Cliff Avril signs 4-year extension with Seahawks

December 19th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Seattle had two significant defensive free agents ready to hit the market in 2015. In the space of 24-hours, both were re-signed to long-term extensions.

Just a day after K.J. Wright committed his future to the Seahawks, Cliff Avril followed suit.

According to Ian Rapoport it’s a four-year deal worth $28m ($16m guaranteed). He’ll get around $7m per year. As Seahawks fans discussed how a possible $34m in cap space next year could keep the team together, John Schneider didn’t waste any time making sure that is the case.

It hasn’t been a great year statistically for Avril. He has 4.5 sacks. If he doesn’t get any more in the last two games it’ll be the worst total in his career. But here’s the thing — Seattle would need to replace him if he left. And that could be more costly than the $28m they just spent. DeMarcus Ware’s cap hit in Denver is nearly $10m this year. It simply wasn’t worth letting Avril join another team on a fair deal, just to overspend to keep him.

Avril was possibly the true Super Bowl MVP last season — harassing Peyton Manning constantly. His bull rush forced Colin Kaepernick into ‘the pick’. His pressure in the playoffs drove Seattle to the title game. He is a key player.

It’s likely they’ll try and add another pass rusher at some stage, possibly via the draft. It’s a deep class of pass rushers. They’ll have some options.

But the last thing they wanted was to go into 2015 with Michael Bennett as their only proven quality defensive end. Losing Avril was a total non-starter. And now they’ll keep him without any drama.

We said it yesterday and it’s still true today. The Seahawks don’t need to splurge in free agency. They were 13-3 last year and 10-4 so far this term. Seattle isn’t used to this kind of success. Keeping this group together and drafting well is the key. Not losing players like Golden Tate chasing a Percy Harvin.

It’ll be interesting to see if any other moves are close. Byron Maxwell for example?

 

Seahawks sign K.J. Wright to a four-year extension

December 18th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

K.J. Wright deserves a new contract. A fourth round pick in 2011, he’s one of Pete Carroll and John Schneider’s greatest decisions. Very few players in this league can fly around the field at 246lbs like Wright. He’s a vital piece in what is becoming the best trio of linebackers in the NFL.

Find me another group that compares. Bobby Wagner gets a lot of plaudits — and rightly so. As Carroll said recently, he’s a 4.4 runner with cornerback speed playing middle linebacker. He’s a terrific blitzer and he dominates in the run game. Seattle needs Wagner — and he’ll almost certainly get a new contract too in the near future.

But don’t underestimate Wright and Bruce Irvin. It’s gone more or less unnoticed, but Irvin in particular has grown into one of the best defensive playmakers in the league. He has 5.5 sacks, a pick-six, multiple TFL’s and he sets the edge against the run. He’s quick enough to handle scrambling quarterbacks, he’s a pass rush threat and he can cover from time to time. He offers all the upside of Julian Peterson but he’s a lot more rounded for the position.

And then there’s Wright. The guy who shuts down athletic tight ends in the passing game. The man who destroyed New Orleans’ screen game in two meetings last season. Mr. Consistent ever since he entered the league. A player versatile enough to play all three linebacker spots — and play them well too. He’s intelligent on the field. A winner. All-in.

No team in the league carries this much speed and power at linebacker. Nobody.

The thing is, you sense they can get even better. The light has switched on for Irvin this year. Wright’s level of performance has never dipped. This is just Wagner’s third season in the league. They had to keep this trio together. Had to. Wright’s extension is just the start.

There’s a reason teams are 0-8 after playing the Seahawks since October. It’s not because of the size up front. There’s no Vince Wilfork in there blowing up the run. There’s no J.J. Watt sapping the energy of the two starting tackles.

The sheer quickness and physicality of the linebackers, backed up nicely by Kam Chancellor at strong safety, is what teams fear the most. It has to be. It’s why opponents get beat up playing the Seahawks.

Whatever the details of this contract extension, it’ll be money well spent. Wagner and Russell Wilson will get their turn. Hopefully Byron Maxwell, J.R. Sweezy, Irvin and others will follow suit.

Within seconds of Tweeting about this news, a Jacksonville Jaguars fan responded to express his disappointment. Gus Bradley and the Jags wouldn’t have been the only suitor. This was a vital move to keep him off the market.

The Seahawks don’t need to splurge on outsiders with their cap space. The Percy Harvin trade showed that. They just need to keep the band together and draft well.

 

Seahawks with $33.8m cap room in 2015? Plus McShay’s mock

December 17th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

It’s been announced that free agency will begin at 4pm on March 10th. According to Overthecap.com the Seahawks could have a veritable bounty to spend.

A projection published today suggests Seattle could have as much as $33.8m in cap space for 2015. Only four teams — Oakland, Jacksonville, the Jets and Cleveland — have more available. In comparison, San Francisco are currently scheduled to be $10m OVER the cap. Ditto the Cardinals. St. Louis could have as little as $5m available.

Of course, teams will find ways to create space. The Rams could make a major saving by cutting injury prone Sam Bradford (or at least re-working his deal).

Likewise the Seahawks could create even more room if, as speculated, Marshawn Lynch leaves in the off-season. That would create another $7m.

It’s unlikely Seattle would use this money to go on a major splurge. The priority will be to re-sign Russell Wilson to a deal worth over $100m. Bobby Wagner stands to get a new contract. There’s probably enough room to keep K.J. Wright and potentially Byron Maxwell. J.R. Sweezy is also a candidate to receive a contract extension. Bruce Irvin, quietly, is having a sensational season. He played every defensive snap against San Francisco and has developed into an important playmaker. He too may require an extension soon. What about Cliff Avril?

It’s easy to neglect that the Seahawks have had three double-digit win seasons for the first time in franchise history. Even if they fail in their quest to repeat this year, Pete Carroll has created a juggernaut. Expensive outsider additions are not entirely necessary. This isn’t a closing window, set to slam shut in the next year or two. The Denver Broncos know Peyton Manning won’t last forever. Seattle has a young, talented core. Keeping the band together and rewarding your own is most important. The Percy Harvin trade is a valuable reminder.

There should still be enough room to make some choice additions. Whether it’s a much needed big target, an extra pass rusher or something else.

It’s worth pointing out the Broncos are scheduled to have $31m free themselves — so forget about Demaryius or Julius Thomas hitting the market. They have the cash to keep both and extend Von Miller’s contract. Tampa Bay’s possible $31m could make it harder to do a deal for Vincent Jackson at a fair price — especially if they pick first and select Marcus Mariota. The New York Jets having as much as $41.4m available could put them at the top of the Ndamukong Suh sweepstakes.

Before it gets brought up — it’s incredibly unlikely Seattle will get anywhere near Suh. Gerald McCoy’s $95.2m deal with the Buccs is a classic benchmark. He’ll probably get more. And the Seahawks are only likely to spend that kind of money on Wilson.

With a bevvy of draft picks likely (multiple compensatory picks), they can fill in the gaps if they keep the roster together. It appears they’ll have the cap space to do it.

And on that note…

Todd McShay’s first mock draft

One of the great talking points over the next couple of months is going to be the stock of Todd Gurley. How is he recovering from knee surgery and a torn ACL? How will teams weigh up talent versus a serious injury and having to estimate whether he can play in 2015? Will there be any long term impact on his performance?

Gurley looked every bit a top-ten prospect during the season. On talent alone he’ll still go early. But if you’re a bad team with a losing record — or even an 8-8 team looking for an impact player — can you justify drafting a first round running back who might need to be redshirted in year one? Or at least managed carefully?

In McShay’s first mock he has Gurley dropping to the Seahawks at pick #29…

“The Seahawks need help along the offensive and defensive lines, and could also look to upgrade at the tight end position. But at this spot, Gurley (assuming Seattle’s doctors were comfortable with his recovery from his torn ACL) would provide high upside as a value pick. Scouts I’ve spoken to considered Gurley a potential top 10-to-20 pick prior to his injury, because of his combination of tremendous power and breakaway speed. Marshawn Lynch has only one year left on his contract after this season, and isn’t a lock to be on the roster for 2015. The closest NFL comparison I can come up with for Gurley is Lynch.”

I’m not totally sold on the Lynch comparison. Gurley is 230lbs. Lynch is 215lbs but plays like a 230lbs running back. That’s the difference. He has unnatural strength, a unique running style and an ability to break tackles that we just won’t see for a generation. He is a genuine freak of nature — a true beast. Gurley runs with power and authority — but you’d expect that for his size.

That’s not to say he isn’t unique in his own way. Lynch’s greatest talent is to play way above his size. Gurley is a true home-run hitter despite being so big. He can avoid tackles and pound it up the middle. He can also take it to the house any time he has the ball. In the season opener against Clemson he had a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown. He had another called back against Auburn. Speed, agility, shiftiness, acceleration — Gurley’s different because he moves so well at 230lbs.

Will the injury compromise that talent? It’s a question that’ll be asked by every front office when they check out Gurley’s medical pre-draft.

The Seahawks wouldn’t have any chance to get Gurley without this issue. They’re good enough to redshirt him — with or without Lynch — or wait to use him midway through his rookie year. It’d be a stroke of luck to find another generational talent as one in Lynch comes close to the end. Even if it comes with an element of risk.

 

Do the Seahawks need a new right tackle?

December 15th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Justin Britt has had a mixed rookie season at right tackle

Justin Britt is fourteen games into his NFL career. Some would argue it’s too early to judge his performance. He’s a rookie. He’s learning a new position and scheme. He’s also faced some of the top pass rushers in the league — whether it’s Denver’s Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware combo or the prolific blitz attack of the Arizona Cardinals. This has been the proverbial baptism of fire.

Inexperience could be used as a legitimate excuse. He could improve with time. Look at the way Jordan Hill has suddenly exploded onto the scene towards the back-end of his second season in Seattle. It’s taken Tharold Simon time to get healthy and have an impact. Golden Tate was a slow burner and even Kam Chancellor sat as a rookie to learn the ropes.

Britt hasn’t been afforded that luxury. The Seahawks needed a right tackle after losing Breno Giacomini. When they reached the final pick in the second round of the draft — they simply had to take one.

By pick #64, seven offensive tackles had been drafted. When the Indianapolis Colts took Ohio State’s Jack Mewhort at #59 (a possible Seahawks target), Seattle faced a dilemma. They didn’t have a third round pick — they coughed it up in the ill-fated Percy Harvin trade. They were next on the board at pick #108 at the top of round four. If they didn’t take Britt at #64, they were probably not going to come away with a guy they liked at right tackle.

Britt is a Tom Cable type of guy. No nonsense. Former wrestler. Tough as nails. The Seahawks have leaned on their offensive line coach for advice in the draft — he appeared to be instrumental in the decision to select James Carpenter and John Moffitt months after arriving in Seattle. They also signed one of his former Oakland players — Robert Gallery — to further bolster the line. They even allowed him to draft a defensive lineman, convert him to guard, and start him in the first game of his rookie season. J.R. Sweezy has since become a mainstay on the O-line.

It’d be easy to look at the acquired group (including Britt) with indifference. The results, however, speak volumes. Pete Carroll wants the best running game in the NFL and that’s what he has — with Cable pulling the strings. For all the complaints over pass protection, before week 15 Seattle ranked only four places below the celebrated Dallas Cowboys offensive line according to Football Outsiders. I suspect both Carroll and Cable are quite satisfied to have a highly ranked run-blocking unit, even if the pass-pro is distinctly average.

That’s part of the reason Britt was drafted in round two. I watched two Missouri games over the summer where he played the run superbly — but looked awkward in pass protection. He played at left tackle but looked far from a natural.

I doubt they planned on rolling out a finished article in 2014. Losing Zach Miller — perhaps the best blocking tight end in the league — hasn’t helped. His presence on the right side would’ve taken the pressure off Britt in his first year. Instead he’s had to get out there and take on the best. It hasn’t been pretty.

In Sunday’s win over San Francisco, Ahmad Brooks had him for dinner. On more than one occasion he had a free run to Russell Wilson. Britt didn’t even lay a finger on him. Giacomini was a brawler and far from perfect in pass protection but he usually did enough to buy his quarterback a bit of extra time. Britt has to develop that kind of effectiveness. He’s never going to be the natural pass blocker who kick-slides with ease and ushers the top DE’s out of danger. But he needs to be disruptive, get into the pads and at least buy Wilson a second or two.

Life won’t get any easier in the final two weeks of the regular season. A rematch with the Cardinals in Arizona — and then St. Louis’ all-star D-line. Ouch.

With every struggling performance you wonder how Seattle’s front office and coaching staff will assess this situation. Will they feel Britt can take the next step in year two? Can he grow just like J.R. Sweezy and others. Can he lock down the position for years to come?

Or is he better off moving inside — just as James Carpenter did after a tough rookie season — and trying his hand at guard?

If the Seahawks were willing to give up on the #25 overall pick at right tackle after one year, you better believe they’ll do the same with the #64 pick. Carpenter’s pending free agency status adds another dimension to this debate. If he walks they could let Britt battle with Alvin Bailey for the left guard spot. The other player, theoretically, could start at tackle. Or they could bring in a new body.

Should they decide to bring in a new tackle — what are the options?

It’s another good class for offensive linemen, even if there isn’t that sure-fire top-five pick heading the group. Depth is the key here — and that’s a good thing for the Seahawks. They’ll be picking in the 20’s or 30’s if they make the playoffs. And there’s every chance they’ll have the opportunity to get a solid player if they want to add another early pick to this unit.

La’el Collins (T/G, LSU) divides opinion. For me he needs to kick inside to guard at the next level — but he has a chance to turn into a perennial Pro-Bowler at that position. Could he operate at right tackle? Perhaps. But you’d be wasting a damn fine guard.

T.J. Clemmings (T, Pittsburgh) is the most intriguing tackle in the class. A converted defensive lineman, he’s looked terrific this year playing at right tackle. He’s mobile, athletic, loves to get to the second level. He has the potential to dominate in the run game. He could work his way into being the first or second tackle off the board.

Two of the bigger names — Cedric Oguehi (T, Texas A&M) and Brandon Scherff (T, Iowa) are a bit overrated. Ogbuehi in particular has struggled this year after moving to left tackle. Scherff might be better suited to guard — he’s another player with the potential to excel in the run game but is he good enough in pass protection?

It’s debatable whether Andrus Peat (T, Stanford) and Ronnie Stanley (T, Notre Dame) will declare. If either does, they have a shot to be among the top-15 picks. Peat is a natural in pass-pro and the best pure left tackle eligible for this draft. Tyrus Thompson (T, Oklahoma), Corey Robinson (T, South Carolina) and Ty Sambrailo (T, Colorado State) could all be options too. The depth extends to Cameron Erving (T/C, Florida State), Chaz Green (T, Florida), Jake Fisher (T, Oregon) and Daryl Williams (T, Oklahoma).

Here’s the issue though. Is replacing a struggling rookie with another first-year player the answer? Spending a first round pick on a right tackle (Carpenter) didn’t provide a solution. Spending a second round pick on a right tackle (Britt) hasn’t paid off so far. Do you keep throwing picks at a non-premium position in the hope you finally strike it lucky?

And yes — it is a non-premium position. If Zach Miller returns in 2015, Britt will get the kind of help he currently desperately needs. The Seahawks have won a whole host of games in the last two years starting Michael Bowie and Britt. Their most productive starting right tackle under Carroll and Cable has been a 5th round pick signed off the Packers practice squad.

It would be unprecedented for a team to spend two first round picks and a second round pick within a five year span trying to get a long term starting right tackle.

If they’re going to sign another player, wouldn’t they be better off adding a competent veteran tackle to the roster? Playing it safe at a slightly greater cost? Doug Free could be a cap casualty in Dallas as they try to re-sign DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant. He has his critics in Dallas — but he is the kind of player who could become available.

Alternatively, there is one not insignificant reason to draft a first round tackle. Russell Okung will enter the final year of his rookie deal in 2015. His cap hit is just $7m — a relative bargain for a player of his ability. But what happens after 2015? He could be a difficult keep. On the one hand he made a Pro-Bowl in 2012 and is a highly respected member of the roster. A team leader and a consistent feature during the Carroll revolution. He’s also struggled to stay healthy and might generate serious money on the open market.

Is a first round left tackle necessary? More often than not, yes. Defenses are getting faster. The top, athletic O-liners go early. It’s why Carroll’s first pick in Seattle was a top-ten tackle.

Would they draft a player to initially feature at right tackle, providing security on the left side if Okung walks? Possibly.

Of course, there’s every chance time will be a healer with Justin Britt. And it’s also very possible the Seahawks re-sign Okung. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing either. Again — the Seahawks want the best run-blocking line in the NFL. They’ve set out to draft run blockers. They know they have a scrambling quarterback who can evade pressure — they want to be a scrambling team. Wilson is a difficult guy to block for and it should be no surprise that the top two pass-protecting lines in the NFL according to FO are Denver and New England. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are easier to block for and they both have a super-quick release.

Don’t underestimate consistency either. Keeping a line together is vital — more vital than endless high picks at the position hoping something eventually clicks.

The play of Britt didn’t cost Seattle in any of their four defeats. Let’s hear that perspective. There’s every chance he will improve in year two. But it’ll be interesting to see how they approach this situation in the off-season. Does he switch to guard? What do they do with Carpenter? And would they be prepared to spend yet another early pick trying to find a long term option at right tackle?

T.J. Clemmings vs Miami

Ty Sambrailo vs Boston College

Jake Fisher vs Washington

Brandon Scherff vs Maryland

 

Instant reaction: Seahawks beat Niners again, move to 10-4

December 14th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

In the first half Seattle weren’t running the ball and the defense had a few issues getting off the field. It felt like each of Seattle’s previous four defeats.

In the second half Seattle ran the ball, dominated on defense and recorded a shut-out. It felt like each of Seattle’s previous three wins.

The whole season summed up in a single game. A slow start followed by a rampaging finish.

The 49ers have a right to feel aggrieved at a bad call on linebacker Nick Moody. His third down hit on Russell Wilson was completely fair. It put an extra four points on the board for Seattle and ended the scoring at 17-7. Did it decide the game? Of course not.

San Francisco could gripe if they’d actually managed to do anything in the second half. They struggled to defend the run, coughed up key plays on two crucial drives and their offense regressed back to the stalling mess we saw on Thanksgiving. Colin Kaepernick was sacked six times — it could’ve been more.

And with the season on the line Greg Roman and Jim Harbaugh decided to burn the clock with a series of short runs and completions. There was no urgency at all in San Francisco’s penultimate drive after the controversial touchdown. 14 plays for 55-yards and a whole lot of clock — all to concede possession on a fourth down run by the full back. It’s the kind of tepid offensive display that’ll provoke Trent Baalke’s daughter to return to Twitter.

In the first half the Niners threatened to cause the kind of unlikely fightback that Jim Harbaugh has been synonymous with since he left Stanford. It would’ve been easy to write them off last year after lousy to defeats to Seattle and Indianapolis. They always fought back. After two bad defeats to the Seahawks and Raiders — they showed a ton of character early on.

It might’ve been a different game without a cluster of key injuries. Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde were lost — as was Chris Borland. They already started the game without several key starters.

But Seattle’s defense is playing at such a high level right now — and as they got to grips with Kaepernick and the wrinkles in the run game, they took control.

It wasn’t a pretty game by any means. Yet how often have Pete Carroll’s Seahawks been aesthetically pleasing? It was never going to be a cake-walk. Not between these teams. Even in Seattle’s big wins against the Niners there’s been no coasting.

A win’s a win. Seattle has ten of them now.

Green Bay’s loss to Buffalo earlier means the Seahawks have to beat Ryan Lindley and Shaun Hill led teams to secure another #1 seed in the NFC and crucial homefield advantage. They’d also need the Cowboys to lose one more game. Dallas takes on Philadelphia tonight before meeting the Colts and Redskins.

Perhaps more importantly — they knocked out their closest rival today. Despite several comfortable wins against San Francisco — the 49ers remain Seattle’s most dangerous opponent. As a feared division rival, as a similarly built physical group with a great defense and elusive quarterback — they’re the team most likely to come to Century Link and pull it off. They nearly did it last season. San Francisco are out of the playoffs now at 7-7. That feels significant.

In other notes:

— Paul Richardson continues to grow into a legitimate threat for the Seahawks. He prospered at Colorado with initial speed to eat up a cushion, explosive breaks and smooth route running. We saw that today. He made a huge third down conversion prior to Lynch’s touchdown — adjusting to a late pass by Wilson. He later recorded his first career score — a redzone touchdown — on a fluid route over the middle collecting a Wilson strike. He is showing a ton of promise.

— Jordan Hill was a terrific player at Penn State. Every week he provided the kind of interior presence Seattle desperately needed prior to the 2013 season. It’s taken a while, but Penn State-Jordan Hill is now playing for the Seahawks. He had two sacks today and constantly unsettled Kaepernick. This is a huge boost for the Seahawks. He’s become one of Seattle’s most important players on defense. Kevin Williams deserves a mention too — he also recorded a sack.

— Justin Britt continues to struggle. He’s had a rough last few weeks, but overall he’s been a total downgrade on Breno Giacomini. It’s difficult to be overly harsh given he’s a rookie — but we really need to see some improvement over the next few weeks. He had two big penalties today — a hold and a clip. Of more pressing concern is the way he struggled to handle Ahmad Brooks — who at times had a free run to the quarterback. It was a surprise when the Seahawks took Britt in the second round. You have to wonder how they’ll assess his performance in the off-season. Can he grow and blossom into a solid right tackle? Does he have to kick inside to guard?

— The Seahawks were 8/14 on third downs, a big plus given the struggles here earlier in the season.

 

The curious case of Auburn’s Sammie Coates

December 12th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

In our first 2015 mock draft yesterday, some of you asked why we had Seattle taking D’haquille ‘Duke’ Williams over his Auburn team mate Sammie Coates.

It’s a fair question. Coates is a tremendous athlete and a safe bet to be one of the combine’s winners in February (if he decides to turn pro as a redshirt junior). In Bruce Feldman’s annual ‘Freaks’ list, this year he had Coates at #1:

Asked about Coates’ 40-time, Russell (Ryan Russell, Auburn strength coach) said they use hand times (which are often faster than electronic times) and they clocked him eight times, dropped out the highest and lowest and said he was at 4.25. Coates’ vertical jump: 44 inches. He benches 405 pounds. Maybe even more impressively, Russell said, the wideout did three strict chin-up reps despite have three 45-pound plates strapped to a weight belt around his waist. “He’s just a stud,” said Russell.

You just have to look at the guy to realize he’s as advertised. Coates is ripped. The extreme speed shows when he’s running downfield. At 6-2 and 201lbs he’s big enough. Simply put, he’s an outstanding athlete.

The type Seattle loves.

Ever since the 2012 draft they’ve focused on big-time, difference making athleticism. Bruce Irvin in the first round, followed by Bobby Wagner. In 2013 they traded the farm for Percy Harvin and followed it up by drafting Christine Michael in round two. This year they went after Paul Richardson with their top pick. You can see a theme emerging.

A lot of people wondered why we didn’t put a defensive tackle with the Seahawks yesterday. I don’t think they’d do it to be honest. I think they’ll continue to look for special athletic potential. Kind of like a modified Al Davis view of the game. Go after the stud’s in the early rounds — get your meat and potatoes type’s later on.

If SPARQ is such a big factor — ask yourself this. How many defensive tackles are great SPARQ athletes? Very few. The ones who are go early (see: Aaron Donald). Too early for a competitor. I think they’ll continue to look for the run stoppers, the interior defensive (and offensive) linemen later in the draft — mid-to-late rounds and UDFA. I don’t think they’re going to change, even if the Irvin pick provided mix results and the Michael selection is yet to pay off.

Coates the athlete is practically already wearing College Navy and Wolf Grey. But is Coates the football player worthy of consideration? That’s the big question.

We identified several big-time athletes at the wide receiver position prior to the 2014 draft. Guys like Cody Latimer, Donte Moncrief and Martavis Bryant. None landed in Seattle. We can speculate why — was Latimer the type of character to mesh in an intense locker room? Perhaps not. Moncrief’s play jumped between frustrating and fine. He underwhelmed at Ole Miss despite such incredible potential. Bryant was a potential head-case (albeit a talented potential head-case).

There are no character questions with Coates — and this is a good example as to why:

But what about his play on the field? Well, it’s underwhelming. Could be better.

For starters he’s earned a reputation for making big plays. Against Alabama in the Iron Bowl he had 206 yards from just five receptions. He had similar games against LSU (four catches, 144 yards) and Ole Miss (five catches, 122 yards). In those three games he recorded 472 yards and four touchdowns. In the other eight games he played this year he totaled just 245 yards and zero touchdowns. His 2014 season basically came down to three big games. The rest was a whole lot of nothing.

Well, ‘a whole lot of nothing’ might be a positive review. He dropped passes, couldn’t get open and was at times a non-factor. It’s telling that one of the more creative offenses in college football couldn’t find a way to get him more involved. Why was that? He didn’t have a single rushing attempt from a reverse or trick play. He was pretty much a guy who ran downfield and tried to make a big gain. And not much more.

You have to qualify that by pointing out he started the year struggling with a knee injury and didn’t get healthy until a few weeks into the season. He missed the second game against San Jose State.

I want to focus on his ability as a downfield receiver — because I think it’s his greatest strength and perhaps also his biggest problem.

When Coates has made his big plays this year, they’ve all been a little strange. For example, against LSU (see the video at the top of the piece) he made a difficult catch between two defenders for a big gain. And yet he barely left the ground. The pass was underthrown and he had time to adjust to the ball, track it in the air and go get it. Instead he took the catch into his body as he fell to the turf. Ideally you see him go up and get the football at its highest point. Let’s see the great vertical leap and some catching technique. We see none of that. You can’t criticize too much because he made the play — but it was almost inexplicable how it wasn’t defended.

Later in the game he made another big play over the middle — again he has time to track the ball, adjust and make the catch. And again it’s taken at chest-height despite the presence of two defenders. I’m not sure I’ve seen two catches like this completed in the same game. You want to throw something at the screen because his catching technique is so poor — and yet there he is making huge downfield catches for major yardage. How do you complain about that?

The more you watch the tape, the more you see plays like this. Look at this catch against Texas A&M. Almost exactly the same. He collects the ball falling backwards into double coverage:

It’s almost like his signature move. “Here’s Coates — it looks like he’s going for the ‘stands still and catches it falling backwards between two defenders move’ — HE IS! HE GOT IT! SAMMIE COATES WINS THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP!”

In the Iron Bowl he made yet another of these plays right before half time to set up a last gasp field goal. It’s quite incredible:

Maybe he goes to the NFL and just continues to make plays this way? Who knows? I suspect, however, that it’s one of the first things he’ll need to work on. If you can track the football in the air, if you have leverage over the defensive back — just go up and get the football. Don’t wait for it to come to you. We know he can do it:

Because Coates’ biggest strength is also a major area for improvement, it’s hard to judge him as a prospect. There’s no tape of him working in the short passing game. There’s no tape of him making explosive special teams plays. There’s no tape of him running after the catch or being utilized via screens. As good an athlete as he is with so much potential — he might just be a great athlete. He might not be a good football player.

That’s the great conundrum here. If you’re able to get him some plays as a rookie and find a role — then work with him over time — you could be left with one of the more exciting players in the league. Or you could be left with a SPARQ champion who is no use at all.

The Seahawks love their difference making athletes — but they’re not daft. They don’t just look at a list of times and measurements. Bruce Irvin was the best pass rusher in college football during the 2010 season at West Virginia. He followed it up with another good year in 2011. Christine Michael had plenty of production before falling out with the coaches at Texas A&M. Paul Richardson had 1343 yards at Colorado last year and ten touchdowns.

Coates’ best production came last season — a 902-yard, seven touchdown campaign. This included four +100-yard outings but also two games with less than 20-yards (vs Ole Miss & Tennessee). He ticks a lot of boxes in terms of raw potential and athleticism. But is he a good enough football player to warrant early consideration?

That’s the question we’ll be asking if he does indeed declare for the draft.

 

The first 2015 mock draft: 10th December

December 11th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

D’haquille Williams — possible first round pick

#1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Marcus Mariota (QB Oregon)
#2 Tennessee Titans — Randy Gregory (DE, Nebraska)
#3 Jacksonville Jaguars — Andrus Peat (T, Stanford)
#4 New York Jets — Dante Fowler Jr (DE, Florida)
#5 Oakland Raiders — Eddie Goldman (DT, Florida State)
#6 Washington Redskins — Bud Dupree (DE, Kentucky)
#7 New York Giants — Shane Ray (DE, Missouri)
#8 Carolina Panthers — Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson)
#9 Chicago Bears — Landon Collins (S, Alabama)
#10 New Orleans Saints — La’el Collins (G, LSU)
#11 Minnesota Vikings — Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama)
#12 St. Louis Rams — Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
#13 Houston Texans — T.J. Clemmings (T, Pittsburgh)
#14 Cleveland Browns — Leonard Williams (DE, USC)
#15 San Francisco 49ers — Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)
#16 Miami Dolphins — Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
#17 Cleveland Browns — Shaq Thompson (LB, Washington)
#18 Kansas City Chiefs — Devante Parker (WR, Louisville)
#19 Baltimore Ravens — Tevin Coleman (RB, Indiana)
#20 Dallas Cowboys — Malcom Brown (DT, Texas)
#21 Atlanta Falcons — Shawn Oakman (DE, Baylor)
#22 Pittsburgh Steelers — Brandon Scherff (T, Iowa)
#23 San Diego Chargers — Cameron Erving (C, Florida State)
#24 Cincinnati Bengals — Cedric Ogbuehi (T, Texas A&M)
#25 Detroit Lions — Eli Harold (DE, Virginia)
#26 Indianapolis Colts — Ereck Flowers (T, Miami)
#27 Philadelphia Eagles — Bendarick McKinney (LB, Mississippi State)
#28 Seattle Seahawks — D’haquille Williams (WR, Auburn)
#29 Green Bay Packers — Jordan Phillips (DT, Oklahoma)
#30 New England Patriots — Danny Shelton (DT, Washington)
#31 Arizona Cardinals — T.J. Yeldon (RB, Alabama)
#32 Denver Broncos — Markus Golden (DE, Missouri)

Thoughts on pick #28

I’m not in love with the idea of giving the Seahawks another wide out. If you count Percy Harvin in 2013, it’d be a hat-trick of first picks spent on the position. That’s a lot. But is it a good enough reason to pass on a particular player if it’s still a need?

Seattle will make Russell Wilson the latest $100m quarterback in the next few months. With that new contract will come extra responsibility, especially if Marshawn Lynch is gone. The Seahawks will remain a run-focused offense, of course they will. But they’ll need to pick up the slack if they lose an almost irreplaceable player like Lynch. The passing game will have to improve. The best way for it to improve is to give Wilson better weapons.

This pick wouldn’t be about adding a pure #1 receiver, throwing the ball more and making one player the focal point of the attack. It’d be about adding a physical possession receiver who can win in the red zone, dominate the seam and make plays on the red line. The Seahawks have clearly lacked that bigger target and they know it. We all saw the reports claiming they asked about Vincent Jackson, Julius Thomas, Jordan Cameron and Coby Fleener. It wasn’t a coincidence.

In the last six months they’vr lost Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin. They added Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood. Jermaine Kearse is a RFA and will almost certainly stick around in 2015 — but after that, who knows? Lockette will be 29 next year. There’s room for one more.

Ideally they pick up the phone, work out a deal with Tampa Bay and acquire Vincent Jackson. He’d need to re-work his contract. You wouldn’t want to give up too much for a 32-year-old receiver. But he’d offer that proven veteran impact to the offense allowing you to focus on other needs in the draft. Who knows how likely that is? If the Buccs are breaking in a new quarterback (eg Marcus Mariota) they might be best served keeping hold of Jackson for another year.

So what does D’haquille Williams bring to the table? For starters, there’s this:

He’s an alpha male — something I guess you need to be to compete with the LOB every day. Against Alabama in the Iron Bowl — the biggest game of his career — he’s dancing in between plays. He’s loose. He’s confident. He had the ear of his JUCO team. Based on the available information — he at least looks like he could live in Seattle’s locker room. That was something Pete Carroll and John Schneider made a point of stressing after the last draft.

Despite recently being compared to Alshon Jeffrey and Mike Evans, he doesn’t possess the same kind of size. He’s listed at 6-2 and 216lbs. He looks like he could comfortably play at 220lbs — matching the size of Dez Bryant. It’s not all about height. Williams has great length. You can see in the first video below — he’ll go up and extend to get the football in tight coverage. Against Alabama he made one incredible grab leaping between two defenders (including Landon Collins) to snatch the ball out of the air. He has big hands and has shown to be a reliable target.

He’s not a blazer but has enough speed to be effective. In the Iron Bowl he ran straight past one Alabama defensive back on an overthrown deep shot in the first quarter. On another play he lined up in the slot, ate up the cushion against the corner and exploded into a crossing route creating immediate separation to make the completion. He’s not going to be a 4.4 runner at the combine. That’s not why you’d draft him. He was a 5-star recruit leaving the JUCO ranks and was coveted by all the big SEC schools.

There are some issues too. His catching technique lurches from textbook to less than ideal. There are times when he’ll let a pass get into his body. On a couple of plays against Alabama he got his body into a poor position to make a possible touchdown grab. There’s not much evidence of any real YAC quality and the Seahawks this year have really gone after the short pass and screen game. With just a years experience in the SEC is he polished enough to have an impact? Or can his natural ability as a receiver get him through a possible tough rookie campaign? Let’s not forget — several rookies have excelled in the NFL this season. Kelvin Benjamin only had two seasons at Florida State (30 catches, 495 yards in 2012 — 54 catches, 1011 yards in 2013).

There’s no clear indication yet on whether he’ll turn pro. Much will depend on what he hears between now and decision time. There’s every chance he won’t declare. But if he hears first round talk, it’ll be hard to ignore. It always is.

This is one of the toughest first mock drafts I’ve had to do from a Seahawks perspective. It would’ve been easy to manipulate the board to put a running back or defensive end at #28. I want to keep challenging different scenarios with these mocks and this week — this is just how it played out.

Take a look at Williams’ JUCO tape below, plus his first game for Auburn against Arkansas:

 

Insider info: Bob McGinn’s latest draft nuggets

December 9th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Heisman finalist Melvin Gordon could be an early first round pick

I’m going to do my first 2015 mock draft tomorrow. No trades. Just a projection now that we’re at the end of the college football regular season. I’m in two minds whether to do the weekly mocks this year. It might be a case of doing a mock after the Senior Bowl, combine, and then going weekly in April.

For now I’d recommend checking out Bob McGinn’s latest piece for the Milwaukee Sentinel. Every year McGinn gathers information from scouts and front office staff to get an inside view on the top prospects. For the most part it’s a really valuable source. Here’s a review of what’s said with a few of my own opinions along the way.

Quarterbacks

McGinn’s guys heap praise on Marcus Mariota (who will surely be the #1 pick next year) but voice concerns about Jameis Winston. “I would be deathly scared to have him” says one unnamed scout. Even when you put aside all the concerns off the field, Winston has not taken a positive step forward in 2014. He’s constantly been the cause and solution to FSU’s problems — starting slowly, making wild mistakes and then leading the fight back.  The scout adds: “He’s so freaking inaccurate to start games. He’s off the mark more than he’s on. He has arm strength and a good delivery. He’s a nightmare.”

I’m unlikely to include Winston in my first round projection tomorrow. The red flags in terms of performance and character are just too big. On December 1st Tony Pauline reported the following:

“…Talk with scouts or next level decision makers who watch the film in its entirety rather than the highlights and they’ll tell you Winston’s penchant for turning the ball over (is) very disconcerting. Talent? Lots of it. Upside? An enormous amount. But also an equal amount of downside risk which is dangerous for any signal caller, especially one who seems to struggle controlling himself off the field.”

Running backs

The scouts McGinn spoke to raved about Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon. Before his ACL injury Gurley looked like a potential top-five pick and Gordon a possible mid-first rounder. The same sentiment is shared here. On Gurley, one scout states: “He’s special. I don’t think he’ll ever run before (the draft) but you don’t need him to because he’s so fast on film. Not a lot of wear and tear on him because they rotate so many backs.” And on Gordon: “He’s a bigger version of Jamaal Charles. He’ll run 4.42. He’s really good.”

It’s worth noting another source told McGinn he saw Gordon as a second rounder. The thing is, it only takes one team to fall in love and he’s gone. I’m absolutely positive someone is going to feel like they need Melvin Gordon in the middle of the first round. Ian Rapoport has suggested the Seahawks have interest in him — but it seems like a major stretch to expect he’ll last until the end of round one.

There’s no indication on Gurley’s stock post-injury. It’s interesting though that he was originally being graded in the top five. There is absolutely no way the Seahawks would’ve had a shot at him without the ACL tear. If they get an opportunity now — with or without Marshawn Lynch — they have to consider it. He’s just too good.

Interestingly McGinn’s sources also tout Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon as a “definite” first rounder. He’s a former 5-star recruit and as a freshman looked like the next big thing. Yeldon never really delivered on that promise. In the SEC title game against Missouri he had 14 carries compared to Derrick Henry’s 20. Henry finished with 141 yards compared to Yeldon’s 47.

Four other running backs were graded in the #25-60 range — raising the possibility of four going in the first round. That’s how good this class is. Indiana’s Tevin Coleman was named first, perhaps coincidentally. He seems the most likely to work into round one and could be as good as Gurley and Gordon.

Wide receiver/Tight end

According the the scouts here, receiver and offensive line are the two best areas in the 2015 draft. Unsurprisingly Alabama’s Amari Cooper is expected to go in the top ten. “Excellent hands. Very explosive and fast. One of the better route runners to come out in a long, long time. Very skilled. Had big-time production.” Kevin White and Devante Parker are the next two players mentioned, again, somewhat predictably.

Aurburn’s D’haquille ‘Duke’ Williams and Sammie Coates are listed as possible first rounders. We talked about both briefly yesterday. Williams is the kind of player Seattle currently lacks. He’s not incredibly tall (around 6-2) but he has the size (220lbs) to box out defenders, win physical match-ups in the red zone and compete for the ball in the air. He has genuine #1 receiver potential. This is his first year at Auburn after converting from the JUCO ranks. It’s unclear whether he intends to declare. One of McGinn’s guys compared him to Alshon Jeffrey and Mike Evans. He’s not as big, but he’d be used in the same way.

Coates is a different player — incredibly athletic. One of the best athletes in college football. He’s all muscle and lightning fast. One scout tells McGinn, “He’s definitely going to (run) 4.3″ but with a caveat, “does he have consistently strong hands?” The answer, sadly, is no. Coates is a big play specialist. In the Iron Bowl against Alabama made numerous chunk plays down field. He’s a true speed receiver. In the right offense he could be an explosive weapon. But he needs to improve his consistency.

Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong also gets a mention as a possible first rounder. For me he’s just such an underwhelming player and is more likely to go in the middle rounds. Here’s Tony Pauline’s take:

“Many are concerned with his lack of speed, quickness and the struggle he’ll have separating at the next level. Several area scouts have stamped Strong as a third rounder based off the film.”

As for the tight ends — Michigan’s Devin Funchess doesn’t get a terrible review. “He’s not unlike Jared Cook, who’s with the Rams… Pretty talented kid. Will he be your split-out tight end-H-back or a bigger wideout? I lean more toward the mismatch at tight end. He’s going to be kind of a hybrid player.” I’d say he’s one to watch for Seattle based on his size and upside — but he’s such a frustrating player to watch. Too many of these big hybrid-type players have entered the draft recently and not delivered. Funchess looks like a guy who needs to be pushed. He announced his decision to declare for the draft today.

Defensive line

The scouts speak highly of Washington’s Danny Shelton, insisting he’s the kind of prospect who will go in round one: “True nose tackle… When there’s a rare nose tackle like that, they go (high).” I’m still not sold on Shelton going as early as the first. Several other true nose tackles have entered the draft in recent years, looked like possible first rounders and faded away. He isn’t the second coming of Dontari Poe in terms of athleticism. He has nine sacks but seven came against Eastern Washington, Hawaii and Georgia State in the first four weeks of the season. The Senior Bowl will be big for Shelton.

McGinn’s sources confirm lofty expectations for Randy Gregory (Nebraska), Leonard Williams (USC), Eddie Goldman (FSU), Vic Beasley (Clemson) Dante Fowler Jr (Florida), Shane Ray (Missouri) and Bud Dupree (Kentucky). They add a few other names to the first round mix — Mario Edwards (FSU) and Jarran Reed (Alabama). We’ve been banging the drum for Oklahoma’s Jordan Phillips — he’s described as an early second rounder. I suspect he could slip into the first for the same reasons Danny Shelton possibly could. Phillips really is a nose tackle with rare athletic qualities.

On Kentucky’s Dupree — one of my favorite players in this class — one scout says: “He can be a physical player but he also can be an athlete… Has played both up and down. As he’s gotten better the defense has gotten better. Great kid. All the intangible stuff.” For me he could go in the top ten.

Baylor’s Shawn Oakman — who gives off a ‘looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane’ vibe — comes in for some criticism: “Looks like he’s going to be whoop (expletive) and he just isn’t… Looks like a pro but he’s got a lot of rawness to his game.” Size is both a positive and a negative for Oakman. He carries 280lbs better than any player in football, in part due to a 6-8 frame. But he’s not a sudden player who moves with the freedom of a 6-4 rusher. He’s kind of awkward. Even with a strong get-off he doesn’t really explode as you’d expect. He has all the length in the world but he’s a little bit stiff.

Offensive line

I wouldn’t expect the Seahawks to go after an offensive lineman early in 2015. They’ve already spent a top ten pick on a left tackle, a first round pick on a left guard, a second round pick on a right tackle and the center is a second rounder from the previous regime. They also used a third rounder on the now-retired John Moffitt. Even if James Carpenter walks as a free agent, does anyone really expect Seattle to go big on a guard? Have we not seen enough from Alvin Bailey to believe he can take over that role if necessary?

Cedric Ogbuehi (Texas A&M) is named as the top tackle but with an asterisk: “He’s soft… Never practices.” A more pressing concern for me would be the high number of sacks Ogbuehi has conceded since switching to left tackle in 2014. Does he have to move back to the right side as a pro? Does anyone really want to draft a “soft” tackle early?

I’ve felt for a while La’el Collins (LSU) and Brandon Scherff (Iowa) are better suited at guard — a view backed up here by McGinn’s sources. “Collins is a lot like Scherff… He was a guard early in his career.” Andrus Peat is touted as the first tackle likely to be taken if he declares, but Tony Pauline recently reported he was expected to stay at Stanford. There’s no doubt in my mind that Peart is the best prospect in terms of pass protection. And that’s what you want from a possible franchise left tackle.

Two other favorites — T.J. Clemmings (Pittsburgh) and Cameron Erving (FSU) are listed as possible first rounders. Since Erving switched to center he’s been nearly unstoppable.

Secondary

Overall it looks like a mediocre class. We might not see a first round cornerback — and Alabama’s Landon Collins might be the only DB to go in the top-32 altogether. McGinn’s scouts have a similar take — although there is an interesting update on Washington’s Marcus Peters: “He tried to strangle a coach on the sidelines… Then they let him back on the team and he did it all over again. Try selling that to your head coach.” On Peters, Tony Pauline recently reported:

“The issues which led to his dismissal from the Washington football program are well documented but several area scouts say it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Louisville’s Gerod Holliman has 14 interceptions in 2014, but that isn’t enough to gain any praise from McGinn’s scouts. “He needs to go back to school… He’s horrible. He can’t make a tackle to save his life. He’s got pretty good instincts but he’s not that athletic.”

Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu entered the year with high expectations, but he struggled. There’s no respite here: “He’d be much better playing in the slot.. Good tackler, good blitzer, around the football. Little stiff. Probably not great top-end speed.” Slot receivers are valuable commodities these days. Look at Sunday’s game in Philadelphia — Seattle put their #2 corner in the slot and Tharold Simon started outside. For that reason Ekpre-Olomu could still hold some value for the right team.

According to McGinn’s sources, Mississippi State’s Will Redmond could be in the first round mix: “I’d say late first or second round… He will be more of an off corner. I think he will run in the 4.3s.” Redmond is 6-0 and 182lbs.

 

Seahawks draft/FA needs: 8th December status check

December 8th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

It’ll be interesting to see if Auburn receiver D’haquille ‘Duke’ Williams turns pro

#1 Big target (WR/TE)

Despite losing Brandon Mebane, Cassius Marsh and Greg Scruggs to injured reserve — plus Chris Clemons, Red Bryant and Clinton McDonald in free agency — Seattle’s defensive line has shown it can still prosper. In the last three weeks the pass rush has excelled, the run defense has been exceptional. Pete Carroll and John Schneider haven’t gone big at defensive tackle early in the draft possibly because they believe they can slot players in.

For that reason, receiver/tight end is listed as the #1 need right now. This isn’t a review of Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood. Against Philadelphia they showed signs of progression. They could grow into vital role-players. But the Seahawks need a legit possession receiver and they know it. That’s why they at least sounded out Tampa Bay regarding Vincent Jackson and it’s why they asked about Julius Thomas, Jordan Cameron and Coby Fleener.

This isn’t about getting a focal point of the passing game. The offense is set up to spread the ball around and use multiple targets. This is about getting a missing piece to help in certain vital situations. The Seahawks have needed a proper red zone target for years. They need someone who can provide a physical advantage down the seam. They need someone who can win a contested ball in the air. They need someone who can make chunk plays without needing to beat the defensive back.

It’s also about getting better too. Doug Baldwin is a terrific player. Jermaine Kearse has his moments too. Richardson and Norwood are rookies. Yet there’s no terrifying receiver on the offense who warrants extra care and attention. That was supposed to be Percy Harvin’s job. Seattle can win with this group of receivers — they showed that last year. But it doesn’t mean they can’t get better. Russell Wilson is a dynamic playmaker and he deserves other dynamic playmakers to throw to. We’re only scratching the surface of his potential right now. Wilson, Baldwin, Kearse and co. could be even more effective with the addition of a true #1.

So what are the options? Nobody should expect Demaryius Thomas or Dez Bryant to reach free agency. Torrey Smith is the right kind of athlete (4.43 forty) but he’s only 6-0/206lbs and stands to cost more than he’s probably worth.

At tight end there are a few options. Denver has to pay Demaryius and (eventually) Von Miller. Can they afford to keep Julius Thomas? Possibly not. The end of Wes Welker’s two-year deal (2014 cap hit of $7.6m) will free up some room. Essentially they could let Welker walk and use the money to give Julius the franchise tag (worth around $7m this season). Cleveland has $20m in free cap space so might consider franchising Jordan Cameron. That would offer some short term security with Cameron suffering all year with a concussion issue. They’re unlikely to cut ties as a consequence, but they’re also unlikely to make any kind of long term commitment. The other option is Jermaine Gresham — one of the most underwhelming first round picks in recent history.

Seattle really needs to fill this hole with a possible impact player. The draft isn’t plush with big possession receivers and it’s a black hole for tight ends in 2015. Dorial Green-Beckham has a laundry list of off-field issues and should make a statement by choosing to play football for Oklahoma next season. Kevin White has enjoyed a tremendous season for West Virginia but is only in the 6-2/210lbs range — as is Louisville’s Devante Parker. Michigan’s Devin Funchess has the body type and size (6-5, 235lbs) but he’s one of the more frustrating players to watch and will need to be pushed constantly at the next level.

For that reason the best solution could be a trade. With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers flying head-first into #1 pick contention and with Mike Evans dominating the way he is, it might be worth revisiting talks over Vincent Jackson. He’ll be 32 in January and he’d need to re-work his contract. It’s worth noting Anquan Boldin was approaching 33 when he was traded to San Francisco — and he’s been a nice pick-up for the Niners. Age isn’t a problem if the deal is right — and it was for Boldin. If the Buccs are happy to accumulate picks this could be the best option. A short-term proven veteran who can have an immediate impact for a mid/late round pick.

If such a deal is a no-go they might be forced to look to the draft. It’ll be interesting to see if Auburn pair D’haquille Williams and Sammie Coates turn pro. Williams is a bigger, possession style receiver formerly of the JUCO ranks and someone we need to look very closely at. He makes tough catches look easy, he’s got the size. He has the potential to be a very effective NFL receiver. Coates is a chunk-plan specialist and a crazy athlete (although he drops too many passes). Keep an eye too on Duke’s Issac Blakeney.

#2 Defensive line depth

For most of the year this looked like the top need. The loss of Red Bryant has been overstated, but Chris Clemons and Clinton McDonald have been missed. It took a while but eventually the D-line has got back to 2013 form. Michael Bennett is showing why he was such a key keep in the off-season. Brandon Mebane played well before picking up a hamstring injury. Jordan Hill has started to look like an effective DT and they’ve filled in the gaps elsewhere.

That isn’t to say defensive line depth is no longer a need. Cliff Avril is a free agent-to-be and provides one of the more challenging posers for 2015. His cap hit this year is $9.25m. Ideally you’d keep him around — but not at that price. In a big contract year he has just 4.5 sacks so far. His career high — 11 sacks — came three years ago playing next to Ndamukong Suh. Avril played as well as anyone in the playoffs last year and he probably should’ve won the Super Bowl MVP. Yet during the regular season, playing on a productive line, he recorded just eight sacks. He’s firmly in the good-not-great category. He’d be a pain in the ass to try and replace without spending big. But how much are you willing to pay to keep him around?

They let Bennett test free agency and the same will probably happen with Avril. If he has another killer post-season he could tempt a team with cap space to make a substantial offer. He turns 29 in April so it’s his last chance to see what’s out there in terms of big money. He already has a Super Bowl ring. It’s hard to imagine what constitutes a fair deal — so he could easily be playing for another team next year. It’s a really tough one to call.

Having already lost Clemons — they can ill-afford to lose Avril without some kind of replacement. Even if they keep Avril they could do with another pass-rusher, especially with Bruce Irvin sticking mostly at linebacker (and playing pretty well).

At defensive tackle they could also use reinforcements. Having plucked the likes of Clinton McDonald, Tony McDaniel and Kevin Williams out of relative obscurity or near retirement — they probably feel like they can bring in depth later in the draft or in the second wave of free agency. That’s not to say there aren’t some nice options that would cost a lot more.

Suh is the big-prize here, but he has almost no chance of landing in Seattle. Despite a slightly unnecessary dirty reputation, he’s one of the true defensive superstars in the NFL. With Gerald McCoy signing a 6-year, $95.2m contract extension in Tampa Bay — that’s the kind of deal Suh can expect and will almost certainly get. The New York Jets have $16.2m in free cap space they’ll carry into 2015. That looks like a safe bet as a future big market home for Mr. Suh.

Some other names of interest:

Dan Williams (Arizona) — took a while to settle in the league but has developed into a key run stopper for the Cardinals. They need to make a big push to keep him — he’s an underrated player.

Stephen Paea (Chicago) — another fantastic run defender, tough as nails. On tape looked like a really solid pick in round two and will be a gem of a free agent if he hits the market.

Terrance Knighton (Denver) — otherwise known as ‘Pot Roast’ — or the man who was supposed to be able to stop the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. In fairness Marshawn Lynch struggled for running room in that game. Knighton is massive and will command a lot of interest.

Nick Fairley (DT, Detroit) — once a prototypical three-technique at Auburn with a huge future, he’s failed to make an impact despite the gift of playing next to Suh. He could be a busted flush, but someone will take a chance on him to try and unlock that lost potential.

Pat Sims (Oakland) — Whenever I’ve watched Sims he’s played well. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. He didn’t generate much of a market this year. He’s an option though.

When I look at this list, I struggle to imagine Seattle adding any of the group. I’m not convinced they believe they need to either spend big or draft high for the interior defensive line. They’ve put a lot more stock into edge rushers — Irvin (first round), Avril/Bennett (free agency). The Seahawks love speed and athleticism — and there’s only so much speed and athleticism you can find at +300lbs. If they get a chance to draft the next Suh or McCoy they’ll probably take it. But how likely is that in the late first?

There are two defensive tackles who look like the real deal and we discussed them recently — Eddie Goldman (Florida State) and Malcom Brown (Texas). Both former 5-star recruits. Both good enough to crack the top-20 and fly up boards. They don’t get talked about enough in the media. I’ll be shocked if Seattle gets a shot at either, providing they declare for next years draft. What’s more likely is a pick or two beyond the top two rounds and a no-frills free agent addition.

If they’re going to be aggressive on the D-line it’s more likely to be on the edge. That’s where they can get the speed and production. Whether it’s the draft of free agency, there’s a depth of riches to be had.

Jabaal Sheard (Cleveland) would be an ideal fit for the defense as an aggressive LEO rusher. He’s miscast in Cleveland’s 3-4. He might get a lot of interest in free agency — but he’ll be worth it. The Browns have the money to tie him down long term. Justin Houston (Kansas City), Jason Pierre-Paul (New York), Jerry Hughes (Buffalo), Brooks Reed (Houston), Brandon Graham (Philadelphia) and Brian Orakpo (Washington) could all test the market.

The draft is loaded with talented edge rushers. Bud Dupree (Kentucky) is big-time and the heart soul of his team. He’s just a relentless pass rusher with all the athleticism and technique you want to see. A great player with a fantastic future at the next level. Randy Gregory (Nebraska) has a chance to go very early considering his length (6-5) and athleticism. He’s better as a blitzing OLB than a pure edge rusher at the moment, but some believe he could develop into an Aldon Smith-type talent. The Missouri duo of Shane Ray and Markus Golden should earn consideration early. Florida’s Dante Fowler Jr is a complete defensive playmaker who can line up anywhere, while Clemson’s Vic Beasley has the get-off, speed and production to be a top pick.

There’s depth too — including Hau’Oli Kikaha (Washington), Trey Flowers (Arkansas), Cedric Reed (Texas) and Owamagbe Odighizuwa (UCLA) to name a few. This won’t necessarily need to be an area addressed in round one.

We could easily see a combination of free agency and draft here, depending on what happens with Avril. Jabaal Sheard looks like a perfect fit as a key open-market addition and there’s so many interesting prospects they could easily bring in a couple of edge rushers in the draft — including the use of a first round pick.

#3 Running back

Considering I’ve put WR/TE and DT/DE into two categories, I’ve gone with running back as the #3 need. As much as we’d all like to believe Marshawn Lynch could stay in Seattle — there isn’t usually smoke without fire. Chris Mortensen isn’t the type of guy to put his reputation on the line running a total non-story. Ian Rapoport has been beating the Lynch-out drum for several weeks. Of course there’s a chance things could change. But it’d be naive to just wave the reports away as nonsense. The reality is, there’s probably an element of truth here.

The key question is — can they find common ground? Can this situation be repaired? Can Lynch accept the fact he isn’t going to get a whopping pay rise? Can Seattle find even more money to keep their best offensive player happy for one more year? Are both parties at a point where — you know, it’s just time to move on? They could be. And nobody should be overly critical of the Seahawks if they’re at that point. Lynch is a complex character. Sometimes that gets lost because as a player he’s so fun to watch. He has done an awful lot to drive the identity of this team on the field. It’s also worth remembering — fans don’t have to deal with him on a day-to-day basis. They don’t have to manage him or his position within a crowded locker room. When he isn’t turning up for training camp, when he is living by his rules, when he’s making demands and debating retirement. It’s easy to imagine how you could come to a point where you say, “enough is enough”. However influential that player is.

It’s often said this is a passing league. That’s true. Just not in Seattle. It’s become conventional wisdom that the running back position isn’t that important anymore. You can just plug guys in there. You can start UDFA’s. By now we should know — the Seahawks don’t pay attention to conventional wisdom.

Seattle needs the starting running back to be a dynamic playmaker. Lynch has been the best offensive player for some time. Russell Wilson will probably take on more responsibility if he departs. But they’ll still need a stud runner. Someone who can be an X-factor in the same way Lynch was — even if they bring a different running style to the table. Pete Carroll used a multi-back system at USC — but he also regularly recruited four and five star recruits to compete for carries. He wanted potential stars battling with each other to start at running back.

I don’t see any difference in Seattle. The trade for Lynch was a total bargain and yet still relatively bold and high-profile. Carroll knew he needed a tone-setter so they went and got one in an aggressive and pro-active way. They’ve since spent a further second round pick (Christine Michael), fourth round pick (Robert Turbin) and seventh round pick (Spencer Ware) on the position. Not to mention the previous Lendale White trade (remember that?). The Seahawks have been hunting for running backs pretty much constantly since Carroll arrived in Seattle. If they lose Lynch, you better believe the search will continue.

Adding to the possibility is a talented group of running backs with potential stars at the top of the class. While some of the league turns its nose up at the idea of drafting a running back early, the Seahawks could easily find their next big-time playmaker.

Todd Gurley’s ACL injury is a red flag, but it could put him in range for Seattle — something that would’ve never happened without the injury. ACL tear’s are no longer the career death sentence they used to be — science has moved on. Gurley has every chance to return to his very best. And his best is unbelievable — he’s a rare, potentially generational talent. Melvin Gordon has been a production machine in 2014 for Wisconsin and would provide a Jamaal Charles-like option. He should be a first round pick. He’s a sudden athlete (Seattle likes that) and a home-run hitter. He’s a big-time character guy and a gym rat. He fumbled again in the Big-10 Championship — but there’s still a lot to like. And then there’s Indiana’s Tevin Coleman — the other player in what could become a ‘big three’. Along with Malcom Brown, he’s one of the more underrated 2015 eligible prospects. A fierce competitive runner with breakaway speed — he is the real deal and deserves to sit at the top of the table with Gurley and Gordon.

You could point to the obvious depth at the position too — but I’m not overly sold on T.J. Yeldon (Alabama), Duke Johnson (Miami), Mike Davis (South Carolina), or Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska). Gurley, Gordon and Coleman give the Seahawks a chance to move on from Lynch. That doesn’t mean they’ll be as good — it’s a tough act to follow. But they can be an X-factor for an offense that has the run at the heart of its core.

The running back position is as important to Seattle as the #1 receivers in Denver, Detroit or Green Bay. For that reason I doubt they’d simply roll with Michael and Turbin plus another later round option. Michael has the talent but can he be trusted? Turbin is destined to always be a good #2 and third down option. If the Seahawks want a star to head the group — they probably have to look at the big three.

As for free agency — I guess it comes down to this. Why spend reasonable money on a player who already has a number of carries to their name? A late first round or early second round pick will cost you around $1.2-2m per year maximum. It’s just not worth going after a Mark Ingram (for example). When the draft has become a bargain in that range.

I’m not saying the Seahawks will go after a running back early. They could trade down into round two again and still get a shot at one of the top-three runners. But the defensive line depth in this draft and free agency plus the lack of options at receiver could make it a distinct possibility — especially if this really is the last year of ‘Beast Mode’ in Seattle.

 

Instant reaction: Seahawks pummel the Eagles, move to 9-4

December 7th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Seattle’s biggest challenge over the next few days might be overconfidence.

They’re on a run of three demolition jobs in a row and hunting for number four. Next weekend they meet the 49ers again, facing a second opportunity to leapfrog the Arizona Cardinals for top spot in the NFC West. The Cards go to rising St. Louis.

For a while it looked like they’d have the division lead today. Kansas City had a 14-9 lead in the second half and were driving in the red zone. Alex Smith had a touchdown negated on an offensive pass interference. On the next play (third and long) he threw a hopeless interception. Arizona drove for the winning score and won 17-14. It was a huge 14-point swing. Had the Chiefs gone up 21-9, it’s hard to imagine anything but a KC victory.

The Cardinals hang on for another week at least. They might have to do it without Antonio Cromartie (Achilles). They will have to do it without Andre Ellington (IR).

Enough about what might happen, let’s talk about what did happen today.

Seattle gave up just 139 yards. The lowest number in Chip Kelly’s entire coaching career. Kelly’s previous lowest tally in Philadelphia was 200 yards exactly. This was Kelly’s Eagles’ worst offensive performance by 61 yards.

If anyone doubted whether this defense was back in the groove because they only faced Drew Stanton and Colin Kaepernick, there’s no need to worry. This was a systematic destruction of one of the league’s most explosive offenses. On average they’ve given up 169 yards a game in the last three weeks. The defeat in Kansas City was almost worth having to provoke this kind of rabid response.

The Seahawks dominated time of possession 41:56 to 18:04. They completely shut down LeSean McCoy and made a fearsome group of receivers totally anonymous. The Eagles, with all their wrinkles and ideas, had no answer. It was a total thrashing.

If there is a regret it’s that a near pick-six by Russell Wilson almost gave Philly a chance to make an unlikely comeback. Malcolm Jenkins dropped a gilt-edged opportunity to make it 24-21 and game-on with Seattle coasting in the fourth quarter. The offense left points on the board for the third game in a row. For the third game in a row, the defense made sure it wasn’t costly.

Aside from the near-pick Wilson played very well again. He improvised, he was creative. He ran effectively for one score and added two more in the air to Marshawn Lynch and Doug Baldwin. He’s playing winning football. That’s all that matters right now.

Pass-protection was at times exceptional against a prolific pass rush. Justin Britt was the only weak link. Yes, he was coming up against one of the NFL’s sack leaders in Connor Barwin. Yet too often he didn’t even disrupt his rush. People say he’s Breno Giacomini because he run blocks well and struggles against the pass. I’d recommend those people go watch Giacomini vs Mario Williams in 2012 and some of the other 1v1 battles he handled with supreme competence. Britt deserves patience as a rookie — but he’ll need to show improvement in 2015.

The receivers appeared to struggle a bit early on (Fox shows replays from the QB perspective on and off so you can get an idea who’s open) but turned up after a slow start. Baldwin had five catches on seven targets for 97 yards and a score. Jermaine Kearse had an eye-catching diving grab. Rookies Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood both contributed. Overall Wilson spread the ball around, completing passes to ten different targets. Even so, this was another game where you were left wondering how good the offense would be with a top-tier possession receiver with size.

It was interesting to see Christine Michael (6/32) get more carries than Robert Turbin (4/7).

The pass rush is back in business and it’s mostly down to Michael Bennett. He was a revelation today. On Jordan Hill’s sack he was the one dragging blockers into the pocket to force Mark Sanchez off the spot. On multiple other plays he exploded into the backfield winning countless 1v1 match-ups. He recorded a sack himself, two tackles for a loss and a QB hit. Right now he’s playing at a level even beyond anything we saw last year. A note for Hill too — he’s really stepped up recently and is starting to show serious potential.

The secondary is healthier and potent. Byron Maxwell played well enough today to think he could be a big time free agent in the off-season. Technically brilliant, always in position. He had multiple key pass break-ups and had a sensational game. After Bennett he was possibly Seattle’s best player on defense.

So onto another meeting with the Niners, who are 7-6 after losing to Oakland today. Nobody should underestimate this team even if they are slumping out of contention. If they’re losing a few minds at the moment, nothing will re-focus San Francisco more than a trip to Seattle.

The Seahawks have to be ready to make it four crucial wins in a row.