Instant reaction: Hahahaha! Niners

December 5th, 2021 | Written by Rob Staton

Join Rob & Robbie now to have a good laugh at the 49ers…

 

Scheduling notes for tonight

December 5th, 2021 | Written by Rob Staton

Hi all — I am working on BBC national radio again tonight for Pittsburgh vs Baltimore so won’t be able to dedicate my time to the Niners game. There will still be a post-game live stream but there won’t be an immediate ‘instant reaction’ blog post.

 

Curtis Allen’s week thirteen watch points (vs San Francisco)

December 4th, 2021 | Written by Rob Staton

Note: This is a guest post by Curtis Allen and the latest piece in a weekly series. Curtis looks at the Seahawks and their opponents and discusses key factors…

The Pete Carroll era in Seattle is tortuously grinding to an undignified end. The Seahawks sit at 3-8 and all proclamations – from the head coach down to the players – about competing and winning are ringing hollow. The NFL is a results-driven business and they have failed to deliver results.

How badly? It is Week Thirteen and the team has one win at home. The last time anything like this happened? 1992, when they beat Denver on…Week Thirteen. Everyone knows that season as the one the team bottomed out with a franchise-worst 2-14 record.

To make matters worse, just like last week, the Seahawks are facing a foe that is riding a three-game winning streak of impressive performances.

San Francisco has been playing extremely clean and effective football in wins over the Rams, Jaguars and Vikings in their last three games. A quick look at the reasons behind their success:

Those are fantastic numbers and they spell real trouble for the time-of-possession challenged Seahawks. In order to succeed, they will need to find a way to break the patterns they find themselves in.

How can the Seahawks deliver a win and begin to build some momentum in order to close the season with at least some positivity? We’ll have a look in this week’s watch points.

Note: Several themes are culled from Week Four’s post against the Niners, which is fitting since the Seahawks are still struggling with many of the same issues raised.

Curtis Allen’s week four watch points (vs 49ers)

Do not allow easy yards on defense

One of the real keys to the Niners’ success in the last three games is they are limiting Jimmy Garoppolo’s exposure. In those three games, he only has 67 passes thrown, or an average of 22 passes per game. That is his sweet spot, as he cannot carry this offense effectively. In that same stretch he only has one interception, and only five passes defended. He also gets good support from his team, from Kyle Shanahan coaching easy throws into the offense and his receivers being among the league leaders in fewest passes dropped.

I wrote this in Week Four:

At this point in his NFL career, the die has been cast with Garoppolo. He is a good quarterback but not a great one. He can work with a system but elevating his team with his play is beyond his capability.

San Francisco has acknowledged this by mortgaging the future to get Trey Lance in the draft.

In the meantime, Shanahan has to work with Garoppolo much in the same manner that Sean McVay had to with Jared Goff. Plan an offense around him that does not ask too much of him, with many short passes that do not require pinpoint accuracy and decision-making.

You will get a few different things — some wildly creative runs set up by motion, a few quick throws behind the line of scrimmage to the playmaking wide receivers and screen pass after screen pass. Shanahan only asks Jimmy to throw past the sticks about 5-7 times per game because he is not accurate and is prone to turnovers, particularly when pressured.

They must force more of the offensive weight onto Garoppolo by minimizing the run and yards after the catch in the passing game.

A primary target for the Seahawk defense will be Elijah Mitchell.

The sixth-round rookie missed the Week Four matchup but has been a revelation this season for the Niners. In the last two games he has 54 runs for 224 yards, eleven first downs and a touchdown. He has supplemented those numbers with five catches for 35 yards, a first down and a touchdown.

He currently sits fourth in the NFL among running backs with at least 100 rushes with 2.4 yards per carry after contact and he has eleven broken tackles.

Deebo Samuel has also been extremely effective in the run game, with a sparkling performance against the Vikings with six runs for 66 yards and two touchdowns. It appears a groin injury will keep him out of Sunday’s game. That is a huge loss for the Niner offense, and the Seahawks will need to take advantage of his absence.

One way the Seahawks can be effective against Garoppolo? Flooding coverage behind the line of scrimmage.

Garoppolo’s numbers against the blitz are sparkling this season:

Every meaningful stat tells us the Seahawks are better off just rushing with the front four (no matter how bad that sounds) and deploying seek-and-destroy weapons like Ryan Neal and Jamal Adams to minimize runs and keep the run and quick misdirection-style passing game in check.

For all of this to work though, the team absolutely must be resolved to playing tough, committed defense.

Plays like this must be avoided at all costs:

Watch George Kittle. He acquires Quandre Diggs like a heat-seeking missile and drives him from the three-yard line about seven yards deep into the end zone.

Mohamed Sanu on Ugo Amadi. Kyle Juszczyk on D.J.Reed. All those blocks are well-executed, and there is only one defender that is completely free to make a play…

Bobby Wagner.

Look at this screen grab here:

As Samuel is crossing the 11-yard line, Bobby has correctly diagnosed the play. He is advancing from the 2-yard line to intercept.

What are the chances Bobby makes that tackle and keeps Deebo out of the end zone?

From Wagner’s rookie year up until 2018, 99.99%. Bet the house.

In 2019-2020? 75%. Very solid bet.

This year? The number is dipping fast.

Bobby’s attempt here is so uncharacteristic it is shocking. You expect him to lay the wood on this play – Samuel is perfectly lined up and Wagner has all the room in the world to wind up and lower his shoulder and punish him for daring to run into his area, let alone try to score a touchdown.

Instead, he appears to jog in, goes for his feet, and Samuel powers right through and fights into the end zone. The lack of emotion displayed after missing a tackle so badly, again, is strangely uncharacteristic.

I do not know what the issue is. Fatigue, an undisclosed injury, some lack of motivation due to their dreadful season, or something else. Maybe he is anticipating Ugo Amadi comes off that Sanu block better and eases up in pursuit?

But it is emblematic of the defense we have been seeing lately. To have a chance at success, they must tackle with more effort and keep the Niners from protecting their glaring weakness at quarterback.

Give Russell Wilson some assistance

The offensive line this year has been challenged to keep Russell Wilson clean. Facing a tough San Francisco pass rush provides a serious roadblock to throwing the ball and moving it effectively.

We all saw that happen in Week Four. Here are the game highlights:

Wilson was sacked three times and chased from the pocket by the pass rush several times in the first half alone. While he will occasionally escape the onslaught and make a breathtaking play (7:20), the Seahawks would be wise to devise some plays to help him be not so much of a sitting duck in the pocket.

When they got a slick little leak-screen play to Collins (4:26) the offense got going. They then let Russell roll out and give him time to assess his options and then run for a first down (5:26).

And Russell’s ‘fine I’ll do it myself’ touchdown run was a thing of beauty (6:30).

As I wrote last week, getting Russell’s legs and some adrenaline involved early in the game can only benefit the Seahawks. It can open up all kinds of options.

One of those options is play-action passes. Have a look at NextGen Stats’ analysis on Russell’s play-action success against the Niners in Week Four.

Is play-action success predicated on first ‘establishing the run’ as Pete Carroll often alludes to? No it is not:

The play-action pass is the best play in football

If the Seahawks insist on rolling out an offense that continually puts Russell Wilson in harm’s way and makes him the only option for success as a team, they are dooming themselves to repeat this cycle they seem locked in.

Another way to help Wilson out is by running the ball more effectively than they have been.

Attack the middle of the defense

This is another callback from Week Four’s watch points:

San Francisco has a defense that makes excellent use of their top players. They are creative and are schemed so well they appear to have twelve players on the field at times. They can simultaneously blitz and have deep support. They can rely on their front four to cause problems for the quarterback and flood coverage to clog the throwing lanes. They have options and a creative defensive coordinator.

However, there is a demonstrated spot in this defense that can and has been exploited so far in 2021 — right up the gut. And the Seahawks are well positioned to attack it.

The Seahawks had some success rushing inside on the Niners in Week Four:

They should have some opportunities to build on that with word that linebacker star Fred Warner is out and Dre Greenlaw in serious doubt to play Sunday.

The team must be able to exploit these missing players. Kyle Fuller was the center for that game, as Ethan Pocic was still recovering from injury. He has been a slight upgrade, and a good game from him would be a godsend this week. Hopefully Damien Lewis can return this week at Left Guard, and the Seahawks can open some holes for the runners to get to the second level and take advantage of the backups playing.

Get D.K. Metcalf on track

The Seahawks have tied themselves in knots with Metcalf.

Clearly, not getting the ball to your rising superstar until the fourth quarter – as they did last week against Washington – is unacceptable. Pete Carroll has no answers. He says they had ‘looks’ for him but they were not advantageous.

The problem here is that he is clearly a talented player and able to change the face of how the defense plays the rest of the game. Yet by waiting until late in the game to start targeting him, they both frustrate the player and could disrupt their rhythm by forcing throws his way that may not be there.

As well, by forcing a throw to Metcalf after ignoring him for the bulk of the game, they telegraph their intentions and open themselves up for real trouble:

To avoid all this, they need to get Metcalf involved early and often.

Look at some of the highlights from Week Four:

At 4:40, we see the Seahawks lined up on third and 1. Metcalf gives Emmanuel Moseley a little jam as if he is run-blocking and then takes off on a simple crossing route, leaving Moseley in the dust for an easy-as-pie Russell Wilson throw for a nice gain.

The next play at 4:50, Metcalf is lined up in the slot over a linebacker. Wilson wipes the drool off his mouth, lets Metcalf shimmy him out of position and then power over Jimmy Ward for a touchdown. The Seahawks absolutely need to move Metcalf into the slot more often to find these kinds of mismatches.

At 6:16, they set up a simple screen play, bring Duane Brown out to lead the way and Metcalf has a nice gain. Moseley diagnoses the play and breaks on it and smartly tries to tackle Metcalf low but misses.

All of these plays are makeable for the Seahawks, especially early in the game. They just cannot treat Metcalf like any other player on the roster. If he gets going early, the defense is forced to adjust and that opens up all kinds of options, even in the run game.

Of course, not all of this is on quarterback or the offensive playcaller. Metcalf needs to establish himself as a stone-lock reliable target. That includes fighting for contested balls. See 5:38 in the video. Wilson slightly underthrows Metcalf but that is a catchable ball. Moseley knocks it away to kill a drive.

Contested balls are currently Metcalf’s kryptonite. He needs to come down with more of those to truly take the next step in his ascension.

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Friday notes: Debating is fun, plus more draft/Seahawks

December 3rd, 2021 | Written by Rob Staton

Robust debate is always best

It was brought to my attention this week that I was called an arse hole by Nathan Ernst during an episode of ‘Real Hawk Talk‘. The two people co-hosting appeared to agree.

My crime, at least in this instance, was to post a YouTube video revealing what I thought was a lack of effort from Jamal Adams and Bobby Wagner on a handful of plays, while highlighting their combined average salaries are $35.5m a year.

Not being one to let a barb like that lie, I felt obliged to write a response.

Firstly, I’ve disagreed plenty of times with the Hawkblogger crew. I’ve said as much on some streams or comments — or I’ve tweeted them directly (especially Brian). I like to think it’s always presented as argument vs argument — even if some of those challenges are robust. I always think you’re better off just cutting to the chase — although I’ll happily admit that striking the right tone in 220 characters is not a strong point for me and I’m a better ‘debater’ as a talker.

Ernst used a slightly different debating tactic here, opting for the two-word (rather than one-fingered) salute. He justified it by suggesting it was outrageous to question effort (seemingly ever) because these players play a particularly physical sport professionally. He ended by telling me to ‘shut the hell up’.

So in the case of Wagner — if a player has an excellent career, good enough to earn a deal worth $17-20m on the cap — you’re never allowed to question their effort on certain plays simply because of the sport they are playing? Even if what you see on tape points you in that direction?

It’s basically putting a shield around the players.

The thing is — let’s say I’d simply used the word ‘performance’ instead of ‘effort’ in the video. If I’d said — ‘is this performance good enough?’ and then shown the clips, does it really make any difference? The evidence implies a lack of effort. That would be the conclusion you’d come to watching the plays.

I don’t think this is a taboo subject. You can both admire the warrior-like achievements of players and then question whether their effort matches their salary down the line.

I don’t watch all-22 tape very often. I did go back and watch Wagner in particular for multiple games and I noticed a trend that he was hesitant on plays. He seemed to be avoiding contact a lot more than I expected to see.

He was not playing with urgency. There’s one play against Jacksonville for example, which isn’t in the video, where he’s reading a bootleg, sees it’s a carry to the opposite side (no PA). He’s peaking at the ball carrier. There’s a lineman who peels to the second level to make a block. Wagner can still see a clear route to the ball-carrier yet he just stands there. You watch it and think, what’s the thought process here?

Here’s one from the last game. Is it wrong to expect a bit more from a player earning $17,150,000?

I don’t think Wagner is a bad player. I do think his play has regressed, I think there are increasing instances on tape where he avoids contact (for whatever reason) and I don’t think you can justify — in any way, shape or form — his 2022 cap hit of $20m.

I also know there are people who understand football a lot more than I do who feel the same way.

No name-calling from me in response. I’ve have had two members of that show on my streams. We’ve not always agreed on everything but we’ve been able to have mature, detailed discussions which, in my opinion, were as good as any Seahawks content available on the internet.

Robust debate may just get us all through the difficult next few months (or it’ll make us all hate each other, one or the other).

Thoughts on two 2022 pass rushers

In the continued search to find out more about the upcoming draft class, I spent time today studying South Carolina’s Kingsley Enagbare and San Diego State’s Cameron Thomas.

Enagbare reminds me of a bigger Yannick Ngakoue. He runs the same move — engaging with his hands, hopping to the side then thrashing out a chop/swim to disengage.

There is a size difference. Enagbare is listed at 265lbs and Ngakoue was 252lbs at his combine. Their body types are different and it’s not a physical comparison. It’s more how they play.

Enagbare doesn’t have top-end speed off the edge but neither did Ngakoue (4.75 forty, 4.50 short shuttle). What he does have is great hand use. He can dip and rip to win at the edge. He uses the push/pull effectively. He times inside moves nicely and he knows how to create pressure and keep himself clean by using his hands.

That alone should earn him a chance to succeed in the NFL. It’s just whether he has enough speed to really challenge NFL blockers.

His speed/power move lacks polish and he often gets tied up in the block. His production is modest — 4.5 sacks in 12 games and seven TFL’s. It’ll be interesting to see how he tests.

I didn’t see a player worthy of some of the top grades people are offering online but that’s starting to feel like the norm with this class. Enagbare is another player who appears destined to be the type of player you’d love to take a chance on during day two but without great testing, it’ll be difficult to bang the table for him any earlier. Lots of potential — but someone you perhaps will ‘like’ not ‘love’.

Cameron Thomas does have the big production this year (20 TFL’s, 10.5 sacks). He’s 6-5 and 270lbs and he does a terrific job when he lines up inside or delivers a stunt. He has a great swim move and shows good hand usage.

He’s incredibly powerful and seems to understand leverage. He has a knack of having bursts of splash plays. In one game I watched, he basically ended the first two drives single-handed by bossing his way into the backfield by combining technical quality with his hands and using speed to finish when the opening emerged.

The one question I have is whether he has a speed rush off the edge. It doesn’t look like he has the club in the bag. That’s the thing that stops you falling for him. His power inside and technical skill are great points — but he’s too small to make a permanent switch to tackle, I’m not sold on him being a 5-tech and he’s going to line up as a power end who reduces inside sometimes.

To pitch him in round one you’d need to see that burst — that raw speed. And it never really comes. There’s a lot to like with Thomas and his production is really impressive in 2021. The difference between him being a day two pick and a first will be testing.

A quick note on the Blazers firing their GM

I wouldn’t read too much into Vulcan Sports making a big call in Portland. There may be similarities between the Blazers and Seahawks but there are also big differences.

I will say this though. Increasingly it feels, to me at least, like there’s some clarity on what is developing here…

1. I think this will be Pete Carroll’s last year. I don’t see him launching what could be a long rebuild, especially given the 2017 reports that he was considering retirement even before the previous reset. I think this will be his final season and despite everything going on now, he will depart a hero.

2. I think if John Schneider stays, he will be of the mind to trade Russell Wilson for picks. I think the aim will be to acquire a young ‘stop-gap’ quarterback in return, as a new search is launched for a long term answer. Yet I also think the Seahawks will ‘be in on any conversation’ for the other veteran quarterbacks available — namely Aaron Rodgers (who, according to Jason La Canfora, has a connection to Schneider due to the Green Bay links). Schneider only signed a new deal last off-season so unless he prefers a change of scenery, ownership might prefer to defer to him as they embark on a post-Carroll era.

3. It’ll be up to Jody Allen and co to decide whether they want to fall in behind Wilson and move on from both Carroll and Schneider (Wilson may prefer a fresh start anyway, making this a moot point). I think the Saints are going to find it difficult to jump into the veteran QB market this off-season and that might nudge Sean Payton to another club — as has been rumoured in the recent past on more than one occasion. A bold move like that could satisfy Wilson and the fan base — and it’s the kind of move you could imagine Paul Allen making — but admittedly it seems overly ambitious today.

4. If Wilson does depart — the Giants and Eagles seem like obvious destinations given their haul of picks in 2022 and the ability to throw in a young quarterback. The only problem is — neither are in range to offer a top-two pick to get one of the elite DE’s and it could mean you’re picking twice among a pool of players similar to the top-end of the 2013 draft (if not worse). You could always trade both picks to move up for Kayvon Thibodeaux or Aidan Hutchinson — but that would be a big move.

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Some thoughts on Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder

December 1st, 2021 | Written by Rob Staton

Desmond Ridder has enjoyed a successful career at Cincinnati

I don’t like that we’re having to break down quarterback tape again but here we are. With the increasing possibility that this team is going to make major changes in the off-season, we’re duty bound to at least look at what’s out there.

Today it’s Desmond Ridder’s turn to get an extended review.

Firstly, he has great velocity on his throws. When he needs to let it rip he does so effectively. He generates power by planting his feet to drive the football into tight windows and into the right areas on an intermediate and deep range.

Of all the quarterbacks in this class, Ridder makes the prettiest throws to chop up and make into a highlights video. Carson Strong has some ‘wow’ moments too — but Ridder is the one who makes completions that raise an eyebrow. He reads a defense well, throws with anticipation, velocity and placement and if you’re looking for special qualities in that regard — he can be exciting at times.

He had two throws against Notre Dame — one to the left sideline and one right down the seam — that were just perfect. Possibly the two best passes I’ve seen this season.

One area where Ridder really stands out is mobility and movement to extend plays. His footwork is superb. He takes smaller steps but is springy in his footwork, enabling him to glide side-to-side while keeping his eyes downfield. He will keep two hands on the ball and he’s reading the field looking for openings while he’s on the move.

There are various examples on tape where he side-steps to the right, back-pedals to the left, moves back to the right and then throws with accuracy and velocity. He had a tremendous play like this against Eastern Michigan recently from deep inside his own half. He is very difficult to contain, he buys himself time and then he can punish opponents with his arm.

His running ability is an asset. He is a good athlete and can be useful on draws and scrambles. He has a blast of acceleration which is unexpected and he can turn up field to make good gains. You can easily imagine him making some frustrating 3rd and 8 conversions simply by breaking contain and getting just enough with his legs.

I do worry a little bit about his frame. He’s listed at 6-4 and 215lbs but he’s quite lean. I’m not sure how he would take to being hit regularly at the next level, so that may limit his usefulness as a runner. Yet I think it’s a positive and he has the ability to take what is given on the ground.

Ridder does an excellent job attacking the middle of the field. The way he throws to tight ends running the seam is impressive. He’s adept at standing in the pocket and throwing with anticipation to his bigger targets.

There are technical flaws. Unlike Strong, he doesn’t always align his feet and shoulders to the direction the football’s being thrown. When he throws to the left his body can be positioned facing to the right. It means when he uncorks to throw, he has to take a long stride with his left leg, coming across his body to plant and throw. This is wasted motion. At the next level those split seconds can be the difference between a deflection or a sack/fumble. It can be the difference between an open receiver being closed down, or a defensive back reading your body language to anticipate the throw.

Ridder spent considerable time last summer — in his words — to make the lower half of his body work with his upper half. There are still some issues to work through here and it does impact his accuracy. Sometimes these habits are fixable. Sometimes you are what you are and my concern with Ridder is his natural throwing technique will mean that while he’s very capable of sensational, eye-catching throws — he’s also going to have plenty of ‘WTF’ high throws and misses.

You see a steady stream of this on tape. He will throw high when stepping up into the pocket and put too much into a pass. Even on little easy dump-off’s or WR screens he will miss high. It’s frustrating to watch at times and you end up having to consider the two contrasting sides of his game. The beautiful, highlight-reel passes and the absolutely maddening easy misses.

He also has a moderate turnover problem. He’s thrown 28 interceptions in four years at Cincinnati. It’s an average of seven per season. It’s not a major problem but it’s been a consistent feature in his career. You’d like to see gradual improvement where the touchdown numbers rise and the interception numbers come down. For Ridder — he kind of is what he is.

Some of those turnovers are careless, too. He had one against Navy this year where he totally misread the coverage and threw it straight to a defensive back, as if he was the target. In the same game, he almost floated a pass right into the hands of a defender on his own 10-yard for what would’ve been an easy pick-six. The linebacker dropped the pass.

He was pressured early against Indiana this year and started throwing off his back-foot. One throw was off-target, tipped and picked. Another was way off-target and could easily have been another interception.

When you watch him play, I’d say about 20% of his throws every game are inaccurate and frustrating. Another 10-20% are exciting and highly impressive. So this is what you’re ultimately going to get. Someone who is capable of maddening play and sheer brilliance over the course of 60 minutes.

He’s a good athlete with a strong arm. He will take chances, have misses and make errors. Ridder’s effective as a runner.

We have to acknowledge how he has elevated Cincinnati to a new level. You want to see that in college. They’ve been good for some time but in 2021 they’re in the playoff hunt and that needs to be highlighted as a positive. He set a school record for touchdown passes and we’re talking about 136 years of Cincinnati football here. So he has achieved a lot in college. His team are 43-6 in his four years and won Bowl games against Virginia Tech and Boston College. They should’ve beaten Georgia in the Peach Bowl last season.

I don’t rate him as highly as Kellen Mond a year ago and he went in round three. I think that is a fair range for Ridder too — maybe even round four. However, I would rather take a chance on him in the middle rounds, put him with a good coordinator and QB coach and try to develop him — than spend a first round pick reaching for one of the other quarterbacks in this class.

There’s something to work with. The upside and potential is clear. There are technical and accuracy issues that need work to make the most of what he does well.

He’s an intriguing prospect. The Senior Bowl is often a king-maker at the position and Ridder has accepted an invitation to Mobile. A strong week could deliver a major boost to his stock.

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Things Seahawks fans need to know about the 2022 draft

November 30th, 2021 | Written by Rob Staton

Aidan Hutchinson will likely be gone by pick #2

1. It’s not just a limited quarterback draft

Opinions on the 2022 class are all over the place.

I’m not for a second trying to suggest that I know everything or am better than other people when it comes to analysing the draft. I’m well aware I’m just a bloke from Rotherham who watches a lot of college football.

However, I think some of the analysis we’re seeing on the internet is, frankly, quite poor this year.

I don’t envy the people who have to write about the draft for a living. They are in an awful position. It’s really, really hard to find legit first round prospects who are eligible. As a consequence we’re seeing a lot of undeserved elevation and a lot of reaching.

I won’t name names but let me use one example. Today I looked at a 2022 NFL mock draft from a national website. Included in the top-15 were:

Matt Corrall
Ikem Ekwonu
Evan Neal
Kenyon Green
Nakobe Dean
Kenny Pickett
Carson Strong

I have not seen any evidence that these players warrant a placing in this range. That is particularly the case for the three quarterbacks, Ikem Ekonwu and Kenyon Green. The one who might justify it is Evan Neal but he has a guard body, appears much more suited to operating inside and I’m not convinced he’s a left tackle at the next level.

It’s just a lousy draft class at the top end. People are trying to slot prospects into their mocks. The class is going to be influenced more than ever by combine testing, with teams taking their chances on upside because the legit, blue-chip talent pool is limited.

Take Auburn cornerback Roger McCreary for example. He’s a good football player. Yet he has sub-30 inch arms and he has good and bad moments on tape (see: John Metchie shaking him off for the game-winning score at the weekend).

On Saturday, one well-known draft pundit declared on Twitter that he was a ‘top-20 lock’, only to be informed by a former NFL scout (who may or may not be Mobile based these days) that he hadn’t spoken to any team that had anything higher than a second-round grade on McCreary.

Everyone is desperate to find ‘guys’ in a 2022 draft class that has depth beyond round one but has massive question marks for the first frame.

I’ve studied this class in detail and for me, these are the following players you can build an argument for at the top of round one:

Kayvon Thibodeaux (DE)
Aidan Hutchinson (DE)
Derek Stingley (CB)
Kyle Hamilton (S)

At the moment, that’s it. There are other players I really like, such as Georgia’s Jordan Davis. Can you justify taking a two-down nose with, say, the fifth overall pick?

Someone suggested to me yesterday that it’s a good draft for defensive linemen, as part of an argument ‘for’ trading Russell Wilson. Again, this isn’t exactly the case. The mock drafts might be stacked with names but I don’t think these mocks are a true reflection of the class.

As I wrote on Sunday — I think if you’re picking outside of the top-two, you’re probably not getting Thibodeaux and Hutchinson. They are the two potential game-wrecking defensive linemen in this class. I don’t see anyone else who can knock them out of the top two.

The best tackle prospects I’ve seen so far are Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning, Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann and Washington State’s Abraham Lucas. I’d be fully prepared to grade all three in the top-50. Could I make a legit argument for saying they belong in the top-10? Maybe if they test well. Right now, I can’t say it with any conviction.

So let’s imagine a scenario where the Seahawks trade Wilson to the Giants for their two top-10 picks. Are you getting a game-wrecking D-lineman or a left tackle of the future at #6 or #7? I don’t think you are. You need those picks to be higher — or in a different draft entirely.

This is why I think a full knowledge of what this draft class truly offers is imperative to have a proper discussion about the future of this team.

If you could guarantee Hutchinson and a top left tackle — I think it’s a conversation worth having. Or even Hutchinson and Thibodeaux. The Seahawks desperately need to improve their trenches. If sacrificing Wilson enables them to do that — I don’t think it’s a conversation to be dismissed, even if it’s not my personal preference.

I don’t think people realise how early Thibodeaux and Hutchinson are going to go. They’re the top-two. And the next group of George Karlaftis, Jermaine Johnson and David Ojabo might have intriguing skills — but they are not top-10 picks.

If you trade away Wilson, you have to come away with blue-chip players. At the very least you have to emulate the double-dip of Russell Okung and Earl Thomas. As someone who has studied this draft class more than most — I’m telling you, this is going to be the weakest first round in a long, long time. And if you want those blue-chip players, you better find your way into the top two or three picks.

The irony is — Seattle’s own pick might’ve got them into that range. Yet they traded it to the Jets for Jamal Adams.

2. The truth about the 2022 quarterback class

The discourse around the draft eligible QB’s is similarly all over the place. I have studied all of the big names in great detail. I appreciate teams are going to reach and there’s a chance more than one player will go in round one. However, I want to re-iterate what I believe to be the truth about this class…

— No player deserves a first round grade.

— Carson Strong is the clear #1 quarterback within the group. However, there are very serious concerns about the health of one of his knees. So much so, it has been speculated he might need a cadaver knee replacement that would end his rookie season before it begins. One other theory is that it might be a bone-on-bone situation, limiting his career. He could of course be perfectly fine. This is the talk doing the rounds though and teams will study his medicals thoroughly. He has fantastic arm talent, he’s accurate and has a quick release but he’s also a statue in the pocket and has no ability to move to extend plays or avoid pressure.

— Kenny Pickett is the clear #2 quarterback. However, he reportedly has incredibly small hands. The talk is that his hand size could be nearer to eight inches than nine — and nine is usually the cut-off for NFL quarterbacks. This is probably why he plays in gloves. So while his 2022 season has been a roaring success — teams will have to contend with what this means for his next level potential.

— Matt Corrall plays in a Lane Kiffin offense that does the heavy lifting. It’s a system that demands very little other than one-read from the quarterback. Corrall is also 6-0 and 200lbs. I cannot project him to the next level.

— Sam Howell is extremely average and Malik Willis isn’t very good.

If three of these players go in round one, all power to the teams making the call. I can’t get behind that thought process.

Short of Strong getting a clean bill of health on the knee, I would rather wait until the mid-rounds for Desmond Ridder. Frankly, Ridder has as much chance as any of the names above. He has completed some ‘wow’ passes this year and elevated Cincinnati onto the national stage. He is far from perfect but the consensus seems to be he will be available much later than the names above.

Any of these players will likely need a year to learn the ropes, meaning you’re relying on a stop-gap veteran.

It’s a shame we have to have these conversations — yet increasingly it feels like QB talk is going to be a thing again within Seahawks fandom.

I think the person running your offense has never been more important. I think we’re seeing that with the jumbled mess that has become the Carroll/Waldron hybrid. We’re also seeing it in the way certain QB’s are being developed.

If this team wanted Carson Strong, for example, they have to go and get the offensive play-caller and schemer to fit his skill-set. That would be Josh McDaniels for me.

Kenny Pickett is more suited to a play caller who is willing to use quarterback mobility, movement in the pocket and bootlegs/play-action.

Matt Corrall likely needs a system that gets the ball out of his hands quickly and utilises extreme spread-concepts.

Increasingly I agree with Colin Cowherd on the subject of coaching. You can have a defensive-minded Head Coach but you need a top play-caller on offense to make it work. One of Pete Carroll’s big issues is his desire to have full control and his unwillingness to go out and land a star play-caller who gets the keys to the offense.

One of Bill Belichick’s greatest strengths is the fact he has McDaniels next to him — running a very effective offense that fits the personnel they have. Nick Saban has gone the same way in Alabama.

I really wish Carroll would’ve embraced this a few years ago.

3. The middle rounds will contain great value

Carroll has done a terrible job building the roster to suit his preferred style. Seattle’s O-line isn’t good enough. Their running back situation isn’t good enough.

If you want to play ‘your’ style — you need to be better there. And that’s as much a failure as anything else when we discuss the Seahawks’ reset from 2018 onwards.

It’s incredible to think the Seahawks passed on all of the top current NFL runners — from Jonathan Taylor to Dalvin Cook to Derrick Henry to Nick Chubb to Alvin Kamara to Joe Mixon and Antonio Gibson. And the one time they chanced their arm with a high pick — they rolled the dice on Rashaad Penny.

We’ve discussed some of the O-line and D-line options. The Seahawks also need to be better at running back. I think there are options in this class.

For me, UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet is RB1. He runs hard and fights through contact. He’s a competent pass-catcher. He blocks better than most in pass-pro. He’s also well-sized and looks explosive.

I would project Charbonnet to be a third rounder and he is someone to target.

The rest of my top-five would be Kenneth Walker at #2, Brian Robinson at #3, Dameon Pierce at #4 and Breece Hall at #5.

The Seahawks need to revamp the position. Pairing Charbonnet with Pierce would be a good way to do it. Florida has squandered Pierce’s career but he’s explosive, will make you miss in the open field and he’s tough. He will be available on day three, I would imagine, and would be a great complement to someone like Charbonnet.

It’s such a good tight end class I think you have to tap into it somewhere. Jalen Wydermyer and Trey McBride will likely go too early but if they fell into round two, warrant BPA consideration depending on how they test (agility testing is a huge indicator at the position). Greg Dulcich and Derrick Deese Jr are the two players I would recommend if you want a pass-catcher. Jeremy Ruckert and Jake Ferguson both have rounded games and are good blockers.

There are other holes that are set to emerge. There is no justification for paying Bobby Wagner $20m next year (however much the MNF crew want to fawn over him). Cornerback will continue to be an issue if Tre Brown is out an extended period of time, especially with D.J. Reed reaching free agency.

Regardless of what happens with Wilson, it might be time to decide whether the Seahawks are better getting a haul for D.K. Metcalf rather than paying him $20m or above in a big extension.

Thankfully — this draft will provide value in the middle rounds.

Yet it’s incredible, really, that this franchise is facing one of the biggest, ugliest rebuilds imaginable. It’s taken horrible mismanagement of the roster to reach this point. There could be years of pain ahead if they make the wrong decisions in January through to May.

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Not so instant reaction: The Seahawks are broken

November 30th, 2021 | Written by Rob Staton

The same old problems, game after game.

Useless on third downs.

An opponent dominating time-of-possession and registering 17 (!!!) more first downs than Seattle.

The total inability to run the ball (18 yards from the running backs).

An offensive line that is bullied week after week.

A quarterback who is nowhere close to his best.

The frustrating inability to cook up a game-plan that features your best players (in no game, ever, should D.K. Metcalf’s first catch come with 62 seconds left in the game).

A passive defense that is soft, doesn’t unsettle opposing quarterbacks anywhere near enough and is too easy to move the ball against.

And the pièce de résistance — when a busted coverage in the final seconds presents you with a chance to tie the game, the two-point conversion is basically a long drop-back with very little creativity. Following that, you pull off a modern-day miracle in winning back the football on an onside-kick — only to lose it again because your players aren’t lined up properly.

You can only repeat yourself so much before some action has to be taken by this franchise.

The entire team is broken and the Head Coach and his staff have absolutely no idea how to fix any of it.

The Seahawks are a bad football team. They are going to give the Jets a top-10 pick. The journey to this point has been entirely predictable.

Major change is required in the off-season.

There’s nothing else to say.

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Open thread: Seahawks @ WFT

November 29th, 2021 | Written by Rob Staton

A reminder that I am not staying up until 5am to watch the game tonight (a decision I wrestled with but I’ve got a big working week and can’t afford a three-hour sleep day). I’ll be waking up a bit earlier to watch the game on replay and will post some thoughts on the blog then. There will be no instant reaction live stream this week.

In the meantime, here’s an open thread for your thoughts during the game.

 

Sunday notes: Draft, Russell Wilson & more

November 28th, 2021 | Written by Rob Staton

— Aidan Hutchinson (DE, Michigan) could easily be the #2 overall pick in 2022, behind only Kayvon Thibodeaux. He was superb against Ohio State, capping off what has been a tremendous overall season. With a total dearth of quarterback options for the top-five and no clear offensive tackle worthy of a pick in that range, it’s perfectly plausible Hutchinson will be the second selection. He has size, the ability to win with quickness and power, a relentless motor and edge-sealing ability. He ticks every box.

— Team mate David Ojabo, with his Scottish roots, could also be a high selection. He lacks Hutchinson’s complete game and will require some refinement. Yet he has ideal size and quickness for an edge. Paired with Hutchinson, they’re an ideal combo. They complement each other well. Ojabo could be a dynamic edge at the next level — especially if paired with a quality book-end who absorbs as much attention as Hutchinson does at Michigan.

— Both players took turns to abuse Nicholas Petit-Frere, who had a torrid day. I’ve never been convinced he’s the top-echelon tackle many online pundits suggest. Yet evaluations seem to have been all over the place throughout this season. I don’t mean they’ve been inconsistent either. They’ve just been poor and ill-thought out with more group-think than usual. It’s impossible to watch Petit-Frere get beat like a drum yesterday and imagine spending a high pick on him.

— UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet is the best draft eligible runner for 2022. He does it all. He has great size, he finishes runs, he gains yards after contact, he’s a good pass-catcher, his pass-pro is reasonable. You can win with him at running back and I think he’s just above Kenneth Walker in the rankings. A name to remember for later in the draft is Florida’s Dameon Pierce. He’s been underused by the Gators but he has explosive power, the ability to make people miss in the open-field and he has great size.

— Also at UCLA — tight end Greg Dulcich is seriously underrated. I’m tempted to say so is quarterback Dorian Robinson-Thompson. He doesn’t have the same limitations as a lot of other draft eligible quarterbacks. There’s something there.

— Earlier this week, the Giants were connected to Russell Wilson again. Jonathan Jones, writing for CBS, suggested the Giants were perfectly placed to make a run at Wilson. The case is made that the Giants currently have the #5 and #7 picks and that would be an attractive package for a trade that would likely need to include a high 2023 pick too.

(Of course, the Seahawks could’ve already been in possession of the #6 pick too. The fact that they don’t should be a fireable offence on its own.)

The Giants are reportedly set to part ways with GM Dave Gettleman at the end of the season. They’ve already fired Jason Garrett as offensive coordinator.

Owner John Mara is highly unpopular and needs to make a move to curry favour with fans. Trading for a star quarterback could be a way to do that.

Other prospective suitors for Wilson will find it harder to make a deal.

Jalen Hurts is building a case for some faith in Philadelphia. They will have three first round picks this year and might prefer to build up their roster rather than trade the house for a veteran quarterback.

New Orleans would be an ideal fit but they don’t have the draft stock.

The Broncos, who will very likely make a big move for a quarterback, only have an extra second rounder to play with.

Therefore, the Giants could easily find themselves at the front of the line in talks.

Of course, my preference would be to see the Seahawks make a bold move themselves — trying to acquire Sean Payton to coach Wilson, as I wrote about here, rather than sending their franchise quarterback elsewhere. It’s not as ridiculous as you might think.

Back on to the Giants, Jones in his article quotes a NFL source suggesting the following:

“Zero doubt John Schneider has a plan [for when Wilson leaves]… The QBs (or lack thereof) in this draft makes things tricky. NYG makes sense with 2 top 10s.”

I’m not sure what constitutes a plan right now, short of making a subsequent move for Aaron Rodgers. There’s a firm belief Rodgers will move to the west coast after this season in a trade.

Jason La Canfora wondered out loud recently whether Seattle could show interest, saying Schneider and Rodgers have a relationship. Earlier in the year, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler touted something similar:

“One exec I talked to floated Seattle, just because John Schneider, the GM, has long-standing ties in Green Bay, and it’s clear he’s been unafraid to talk about Russell Wilson’s future with other teams as a potential trade. He talked to Cleveland a few years ago, has flirted with draft picks. Things were tenuous a few months ago; he talked to the Bears.”

Even so, the Broncos seem to be in the driving seat given their placing in the AFC. The Packers are hardly likely to want to send Rodgers to another NFC team.

The draft, as we’ve talked about a lot, offers nothing but agony. Despite continued chatter that ‘three’ QB’s could go in round one — this is a review of the class overall, not the quarterbacks available. It’s a bad draft for the first round and teams needing a QB will probably take a shot to nothing at the position. There isn’t a single QB worthy of a first round grade in this class and even round two is a push.

There are serious questions about the state of Carson Strong’s knee, not to mention his inability to avoid pressure and tendency to take sacks.

Kenny Pickett reportedly has sub-9-inch hands and has to wear gloves to grip the football.

Matt Corrall is 6-0 and 200lbs and plays in an offense that is set up for easy reads and mass-production. He’ll be on the same trajectory as Mason Rudolph, Brandon Weeden and all of those Oklahoma State quarterbacks who never amounted to much.

Malik Willis isn’t very good. He might be a great athlete but technically there are major issues, he hasn’t played well this year and he’s had too many turnovers.

Sam Howell is average. He’s just an average player.

Taking any of these quarterbacks in round one would be utter madness.

You’d be better off waiting until the middle rounds for Desmond Ridder or even taking a punt on UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson (if he turns pro) or Stanford’s Tanner McKee.

So unless the plan is to be bad at quarterback — trying to discover a reclamation project in a Mitchell Trubisky type or going for a boring, low-level starter like Teddy Bridgewater — it’s difficult to decipher what a plan would look like.

Furthermore — even if you have the #5 and #7 picks, who are you taking?

As noted earlier — it’s distinctly possible Kaybon Thibodeaux and Aidan Hutchinson will be gone. Derek Stingley will probably be gone. Who are the blue chip players you’re building around? A lot of people love Evan Neal but I need to see his combine. I’m not sure he’s better off shifting to guard.

It might make life interesting to have two high picks but you still need to be able to add good players.

I would argue if you trade Wilson you would probably also need to trade D.K. Metcalf too. Firstly, to get the kind of draft stock required to give you a shot to find quality starters in key areas (OL, DL). Secondly, why pay Metcalf a record-setting deal to have him be frustrated by the likelihood of inconsistent or poor quarterback play?

If nothing else this might give you a chance to address the O-line with Trevor Penning, Abraham Lucas and Bernhard Raimann all attractive options.

This is why the conversation about the future of this franchise carries so many layers and goes way beyond the limited talking points we usually hear on the matter.

— One final note — Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are important days for me this week. Thus, I’ve taken the incredibly rare decision not to stay up for Monday Night Football. As someone who prides himself on staying up until the early hours to watch every Seahawks game, I haven’t taken the decision lightly and probably agonised over it more than I should’ve done. I need to get my priorities right this week though. Therefore, there won’t be an instant reaction live stream after the game. I will watch it when I wake up on Tuesday morning and will write-up some thoughts straight after.

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Hear me out… the Seahawks should go after Sean Payton

November 26th, 2021 | Written by Rob Staton

Sean Payton in Seattle? It’s not as daft as it sounds…

Paul Allen never settled for anything less than bold, ambitious and exciting when he looked to shape the direction of the Seahawks.

Bringing Mike Holmgren to Seattle was a splash move. It legitimised the franchise and brought the first Super Bowl appearance in team history.

After trusting Tim Ruskell’s vision to appoint Jim Mora as Holmgren’s heir apparent, Allen wasted no time correcting the mistake after one year. What followed was another big splash. Pete Carroll. And with Carroll came a first Championship victory.

I suspect if he was still with us, Allen would be looking at the current 3-7 season with great concern. He might even be preparing to act, one way or another.

Whatever his plan would’ve been, it likely would’ve caught your attention.

Earlier today I was reading a piece by Mike Florio where he considered the future of Sean Payton and the Saints following last night’s hammering by Buffalo, dropping New Orleans to 5-6 after a 5-2 start.

It’s quite easy to connect the Saints to a big Russell Wilson trade in the off-season. After all, Wilson listed New Orleans among his preferred destinations earlier this year.

However, Florio raised a different, much more interesting point:

“It also won’t be a surprise, frankly, if Payton’s name makes a re-emergence on the Sunday Splash! circuit as a guy who could be moving on after the season. As some who chase a constant content quota may conclude, if Payton can’t bring a franchise quarterback to him, maybe he’ll take himself to a franchise quarterback.”

There’s been a consistent jungle drum beating around Payton potentially leaving New Orleans for a new challenge. Jerry Jones is a big admirer and the Cowboys were often linked. Jason La Canfora reported in 2018 that there were “backchannel communications” between the Colts and Saints regarding a potential deal for Payton. The talks broke down over draft-pick compensation — with the Saints asking for a pick in the top two rounds.

La Canfora also spoke to Colts COO Pete Ward, who confirmed him he took a call from the Saints about Payton.

Before Sean McVay took over the Rams, they too were interested in Payton. Larry Holder of NOLA.com reported LA were expected to ask the Saints for permission to speak with Payton about their vacancy. Mickey Loomis, the Saints GM, was reportedly open to trading Payton.

Rather than sending Wilson to the Saints, could the Seahawks find a way to bring Payton to Seattle?

You might initially chuckle at the prospect and see it as extremely unlikely.

It might not be as crazy as you think.

The sheer fact it’s been so openly reported that he could move on is a big enough reason alone, before you consider the situation in New Orleans.

It could be impossible for the Saints to trade for a top quarterback. They don’t have multiple first round picks like the Giants, Dolphins or Eagles. With Wilson and Aaron Rodgers in the NFC, the Seahawks and Packers will be reluctant to trade within the conference unless the price is astronomical.

It’s plausible that New Orleans would pay a huge price for a quarterback. They have everything else needed to be a contender. How much is too much though? And if it ends up being a choice between muddling on with Taysom Hill or drafting from an unattractive pool of draft prospects — perhaps Payton would fancy a change of pace?

He’s been in New Orleans for 15 years. His legacy in the city won’t change, just as Holmgren’s didn’t in Green Bay.

You’d need something to tempt him to take the gig. For Holmgren it was complete control and the ability to pick the players as well as coach the team. For Payton, you can offer the quarterback he doesn’t have in New Orleans. You could offer the same kind of power Pete Carroll has — or something similar. And you can offer him a lot of money.

You might ask whether he would have interest in working for the ownership structure in Seattle. Well, it isn’t dissimilar in New Orleans. The owner Gayle Benson took over when her husband died.

None of us know what Jody Allen is like as an owner. I suspect if she wanted to emulate her brother, this the type of bold, ambitious move he would make for a proven winner — just as he did with Holmgren and Carroll.

This would surely appease Russell Wilson and rekindle his faith. Payton may covet the opportunity to spend the next decade working with Wilson, rather than scrambling around for a Drew Brees replacement in New Orleans.

Remember Florio’s quote:

“If Payton can’t bring a franchise quarterback to him, maybe he’ll take himself to a franchise quarterback.”

Which other team in the NFL has a franchise quarterback who could be looking for a new coach?

Derek Carr and Las Vegas is probably the only one. And as bad as you might think the Seahawks are right now, look at what’s been happening in Vegas recently. It’s also worth noting that Payton didn’t exactly have a positive experience with Al Davis back in the day and that might linger, somewhat.

I appreciate this might be considered fanciful and a lot of moving pieces would have to fall into place. Carroll would have to walk away (I think he will) or be fired. Payton would have to want to leave New Orleans. Either he mutually leaves or a trade would need to be arranged. And Seattle’s ownership would have to have the chops to deliver.

The thing is, who among us predicted Jim Mora would be one-and-done? Let alone that Pete Carroll, of all people, would take over?

I’ll say it again. If Jody Allen wants to make the kind of move her brother would do to reignite this franchise and land a rockstar Head Coach — it wouldn’t get much bigger than landing Payton.

All questions about the ambition of the new ownership group would be answered. It would be the ultimate statement of intent. You’d avoid having to enter the murky waters of having to replace Russell Wilson when the quarterback situation in college football has never been weaker. And you could launch a new era of Seahawks football, led by a proven winner.

It might not be likely — but it’s not as ridiculous as it sounds.

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