Archive for January, 2011

Andrew Luck won’t declare – so what now?

Friday, January 7th, 2011

I couldn’t see a scenario where Andrew Luck didn’t declare for the draft.

It was common knowledge that the Stanford quarterback was open to staying in college and completing his degree. As only a two-year starter, he continues to improve with every game.

Even so – I fully expected him to enter the league. When it became obvious that Jim Harbaugh wasn’t going to stick around, you got the feeling it was a foregone conclusion.

The Carolina Panthers even appeared to admit they’d draft Luck with the #1 overall pick.

So it was a surprise that he’s not going to be part of an event in which he’d be the main headline.

Andrew Luck staying at Stanford, won’t declare for the NFL Draft

For the updated mock draft – minus Andrew Luck – click here

A heavyweight quarterback class just became slightly lighter. So what happens now? Let’s start at the top with Carolina and the #1 pick.

You can look at this two ways:

1. Luck’s absence allows the team to concentrate on other areas of the team, possibly defense – or maybe by bringing in a talented offensive playmaker such as A.J. Green.

2. The team were prepared to move on from Jimmy Clausen after just one year to draft a vastly superior prospect at quarterback. If they rate one of the other quarterbacks highly – will that remain an option?

I can easily see the Panthers standing by their investment in Clausen. They took a chance with the 48th overall pick last April when many others passed. It was a difficult environment for the former Notre Dame quarterback – joining a team with a lame duck coach limping slowly to a 2-14 record.

However, Clausen wasn’t completely blameless for a quarterback rating of 58.4 and a touchdown/interception ratio of 3/9. In ten starts he never topped 200 yards passing and only had 61, 47 and 72 yards against Chicago, New Orleans and Pittsburgh.

When two Carolina officials touted the drafting of Luck with the ‘#1 pick on Tuesday – it was mainly due to the Stanford QB’s talents, but also partly due to Clausen’s struggles in 2010.

Almost a year to the day I wrote this report (click here) on the limitations in Clausen’s game. I projected a second-round grade and talked about his lack of physical tools and the high percentage nature of the offense he worked.

A lot of that has proven true so far.

Even so – I did say a second round grade and not ‘undrafted free agent’. When you take a quarterback in round two, there’s a certain degree of faith that needs to be shown – although perhaps starting immediately isn’t the right plan. It wasn’t really until I watched Clausen against the Seahawks recently that I realised that maybe even that second round grade was ambitious and perhaps unjustified.

That’s not the issue now, though. This is the worst team in the NFL with a 2-14 record and the #1 pick.

The Panthers need to ask themselves – “How do we recover?”

They may decide that backing Clausen is the right way to go. Give him a talented receiver such as AJ Green or rebuild the defense with a Da’Quan Bowers or a Nick Fairley.

That would be a mistake in my opinion. Go and draft the prospect that can lift this franchise. Go and get the prospect that can define the future and be the face of the revival. If that means returning to the quarterback position – so be it. Andrew Luck was going to be that man anyway, so look at the alternatives.

For many, Andre Luck was a class above both Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton. I didn’t feel that way. I think all three have amazing potential in different ways. Luck and Newton in particular have that unquestioned ability to define a franchise.

If Luck was good enough to end the Jimmy Clausen project, then so should Cam Newton.

Homework needs to be completed on the Auburn star performer. Questions need to be answered – not least about whether this hugely talented quarterback also has the burning desire to be brilliant. There’s no doubt he finds it easy in college – he’s too good for most opponents. When life is harder in the NFL – will he respond, or lose interest?

That’s for the Panthers to find out over the next few weeks and months. If Newton checks out then he has to be the pick.

Yes – he needs to get over that rookie hurdle of adapting to a much bigger playbook, making complex reads and checking down to a third or fourth option instead of working in a two-read-and-run offense.

That’s not new for college quarterbacks and he can do that. He’s making difficult throws already. Newton’s shown he can look off a target and make an accurate pass into tight coverage. The athleticism is a bonus – but he is capable of adding a different dimension to the position.

I’ve no doubt that Newton has star-potential – the kind of ceiling that Clausen will never have.

It’s unfortunate for him that Carolina have regressed this much to be in position to own the #1 pick – but that’s life. Since Peyton Manning was drafted by Indianapolis in 1998, ten of the thirteen first overall picks have been spent on a quarterback.

Cam Newton can have the kind of impact for the Panthers that a Bowers, Fairley, Green – or a Clausen – simply cannot match.

For that reason, I maintain that Carolina should and possibly will draft a quarterback with the first overall pick – even with Luck out of the picture.

Guest Blogger: Comparing the teams with a rookie QB

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

By Glen Peer…

Now that it is official that the Seahawks will draft no higher than pick #21 and with the top 20 picks set in stone – the draft discussion can really heat up. My belief is that the Seahawks greatest need is at QB and believe Seattle should do whatever it takes to get the guy they think best fits their system to lead this team for the next 8+ years. I also believe that if that QB does not present itself this year at our pick, it will not be completely devastating to wait. A great example of that would be the Jets who traded way up to land Mark Sanchez after their roster was established with a great line, and the leagues top defense.

If the future QB comes this year in the draft, outside of Andrew Luck who the Seahawks have zero chance of landing, I’m not sure if there is a QB talented enough to effect the entire offensive unit like Sam Bradford did this year. I wanted to look at what the rosters of recent rookie starters looked like when they started. (more…)

Updated mock draft: 4th January

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

I’ve updated the mock draft today considering we now have a confirmed order for picks 1-20. You can view the latest projection by clicking here or selecting ‘Mock Draft’ in the title bar.

A few thoughts before I get onto the Seahawks:

– Don’t read too much into Michael Lombardi’s piece on NFL.com which suggests the Panthers aren’t thinking quarterback with the #1 overall pick. Carolina hasn’t even appointed a new Head Coach yet and after watching Andrew Luck in the Orange Bowl, probably just want teams to know they aren’t locked into the top spot if they get an unbelievable offer. Without a move down the board – Luck will be a Panther.

– Some will disagree with my decision to place four quarterbacks in the top-ten and five in the top-15. It would be an incredible turn of events, but there are just so many teams that need quarterbacks this year and the 2011 class is much deeper than most recent drafts. Things could change if teams trade for or sign veteran starters, but until they do it’s hard to see a franchise like Arizona going into next season having not addressed the position.

– The depth at quarterback dries up substantially after round one, which could also force teams to solve their problem early.

– Prince Amukamara (CB, Nebraska) continues to be over-rated in many mock drafts. I wasn’t entirely comfortable having him as early as #13 to Detroit. However – that’s exactly where Malcolm Jenkins went in 2009, a prospect with similar issues to Amukamara. Both look like they’ll end up playing safety in the long term.

So what about Seattle?

Many people will question the decision to projct Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State) to the Seahawks with the 21st overall pick.

Let me make the case for why I think such a move could happen.

While I appreciate the continued problems along the offensive line – there really aren’t any solutions to the guard or right tackle position in the first round. This is an area the Seahawks will have to work hard to improve during free agency and subsequent later rounds.

I’ve argued for some time on this blog that one of the biggest reasons Seattle can’t run the ball anywhere near efficiently is due to a stagnated passing offense. Opposition teams are willing to take gambles against the Seahawks – whether that’s showing an eight-man front or blitzing creatively. There is neither a quarterback or an exciting group of playmakers that can force a defense into more considered coverage.

I think Pete Carroll and John Schneider appreciated that when they arrived in Seattle. Immediately they set up meetings with Brandon Marshall and there was a genuine interest in Vincent Jackson too.

Mike Williams was given another chance at redemption and he’s proven to be a solid possession receiver for the offense this year. However – the team still lacks a level of dynamism on offense even with Williams’ comeback.

People will point to the likes of Golden Tate, Ben Obomanu and Deon Butler. We’ve seen glimpses from Obomanu and Butler, but not consistency. Obomanu is due to be a free agent. 

Tate has had a rough rookie season that isn’t totally unexpected. I’ve always felt the former Notre Dame wideout benefited from a high-percentage scheme in college that relied on his ability in the open-field. The Seahawks have tried to make him a more complete receiver, but it’s just not happening. His lack of game-speed, control, solid route-running and size is being exploited in the NFL.

It’d be unfair to write-off Tate at this early stage in his career, but he has a long way to go to become a starter or an effective weapon.

In my opinion, the Seahawks would benefit from gaining another talented receiver who can play most downs alongside Williams (who has renewed his contract for a further three years).

That receiver may come in free agency – especially if the San Diego Chargers opt against placing the franchise tag on Vincent Jackson. Indeed, the upcoming chaos regarding the CBA and a potential lock-out makes this year’s free agency period a complete mystery at the moment.

Assuming the team does not bring in a receiver, then it has to be considered a need alongside the more obvious first round options – quarterback, defensive line and cornerback.

After watching Brandon Harris (CB, Miami) struggle against the height of Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame) in the Sun Bowl, I was less inclined to pair him with Seattle who will look for physical, taller corners going forward. Stephen Paea (DT, Oregon State) was also a consideration as someone who could play the one-technique or even the Red Bryant position.

However, it kept coming back to offense and how poor it’s been accross the board this year. If the Seahawks can’t draft a quarterback, they have to improve the situation elsewhere. Improving the offense has to be the #1 priority for this team. It’s not even close to average.

Justin Blackmon is not an elite physical talent. He isn’t going to run a Chris Johnson type time in the forty-yard dash and he doesn’t have great size at 6-1, 207lbs.

He might be the opposite to Golden Tate however, in that he’s already running very crisp and fluid routes and finding ways to get open.

Like Tate, Blackmon won the Biletnikoff this year. Both put up big production, but Blackmon is doing it with a lot more down-field routes. Although I think Prince Amukamara is over rated, Blackmon put on a clinic against Nebraska and dominated his opponent. He also had strong games against Texas – who have maintained a good secondary – and Oklahoma.

He topped 100-yards in every game he played during 2010 and scored 21 total touchdowns.

Is he a pure #1 receiver? I’m not entirely convinced. His best role may be for a team like Kansas City in support of Dwayne Bowe.

Do I think that will necessarily stop him being an option for the Seahawks? No. He’s proven capable of making the big plays, putting up the big production and getting downfield. I’m projecting a smaller learning curve than a lot of rookies due to his natural route running ability and control.

Ideally you’d find a prospect like Julio Jones (WR, Alabama) sitting in that range, but I wouldn’t rule Blackmon out. However, I think receiver is a position perhaps ignored by most when considering what the Seahawks could do in April and I want to try and keep it in the discussion – which is why I made this projection.

And at the end of the day – you can never have enough good wide receivers. Green Bay have regularly drafted wide outs to pad out their offense – a system which could continue in Seattle now that John Schneider has moved to the North West.

Monday musings: Gabbert, Luck, Seahawks and more

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

I want to talk through the draft ramifications following Seattle’s qualification for the post-season which I’ll come on to later.

Firstly – the big news today is that Blaine Gabbert (QB, Missouri) has announced his intention to declare for the 2011 NFL draft. It became apparent in the last two weeks that Gabbert was leaning towards entering the draft, alongside fellow Missouri prospect Aldon Smith (himself a solid second -round defensive end prospect).

Coach Gary Pinkel is on the record for saying he thinks his players should enter the draft if they have a chance to go early. Gabbert has been told by scouts, coaches and the draft committee that he will be a high first round pick in April.

With exceptional character, physical qualities and mobility – Gabbert has the potential to be a top-end NFL quarterback. His accuracy is good although he remains a risk taker (which occasionally has led to costly errors). He will enter the league facing the same challenge that most rookies face – learning a more complex playbook, making difficult reads and not using as many scripted plays. That’s just part of the learning process.

For more on Gabbert’s recent performance in the Insight Bowl click here.

Even if the Seahawks had lost yesterday and picked #8 overall, I’m not convinced they would’ve had a shot at Gabbert. This is a quarterback league and there are a cluster of teams at the top of round with a big hole at the position. We could easily see the Missouri prospect in the NFC West next year with Arizona (#5) or San Francisco (#7). There’s no reason why he couldn’t also land in Cincinnati (#3), Buffalo (#4) or even Cleveland (#6). I’ve never been a fan of Colt McCoy’s pro-prospects.

Expect Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford) to make a similar decision very soon. He will compete in the Orange Bowl tonight against Virginia Tech and I suspect the Cardinal will win comfortably.

It will almost certainly be coach Jim Harbaugh’s last game – with an offer on the table to coach in the NFL (San Francisco) and a similar deal soon to be offered by his alma mater (Michigan).

Luck is leaning towards the draft anyway because he knows he will almost certainly be the #1 overall pick. It’s very difficult to turn down a potential $50m bounty whatever your intentions may have been in the past. If Harbaugh leaves, it will confirm his decision if he hasn’t made his mind up already.

Cam Newton (QB, Auburn) is an absolute certainty to declare which will mean three highly rated quarterbacks who could leave the board early.

A run on QB’s early seems likely to me. There are too many teams amongst the top ten picks for these talented prospects to hang around.

With all due respect to the Patrick Peterson’s and Nick Fairley’s out there – a team with a big need at quarterback is not going to pass on Luck, Newton or Gabbert to take a cornerback or defensive tackle. It wouldn’t happen in Seattle and it won’t happen elsewhere.

Here’s the confirmed top ten for the 2011 draft and each team’s likelihood they’ll take a quarterback:

#1 Carolina- Despite investment in Jimmy Clausen, a new coaching staff should not pass on Andrew Luck or Cam Newton. Both are vastly superior quarterbacks to Clausen. A no brainer.

#2 Denver- This team will also have a new coach soon and that man may not have Josh McDaniels’ faith in Tim Tebow. I wouldn’t rule out a quarterback pick here – but the Broncos are more likely to stick by Tebow for another year than Carolina with Clausen.

#3 Cincinnati – If Carson Palmer stays or go’s, this team should draft a quarterback for the long term.

#4 Buffalo- Chain Gailey says Ryan Fitzpatrick is his guy for 2011. I’ve no reason not to believe that, although you can’t rule out Buffalo drafting a QB. A.J. Green (WR, Georgia) looks likely here.

#5 Arizona – If they don’t bring in an obvious starter before the draft – this pick will be spent on a QB. Simple as that.

#6 Cleveland- I wouldn’t commit to Colt McCoy. Another team I wouldn’t rule out, but would Holmgren take a QB this early?

#7 San Francisco – See Arizona.

#8 Tennessee – If Jeff Fisher leaves, Vince Young is safe as houses. If the team stand by Fisher, who knows what happens?

#9 Dallas- Perhaps the only team we can definitely rule out. Tony Romo is the safe starter.

#10 Washington- Almost certainly will draft a quarterback after benching Donovan McNabb.

Although some will disagree, I’m looking at that list and seeing nine potential teams who might be open to drafting a quarterback. There are two teams (Arizona and San Francisco) who almost certainly will do without signing or trading for a quarterback before the draft. Others are perhaps more dubious (Denver, Buffalo, Cleveland and Tennessee) but neither can they be completely ruled out at this early stage.

So what does it mean for the Seahawks if they have hopes of drafting a quarterback?

There was a chance at #8 overall that one of the top three QB’s slipped through the cracks. With the team picking 21st overall, it’s virtually impossible.

Also – because the team traded it’s 2011 third round pick for Charlie Whitehurst, they have marginal stock to offer teams in a potential trade up the board. Seattle’s first round pick is worth 800 points and the second rounder 370. If you combine those picks together, it would be worth slightly more than the 13th overall pick (1150 points) which is now owned by Detroit.

Four quarterbacks will definitely be drafted in round one, possibly five. The two not mentioned so far are Jake Locker (Washington) and Ryan Mallett (Arkansas).

Despite my own misgivings on Locker, I still believe he will be strongly coveted by at least two teams in round one – including Seattle. So much so in fact, I could imagine if the Seahawks were locked into the top-five that they may have ignored all other options to draft him.

I cannot see the Huskies QB getting past Washington at #10 overall. Mike Shanahan loves Locker and will draft him to be the next Redskins quarterback.

If the Seahawks admire Locker as much as I suspect, they would have to trade with Tennessee (#8) or Dallas (#9) to have the opportunity to get him. The eighth overall pick is worth 1400 points in the trade chart and the ninth overall pick is worth 1350 points.

We already know Seattle’s two first round picks total 1170 points. The Seahawks also own the second pick in round four – acquired from New England for Deion Branch. That selection is worth a further 108 points. They may also gain the 28th pick in round four in the Josh Wilson trade if the deal is upgraded depending on certain criteria. If not – they will get the 27th pick in round five from Baltimore. The complete terms of the Wilson trade are not known to the public.

Even if the Seahawks include two fourth round picks in the package, they wouldn’t have enough points (1326) to completely match the worth of the 9th overall pick. In the process, Seattle would also be trading virtually it’s entire draft for one prospect despite having a roster weak in quality and overall depth.

However – a precedent has been set to get around what is becoming a generally outdated trade chart formula.

In 2008 Jacksonville traded a cumulative package worth 1127 points to Baltimore so they could move from #26 overall to #8 overall to draft Derrick Harvey. The deal included two third round picks and a fourth rounder. Seattle’s first and second round picks are worth 43 more points than the package Jacksonville put together.

The following year, Cleveland moved from the #5 overall pick (1700 points) down to #17 (950 points) after a trade with the New York Jets. The deal also included a second rounder (52nd overall, 280 points) and three New York players (Brett Ratliff, Kenyon Coleman and Abram Elam). Eric Mangini had just been appointed the Browns’ Head Coach after leaving New York and substituted points value for players he was familiar with.

In both cases (Baltimore and Cleveland) there was a real determination from the two teams to move down the board. The Ravens were aggressive in 2008, moving down and then back up to select Joe Flacco with the #17 pick. Cleveland moved down two more times in 2009 before taking center Alex Mack with the 21st overall pick.

Would Tennesse or Dallas be willing to make such moves? Both are teams who underachieved this year. Both teams may have new Head Coaches going into the draft.

Drafting in the top ten (particularly for Dallas) could be seen as a rare bonus. I just have a feeling Dallas in particular will fall for a guy like Jimmy Smith (CB, Colorado) who really needs to be discussed as a legitimate top-10 pick. Even so, this could be viewed as a chance to gain more picks if the right deal is on the table.

The Seahawks could move up the board, if they so wished, using possibly just their first two picks this year. That stands if they want a quarterback or anyone else for that matter.

Indeed if it really is a race between Seattle and Washington for Locker, the Seahawks may be in a preferable position. There’s little Washington can do, for example, if the Seahawks agree an on-the-clock trade.

If the team stays put at #21 there is still a chance Ryan Mallett falls into that range. Despite immense on-field talent I still have reservations about how he will grade following team meetings and work outs. He isn’t an ideal scheme fit for Jeremy Bates’ offense either, although this may be overplayed.

I also keep seeing things like this tweet from Wes Bunting at the National Football Post:

I talked with a number of NFL sources who wouldn’t touch Ryan Mallett with a ten foot pool* (SIC)

It isn’t all about quarterbacks for Seattle – although I maintain it’s the team’s greatest need and will be until the position is addressed for the long term. Over the next few days it’s only fair we review alternative options if the Seahawks are now out of position to draft a QB.

If you want some non-quarterback options as a teaser – let me give you some names:

Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State) – not an elite down-field threat but an under rated andfluid route runner withbig play potential. Even with Mike Williams’ extension – the Seahawks need more playmakers on offense.

Julio Jones (WR, Alabama) – unlikely to make it to #21 due to his incredible potential, but for every big fan of his (include me amongst them) there are sceptics. Receivers tend to fall on draft day. Could be a steal.

Stephen Paea (DT, Oregon State) – under sized for his position but incredibly strong and solid versus the run – has flashed ability as a pass rusher this year. Would play nose tackle in Seattle’s scheme.

Cameron Jordan (DE, California) – could shoot up the boards and even crack the top-15. Possible 5-technique option who can move inside as well.

Brandon Harris (CB, Miami) – excellent open-field tackler but a bit inconsistent in coverage this year. Had top-15 potential but missed the chance to go that early.

Mike Pouncey (OG/C, Florida) – I’m loathe to suggest the interior line this early but people keep asking about options there. Value isn’t good enough considering team needs elsewhere. Pouncey is really the only suggestion I can make this early.

Seahawks make playoffs and pick no earlier than #21

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

The Seahawks won the NFC West title today with a 16-6 victory over St. Louis. Defeat would have ended the season and meant Seattle would own the 8th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Instead, the Saints will visit for the start of the playoffs next Saturday.

What does it mean for the draft?

The top twenty will now look like this (confirmed):

#1 Carolina
#2 Denver
#3 Cincinnati
#4 Buffalo
#5 Arizona
#6 Cleveland
#7 San Francisco
#8 Tennessee
#9 Dallas
#10 Washington
#11 Houston
#12 Minnesota
#13 Detroit
#14 St. Louis
#15 Miami
#16 Jacksonville
#17 New England (from Oakland)
#18 San Diego
#19 New York Giants
#20 Tampa Bay

The St. Louis Rams will pick 14th overall after dropping to 7-9. Victory for the Seahawks leads to at least a 13-pick swing. Should Seattle exit the playoffs before the NFC Championship game, they will have the 21st overall selection. They can pick 29th by winning two playoff games, 31st for reaching the Super Bowl and 32nd for winning it.

It also means the Seahawks will pick 21st in every subsequent round.

I’ll discuss what this means in terms of the draft and how it may affect the Seahawks tomorrow.

Sunday draft thoughts

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

What happens if…?

The NFL regular season ends today with the Seahawks playing the Rams for the NFC West title. It’s worth just recapping the draft conotations.

If the Seahawks win against the Rams

– Victory will guarantee Seattle a pick no earlier than 21st overall as a playoff qualifier – despite a 7-9 record.

– The Seahawks will pick 21st even if they win a playoff game. The only way that changes is if they make the NFC Championship. The Seahawks would select 29th should they make it that far and lose, 31st if they reach the Superbowl and lose and 32nd should they be crowned champions.

If the Seahawks lose against the Rams

– They could pick as high as 6th overall depending on results elsewhere. Going into week 17, they owned the 11th overall pick with a 6-9 record.

– The Seahawks have the second weakest strength of schedule amongst teams in the six-win range (Arizona’s is weaker). With the Cardinals and 49ers facing each other, Seattle picks above San Francisco with a 49ers and Rams double.

– Seattle would also jump above Cleveland (Pittsburgh), Detroit (Minnesota), Houston (Jacksonville) and Dallas (Philadelphia) if any are victorious.

As reported earlier in the week, this is an unprecedented situation for any team in the final week of the regular season. The Seahawks have a potential shift of twenty-four picks, potentially picking 6th overall or 32nd.

It’s worth considering where Seattle would be if they were 7-9 in any other division (so basically not making the playoffs). The latest they could pick is 15th overall due to Oakland’s weaker schedule (the Raiders traded their first rounder to New England). The earliest possible slot is 11th overall but would be dependant on victories for Tennessee (Indianapolis), Washington (New York Giants) Oakland (Kansas City) and Minnesota (Detroit).

There’s every chance those four teams are defeated today meaning a Seahawks win over St. Louis would have secured the 15th overall pick in any other division but the NFC West. For those perhaps concerned that a 7-9 playoff spot is fortunate and a draft-hindrance, the six-place swing is not as significant as that between defeat today (potentially 6th overall) and victory (21st overall at best).

The Andrew Luck / John Harbaugh situation

There’s a lot of speculation doing the rounds at the moment about Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford) and his decision on whether to declare as a red-shirt sophomore.

Nothing will be revealed until after the Orange Bowl tomorrow, where the Cardinal should prove victorious against Virginia Tech.

The best source for draft insider information has consistently been TFY’s ‘Draft Insider’. It’s a must read for those wanting to know exactly what’s happening behind the scenes. TFY has been speculating that Luck is leaning toward the draft mainly because it appears coach John Harbaugh will leave Stanford shortly after the Orange Bowl. ESPN’s Adam Schefter (A Michigan alumni) believes he’ll take the soon-to-be-vacant position at Michigan- Harbaugh’s alma mater.

It’s also been reported that Carolina and San Francisco have interest in the highly-rated brother of Baltimore head coach Jim Harbaugh. I understand the Panthers have little hope of landing the Stanford coach, but what about the 49ers?

Carolina has already secured the #1 pick in next year’s draft and this would be a fantastic opportunity to secure a good coach (Harbaugh) and almost guarantee Luck declares for the 2011 draft. The two could be paired together for a generation in Carolina – and it’s one of the spots that Luck would thrive.

While many scouts and journalists are sold on Luck as the next great hope of the NFL – I have some reservations. He’s extremely developed for a two-year starter and continues to improve. The accuracy is improving, he’s an excellent technician with brilliant mechanics. He’s often praised for his ability making pre-snap reads and adjustments. I wonder how many of these are scripted and if he’s as developed in that area as some believe.

I also wonder how he’ll adjust under greater pressure. Stanford have an elite college offensive line and running game – meaning Luck has been sacked an incredible ten times in two years. That’s 37 less times than Jake Locker if you want a comparison.

So while I understand why Luck will probably go first overall and has a very good chance to be an excellent pro-quarterback – I also think he should go somewhere that can re-create that Stanford environment.

Carolina has an above average offensive line and a good stable of running backs. They do have one good (albeit ageing) receiver. It’s the perfect place for Luck.

However, it appears that the Panthers will not be able to persuade Harbaugh to move east – with Cleveland defensive coordinator Rob Ryan (brother of NYJ’s Rex) the latest name to be linked.

So what if San Francisco break the bank to get Harbaugh? It’d be close to his current home and I imagine would be of substantial interest to the Stanford coach. Like Carolina there’s a developing offensive line, a good running back and some talented pass-catchers.

But they don’t have the quarterback.

This is mere speculation at this point – but a reader brought this subject up in the comments section this week and it’s worth discussing – could we see an Eli Manning situation?

Would Luck (who would love to stay in California) declare for the draft if Harbaugh went to San Fran and then refuse to sign for Carolina as the #1 choice? Could he force a trade between the Panthers and 49ers? If San Francisco lose today they could draft as high as 5th overall.

In 2004 Manning manufactured a trade between San Diego (drafting first overall) and New York (drafting fourth overall). For flipping picks it cost the Giants a first rounder in 2005 and a third round in 2004. The 49ers aren’t a million miles away from being the best team in the NFC West – a QB like Luck could be the answer and a first and third rounder would be small change to secure the team’s long term future.

Of course this would be dependant on Carolina’s desire to do the deal. San Diego were willing to move down in 2004 largely because they could still take Philip Rivers. Of course, Carolina may believe they can still get a Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert by dropping down.

At this point it’s all supposition. I think Harbaugh will end up at Michigan – unless the 49ers make a particularly tempting offer (and they should do, Harbaugh would be a fine appointment). It’s an interesting little discussion point though especially while Harbaugh and Luck’s futures remain in question.

A final thought on Seattle and the need for a playmaker

The Seahawks have a lot of needs. Clearly something needs to be done at quarterback and I maintain that this is the team’s #1 need by a country mile. Depth is needed all over the roster though, particularly on both lines and the secondary.

However – I think a big problem not often mentioned is a lack of playmakers on offense. Many people like to talk about offensive lines – but really Seattle still doesn’t have anyone who warrants a difficult gameplan on a Sunday afternoon.

I rated DeSean Jackson in 2008 – I had him as a top-15 pick and was surprised he dropped as low as round two. How the Seahawks could use someone with his dynamism, ability to get deep and score cheap points now.

Indeed the 2008 draft was a frustrating one on the whole. Seattle traded down form #25 to #28 to draft Lawrence Jackson – an unspectacular defensive end who has since been traded for a 6th round pick. It would’ve taken only a trade up of two spots to guarantee Rashad Mendenhall or Chris Johnson – two prospects I rated highly at running back. No move needed to be made to get DeSean Jackson.

I also wasn’t a fan of the move to get John Carlson. It’s easy to look back with hind-sight but the pick Seattle traded for the Notre Dame tight end was spent on Ray Rice.

The Seahawks offense has stagnated in recent years – losing the benefit of a tight, precise Mike Holmgren system to basically an unproductive mess with nobody who scares a defense.

The drafting of Golden Tate in round two last year showed a distinctive shift in approach and at least a nod to the need for more productive playmakers. Tate hasn’t had a successful rookie season but it’s too early to give up on a prospect many graded in the late second /early third round anyway.

Seattle must continue to try and add talent at the skill positions. It was good see every move made to try and acquire Brandon Marshall and it certainly appears there was some interest in Vincent Jackson. The trade for Marshawn Lynch is further evidence of the new regime’s plans to turn the corner on offense. They gave a chance to Mike Williams who has become a good possession receiver against all odds.

Yes – the offensive line needs to be further developed. You also can’t fear drafting or adding a talented playmaker due to an over-used cliche of ‘building in the trenches’.

There is one extreme playmaker in the 2011 class who I feel can come into the NFL and have an instant impact. This prospect will have a learning curve and certainly needs to prove to scouts he’s prepared to be the workhorse behind the scenes as well as the talent on it.

The man in question is talented enough in my opinion he can start quickly and win quickly. He will make those around him better and offer an X-Factor to the offense.

He’s someone you can build around going forward – a true franchise player.

That man is Cam Newton and he will be a top-ten pick next April.

Rose Bowl thoughts: Watt, Carimi and Dalton

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

TCU defeated Wisconsin 21-19 at the Rose Bowl

I’ve just finished watching an entertaining Rose Bowl between TCU and Wisconsin.

Neither team is filled with top-end pro talent, but there were one or two prospects I’d like to share some opinions on.

The best pro-prospect in the game was easily, in my opinion, J.J. Watt (DE, Wisconsin). He’s the kind of guy that makes me wish the Seahawks ran a complete 3-4 scheme with more orthodox five techniques.

At 6-6 and 292lbs, Watt is far too big and nowhere near athletic enough to play LEO rush end in Seattle’s scheme. He also gives up 30lbs on Red Bryant – who defined the 5-tech position this season and became the team’s defensive MVP in the process.

If the Seahawks are going to give up size at the 5-tech (or at least install a greater rotation), you really need to look at someone like Da’Quan Bowers (DE, Clemson). He can work at 285-290lbs and play strong against the run, while offering a greater pass-rush threat than Bryant.

Watt isn’t a dynamic enough pass-rusher to compensate on the size. Really it’s hard to find a home for him in Seattle, but 3-4 teams like San Diego, Green Bay, New York, Baltimore and maybe even Washington could show real interest in the talented junior.

Basically, he makes plays. Unlike a lot of playmakers, he does it through sheer power andeffort rather than elite quicks. I think he can translate that to the NFL. In 2010 (his second year starting) he had seven sacks, three blocked kicks and an interception.

Against TCU he was all over the field, tipping passes at the line and creating havoc for the Horned Frogs’ left tackle Marcus Cannon. He flashed an excellent spin move at one stage, provoking Cannon into a blatant hold which drew a flag. Watt also showed an effective swim and rip and while he’ll never be a great speed rusher, he certainly showed enough power to compensate.

The athletic restrictions were witnessed on a couple of read options. However, he also made one of his best plays of the day when he stuck with QB Andy Dalton and had the leg speed to switch to the running back after the pitch – wrapping up a smart tackle.

The 5-technique position has taken on new value in the NFL since Tyson Jackson went 3rd overall to Kansas City in 2009. Bowers at Clemson will almost certainly be drafted for the same role, more than likely by Denver if they select 2nd overall. Solid teams like Green Bay and Baltimore are always willing to invest in good lineman – but San Diego (who will be picking in the teens) remain a possibility too.

Watt could be a riser by the time we’re at the combine and may shoot up a lot of boards.

Of course he’ll have to declare first and a reminder here that the deadline for prospects to enter the draft falls on January 15th. I believe Watt will declare and it’ll be the correct decision.

One prospect I’m not so fond of is Gabe Carimi (OT Wisconsin).

Without wanting to sound like I’m lecturing anyone here – right tackles are essentially guys who aren’t athletic enough to play on the blind side. They’re not a rare species in drafts or in the NFL.

While Carimiplays left tackle for Wisconsin, he lacks the lateral mobility or athleticism to play that role at the next level. He’s very much considered a RT prospect in the pro’s.

Prospects like Carimi (strong. poor leverage and leg bend, better withTE support) can be foundoutside of round one every year. Because I rank Carimi as a limited athlete anda pure RT – I graded him in the late second, early third round.

I can see why he might find a home at the endof round one on a roster that is filled with talent. In my last mock I paired him with Philadelphia. Andy Reid is due to draft a lineman and they have a star studded roster that is capable of winning a title – maybe even this year. If they liked Carimi more than any other prospect – and I’m not entirely convinced they would with a big need at corner – they may be able to justify a luxury like that considering how often they run with Vick, McCoy, the full back or end arounds.

But I see Carimi mocked amongst the top-15 picks to teams with much greater needs and nowhere near Philly’s talent – and I have to shake my head.

In Rob Rang’s latest mock (published 12/21) he had Carimi going to the Seahawks. You can see the mock draft here.

I think this is very unlikely. I would be extremely surprised if Seattle made that pick.

Joseph Barksdale, James Carpenter, Demarcus Love, Ben Ijalana andMatt Reynolds. There’s five prospects who can fill a hole (if needed) at right tackle for Seattle. None will cost a first round pick. They may not be as polished or accomplished as Carimi. Do they necessarily need to be?

There will be plenty of options for Seattle at right tackle if they don’t renew Sean Locklear’s contract. I wouldn’t sleep on Ray Willis maybe getting a shot if he can return from injury. There will be other tackles available on the free market that can do what the team needs better than Locklear.

For a team with so many holes, not least at quarterback and receiver on offense andboth the defensive line and cornerbackon defense, this team cannot justify spending a first round pick on a right tackle. It is not a position that needs such investment.

Carimiwas his usually solid self in the Rose Bowl but nowhere near good enough to play blind side in the NFL, which limits his stock. Don’t buy into the hype and please temper expectations for the Wisconsin tackle next April. I wouldn’t be suprisedif he was aroundfor Seattle in round two if they so desired – even then there will probably be better options.

I had a couple of tweets asking about Andy Dalton (QB, TCU) and his stock. He’ll attend the Senior Mobile in Mobile later this month and will be part of the 2011 draft.

He’s a better prospect than Kellen Moore at Boise State – but then I don’t think Moore will even be drafted when he enters the 2012 event. Dalton has a decent shot at getting drafted in a few months time, but only as a round six or seven project.

For starters, he has better size than Moore (6-2, 220lbs). The arm is better but still largely average. In particular his deep ball lacks strength or accuracy and has led to problems in the past.

In this game Dalton was as good as he’s ever been against a solid Badgers defense. He limited the mistakes and passed for 219 yards and a score from 15/23 throwing.

He’s a mobile guy which helps, but won’t be a factor as a runner at the next level. He had passes tipped or batted down in this game which caused some concern, just by the regularity with which it happened.

But my main concern with Dalton is on-field resilience. In the past he’s let one mistake become two or three. He doesn’t handle pressure well and let’s his head drop too quickly. He’s not had too many problems managing a weak TCU schedule, but I think he’d actually benefit more in terms of a career if he’d learnt to lose. With the Frogs, every little mistake gets to him. He has to be perfect – like the TCU win record.

Considering he isn’t a brilliant physical talent, the mental make-up has to be top notch. So does the accuracy – which can be patchy too with Dalton.

He can be a project for someone in the late rounds. Unfortunately, that time has passed for Seattle and any quarterback drafted next April has to be more than a late-round flier.

Happy New Year to everyone and all the best for 2011.