enough praise from Pete Carroll to expect he’ll be paid in the off-season).

Doesn’t this just make sense?

If they were to part company with Lynch, this obviously would free up more cap room. They’d need it if they were suddenly tasked with bringing in two or three new offensive additions to compensate for the talent drop off. It’s just my opinion, but I don’t think you can replace Lynch with another running back and expect the status quo to remain. You would need to improve the passing game to make up for what you were losing at running back.

In Hsu’s breakdown he includes the possibility of adding a free agent tight end on a salary of $3.5m. Julius Thomas, Jordan Cameron and Jermaine Gresham are the three most high profile tight end’s scheduled to hit the market.

Thomas is enough of a key factor to warrant Denver making savings elsewhere to keep him (and his namesake Demaryius). It’ll be a challenge, considering they currently have just $4m in free cap room to roll into 2015 (they carried $6.4m into this year). They’re a big name veteran roster and will have to find savings to keep both Thomas’. Julius’ cap hit in 2014 is $741,000, Demaryius’ $4.7m. Both players can expect major pay increases. Wes Welker’s $6.7m cap hit will come off the books when he becomes a free agent — and Jacob Tamme is taking up $2.2m. Even so, they have to consider Von Miller will be a free agent in 2016 and other players like Orlando Franklin can test the market in the off-season. It’s a test for John Elway and co.

I wouldn’t expect Cleveland to allow Cameron to hit the market. They currently have $21.8m in free cap space to roll into next year. The franchise tag for a tight end this season is worth $7.035m. Considering their meager pass-catching options you’d expect them to retain a legit big target on at least the tag (if not an extension). Why make life any more difficult for Brian Hoyer (or Johnny Manziel)? Cameron has been plagued by injuries this season, so a year on the tag probably suits all parties.

Then there’s Gresham — one of the biggest first round disappointments in recent memory. He came into the league with the potential to be a superstar. A Jimmy Graham type talent. Instead the Bengals drafted another first round tight end (Tyler Eifert) three years later to replace him. A thoroughly frustrating player who couldn’t make plays even when lining up next to A.J. Green — I’m not sure Gresham offers any real solution to Seattle’s need for a taller receiver. He might be their best option though, especially if Thomas and Cameron don’t make it to free agency.

Such is the paltry offerings outside of this trio, the next best prospective free agent tight end might be Jacob Tamme. Ouch.

So what about receivers? Despite some pretty volatile public bargaining this week — nobody should expect Dez Bryant to be playing anywhere other than Dallas. It’s equally unrealistic to expect Denver to let Demaryius Thomas walk — but again, with a tight cap situation they might have to sacrifice one of the Thomas’.

The third best receiver who could be a free agent in 2015 is… Michael Crabtree. Yeah. I can’t see that somehow.

It’s also going to be difficult to attract a high profile receiver to come to Seattle. Production is everything. As much as a top wide receiver wants to play for a winner, more than anything they want the ball. With the Seahawks you could get 3-4 targets a game. You might not top 1000 yards. Can you see a Bryant or Thomas swapping Romo and Manning to play in this offense? Not without serious financial compensation.

Then there’s the running back position. DeMarco Murray is a possible free agent. Can Dallas afford to keep both Bryant and Murray? Frank Gore (controversial) is a free agent in 2015. Mark Ingram is having a break-out season in New Orleans. None are comparable to Lynch and will be costly with tread on the tire’s.

Then there’s the draft. It’s not a great draft for receivers but Sammie Coates has the kind of big play potential they seem to like. Duke’s Isaac Blakeney is raw but has a lot of upside (and size). There are two possible first round running backs in the sensational Todd Gurley and the productive Melvin Gordon. I haven’t seen a tight end worthy of early round consideration although Devin Funchess has the kind of athleticism that saw Eric Ebron go in the top ten this year.

As you can see it’s a tough sell. Be truthful — is there any combination above that provides a better offense for Seattle than simply keeping Marshawn Lynch and giving him a pay rise? Not to mention the cost involved if you go down the free agent route.

Seattle would be better served putting more stock into other needs. The options on the defensive line are much more attractive in free agency. Possible targets? Jabaal Sheard, Jason Pierre-Paul, Terrance Knighton, Ndamukong Suh, Brooks Reed, Justin Houston, Brian Orakpo and Greg Hardy (although that would provide something of a moral dilemma).

It’s also a very rich draft for pass rushers. You could look to re-sign Cliff Avril, add another pass rusher and even add one more in the first two rounds of the draft. What a way to address a need area. You wouldn’t necessarily be able to do that if you’re having to attack the offense because you let Marshawn Lynch walk.

I suppose you could make a case for going after pass rushers in free agency and then trying to replace Lynch with one of the big two rookie running backs (Gurley or Gordon). It’s something we have to consider, especially with Ian Rapoport hinting strongly that Seattle is keeping tabs on the top running backs in the draft. Again it comes down to just how much of a problem Lynch is perceived to be. Clearly his team mates have no issue with him — just look at the post game reaction from Sunday:

If this is a front office problem — and it certainly looks that way — I find it hard to believe they wouldn’t be willing to consider the possibility of Lynch returning next year. Especially if he continues to perform at Sunday’s level.

Right now he is they key to the offense. The longer that continues, the harder it will be to live without him next year.

 

Instant reaction: Seahawks beat Giants, can’t live without Lynch

November 9th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

I had one troubling takeaway from this game. There is no doubt at all that Marshawn Lynch is Seattle’s best player on offense. It’s not close. And we could be approaching an off-season where Seattle is going to have to replace him — possibly with multiple additions — as a priority.

It’s a frustrating thought given today’s four-touchdown performance in a 38-17 victory over the New York Giants. A thought summed up by Sidney Rice on Twitter (see above).

Replacing Lynch, a heavily touted move that suddenly appears annoyingly inevitable, will be the greatest threat to Seattle’s longevity as a contender. You’re losing a great player and you’re also losing a piece of your identity. It might force an early pick on a running back. It’ll probably lead to a drop in talent at the position. It could mean having to add multiple pieces — new running back, receiver, tight end — to compensate for the talent shortfall after losing one single player.

This is a debate we’ll need to have in greater detail down the line. But this kind of major surgery is deeply unattractive. And yet unless several high profile and storied reports are wrong — it’s going to happen.

The frightening thing is it could take attention (and picks/finances) away from Seattle’s biggest needs as we watch this season unfold. The pass rush remains an issue. The first half saw very little pressure before a second half improvement. It needs to be better.

O’Brien Schofield has struggled to carry his pre-season form into the regular season. Both Cliff Avril and Schofield are free agents. As stop-start as this pass rush has been at times, it’ll be even worse without both players. You’re not just needing to upgrade the group, you’re potentially needing to replace free agents. Seattle has already failed to replace Chris Clemons adequately and to a lesser extent Red Bryant. They’ve not had much success drafting cheap defensive linemen.

Brandon Mebane has played his heart out the last few weeks and provided some much needed interior rush. He left the game today with a hamstring problem. He badly needs help inside to move quarterbacks off their spot (this will also help the edge rushers). If he misses any time it’ll be a huge blow.

It’d be nice to go into the draft and free agency really focusing on the D-line as a priority. Sure — they’d probably like to add a big receiver or tight end somewhere too. But losing Lynch could force the focus to the offense, which seems avoidable.

We don’t know how bad the relationship is between Lynch and the front office/Pete Carroll. I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest they need to find a way to work together for longer. Even if that means paying him more money. He’s earned it. He deserves it. He’s the MVP on the offense. They’re willing to take chances — let’s call this the latest gamble. Move on from the speculation and negativity and keep your best player. It feels silly to even have to write that.

A word too on the offensive line today. It was sensational. The run blocking was terrific across the board. The pass protection was more than good enough. This was a stellar performance from start to finish. This is how Seattle should approach games. This is how Seattle will be successful. They have an offensive line that works for the style they want to play. They drafted run blockers to run the ball. Today they totaled 350 yards on 45 runs, including 140 from ‘Beast Mode’.

Russell Wilson had a mixed day. His tendency to overthrow popped up again. The first interception was a poorly executed route by rookie Paul Richardson. The second — a lofted floater — was begging to be picked off. It was also thrown at 5-10, 189lbs Doug Baldwin. Did I mention the need for a big target?

He ran well — and New York struggled all day to contain him. That’s really poor coaching by the Giants. If you want to beat the Seahawks you need to contain Wilson. They had no idea what to do and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell spent the game with his mouth open in utter surprise. Wilson also made enough good plays as a passer to get through a tough afternoon.

The Seahawks had some luck that had previously been missing on two crucial late fumbles (one by Wilson, one by Lynch). The defense shut out Manning and the Giants in the second half. Byron Maxwell made a welcome (and productive) return. Tony Moeaki was inactive but probably debuts against his former side (Kansas City) next week following Luke Willson’s ankle injury today.

Close victories for Arizona and San Francisco keep things competitive in the NFC West. Seattle has won the last three but they need to keep winning. The 49ers travel to the fading Giants next week. Arizona hosts inconsistent, but winning, Detroit. The Cardinals will finish the year without quarterback Carson Palmer — reports say he’s torn an ACL. Drew Stanton is the backup and has already featured this season — scoring two touchdowns in a victory over the Niners.

 

Seahawks wanted Randy Moss? And what now for Marcus Peters?

November 7th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

According to reports, Randy Moss snubbed Seattle’s offer of a NFL return

Seahawks wanted Randy Moss?

According to this article in the Denver Post, reliable NFL Insider Jay Glazer reported Seattle approached Moss about a return to the NFL. It appears he declined the offer, but has since hinted he’d be willing to come out of retirement again to play for either Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.

There are two thoughts here. Firstly — the Seahawks were clearly pining for a big target after they realized Percy Harvin’s days were numbered in Seattle. You can add Moss’ name to Vincent Jackson, Julius Thomas, Jordan Cameron and Coby Fleener — all reported targets. Even at 37 Moss would’ve also provided a genuine deep threat (he did for the 49ers in 2012). Whatever happens between now and the end of the season, it seems inevitable this will be a targeted need during the off-season.

Secondly, it’s interesting that Moss chose not to accept the offer — while seemingly leaving the door open for a different type of return to the game. It’s not unfair to suggest this is probably down to Seattle’s style of offense. In New England he’d potentially reignite his rapport with Tom Brady and go back to the big production he experienced last time out with the Patriots. In Seattle he’d be like every other receiver — feeding off scraps (potentially 2-3 targets per game).

Sure, he could be joining a contender. But he also might spend several weeks acting as a decoy. Is he really going to leave a nice warm studio at FOX Sports to run deep routes in the rain so Russell Wilson can scramble for a seven yard gain?

Unfortunately this could be a problem in free agency. If you’re a top receiver used to putting up big numbers — are you going to sign for Seattle? Are you prepared to accept you might be consigning yourself to multiple years of 700-900 yard seasons? And how much are you going to need to be compensated to ignore the attentions of another team who happens to be fielding a gunslinger at quarterback?

This is the type of dilemma potentially facing the Seahawks as they look for a big target (and it might be why they considered the trade market). In reality is a Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas (for example) more likely to re-sign in Dallas or Denver where they’ll get the chance to put up Hall of Fame numbers AND compete for a Championship, or will they go to a team that is flirting with a multi-year Super Bowl window and accept they might not top 1000 yards in a season?

Whatever anyone says, receivers love stats. Why else is Golden Tate reveling in Detroit? He’s the same player as last year. Except this season he’s getting a ton of attention. He deserves it. He’s enjoying it.

If the Seahawks can’t convince Moss to have one last go for a ring — can they truly convince a leading tight end or receiver to sign in free agency without paying over the odds? Will they be forced to consider giving up even more trade stock to address this need?

What now for Marcus Peters?

This had been coming. Seemingly a constant headache this season for first year Head Coach Chris Petersen, Peters had already served one suspension. Clearly it didn’t act as a sufficient warning. He’ll turn pro next year with a big old red flag attached to his back.

The big question is — how much will it impact his draft stock?

NFL.com are running an article that says at least three teams will take him off their draft board. Clashing with coaches, as Peters apparently did, will be seen as a big no-no for many. Especially in a year where several players have created havoc off the field and in the locker room. I suspect a theme in the off-season will be damage limitation.

“How can we avoid bringing in a future problem?”

Of course that will create opportunities for those still willing to take a risk. Seattle aren’t going to back off. At least I doubt it. They haven’t come this far to suddenly become all precious. Yet even Pete Carroll and John Schneider have their limits. The question is — when teams dig around, how bad are the issues with Peters?

Overall he was a pretty overrated player in my opinion. Certainly a player who needed a lot of fine tuning and good coaching. He was intriguing from a Seattle perspective because he had a physical edge and had a knack for making plays. The Stanford game in 2013 stood out as the ultimate potential-tape for Peters. And yet he never showed enough consistency at Washington to warrant all the first round hype. There are games where he got beat badly. Some of the physical stuff makes up for a lack of pure technique. The NFL is forcing corners to harness technique over aggressive physical play.

He needed to go to a team with a proven track record of coaching up DB’s. I also think he probably needed to go somewhere without any sense of entitlement. If teams feel that way — don’t be shocked if he goes undrafted. The NFL has no problem teaching prospects a lesson (see: Vontaze Burfict) — it doesn’t matter how talented you might be. In many ways it could salvage Peters career if he gets that type of wake up call.

I’m not convinced he’ll drop that far although we don’t know enough about his dismissal to make a serious judgement. It really comes down to how much teams believe in the potential (which is evident). He’ll be helped by a total dearth of top tier cornerbacks in this class. Anyone with a big need at the position might feel it’s worth taking a shot as early as rounds two or three. What are the alternatives?

From Seattle’s point of view they drafted Tharold Simon in round five despite his appearance on a not too complimentary list of names at LSU. Would they take a chance? Perhaps. But it’d probably be in a similar kind of range where the risk factor is so low.

 

Seahawks add tight end Tony Moeaki

November 5th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

The Seahawks decided at some point during the season they needed to find a big target. We spent a lot of the off-season discussing it — and yet it was an issue never really addressed. We’ve all seen the reports regarding trade proposals for Julius Thomas, Jordan Cameron and Coby Fleener. Seattle were supposedly one of the teams who asked about Vincent Jackson.

The need was further emphasized in the last game against Oakland. A week after bagging the game-winning touchdown against Carolina, Luke Willson had an off-day. They clearly want a mobile tight end who can make grabs over the middle and in the red zone. Pete Carroll made reference to the red zone issue during a radio slot today. Marshawn Lynch is essentially Seattle’s defining threat — either as a runner or receiver. Outside of that — who are you looking to? Seattle doesn’t even have a decent fade option.

Tony Moeaki (6-3, 250lbs) signed for the Seahawks today — a former third round pick in 2010 drafted by Kansas City. It’s interesting to note he was taken two picks before Jimmy Graham. The Chiefs thought very highly of him before the injury-bug struck. He was put on IR in 2011 and 2012. A fractured shoulder before the 2013 season ended his time in KC. He signed with the Bills in December that year but further injury trouble led to his release before the 2014 season began.

He’s best known for the catch in the video above, but that’s not necessarily the kind of spark Seattle needs. Russell Wilson has to have someone who can create a mismatch in the red zone. He needs to know he’s got a linebacker matched up against a big target. He needs that second or third read over the middle. Essentially they need someone who can do what Mychal Rivera did on Sunday.

The fact Rivera had two touchdowns and looked a threat against the Seahawks shows you don’t need Jimmy Graham or the Gronk to be effective. In certain games you can exploit the tight end. He then needs to make the play. Seattle needs someone like Moeaki to just make a play when the situation arises.

In all Carroll’s time here, they’ve never really found their version of the modern tight end. Anthony McCoy was flirting with a break-out during the 2012 season but injury has potentially ruined his career just as he was getting started. Zach Miller for all his production in Oakland has never been able to recreate that form in the passing game — mainly due to the scheme and his skill as a blocker.

They’ve given Willson more than enough of a chance to nail the role but he’s just too inconsistent. They’ve had a chance to draft other tight ends who’ve prospered at the next level. For some reason it’s an area they’ve never really been able to get right — despite a clear desire to find that elusive chess piece.

In 2010 they took Walter Thurmond two picks before injury-plagued (but talented) Dennis Pitta — who ran a 4.63 at his combine. In 2011 Jordan Cameron dissected the two fourth round picks they spent on K.J. Wright and Kris Durham. Julius Thomas also went in the fourth round that year. Ladarius Green — a hot prospect for San Diego — was drafted a few picks after Robert Turbin in 2012. The pick used on Percy Harvin could’ve brought in Zach Ertz — while Travis Kelce left the board one pick after Seattle drafted Christine Michael in 2013. This year the Seahawks traded out of range for Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The third rounder spent in the Harvin trade could’ve allowed the team to take a punt on Green Bay’s Richard Rodgers.

Now it’s easy to sit here and point at players and say, “look what you could’ve won”. The Thurmond and Wright picks paid off. Nobody can say taking Turbin has been poor use of a fourth rounder. The Harvin trade was clearly a major own goal but they took a swing and missed. We don’t know if they ever had any interest in ASJ, Kelce or any of the others anyway.

However — you do wonder if this is an area they’ll be aggressive with next year. It’s not a good draft at all for TE’s, but maybe they’ll identify that big rangy difference maker and make sure they don’t miss out? They could look at free agency — although the cost of keeping Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron in Denver and Cleveland respectively should secure both players for at least another year.

For now Moeaki gets his shot to prove he’s past the injuries and can still make a play at a career in the NFL.