Top-25 prospects broken into tiers

February 24th, 2018 | Written by Rob Staton

I wanted to put this down before the combine — then reflect on it afterwards to see what has changed. Some of the names below contain hyperlinks. The links take you to individual articles written about the player in question. So if you want more info/opinion, click on the name.

Tier One

Saquon Barkley (RB, Penn State)
Quenton Nelson (G, Notre Dame)
Tremaine Edmunds (LB, Virginia Tech)
Bradley Chubb (DE, NC State)
Vita Vea (DT, Washington)

The five freakish difference makers in the class. Barkley could be the most explosive offensive player to enter the league in a generation with a jump-cut to die for. Nelson will likely have a Steve Hutchinson impact on the league. Edmunds is the most unique player in the class — incredible size, length, versatility. There isn’t another player like him in the league.

Chubb has the same bloodlines as cousin Nick and we know how incredible he is as an athlete. Vea’s mobility and quickness at 340lbs is shocking and can only truly be appreciated watching him live. All five players should go in the top-10.

Tier two

Sam Darnold (QB, USC)
Josh Rosen (QB, UCLA)
Ronald Jones II (RB, USC)
Billy Price (C/G, Ohio State)
Isaiah Wynn (G, Georgia)
Tim Settle (DT, Virginia Tech)
Maurice Hurst (DT, Michigan)

The quarterbacks both have talent and upside but some question marks. Darnold has incredible potential but isn’t anywhere near as refined as DeShaun Watson a year ago (Watson was criminally underrated pre-draft by the media). Rosen technically looks the part but there are questions about his personality.

Jones II is a Jamaal Charles clone and a player with legitimate star quality. An exceptional prospect. Price is intense, plays with occasional reckless abandon and goes after the opponent. He sets the tone up front. Wynn reminds me of Zack Martin at Notre Dame. He isn’t the biggest, he isn’t the most explosive or athletic. He is just really fundamentally sound and tough to beat. He doesn’t make mistakes.

Settle won’t run like Vita Vea and he doesn’t carry his weight as well. Yet as a pass rusher it’s quite incredible to watch a player of his size swim/rip like he does, not to mention his excellent get-off. He’s the best 330lbs pass rusher you’ll see in a long time. Maurice Hurst is a classic three-technique with great quickness off the snap, solid hand-technique and a consistent ability to impact games from the interior. Players like Hurst are rare.

Tier three

Lamar Jackson (QB, Louisville)
Leighton Vander Esch (LB, Boise State)
Roquan Smith (LB, Georgia)
Minkah Fitzpatrick (S, Alabama)
Taven Bryan (DT, Florida)

Jackson has a rocket arm, showed major improvement as a touch passer in 2017 and is capable of being a Michael Vick-style playmaker. He is Vick. And for some reason people aren’t giving him his dues. Fitzpatrick on the other hand is the opposite — a little bit overrated — and more likely to go in the 10-15 range than the top-10.

Vander Esch is a modern day linebacker. He has the size to play inside at middle linebacker in any scheme, the range and mobility to run to the sideline and the instinct to be a major playmaker. In a couple of years he could be up there with Wagner and Kuechly as the best in the game. Smith gets a lot of top-15 love but you have to remember — he’s not a burner and he’s going to weigh about 225lbs. I like him as a player but we have to acknowledge he won’t fit every team or scheme. Smith will be a first rounder and likely a very useful pro but probably won’t go as early as some are projecting.

Bryan has incredible upside and while he might need a redshirt year to work things out, he has inside/out rush ability and the potential to be an absolute game-wrecker.

Tier four

Rasheem Green (DE, USC)
Derwin James (S, Florida State)
Marcus Davenport (DE, UTSA)

I watched some of Green this week and came away impressed with his physical potential. Whether he can take it to the next level and continue to grow remains to be seen but he has sensational size and length and carries his weight extremely well. He ran a 4.44 short shuttle at the Nike combine at 290lbs and achieved a 113.04 SPARQ rating. He could be a big time riser after the combine.

James will likely have an explosive combine too — testing well in the jumps. Yet he is what he is — a box safety that didn’t impact many games with big plays. I’ve said before, his tape is a bit boring. He has appealing character traits and size. He’ll go in round one. How early remains up for debate.

Davenport didn’t perform as well as hoped at the Senior Bowl and came across as a bit shy and retiring. He too might need a redshirt year and strong coaching/guidance. Yet his tape and physical ability warrants a first round pick.

Tier five
Da’Ron Payne (DT, Alabama)
Kerryon Johnson (RB, Auburn)
Rashaan Evans (LB, Alabama)
Calvin Ridley (WR, Alabama)
Baker Mayfield (QB, Oklahoma)

Payne is the strongest D-line prospect in the class with the size and bulk to act as a key run defender. He showed, especially in the two Playoff games, he also has some pass rush potential. Johnson (when healthy) was leading Auburn to a possible National Championship. His upright running style could invite injury and he’s not the quickest but he runs with authority, he’s tough and he has fantastic patience in the backfield.

Evans plays with his hair on fire and doesn’t hit, he hammers opponents. The combine will be crucial for his stock. He’s likely a late first rounder. Ridley isn’t big or particularly fast but he’s adept at getting open and he’s consistent. Mayfield won the Heisman and is clearly a playmaker but he lacks the physical tools of the other top quarterbacks available.

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Friday draft notes: Seahawks status check pre-combine

February 23rd, 2018 | Written by Rob Staton

The Seahawks were not awarded any comp picks today.

Ian Rapoport is reporting they’re more likely to sign a new deal with Earl Thomas than trade him. He also suggests Richard Sherman isn’t healthy enough to deal. I don’t know about you but I’m ready to just know what’s going on one way or another. Ever since the 42-7 embarrassment against the Rams there’s been talk of major change to the defense. I still think that’s likely. The idea of just patching things up, trying to get through another season and having 8-10 players not practising every week is unappealing. Change feels inevitable — it’s the level of change that needs to be determined. And considering we’ve gone from minor speculation that Kansas City might be willing to trade Marcus Peters to a deal being done with the Rams in the space of about 48 hours, it’s starting to become pretty difficult to garner anything from the speculation.

— There are still key reasons why I think change of some kind is likely. The defense does need to get younger and cheaper. This hasn’t felt like the Seahawks of 2011-14 for a while now. The group of fiery players that were pissed off for greatness became, well, great. They got paid. And after the New England Super Bowl they arguably channelled their anger inwards rather than outwards. The running game has collapsed. They lost a lot of the intensity and identity that made them great and increasingly started to lean on Russell Wilson as the injuries piled up. Proper competition has to return. That upstart nature has to return. They’ve been trying for two years to be the bully again and it’s just not happening. If they want to get back to that it’s going to take more than the window dressing of 2016 and 2017. They can’t just keep rolling on, hoping the next iteration of Eddie Lacy will halt the decline of a team that has gone from 13 to 12 to 10 and then to 9 wins in the space of five years.

— If they do ultimately end up retaining Thomas, Sherman and players such as Michael Bennett, it’ll reinforce how likely it is they address the running game as a priority this off-season. They could bring in a hedge running back via free agency (eg Carlos Hyde) and consider the situation at safety (Bradley McDougald? Eric Reid?) before looking at the options at receiver. These moves could set them up to tap into the strength of the draft early (OL, RB, LB) and target a possible LEO edge rusher in the middle rounds (Kemoko Turay?).

— If they don’t acquire extra picks by moving veterans, trading down from #18 becomes a foregone conclusion. They’d have little choice, right? Picking once in the first four rounds seems unlikely. Trading down more than once could be an option too. Negotiating such a deal and still finding a way to come away with one of Billy Price, Isaiah Wynn or Ronald Jones II would be a win. It’s unclear how likely it is though.

— If they had their picks in rounds 2-3 you might be more inclined to think about defense in round one. Michigan’s Maurice Hurst, for example, is the type of dynamic interior pass rusher this team has really lacked. Instead they might end up trading down with a team like Atlanta so the Falcons can get Hurst.

— Having as many picks in rounds 2-3 as possible is critical this year (the area where the Seahawks currently have a bare cupboard). While the likes of Price, Wynn and Jones II are appealing first round options, if you only manage to acquire one third rounder you’ll be really limiting yourself. Ideally you take a running back in the top-75 (you’ll be kicking yourself BIG TIME if you don’t this year) and you want to hit OL/RB/LB as early as possible. Yet in the third round you might want to get Rutgers’ Turay to be your LEO or Stanford tight end Dalton Schultz to really bolster your run blocking.

— It’s only when you start to write all this down that you realise how much needs to be done and how little draft stock and cap room Seattle has to really address it all. They’re not in a bad position (and won’t be as long as they have the likes of Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner) but certain decisions (and some mistakes) are starting to catch up with the Seahawks.

Big combine preview on the way Sunday or Monday. Keep an eye out for it.

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The future of the Seahawks defense?

February 21st, 2018 | Written by Rob Staton

Let’s call this a first draft because we’ll receive so much information at the combine. We need to know 10-yard split times for the LEO candidates, short shuttle times for the linebackers, length and size for the cornerbacks and a lot more.

That said, here’s a review of some of the possible options if the Seahawks do gut the defense and decide to get a lot younger in 2018…

D-line & Pass rush

Possible departures: Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Sheldon Richardson

The Seahawks could do with adding a LEO. They need quickness off the edge. Rutgers’ Kemoko Turay could be the ideal player for the role — with excellent get-off, at least some evidence of good hand technique and a great athletic profile. He looked explosive at the Senior Bowl and has a ton of potential. If the Seahawks are able to acquire extra picks in the third or fourth round range, Turay could be a key acquisition.

It’s going to need to be someone with good length, a really quick 10-yard split and overall high athleticism. The 1.50-1.59 splits are the ones to look out for at the combine. There won’t be many but if Turay manages it at 6-5 and 252lbs he could quite easily be a Seahawks target.

Alternatives at LEO? Boston College’s Harold Landry could be targeted albeit with a much earlier pick. We know Florida State’s Josh Sweat is a fantastic athlete. If you’re comfortable with his injury history, he’s another option. Sweat ran a 4.46 at 240lbs at the SPARQ combine.

What else might they need? It’s hard to say. If Malik McDowell returns there’s every chance he could fill the void left by either Sheldon Richardson or Michael Bennett. Dion Jordan equally has some inside/out ability now he’s added size and Frank Clark isn’t small either. If you knew all three would be healthy and available going into camp you might feel quite comfortable about the situation. There’s very little news on McDowell however and Jordan missed most of the 2017 season.

NC State’s Kentavius Street could be a possible three-technique option. He’s about 280lbs these days but what an athlete. At the SPARQ combine he ran a 4.70, managed a 36-inch vertical and a 4.44 short shuttle. His SPARQ score was 115.41. He’s said to be an even better athlete these days too, plus he’s a former four-star recruit. He’s being projected as a late rounder and could be someone the Seahawks want to work with.

Ohio State’s Tyquan Lewis is no slouch and he had a good showing at the Senior Bowl. He scored 108.57 at the SPARQ combine including a 37 inch vertical. He’s a possible inside/out rusher who could last as he had to operate in a heavy rotation with the Buckeyes. He’s also someone who could develop into a leader. Auburn’s Jeff Holland lacks an attractive physical profile but plays with intensity and skill.

Virginia’s Andrew Brown is another prospect with upside who could be available on day three. A former five-star recruit he also performed well at the Senior Bowl. He managed a 103.11 SPARQ rating in High School and ran a 4.47 short shuttle at 295lbs.

The Seahawks have also shown they’re adept at finding veteran talent on the defensive line over the years. So on top of the options in the draft, there’s every chance they’ll bring in some options in free agency too.


Possible departures: Richard Sherman

We’ll need to see how the players measure at the combine. The Seahawks have stuck to a strict body type since 2010 and that isn’t likely to change. Whatever happens with Sherman, the Seahawks could do with adding another cornerback in the round 4-7 range this year to train up.

Despite many of the national mock drafts touting a cornerback to Seattle in round one, the chances are remote at best. They haven’t taken a CB earlier than the late third round under Pete Carroll. There’s very little reason to believe that’ll change this year. It won’t even be a position of significant need if they retain Sherman and re-sign Maxwell (hardly improbable scenarios). The Seahawks believe in their (proven) ability to develop young cornerbacks without spending high picks. That simply won’t change unless they’re picking in the top ten and happen to see a Jalen Ramsey or Patrick Peterson waiting for them.

LSU’s Kevin Toliver is said to be 6-3 and 203lbs with good length. He’s a former five-star recruit who never really lived up to expectations in college. According to his bio, Toliver has “an entitled attitude” and a big ego. It could put a lot of teams off, including the Seahawks, but they did draft Tharold Simon who similarly faced criticism for his time at LSU. It’s unusual for a player with Toliver’s potential to last into the round four range but if he does, they might see him as a project worth taking on. He’d be a nice challenge for a team with Seattle’s development chops.

Texas’ Holton Hill also possesses size, length and undelivered potential. He could be another attractive project. Virginia Tech’s Brandon Facyson also looks the part. He had a very strong start to his college career but a broken leg stalled his progress. He could be one of those players that falls a bit further than he should and provides some value.


Possible departures: No significant ones

This isn’t about replacing anyone, rather than bolstering the ranks. Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright need some help. And we saw what happened when Wagner wasn’t full-go and Wright was absent against the Rams. They could also do with adding a SAM/LEO type if possible.

Georgia’s Lorenzo Carter could be an option. At the Nike SPARQ combine he managed a 40-inch vertical at 6-5 and 234lbs. He’s highly explosive and athletic, posting a 129.75 SPARQ score. He’s not necessarily the quickest though (4.63 at the Nike combine) so his short-area quickness testing and 10-yard split could be crucial.

Another option could be South Carolina State’s Darius Leonard. Few bolstered their stock like Leonard at the Senior Bowl. He excelled in coverage drills against smaller, quicker running backs and had a couple of ferocious hits too. He has +34 inch arms and we know they really liked K.J. Wright for his length. Leonard looks and sounds like he’s ready for battle and could be a fantastic project for Ken Norton Jr.

Other options include Texas’ Malik Jefferson (who could be the combine’s big winner after his sensational Nike test) and Ohio State’s Jerome Baker. It’s a really good looking group of linebackers though. The combine will be fascinating and crucial. This is a position that seems to be thick throughout the draft and there will be attractive day three options to go with some of the early round studs.


Possible departures: Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor

It’s hard to get excited about this safety class and you can forget about replacing either of Seattle’s two legends. There probably won’t be another Earl or Kam. They’re unique people and players. If the Seahawks have to replace both, they’ll likely adjust their scheme to compensate.

The safety class is littered with players you kind of like but don’t love. Derwin James is a great athlete but his tape is boring and it’s a hard sell to draft a box safety in round one who doesn’t make a lot of big plays. He’s the popular pick for Seattle in mock drafts and there’s no doubting his athleticism and size. Is he worth their first round pick?
They’d have to believe he was a true ’tilt the field’ player to justify it. There’s a reason why they’ve only taken one defensive back in the first two rounds of the draft since 2010 (Earl Thomas).

Minkah Fitzpatrick is a bit overrated. Ronnie Harrison is perfectly fine as a prospect but might go earlier than warranted.

Wake Forest’s Jessie Bates III is probably the most intriguing player. He’s quick, clearly does his homework, understands the opponent and had a number of big plays as a redshirt freshman. He isn’t Earl but he could end up being a reliable starting safety. He’s consistent and disciplined which is important in Seattle’s scheme.

Virginia Tech’s Terrell Edmunds could be one to watch. He’s Tremaine’s brother and has good size (6-2, 220lbs). It’s also worth remembering the Seahawks could keep Bradley McDougald and only last year drafted Tedric Thompson and Delano Hill. San Francisco’s Eric Reid could be an option as a free agent too.

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Seahawks off-season: Priorities, predictions & possibilities

February 19th, 2018 | Written by Rob Staton

The Seahawks need a LEO and Kemoko Turay could be an option

We did this a year ago. Time for the 2017 version.

— Nothing should be off the table. The Seahawks finished 9-7 for a reason and it wasn’t just down to a few missed field goals by Blair Walsh. Changes to the defense appear to be inevitable but practically anything should be considered, especially if it helps repair the struggling running game. This is a vital off-season.

— Get younger on defense. According to ESPN the Seahawks fielded the fourth oldest defense in the NFL in 2017. In comparison, they had the second youngest offense. The injuries are starting to pile up, fewer players are practising during the week. This has to change in 2018.

— Get cheaper on defense. The Seahawks are paying a disproportionate amount of money to their ageing unit. In 2017 the Seahawks spent $93,714,666 on their defense, more than any team in the NFL. The split between offense and defense was 36.37% vs 55.98%. They spent $60,885,063 on the offense — 29th highest in the league. Of the 12 biggest cap hits on the roster, nine were defensive players. The three offensive players were Russell Wilson, Jimmy Graham and Luke Joeckel. Graham and Joeckel are both free agents. There has to be a greater balance in spending between the two units.

— Prepare to make a tough call on Earl Thomas. The Seahawks can’t afford a long drawn out battle. Do they believe they’re going to get their money’s worth from a big extension? If they have doubts or if Thomas simply asks for too much money, they have to be willing to see what’s out there via trade. One way or another a big decision is coming. Earl will either sign a contract extension before the draft or he’ll be traded.

— Check out the market for Richard Sherman. A year ago the Seahawks made it quite clear they were willing to listen to offers for Sherman. It’s worth reviewing the situation again. His age, injury and contract status might not scream ‘trade value’ but if this is his last year in Seattle anyway, you might as well see what’s out there. A weak cornerback draft class might aid the situation.

— Dion Jordan, Justin Coleman and Bradley McDougald all performed well in 2017 and should be retained. Jordan and Coleman are restricted free agents and it’ll be fairly straightforward to keep both. McDougald is an unrestricted free agent but played well filling in at both free and strong safety. With uncertain futures for both Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, they could do with keeping McDougald around.

— Come up with a solution to the Sheldon Richardson dilemma. They could transition or franchise tag him, essentially providing another ‘prove-it’ situation for Richardson. They could let him walk and hope to get a decent comp pick. They could let him test the market and hope to re-sign him for a reasonable amount. Richardson is clearly talented but it’s difficult to project how the Seahawks will approach his future.

— Acquire extra picks. The Seahawks can’t afford to pick once in the first four rounds of the draft. There’s too much work to do. One way or another they need more. Either trade some veterans or trade down from #18. Or both.

— ‘Value’ and ‘opportunity’ should be the two key words in free agency. No big splashes. Firstly, to protect any worthwhile 2019 comp picks. Secondly, it’s time to work this roster 2010 style. The Seahawks need to start looking for the next core. A highly competitive environment is required, with players fighting to prove a point and get the opportunity to earn big money. Seattle has carried too many big contracts in recent years and they need to rekindle some of that scrappy, gritty personality.

— The San Francisco pair of Eric Reid and Carlos Hyde could be acquired. Reid is every bit as athletic as Derwin James but some teams might be put off by his connection to the protest movement. That won’t be an issue in Seattle and he could be willing to sign a one or two year ‘prove-it’ deal to play strong safety. Hyde would be a perfect hedge for the draft and might be cheap given his age and production. Another option could be Marqise Lee. In a competitive receiver market, Lee could be forced to sign a one-year deal similar to Alshon Jeffery and Terrelle Pryor a year ago.

— The strength of the draft in the early rounds is clear — OL, RB, LB. The Seahawks might take one of each if they acquire extra picks. The third day of the draft appears set to provide some value on the D-line and secondary. So use the early picks to finally repair the run and consider either some help for Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright or a SAM/LEO.

— Seriously consider selecting Billy Price, Isaiah Wynn or Ronald Jones II with your first pick. These three players stand out in a big way and would significantly boost Seattle’s offense and running game. Repairing the run has to be a key priority this off-season.

— Adding a LEO also seems crucial, especially if Cliff Avril departs. There are options in this draft. If they want to take one early, they could look at Boston College’s Harold Landry. Rutgers’ Kemoko Turay and Georgia’s Lorenzo Carter could be good options in the middle rounds. Keep an eye on the 10-yard splits at the combine (especially anyone who runs in the 1.5’s).

— Make a point of drafting another ‘Y’ tight end. Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson are both free agents so this position requires some attention. The jury’s still out on Nick Vannett. They could look for another athletic mismatch in the passing game or a red zone dynamo to replace Graham but if they’re serious about fixing the run — another in-line TE who can block wouldn’t go amiss. Stanford’s Dalton Schultz and Notre Dame’s Durham Smythe are two great options. I’m going to study Washington’s Will Dissly this week.

— Use the middle and later rounds to bring in highly competitive, young defensive players. Speed, toughness, size, length, attitude — the foundation of Seattle’s initial charge under Pete Carroll. If the early rounds are rich for interior offensive linemen, running backs and linebackers — the later rounds will provide some options at cornerback, safety and D-line. Would they work with a misguided talent like LSU’s Kevin Toliver at corner? He’s a former five-star recruit who might last into their preferred range for cornerbacks (R4-6). Will they find the athleticism of Virginia’s Andrew Brown, NC State’s Kentavius Street or Florida State’s Josh Sweat appealing? How early will Georgia’s Lorenzo Carter and South Carolina State’s Darius Leonard go? Is there a safety or two they like, possibly Jessie Bates III, Terrell Edmunds or Kyzir White for example? Is Kemoko Turay a great option to play LEO? And will they see new potential leaders in players like Ohio State’s Tyquan Lewis or Auburn’s Jeff Holland?

— Create a proper competitive environment. The draft and free agency needs to be the starting point. Heated competition needs to return to Seattle across the board. Look at the way they churned in 2010 to find the initial pieces to build around. That continued deep into 2012 when Russell Wilson beat out Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson to start at quarterback. It’s been a great run but with so many established starters, there wasn’t much room for competition apart from the jobs on special teams or deciding who was the fourth or fifth running back on the roster. True, legitimate competition needs to return. Multiple starting positions need to be up for grabs.

— Lean on key players during what could be a transition year. The Seahawks under Carroll will never have an accepted ‘off year’. They will go for it every season. They also think long term. Change is coming and it’s time to find new stars and move on from some of the older players. It might benefit the Seahawks to have some new names fighting on the field to make an impression. They’ll still need to depend on some key veterans. Bobby Wagner, Doug Baldwin, Duane Brown and Russell Wilson could be tasked with this challenge.

— A possible plan could be: R1 — OL or RB (Price, Wynn, Jones II), R2/3 — OL or RB (Ragnow, Corbett, Chubb), LEO or SAM/LEO (Turay, Carter, Leonard), R4 — TE (Schultz or Smythe), R5-7 — DL, DB. This would obviously depend on picks being acquired. It would allow the Seahawks to address their running game early and add young talent to the defense.

— Unlike in previous years, however, there’s still a lot of clarity needed before projecting what could happen. Who is staying/going? What picks are they going to have? That ‘plan’ above could look very different in a month.

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How much work does Seattle’s O-line require?

February 17th, 2018 | Written by Rob Staton

It’s a complex question and there are many layers to the answer.

It’s possible the existing group will grow and improve. Will they take a big step forward under the guidance of Mike Solari? Do some of the players, like Germain Ifedi and Ethan Pocic, just need time? And will Duane Brown’s veteran experience help bring things together?

At the same time, you could easily build a case for making big changes. Is Ifedi ever going to be a long term solution at guard or tackle? Is Pocic good enough? Why were there so many errors and missed assignments? Does the responsibility lie with Tom Cable or do the players share the blame for not executing?

Did the running backs contribute in making the O-line look worse than it was? We know Russell Wilson occasionally runs himself into trouble, so how many bad reads were the running backs making?

You could write a piece arguing absolutely anything about the O-line and make it seem logical. Let Solari work with this group before judging, give Ifedi another year, bring in a veteran left guard, draft a left guard, blow the whole thing up and start again. Nothing should be off the table.

They probably don’t want to re-start the whole thing. After all, they’ve spent so much. Justin Britt wasn’t just a second round pick, they’ve also given him a $9m a year contract. Ifedi and Pocic were first and second rounders. Brown cost a second and third round pick.

Has any other team invested more in their O-line? This has been a concerted effort to fix a problem. And yet it remains mostly unfixed. The Seahawks have shown they don’t necessarily need the Dallas Cowboys O-line to succeed. Look at 2013. They do need a line that functions, however. One that isn’t a liability.

And in the post-Marshawn Lynch era they can’t rely on a future Hall-of-Famer to make up the difference.

A degree of ruthlessness is required. Brown will remain at left tackle. It’d make sense to let George Fant compete with Germain Ifedi at right tackle. They have some options at the position, so another high pick at tackle seems unlikely.

The interior is the big question mark, as evidenced by this tweet:

Seattle didn’t run the ball well enough up the middle. If you look at the results running to the left or right, the difference between the Seahawks and Rams is minimal. Yet Los Angeles and Todd Gurley averaged 3.02 yards before contact running up the middle compared to Seattle’s paltry 0.82 yards (#31 in the league).

That’s where the serious debate needs to happen, especially approaching a draft class filled with interior O-line talent. The first two or three rounds are really appealing at guard and center.

If the Seahawks trade Earl Thomas for a first round pick, would anyone really argue if they spent their two first rounders on Billy Price and Isaiah Wynn? It’d be a serious infusion of talent to the interior. It might not be the best use of resources given what they’ve spent on the O-line already but would it finally solve a big problem once and for all?

Such a scenario might be unlikely. Appealing but unlikely. Yet it’s the kind of conversation that is worth having. If they’re going to eat some bad contracts on defense in an attempt to get younger — do they need to eat some money and picks on the O-line to get better?

Will anything aid the Seahawks more than the ability to field a dominant run game in 2018? Look what it did for Dallas in 2016. They didn’t have a star-studded defense but were still able to control games thanks to a creative, mobile quarterback, Ezekiel Elliott and a terrific O-line.

Seattle has a proven track record of developing defensive talent. Would you bet against Pete Carroll being able to field a complimentary defense for a new, supercharged running game?

It’s something to think about during this horrible pre-combine void.

We’ve talked a lot about Wynn and Price. They along with Ronald Jones II are very appealing in round one if the Seahawks are serious about focusing on improving their running game.

Wynn is without doubt the most unflappable offensive lineman I’ve watched since starting the blog nearly ten years ago. His senior year at Georgia was an exercise in calmness, control and sheer dominance. He isn’t a big physical powerhouse like Quenton Nelson, destined to be the second coming of Steve Hutchinson. He might be, however, an unheralded star at a time when the league badly needs solid and consistent O-line play. Wynn was the best player at the Senior Bowl. I’m not sure it was all that close.

Jones II is as close to Jamaal Charles as you’ll ever find in a player. They are eerily similar. He’s smaller than Seattle has drafted for the position in the past yet he’s incredibly tough and physical. He’s a star in the making with a major X-factor very few players possess.

I wanted to spend some more time today, however, talking about Price. We’ve discussed his physical traits and playing style before. He’s going to surprise people at the combine with his power and explosive athleticism. He plays at maximum intensity, launching himself into the game and setting the tone. He’s a relentless ball of power, occasionally playing with some reckless abandon but more often than not having the ability to play within the scheme and execute some very technical double teams and blitz pick-ups.

If you watched Taylor Lewan against Seattle in week three and thought — ‘I want that type of O-liner on our team’ — Price has that kind of edge and nasty.

Need evidence?

He’s also comfortable on the move:

This second clip of Price pulling is even better. Look how smooth he is to the second level and delivers a key block:

The block below is exactly the type of thing you want to see when watching these interior O-liners. Price plants the anchor and is just immovable — there’s no push or inch given against the pass rusher. This is pure lower body power and strength:

There’s one other way he stands out though and this could be important for Seattle. Too often in the last couple of years there have been mistakes. Missed assignments, players not working as a collective group. Price is an organiser. So while he’d bring a toughness to Seattle’s O-line he might also help the group function.

Watch the video below from 30 seconds in and listen to his answer about transitioning from guard to center. Here’s the quote in full:

“I’m kind of the voice of the offensive line, myself and Jamarco (Jones). There’s a lot of things that I have to make sure I understand completely otherwise we’ll go out on the field and look like idiots and that’s something I can’t let our boys do.”

I’m not trying to suggest for a second that Justin Britt isn’t capable of this or is responsible for the mistakes that happen on the O-line. Britt might talk in a similar fashion when quizzed on this subject. After all, like Price he switched to become a guard.

Yet having experienced Seattle’s errors on the O-line like everyone else for two years, you can’t help but listen to Price here and wonder if this is a solution. Can he come in, lead Seattle’s O-line the way he did Ohio State’s and avoid, to use his words, letting his boys ‘look like idiots’.

Urban Meyer clearly has a lot of respect for Price:

After an absolute shellacking by Iowa during the 2017 season, Price took it upon himself to deliver a crucial speech in the locker room after the game. Meyer has credited that speech as a catalyst for turning around Ohio State’s fortunes. They went on to win the BIG 10 and nearly qualified for the college football playoffs despite that hammering by the Hawkeyes.

Watch how Price carries himself during practise, assuming a leadership role:

This is an interesting film session with Price, where he talks about blocking and his duties as the center:

There’s an awful lot to like. He’s an organiser, he takes responsibility for the group. Maybe they need that type of leader?

He’s also durable, starting well over 50 consecutive games at Ohio State. It’s the one big edge he has over Isaiah Wynn who is currently recovering from a torn labrum and won’t workout at the combine.

The Seahawks have an opportunity to improve their much maligned running game this year. The options are there in the draft — this is a strong class at running back and interior O-line in the early rounds. There’s also enough defensive talent from round three onwards to feel comfortable waiting on that side of the ball. There’s even 2-3 really good blocking tight ends to further improve the running game.

They’re probably going to be aggressive in making changes to the defense. It’ll be interesting to see how aggressive they are changing the O-line too.

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What constitutes jaw dropping change?

February 15th, 2018 | Written by Rob Staton

Gee Scott predicted ‘jaw dropping change’ during a piece on 710 ESPN recently. Here’s what he said:

“When were the Seahawks most successful? They were most successful when Pete Carroll first got here and he says, ‘hey — I’m going to get a bunch of guys that believe and are all bought into me. So I’m going to draft that way.’ So even the folks that were here, they’re really like, ‘ah this Pete Carroll guy we don’t know about him.’ Well that’s OK because I’m going to draft the Earl Thomas’, the Kam Chancellor’s, the Richard Sherman’s, the Russell Wilson’s and so forth.

“Now with that being said, Pete Carroll’s about to do it all over again. Hence the reason why he made the huge changes with the coaching staff. And remember I said this — I’m going to say it right now. (voice rasies) There are about to be huge changes with this Seahawks team. I’m talking about jaw dropping changes to this Seahawks team. This is going to be a young team, it’s going to be unrecognisable. But at the end of the day, whoever is left still standing are people who I believe Pete Carroll thinks is going to buy in with what’s going on in the future.”

Change is expected. Mike Silver originally touched on it. The players themselves have discussed it. The extent of the churn is yet to be determined.

What would ‘unrecognisable’ actually look like?

There’s already an expectation that Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor will retire or at least move on. A recent report from Ian Rapoport claiming Chancellor intends to continue playing deserves context. There’s a difference between an intention and being permitted to continue. This remains a situation that will be resolved by the doctors. Pete Carroll has stated it’ll be very difficult for either Avril or Chancellor to continue playing.

Michael Bennett has also admitted he doesn’t expect to be back.

These moves wouldn’t be all that surprising or jaw dropping.

Things get serious if Earl Thomas is dealt. He spoke at the Pro-Bowl and at the very least hinted at the possibility of a hold out if he doesn’t get an extension. It does feel like one way or another, Thomas’ future will be resolved before the draft. Either he signs a new extension or the Seahawks look for a deal. They won’t give him away, however. So theoretically he could stay on his current contract. It’s probably not an ideal scenario for either party, however.

Considering the weak options at safety this year, Thomas could be in-demand.

It’s also quite an unspectacular cornerback class which could mean relative interest in Richard Sherman. Considering his injury situation and contract status (one year remaining) he’s unlikely to provide any kind of value. Yet Mike Silver did say this in his piece on the Seahawks when he predicted major change on the defense:

Sherman, who tore his Achilles tendon in November, will be 30 next spring and is due to make $11 million (with a $13.2 million salary-cap number). The Seahawks shopped him in trades a year ago and are expected to move forward without him in 2018.

Sherman and Thomas departing, on top of Bennett, Avril and Chancellor would be major change. The entire defensive core, minus Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, would be out the door. Legends would be departing. It would be the end of an era — for the NFL and the Seahawks.

It would, however, leave them with significant cap room to make moves in free agency. And they would likely acquire extra draft picks, providing an opportunity to address needs (running game) and start the remake on defense.

Not everyone will be in favour of this level of change. Increasingly, however, it feels possible.

A change in approach?

Whatever happens, it feels like the Seahawks are on the brink of going back to their 2010 roots. Competition was at the heart of everything. Constant roster churn, no stone unturned. Carroll and Schneider really went after the roster build.

If you didn’t pull your weight (Lendale White) you were gone. It was a ruthless yet fair approach. It created an immediate culture.

In recent years, Seattle has been less about competition and more about rewarding stalwarts.

Few argued against the Bennett and Chancellor extensions at the time (I certainly didn’t) yet both, with hindsight, were ill-advised. The thinking was clear. This was a competitive team still capable of competing. Change? It wasn’t needed. Rewarding great players felt like the right thing to do.

The cliff face came abruptly as the injuries piled up in 2017. Suddenly Seattle looked like an old team. Not the vibrant, aggressive, energetic bunch that took on the league and won from 2011 onwards.

Both players deserved a reward. Sometimes, however, there’s a fine balance between what’s best for the player and the team. There’ll be a significant dead cap hit when both eventually depart (quite possibly in the next few weeks).

Justin Britt’s extension also comes with a question mark. The Ethan Pocic pick a year ago looked like a hedge. Perhaps even a hint that Seattle was prepared to let Britt test the water in free agency.

Instead, he signed a deal worth $9m a year. It’s debatable whether he’d get $9m a year on the open market after a so-so 2017 season.

His dead cap hit to part ways this off-season is $5.5m more than his cap hit of $6.16m. The benefit of parting ways in 2019 is also minimal. They might be locked into Britt until 2020 unless they want to take on another sizeable dead cap hit.

If the Seahawks want to improve their running game, they need to work on the interior O-line:

That’s not to say this is all on Britt. Competent guard and running back play could be equally as important. Yet the Seahawks wanted to reward Britt for the progress he showed in 2016 and are now committed to another big contract.

Hindsight is a great thing but if the Seahawks had allowed Britt, Bennett and Chancellor to run down their contracts, they’d be about $25m better off in cap space this off-season.

The Seahawks need fewer of these deals and more competition. More players fighting to get the big money. And when those players reach a point where it’s time to talk contract, they need to be ruthless. Fewer third contracts, paying the best big money and being prepared, sometimes, to move on.

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Monday notes: Jeff Holland, Steven Mitchell Jr & more

February 13th, 2018 | Written by Rob Staton

Before we get started if you missed it yesterday, check out the Seahawkers podcast this week. There’s a ton of draft info from 12:37 in…

On to the notes. Featured today: Jeff Holland, Steven Mitchell Jr, Ronald Jones II and Derwin James…

— Auburn finished the SEC season superbly. They built momentum, rallied after a difficult loss to LSU and suddenly became the team to beat. They absolutely hammered Georgia, then comfortably handled Alabama in the Iron Bowl.

The two teams that eventually met in the Playoff decider — taken apart by Auburn.

They managed it playing a very familiar brand of football to Seattle (at least the 2012-15 version). Point guard quarterback. Fearsome running game. Jacked-up defense playing with their hair on fire, flying to the ball. This was a band of brothers, playing together with all three units connecting. The defense danced, celebrated and set the tone. It was like watching the LOB in 2013.

I remember thinking at the time — this is what the Seahawks used to be like. That energy, the physicality. It was a Gus Malzahn offense but at the heart of everything was a very classic combination of good running game and great defense.

If they want to get back to that — tapping into that Auburn spirit could be a possibility.

They’re not alone of course. Georgia got to the final with the same kind of ingredients. Alabama always play defense and run the ball. It’ll be interesting to see how many players the Seahawks cherry pick from those three schools.

The player I wanted to highlight today is EDGE rusher Jeff Holland.

He’s not the biggest (listed by ESPN at 6-2 and 250lbs) and it’s fair to say he’s not going to win Mr. Universe. He looks quite unremarkable in terms of his physique. He’s not the biggest or fastest.

Yet every time I watched Auburn in 2017, he stood out. He finished the season with 10 sacks, 13 TFL’s and four forced fumbles. Holland is a high-intensity, physical, fierce pass rusher with quickness off the snap. For his size he isn’t a liability against the run.

His best quality, however, is hand technique. His ability to use a two-handed swipe is highly impressive. He can rip and swim and he can beat a tackle off the edge with lean. Hand use continues to be one of the more lesser talked about features in the media — but it’s vital for a pass rusher. Holland spent a lot of time learning this skill:

Not being the biggest, fastest or most impressive athlete might dent Holland’s stock. He might not be on Seattle’s radar as a consequence. Yet there is talent to work with here and Holland did as much as anybody to embody the spirit of Auburn’s charged-up defense.

Look at this effort in pursuit (he’s #4):

On the first play he chases down the running back on a pitch, sprinting from the left hand side of the line to the right. On the second play he bullies the tackle before slamming down the quarterback on a draw.

Here’s an example of his hand use and how it keeps his frame clean and helps him get around the edge to the QB:

That’s the same play from different angles (broadcast & all-22). Look at the way he chops his hands at the tackle and stays clean.

He doesn’t have to use his hands. He has enough lean to get around the arc:

Here’s a clip where he uses the depth of the tackles’ drop to his advantage, jolts him off balance and beats him:

How is he working the goal line against the run? No touchdown here for Derrius Guice:

The Seahawks might need some of this attitude going forward:

Holland isn’t loaded with upside. He isn’t Frank Clark, Bruce Irvin or Cliff Avril. Unremarkable size and length. He probably won’t have an amazing combine. Admittedly, this would be a change of pace for the Seahawks. Against the bigger, stronger and quicker athletes at the next level, he might be less impactful.

He’s still intriguing in the middle rounds and you wouldn’t bet against this guy. Maybe they need one or two overachievers? You’re not going to have to worry about him being ‘all-in’. He might be able to fill a leadership void down the line. And if the Seahawks are moving on without Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, they’ll need to find some possible options to help the pass rush.

And he can do this:

— I haven’t spent much time studying him yet but I wanted to mention USC receiver Steven Mitchell Jr. He can be a ferocious and committed blocker. I’m not sure if he’ll be on Seattle’s radar but USC’s #4 kept showing up on Ronald Jones II’s runs. He had 644 yards and four touchdowns in 2017. He’s only 5-10 and 194lbs (per ESPN). Mitchell Jr is willing to hit though and do some of the dirty work. He seems to take a great deal of enjoyment from blocking (often celebrating after a key block). In SPARQ testing he managed a score of 107.34 with a 33.5 inch vertical and a 4.55 forty. He’ll need to run faster than that at the combine but based on his tenacity he might be a name to remember.

Here are some highlights:

— Speaking of Ronald Jones II, there’s yet more evidence why he could easily be a first round target for the Seahawks. Fumble rates are very important. Dane Brugler has worked out how each running back in the draft ranks. Jones II has the third best fumble rate in the class. Ball security is key and it’s another big positive next to his uncanny similarity to Jamaal Charles (also note LSU’s Darrel Williams at the top, a late round option for Seattle).

This is also an interesting series of tweets/clips highlighting his play using all-22:

To follow the full strand of Tweets in this review, click here. Jones II is a special player. In the past, with the Seahawks picking later in round one, we’d be having a conversation about him being off the board by their pick. We had similar conversations about Haason Reddick, Sheldon Rankins, Garret Bolles, Keanu Neal, Odell Beckham Jr and others. Players initially projected by the media as first or second round types but ultimately they go much earlier. Jones II, to me, is a legit top-20 prospect.

— We’ve spent a lot of time talking about Derwin James but one more note won’t hurt. James was invited to participate in an online game of Madden 18 on the PS4 over the weekend. He accepted the challenge against a Florida State fan, noting he would donate a pair of his cleats if he was beaten.

As you can see James won somewhat comfortably. The interesting thing is he chose to play as the Seahawks. It could be nothing. It could be something. Who knows. It’s February and there’s no harm in a bit of speculation to pass the time.


Talking draft: Seahawkers Podcast appearance

February 12th, 2018 | Written by Rob Staton

We cover a lot of ground here including potential Seahawks picks from the Senior Bowl, what it would take to stick with the #18 pick and why the Seahawks should consider spending an early pick on a running back.

There’s also a strand on what to look for at the combine in terms of the different positions relating to the Seahawks.

There’s plenty of info here and I’d really appreciate it if you check it out — I’m on from 12:37 in…


Saturday notes: Run-draft, Dalton Schultz & Keke Coutee

February 10th, 2018 | Written by Rob Staton

— The Seahawks haven’t had a running game crisis like this since the end of the 2010 season. Pete Carroll stated, clearly, at the end of that season that fixing it would be a priority. He made similar noises in his latest press conference. The response in 2011? Seattle spent their first two draft picks on James Carpenter and John Moffitt. When the lockout concluded, they signed Zach Miller and Robert Gallery.

When the Seahawks have a need they tend to go after it aggressively. And this is, clearly I think, Seattle’s biggest problem. Carroll will coach up and field a capable defense. Without the running game, one of they key focal points of his identity isn’t there. The circle is incomplete.

It’s still very early in the process. Things will change. There’s a reason, however, that we’ve spent an increasing amount of time looking at Ronald Jones II, Isaiah Wynn and Billy Price for their first pick. These are three of the players that give you a chance to properly address the running game and take the offense forward.

If they ended up trading Earl Thomas and acquiring another high pick, it wouldn’t be a total surprise if they added two of Jones II, Wynn and Price. Just at they targeted Carpenter and Moffitt in 2011.

There are defensive options that could be appealing. Maurice Hurst, Derwin James. Others too. Yet fixing the run is absolutely crucial. And Jones II, Wynn and Price are all worthy of top-25 consideration.

— With Jimmy Graham almost certainly on the way out and Luke Willson also a free agent, the Seahawks have to do something at tight end. That could be a free agent pick-up but it could also be a draft pick. Following the Graham experiment, it feels like they’re more likely to target a tight end who can block.

We’ve talked about Notre Dame’s Durham Smythe. He’s a classic ‘Y’ tight end and has shown a strong ability to feature as a blocker. At the Senior Bowl he also impressed mightily as a pass catcher. He’s well sized with a good character.

Smythe is one to watch. He has short arms though — not ideal for blocking at the line or competing for difficult red zone catches. The tight end class across the board is a bit overrated and Seattle’s options might be quite narrow. Thankfully, there’s a Stanford tight end who could also provide a solution.

Dalton Schultz is a terrific blocker. Look at the play below. Schultz goes 1v1 with the DE. He stones him at the LOS and then dumps him to the ground and finishes the block:

This is what the Seahawks need. A tight end who can actually excel as a blocker.

The difference between Schultz and Smythe appears to be length. Schutlz is tall and long but lighter (estimated to be 242lbs). Yet his ability to keep his frame clean, lock on and sustain blocks is crucial. Here’s what Lance Zierlein noted when watching Schultz:

Very tenacious and tough as a blocker. Well-schooled in blocking fundamentals. Leaned on as vital part of the run blocking unit. Initial hand placement is good. Ability to sustain and finish. Improves positioning after contact and can generate some movement at point of attack without a double team. Gave it to USC’s Rasheem Green on more than a couple of snaps when matched head to head.

Statistically Schultz has not been a big feature. Stanford have long been a run-heavy team and if anything that has increased since the Andrew Luck days. Schultz’s main responsibility is to block. I don’t think you can read too much into his paltry 555 receiving yards and five touchdowns in three seasons. He’s done what he’s been asked to do.

It could actually work in Seattle’s favour. While the rest of the league is looking for big slot receivers acting as tight ends, we know the Seahawks want to play a more classical style. They drafted Nick Vannett in round three. They might be able to land Schultz in a similar range.

There are solutions in this draft class for the Seahawks. A long list of running backs. A similarly long list of interior lineman. Now two good tight ends that excel at blocking. If ever there was a year to try and fix the running game, the 2018 draft could provide a jump start.

Here’s another video highlighting some of Schultz’s talents as a receiver/blocker:

— One other name to perhaps keep an eye on is Texas Tech receiver Keke Coutee. This isn’t a particularly exciting draft in terms of legit first round talent — but there are plenty of intriguing names for the middle and later rounds. Coutee could be one of those gems where a few years down the line, you wonder how he lasted as long as he did. Take a look:

Finally — if you missed it yesterday I was invited onto the Tasteful Profanity podcast. Have a listen using the box below:

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Tasteful Profanity podcast appearance

February 9th, 2018 | Written by Rob Staton

If you need something to listen to this Friday, check out the Tasteful Profanity podcast. I was invited on to talk about the draft and was also warned to expect some ‘off-the-wall’ questions. There are most definitely some of those too. I’m not often lost for words so this was a unique experience for me. Give it a listen and if you want to subscribe to the podcast via Itunes, you can do so by clicking here.