Updated mock draft: 11th February

February 11th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Jack Conklin could fall into the bottom third of round one — but will he last until #26?

I’m mixing things up today.

There are some big changes from my previous mocks. I’ve also decided against picking for the Seahawks. I’ll offer some suggestions but I’ll leave it up to you to discuss. Who would you take at #26 considering the options available?

#1 Tennessee — Laremy Tunsil (T, Ole Miss)
The Titans have a nondescript defense and two top-12 picks on their offensive line already. So of course they’ll draft Tunsil at #1.

#2 Cleveland — Paxton Lynch (QB, Memphis)
With his combination of accuracy, mobility, size and arm strength — Lynch provides the greater upside of the top three QB’s.

#3 San Diego — Carson Wentz (QB, North Dakota State)
How interested is Philip Rivers and his ever-growing family in moving to LA? Time to start planning for the future, perhaps?

#4 Dallas — Jaylen Ramsey (CB, Florida State)
I can see why some teams are wary of Ramsey but he’s a physical corner who can also convert to safety.

#5 Jacksonville — Myles Jack (LB, UCLA)
The Jaguars need to keep adding pieces to their defense. Jack can play all three linebacker positions. Fantastic athlete.

#6 Baltimore — Joey Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
This would be a no-brainer for the Ravens. A pass-rusher to help kick-start that defense over the next few years.

#7 San Francisco — Jared Goff (QB, California)
Right now the 49ers don’t have a good option at quarterback if their relationship with Colin Kaepernick is still strained.

#8 Miamia — DeForest Buckner (DE, Oregon)
The D-line, linebacker and cornerback. Three need positions and the Dolphins will have options at all three in this spot.

#9 Tampa Bay — Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State)
Cornerback is a huge need for the Buccs and Apple is a fantastic prospect destined for big things.

#10 New York Giants — Darron Lee (LB, Ohio State)
The Giants tend to do things differently in this range and were right to draft Odell Beckham Jr and Ereck Flowers. Here’s another underrated player for them in Lee.

#11 Chicago — Mackensie Alexander (CB, Clemson)
Any pick on the defense makes sense. Alexander slots into the line-up immediately and will be a big character in that defense.

#12 New Orleans — Noah Spence (DE, Eastern Kentucky)
There isn’t another player like Spence in the draft and that should ensure he gets picked up early.

#13 Philadelphia — Taylor Decker (T, Ohio State)
Underrated tackle. Very athletic, strong and gritty. He can slot straight in across from Lane Johnson.

#14 Oakland — Robert Nkemdiche (DE, Ole Miss)
Line him up inside and out. The Raiders might be willing to take a chance on his character to add another dynamic defender.

#15 Los Angeles — Jaylon Smith (LB, Notre Dame)
The Rams waited it out for Todd Gurley and were rewarded. Will they do the same with the ultra-talented Smith?

#16 Detroit — Ronnie Stanley (T, Notre Dame)
They could add a defensive lineman but tackle is a need. Stanley can be overly passive but he has the physical profile to be a good pass-protector.

#17 Atlanta — Sheldon Rankins (DT, Louisville)
Fantastic get-off, quick-twitch interior lineman who dominated the Senior Bowl practises. Just the type of player Atlanta’s defense lacks.

#18 Indianapolis — Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)
They’ve shied away from obvious needs in recent years to make surprise picks. Elliott is the real deal.

#19 Buffalo — Andrew Billings (DT, Baylor)
They could try him at nose tackle or 3-4 DE. He seems to work better with an angle in space. He’d suit the 3-4.

#20 New York Jets — Shon Coleman (T, Auburn)
Physical, competitive, edgy O-lineman. He could play left tackle, right tackle or guard. Just a terrific football player.

#21 Washington — Jarran Reed (DT, Alabama)
Scot McCloughan is trying to create a tough, physically imposing football team with plus athleticism. Reed would provide a real edge to their D-line.

#22 Houston — Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame)
A dynamic, explosive athlete capable of running in the 4.3’s at the combine. Players with this much big-play potential don’t last long.

#23 Minnesota — Jack Conklin (T, Michigan State)
A tough, self-made run blocking specialist. He might have to convert to guard which is probably where he’d play for Minnesota.

#24 Cincinnati — Corey Coleman (WR, Baylor)
He could be the big winner at the combine, forcing his way into the top-tier of players. Explosive, physical playmaker.

#25 Pittsburgh — Kyler Fackrell (LB, Utah State)
We know the Steelers love to draft linebackers in round one. They need a pass rusher who gets home. That’s Fackrell.

#26 Seattle — ???

In this scenario the Seahawks miss out on possible targets Shon Coleman and Jack Conklin. Both players would add the kind of physical toughness and attitude they appear to be looking for.

Tony Pauline reported this week that he expects Conklin to fall into the bottom third of round one. Jon Ledyard graded him in round three. I went back and watched three games after reading that report. I see some of the concerns especially in his footwork and ability to handle the edge vs speed. I think he’s best suited to a move inside — but would actually be a very accomplished left guard. The Seahawks have previously looked to convert tackles to guard (Poole, Carpenter, Britt).

Conklin and Coleman could be Seattle’s best options to address the left guard position in the draft with their combination of size, physicality and experience at tackle.

Who is available?

— Cody Whitehair (Kansas State), Nick Martin (Notre Dame) and Ryan Kelly (Alabama) could all fill a hole at center.

— Vernon Butler (Louisiana Tech) is on the board — he compares physically to Muhammad Wilkerson (a former #30 overall pick).

— Jason Spriggs (Indiana) is a tall, athletic left tackle with some technical issues.

— Le’Raven Clark (Texas Tech) has the perfect left tackle frame with height, size and incredible +36 inch arms but his technique is appalling. Do the Seahawks roll the dice on upside?

— Chris Jones (Mississippi State) has unique size (6-6, 308lbs) and athleticism. He’s a former #2 overall recruit in the nation. We know they love to draft first round athletes for their defense but Jones has underachieved in college.

— Adolphus Washington (Ohio State) is arguably the closest thing to Malik Jackson in this draft. He’s heavier than Jackson but has the same 34 inch arms.

— Leonard Floyd (Georgia) hasn’t delivered as a pass rusher but he’s incredibly athletic as a linebacker. He could be a possible Bruce Irvin replacement.

— I’m not a big fan personally of Vernon Hargreaves (Florida) but like Bradley Roby in 2014, he might be a productive slot corner at the next level.

— A’Shawn Robinson (Alamaba) is a fantastic athlete but is too passive and plays within himself. Watching Alex Collins destroy him in pass-pro was something else. Can he deliver on his potential?

— Austin Johnson (Penn State) is a very active defensive tackle with great mobility for his size (323lbs). His combination of motor and agility could appeal.

— Laquon Treadwell (Ole Miss) and Michael Thomas (Ohio State) are both available but are the Seahawks really going to spend another high pick on a target?

— Could the Seahawks be tempted to secure Deion Jones (LSU) — an explosive athlete at linebacker to replace Bruce Irvin? Jones had five interceptions (one returned for a TD) and 99 total tackles in 2015.

In a scenario like this they might be best served moving down and hunting for greater value. With some attractive options likely to be available in rounds 3-5, acquiring some extra picks makes sense.

It also adds weight to the growing sentiment that the Seahawks need to be active in the veteran market for offensive linemen. With most of the top tackles off the board by #26 — they’ll need a solution if Russell Okung departs. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune — but they’ll need some security.

It might also be necessary if they aren’t interested in the options at center. This isn’t a great draft for left guards that fit Seattle’s size ideal. Shon Coleman and Jack Conklin might be the two best fits for the Seahawks and they’re both off the board in this projection. Combine those two things together and how do they upgrade their interior adequately in this draft?

What should they do? Let me know in the comments section.

 

Studying the Seahawks’ draft trends: Production + Athleticism

February 9th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

The Seahawks have only drafted elite athletes on defense in the early rounds — such as Frank Clark (1.58 ten-yard split at the combine)

Every now and again it’s worth reviewing Seattle’s draft trends in the Pete Carroll era. You only have to look at their first and second round history to work out the kind of prospect they like to take early:

2010: Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Golden Tate
2011: James Carpenter
2012: Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner
2013: Percy Harvin (trade), Christine Michael
2014: Paul Richardson, Justin Britt
2015: Jimmy Graham (trade), Frank Clark

With the exception of the offensive linemen, every player listed above is a fantastic athlete. Speed, explosive talent.

They also produced on the field in college:

2010 — Earl Thomas had eight interceptions in his final season at Texas
2010 — Golden Tate won the Biletnikoff
2011 — James Carpenter was arguably the best run blocking tackle in college
2012 — Bruce Irvin had 22.5 sacks in two seasons at West Virginia
2012 — Bobby Wagner had four sacks as a senior and 478 (!!!) career tackles
2014 — Paul Richardson had 1343 and 10 touchdowns in his final year at Colorado
2015 — Frank Clark’s tape was actually really good with many splash plays

You could also include last years third round pick Tyler Lockett. He had 2777 yards and 22 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Kansas State.

It doesn’t guarantee anything but it’d be silly to ignore this information. Six drafts is quite a body of evidence.

Here are the takeaways I can see:

— They’ve never taken a none-elite athlete on defense in the first or second round

— They don’t seem to be quite as concerned about athleticism on the offensive line and arguably prefer size ideals, physical toughness and the mentality to mesh with Tom Cable’s way of doing things

— They generally don’t draft underachievers and the two players who did fall short of expectations in college (Christine Michael & Frank Clark) were two of the biggest SPARQ freaks to ever grace the combine

— Carroll and Schneider’s Seahawks have picked between #25-32 in four of their six drafts — and on three occasions traded the pick (so if they don’t like the value available, they’re going to do something about it)

How do we use this information to project what they might do?

We know they want to produce a consistently performing offensive line
Pete Carroll stated this was the key priority in his end-of-season press conference. The draft history suggests if they want to take an O-liner at #26 it doesn’t necessarily have to be a freak of nature. They’ve taken productive, gritty, physical offensive linemen that excel in the run game. Players that fit Tom Cable’s preferred style and not necessarily raw, athletic players with a high ceiling. The two offensive linemen they drafted earliest in 2014 and 2015 (Justin Britt, Terry Poole) were not big-time athletes. That said, they recently started to look for upside (Sweezy, Sokoli, Gilliam) albeit in the later rounds. They don’t appear to be handcuffed to a certain level of athleticism though, rather than a mental/physical ‘type’.

We know they’d like to add a pass rusher
What was the big difference between 2015 and the two previous seasons? They lacked the production of Clinton McDonald (2013) and Jordan Hill (2014). Finding someone who can get 5-8 sacks in a rotation might be the priority. They could also look to add another edge rusher if Bruce Irvin departs in free agency.

What kind of defensive prospects are we talking about?
If they’re going to take an interior or edge rusher early they need to be explosive and athletic. Sheldon Rankins is explosive and that’s probably why, according to Tony Pauline, the Seahawks gave him a first round grade. An edge rusher is going to need to produce a fantastic ten-yard split or excel in the vertical/broad/three-cone at the combine. The previous six drafts tell us speed, explosion and production is the key here. Anything else would be a significant detachment from what they’ve done so far.

Who are some of the players to keep an eye on?
We’ll know more after the combine of course. I’ve compiled a new mock draft (to be published tomorrow) with many attractive options off the board before the 20th pick. In the past, that has provoked the Seahawks to trade.

If a high ceiling isn’t entirely necessary on the O-line, the likes of Shon Coleman, Cody Whitehair, Nick Martin and Ryan Kelly aren’t going to stand out in Indianapolis but could be options. Coleman would address the tackle or left guard position. Whitehair, Martin and Kelly play center. All have the potential to solidify one key position and help provide some consistency in the trenches.

If they’re intent on shifting towards major upside, I suppose we have to bring up the name of Texas Tech left tackle Le’Raven Clark.

Watching his tape is like watching your Grandpa trying to work an iPad. He’s technically deficient in pretty much every way imaginable. And yet his athletic profile is elite — +36 inch arms, 6-5, 312lbs. He’s a freak.

Lance Zierlein offers this quote from an anonymous NFC personnel director:

“He’s going to end up being big time in our league. He’s got elite foot quickness, he’s long and he’s smart. He’ll keep getting better once he gets to a pro offense and away from that stuff Texas Tech does and he’ll become one of the top five tackles in our league.”

Zierlein also notes, “Left tackles with his potential in pass protection carry first round value.” As bad as Clark is technically, Tom Cable has stated he believes every college lineman enters the league needing to start from scratch. If the Seahawks want to shoot for the stars at left/right tackle — Clark might be a scary, exciting, concerning, potentially genius decision.

If consistency and not pure upside is the order of the day — adding a player with decent physical skills who simply gets the job done might be preferable. The likes of Coleman, Whitehair, Martin and Kelly are a picture of consistency and physicality.

On defense we have to assume the likes of Noah Spence and Sheldon Rankins will not reach the #26 pick. Both shone at the Senior Bowl. Mississippi State’s Chris Jones could be a wild card. He was once the #2 recruit in the nation. He has fantastic length and size (6-6, 308lbs) and generally does a good job controlling his gap, working vs the run and occasionally providing a dynamic pass rush.

Had Jones delivered on his massive potential in college he’d probably be a top-15 pick. The fact that he didn’t is why he could be available in rounds 2-3. The trends tell us the Seahawks will only seriously consider a perceived underachiever early if he’s a SPARQ freak. We’ll need to see what Jones does at the combine.

Seattle’s preference to emphasise gap discipline and stoutness vs the run in base perhaps makes it unlikely they’ll use their first pick on a defensive tackle unless it’s someone of Rankins’ quality. If they do want to find a player who can contribute in the same way as Clinton McDonald, they might find better value waiting until rounds 2-4. There’s abnormal depth in this class on the D-line and the highest pick they’ve used on a DT so far is the third rounder spent on Jordan Hill in 2013. If they’re bringing in a defensive impact player who doesn’t start in base — how likely are they to spend a first round pick? Some of the options in rounds 2-4 are Adolphus Washington, Jihad Ward, Willie Henry, Ronald Blair III and Darius Latham.

One player who could come into focus is LSU’s Deion Jones. He’s a possible outside linebacker replacement for Bruce Irvin. He’s not a pass rusher — but he needs to be mentioned here. Jones has an opportunity to really excel at the combine. He’s an outstanding athlete — and that’s what the Seahawks love at linebacker (see: Irvin, Wagner, Pierre-Louis).

He could easily run in the 4.4’s at 6-1 and 219lbs. He doesn’t get overmatched at that size and plays with great discipline in the run game. His ability to be a key special teamer could also have some value.

Did he produce at LSU in 2015? Five sacks at linebacker, one interception (returned for a touchdown) and 99 total tackles.

Jones isn’t a defensive or offensive lineman but he’s the type of player the Seahawks have taken early in recent years. They’ll also need to replace Irvin in all likelihood. Mike Florio suggested today he’ll get a contract offer in free agency worth $10m APY. Keep that in mind, even if it’s not a top priority. Like Chris Jones and Le’Raven Clark, Deion Jones could come into play if they trade down.

This is a difficult class to find SPARQy edge rushers in range at #26. Clemson duo Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson might not be athletic enough for the Seahawks. Leonard Floyd might be but he’s been a disappointing edge rusher for two years and hasn’t produced.

Cliff Avril ran a 1.50 ten yard split at his combine. Bruce Irvin managed a 1.55. Frank Clark had a 1.58. Anything in the 1.5’s is elite. That’s the type of edge speed the Seahawks are attracted to and it’s what we need to look for at the combine.

Utah State’s Kyler Fackrell is going to be a really interesting player to follow in Indianapolis and he’s possibly Seattle’s best shot if you want an outside rusher to be drafted in round one.

He looks like a good athlete. How good though? Can he top Clay Matthews’ 4.67 forty yard dash and 35.5 inch vertical? At USC’s pro-day Matthews ran a 1.49 ten-yard split and a 4.59 forty on a fast track. Fackrell needs to crack the 1.5’s in the split.

On tape he’s superb. A true splash-play specialist constantly impacting plays. PFF had this to say about his 2015 season:

At +34.4 he is our highest graded 3-4 OLB, with the highest grade as a pass rusher, against the run, and sixth-highest in coverage just for good measure.

The Seahawks use 3-4 personnel in a 4-3 so don’t be put off by his tag as a 3-4 OLB. He ticks the production box for sure. The big question is whether he’s athletic enough for the Seahawks to be considered early. Clay Matthews lasted until the #26 pick despite proving he was very athletic. Perhaps the same happens to Fackrell?

Will they trade down?
Carroll and Schneider have traded 75% of their picks when selecting between #25-32. If the value isn’t there, they’ll probably move down again (with limited cap space they’re unlikely to pull another Harvin or Graham trade).

I like to compare my own mock drafts to those in the draft media to see if I’m ruling out possible options for the Seahawks. I was equally pleased and alarmed to see how similar tomorrow’s mock draft was to Daniel Jeremiah’s. Noah Spence was available to the Seahawks (this was a pre-Senior Bowl mock by Jeremiah) but apart from that only Andrew Billings, Cody Whitehair and Kyler Fackrell were available that I had off the board at #26.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t some good options available in round one in both projections. It does suggest, however, that the ‘genuine’ first round talent in this class might run dry quickly. And if that happens — they’ve shown a consistent willingness to trade and hunt for better value.

They might think #26 is too early for a Chris Jones, Deion Jones, Le’Raven Clark (the athletic trio) or Cody Whitehair, Nick Martin, Ryan Kelly, Shon Coleman (the physical & consistent quartet). Can they move down into the 30’s?

Their desire to move down will be influenced by their ability to fill certain needs. In 2011 when they owned the #25 pick — the three top offensive tackles were off the board by #22. They selected James Carpenter without moving down, possibly because they didn’t want to miss out altogether.

Note the following tweet:

If they see replacing Russell Okung as an absolute priority — and with Tunsil, Decker, Stanley and Conklin likely to be off the board by #26 — how much of a risk do they want to take?

Alternatively if they know they can get their guys later on they’ve shown they’re willing to manipulate the draft in their favour. That’s exactly what they did when trading down and drafting Paul Richardson in 2014.

So what happens?

The information in this piece and study of the draft class suggests the Seahawks are possibly going to do one of four things:

1. Pick their favourite offensive lineman and just feel good about addressing the self-confessed top priority, even if the player isn’t a top athlete

2. Make a somewhat surprising high-upside pick on the O-line such as Le’Raven Clark that leaves people gasping

3. Take an elite athlete who plays defense

4. Trade down

 

Seahawks draft status check & podcast #24

February 9th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Check out this weeks podcast where we reflect on the Super Bowl and look at prospects in the upcoming draft class that compare to members of the Broncos’ Championship winning team.

Tomorrow I’ll be publishing a new mock draft. Today I wanted to do a status check on where the Seahawks might be as we edge closer to the combine.

What do they do in free agency?
So far they haven’t re-signed any of their free agents. That’s not a surprise. Teams at this time of year are generally formulating a plan for the market and looking at possible additions elsewhere.

Davis Hsu estimates the Seahawks will have about $18m to spend on their seven free agents expecting to earn +$2m per year (Kearse, Irvin, Okung, Sweezy, Lane, Mebane, Rubin). It’s perhaps unrealistic to expect any major new signings. Pete Carroll has stated he’d like to keep as many of the existing roster as possible.

Who is the priority?
I still think it might be Jeremy Lane. The Seahawks learnt a valuable lesson with the Cary Williams disaster. They’re unlikely to add outside players at cornerback any time soon.

Losing Lane would put a lot of pressure on the younger players to step up (and for Tharold Simon to stay healthy). Question marks in the secondary significantly impacted the defense early in 2015 and they could do without such problems in 2015.

Brandon Mebane and Athyba Rubin anchored Seattle’s D-line at a high level and the team would probably rather add a pass-rusher (or two) to the group instead of chasing replacements.

If they do go into the market, what can they do?
Cincinnati’s Wallace Gilberry might be one to keep an eye on. He earned $2.1m in 2015 and while he’s in the twilight years of his career (he’s 31) he’d provide some interior pass rush. He had seven sacks for the Chiefs in 2010 and 14 sacks for the Bengals between 2012 and 2013. The production dipped recently (three sacks in the last two seasons) but he’d be a cost-effective option. They’ve used free agency to add defensive linemen in the past.

Olivier Vernon has been a dynamic rusher in Miami but what kind of contract can he get on the open market? Jabaal Sheard’s cap hit in 2015 after signing with the Patriots was just $4m. Can the Seahawks tempt Vernon (25.5 sacks in the last three years) to sign a one or two year prove-it deal? He’s only 25.

Phil Loadholt is expected to be a cap casualty in Minnesota and wouldn’t cost the Seahawks any compensatory picks as a consequence. He’s played for Darrell Bevell before. He has the massive size and run-blocking skills the Seahawks like at right tackle or left guard. His injury history could play into Seattle’s hands in terms of market value.

Do we have any idea yet what positions they’ll consider at #26
The signs point to Russell Okung moving on and that would create a hole that needs filling on the O-line. Either way — they have to improve the interior and might consider doing so at #26. Tackle, guard or center could be in play.

The Seahawks haven’t played the percentages before by looking at perceived positional value to solve multiple needs. They generally go BPA at a position of importance and attack that need. They seem unlikely to say, “well we could go defensive tackle at #26 because the options on the O-line are better down the line”. If the guy they really like is an offensive linemen they will probably go for it. Pete Carroll admitted their top priority was to provide a consistently performing O-line for 2016.

There is a chance, however, that they will find someone they really like on defense too. Looking at previous drafts it would need to be someone with unique athletic traits. This is the list of defensive talent they’ve taken in the first two rounds so far: Earl Thomas, Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, Frank Clark. Notice a trend?

If they go defense early it’s safe to expect a dynamic athlete who tests well across the board at the combine. That hasn’t always been the case when they’ve drafted early for the offensive line (Okung, Carpenter, Moffitt, Britt). It’s something to consider when the combine begins later this month.

Seattle wants to be the bully again so there’s likely to be an emphasis on toughness. It’s hard to look beyond an addition in the trenches at #26 — either on the O-line or D-line/pass rusher.

Who might they consider?
On the offensive line Shon Coleman is a punishing, edgy tackle with ideal size and grit. He could play left or right tackle or move inside to guard. He’d be an ideal pick to fill not only a need but also provide some toughness up front.

Assuming Jack Conklin and Taylor Decker are both off the board, Cody Whitehair and Nick Martin are center prospects who would solidify the interior, provide leadership and physicality while removing any question marks over a vital position for the next few years. Daniel Jeremiah today touted Alabama’s Ryan Kelly as a possible first rounder and I’ll be watching more of his tape tonight.

Defensively it’s safe to expect Sheldon Rankins to be long gone after his masterclass at the Senior Bowl (ditto Noah Spence). There’s some uncertainty about other perceived ‘top’ players though. How much will Robert Nkemdiche’s character concerns impact his stock? And would the Seahawks go anywhere near him if he falls? Is A’Shawn Robinson all bark and no bite? He has a tremendous athletic profile and should excel at the combine. Yet on tape he’s passive, gets blocked too easily, doesn’t have enough splash plays and seems to go through the motions.

Both Nkemdiche and Robinson have the type of athleticism that would interest the Seahawks. But do they have the necessary edge and competitive desire?

A case in point. Here’s running back Alex Collins blocking A’Shawn Robinson — a 312lbs defensive lineman:

Vernon Butler and Andrew Billings provide unique movement skills for their size, a ton of strength and plenty of upside. They’re also better suited to the one technique/nose tackle role in Seattle. That isn’t a position the Seahawks rely on for a pass rush (who does?) and the big issue in 2015 was losing the production provided by Clinton McDonald (2013) and Jordan Hill (2014). The base defense needs to be disciplined and gap control is vital (something Billings struggled with in college). It’s hard to imagine the Seahawks placing a first round emphasis on a one technique — even if Mebane departs.

It’ll be interesting to see if Kyler Fackrell (a possible edge rusher) can test anything like Clay Matthews (a former #26 overall pick). It’s not ridiculous to consider. Is the #26 pick too early to consider former 5-star recruit Chris Jones? Probably. He has the athleticism and upside they love but he’s an underachiever (something they’ve avoided). Jonathan Bullard is an overachiever but is he special enough as an athlete to go in round one? Austin Johnson is incredibly active, hustles to the ball and has plus athleticism for his size. Is he a problem-solver for the pass rush though at 323lbs? And is #26 too early?

What about later in the draft?
There are some nice options on the O-line that are likely to be available in rounds 2-4. Joe Dahl excelled at the Senior Bowl while La’Raven Clark’s hopeless technique is matched by stunning physical potential. Graham Glasgow could be a punishing guard or center and Fahn Cooper impressed at tackle for Ole Miss.

If they’re looking for an interior pass rusher (or two) to work into the rotation — they might be able to wait on Adolphus Washington and/or Jihad Ward. Ronald Blair III is another player to keep an eye on. I watched one game of Indiana’s Darius Latham today (a former four-star recruit) and he could be a mid or late round option too.

There could be a sweet spot in round three for running backs (Alex Collins, Paul Perkins, Jordan Howard and Devontae Booker might be available), LSU’s Deion Jones fits their profile at linebacker (speed, speed and more speed) and there’s a handful of long cornerbacks likely to be available on day three.

 

Austin Johnson & who is the next Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson?

February 8th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Austin Johnson’s (DT, Penn State) tape vs Ohio State is frustrating. Having watched both Johnson and Michigan’s Willie Henry struggle against this unit, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. The Buckeye’s had a loaded roster across the board and it showed. When I watched Johnson against Indiana and Maryland there was much more to like.

He’s 6-4 and 323lbs so he’s a big dude. We’re not talking about a natural three-technique who comes in for the nascar package and rushes the QB. Anyone hoping Johnson alone is the answer to Seattle’s pass-rush issues is probably going to be disappointed.

That’s the case, however, for pretty much every defensive lineman in this class. Assuming a prospect like Sheldon Rankins isn’t available, you’re going to compromise one way or another. It’s about identifying the player or players you think you can develop from a deep group at the position.

They might end going for the best athlete (possibly Mississippi State’s Chris Jones) and trying to tap into his upside. They also generally haven’t gone after underachievers — and that’s really what Jones is. A former #2 overall and 5-star recruit, Jones never lived up to that billing. So while the potential is there — consider the priority Seattle has placed on production and not just extreme athleticism:

2010 — Earl Thomas had eight interceptions in his final season at Texas
2010 — Golden Tate won the Biletnikoff
2011 — James Carpenter was arguably the best run blocking tackle in college
2011 — John Moffitt helped Montee Ball set records at Wisconsin
2012 — Bruce Irvin had 22.5 sacks in two seasons at West Virginia
2012 — Bobby Wagner had four sacks as a senior and 478 (!!!) career tackles
2014 — Paul Richardson had 1343 and 10 touchdowns in his final year at Colorado
2015 — Frank Clark’s tape is actually really good with many splash plays
2015 — Tyler Lockett had 2777 yards and 22 touchdowns in his final two seasons

The one player that didn’t have major production and went very early? Christine Michael in 2013 — one of the greatest athletes to ever test at the combine, taken in a year where they hardly had any key needs. That aside, the Seahawks seem to place a certain emphasis on production.

Jones had 2.5 sacks in 2015 and three in 2014. He’s a self-confessed underachiever with a physical skill set to be incredible. In a draft of compromises on the defensive line — you could do a lot worse. Draft history suggests they’re more likely to seek out an overachiever who isn’t a slouch.

That’s where Johnson possibly comes in.

The issue might be size. It’s not usual for a team to draft a 323lbs defensive lineman to provide a spark for the pass rush. The Seahawks have also opted against drafting such size for their D-line. The early picks have gone on more quick-twitch, dynamic athletes (Irvin, Hill, Clark). It’s not like you’re going to roll a 6-4, 323lbs monster on the field for third and long.

To that extent Jones’ length (6-6), athleticism and ability to play at around 295lbs (Derek Wolfe size) might be preferable. And I do like what I’ve seen from Jones so far — it’d be easy to imagine he’s a candidate for the Seahawks.

Back to Johnson — here’s a video to show he’s not just a cumbersome nose tackle:

There is some evidence of burst off the LOS and quickness too. He’s a former basketball player in High School and you see that athleticism on tape. There’s minimal bad weight on that frame. His hustle is incredible — he’ll keep fighting until the whistle. He keeps trying to find ways to work to the ball carrier and won’t give up like some of the DT’s in this class.

There’s something to be said for a really active defensive tackle who you have to focus on for the whole play. A guy who is constantly moving his feet and fighting to get into the backfield. His tackle numbers are incredible for a DT — and it’s down to his relentless effort. So while he might not always win with speed to knife straight into the backfield or dominate with a pretty good bull-rush — his motor and determination make him a very interesting player. His closing speed and pursuit is also surprisingly good.

He doesn’t have ideal length (32 and 5/8 inch arms) and that could be an issue. Smaller defensive tackles in this class are longer (Adolphus Washington is only 6-3 and 297lbs but has 34 inch arms). You also wonder what his position is in Seattle. As intriguing and fun as he is to watch — is he upgrading the pass rush? Or is he a one-technique or a Rubin replacement who can do you a good, disciplined, hearty job but isn’t creating relentless pressure?

And how much more likely are they to perhaps consider a Chris Jones, Adolphus Washington or Jihad Ward with the offer of a little more explosion and superior length?

In fact if people are looking for the next possible Malik Jackson or the next Derek Wolfe — look no further than Washington and Ward.

Jackson is smaller than Washington (284lbs vs 297lbs) but they both have 34 inch arms and the ability to flash in the pass rush. Pete Carroll worked with Jackson at USC before he transferred to Tennessee in 2010 so he’ll know what to look for if he wants a similar player. Ward is mirroring Wolfe’s pre-draft process to a tee. Wolfe was considered a marginal later round pick without an obvious position but his stock quickly increased during the post-season and he went in round two. Ward is doing exactly the same thing and could go from projected fifth rounder to second rounder. They’re almost identical in size — Wolfe is 6-5 and 295lbs, Ward 6-5 and 296lbs. Ward also has an interesting backstory — he’s had to battle adversity in his life.

If you’re hoping for a cheap way to try and emulate Denver’s depth on the D-line — it might be time to hope Washington falls due to character flags and Ward stick with a day three grade. That’d be one way to upgrade things while affording the opportunity to make early picks on the O-line and at linebacker or running back. I suspect Austin Johnson, meanwhile, is going to go in round two or three.

 

Thoughts on how the Super Bowl impacts the Seahawks

February 8th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

– Defense still wins Championships. Is the pass rush more of a priority today after witnessing that Denver performance? It’s not just about Von Miller. DeMarcus Ware, Sly Williams, Malik Jackson, Derek Wolfe, Shane Ray. They’re also well supported by a loaded secondary. The Seahawks need the LOB to find its physical form and they need two other things: 1. The players they already invested in to step up (Frank Clark, Jordan Hill) 2. To find some extra pieces. A combination of free agency and the draft is likely needed to upgrade the pass rush.

— Having said that, the Seahawks don’t need to emulate Broncos defense. Denver’s offense converted one third down against Carolina and had only eleven first downs in total. They had to have a sensational defensive performance to have any chance to win. The Seahawks are capable of playing great defense — but they don’t have to rely on it. The Broncos carried Peyton Manning to a title.

— Last week we talked about Carolina’s O-line performing well without elite tackles. It’d be tempting to reassess that given the tough outing against Denver. Let’s not overreact though. Joe Thomas would’ve struggled to block Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. The Panthers O-line gave up as many sacks (33) in 2015 as the Cowboys’ much vaunted unit. In comparison, the Seahawks conceded 46 sacks. Seattle’s main issue has been interior protection. A lot of teams don’t even rush the edge vs Seattle to contain Russell Wilson. If they lose Russell Okung he’ll need replacing. But upgrading the interior will be equally (if not more) important.

— Marshawn Lynch is unofficially retiring. Nothing is final — but he semi-confirmed it on Twitter. It’s an inevitable end to a great era in Seattle. Neither the Panthers or Broncos had a running back as decorated as Lynch. The Seahawks don’t need to make a big splash in light of this news — but they need to add another RB. The ideal candidate is someone who can act as a solid third-down back and take some general snaps too. It’d be tempting to add a veteran — but it’ll be much cheaper to draft one. There’s likely to be a sweet spot at the position this year in rounds 3/4.

— On a non-Seahawks point — is the 2011 NFL draft already one of the best ever? The top-11 picks included: Cam Newton, Von Miller, Marcell Dareus, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones, Aldon Smith, Tyron Smith and J.J. Watt. The two misses early were Jake Locker (#8) and Blaine Gabbert (#10) — quarterbacks taken to fill big needs. Also included in the 2011 draft — Robert Quinn, Mike Pouncey, Ryan Kerrigan, Cameron Jordan, Muhammad Wilkerson, Andy Dalton, Randall Cobb, Justin Houston, DeMarco Murray, Jurrell Casey, Julius Thomas, Tyrod Taylor, Jason Kelce and — Richard Sherman. What a class.

 

D-line notes: Jones, Henry, Bullard, Dodd, Butler

February 7th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

I’m tentatively planning to produce a Seahawks centric digital draft guide. It’ll basically be a one-stop guide looking at team needs, the prospects who fit, draft trends under Carroll/Schneider, ‘Seahawky’ prospects, trade down scenarios and more. I’m planning for it to be available via free download after the combine. My hope is it will appeal to all Seahawks fans, not just those obsessed with the draft. Is this something people would be interested in?

I spent the weekend reviewing my take on a number of players. Here are some of the notes I made…

Chris Jones (DT, Mississippi State)
I watched two games live during the season and came away largely unimpressed. On both occasions Jones looked stiff, struggled to counter and generally stayed blocked if the OL won with leverage and hand placement. His motor was inconsistent (often not hustling to plays and coasting). I watched two more games over the weekend (LSU, Missouri) and was much more impressed. There were still signs of Jones giving up early and his conditioning probably needs some work. Yet he flashed much more ability as a disruptor. He has the kind of size the Seahawks like (6-6, 308lbs) — similar to Tony McDaniel. It’ll be interesting to see how long his arms are. In both games he used a quick first-step and swim-technique to burst into the backfield to shut down running plays. When utilised in a three-man front he played end and showed plenty of quickness and pursuit with the extra room to rush. He’s a powerful guy and manages to bull-rush and shed/disengage. The difference in tape over four games suggests he’s inconsistent. He was a late developer in High School but ended up being a 5-star recruit and the #2 overall prospect in the nation. And that’s why he’s interesting. A 5-star recruit at 6-6 and 308lbs is pretty Seahawky. And with their unconventional approach (3-4 personnel in a 4-3) he fits inside. I can see them being thoroughly intrigued by his skill set. The big question is — is he enough of a pass rusher to provide the improvement they’re looking for? Because if they re-sign Rubin and Mebane — they don’t just need another guy who fits their size ideals. They need someone who can provide legit interior pressure. Projection: Rounds 2/3

Willie Henry (DT, Michigan)
Reportedly a close friend of Frank Clark, Henry doesn’t have the same level of athleticism and upside as Chris Jones. In fact it’s not really that close. Only a former three-star recruit, I went back and watched Michigan’s loss to Ohio State this weekend. He wins with leverage and a nice inside push. It’s not always about a perfect rip/swim and get-off to shoot gaps and provide that highlight-reel inside rush. If you can drive the interior lineman back into the pocket and impact the quarterback, it’s still a splash play. He seems to do that well. Yet there’s not much evidence of Henry exploding with quick feet and technique. He gets leverage, wins with pad level and can bull-rush effectively. There was one play where he worked down the line and found himself in space off the left edge. From there he showed great pursuit and hustle to get to the quarterback and force a quick throw. That hints towards a level of athleticism but there wasn’t a ‘wow’ play like you see with Jones knifing through the LSU line to blow up Leonard Fournette. He looks like a pretty functional three-technique that can work into a rotation. He has similar size to Clinton McDonald so maybe he can be coached into that kind of role? McDonald’s a bit of an enigma though — a 7th round pick, eventually snubbed by the Bengals before having two great seasons (one in Seattle, one in Tampa Bay) before a very quiet 2015. If Henry lasts into the round 3/4 range he could be an option as a developmental interior rusher. Projection: Rounds 3/4

Jonathan Bullard (DT, Florida)
There’s absolutely no denying Bullard is a fun player to watch. In a pre-season interview he admitted he felt slighted by a mediocre draft committee grade. He returned to Florida intending to prove he was better than the projection. In every Gators game I watched in 2015 (and the subsequent review over the weekend) Bullard played with a real fire. In the SEC Championship game against Alabama he was a man on a mission — consistently showing good pad level, power and the ability to out-effort a vaunted ‘Bama O-line. Unfortunately, he’s always going to need to win with effort because he isn’t a brilliant athlete and lacks ideal size. I suspect that’s in part why he received such a middling draft grade a year ago. He’s listed at 6-2 and around 285lbs. He’s not a great swim/rip specialist and he doesn’t often win with quick-twitch or explosion. He needs to time the snap count to knife through and there’s little evidence of any kind of counter. He’s pure effort. And overall, that makes for a pretty average skill-set that he basically got the most out of in college. Is brilliant effort going to be enough at the next level against bigger and faster linemen? Can he vary his technique and improve his quickness and ability to win without leverage/effort? And is he better suited to playing end than working inside? Bullard isn’t the type of guy you bet against and he’ll provide someone with a high intensity D-lineman probably in round two. Whether he’s special enough for the Seahawks compared to a guy like Chris Jones — the jury’s out. Projection: Rounds 2/3

Vernon Butler (DT, Louisiana Tech)
Butler and Andrew Billings (Baylor) share very similar traits. They both make plays that players with their size shouldn’t make. In many ways it’s even more impressive to see Butler doing it at 325lbs. Billings is ‘only’ 310lbs in comparison. Their ability to move down the line, dominate with extreme power and pursue is extremely impressive. Butler has the edge when it comes to gap discipline and the ability to win with quickness. Again — at 325lbs that’s mightily impressive. I’m not really sure why Billings would go in the top-20 and not Butler to be honest — unless Billings’ age (19) and mystique over his strength gives him an edge. These types of players generally go early because even if they don’t end up being fantastic pass rushers — the stoutness, size and power they provide can anchor a line and draw double teams. Butler can play as a nose or as an athletic compliment. He might be able to play some end too — a role I think Billings is better suited to in the 3-4. Another difference between the two — you almost never see Butler on the floor. He’s a pain in the ass to handle even when he’s not ploughing his way into the backfield. The combination of size, athleticism and length is comparable to Muhammad Wilkerson. However, Wilkerson had major production at Temple (9.5 sacks in his final year). Butler only had three sacks in 2015 and might lack Wilkerson’s natural flair to rush the passer. He might not get in the 10-12 sack range but he has a chance to be a really nice anchor suited to working next to a quicker interior rusher. That might not solve Seattle’s desire to improve their pass rush — but he should be able to help somebody quickly. Projection: First round

A’Shawn Robinson (DT, Alabama)
I posted most of this yesterday but while we’re on the subject of defensive linemen I thought I’d bring up Robinson again. After further review I think the team that takes him will do so based on upside rather than anything he put on tape in college. He can be quite an ineffective, passive player. The Alabama front seven is loaded with talent and more often than not it was Jarran Reed, D.J. Pettway, Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams and Reggie Ragland standing out. Robinson is clearly a fantastic athlete. Against LSU he hurdled the LOS like Kam Chancellor vs the Panthers on a kick attempt. That’s at 312lbs by the way. And yet he barely threatens as a pass rusher and doesn’t play with a relentless attitude like Reed. Robinson had 3.5 sacks in 2015 (2.5 came in one game against Mississippi State) and he had zero sacks in 2014. This isn’t deceptive — he doesn’t seem to have many splash plays either. Is he capable of using his size, length and athleticism to be a great pro? Or is he one of those players who gets by on talent in college and never makes the most of it at the next level? He can be great. But does he want to be great? It wouldn’t be a surprise at all if a team falls for the upside and takes him in the top-20. It equally wouldn’t be a shock if he dropped into round two. I suspect it’d be pretty difficult to put together a highlight reel for Robinson — and teams will need reassurance he can ramp up the intensity at the next level. He does have the upside that might interest Seattle though — he should test well in Indianapolis. Projection: Rounds 1/2

 

Saturday draft notes: Paxton Lynch, Sheldon Rankins & more

February 6th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

— I don’t think we should read too much into the Tweet above — but I still think Paxton Lynch will be the #2 pick to Cleveland in this draft. People are sleeping on him because of a bad Bowl game against Auburn. It’s worth remembering Memphis lost their Head Coach just before the game and looked like a team that was unprepared and lacked motivation. If you’re letting a Bowl game influence your opinion it’s a mistake. Lynch to me is an upgraded version of Carson Wentz. He’s more elusive, a better passer and elevated a Memphis team to new heights. Teams will believe they can win with Lynch. His combination of size, mobility, accuracy and arm strength (minus the dabbing) is a skill-set they’ll be watching in the Super Bowl this week. He has the most upside of the top three QB’s and one game has created an overly negative impression of his stock.

— Today I watched the practise video of day two at the Senior Bowl. Sheldon Rankins was incredible. Whatever anyone says about how well he performed in Mobile — until you actually see it, it’s hard to imagine. The Jaguars coaches were grinning from ear to ear. They were looking at each other almost in disbelief. Rankins had the quickness to swim/rip and explode but also the technique to gain leverage and drive blockers into the backfield with a bull rush. It was a dominating performance. The way Jacksonville’s staff reacted — it’d be a surprise if they didn’t bang the table to draft him in round one. If they’re going to focus on defense (and why wouldn’t they?) — Rankins could be in play at #5. That’s how good he looked in Mobile. Seriously.

— I’ve done a bit more study on A’Shawn Robinson. I think the team that takes him will do so based on upside rather than anything he put on tape in college. He can be quite an ineffective, passive player. The Alabama front seven is loaded with talent and more often than not it was Jarran Reed, D.J. Pettway, Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams and Reggie Ragland standing out. Robinson is clearly a fantastic athlete. Against LSU he hurdled the LOS like Kam Chancellor vs the Panthers on a kick attempt. That’s at 312lbs by the way. And yet he barely threatens as a pass rusher and doesn’t play with a relentless attitude like Reed. Robinson had 3.5 sacks in 2015 (2.5 came in one game against Mississippi State) and he had zero sacks in 2014. This isn’t deceptive — he doesn’t seem to have many splash plays either. Is he capable of using his size, length and athleticism to be a great pro? Or is he one of those players who gets by on talent in college and never makes the most of it at the next level? He can be great. But does he want to be great?

ESPN’s Scouts Inc has published a top-32 list. Robert Nkemdiche is at #21, Taylor Decker at #24 and Darron Lee at #26. It’s fair to say it’ll be fantastic news for the Seahawks if that trio last anywhere near the #26 pick. For all of Nkemdiche’s off-field issues he has more upside than anyone else in this draft class. His first-step quickness is elite, he has the length and power to win with his hands and he carries 290-300lbs like a 270lbs edge rusher. He has an opportunity to be one of the best players in the NFL — if you can manage him. At what point is the risk/reward too strong? Decker is an underrated athlete with all the grit you’d want in an offensive tackle. There’s so much to like about his game — he’s a genuine top-20 talent with a chance to be a brilliant right tackle for years to come. Lee is a natural playmaker at linebacker with 4.4 speed and a real nose for the ball. I’m currently mocking all three in the top-15.

— One player I wouldn’t put in the top-15 is Oklahoma State pass rusher Emmanuel Ogbah. The 13 sacks he accumulated last year are deceptive. He’s far from a relentless edge rusher, he shows minimal hustle and effort and he doesn’t have the blazing speed to threaten the top tackles or the counter moves to keep tackles guessing. The non-elite athletes rushing the edge need to show they’re capable of setting up a tackle. Rush twice to the edge and on the third go-around stunt inside or throw in a spin-move. Ogbah’s as creative as he is lethargic in pursuit. I had him placed with the last pick in round two in my last mock draft but he might warrant a home in rounds 3-4.

— Noah Spence is going to go very early for two reasons. One — there’s nobody else like him in this draft class. Two — the fire he’s showing and determination to prove he’s a changed man is likely to usurp any lingering concerns over his character:

 

Projecting legit first round grades for the Seahawks

February 5th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

There might be 31 picks in the first round this year — but there certainly won’t be 31 first round grades handed out by the teams.

This is always the case. A decent average could see around 12-18 legit first round prospects in a given draft class. Unless you’re picking very early (top-15) you’re likely facing a compromise. Do you take the best player remaining at a position of need, trade down or use your first round pick creatively?

In 2013 and 2015 the Seahawks traded their picks for proven veterans — feeling that was a better use of the resource because they weren’t going to land a first round talent. In 2014 they dropped back into round two before selecting Paul Richardson.

They haven’t always gone down that road — I’m not entirely convinced they had James Carpenter down as one of the best fifteen or so players in the draft. That was about filling a priority — taking the best run blocking tackle available to enhance a league-worst running game.

They’re unlikely to make another big trade this year — probably because they can’t afford to do so. So how likely are they to acquire a legit first round prospect with the #26 pick? And how likely are they to trade down?

In December I estimated a total of 18 first round grades for the 2016 class. Two of those players chose to return to college (Cam Sutton and Tre’Davious White). I listed a further 15 players that could realistically be considered in the first frame as a borderline ’round one’ prospect.

Today I’m going to predict a conservative tally of 14 legit first round grades. This takes into the account the likelihood the Seahawks aren’t going to seriously consider one of the top three quarterbacks. I’m also including 18 ‘borderline’ first round grades. Players they might be willing to consider in round one — or could target after a small trade down.

With so many players in the ‘borderline’ category — it probably lends itself to suggesting the Seahawks are likely to move down. However — they haven’t had a serious need (O-line) like this since 2011, where they took Carpenter to try and solve a problem. In that draft a lot of the better O-liners were off the board before Seattle’s pick and options were thin. They’re perhaps unlikely to take too many risks if there are two or three prospects they really like available at #26. Moving down a few spots and remaining in the late first round could be an option.

Legit first rounders

Offensive line
Laremy Tunsil, Taylor Decker, Jack Conklin, Shon Coleman
Tunsil’s a prototype for the position and a former 5-star recruit who’s been on a path to the NFL since High School. Decker is long and more athletic than people realise — plus he has a terrific attitude and fits Seattle’s profile for the O-line. Conklin lacks elite athleticism but plays with such a grit and determination. He wouldn’t be a left tackle in Seattle — but he could be a fantastic left guard or right tackle. Coleman’s age (24) and medical history might be a concern for some teams — but I think he’s a top-20 talent. He’s long, athletic, physical and plays with an edge.

Linebacker
Jaylon Smith, Myles Jack, Darron Lee
The Seahawks want elite speed and athleticism at linebacker. Smith (pre-injury), Jack and Lee all look like 4.4 runners. Smith was a candidate to be the best player in the draft before he hurt his knee against Ohio State. Jack is also recovering from an injury but possesses such a natural athleticism and played running back for UCLA too. Lee is a fiery competitor and an intelligent player with the speed to match.

Defensive end
Joey Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Noah Spence
Bosa could be another Robert Quinn at the next level (he’s possibly just a notch below Quinn’s level of athleticism). Buckner is a powerful, versatile D-lineman that can line up inside and out. He had major production for Oregon. There isn’t another player like Spence in the draft — he has the speed to work the edge, the hand-technique to fight off blocks and the agility to evade blockers and explode.

Defensive tackle
Sheldon Rankins
The Seahawks haven’t drafted a defensive tackle earlier than the third round and I suspect it’s because that player would need to be a very athletic, quick-twitch pass rusher that plays with gap-discipline and spirit vs the run. Rankins consistently embarrassed Graham Glasgow at the Senior Bowl with an explosive get-off, spin move, swim/rip and elite quicks. The Seahawks can find run stuffers in free agency. They struggle to find guys like this because they’re so few and far between.

Cornerback
Eli Apple, Mackensive Alexander, Jaylon Ramsey
Apple looks like he’d be a perfect fit for the Seahawks. He keeps everything in front and doesn’t get beat deep. On top of that he appears to pass the 32-inch arm test and he’s a great athlete. There’s so much potential here. Alexander might not pass the length test but I’ll reserve judgement until the combine. He’s sparky, physical and a great cover corner. Ramsey won’t play CB for every team but his physical style would work well in Seattle.

Borderline first rounders

Offensive line
Jason Spriggs, Nick Martin, Cody Whitehair, Ronnie Stanley
Spriggs reminds me a little of Nate Solder who the Seahawks apparently liked in 2011. He’s long and athletic with upside and could play right tackle. Nick Martin might be the most accomplished O-liner in the draft. He’s a plug-in-and-play center who gets the job done. Whitehair needs time to adjust to center but has the balance, frame and physicality to be a safe pick. Stanley plays with inconsistent effort and someone needs to light a fire under him. He has the athletic upside to stick in round one — but he could fall.

Linebacker
Leonard Floyd, Kyler Fackrell, Deion Jones
Floyd is pencil thin and hasn’t always looked great rushing the passer (see: Shon Coleman blocking him into the car park). He is a terrific athlete though — in one game he covered a teams #1 receiver on a deep route at 6-4 and 231lbs. Fackrell is just a constantly disruptive pass-rushing force — a splash-play specialist. Jones won’t get many first round grades but his fantastic suddenness, fluidity and all-round athleticism could put him near the top of Seattle’s board.

Defensive tackle
Vernon Butler, Andrew Billings, Robert Nkemdiche, Jarran Reed, A’Shawn Robinson
This is a tough one to gauge. Will they take a bigger, non-quick-twitch interior D-lineman? Butler is intriguing because he combines size, length and quicks to show flashes of Muhammad Wilkerson. He’s still a 325lbs defensive tackle and that’s not something the Seahawks have pursued early. Billings is very strong and athletic but doesn’t play with any kind of discipline and that’s a concern. Nkemdiche might be struck off many boards for off-field concerns despite his massive upside. Reed is a pure run-stopper but plays with his hair on fire. Robinson coasts through a lot of games. He’s an incredible athlete for his size but how badly does he want to be great?

Running back
Ezekiel Elliott
Elliott does everything well. He doesn’t go down on first contact, he can be a home-run hitter, he pass-blocks very well, he’s a threat to catch passes out of the backfield and he makes things happen. He’s the only running back in this class that deserves to go in the first frame.

Wide receiver
Will Fuller, Corey Coleman, Laquan Treadwell, Michael Thomas
Fuller’s suddenness and elite speed to separate and explode will surely be coveted by teams in the top-25. Coleman isn’t far behind as a sparky, athletic playmaker that can make the circus catch and be a production machine. Treadwell is Mr. Consistency but might drop a little if he runs in the 4.6’s or 4.7’s. Thomas is a big target with great agility. The stop-and-go route he put on Kendall Fuller was a thing of beauty.

Safety
Darian Thompson
He had a terrific Senior Bowl — flashing range and closing speed. He’s a playmaker in the secondary and had five picks and two forced fumbles in 2015. He has the size (6-2, 210lbs) to play up at the line if needed. Thompson is an ascending talent and appears to be working his way into first round territory.

 

D-line vs O-line and thoughts on Baylor’s Andrew Billings

February 4th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Baylor’s Andrew Billings was mocked to the Seahawks by Todd McShay

Do you take a defensive tackle at #26 or begin to improve the offensive line?

A consensus opinion is emerging that the Seahawks are probably going to focus on the trenches in the draft. It makes sense — it’s a good class on both sides of the ball.

So what are some of the things to consider?

Pete Carroll said the priority was fixing the O-line

In the past when Carroll says they’re going to do something — they’ve gone after it aggressively. He wanted to improve the run-game in 2011 so they drafted the best run-blocking tackle in college football (James Carpenter) and a road grader guard (John Moffitt). In 2012 he wanted to add speed to the front seven so they took Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner in the first two rounds. In 2013 they wanted to improve the pass rush so went and added Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril in free agency.

The Seahawks haven’t had a glaring need since. Now they have. Carroll’s apparent determination to produce a consistently performing O-line could be all the information we need when it comes to the #26 pick.

What about the D-line though?

There isn’t anyone quite as disruptive as Kawann Short (pre-draft scouting report here) but it’s a deep class overall at defensive tackle. In a recent two-round mock draft I put nine DT’s in the first two rounds. Some would argue that’s a conservative projection.

This depth should filter into the early third round but then it starts to thin out. Alternatively, you should be able to find good options for the O-line later on. This is a loaded class at center and it’s possible the likes of Joe Dahl (T, Washington State), Fahn Cooper (T, Ole Miss) and the technically deficient with major upside Le’Raven Clark (T, Texas Tech) could be around in the middle rounds.

For that reason you can make a case for going defense first.

So will they go defense?

It depends on who they like. They haven’t really committed to perceived ‘value’ over ‘need’. They clearly liked Carpenter and Irvin a lot and took them earlier than most people expected. In 2014 they needed a tackle and a receiver but passed on several accomplished linemen (including Joel Bitonio) because they just had to have Paul Richardson. By the time they picked at the end of round two — their options on the O-line were very limited. Without a third round pick (Percy Harvin trade) they felt obliged to reach for Justin Britt to make sure they got a guy they liked. The options at receiver remained strong beyond Seattle’s second pick — Donte Moncrief and Martavis Bryant for example remained on the board and Jarvis Landry was taken just before they chose Britt.

Their desire to take Richardson trumped the fact that draft value was telling them to go OT first and WR second.

It doesn’t guarantee anything but history suggests they’ll judge the best way to upgrade their roster, find a guy they like and take them. If that player happens to be an offensive lineman — they probably don’t think twice. Even if they’re able to fill more needs by going defense first.

What kind of player do they need on defense?

They’d like a pass rusher. It’s not a frightening need with Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Frank Clark on the roster. They are potentially losing Bruce Irvin, however, and didn’t get any production out of Jordan Hill in 2015. Essentially they need the next Clinton McDonald or late-2014 Hill.

That’s assuming they retain Brandon Mebane and Athyba Rubin. With Carroll declaring Rubin as the best three-technique they’ve had in Seattle, it’s safe to bet he’ll be sticking around. Mebane earned $5.7m in 2015 and turned 31 in January. He might be willing to agree a team-friendly deal to finish his career with the only club he’s played for.

Keeping both could be important. While they want to upgrade the pass rush, they don’t want to weaken the run defense. Nobody ran for 100 yards against Seattle in the regular season. That’s a big deal.

They need someone who can work into a rotation and make some plays. It doesn’t need to be an every-down pass-rush DT (those are hard to find). It needs to be someone who can do what Hill did late in the 2014 season or McDonald in 2013.

Will this require a first round pick?

Let’s be real here — probably not. Assuming you keep Rubin and Mebane you’re talking about a rotational defensive tackle who plays a certain percentage of the snaps. Is that a good use of resources?

Alternatively you could argue they made a similar pick in round two with Frank Clark last year. Is that an indication they would be willing to take a role-player early? Perhaps — if they have unique traits like Clark (a genuine SPARQ monster).

There are some options later in the draft that could provide some value. Appalachian State’s Ronald Blair III is incredibly disruptive. If he can add another 5-10lbs he could be an interior rusher. He lived in the backfield against Clemson which is no mean feat. Keep an eye on that guy. Ferris State’s Justin Zimmer is another possible diamond in the rough and South Carolina State’s Javon Hargrave has a nice combination of technique and quicks.

What about free agency?

They’ve consistently found value here. Clinton McDonald, Tony McDaniel, Kevin Williams, Athyba Rubin. All were acquired at a modest price. Are there players who can have a similar impact in 2016? Is there a player who can come in and compliment what they already have?

Looking at the list of current prospective free agents — nobody stands out. Henry Melton hasn’t really been the same since his knee injury. He’s just completed an average season with the Buccs.

There could be a cap casualty or two along the way. A solution might not be evident just yet.

It’s worth noting that when he was asked about adding a pass rusher — Carroll specifically made reference to seeing what the draft provides. Money could be tight in free agency if they manage to keep a large number of their UFA’s. It doesn’t mean they have to take a D-liner at #26 though.

If they were going to go DT in round one, who would they like?

Tony Pauline noted the Seahawks have given a first round grade to Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins. At the Senior Bowl he displayed top-tier quickness, get-off and the ability to use a swim/rip effectively. The top interior pass-rushers in the league have this skill set. He has enough size to be an early-down DT and plays with terrific gap discipline — something the Seahawks value greatly for their run defense. His tape isn’t quite as brilliant as the way he destroyed Graham Glasgow in Mobile — but there’s a skill set and understanding that matches what they like.

Rankins is unlikely to reach the #26 pick. There’s too much talk about him right now. He’s being mocked in the top-10 by some. Pauline also noted Atlanta likes him in round one and they own the #17 pick.

So what about one of the other options?

Today I went back and reviewed three Baylor games to watch Andrew Billings. Yesterday ESPN’s Todd McShay mocked him to the Seahawks at #26.

Clearly there’s a lot to like — I’m just not convinced he’s right for Seattle. He uses his length well to keep blockers off his frame and generally does a good job to disengage. He shows great pursuit — on one play he ran 60-yards to chase down the ball-carrier and prevent a touchdown. Billings gets into backfield quickly and effectively when he finds the space to exploit.

However, therein lies part of the issue. His gap discipline is non-existent. Whether he’s told to or not, he frequently moves laterally off the snap to shift down the line, find a gap and run to the ball. That seems to work against a lot of the spread teams — especially West Virginia, TCU, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. They separate their tackles off the line and almost put them on an island. It’s perhaps not surprising that four of his 5.5 sacks in 2015 came against these teams. Against Oklahoma though he was frequently caught off balance and spent far too much time on the turf.

He seems to use two moves — the bull rush or this lateral movement. Sometimes he’s capable of plowing his way through the LOS with sheer power. That’s what he does very well — and if he wins with initial power he can find the space to explode and finish. Unfortunately there’s little evidence of a quick get-off followed by a swim/rip to burst into the backfield.

At the next level he’s needs to win straight up 1v1. He might be able to do that with power and be an effective force. His use of length, arm extension and upper-body are intriguing. When he isn’t winning with the bull rush, however, he’s going to need to be quick-twitch to be an effective pass rusher and that just isn’t him. Give him space and he’ll finish better than any DT in this class. Finding the space might be the problem — and it did cross my mind whether he might actually be better suited playing the 5-technique to find an angle.

When he’s moving laterally he almost always concedes his gap — allowing running lanes to materialize. I suspect this will concern the Seahawks and will raise some questions — can he be taught to remain tight in-line and can he still be an effective pass rusher in this role? When he’s not able to wing it trying to find a route into the backfield — can he still win consistently? Can he take his game to the next level and learn to win with a get-off and quickness? Or does he end up being a pure one-technique who possibly does all the things Mebane does but doesn’t really provide consistent pressure?

To some extent he reminds me of another former Baylor D-lineman in Phil Taylor. He too was abnormally athletic for his size (he was 20lbs bigger than Billings), had a lot of upper body power and could sprint to the sideline in pursuit. He ended up being the #21 overall pick because of such an enticing skill set. He struggled to adapt to the pro’s and after being released by Cleveland following the 2014 season he hasn’t had another team.

That’s not to say Billings faces the same fate — but Taylor’s skills are reasonably similar. Like Taylor I could easily see him going in the #15-25 range because very strong, athletic nose tackles generally go early.

I’m going to spend time looking at some of the other options too. Vernon Butler (DT, Louisiana Tech) is a player I’m intrigued with because he has shown flashes of winning with quickness as well as possessing great athleticism at 325lbs with 34 inch arms. The comparisons to Muhammad Wilkerson are not ridiculous. I want to review my position on A’Shawn Robinson (DT, Alabama) a player I’m currently grading in round two and feel is overrated. I’ve settled on second round grades for Kenny Clark (DT, UCLA) and Jonathan Bullard (DT, Florida). Clark is a good run-stopper with limited pass-rushing skill. Bullard’s get-off is fantastic and he plays with high intensity — but he looks like an average athlete and appears to have a relatively low ceiling at the next level. Javon Hargrave (DT, South Carolina State) dominated at a small-school level.

I’m not sure there’s a better way for the Seahawks to improve in 2016 than if they sort out the O-line once and for all (particularly the interior). However, the number of good DT’s in the class and the overall depth on the offensive line makes this a debate that will rage on into free agency.

 

Breaking down Todd McShay’s second mock draft

February 3rd, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

ESPN analyst Todd McShay today published his second mock draft. He has the Seahawks taking Andrew Billings (DT, Baylor) at #26. We’ll continue to break down the McShay and Mel Kiper mocks to look at options for Seattle in the first round.

McShay on the pick

“Billings has freakish weight-room strength that he puts to good use as a run defender. A great athlete for the position, he displays an impressive combination of quickness and power. Billings improved his consistency as a third-year starter, and that led to him playing the best football of his career in 2015 (14.0 TFLs and 5.5 sacks).”

Reaction

Billings would theoretically replace Brandon Mebane. He’s strong enough to play the nose and provide some level of disruption. The Seahawks have generally gone for quickness and unique athletic traits when spending early picks on their defense. A powerful Mebane replacement would arguably contradict that approach. Is the roster improved by replacing Mebane with a 19-year-old rookie? They’ve been able to plug players into their D-line using free agency. Spending a first round pick on Billings would be a departure from that.

Other players who were available at #26

Noah Spence (DE, Eastern Kentucky)
Spence proved he’s a top-15 talent at the Senior Bowl. He still has to convince teams he’s a changed man after his departure from Ohio State. The reports from Mobile were positive in that regard — and Spence appears destined to go very early in round one. There just isn’t anyone else with a similar combination of speed, agility, hand-use and technique. In a class littered with powerful DE’s, Spence stands out. If he does somehow last until pick #26 — the Seahawks have to consider him.

SDB projection: #12 overall to New Orleans but could go higher

Mackensie Alexander (CB, Clemson)
Tipped by many to go in the top-15, Alexander is an aggressive and confident cornerback. He plays bigger than his listed size (5-10, 190lbs) and carries himself like a top NFL corner. With one or two key injuries at the position (Kendall Fuller, Will Redmond) and Tre’Davious White and Cam Sutton opting to return to LSU and Tennessee respectively — Alexander could be competing with Eli Apple to be the top cornerback in the draft. Whether the Seahawks would consider him or not depends on length. They generally avoid cornerbacks with sub-32 inch arms.

SDB projection: #8 overall to Miami

Shon Coleman (T, Auburn)
Possibly the best left tackle in college football in 2015 (Laremy Tunsil missed most of the season), Coleman combines ideal size with a gritty attitude. He’s the complete opposite of the passive Ronnie Stanley — Coleman loves to get to the second level and punish a linebacker. He talks trash to defenders. He enjoys the competitive side of the game. Teams will do their homework on his medical report after he beat cancer. His age (24) could be an issue for some. If you want a tackle or guard with an edge, Coleman provides fantastic value. A top-20 talent.

SDB projection: #23 overall to Minnesota

Jason Spriggs (T, Indiana)
The best of a pretty bad bunch of tackles in Mobile — Spriggs was generally hit and miss (just like his college career overall). He’s long and athletic and looks the part. There are some technical deficiencies in his game though — he gets beat too easily on the inside counter and his kick slide is a little laboured at times. Some believe he has to move inside but how many teams want a guard at nearly 6-6 and 301lbs? There’s a lot of upside here if he gets the right coaching. He might need to start at right tackle and eventually move across.

SDB projection: #30 overall to Denver

Nick Martin (C, Notre Dame)
Dangerously underrated, Martin was the best offensive lineman at the Senior Bowl. A picture of consistency, Martin — like his brother — was born to be an offensive lineman. He has ideal size to work inside (6-4, 300lbs), plays with a fantastic physicality and doesn’t lose many 1v1 battles. The only obvious difference between Zack and Nick is quicker feet — this isn’t really a problem with Nick working at center. If you’re looking for a prospect who can start in year one and just get the job done — this is your man. He’ll be a quality starter for the next few years and like his brother, could be a perennial Pro-Bowler. The Seahawks say they want consistency and physicality in the trenches.

SDB projection: #26 overall to Seattle

Leonard Floyd (LB, Georgia)
Floyd’s a bit of an enigma. He could easily be the next Aaron Maybin — overrated based on his athletic skill set and largely ineffective because what is his best position? At the same time, there just aren’t many human beings that move as well as Floyd at 6-4 and 231lbs. On one play in 2015 he covered a teams #1 receiver running down the left sideline on a deep route. Is he a good enough pass rusher to compliment his speed and agility? He had 4.5 sacks this season and six in 2014. In Seattle his most likely role would be to replace Bruce Irvin but he’s better suited to the 3-4.

SDB projection: #19 overall to Buffalo

Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame)
Fuller might be the most dynamic receiver in the draft and could easily be the first wide out taken. His ability to shift through the gears and separate is staggering. Yes, he has the occasional drop. However — there arguably hasn’t been a player entering the league with this level of raw explosion since DeSean Jackson. Fuller is a well-spoken, respectful individual with a good understanding of the game. The Seahawks probably won’t take a receiver in round one — but Fuller is their type of wide out. He has a shot to be an instant impact player.

SDB projection: #24 overall to Cincinnati

Kyler Fackrell (LB, Utah State)
Another incredibly underrated player. Fackrell’s sack numbers (only four in 2015) are misleading. PFF ranked him as one of the most disruptive players in college football and they’re absolutely right. Fackrell is a splash-play specialist. He impacts so many snaps. So while he might not always get the sack, his ability to move the quarterback, force bad throws and dictate protection is invaluable. In Seattle he would act as a pure edge rusher rather than replace Bruce Irvin. He’s a highly competitive individual with a chance to emulate Clay Matthews’ early success in the pro’s.

SDB projection: #25 overall to Pittsburgh

Cody Whitehair (T, Kansas State)
Although he played left tackle for Kansas State in 2015, Whitehair is certain to move inside to guard or center. He only has 31 and 3/8 inch arms at nearly 6-4 in height — length to make a T-Rex blush. In Mobile he took to the left guard spot with ease. Whitehair is extremely well balanced, a natural knee-bender and he understands leverage. He’s powerful and athletic and should be one of the safest picks in the draft. He’s not quite as accomplished as Nick Martin and would need a bit of time to adapt if he switches to center — but he’s solid..

SDB projection: #29 overall to Arizona

Players off the board in McShay’s mock

Sheldon Rankins (DT, Louisville) — #10 to the New York Giants
Vernon Butler (DT, Louisiana Tech) — #22 to Houston
Braxton Miller (WR, Ohio State) — #24 to Cincinnati
Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State) — #25 to Pittsburgh