Archive for February, 2011

Updated mock draft: 17th February

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Could UNC's Robert Quinn drop to the Seahawks in round one?

 

The updated mock draft is now available and can be accessed by clicking here or selecting ‘Mock Draft’ from the title bar. 

I expect many people’s reaction will be to question whether it’s realistic Robert Quinn would drop that far. My response is simple - probably not, but neither is it impossible. 

We’ve seen prospects sink before and certainly it will happen again. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility he will drop on April 28th. 

Quinn missed the entire 2010 season after receiving $5,600 in agent-related benefits. The Sporting News also reported that Quinn was part of an academic investigation at UNC. Of course he wasn’t the only player involved and it could be argued that the sheer number of prospects listed in both cases raises more questions of the Tar Heels regime’ than necessarily the individuals. 

Even so, he has to convince scouts a lack of football for two years (and maybe longer if we witness a lockout) will not have an adverse effect on his talents. 

During his senior year at high school, Quinn was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Initially fears were that it could end his career. Thankfully, Quinn made a full recovery and missed no time in college because of the problem. However, the benign tumour may raise some concerns with pro-teams preparing to make a high-end investment early in round one.   

He’s listed in the 6-4/6-5 region and is down to weigh anywhere between 255-265lbs. That’s not elite size and may put off a lot of 4-3 teams who would like to use him at right end. His size was sometimes an issue in 2009 in run defense and he has been over powered at times by average (yet bigger) offensive linemen. Although he’s bigger than Von Miller, part of the problem I have with both prospects is the possibility they’ll be targeted and exploited playing against the run. Justin Houston (DE, Georgia), Adrian Clayborn (DE, Iowa) and Aldon Smith (DE, Missouri) are superior in this category. 

If you have to take him out of short yardage packages and if you’re really just using him as a pass rush specialist, again that can hit a guy’s stock. Is he a two-down prospect? He also has precious little experience in coverage and isn’t a really instinctive player which may also count against him when the 3-4 teams are on the clock. 

While nobody can deny that Quinn has an explosive first step and has the necessary speed to consistently provide a threat off the edge, he isn’t a particularly polished prospect. There isn’t really a great repertoire of pass rush moves on tape and like Justin Houston he seems almost unwilling to switch back inside, instead relying too much on that outside speed. His reactions are often a split second behind when the ball is snapped. 

The emergence of other prospects may have an impact. Aldon Smith is capable of playing in most defensive schemes and could be set for a rise after the combine – that is represented in this most recent mock. 

There are some of the arguments for why Quinn could fall, but it would be quite a considerable fall to see him last until #25. The lowest I’ve previously had him in my mock drafts was #18 to San Diego. Should he drop into the late teens there’s every chance the Chargers would take him and even if they didn’t – he’d have to make it past Tampa Bay, Kansas City and New Orleans. 

For all the negatives I’ve listed above we’re still talking about a potentially explosive pass rusher and they don’t tend to last very long. He’s got a great initial burst and has no problem taking a long angle to the quarterback. Quinn finishes well and unlikes Georgia’s Houston, he plays with a relentless streak. 

Despite the off the field concerns linked to his suspension, Quinn is actually a humble and hard working individual who won’t take any attitude into meetings and should complete a full work out at the combine. Dez Bryant’s fall last April was less to do with his absence during the 2009 college season and more to do with his no-show in Indianapolis. 

While Quinn has little experience in coverage, the lateral agility and freedom of movement is absolutely there and he has the prototype size for 3-4 rush linebackers. 

At #25 the Seahawks would absolutely have to consider drafting Quinn if he fell. Although he may not be able to provide an immediate impact as a LEO rusher, he could be slowly incorporated into the rotation while he continues to develop. The end product could be a dominating edge rusher, allowing the team to abandon their reliance on heavy blitz packages to create sacks and pressure. 

Churning out the same mock draft every week is repetitive and really what is the point? The objective for these projections is to create a talking point and to cover all possibilities. A week or two before the draft we can think about really trying to crack the code and make a prediction that might actually hold some validity. Until then it’s all guess work. 

Why not look at the possibility that like the Dez Bryant’s and Michael Oher’s out there, someone may fall to Seattle at #25 that is perhaps unexpected? 

Will Robert Quinn fall to the Seahawks? As I said earlier – it’s unlikely, but not impossible.

Mock draft preview and Wednesday’s links

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Mock Draft Preview

Expect an update tomorrow with some significant changes.

I like to mix things up with the mocks because lets be really honest here, there’s no real definitive way to predict what will happen on April 28th. The people who do their homework will get the majority of first round prospects correct, if not in the right order. Some prospects will fall unexpectedly, there will be at least one big shock and nearly everyone will have one pick to hang their hat on.

In 2009 I studied every high profile mock draft on the internet and couldn’t find anyone else who projected Denver would take Knowshon Moreno with the 12th overall pick. The rest of the mock was pretty awful though, particularly the two prospects I had the Seahawks drafting. It was to my detriment that I failed to sufficiently acknowledge Tim Ruskell’s draft history or the manufactured opening at outside linebacker by trading Julian Peterson. It’s always obvious after the event.

Last year I had the Seahawks correctly taking a safety and an offensive tackle, just in the reverse order. I’m led to believe the team were enamoured with Eric Berry and would’ve drafted him 6th overall if the Chiefs had gone in a different direction. I understand the team had originally hoped to take Berry with the first pick and draft Trent Williams at #14, but the Oklahoma lineman’s stock exploded after the combine and he went from a consensus mid-first round selection to a nailed on top five pick. In the end it worked out with Okung still on the board at #6 and Thomas there later on, but I do believe those were the two preferred positions to be filled in round one.

With the team owning a pick much later in round one this year, they might not have the opportunity to be so specific with the area they want to address with their first choice. Sure, there will be preferences and a board structured to consider all eventualities. But with twenty-four teams scheduled to pick before Seattle there’s a lot of time for plans to change.

Perhaps they will have their focus on one prospect all along and will make the sufficient moves up the board to get that player? Maybe they’ll sit tight and be prepared to take simply the best player remaining, considering the numerous needs the team has?

I suspect that at least one prospect will fall down the board in the first round. Perhaps the Seahawks will capitalise on that? Last year Dez Bryant tumbled down the board having missed most of the 2009 college season through suspension and having failed to perform at the combine. Dallas eventually moved up three spots to select Bryant with the 24th overall pick.

In 2009 there was some talk of Michael Oher falling, but nobody expected such a steep drop towards the later stages of round one. Baltimore traded up three spots to select Oher with the #23 pick. In the same year, Chris Wells was touted by many as a potential top-15 prospect but he sank all the way to Arizona at #31.

The year before that concerns over DeSean Jackson’s attitude meant a legitimate top-15 talent fell all the way to #49.

I suspect the Seahawks will be presented an opportunity like this, whether they stay at #25 or have the chance to try and move up the board like Dallas or Baltimore. In a way Bryant, Oher, Wells and Jackson were all calculated gambles – the cost was limited but there were enough concerns to put most of the league off in round one. Jackson has been an unmitigated success and Oher is now Baltimore’s starting left tackle. Wells has been a big disappointment while Bryant had a successful rookie year, yet there was some talk he has not impressed many of the coaches or front office personnel in Dallas.

My mock tomorrow will consider the potential for a prospect falling down the board for a legitimate reason and becoming an unexpected option for the Seahawks at #25.

Who goes first overall?

The combine is really when we get a good grasp on how the draft is going to pan out. We still don’t know what Carolina will do with the #1 overall pick but I’m beginning to think the Panthers will have to find reasons not to take Cam Newton. When Andrew Luck opted not to declare for the 2011 draft, I immediately pinned Newton as my tip to go first overall. This is the article I wrote on the day.

I appreciate the arguments that suggest Nick Fairley or Da’Quan Bowers will be the choice and really I think they’re the only likely alternatives. Carolina’s big needs aside from quarterback are on the defensive line and Bowers and Fairley could easily be the best two prospects in the draft anyway.

Yet are Fairley or Bowers that much better or at least that much more likely to work out than Cam Newton? I’m not so sure, although the long term benefits of the QB working out are much greater.

Think about the possibilities here for a moment - the Panthers wouldn’t have to start Newton immediately because Jimmy Clausen remains on the roster. Should Clausen work out (something I highly doubt) he will be good trade bait down the line. In the meantime you work on Newton and start him when he’s ready or at least when the team has had it’s fill of Clausen.

When a team needs a quarterback, you have to do everything you can to fill that void. If Carolina find sufficient reasons not to select Newton or indeed Blaine Gabbert – so be it. However, at this stage it’s hard to look past the Auburn playmaker at that #1 pick. Certainly I cannot see him lasting past Buffalo at #3.

Big movers

Two defensive prospects in my next mock will make significant moves up the board. Both jump ten places in fact.

Wednesday draft links

Brandon Adams at 17 Power wonders whether Jonathan Baldwin is set for a big move up the boards.

Mel Kiper updates his mock draft with the Seahawks taking Mike Pouncey at #25. I’m a big fan of Pouncey, but I also think it’s unlikely he will last that far. I still maintain that I can’t see Locker falling out of round one as Kiper suggests here and I certainly don’t expect the Seahawks to pass on him. Just a hunch.

Walter Cherepinsky has updated his mock draft with Seattle getting Jimmy Smith (CB, Colorado) in round one. I still suspect Smith will be long gone by the time the Seahawks make their choice.

Tony Pauline publishes his top-50 big board at SI.com. Pauline is one of the best draft insiders in the business and it’s worth keeping an eye on his ‘Draft Insider’ blog.

What are the Seahawks thinking?

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

This was a piece I wanted to write but had to fight with in a big way. On the plus side, it’s interesting to talk about the prospects who may or may not be in contention for the Seahawks in round one and everyone will have their opinions.

On the other hand, you just never know who is going to fall or what will happen on draft day. We can second guess a ton of different scenarios and never get close to the real thing. If a top prospect falls on the day – of course they will be considered, but it’s tough to project that now.

I’m going to use this as a status check on the #25 pick as we get closer to the combine and look to see how things change after that event. Who are the guys as of today that I think might be in contention to be drafted by Seattle? I’ve named five but feel free to add your own in the comments section. I’ve tried to stick with scheme fits and areas of need and there are no ‘left field’ suggestions.

I would recommend checking my latest published mock to get a feel for who I think is a likely option. I’m not going to include players on this list I don’t think have any chance of making it past #20, let alone to #25.

Brandon Harris (CB, Miami)

I don’t think we ever saw the full extent of his potential at Miami. Harris is very similar in size to Walter Thurmond (drafted in round four last year by the Seahawks) and for me he’s clearly the 4th best corner in this class. Patrick Peterson and Jimmy Smith are way out in front, followed by Prince Amukamara (who I’ve said for some time now I expect to end up at safety for the long haul). Then there’s Harris and Aaron Williams. I could see a situation where either goes a bit earlier than expected and clearly a good combine helps cornerbacks a lot.

At the same time, neither was a great playmaker at Miami or Texas respectively. I think Harris gets a bye there because he just wasn’t tested much at all in 2010. Even so when he was challenged in the bowl game against a determined Michael Floyd, he looked poor. That’s a concern.

 Harris is a physical player and a very good open field tackler. When you watch him on the field you instantly recognise he’s a fluid mover with sufficient closing and recovery speed. The potential is there to be an impact player in the league and he could easily be a top-15 pick. That game against Floyd sticks in the mind though and he could just as easily end up being a fringe first round pick. This is a tough one to call at the moment.

Jonathan Baldwin (WR, Pittsburgh)

The Seahawks invested a lot of time courting Brandon Marshall before his move to Miami. They also spent a fair amount of time pursuing Vincent Jackson (who was today given the franchise tag in San Diego). Despite the emergence of Mike Williams as a starter, I see receiver as a lasting need and the team still lacks a real consistent game changer on offense.

Baldwin has great size at nearly 6-5 and 224lbs yet he’s still a very capable deep threat who makes big plays. He suffered in 2010 like the rest of the Pitt Panthers due to inconsistent quarterback play, but it wouldn’t be unfair to suggest he mailed in a season knowing his future lay in the NFL. The potential with Baldwin is big like his size, but he’ll need to be dedicated to his craft to take the next step to stardom. Reports do say that he’s a hard worker off the field.

There is a real hit or miss tendency when it comes to drafting receivers early - although I never see that as a good enough reason to flat out avoid the position. The Seahawks may be wary considering the slow start Golden Tate has made to his career. If he runs poorly at the combine we might be talking about Baldwin as a possibility at #57. If he runs in the high 4.5 range (or better) then he should be a nailed on first rounder.

Phil Taylor (DT, Baylor)

The future of Brandon Mebane remains unclear, especially with no indication a new CBA will be agreed. If free agency does ever happen this year, the Seahawks may run the risk of losing Mebane. It could even be that the deal he gets from another team is too good for Seattle to match – we simply don’t know what the circumstances could be. Even if he remains a Seahawk – it’s an area of the team to watch on draft day.

When Mebane, Colin Cole and Red Bryant all went down with injuries during 2010, the Seahawks suffered. Getting better depth and perhaps upgrading the defensive line should be listed among the team’s priorities. It’s a deep draft at defensive tackle so this isn’t something that will necessarily need to be addressed in round one. However, the top prospects won’t last long.

Taylor has the size (337lbs) to play nose tackle and the surprising mobility to possibly work out in the Red Bryant 5-technique position. He carries the bulk tremendously well and despite some technique issues concerning leverage, he grades highly as an all round talent. It’s a logical pick for the Seahawks if he’s still on the board at #25.

Ryan Mallett (QB, Arkansas)

Do I think the Seahawks will draft Mallett? No I don’t. Do I think they should consider it? Absolutely. The reason I’ve added Mallett to this list is simply my desire to express how vital I think it is the team drafts a quarterback they can invest in for the long haul. I suspect Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton and Jake Locker will be long gone by Seattle’s pick, but Mallett may remain on the board.

There’s a lot to like about the Arkansas QB, but I can’t get away from the fact he isn’t the mobile quarterback this team has stated it wants (and indeed it traded for in Charlie Whitehurst) and the ‘all in’ policy of Pete Carroll’s regime doesn’t scream ‘Ryan Mallett’ as it’s poster boy.

But because this team has such a need at quarterback the best one on the board surely has to be considered? The team will undoubtedly meet with Mallett during the combine and test his character and football IQ. He’s much more than a cannon arm and has some really enticing qualities to his game, but drafting a quarterback in round one is such a commitment that they’d have to be absolutely sold on his ability to lead this team.

Muhammed Wilkerson (DE, Temple)

At 6-5 and 305lbs, Wilkerson is a unique prospect. He’s had production at defensive end (ten sacks in 2010) despite topping 300lbs and he’s versatile enough to move inside and play some tackle. The 5-technique position in Seattle is a little different to the norm in that it’s essentially a bigger left end who can offer great run support. Being able to rush the passer is a bonus and something Red Bryant showed unexpected ability to do.

Wilkerson is 30lbs lighter than Bryant but could be just as effective setting the edge against the run, yet he’ll probably offer a greater pass rushing threat. At 305lbs the team may want to try him out in the three-technique position – an area that increases in importance if Brandon Mebane isn’t retained.

As with the Taylor option before hand, depth on the defensive line would be a good option in round considering the depth of talent available. Drafting players who can play multiple positions is also possibly wise for a team that did suffer lots of injuries up front.

No offensive lineman?

At this moment I find it hard to project the Seahawks going in that direction. Mike Pouncey (G/C, Florida) would almost certainly be considered but I don’t see how he makes it past Kansas City at #21 and likely goes before that as his brother did last year. A finesse tackle like Anthony Castonzo appears unlikely and unnecessary on the right side of the line and I maintain that Gabe Carimi is too limited as a pure RT to warrant first round consideration from this team.

Trading up or down?

All teams consider moving up or down every year, so it’s no major revelation to hint at the possibility Seattle will do this in April. The team doesn’t own a third round pick and may wish to re-coup that, but the way they’ve used picks in trades I don’t suspect they will concern themselves too much with collecting multiple mid round choices unless a bumper deal comes along. While the team needs quantity, it also needs quality early on.

I do think there’s a chance we’ll see a bold move up the board if a buyer is forthcoming. San Diego and Philadelphia both traded into the top-15 from inside the 20′s last year – but both team’s had plenty of draft capital at hand. The Seahawks don’t have that luxury, but could find ways to be creative if there’s a prospect they simply have to grab. I wouldn’t rule out a big move for a quarterback.

If anyone falls, who will it be and are they an option?

If I had to name one prospect who might suffer a big fall and be a logical option for Seattle, it’s North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn. He’s a very talented player, but he didn’t play any football in 2010. Will he be able to perform well at the combine and will he satisfy GM’s and head coaches with answers on why he managed to destroy his final year at UNC? Teams won’t need many excuses to take him of their draft boards, even if the potential is big. Quinn is one of three players (alongside Missouri’s Aldon Smith and Georgia’s Justin Houston) who would fit very well at the LEO position and warrants a first round selection. If he suffers a Dez Bryant type fall in April, he has to be an option for Seattle.

What about Jake Locker?

I think projections that he’ll fall deep into round two or even round three are misguided. Yes – he has accuracy problems that we all know about. He also has a high enough ceiling for someone to fall for his potential. If he gets past Washington and Minnesota I’ll be very surprised. If he lasts until the #25 pick I think the Seahawks will probably draft him. While I personally gave Locker a grade in the round two region, I also believe that with quarterbacks you have to expect they’ll always go a round earlier than that - particularly when talking about natural athletes.

If the Seahawks want Locker bad enough (and I wouldn’t rule that out) I think they’d have to trade up. People might question that logic considering everyone else is down on his stock right now, but speaking even as a relative sceptic - I cannot see him lasting all that long in round one.

Good players not in consideration?

I can’t see the team drafting Mark Ingram (RB, Alabama) as good a player as he is. Part of me suspects that’ll be down to Marshawn Lynch’s arrival, but also because Pete Carroll has moved to install Alex Gibbs’ philosophy in Seattle which has always carried a ‘plug in’ mentality for running backs. Akeem Ayers (LB, UCLA) might be a luxury too far at linebacker considering the capital already invested in Lofa Tatupu and Aaron Curry. Ryan Kerrigan (DE, Purdue) is a relentless pass rusher with a great attitude, but his skill set doesn’t translate well to the LEO. It’s also difficult to place a role for Adrian Clayborn (DE, Iowa) in this scheme.

I’ll review this post after the combine and closer to the draft to see if there was any logic to this thinking.

Some thoughts on Von Miller

Monday, February 14th, 2011

For the last two year’s I’ve really enjoyed watching Von Miller (DE, Texas A&M). It’s hard not to appreciate a guy who makes plays, impacts games and stands out on film. There aren’t many players in the college ranks that have been more fun to watch during 2009-10.

I still wouldn’t draft him as high as most people are suggesting right now.

My opinion on Miller has been consistent throughout, dating back to January last year when it was debated whether he’d declare for the 2010 draft. While most pundits wax lyrical about his abilities and adopt him as a top 5-10 shoe-in, I have some reservations. This has sometimes come across as a dislike for Miller – but that’s far from the truth.

If I had to list the five players I’ve enjoyed watching the most these past two seasons, Miller would be in there.

I love to see guys who consistently rush the passer with success – creating pressure without the need for heavy blitz packages. You put on Texas A&M tape and see this guy beating his man time and time again with pure speed and despite his size, showing a decent repertoire of moves and mixing it up in a solid defensive scheme.

The results are fantastic – 28 sacks the last two seasons. This despite a four-game sackless stretch last August as he fought to recover from a troublesome ankle injury. When Miller finally hit top form, he exploded into life with his eleven 2010 sacks coming in just nine games.

Perhaps his best performance came against the Texas Longhorns. I’ve added the tape to this article (see below). More on that in a moment.

So if I’m such a big fan of Miller and have enjoyed watching him these past two seasons – why am I down on his stock?

Let’s just look at what he does well – he’s an explosive speed rusher. If he can jump the snap and get a step on the offensive lineman, you’re in trouble. Miller is so quick off the edge he’s occasionally unblock-able. There’s very little mystery to his success at A&M – he’s just incredibly quick with a frame that doesn’t restrict that speed.

However, when a tackle can get his hands on Miller, he tends to struggle. He looks every bit a 235-240lbs prospect and he hasn’t got the upper body strength needed to disengage. He abused a lot of flat footed, average athletes playing tackle in college with speed. Will he have the same success at the next level? Is he going to be able to counter initial contact? Will pro-tackles cope comfortably with that speed by showing him the edge and running him out of a good angle?

People talk about Clay Matthews and perhaps his impact will help Miller, but Matthews is much stronger at the point of attack and is more than willing to mix it up with a big tackle. I’m not sure Miller will ever cope as well.

That is one thing that bothers me, the second is perhaps more vital. If you are hoping to draft the guy and play him up at the line like at A&M, you’re asking for trouble on running downs. Miller will just get exploited time and time again playing up front against the run. He’s lean all over and while he understands leverage better than most, he’s just going to get flushed out. You can’t expect him to set an edge and while prospects like Justin Houston (DE, Georgia) have shown they are capable of handling those duties – Miller will be a liability at the next level.

For those reasons I have long suspected his best fit would be as an outside linebacker. Miller has very good lateral speed and when asked to cover a zone he will have success (although he certainly has limitations in man coverage). That in itself is a reason why I’m not as high as others. You’re talking about a transition to a new position, even if it’s one that should match his skill set. You can find productive 4-3 linebackers comfortably outside of round one most years. It simply isn’t a high value position. For every Brian Cushing there’s a failure – and both Cushing and Aaron Curry have a good 15-20lbs on Miller.

Despite his 17-sack season in 2009, he was only issued a third round grade by the draft committee and this played some part in his decision not to declare last year. I partly agreed with the grade and at least understood it - after all, the 2010 class was particularly deep and competitive. He almost certainly would’ve been a second round pick at worst considering his production and speed.

Another year of sacks and top drawer performances improved his stock and with this being a weaker class in terms of depth – I understand why his stock is on the up. Even so, the same question marks exist from last year. I think he’s a solid pick in the 25-40 region, where you can transition him to linebacker and find creative ways to make him effective on third down as a pass rusher.

If he goes in the top five or ten picks like some people project, you want more than that. You’re expecting consistent pressure on first and second down and you’re looking for him to be the X-factor. I can see Miller achieving a very solid 6-7 sacks in year one on pure blitz packages, but he isn’t going to be an every down dynamo who persistently causes problems off the edge like we saw in college.

Events like the Senior Bowl are tailor-made for guys like Miller. The drills are perfect for him to show off his great change of direction skills, his ball location, anticipation, fluid balance and pure speed and athleticism. The combine will build the hype-factor up even more.

It doesn’t highlight the obstacles he’ll face for a team who wants to draft him early.

Tim Ruskell isn’t the only talent evaluator who values Senior prospects from big programmes with solid production and character. Most NFL teams look at guys like that as solid gold. I appreciate why he’s being talked up at the moment and why he’s suddenly this consensus high pick. Positive reports on Miller will do as much good for his wallet as the negative press will impact Ryan Mallett’s.

I want to see Miller do well at the next level and rest assured even if I do grade him lower than most – I’ll still be excited to see him perform in the NFL. I’m always prepared to be proven wrong by a prospect. I want to be proven wrong because wishing someone to fail just to back up points made on a draft blog is unnecessary.

Even so – I’d offer caution to those fans hoping their team selects him as early as possible. He can be effective at the next level, but he isn’t going to be Clay Matthews, Demarcus Ware or any of the other elite pass rushers currently tearing up the league.

Let’s look at the tape, as always courtesy of the sensational Aaron Aloysius:

Watching the video it’s not hard to see why Texas had a bitterly disappointing 2010 season. The regularity with which Miller is unblocked is unreal. Texas A&M have one decorated star defensive player in his senior year and he’s basically treated like an unknown freshman.

Although it’s possibly Miller’s most striking game of the 2010 season, the Longhorns offensive line lay a big egg during this one. Look at the play at 0:54 where the tackle pulls left and almost collides with the tight end, obstructing his ability to get to Miller who takes full advantage. The play of the tackle at 1:37 is unacceptable, failing to get his hands on Miller at all as he dodges inside with ease. We see at 1:49 and 1:58 what happens when you can get to Miller and he can’t disengage.

Overall the Texas tackles are not remotely athletic enough to cope with Miller. He won’t get an easy ride like this most Sunday’s.

One thing I didn’t mention above is Miller’s ability to dissect traffic. You see this at 1:18, 2:21 and 3:48 where he plots a route through the middle to get pressure on the QB. Justin Houston doesn’t do this enough and it hurts his stock, Miller is adept at cutting inside and not relying purely on an edge rush. He may even be more effective in the NFL changing it up like this – using his fluid balance and hips to swerve through the crowd and execute with a closing burst.

The final play on the tape is an interception – flashing his ability in zone coverage. He should have some success there and that may appeal to both 4-3 and 3-4 teams, but I’m not convinced he’ll have the same success when asked to cover in man or watch a tight end.

Sunday draft links

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Don’t forget to check out the Justin Houston tape/report from yesterday.

Jeff McLane from the Philadelphia Inquirer has a story on Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor, noting his departure from Penn State and how he turned his career around with the Bears. Thanks to Matt for drawing my attention to this piece.

Pete Prisco at CBS Sportsline publishes his first mock draft with the Seahawks taking Ryan Mallett: “Did you see the way 35-year-old veteran Matt Hasselbeck played for most of last season? And Charlie Whitehurst doesn’t look to be the answer to that problem.”

Brandon Adams at 17 Power has a good piece on the ‘anti-hype’ surrounding Ryan Mallett: “In other words, a wave of totally confident anti-hype and un-confirmed Hint-ese that has the potential to destroy a college player’s career and re-shape the entire NFL for a decade to come is based on…a ten-word snippet from an article that has nothing to do with Ryan Mallett.”

Tony Pauline at Draft Insider says Cam Newton is getting a lot of attention from NFL scouts: “Last week in San Antonio at least six different teams said they rank Auburn quarterback Cam Newton as the number one prospect in the draft.

Justin Houston (DE, Georgia) game tape

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

Justin Houston had 11 sacks for Georgia in 2010

There aren’t many first round draft prospects that can work in the LEO position, but Justin Houston is one of them.

Robert Quinn (DE, UNC) and Aldon Smith (DE Missouri) are the two other players that would warrant the first round investment, but neither are likely to be around at #25. Houston could and probably will be.

I think by design it’s a position that will always create the opportunity to ‘stat pad’. Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock both had career years in the role and an argument could be made that it isn’t worth a high pick when production is almost manufactured. John Morgan argues soundly the counter to that opinion.

The LEO is most effective when you can create one-vs-one match ups in space to exploit the speed of your pass rusher. The best way to create those opportunities is to have penetration from your interior lineman and at least one guy who can soak up blocks. Personally I think the Seahawks can stand to benefit from landing one great nose tackle in this scheme that can do just that.

At the same time, finding an elite pass rusher can make or break a defense. The Seahawks simply don’t have enough playmakers on either side of the ball and a difference maker rushing the edge can be that. Imagine what the LEO could achieve without an over reliance on blitz packages?

I remain unconvinced Seattle will draft for the position in round one unless a Quinn or Smith falls to them, but it’s worth looking at perhaps the only other guy that warrants consideration. Here’s the tape:

The LEO isn’t just about quicks and a solid speed rush. These guys have stand up against the run too to avoid becoming a liability and this can be an issue considering you’re looking at under sized prospects. Houston played at Georgia listed at 6-3 and 258lbs which is fine for the LEO, but clearly not big for a defensive lineman expected to play three downs.

He’s generally quite strong for his size and the real problem he has in this area is a situation a lot of rookies face - leverage. It’s a common issue for a lot of these young guys enterting the league and Houston is no different. When he stays high he’s easily run out of the play. When he gets the leverage right he’s shown he’s more than capable of setting the edge.

Houston has the kind of edge speed needed for the LEO role – he can take an exaggerated route around an offensive tackle and loop back round to make the play. His foot speed and he doesn’t rely on a sudden burst. It helps him to make plays – as emphasised by his 18 sacks during the last two years in the SEC.

Sometimes he’s a split second late in making a judgement or will take a bad angle – both emphasised here at 1:52 when he makes the correct read (albeit slightly too late) and he’s unable to get the correct position to complete a tackle he should make.

Occasionally he struggles to shed blocks, we see this at 1:42, 2:02, 3:59, 6:53, 8:46 and 11:39. His hand use is poor and I don’t think he has the upper body strength to ever develop against this. It might have to be something you compensate for considering his speed and quick burst.

We also see a tackle can use Houston’s speed against him to run him out of plays when he over extends (4:19).

But the big problem I have with Houston is that he leaves effort on the field. He plays at times like he needs some fire, there isn’t that relentless style you see from other prospects slated to go in round one. Physically there’s talent on show, but he needs to match it with a real burning desire to impact every play.

When he’s driven out of contention initially, he seems to accept it too easily and gives up. Having recently looked at Phil Taylor at 337lbs sprinting from one side of the field to another to make a simple tackle on the running back he wasn’t expected to make, it’s disappointing to see that missing in Houston considering he’s 80lbs lighter.

Houston doesn’t have a great repertoire of pass rush moves either. Really, he just relies on pure edge speed and we don’t see a lot of creativity. As discussed earlier – once a tackle locks into his pads he struggles to break free. He rarely cuts inside and always look to round the edge. His speed is good enough to get away with that in college but can he trouble the top pro-lineman in the same way doing the same thing over and over again?

To a certain degree Houston is half-way to becoming a very interesting prospect. His natural speed and ability as an edge rusher will warrant serious late first round consideration alone. He’s not weak given his smaller frame and he will help set the edge – and he generally doesn’t miss tackles. However, he needs to find a relentless streak and he needs to find more ways to beat his man.

Although I think someone will draft him in the 20-40 range in April, I don’t think that team will be Seattle. He’s a bit more of a project than some of the other defensive lineman in this class and although the results may be good down the line – I’m not sure a LEO project is what this team is looking for. They’ve found some level of production from a low-end trade (Clemons) and a free agent (Brock). Robert Quinn and Aldon Smith are more rounded prospects overall and can start quickly, Houston is pure potential.

Kiper on Newton/Locker & can Seattle pass on a QB?

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Yesterday I published my latest mock and I think it raised an interesting talking point.

I once again projected the Seahawks to take Phil Taylor (DT, Baylor) with the 25th overall pick. I look at Taylor and see a prospect that can come in and contribute quickly at either the five technique/Red Bryant position or nose tackle. He has some technique flaws with leverage that need to be addressed, but he’s 337lbs of potential quality.

Taylor helps Seattle get bigger up front with greater depth against injuries if the likes of Bryant, Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane miss time as they did in 2010. Eventually I suspect Taylor could develop into the integral part of the defense, given the relative importance of the five technique and nose tackle in this scheme (as discussed in more detail here).

It’d be a smart move and one that would be difficult to complain about. I graded Taylor highly and if he does last until the #25 pick he has to be a consideration.

But… the Seahawks need a quarterback.

I’ve maintained for some time now that the team’s greatest need is to invest in a young QB. There are other needs that need to be addressed – another cornerback would be beneficial as would further additions to both lines. There’s a lack of pure playmaking quality on offense and certainly that’s something that will need to change. However, it all comes back to the quarterback first.

It’s an area that really needed to be filled two or three years ago. Former GM Tim Ruskell admitted the team ‘were in the zone’ for a new signal caller before the 2009 draft. Amongst others, they worked out Josh Freeman in Seattle and the year before had a look at Chad Henne. The end product was merely a late round flier on now released Mike Teel.

Last year the options were severely limited. If Sam Bradford wasn’t going to fall to the #6 pick (and it never seemed likely) it appeared Seattle’s options were slim in terms of drafting someone in round one. That is of course, unless they were one of the teams prepared to consider Tim Tebow. That may have been more likely than some people expect had Philadelphia drafted Early Thomas instead of Brandon Graham.

The team spent big on Charlie Whitehurst but didn’t appear willing to ever seriously consider him as anything else than a back-up in 2010. There may have been some determination to keep him out of Arizona too, considering it was a straight race between the Cardinals and Seahawks for his signature. They now enter his ‘contract year’ with no real knowledge of what he’s capable of. If they re-sign Matt Hasselbeck then it’s tough to see a situation where he gets enough game time to prove he’s worth a new deal.

I actually look at the Whitehurst move as a nod that this franchise appreciates the need at quarterback. Whether Matt Hasselbeck remains in Seattle or not, he’s approaching the age of 36 and has been inconsistent at best. The team has to prepare for the post-Hasselbeck era, which could be as soon as 2011 or 2012 depending on how things play out. You’ll be fortunate to hit on the first guy to try at the position, so taking a chance on Whitehurst made sense considering the implications if he works out.

So all things considered – can they really afford to pass on Ryan Mallett (QB, Arkansas) to take Phil Taylor as I projected in my latest mock?

It’s a question I asked myself when I compiled the projection and still struggle to answer. I think a lot of what has been written about Mallett recently is hyperbole and unfair. At the same time – it’s hard to ignore what possible impact this negative press will have and some of the things that have been speculated (albeit from less than hardened sources) have been concerning.

From a pure Seahawks perspective he isn’t that mobile QB who will get out of the pocket and help the running game. That is something Pete Carroll reiterated he wants from the position in his end of season presser recently. The move for Whitehurst (big arm and mobility) backs up the type of QB they’re looking for. The mantra under Carroll is ‘all in’ and competition – so does Mallett fit that mentality?

At the same time, the cost is limited with Seattle likely only to lay out approximately $8-9m in guarantees owning the #25 pick. If he was cut after two years he’d only cost the team as much cash as Whitehurst and possibly only a little more pride.

Sometimes you have to adapt scheme to fit what’s available. Mallett isn’t the statue some want you to believe, but he is going to need to be predominantly a pocket passer. He’s adept at play action which is a positive considering Seattle’s keenness to run the ball and although he has played in a well drilled Bobby Petrino scheme at Arkansas, he has much more experience of controlling an offense and making reads compared to most rookies.

People like to point to the failures of Brian Brohm (another Petrino project) as a reason why Mallett will fail. I would counter by saying Brohm was a much more limited talent.

Essentially it sums up the difficulty in projecting what Seattle will do. Mallett to a large degree would make sense, yet I understand why the Seahawks could pass.

There may be an element of trial and error in finding the long term successor at quarterback. It could take a couple of failed shots to get there. The only way the Seahawks will get their chance at an uncut diamond like Andrew Luck is if they are bad enough to be the worst team in the NFL – something that will prove difficult to achieve in a poor quality NFC West.

When you’re selecting in the teens or the twenties, you have to look at the prospects big on talent but maybe with a few extra wrinkles. Taking numerous chances on quarterbacks in an attempt to find ‘the one’ might pay dividends in the end.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper on Cam Newton and Jake Locker:

I think Kiper makes some very valid points on both prospects. It took me 6-7 Auburn games during the season to appreciate Newton fully, but I came to realise he’s an under rated passer with immense potential. I also feel after watching Jake Locker several times that he deserves a second round grade at best.

I still think both will be high first round picks though.

The reasons are simple – this is a quarterback league. Both prospects have high ceilings. There are many teams in this league with needs at quarterback and little opportunity to fill those gaps with free agency unlikely to take place due to the CBA problems.

I suspect Newton will be admired by most teams as long as several off the field questions can be answered, while Locker will have some select favorites. We know Mike Shanahan liked Locker last year and it still looks like a perfect match based on scheme. Washington didn’t bench Donovan McNabb lightly and it seems almost certain they will draft a quarterback.

The Redskins cannot expect Locker to last until round two and like Tim Tebow last year I suspect the Huskies QB will reach a point in round one that is his lowest exit route (maybe Seattle at #25?).

Perhaps Washington makes a small move down from the #10 spot and still drafts Locker? Either way I think it will happen unless someone moves ahead of Washington – a scenario which still keeps Locker in the top half of round one. Even with no interest from the Redskins there are enough alternatives (Tennessee, Minnesota, Miami, Seattle) to suspect he won’t suffer the dramatic fall some are predicting.

I accept it’s quite contradictory given I have Mallett dropping out of round one, but that is not due to a lack of talent. Although I agree with Kiper’s assessment of Locker and those that have questioned his accuracy, technique and lack of production – I still think he finds a home in round one come April.

Updated mock draft: 10th February

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

The mock draft page in the title bar will be fixed this weekend but for now I’ll post the latest projection here.

Before I get into it here’s a few of other mocks to check out: ESPN’s Todd McShay has posted his third update with Jake Locker (QB, Washington) going to the Seahawks. Wes Bunting at the NFP thinks Seattle goes with Nate Solder (OT, Colorado) and Chad Reuter at CBS Sportsline has the Seahawks drafting Corey Liuget (DT, Illinois).

Updated mock draft

#1 Carolina – Cam Newton (QB, Auburn)
The Panthers need to study hard and ask themselves ‘can any of these quarterbacks be the future of this franchise’? If the answer is yes – they could still draft a QB first overall.

#2 Denver – Da’Quan Bowers (DE, Clemson)
The Broncos weren’t ranked #32 for defense because of their secondary. They need defensive line help in a bad way.

#3 Buffalo – Marcell Dareus (DT, Alabama)
They could go in a number of directions, but that defensive front needs some beef. Dareus is scheme flexible.

#4 Cincinnati – Nick Fairley (DT, Auburn)
The attitude and personality might put off a few teams – but it won’t put off Cincinnati. Will they be forced to consider a quarterback?

#5 Arizona – Patrick Peterson (CB, LSU)
Quarterback remains a huge black hole in Arizona but would they take Gabbert, Locker or Mallett here?

#6 Cleveland – AJ Green (WR, Georgia)
The Browns need a playmaker on offense who can produce quickly and Green fits the bill.

#7 San Francisco – Cameron Jordan (DE, California)
He’s always been a potential top-10 pick. Locker, Gabbert or Mallett don’t strike me as John Harbaugh draft picks.

#8 Tennessee – Blaine Gabbert (QB, Missouri)
He’d need to get past Arizona and San Francisco, but Tennessee can’t let him drop any further.

#9 Dallas – Jimmy Smith (CB, Colorado)
He is a top-ten talent and you’ll start to see him rise in a lot more mock drafts very soon.

#10 Washington – Jake Locker (QB, Washington)
Talk about a drop as much as you want, sometimes things aren’t logical. This fits need, scheme fit and the coach likes the kid. They will draft a quarterback.

#11 Houston – Robert Quinn (DE, North Carolina)
They’re switching to a 3-4 defense and Quinn can help Mario Williams get this defense rolling.

#12 Minnesota – Tyron Smith (OT, USC)
The best offensive tackle on the market with huge potential.

#13 Detroit – Von Miller (LB, Texas A&M)
This is too high for me – but don’t underestimate the value of draft hype.

#14 St. Louis – Julio Jones (WR, Alabama)
The Rams need a go-to receiver. I’d love to see Jones fall to Seattle, but it seems unlikely.

#15 Miami – Mike Pouncey (C, Florida)
Pouncey is locked into the mid/late teens. Miami needs a center in a bad way.

#16 Jacksonville – Prince Amukamara (CB, Nebraska)
He’s over rated but he can only fall so far. Amukamara’s future could lie at safety.

#17 New England – JJ Watt (DE, Wisconsin)
Solid football player who fits the New England mantra.

#18 San Diego – Mohammed Wilkerson (DE, Temple)
Growing draft stock after a ten-sack season.

#19 New York Giants – Nate Solder (OT, Colorado)
I have them taking Solder over Akeem Ayers and Mark Ingram – but it was close.

#20 Tampa Bay – Aldon Smith (DE, Missouri)
I think he fits best in the 4-3 despite not having elite size for a right end.

#21 Kansas City – Ryan Kerrigan (DE, Purdue)
The Chiefs want character, leadership and production.

#22 Indianapolis – Corey Liuget (DT, Illinois)
Could probably go higher than this but for a lack of 4-3 teams needing interior help.

#23 Philadelphia – Akeem Ayers (LB, UCLA)
Corner or offensive line appears to be an alternative option, but Ayers might be BPA.

#24 New Orleans – Mark Ingram (RB, Alabama)
Another big time playmaker for the Saints offense.

#25 Seattle – Phil Taylor (DT, Baylor)
Depth and size up front for the Seahawks’ defensive line.

#26 Baltimore – Jon Baldwin (WR, Pittsburgh)
Could be the receiver they expected Anquan Boldin to be.

#27 Atlanta – Adrian Clayborn (DE, Iowa)
Unimpressive this year but worth a look here.

#28 New England – Ben Ijalana (OT, Villanova)
The Pats may consider drafting an offensive lineman in this area, but who’d bet against a trade down?

#29 New York Jets – Justin Houston (OLB, Georgia)
Rex Ryan loves pass rushers.

#30 Chicago – Torrey Smith (WR, Maryland)
Cutler’s arm could make Smith a star.

#31 Pittsburgh – Brandon Harris (CB, Miami)
The Steelers’ biggest need.

#32 Green Bay – Anthony Castonzo (OT, Boston College)
He needs to have a good combine work out.

Some thoughts…

- There’s an almost witch hunt mentality surrounding Ryan Mallett at the moment, which is unfair. Most of the people discussing his future haven’t watched him 8-10 times during college and appear unwilling or unable to discuss the positives with wild rumours doing the rounds. I think he’s a first round talent absolutely. However, you can’t measure the impact of a negative press. He’ll need to be spectacular in combine interviews to repair his stock. The Seahawks would need to be thoroughly unimpressed to justify passing at #25.

- People are going over the top when they discuss Jake Locker and Ryan Mallett dropping into round three. It’s sensationalist reporting designed to draw attention. Both have their faults, but nobody is considering why they could still go in round one – and early at that. A bit of perspective is needed. I still believe a Locker and Shanahan partnership is destiny and I think if Mallett does fall, he’ll find a home early in round two.

- We’re no closer to guessing what Carolina will do with that #1 pick. I wouldn’t rule out Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Marcell Dareus, Nick Fairley or Da’Quan Bowers. I think the choice will come from that group. The quarterbacks still have the edge in my view due to the importance of the position. I think Newton and Gabbert warrant greater praise because they are both talented guys – people are looking for problems and not looking for potential. If they aren’t interested in the quarterbacks, defensive tackle is the teams big need.

- The depth at defensive tackle overall could further encourage Carolina to draft a quarterback first overall. The Panthers don’t have a second round pick though, having traded it during last year’s draft for Armanti Edwards (perhaps another indicator that they might make an unconventional choice first overall).

- There’s some nice offensive line talent that should be around in round two. I suspect some of the offensive tackles will be available (Sherrod, Carimi and possibly Castonzo). I rate James Carpenter higher than most. Danny Watkins and Rodney Hudson will give teams an instant impact at guard (or center in Hudson’s case).

It was also Cam Newton’s ‘media’ work out today in San Diego. Trent Dilfer was impressed:

Ryan Mallett vs Texas A&M: scoring drive #1

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

The opening drive of Arkansas’ game against Texas A&M stood out to me. It wasn’t so much the drive, rather than the final play.

It took me back twelve months when the Razorbacks were playing the unbeaten #1 ranked Florida Gators on the road. Arkansas should’ve ended Tim Tebow’s dream that day, instead Alabama did in the SEC title game.

Part of the problem was the eratic nature of their quarterback - a guy named Ryan Mallett in the middle of his first year starting having transferred from Michigan.

On the day, he completed just 44% of his passes. At the same time, he also put up a solid 224 yards and didn’t turn the ball over. He made one stunning downfield pass which ended in a 75-yard touchdown bomb to Greg Childs – perfectly placed hitting the receiver in stride and avoided two covering defenders. You can see the play in the video below at the 1:38 mark:

At the same time, there was something twitchy about Mallett’s display. He never looked entirely comfortable and it showed in completing just 12 passes. Arkansas were 2/13 on third down. He fired too many throws at full force and always seemed to be marginally off target.

The touchdown pass to Childs put Arkansas 20-13 ahead with 9:40 remaining. They failed to score another point and lost 23-20. It wasn’t all Mallett’s fault of course, the kicker Alex Tajeda missed a 38-yarder that would’ve put the Hogs up by the same scoreline late on.

But one play that has stuck in my mind from that day stayed with me throughout the off season and is the main reason I was so looking forward to seeing Mallett in 2010.

Trailing 13-10 in the third quarter, Mallett had his team in position to get the go-ahead touchdown. Full back Van Stumon had managed to sneak into the endzone and wasn’t picked up by the talented Gators’ secondary. Mallett scans the short field and sees Stumon wide open. The ball fires out of his hand like a cannon, it’s high and predictably asks too much of a guy not used to catching the ball.

It’s incomplete and Arkansas settle for a field goal.

The outcome was most extreme, but it’s something we saw too often from Mallett in 2009. The arm strength is there for all to see but he didn’t seem capable of managing it. Critics said he trusted his arm too much and didn’t put enough touch on his passes – that he had two gears: fast ball and faster ball.

So when the new season kicked off I wanted to see how Mallett had worked on his game. Could he make that 12-yard pass easy for his receiver? Could he improve his control during a pressure road game against a good opponent? Could he be accurate?

These are all things Mallett achieved in 2010 and the first drive of Arkansas’ 24-17 win over Texas A&M was a case in point. I’ll run through key drives from this game over the next week but the first Arkansas possession drew my attention.

Ryan Mallett vs Texas A&M: first scoring drive

Texas A&M kick off: touchback

15:00: 1st and ten at Arkansas 20
Mallett adjusts the play at the line from a single set formation. The running back is moved into protection. False start on the snap #73.

1st and 15 at Arkansas 15
The formation shows a single set back, two receivers split wide and one in the slot. Mallett stands in the shotgun and hands off to the back for a gain of three.

2nd 12 at Arkansas 18
Shotgun trips left formation. Mallett takes the snap in the gun and makes two further (unnecessary?) long strides backwards before throwing underneath to Jarius Wright for a gain of 13 and a first down. Easy throw in soft coverage allowing receiver to get yards after the catch. Ball placement and pace is good, decision is quick enough to allow Wright time to catch, turn and move upfield.

1st and 10 at Arkansas 31
Single set back formation this time with slot receiver on the right hand side. Mallett reads defense and audible’s. Directs traffic before taking the snap under center. Running back toss play for a short gain.

2nd and 7 at Arkansas 34
Empty backfield, 5WR set. Mallett takes snap in the gun and sensing pressure drops back with two further strides. This is too common and sometimes impacts his ability to really set and drive into his throws. His instinct is to drop further back even from the gun, even when there’s no pressure. He passes on his first read and is forced to avoid the blitzing pass rusher Michael Hodges. Mallett keeps his eyes on second target Joe Adams and completes a short pass to the right for a first down.

1st and 10 at Arkansas 43
I Formation with the fullback offset to the strongside. Two receivers split wide. The tight end motions from left to right. Mallett hands off from under center for Knile Davis who dodges three tackles for a big gain on the ground.

1st and 10 at TAMU 12
3WR single set back formation with Mallett under center. Mallett takes play call from the sideline. The playclock appears to restart quickly resulting in a delay of game. Mallett complains briefly to the officials but appears to have a legitimate case.

1st and 15 at TAMU 17
3TE’s in on the play bunched together with one receiver to the left. Single set back. All three TE’s go in motion from left to right. Half back toss for no gain. Mallett under center.

2nd and 15 at TAMU 17
3WR single set back formation. Mallett under center who takes a three step drop on the snap. He plants his front foot nicely and throws quickly to his hot read on a short out route for an eight yard gain. Decent pressure from the interior defensive line doesn’t faze the quarterback. Ball thrown quickly and with precision to allow the receiver to turn upfield and gain extra yards after catch – similar to his pass on second down from his own 18.

3rd and 10 at TAMU 9
Shotgun formation. Mallett takes two further strides again despite starting in the gun. Von Miller rushes off the right edge but is pushed out of the play by the running back. Mallett stands tall in the pocket and throws a medium-pace ball down the middle for a touchdown. Decent coverage on Joe Adams with a corner shadowing and safety support coming across, but the throw had enough juice on it and with good placement.

Adams started in the slot and faked to the outside right. He then runs an inside slant and finds a small window of space, which Mallett executes with perfect placement on the throw through a crowd of bodies.

To see this scoring drive and the entire Arkansas vs Texas A&M game from 2010, click here

The reason this touchdown drive and scoring pass stood out for me are two-fold:

1. Mallett doesn’t force any of his throws either downfield or into unnecessary tight coverage. He takes what the defense gives and puts good touch on both completions before the touchdown. The passes were accurate and catch-able balls, he didn’t panic in the pocket and on one occasion was quite comfortable moving away from his first read and taking the second option.

2. The touchdown brought back memories of that missed opportunity against Florida. On this occasion, Joe Adams is nowhere near as open as the full back. He’s run an intelligent route and done well to find some space in a crowded end zone. As soon as Mallett spots Adams has found a window – he decides to pass. Considering there isn’t much room for error and also Mallett’s considerable arm strength, this is the kind of throw where he could be forgiven for laying it out and trying to fit the ball in there.

Instead, he times the pass brilliantly (without the need for a cannon) and shows the right touch to get it into Adams perfectly and he reacts before the safety can come across and break it up.

That so easily could have been a wild incompletion a la Florida. What actually happened was a perfect opening drive which set Arkansas’ up for victory.

It’s a small example but I think it expresses at least in some way why I think Mallett made strides in only his second year as a pure starter.

The risk of risk averse

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Green Bay didn't think twice about drafting Aaron Rodgers in 2005

Following on the theme of the last few days I’m going to break down the tape of Arkansas vs Texas A&M and run through every offensive snap taken by Ryan Mallett. Stay tuned for that piece tomorrow.

If you’re wondering why I’m paying so much attention to Mallett at the moment – it’s because I truly believe he’s probably the most intriguing prospect in this entire draft class. He could go in the top ten (don’t rule out Tennessee at #8 as a possible home) and he could drop out of the first round completely. All the while, he has the skills to make a quick impact on the NFL and also (some people believe) the character concerns that could make him a soap opera.

Mallett may also be the closest thing you’ll find to an Aaron Rodgers in this class. It’s easy to forget that Rodgers fell to the 24th overall pick in 2005 when you watch him lead the Packers to a title. At the age of 27, he has his first Super Bowl ring and it could lead to many more. It’s easy to sit here and say a number of teams made a mistake passing on his now undoubted talent. Many other quarterbacks have made a surprise fall (Brady Quinn anyone?) and not had the same success.

However, a perceived ‘attitude’ supposedly cost Rodgers his chance to go first overall in 2005 and encouraged his dramatic move down the board.

Ask a lot of draft pundits to discuss Mallett and it won’t be long before they mention similar perceived character concerns. He was never voted a team captain at Arkansas – why? Do the rumours of stock-destroying inside information carry any substance?

There may well be legitimate concerns that will hamper Mallett’s hopes of getting the best possible pay-day next April. Perhaps we’ll find out more at the combine? The mere speculation may be enough to put some teams off and let’s not underestimate the power of positive or negative hype.

That may be especially true for Mallett because we want our quarterbacks to be pretty much perfect.

Not every team feels that way of course. Oakland and Tennessee certainly didn’t concern themselves too much with character analysis when drafting Jamarcus Russell and Vince Young respectively.

Even so, you can’t get away from the fact most team’s want their quarterback to lead by example. This is the individual who people will think of first when someone mentions the franchise, so a bad image leads to a bad impression. It’s not good PR when your quarterback is missing the first four games of the season as Ben Roethlisberger did in 2010. Of course he’s mostly forgiven when he makes his third Super Bowl appearance since entering the league in 2004.

Seattle is no different to the majority of teams. People have got used to the media-friendly PR guru that is Matt Hasselbeck. He’s a family man who always has a ready quip for the media. He’s a role model for young players and a much loved Seattle sports personality.

Can his successor survive being anything else? That remains to be seen.

Fans generally want their quarterback’s to be clean cut individuals, stuck in a film room or playbook and openly dedicated to their craft. In reality they’re human beings and not everyone can have Peyton Manning’s work ethic.

While the Manning’s of the NFL will always have success due to the perfect combination of talent and workaholic dedication – it’s not the only way to win. Sometimes talent is enough.

Jay Cutler? He made the NFC Championship game this year despite his surly disposition and purported lack of chemistry with the rest of his team. Ben Roethlisberger? See above. Michael Vick? He was unbeatable at times this year.

Ask some select Seahawks fans if they’d want any of three quarterbacks above starting for their team in 2011 and the answer would be a resounding ‘no’. Such is the case when considering drafting a quarterback too.

Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert are unflappable character guys. They don’t deliver entertaining interviews lack  Hasselbeck but they say the right things and look the part. Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett have a few question marks in that area. The latter two may also be supremely more talented.

There’s nothing wrong with being risk averse, in fact it certainly can help a team avoid titanic busts especially in the top ten picks. What if Oakland drafts Joe Thomas instead of Jamarcus Russell?

But there’s a reason why a prospect like Ryan Mallett is even being discussed as a first round pick. He’s got the big arm, his accuracy is much improved this year and he reads a field well. He has the talent needed to succeed even if there are some pending character risks.

Then you look at a guy like Greg McElroy. He’s an UDFA for me but may go in the late rounds. I don’t think he will ever become even a backup quality quarterback at the next level. He might be a harder worker than Mallett, but he doesn’t come close from a physical standpoint, he’s not overly accurate and he doesn’t have that ability to dissect a defense and go to his third or fourth option.

People often mention Christian Ponder’s off the field intelligence and he’s a personable guy who will fit into a pro-locker room. However, I don’t see that intelligence crossing over into his on-field decision making and I don’t expect he’ll ever become a legitimate NFL starter as a limited physical talent.

Yet those two quarterbacks (and the likes of Andy Dalton) are sometimes considered more preferable options – despite their limitations and low chance of starting at the next level. They simply aren’t difference makers, while Mallett can be.

We will generally over look a big nasty defensive tackle being kicked off a team (as is the case with Phil Taylor at Penn State) because we want our lineman to be nasty. They don’t have to be the face of the franchise and carry all of the responsibilities that go with it. It’s different with quarterbacks and so it should be I suppose.

But you can’t also cut your nose off to spite your face. Maybe some teams did that with Rodgers? The general cost of picking at #24 lessened the risk for Green Bay and they’ve won big from their small gamble.

Seattle may face a similar roll of the dice in April. A guy like Mallett may not be the team’s first choice of the four quarterbacks likely to go in round one, but can they afford to play safe and keep the chips for another day? Is a gamble or sorts worth taking to secure a rough diamond and potentially find the long term playmaker this franchise so dramatically requires?

And as a coaching staff do you back yourself to make it work out?