Archive for July, 2011

Nick Foles (QB, Arizona) & tempered expectations

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

I've given Arizona's Nick Foles a round 6/7 grade this summer

 

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve had a closer look at a number of the proposed quarterback options for the 2012 draft. The conclusion I’ve come to is that the group is deep with names, but not necessarily deep with first round picks. Potentially there are two players who I rate extremely highly as potential franchise quarterbacks – Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley. Even then, it’s not a shoe-in that either will glide into the NFL as the sure things that many seem to believe they are. After all, they’re going to be drafted early by bad football teams.  

After that you’re looking at a big group of prospects jostling for position, headed in the pre-season by Landry Jones. He has work to do to confirm a first round grade and there are some remaining issues with his consistency, accuracy and ability to break through what is a very favorable offensive scheme in terms of pure numbers. He needs to stand out more in 2011.  

Behind Jones at the moment are Kirk Cousins and Austin Davis. Cousins reminds me a lot of Kevin Kolb and should he lead Michigan State to a successful Big Ten campaign, I suspect he’ll end up going in a similar region to Kolb. I’m a big fan of the under rated Davis at Southern Miss and while he won’t generate the same level of hype as others (see Nick Foles below), he has every opportunity to go in the first three rounds of next year’s draft if he performs as expected this year.  

I’ve read several articles and listened to some arguments about the depth of this quarterback class, mainly in reference to finding stop gap options this year for QB-needy teams knowing they can spend big on the position next April. Of course, the Seahawks are one of those teams. Even so, I have to wonder if it’s the same kind of hyperbole we hear every year about respective quarterback classes the more I research these players.  

Ryan Lindley often gets quoted as an early pick - a player who is far from a polished quarterback, has consistency and accuracy issues and doesn’t have the kind of physical tools some people have suggested. Brandon Weeden will be a 29-year-old rookie, yet he gets thrown into the mix fairly often. Weeden’s a pretty good quarterback, but at that age how much can you realistically spend? Ryan Tannehill’s another name and sure, he did very well in terms of wins at the end of last season. However, there’s nowhere near enough evidence yet to vault him higher than a mid-rounder at this stage. Case Keenum, Kellen Moore – I have them both with UDFA grades, although Keenum may generate some interest in the later rounds.  

A guy like Stephen Garcia may be able to repair his stock sufficiently to make a camp, but he isn’t likely to warrant a draft pick given his off the field situation. Charlie Weis’ system in Florida may mask John Brantley’s issues enough to get some attention, but let’s not forget how the same scheme sold many on the ‘qualities’ of Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen.  

And that brings me on to Arizona’s Nick Foles.  

I’ve read a lot of things about Foles, much of which I completely disagree with. I enjoyed a discussion with my Twitter buddy Scott Enyeart yesterday after he suggested Foles was a potential first round pick. He’s not the only one to voice that view, a website called ‘Mock Draft Mania’ touts Foles’ as being superior to both Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert. Another site called ‘The Bills Zone’ compares him to Ben Roethlisberger, leading to the question as to whether the author has ever seen a Pittsburgh Steelers’ game other than Super Bowl XL.  

When I wrote my summer quarterback grades this year, I gave Foles a projection of Round 6/7.  

First of all, Foles is a big guy. He’s listed at 6-5 and 245lbs and although I suspect he weighs less (more like 230-235lbs), he’s basically got prototype size for the position. Unfortunately, he has anything but prototypical physical attributes to start in the NFL. He’s a statue in the pocket, a sitting duck unable to avoid any pressure or even command any kind of evasiveness. He won’t extend a play by moving away from his comfort zone, he’s taking the snap and he’s throwing – there’s no wiggle room or adjustment. He won’t run away from pressure and he won’t make plays with his legs.  

Foles has not got a big arm, it’s barely mediocre and he’s a marginal threat as a deep passer. Even on short range passes, he’ll often throw a knuckle ball on a simple screen or swing pass. When throwing downfield, he’ll toss it up for grabs with no velocity. Technically he’s a bit side-arm and while the height makes it less of an issue, he’d need to work on not only his release but leaning his weight towards the front foot to try and generate some power.  

Not being a great physical prospect isn’t the be all and end all, but he just hasn’t got the required level of accuracy to compensate. We can look at the numbers and he had a 20/10 ratio last year, over 3000 yards passing and a 67% completion rate. All very impressive, yet it’s important to remember the funky Arizona scheme he’s working within. It’s exclusively screens, swings and slants. He threw as many as 54 passes in a game last season, most of which are high percentage completions to get the ball in space and make the most of the team’s playmakers such as Juron Criner.  

When a player is competing within an offense that does such a great job making life easy for the quarterback, you expect them to at least master that scheme. I don’t get the feeling Foles is anywhere close to making the most out of the pass-happy offense he’s been provided with. If he can’t get a handle on this Arizona offense, how is he going to get a handle on a much more complex scheme in the NFL?  

You may be surprised by the grade I’ve given Foles because he enjoys a lot of positive hype, but don’t take my word for it. When the National Football Scouting meeting took place earlier this summer, Foles was given a 7th/UDFA grade. Last year they give a similar grade to Colin Kaepernick, but it’s understandable why he was able to vault his grade much higher during the 2010 season. Kaepernick is an athlete, he’s got a rocket for an arm, he’s had major production in college and he led his team to a one-defeat season last year including a big win over Boise State. Foles cannot rely on wins, physical tools or mass production to promote his stock.  

Another argument can be made about prospects getting over drafted in recent years and certainly I was more than a little surprised to see Christian Ponder go 12th overall and Andy Dalton find a home early in round two. It’s worth noting that Ponder received a high first round grade by the NFS last year. Despite that, prospects that go early tend to have a niche or a defining talent that justifies the decision – athletic ability, accuracy, leadership, smarts. Foles is a below average athlete with mediocre accuracy and he hasn’t got a great command of his offensive scheme.  

When I sit down and try to think of the team that’s going to make Nick Foles an unexpected first round or early second round pick, I can’t find them.  

The player that Foles most reminds me of is Dan LeFevour. He was of a similar size (6-3, 230lbs) competing in a pass-happy offense that made life easy for it’s quarterback and generated high numbers. LeFevour was a better athlete than Foles and could at least make something happen on the ground, but ultimately he wasn’t a good enough physical talent to make it an advantage. Many people – including Mel Kiper – touted LeFevour as a potential early pick. In the end he was a 6th round selection.  

Now it’s only fair to stress that these are pre-season discussions and Foles, having opted not to declare for the most recent draft, has the opportunity to greatly improve his stock in 2011. However, he is the poster boy in my opinion for a class of quarterbacks that are just flat out being over rated at this stage.  

People love to criticise the 2011 class of QB’s, but the three players taken in the top ten have an excellent chance to succeed in the NFL in my opinion. Colin Kaepernick should be given the chance to start in San Francisco this year, while Ryan Mallett may end up being of much greater value down the line having been rescued by the Patriots in round three.  

Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton could both start this year for Minnesota and Cincinnati – they will get their shot.  

If you combined the 2011 class of QB’s with the potential group of 2012 QB’s, I’d rank them like this: Luck, Barkley, Gabbert, Newton, Mallett, Jones, Locker, Kaepernick, Cousins.  

If Luck and Barkley both declare for next year’s draft (and there’s every chance Barkley will stay at USC for his senior year), you’re getting two top-end quality draft picks at the position. The class as a whole though has a lot of question marks – and I’d temper expectations if you’re expecting multiple first round picks. It wouldn’t be a total shocker for me if only two quarterbacks went in round one next year.  

Tape vs Arizona State (2010) courtesy of JMPasq  

 

Vonta Leach admits Seahawks are on his radar

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Yesterday we reported that the Seahawks have some interest in signing free agent full back Vonta Leach. It appears that feeling is mutual.

In conversation with Fox Sports’ Adam Schein, Leach admitted that the Giants, the Seahawks and the Chargers are on his radar if he is not re-signed by the Houston Texans. He also reiterated his desire to be the best paid full back in the NFL, after he helped Arian Foster lead the league in rushing and set a new UDFA record for total yards.

New York’s interest in Leach wouldn’t be unexpected. As a restricted free agent in 2007 he signed an offer sheet worth $8m over four years with the Giants. Houston matched the offer and he stayed in Texas. San Diego are hoping to improve a rushing attack that now includes the 12th overall pick from 2010, former Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews.

Of course the Seahawks are also hoping to drastically improve the league’s 31st best rushing offense. The offensive line has already received a lot of attention, they’ve invested in big names coaches and traded for both Marshawn Lynch and Leon Washington. Leach would offer further improvement as the best blocking full back in the NFL. Although he is demanding to be the best paid player at that position, he could be available for a modest $3m per season on a four year deal with around $7-8m in guarantees. That’s not an altogether huge sum if it does in fact continue to improve the running game which Pete Carroll is determined to make the focal point of his offense.

And lest we forget, John Schneider was part of the front office in Green Bay that originally gave Leach his first shot in the league as an UDFA in 2004.

Although speaking to other teams and agents before the lockout is complete isn’t allowed, it’s unrealistic to expect that such talks haven’t taken place. When free agency opens, we all expect the first signing to be announced almost immediately – as was the case when Detroit signed Nate Burleson last year.

It’s very realistic that Leach knows the teams that are expressing the most interest and that’s why he name checks Seattle, New York and San Diego. If so, this would confirm what we’ve been reporting with regard to the Seahawks’ interest in the player.

**Update**

ESPN and Gregg Rosenthal at PFT have both picked up on Leach’s comments today.

Austin Davis (QB, Southern Miss) thoughts and tape

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Austin Davis, an underrated senior quarterback

Nobody is talking about Austin Davis. Search out a list of quarterbacks to keep an eye on in 2011 and you’ll do well to find any listing the Southern Miss quarterback. I guess I have a higher opinion of Davis than most – and it’s an opinion I will be looking to develop with more tape this year. However, right now he’s close to Kirk Cousins for #4 on my pre-season quarterback rankings with only Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley and Landry Jones in front.

The tape below (kindly provided by Mari0clp) doesn’t provide any great insight into why I like the guy. The game on the road against South Carolina was the Golden Eagles’ first of last season and they were defeated badly 41-13. Davis went 31/43 passing for 238 yards and an interception off a deflection. With an offensive line that was consistently dominated by a better SEC pass rush (indeed the Gamecocks defense looked bigger, faster and better throughout), Southern Miss adjusted their gameplan to involve an awful lot of easy swing passes and completions, while asking their quarterback to take extended drop backs behind the line of scrimmage. Not ideal.

However, I do think he’s capable of running a more sophisticated gameplan than this if circumstance allowed. Davis is only asked to make two reads, but he’s patient enough to not force anything and he knows when to throw it away. Technically his throwing motion could be a quicker and in particular he sometimes lingers a little too long in the pocket, but his action is sound and he does actually throw intermediate routes pretty well.

He doesn’t have the big arm, but on the few occasions he does throw deep I don’t have the same concerns I had with Christian Ponder. Davis does have great mobility and athleticism and he’s got the asset of being able to make plays with his legs and move around in the pocket when necessary. For a great example of this athleticism, see the touchdown catch I’ve also added in the second video below. When I watched the Beef-O-Brady Bowl against Louisville last season, I actually thought Davis’ accuracy was good and made up for a lack of a great deep ball. I would recommend trying to get hold of tape of that game and not basing a full opinion on the video below against a dominant South Carolina.

For the 2010 season Davis had 63% completions, 3103 yards and a 20/6 touchdown/interception ratio. He added 452 yards on the ground and a further ten scores. He broke Brett Favre’s record at Southern Miss for touchdown passes with 53 in three seasons.

There’s a large group of quarterbacks who will enter the new campaign jostling for position behind Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley. Landry Jones looks the safest bet to be the #3 quarterback, but it’s not a lock. Austin Davis is possibly the one quarterback who intrigues me the most in 2011 – partly because he’s the player least talked about. At 6-2, 208lbs you’d ideally like to see him add a bit more upper body strength which will improve his downfield passing, but I think he’s capable of running a short-to-medium passing game with that ability to move around and offer a dimension as a runner. I would implore you to check out Southern Miss next season if you get the opportunity.

Seahawks have interest in Vonta Leach

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Leach (left) and Arian Foster dominated in 2010

Seahawks Draft Blog understands that Houston full back Vonta Leach will be on Seattle’s radar when the lockout ends.  

The 29-year-old made the Pro-Bowl last season blocking for the NFL’s leading rusher Arian Foster and was also selected to the AP’s NFL All-Pro team. With Leach’s assistance, Foster recorded 1616 rushing yards in 2010 and set a new record for total yards from scrimmage by an undrafted free agent.  

With the Seahawks often expressing a desire to dramatically improve their running game, interest in Leach is no real surprise. Under Pete Carroll the Seahawks spent two first round picks on offensive tackles, invested in big name offensive line coaches such as Alex Gibbs and Tom Cable and brought Marshawn Lynch to Seattle from Buffalo. In 2010 the team ranked 31st in the NFL for rushing despite initially stating the running game would become the focal point of the offense.  

There is history between Leach and the Seahawks hierarchy – he signed with Green Bay as an undrafted free agent in 2004 before departing two years later. This coincides with GM John Schneider’s time within the Packers organisation.  

As I was compiling this piece, John McClain from the Houston Chronicle tweeted:  

“One of the first things the Texans should do when the lockout ends is to make an offer to FB Vonta Leach that will keep him in Houston.”  

Interest in Leach is expected to be steady despite the low-key nature of the full back position.When the lockout ends it appears teams will be granted a three-day period to sign their own free agents before the open market kicks into action. Therefore, the Seahawks may not even get the opportunity to present an offer to Leach’s representatives if he re-signs with Houston. If he does hit the open market, competition will exist with other teams also likely to explore the opportunity to poach arguably the best blocking full back in the NFL.  

If the Seahawks follow through their interest with an offer, it could be costly. Leach has voiced his desire to become the highest paid full back in the league, a distinction currently held by former-Seahawk Leonard Weaver when he signed a $11.2m deal in Philadelphia with $6.5m in guarantees. It remains to be seen whether the Seahawks would be willing to commit to a three-year contract for a player who turns 30 in November that contains upwards of $7m in guarantees. 

It’s also understood that the Seahawks have interest in UDFA offensive lineman Michael Huey. He played his football with the Texas Longhorns at guard and is listed at 6-4 and 304lbs. His 2010 season ended prematurely with an MCL tear in his right knee against Baylor last October. He’s since recovered and benched 36 reps at his pro-day to go along with a 5.15 forty-yard dash and a 4.60 short shuttle.  

Huey was considered the most consistent feature on a disappointing Texas line last season and was offered a late round grade for the draft.

Seahawks fan asks Carson Palmer about Seattle

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

We’ve been reporting on this blog for what seems an age the possibility that Carson Palmer could end up being the next starting quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks. It could also end up being Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie Whitehurst or even Kevin Kolb – such is the situation. Even so, the Bengals and Seahawks have discussed the matter and we’ll hopefully have a conclusion to this tedious saga by next week when the league re-opens for business.

Palmer has remained tight-lipped in recent weeks on his future, choosing to stay out of the media as the lockout dragged on. This weekend he’s been competing in a celebrity golf tournament in Tahoe, Nevada and declined to comment to the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Joe Reedy on his future.

No worries, leave it to a member of the 12th man to cut to the chase and ask a question most Seahawks fans would like to know.

Twenty-year-old Sean Lewandowski, who works for the Reno Indoor Football team, was also in Tahoe for the competition and had the opportunity to spoil a good walk with some golf alongside Palmer. Quite rightly, he had to know whether the quarterback had any interest in joining the Seahawks as we’ve been reporting he has on this website. Sean was kind enough to raise my attention to this meeting via Twitter.

“I Walked 18 holes with Carson Palmer today & he said “It’d be nice” if he was #Seahawk QB”

“He was very open to the idea, I think deep down it’s what he wants.”

Of course, this doesn’t offer any further proof that a deal is close and that’s not the point of this blog post. However, kudos to Sean for asking the question and also getting this photograph with the man himself (Palmer also signed his Seahawks cap):

Some thoughts on Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Tannehill went 6-0 during the regular season, with wins over Oklahoma and Texas

Ryan Tannehill isn’t like any of the other quarterbacks among the group of 2012 prospects. Until last year, he was’t even a quarterback.

Recruited by Texas A&M (Tannehill wanted to play at Texas Tech, but received no offer) as a red-shirt freshman he lost a quarterback battle which included Stephen McGee (now with the Dallas Cowboys) and Jerrod Johnson, before making the switch to receiver. A 6-4, 219lbs receiver.

Tannehill took to his new role comfortably, recording a school freshman record 844 yards and a record 55 receptions. He’s since posted 1596 receiving yards and scored ten touchdowns. That was, of course, before his return to quarterback.

Jerrod Johnson took over the starting role from McGee after the 2009 draft and had some success in year one as a starter. However, he struggled in 2010 and it led to Tannehill’s opportunity. In six regular season starts last year he posted a 6-0 record with eleven touchdowns and just three interceptions. He averaged a 66% completion rate and led the Aggies to wins over Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska, Baylor, Kansas and Texas Tech.

Such an achievement cannot be underestimated. Remember, prior to those six big wins against no easy opponent, TAMU had lost their previous three to Oklahoma State, Arkansas and Missouri. The impact Tannehill had, the success he enjoyed and the end product was nothing short of excellent.

At least, that’s what the statistics and score books say.

I had no opportunity to scout Tannehill last season. I witnessed the three defeats prior to Johnson’s benching, but none of the subsequent games. The Cotton Bowl – where they were defeated 41-24 by LSU – was not broadcast in my region. Fortunately this off season we’ve been able to rely on an increasing number of individuals publishing game tape – and not just the positive highlights either. Draft Monsters made available Cotton Bowl tape which I’ve had on the blog before, but for the purpose of this thread I’ve added it again below:

It’s easy to make an assumption about a player based on his circumstance, but I was surprised by how orthodox Tannehill looks for a quarterback who has switched positions twice. His technique isn’t as awful as you’d presume and in fact there’s some things to like. His footwork is good dropping back from center, he gets the ball out quickly when necessary and his release isn’t bad at all. There’s a couple of instances where he clearly looks through his options, progressing quickly before making a sharp decision. The touchdown at 0:43 doesn’t go to his first option and I liked the maturity shown in that situation and the ability to stay composed.

He’s an athletic player as you’d expect for a converted receiver. The run on the very next play after the touchdown shows he has that ability to make plays with his legs, not just have freedom of movement in the pocket. I actually think this is a major area for improvement because the guy can run, but in this game shows no feel for pressure. He took some sacks that ideally he’d be able to dodge or extend the play using his legs. When he chooses to run, he can break it off. When a pass rush gets close, he’s often a sitting duck.

Of course accuracy trumps everything and that is an area where Tannehill also has to improve. He hasn’t got a lot of velocity in his throws, so he needs to be accurate. Too often he just flat out misses the target, going a bit high or asking too much of the receiver. I’m encouraged by the occasional pro-quality pass, such as the back-shoulder lob at 3:42 that picks out Jeff Fuller despite tight coverage from this year’s #5 overall pick Patrick Peterson. That throw is absolutely on the mark, so perhaps an off-season of work will provide the necessary polish to make that type of pass a more regular occurrence?

The first interception is clearly a communication issue or a trip by the receiver, so Tannehill gets a pass. The second pick is a different matter, a lazy pass into double coverage on a slant which gets the treatment. Likewise the third turnover is just a bad read and decision.

As I touched on earlier his arm strength doesn’t look great. He doesn’t try a lot of deep passes but he’s got adequate velocity on the short stuff. It’s not a major issue but certainly nobody is going to be drooling over Tannehill because of a cannon arm. That isn’t to say he isn’t capable of making deep passes, but he’s going to need a big target and better timing.

I’m loathe to be too critical or judgemental because Tannehill will not have received maximum attention to work on his quarterback skills the last two years. This off-season he gets that opportunity and you simply cannot ignore the big wins he managed in 2010 during the regular season. It also has to be remembered that LSU’s defense is no slouch either and there’s no shame in losing the Bowl game – his only defeat as a true starting quarterback to date.

If he can start the 2011 season how he finished last year, who knows how that will improve his stock? Can he become an even better technical passer, can he perhaps improve his upper body strength in order to create more velocity and can he get a better feel for pressure? He has the advantage of a decent running game and a receiver in Jeff Fuller that I ranked at #12 overall in my top-50 for 2012. Fuller’s presence alone should make life a lot easier, as you can see in his performance against Patrick Peterson.

I’ll reserve judgement on a grade for now, but it’s not unrealistic to offer a modest mid-round suggestion if he can take the full benefit of this off-season. Teams will certainly be intrigued by a player who has shown faultless character and effort and multi-talents in different positions. There’s always the knowledge that if he doesn’t work out as a quarterback, you can try him at receiver. It’ll be very interesting to watch Texas A&M and Ryan Tannehill’s progress this year.

Seahawks should monitor Moreno’s predicament

Friday, July 15th, 2011

Moreno had 118 total yards and a TD against Seattle last year

In 2009 I talked up Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno a lot. He graded highly as a runner, receiver and blocker for the Bulldogs – registering 2736 rushing yards in two years of starting, 645 receiving yards and 32 total touchdowns. Moreno had a knack of making big plays, falling forwards under contact and playing with an edge you want to see from a big name running back.

Friend of the blog and talented scout Kyle Rota graded Moreno very highly, complemented his vision and inside running ability and projected a positive NFL future:

“I’ve made no secret that Moreno is one of my favorite players in this draft, or frankly any draft, and there is a good reason. Too often we make a big deal about size/speed, especially at the HB position, but there are tons of HOF/Pro-bowl backs who don’t have exceptional size/speed combinations but make up for it in other ways. IMO, Moreno is one of those backs. He has the best balance I’ve seen, the best pass blocking I’ve seen, and the greatest intensity I’ve seen in the few years I’ve been scouting. He’s a good all-around back capable of running any play, and as a receiver he is excellent at generating 1stdowns. Two players I am reminded of are Shaun Alexander (due to vision and inside running, but Moreno is a killer blocker and receiver where Alexander was poor at both) and Clinton Portis (the 2005+ version who is a great blocker and inside runner, not the 200lber from college), and I feel Moreno could be better than either because he truly is the best thing about each of those two backs.”

Rota touched on one of the things that generally caused some concern – a lack of explosive breakaway speed. Moreno recorded a 4.53 forty yard dash, a distinctly average time just a year after both Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson ran in the 4.20′s. It created a divide amongst scouts, some of which were prepared to look past the speed issue and maintain a top-15 grade and those who saw a drop into the 20′s.

Either way, Moreno was more than capable of making explosive, athletic plays:

The Seahawks were picking fourth overall in 2009 with a clear need at running back having just cut Shaun Alexander. GM at the time Tim Ruskell scouted Moreno aggressively, as reviewed in this article I wrote before the 2009 draft. I still wonder to this day if Moreno was a realistic alternative to Aaron Curry had the Wake Forest linebacker been drafted – as some expected – by Kansas City with the third overall pick (they instead chose defensive end Tyson Jackson). Sure, it was early for a running back without elite speed. It was also very early for a linebacker who hadn’t shown a great deal of pass-rushing qualities in college (Curry had nine sacks in four years for Wake Forest).

In the end the Denver Broncos selected Moreno with the 12th overall pick, something I correctly projected in my 2009 mock draft (one of the very few things I did accurately guess, as it turned out). NFL Draft Scout reflects back on the decision:

“Denver was smitten with Moreno’s versatility. He obviously is a good runner, but the Broncos also like the fact that he can catch the ball out of the backfield and pick up the blitz.”

Two years on and any positive talk about Moreno appears to be behind us. Columnist Woody Paige launched a scathing review of Moreno’s NFL career-to-date in his mailbox segment this week, suggesting the Broncos quickly decided they’d made a huge mistake drafting the Georgia runner.

“After the draft, McDaniels and the staff believed privately they made a big mistake on Moreno. He was not what they thought. He hasn’t been tough, smart, motivated, if that’s what you’re asking. He has been a bust. I’ve said it before. He’s not a great clubhouse guy. Interpret that how you want, and he’s been a wimp on the field. John Fox is bringing back the zone blocking, and Moreno is not a one-cut back who will go against the grain, or, at least, he hasn’t been, and he doesn’t get into the secondary fast. They need another running back bad, and Fox, in our three-hour conversation last week, said running back is the priority, along with defensive tackles, in free agency. Moreno better get his butt in gear this year, or he’ll be just another average running back.”

What followed was a pile-on effect. Greg Cosell tweeted, “Interesting reports from Denver re: Moreno. Not surprised. Overdrafted. Does not have skill set to be feature back. D. Williams in Denver?”

Dave Razzano also joined in, “Was 3rd round talent coming out. This guy lacked obvious speed/burst in space. The Hype machine got him drafted in 1. happns alot (SIC).”

I must confess I don’t recall ever reading a report that graded Moreno as poorly as this during the pre-draft breakdown. Some voiced concerns about his speed, but only enough to drop him into the late first round. Admittedly, Twitter was not around to necessarily broadcast the strong views of Cosell and Razzano as publicly as we get today. Even so, it’s interesting that nobody has jumped to the players’ defense this week either within the Broncos organisation or among scouts/journalists.

I don’t think it’s unfair to compare both Aaron Curry and Knowshon Moreno – potentially linked as they were to Seattle as noted earlier. Both decisions by the Seahawks and Broncos would’ve been based around impact – if you draft a linebacker in the top five, you expect a short learning curve and it’s the same with running backs. Production, impact and early starts are all part of the deal.

If a young quarterback starts early and struggles, it’s put down to the difficult nature of the position. Receivers generally also get a little bit more time to grow. With linebackers and running backs, you’re almost expecting the finished article by even year two.

Both Curry and Moreno have been unspectacular. During two-years in Seattle, Curry has 5.5 sacks with four forced fumbles and no interceptions. The man he replaced (Julian Peterson, who was traded to Detroit and approaching the age of 33) also recorded 5.5 sacks in the last two years with six forced fumbles and no interceptions. Curry has shown some quality against the run and certainly made improvements in year two, but he remains a non-factor as a pass rusher. He’ll be the teams top earner in 2011 with a salary over $10m as part of his 6-year, $60m contract. $34m of that deal is guaranteed.

Moreno led the Broncos for rushing in both his two years in Denver, recording 947 yards and seven rushing touchdowns in 2009 (along with 213 receiving yards and a further two scores). Last season he had 779 rushing yards and just five touchdowns for the struggling 4-12 Broncos, with 372 receiving yards and three more scores.

It’s not a disastrous stat line, but it’s also not one that matches his extreme production in college or what is expected from a first round running back these days. When the NFL’s top runner (Arian Foster) is an UDFA and when Tampa Bay can find brilliant production from LaGarrette Blount, you’re hoping for spectacular and not average when you spend a round one pick on a runner. Patience isn’t a word used often when discussing highly drafted runners.

Moreno averages exactly four yards per-carry, but it’s also worth noting how much Denver has struggled the past two years despite a fast start under the now departed McDaniels. In 2010, the Broncos running game was ranked 26th overall and averaged just seven more yards per-game than the Seahawks’ 31st ranked rushing attack. Can Moreno point to team struggles and several niggling injuries as justification for a lack of explosion to start his career?

Moreno will celebrate his 24th birthday on Saturday, so clearly there’s still time to resurrect a career that has not captured the imagination. Like the 25-year-old Curry, he still has the time and the opportunity to live up to the lofty expectations witnessed in 2009. Having lost the coach who invested so much stock in him to begin with, it may be that Moreno’s future lies elsewhere. As Cosell touts in his tweet above, John Fox could look to bring in free agent DeAngelo Williams – a player he enjoyed some level of success with in Carolina. Other players such as Cedric Benson and Marion Barber could interest Fox. Will Moreno become expendable during a major rebuild in Denver?

If so, it may be one for the Seahawks to monitor. Despite already owning three well known backs in Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett and Leon Washington, I’m not ready to admit defeat in a positive review of Moreno’s abilities coming out of college. Clearly there are bigger needs within the team, but sometimes it’s about seizing an opportunity. I’m not going to write off Moreno as a bust, just as I wouldn’t write off Curry as a bust.

Perhaps neither should’ve been drafted as highly as they were? Perhaps it’s simply unrealistic to expect every linebacker or running back to hit the ground running? It certainly doesn’t help Curry’s cause that players drafted in his class such as Brian Cushing and Clay Mathews have enjoyed such productive starts in the NFL. Likewise it won’t help Moreno that more and more backs are being discovered later in the draft to provide an instant impact. Yet there’s no reason why both players cannot go on to become productive pro’s.

Running back may not be a critical need, but improving the running game is. Smart trades, calculated gambles and good drafting will continue Seattle’s rebuild. Despite the needs elsewhere, I’d still keep a close eye on Moreno’s situation in Denver.

Thursday links

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Albert Breer – tireless lockout correspendant for NFL.com – is reporting that significant progress has been made on the rookie pay scale within the new CBA. This could be the final hurdle to clear before a deal can be struck. From a pure draft perspective, it makes total sense. Holding the #1 pick shouldn’t be a lottery blessing once every generation if you’re fortunate enough to be there when Peyton Manning’s available. It shouldn’t also force teams to be selective positionally because the investment is so huge. In order to make the #1 pick truly fair for the team with the worse record, it must be more cost effective and it must filter down the board.

Pat Kirwan at NFL.com has a piece looking at some of the upcoming decisions for the NFC West teams if the lockout finally ends. Kirwan pinpoints the likes of Jonathan Joseph, Eric Wright, Antonio Cromartie and Barry Cofield to improve the defense. He also says the Seahawks should do what it takes to bring Carson Palmer to Seattle, possibly by offering a player-plus-picks deal. Carroll and Kirwan are close, but it’s important to stress this appears to be an opinion piece and Kirwan isn’t saying the Seahawks ‘will’ trade for Palmer, rather that they should. I still firmly believe it’s Palmer or Matt Hasselbeck for the starting gig in 2011.

I conducted an interview with Dan Kelly at Fieldgulls this week and you can see it by clicking here. Among the topics discussed – Terrelle Pryor, the NFC West’s 2011 draft and Georgia running back Caleb King.

Walter Cherepinsky has a 2013 mock draft at Walterfootball. Tyler Bray is the #1 pick, an upcoming sophomore quarterback from Tennessee. He needs to add some weight and get physically stronger to max out his potential. There’s something there, but when I watched Bray in 2010 he didn’t necessarily strike me as a future top pick.

If you missed it earlier in the week, don’t forget to check out my piece on Kirk Cousins (QB, Michigan State) and why I think he compares favorably to Kevin Kolb.

Ryan Lindley (QB, San Diego State) positive/negative tape courtesy of TMB Draft:

Kirk Cousins (QB, Michigan State): further analysis

Monday, July 11th, 2011

A couple of weeks ago I had a look at Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins and drew some comparisons to Florida State’s Christian Ponder. Statistically there’s a lot of similarities as discussed and certain elements of their game are comparable. However, there are aspects to Ponder’s game that I found a real concern that had so far not shown up with Cousins.

Thanks to TMB Draft for providing tape from 2010 games against Illinois, Iowa and Purdue. This goes alongside tape already made available from Wisconsin and Michigan.

Although it’s quite vague I’d describe Cousins as being neat and tidy, not restricted in any obvious way but certainly not physically dominant without brilliant accuracy to make up for it. The mobility helps him move around in the pocket and extend plays, but athletically he’s a level below Matt Barkley (who himself is a level behind Andrew Luck and Blaine Gabbert). You’re not going to see Cousins break off a significant gain with his legs, but he’s capable of running boot legs and play action and moving freely. Indeed, his ability to sell play action is a big plus.

Cousins doesn’t have a huge arm, but it’s better than Christian Ponder’sand not a major weakness. The release point is a bit slingy but I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest this is a big problem and certainly he gets the ball out quickly enough. Jimmy Clausen had a similar release and had a lot of passes batted and tipped at the LOS, yet we don’t see that from Cousins. However, that’s not the only similarity between the two quarterbacks. Clausen regularly leans back on to his heels and throws off the back foot, losing any kind of velocity and putting too much air on the deep ball. Cousins does it too (although not quite as often) which is a shame because when he steps into passes he generates a lot more velocity.

It appears that Cousins resorts to throwing off the back foot more so under pressure, which in turn also impacts his accuracy. When he feels the rush he sits back and spears the ball. Given his agility in the pocket you’d like to see a little less panic, stepping up into the pocket and driving the pass. I think he could be more composed in the pocket which will ultimately lead to better technique.

I’d be interested to see how much better his deep ball could become if he didn’t lean back and really drove into the pass. Lofted deep ballsaren’t the only problem though, he often appears to put little thought or placement into the long range pass and certainly he’s more of a short/medium range specialist than a great deep ball quarterback. Then again, Luck or Barkley are not great deep ball passers either and while Blaine Gabbert certainly has the best arm, statistically he grades poorly for long passes.

Clausen isn’t generally an accurate comparison to Cousins, because he’s a lot less mobile and played in a simple offense based on high percentage passes that limited turnovers. The Michigan State scheme asks more of Cousins and he’s at least shown a capability within that system. However, he does have a tendency to telegraph too many passes. Interceptions in the tape above are often because he’s looked to the hot read from the snap, lingered and thrown late. He needs to do a better job looking off his targets, which is a problem a lot of college quarterbacks take into the NFL and struggle to shake off (see: Charlie Whitehurst).

The one other area of real concern is his penchant to take risks under pressure, often throwing badly judged passes when chased out of the pocket. If he’s taking a sack, he’ll still lob it up for grabs and risk a turnover rather than a loss of yards. Cousins had ten interceptions in 2010 but it really should’ve been more (he had twenty touchdown passes).

2011 provides a brilliant opportunity for Michigan State and their quarterback, playing in a conference that has taken some hits while MSU maintained a lot of their stars. The target should be an unbeaten season. There are tough games on the schedule (road trips to Ohio State, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Iowa) but they do face OSU in the final game where several of the Buckeye’s top players will be suspended. Can Cousins become a technically better passer? Can he get up to around 210-215lbs (he was listed at just over 200lbs for 2010) and step into those deep passes?

If he answers some of the question marks and becomes a more physically capable player, then the sky’s the limit. Lockout or not, if a team is willing to spend the #12 pick on Christian Ponder and a high second rounder on Andy Dalton, then there’s no reason to suggest Cousins couldn’t go in the first round. I never felt Ponder took a similar chance last year and with injuries also on the report card, it was a surprise that a team felt that compelled to draft him early.

Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley are clearly the top two ranked quarterbacks with a secondary group that could change dramatically during the new college season. Cousins is my top ranked senior quarterback and there’s no reason he couldn’t challenge Landry Jones to be the third ranked passer should both Luck and Barkley declare (Luck is a shoe-in to enter the draft, Barkley much less so). That’s the positive angle. As things stand today without that further progression and development, he looks like a round 2-3 level quarterback who would still have a shot at starting down the line. I dropped Ponder down to a round 4-5 grade after viewing a number of FSU games in 2010 and that also remains a possibility for Cousins if he regresses or gets injured.

The one player he reminds me of a lot is Kevin Kolb. Similar slingy release, similar size and mobility. Both have a tendency to make bad or risky decisions and take chances that lead to turn overs. At the same time, both are not severely limited and given a nice collection of playmakers, can succeed as a starter. Kolb was drafted with the 36th pick in 2007 and it wouldn’t surprise me come next April if we see Cousins go in a similar area.

Sunday links

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

John Keim at the Washington Examiner quotes an unnamed NFL executiveon former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor: “He’s not a well-liked kid. Very self-absorbed. He doesn’t have the leadership you want in a quarterback.” It’s worth mentioning that the exec also says Pryor has ‘special skills’ as a quarterback.

Mel Kiper lists his top-five players at each position for next year’s senior class. Kiper lists Ryan Lindley as the top senior quarterback, ahead of Kirk Cousins. He’s also a lot higher on Michael Floyd than I am, listing him ahead of Texas A&M receiver Jeff Fuller.

Kiper also has a list for the junior class. I’m pleased to see Peter Konz (C, Wisconsin) listed highly, he’s my top ranked interior lineman in college football.

Dave Razzano (aka the Rogue Scout) rates Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins highly. I asked him for some thoughts and an early grade, to which Razzano replied: “Extremely quick release and very accurate, mobile in pocket, throws a great ball.” He offered a late first or second round grade. I’ll have more on Cousins later this week.

Derek Stephens at the Blue Bird Herd explains the supplemental draft. ”Draft order is determined by a weighted system, based upon the win-loss record of each team during the previous season.”