Archive for August, 2011

Pre-season thoughts: Josh Portis vs San Diego

Friday, August 12th, 2011

Josh Portis - most exciting camp QB since the legendary Mike Teel

I’ve had a chance to watch through last night’s San Diego game again, particularly focusing on the quarterbacks. I think most Seahawks fans were intrigued to see Josh Portis perform because we know so little about him. Game tape isn’t readily accessible for California (PA) so it was a chance to see if there was some potential there or if he’d merely be consigned to the ever growing list of training camp stars who never make it in Seattle.  

Due to the lack of an obvious long term option at quarterback, Seahawks fans have often latched onto these types of players. Mike Teel is a classic example, a player many hoped would develop but ultimately didn’t have the sufficient level of quality to stick. I could feel Portis’ reputation developing with every passing day at camp as fans again pinned their hopes on the Seahawks finding that elusive diamond in the rough.

It’s strange, because during my time following the Seahawks I’ve seen a fanbase that for the most part has often argued against drafting a quarterback early, using a fine tooth comb to dig out reasons not to commit a major investment at the most important position in football. Yet a lot of people also pump bling optimism into these later round guys. Is it a case of being scared of failure? Have past experiences tainted such high end investments in the quarterback position? Are we a wistful bunch who want so much to be that team smart enough to uncover the next unexpected star?    

From a purely realistic view point, just like all the others the odds are severely stacked against Josh Portis making it in the NFL. That doesn’t mean he won’t make it, but if we’re being brutally honest about this situation we could well be using him as the basis for a comparison years down the line when the next candidate for the training camp All-Star team comes along. The NFL is a league built around quarterbacks and predominantly those quarterbacks are drafted early and cost a lot of money. Due to developments in scouting and simply a great access to film and games, the concept of an UDFA quarterback making it big is becoming weaker not stronger.  

However, Portis at least carries some pedigree and there’s a back story to the undrafted status rather than necessarily a lack of perceived talent.   

Pete Carroll clearly has known the guy a long time due to the California connections and the recruiting he did at USC. Portis has worked with people familiar to Carroll. I’m guessing the fact he’s Clinton Portis’ cousin will have generated some interest among colleges to match the potential talent. Even so, he didn’t receive an offer from USC. After jumping between three high schools due to disputes over playing time, Portis turned down a number of schools including Washington and Oregon to become a Florida Gator. He was ranked as the 5th best dual threat quarterback in his class. Like Cam Newton, he found himself buried among the Tim Tebow experience and opted to transfer to Maryland who had previously shown interest during high school.  

After sitting out for a year per NCAA rules, he was caught cheating on a test and was subsequently suspended for the year. Having missed two full years of possible playing time and only experiencing limited action in Florida, Portis’ career was stalling. He transferred for a second time to California (PA) where he ended up setting a cluster of school records during two years starting. Unfortunately it wasn’t all positive as Portis was charged with theft, fraud and receiving stolen property during his time in Pennsylvania.  

In many ways he’s lucky to have this opportunity. He’s a small school prospect with off-the-field history and he’s been nothing short of nomadic. I’m not privy to why he’s ended up getting this opportunity in Seattle, but my best guess is something registered with Carroll during those recruiting years. A talent not forgotten, an olive branch offered and a chance to be taken.  

So here we are, back in California for the start of what is Josh Portis’ NFL career.  

“Josh is going to be around here for a while so we need to see how he develops because his talent is there. We’re going to take a great look at him. He’ll play a bunch in the preseason. And he’ll play a lot in the San Diego game. So we’re looking forward to seeing him and getting him out on the field.”

- the words of Pete Carroll via Eric Williams  

So how did he do against San Diego? It’s important to stress from the start that he was facing second and third string players. Even so, you can only perform against what is put in front of you and the opposition should never be used as a complete justification for a positive performance. This is all we have, we do not know how good the Chargers depth chart is and there’s little point pontificating on anything else. It’s not like he was being protected by Seattle’s best lineman or throwing to the top targets, which may have been something of an equaliser anyway.  

People have justified a sloppy performance by Tarvaris Jackson because of a lot of training time and no dual threat of Sidney Rice and Mike Williams. My lasting impression after this game was a desire to see Porter have a chance to throw to those guys against a proper defense. Let’s see what he’s got.

On the night tt was a slow start best emphasised by his first throw, a looping inaccurate lob to the right hand sideline that was closer to Pete Carroll than the intended target. His second pass was on 3rd and ten at the start of the fourth quarter, again off target. On the second drive he threw too high on his third pass despite a good level of separation on a standard route from Pat Williams. Early jitters.  

He flashed some elusiveness on the next play, keeping his eyes downfield as he avoided a tackle, before deciding to tuck and run. He dodged another defender with a nice stiff-arm before fumbling out of bounds. I just wonder if the frantic nature of that play enabled him to run off some energy and loosen up a bit, because on the next drive he was red hot.  

Suddenly the accuracy came together and he was making it look a lot easier. A third and short play action pass to Dominique Byrd wasn’t as easy as it looked for a 23-yard gain as he stayed calm in the pocket despite an on-coming rush from the blind side. On the next play he faked a hand off to nail Ricardo Lockette for around 18-yards. A first down throw to tight end Anthony McCoy needed two reads but once he noticed McCoy open, he delivered a bullet with a perfect spiral.  

We’ve talked a lot about improvisation and why I think it’s an under rated talent among quarterbacks. When things break down around you, can you still make a play? On Portis’ touchdown pass he sees little open after at least one read, jogs to the right before considering a scramble – but importantly keeps his eyes down field. The reason it’s so important is because he spots the tight end in the back of the end zone and throws a difficult pass across his body to score a TD. A lot of QB’s when scrambling put their head down and that’s it… time to run. Kudos to Portis for doing the right thing and if that comes natural to him, it’s a major positive.  

The two things that impressed me most was a complete lack of tension once he settled in. Firstly, he didn’t play safe and check down despite the full knowledge this was a big opportunity for him to showcase his potential. He took a few chances (such as the TD pass) but was accurate enough to deliver on the night. Secondly, the arm strength was a huge plus point. He’s not a big guy in terms of muscle for about 6-3 and around 210lbs (may be lighter). Yet he generates a nice amount of velocity, much more than you’d usually expect for a guy who went undrafted. Having flashed a level of accuracy and poise even against third stringers and with an arm that won’t restrict him, Portis is definitely deserving of more game time during the pre-season.  

It’s an encouraging debut, but not much more at this stage. As already mentioned, the odds are still stacked heavily against him ever becoming even  a solid backup. His peak may be Seneca Wallace II and that would still be a big time achievement for an UDFA. Could he be the next Tony Romo (undrafted FA in 2003, since made three Pro Bowls)? We’ll have to put a check on that, but there’s something there to work with.  

In fact the only knock at this stage is the fact he played for a college outfit nicknamed ‘the Vulcans’. Do they play the Klingon’s for the Starship Enterprise cup?  

PS – Anyone else think receiver Doug Baldwin looks like a keeper?

Further thoughts & tape comparisons: Luck vs Barkley

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

I wanted to continue the whole Luck vs Barkley debate today by publishing further tape (see below) courtesy of TMB Draft and also offering a few more thoughts.

I received a lot of different responses this week to my suggestion that Barkley may be the #1 overall eligible prospect for 2012, putting him above Andrew Luck. Most of it was fairly positive, with people embracing the possibility that there may be a challenger to Luck’s waltz to #1. A few argued aggressively against what I’d written, which I suppose was to be expected. Luck is an excellent prospect with the potential to be a very good NFL quarterback. However, I think we’ve got to a point now where people aren’t even breaking down his game any more or looking for counter arguments simply because the assumption is Luck = winning.

That’s not how I feel.

I totally understand that Luck has near perfect throwing mechanics, ideal size/build, more than enough physical strength to make a wide range of passes, faultless character and a pro-bloodline. In many ways he is the perfect prospect. I would never dispute that he does not warrant a very good grade. However, I also don’t think it’s being too desperate to try and look for reasons why another brilliantly talented quarterback may in fact be better equiped for the NFL.

Look at the tape between the two below. The Stanford offense is like a well oiled machine. Luck very rarely has to make more than one read because everything moves like clockwork. The environment around him is so smooth, it puts the emphasis on Luck to simply execute and he’s very capable of doing so. It’s no surprise to me that with more starts and time on the field he’s become more and more comfortable and that shows in the statistics. He completes a high number of passes and if we’re being brutally honest here, a lot of those passes are one-read, fairly simple completions.

He’s an incredibly accurate quarterback when asked to fit passes into tight windows, but the Stanford offense is a lot like a script. Luck is in the starring role, but he’s backed up by a top-notch supporting cast. If Luck nails his lines, then the play works. Practise has essentially made perfect and after an erratic start to his career, he’s at a point now where the lines come as naturally as driving a car.

What seperates Luck from the vast swathes of quarterbacks who also ‘master an offense’ is the long list of perfections I listed earlier. There are very few limitations be it physically, mentally or with pure potential. Yet I see very little improvisation from Luck. How much of his play is pure feel and how much is straight from the script? The only reason I ask is because when he gets to the next level, he’s going to have to improvise on what’ll be a 0-2 win team picking first overall. He may not have the great offensive line, running game and timing offense at Oakland or Cincinnati. He may be flushed out of the pocket and be asked to take a chance.

That’s not to say that like Peyton Manning and the previously awful Indianapolis Colts, an offense can’t be structured to match the quarterbacks talents and built up over time. However, Luck will have to hope like hell he’s not wearing Black and Silver because while a Washington or Denver may offer him a nice platform for possible sustained success, Oakland will swallow him whole and ask him to do too much. That is the situation where I think Barkley may be better served.

When I posted my article this week and discussed a lack of true elusiveness in the pocket for both Luck and Barkley, someone sent me a tweet arguing that Luck’s 453 rushing yards last year showed he was plenty elusive. He even compared Luck to Ben Roethlisberger. I couldn’t disagree more with that comparison. Luck actually runs a lot of designed QB draws or takes off when his one read isn’t open. We need to differentiate between Roethlisberger’s almost unmatched ability to avoid pressure and make plays downfield and Luck’s more structured running playbook. Two very different skills completely.

Both Luck and Barkley are similar in that sense in that neither are really great elusive quarterbacks. They’re very capable on boot legs, but not quite as good when combatting a heavy blitz in the backfield. However, this is where Barkley has the edge and may end up being a better pro in a bad situation. He has shown, in my opinion, a greater ability to go through three or even four progressions before throwing accurately. He’s flashed more plays where you think he’s going to be sacked and he’s ended up tossing a 25-yard gain. He’s not as polished or as efficient as Luck was late in 2010, but on a bad team he may have that bit of flair to make things happen while he learns the system.

I ask again – who makes the more difficult and challenging throws in the tape below?

The two players are both excellent in many of the areas you break down a QB, but when it comes to making reads and having that almost ‘Brett Favre’ esque ability to turn something into nothing, I’m going with MB. Make no mistake that a lot more is being asked of Barkley than Luck. The USC offense will revolve around Barkley and his ability to make consistent plays. Stanford will also rely heavily on Luck, but mainly to piece together the brilliant offensive line, running game and receivers running ever so crisp routes.

I’ve no doubt that if you put either Luck or Barkley in a comfortable position, they will thrive. If they’re in the opposite of a comfortable situation (again, not to pile on, but OAKLAND), then little things like making difficult reads and making plays downfield when things break down could be a difference maker. I’m not arguing that Luck isn’t going to be an elite quarterback. I just won’t rule out Barkley being better. He may well be better.

Matt Barkley may be the #1 overall prospect

Monday, August 8th, 2011

What if I suggested Matt Barkley could be the best 2012 eligible player in college football? 

Would you assume I’d gone crazy? That may be fair. Would you write this piece off as a token gesture a matter of weeks before the new college football season begins? I haven’t got time for that, honest. Or would you consider for a moment that maybe – just maybe – Matt Barkley might be a marginally better quarterback prospect than Andrew Luck? Is that possible? 

I’ve spent a lot of time watching both quarterbacks and have a really difficult time separating them because in my mind they both have elite potential. Universally the media, fans and dare I say scouts have already anointed Luck the 2012 #1 overall pick in waiting. Stanford may have lost a fine head coach, but they maintain a strong offensive line and top-drawer running game. There are at least three receivers on their roster capable of making plays consistently. Basically, barring a freak and unfortunate injury, Andrew Luck is going to have another great year in 2011. Should that happen as expected, he will be the #1 pick. No doubt about it. 

He may be the most perfectly acceptable quarterback prospect in the history of the game. From the NFL bloodlines, the professional character and personality, the near flawless mechanics, more than satisfactory production and a cluster of wins – there’s barely anything you’d change about the guy. The team that passes on Luck would have to be drafting Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne with the #1 overall pick to avoid the howls of derision. 

I’m not trying to argue here that a team should pass on Luck (they won’t) or that I don’t think he will succeed in the NFL. He has a great shot at making it work as long as he isn’t drafted by an awful franchise like Cincinnati or Oakland. Unfortunately for Luck, both are terrifyingly realistic possibilities. 

But certainly I think the bubble of warranted hype surrounding Luck is so impenetrable, that we dare not consider whether anyone else could be… better. It’s like a taboo among college football observers. To suggest someone is better than Luck is comparable to discussing the finer points of Brett Favre’s impact at Minnesota with Tavaris Jackson.  

If Luck is fortunate enough to land in a better situation than Cincinnati/Oakland, even then he will still struggle to match the success of players who entered the league with much less hype or investment than he. The prospect that someone from the same draft class could end up having more success is not a pipe dream and neither is the possibility that someone could actually be a better football player given an equal or superior circumstance. 

When I watch Matt Barkley I’m often amazed at how little hype he receives in comparison to Luck. From a mechanical and physical point of view, they are very similar. Both appear to be grounded individuals who you’d be happy to have as the ‘face of your franchise’. Both appear to have been systematically trained for the NFL from a young age. Both have a level of athleticism which you don’t often see from quarterbacks with their build. 

Luck was lauded as a successful red-shirt freshman starter – and posted a stat list that read 56% completions, 13 touchdowns and 2575 yards. In seven games he threw for fewer than 200 yards as Stanford leaned on a brilliant running game. He had three games where he threw less than 50%, including a 33% game against California where he went 10/30 for 157 yards and an interception. Stanford lost 34-28. 

Luck started 2010 in a similar fashion, looking far from elite against UCLA in game two (46% completions) and he wasn’t completely polished against Notre Dame a fortnight later. However, as the year developed so did Stanford’s quarterback and by the end of the season he was regularly throwing 80% games and leading his team to victory in the Orange Bowl. It was that level of progress that convinced me Luck warranted the hype – you never expect a player to avoid a learning curve. Once he’d mastered the offense, the pace of the game and his own limitations, he began to play at a level that warranted huge praise. 

Matt Barkley didn’t have a red-shirt year at USC, he started all but one game as a true freshman. In just his second start in college football, he led a game winning drive to beat a tough Ohio State team on the road. He didn’t lose a game as a true freshman until Halloween at Oregon. His two other defeats that year came against Luck’s Stanford and a sickener against Arizona and Nick Foles. 

He had some tough games, as did Luck, but managed a superior completion rate of 60% and threw a similar amount of touchdowns (15). Turnovers were much greater (14 compared to Luck’s four) but Barkley was asked to do a lot more as an instant starter than Luck as a red-shirt. 

As a true-sophomore, Barkley’s game continued to progress at rapid rate. He improved his completion percentage to 63%, made eleven more touchdowns and continued to act as the focal point of the offense. Although he played behind an offensive line containing elite college players such as Matt Kalil and Tyron Smith, he wasn’t aided by the same well-oiled running game Luck enjoys at Stanford. Barkley’s top target was a true freshman receiver called Robert Woods – insanely talented, but learning on the run. 

Barkley’s performance as an immediate two-year starter have been nothing short of incredible. There was no pause for thought at USC and let’s not forget that in between two very succesful years he’d had to cope with controversy in the form of strict NCAA sanctions and a high profile coaching change. Barkley hasn’t just taken that in his stride, he’s sprinting at full pace. 

In what was a beautifully under rated meeting last year, the pair met in a classic encounter that Stanford won thanks to a field goal in the dying embers 37-35. Barkley matched Luck throw-for-throw. Whenever Stanford’s QB asked the question, his opposite number shot back the answer without hesitation. 

When I go back and look at the tape, I end up asking myself a couple of questions. Firstly, if this was a Luck vs Barkley boxing match decided on points – who would’ve won? Secondly, who is making the more complex and challenging throws? Who is facing the most pressure in the pocket? Who is being forced to make clutch plays? 

In both circumstances, the answer was Matt Barkley. Judge for yourself… 

 

 

Focus on the second video and Barkley’s tape. Look at the play on 2:51 where he pumps to sell the linebacker and throws a dart into coverage, picking out his target ahead of two defensive backs. Check out the pinpoint accuracy to dissect two defenders for a touchdown at 3:57 and at 8:10. The touch and placement at 4:25 is perfect (the dropped catch is not). The play with his legs at 6:52 flashes his athleticism and the throw across his body at 8:51 proves he can improvise, feel pressure and make a quick judgement. It doesn’t get much more clutch than 3rd and long on the road, down a score and making the completion at 10:08. 

Yet the most impressive play in the whole video – the one that smashes the rest out of the park and why portrays a perfect example of why I rate the guy so highly, is the final play on the video. It’s an incompletion through the hands of Robert Woods. Needing a score to take a late fourth quarter lead Barkley looks to his left and fakes, moves to his second read and doesn’t like it, goes to a third read and again doesn’t release the ball, goes back to his second read and throws an impossibly perfect pass to the back of a crowded end zone splitting coverage and nailing what should’ve been a potential game winning score. 

Should’ve been, but wasn’t. Stanford won the game. 

As I said at the start of the piece, I’m not trying to make a negative case for Andrew Luck. I think you’re talking about two elite quarterback prospects, one is assumed to be the greatest college QB since Peyton Manning and the other gets a decent press, but nowhere near a comparable level of hype. Both have started at a young age and impressed, although Barkley has faced (in my view) a much greater baptism of fire. 

There’s every chance Barkley won’t declare for the 2012 draft knowing he’ll get the opportunity to play in a bowl game next year and compete for a PAC12 title. He’ll also be well aware that the competition to go first overall in 2013 will be weaker – and some players do see being the #1 pick as a worthwhile enough achievement to impact their decision on whether to declare. 

Even so, both are draft eligible next year. A lot can happen in a single season to impact upon grades and opinions but with a few weeks to go until football finally returns, I’m not opposed to the idea that Barkley may be the better player.

Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M) game tape vs Kansas

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

This was Tannehill’s first game as a full-time quarterback, replacing Jerrod Johnson. I’ve included a second portion of tape looking at Aggies receiver Jeff Fuller from the same game – I have Fuller rated as the second best eligible receiver for 2012 behind Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina).

Tape courtesy of JMPasq.

2012 quarterback class archives

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

I’ve written a lot about the 2012 class of quarterbacks and wanted to create a reference point. There’s a fair amount of game tape in these pieces, so it’s also good to keep that close by. I suspect that we’re going to be talking about the upcoming quarterback class an awful lot, possibly to the point of nausea. We might aswell embrace that now.

Here’s to nausea.

Summer quarterback grades
Quarterback rankings and early draft grades prior to the 2011 college football season. “I’ve had a chance to take a look at the latest batch of quarterbacks that could be available next April and I want to put the grades down now as a marker for comparison during the season.”

Andrew Luck vs Matt Barkley
Why they might be closer than some people think. Includes game tape. “Poise, accuracy, athleticism and ideal mechanics. Neither has the physical qualities of Cam Newton, Jake Locker or Blaine Gabbert, but they make up for it with high grades in all of the other criteria.”

Andrew Luck vs Oregon and Matt Barkley vs UCLA
All PAC-10 game tape from last year for the top two quarterbacks in college football.

Matt Barkley tape review vs Virginia (2010)
Game tape and thoughts on Barkley’s performance against Virginia last year. “He’ll be a true junior in 2011 having started as a freshman, but it’s unclear whether he’ll declare for next year’s draft. In 2012 sanctions will be lifted on USC allowing them to participate in a BCS Bowl and that could be tempting enough for Barkley to return for a fourth year.”

Landry Jones tape review vs Florida State
A big win for the Sooners and Landry Jones, here’s the tape and the breakdown. “This is pretty much eight minutes of screen passes and you could cut most of it out and be no more incapable of making a pro-judgement. Welcome to the Oklahoma offense.”

Landry Jones vs Nebraska (2010)
As it says in the title. “Here’s tape of Landry Jones’ performance against Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game from 2010. I discussed Jones in more detail during this interview with Field Gulls’ Dan Kelly earlier in the week.”

An interview with Austin Davis (QB, Southern Miss)
I recently had a chance to speak to Austin Davis and get his thoughts on the new college season and the 2012 draft. “During my conversation with Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis, two things became evidently clear. Firstly, that he understands what it will take to get to the next level. Secondly, that he’ll do what it takes to get there.”

Austin Davis thoughts and tape
Game tape and thoughts on the Southern Miss QB. “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.”

Kirk Cousins (QB Michigan State): further analysis
Cousins reminds me a lot of Kevin Kolb. Here’s my analysis on the Michigan State QB. “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.”

Kirk Cousins is the next… (insert lazy comparison here)
Why the Minnesota Vikings’ decision to draft Christian Ponder in round one makes me question where Kirk Cousins could fall next April. “If Cousins carries Michigan State into an unbeaten season while increasing his numbers, he could find himself near the top of the second tier of quarterbacks that follow Andrew Luck (Stanford) and Matt Barkley (USC).”

Kirk Cousins (QB, Michigan State) tape vs Michigan
Game tape from Cousins’ performance against rivals Michigan.

Some thoughts on Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
Converted receiver who enjoyed an incredible end to 2010. Can he do it again this year? Includes tape from the Cotton Bowl against LSU. “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.”

Nick Foles (QB, Arizona) and tempered expectations
Some thoughts on why I think the over rated Nick Foles is a key example as to why people are wrongly hyping up the 2012 QB class. “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 prototypical size for the position. Unfortunately, he has anything but prototypical physical attributes to start in the NFL.”

Ryan Lindley (QB, SDSU) vs TCU
Tape from a hit and miss performance from Lindley.

Wednesday notes – Kellen Moore and much more
I’ve given Moore an UDFA grade, here’s the reasoning. “You might see words like ‘moxy’ (cringe) tweeted several times tonight as KM moves the Broncos to another solid touchdown drive. When a quarterback’s greatest quality is ‘moxy’ it’s time to ask - ”why?””

Some thoughts on Terrelle Pryor
Will there be a supplemental draft? Terrelle Pryor hopes so. “When you throw on the tape it’s very easy to determine what is Pryor’s defining strength – evasiveness. When it’s third and ten, you’re pass rush has penetrated into the backfield and is just about to make the sack – he finds a way to avoid the pressure and make a gain instead of taking the loss.”

Seahawks facing potential dilemma at quarterback

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

Tavaris Jackson's reaction to Brett Favre's ninth retirement

While I think the Seahawks deserve praise for their work during free agency, there is one issue that could linger in the background. Are they going to become one of those teams that has everything but the quarterback? 

We’ve seen several cases of this in the NFL… a talented team filled with potential yet lacking at the most vital position in football. Even an above average starting quarterback would’ve been enough, they didn’t need Manning or Brady. So close, yet still so far away. 

I’m not intending this to be a negative piece on Tavaris Jackson. I actually think the Seahawks have done a great job making life easy for their quarterback and while I’m not getting carried away, I don’t think there’s any need to be so over-the-top dramatic about the quarterback situation. Jackson can help the Seahawks back to the playoffs via the NFC West title. He couldn’t wish for much more in terms of the supporting cast delivered in free agency. 

Yet until we’ve seen several performances, it’s hard to invest anywhere near the kind of faith that the unthinkable happens and Seahawks fans actually start to consider other positions in next April’s draft. Right now it’s QB, QB, QB and rightly so. People still see Jackson as a bridge option only – which is perfectly understandable. Even if the Seahawks went 13-3 next season I’d still suggest serious investment in a young quarterback. After all, Derek Anderson made a Pro Bowl. 

But everyone assumes that Andrew Luck or Matt Barkley will be within reach, either because the Seahawks are bad enough to draft them or because they’ll trade up. In both cases it will be really difficult. All of the positives moves this off season have created an offense that’s on the brink of being excellent but for remaining question marks at quarterback. There are teams not even close to owning the level of talent Seattle has brought in recently - and they don’t play six games in the NFC West either. 

Andlet’s not forget that even with a pretty mediocre season, a losing record andpoor play both offensively and defensively – last year the Seahawks earned themselves the #25 overall pick. They have improved from last year, in some areas significantly so. And while we sit hear and rightly applaud, you do just hope that this won’t become a team that is so good in every way but the quarterback. Minnesota fans experienced a bit of that with Jackson previously. 

I had a look at the top ranked quarterbacks from last year based on passing yards. It’s not a perfect science for judging quarterbacks, but it’ll do for now. Philip Rivers was ranked #1 for yards, he is a former 4th overall pick. After that came Peyton Manning (1st overall), Drew Brees (32nd overall), Matt Schaub (3rd rounder), Eli Manning (1st overall), Carson Palmer (1st overall), Aaron Rodgers (24th overall), Tom Brady (6th rounder), Matt Ryan (3rd overall) and Kyle Orton (4th rounder). 

Of the ten most statistically productive quarterbacks last year, half were former top five picks. All but three were first rounders. Good luck finding another Tom Brady in this lifetime. 

As I said not an exact science because there are other mitigating factors to production (talent on team, schedule, coming from behind a lot etc) and of that group only half made the post season. Picking early is never going to guarantee anything, especially at quarterback. However, having your pick of the top talent does give you a great chance of finding a productive player. An obvious statement perhaps, but crucial nonetheless. 

If the Seahawks are perennially too good to avoid picking early enough to tap into the top quarterbacks, they’ll have to be creative. Being better everywhere else potentially creates a vicious cycle of frustration where you’re not good enough to win a title, but equally not bad enough to solve the equation. Talent gets wasted, so does time. 

I would much rather build a foundation, as the Seahawks are doing, and then be pro-active to find a quarterback. Believing your team at least has a shot at being competitive on a Sunday is a much better feeling than simply biding time until the combine. Yet some of the best franchises and contenders at the moment had to hit rock bottom before they grew. When Seattle hit rock bottom, they spent $140m on linebackers. 

For the purpose of fairness, let’s say Jackson does have an incredible year and makes a big statement. The Seahawks march into the playoffs, shocking the league with Jackson running the show. Can you really justify a big splash at quarterback then? What message does that send to what would be your starting QB in 2012? Do you pass up the chance to perhaps improve another area of the roster (DL? DB?)? That in itself is as much a dilemma as any. Is one year’s production enough to go ‘all-in’ on Tavaris Jackson and pass up the chance to make that ambitious move for one of two quarterbacks with such incredible potential coming out of college? 

It’s going to be really fascinating to see how this plays out. Jackson will have to perform beyond even the most advanced expectations (perhaps unfairly) to make this an avoidable subject in the new year. If the Seahawks are too good to be natural candidates in the Luck/Barkley sweepstakes, do they get aggressive? Would you spend multiple first round picks to move up? Or do you move on to a Kirk Cousins, Austin Davis or Landry Jones? Each have their qualities, yet each may not offer the kind of mid-round value that Tampa Bay discovered with Josh Freeman. I’ve compared Cousins strongly to Kevin Kolb, Davis is a dark horse with real potential and Jones carries a round one grade at the moment but needs to shine through his system at Oklahoma this year and be more consistent.

Zach Miller signs, Seahawks offense on the brink

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

After a long 24-hours of negotiating, the Seahawks today signed former Raiders tight end Zach Miller for a deal believed to be worth $35m with $17m guaranteed. That’s a better contract than Antonio Gates is receiving in San Diego. It’s another ambitious move by the Seahawks front office.

I noted yesterday that I think Miller upgrades the position. That’s not a slur on John Carlson, I just happen to believe Miller is capable of becoming one of the best tight end’s in the league. He’s got a Jason Witten level of potential and it wouldn’t surprise me if he was the team’s leading receiver next season. He’s a playmaker. He’ll find holes in coverage and exploit them. He’s capable of breaking off a run after the catch – unusual for the position. He has an 86-yard reception. He’s not an incredible blocker, but then the Seahawks invested a lot of money in the offensive line so that the tight end could be more of a threat as a receiver. He’s only 25 and doesn’t turn 26 until December.

This is just another weapon to add to a rapidly growing list. Fans and the media are starting to look at this offense with a little fear (finally). They may not admit it, but the fear is there. You can feel it among the other NFC West teams. The people mocking the Tavaris Jackson signing are suddenly wondering if his life has been made easy enough to succeed. Sidney Rice… Mike Williams… Zach Miller… Marshawn Lynch… a developing offensive line. Sounds good to me.

Rotoworld’s Evan Silver tweeted this shortly after the Miller signing was announced:

Seahawks creating a nice foundation for Luck or Barkley last year. Zach Miller & Sid Rice both only 25 years old.

I think it’s fair to say that the plan for this team is not to be in position to draft either. How else can you describe all these positive moves in free agency? Let’s be realistic here, even if we are fans of the team - this Seahawks offense is not going to be anywhere close to being bad enough to draft first overall, which is what it will take to draft Andrew Luck. If Matt Barkley performs as well as expected this year at USC, he could be the second overall pick. Again, the Seahawks are not going to be in that region.

A lot of people talk about the ‘brutal’ schedule (I have used that word myself) but when you actually break it down, is it really that bad? Six games against a weak NFC West. Games against Washington, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Dallas. That’s nine games there that don’t scare me, how about you? Tougher games against Philadelphia, Baltimore and Atlanta are all at home – and we saw what home field advantage can do in last season’s playoffs. Seattle travels to Chicago again, where they won in the regular season last year before being pummelled in the playoffs. The other two games are particularly daunting at Pittsburgh and the New York Giants.

There are a lot of tough aspects to that schedule, but it’s far from the mission impossible ‘road to Luck’ some people believe. Right now I wouldn’t be surprised if they won five or six games, which would be mediocre. Would it be a total shocker if they won eight or nine instead? Can they go 4-2 in the NFC West again and beat Washington, Cincinnati and Cleveland? Sure – and that’s seven wins, as many as they had last season. Can they win another at home to reach eight wins? Why not?

The reason for this level of measured optimism (notice I’m not projecting a ridiculous 10-12 wins) is purely down to the offense. I’m not saying it’s finished article or completely ready just yet. However, if you had a quarterback with any kind of reputation on this roster - would people be talking about the Seahawks as a dark horse in the NFC? Absolutely.

And really that’s the only thing holding back anyone from making that leap of faith. Tavaris Jackson and/or Charlie Whitehurst won’t be able to complain about a lack of weapons next season. This is a fantastic opportunity for a quarterback to make their mark without a high level of expectation. You know what? Maybe Jackson has enough at his disposal to actually, you know, succeed? Is that really so bold a suggestion?

Although quarterback won’t necessarily be the final piece (the Seahawks still need more on the defensive line and possibly the secondary), if the front office does opt to make a big QB splash in next years draft – whoever they take will be coming into and offense with a lot of talent hitting it’s prime.

A final point for today - what happens now with John Carlson? That’s the big question many people are wondering. Cameron Morrah played well when called into duty last year and is still young and growing. Anthony McCoy had first round level talent at USC and fell only because of character concerns. Both players are cheaper and younger than Carlson and more likely to accept supporting duties alongside Miller.

Carlson’s contract expires next year and with today’s big splash, it seems unlikely he’ll return. Do you try to deal him now knowing he’ll return nothing in the off season? Or do you try to find a role for him alongside Miller?

I’m torn on this one, because I believe Carlson is in that grey area of being a luxury as a backup but not quite someone you make a focal point of the offense (see: Miller signing). I would love to witness McCoy get some action this year and see Morrah’s role expanded if possible. Holding onto Carlson if a deal can be done may be unnecessary.

Even so, what can his value possibly be? Former first round pick Greg Olsen (who is younger than Carlson) made Chicago only a third round pick when he was recently traded to Carolina. I suspect you’d get little more than a 5th rounder for Carlson considering how dry the tight end market has been to this point.

John Clayton is still banging the Osi Umenyiora drum, suggesting the Seahawks could trade Carlson to New York with a draft pick for the pass rusher. It just doesn’t seem like the kind of move this team would make. Umenyiora is approaching 30 and would command a huge contract. He’s not young and hitting his peak and his better days may be in the past. Umenyiora is the kind of player I’d spend money on in free agency or invest a token late rounder, because there could be an easy get out down the line. However, spending something like a third rounder and John Carlson to acquire him would make little sense for a team that is still rebuilding.

Clayton also touted Seattle would lead the race for Ray Edwards, yet they seemingly showed little interest before he signed for the Falcons.

Besides, with the improvements made on offense – the Seahawks may need all of their 2012 picks to make that next ambitious move – trading up the board next April to get that franchise defining quarterback. The final piece perhaps of this offensive jigsaw. The thing that pushes this offense towards elite.

***UPDATE***

John Boyle has a Tweet containing Pete Carroll’s view on the ‘John Carlson conundrum’. Carroll questions anyone who doesn’t think there’s a role for both Zach Miller and Carlson in the team. This is exactly what I would say if a.) I did indeed have a plan for John Carlson within the offense or b.) wanted to try and drive up his price for a potential trade.

Seahawks rightly leaving no room for sentiment

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Lofa Tatupu moved on this week, a tough but correct move

When the Seahawks parted company with Lofa Tatupu this week, there was an understandable level of disappointment among parts of the fanbase. Tatupu had an immediate impact for the team when he was drafted in 2005, helping Seattle to it’s first Super Bowl and making the Pro Bowl in each of his first three years. When he signed a contract extension worth $42m in 2008, he stated he wanted to end his career with the Seahawks. Tim Ruskell declared that Tatupu would be an integral part of the team for years to come - a cornerstone. The contract was signed a year before Tatupu would even hit free agency, a sign of the panic with which Ruskell viewed keeping Tatupu. 

Unfortunately, the franchise never truly felt the value of that six-year extension. When he wasn’t missing games through injury, he didn’t appear to be capable of the same impact that made him a star during his early years in the NFL.

Nevertheless, Tatupu had made a connection with Seahawks fans. It was a connection shared also with his teammates, who often credited the player’s leadership on and off the field. Head Coach Pete Carroll inherited Tatupu having already worked with him for many years. He’d seen the guy grow up through high school, enjoy success at USC and go onto the pro’s. Last season Tatupu played every game for his former college coach.

Yet here we are, Tatupu a free agent and in discussion with the Oakland Raiders on a potential move to the Bay Area. A surprise, but also absolutely the right move.

You can’t make room for favorites. You can’t stick by a player that’s earning more than his market value is worth. The best franchises know when to move on, not rewarding mediocre or worse performances simply because the player has an attachment to the team, the coach or the city. Sure, we’d all like to see a 100% healthy Tatupu at his best running this team’s defense. However, it’s not going to happen. Move on and let’s invest the money elsewhere.

We saw a similar move with Matt Hasselbeck. The Seahawks were prepared to give him another year, but quite rightly at the age of 36 and considering recent health and performance – one year was all they could commit to. Hasselbeck got a better offer in Tennessee and moves on.

I suspect we’ll see another example soon if the Seahawks use the money saved on Tatupu to sign tight end Zach Miller, who is visiting Seattle today. Miller is a playmaker and a much greater threat in the passing game than John Carlson. He’s been held back by substandard quaterbacking during his time in Oakland, but he has potential to be a top-end player at his position.

The fans have a lot of time for Carlson, but he’s just an average tight end who had great value for Tim Ruskell because he passed the strict criteria with which he judged his prospects. He’s neither a spectacular blocker or a great receiving threat, decent at both but exceptional at neither. There’s every chance if Miller is signed Carlson will be moved on. His value will not bring much in return, possibly a 5th round pick or maybe even less.

Yet the team will be making a ruthless upgrade, a vital upgrade.

This kind of move is so refreshing in Seattle, at least that’s how I see it. Tim Ruskell threw so much money at the wrong positions and lingered on his favorites. Tatupu got $42m, Leroy Hill was franchised and then signed a $38m contract. Aaron Curry signed a $60m deal when the Seahawks drafted another linebacker fourth overall. That’s a first, a second and a third round pick at the linebacker position, all drafted by Ruskell at huge expense. Look at the numbers – $140m committed to linebackers. The Seahawks also mortgaged a lot on getting a tight end for a coach who everybody knew was leaving in twelve months. The second and third round pick they spent on John Carlson ironically could’ve landed Ray Rice, DeSean Jackson and Jermichael Finley.

Throughout this period of the Ruskell era no quarterbacks came in other than David Greene in round three. The offensive line received barely a passing glance as Ruskell stuck by another favorite – Sean Locklear. Positions like defensive end and wide receiver had money thrown at it in free agency on ageing players past their best. Pete Carroll and John Schneider are now left to deal with the mess and it’s good to see they’re making a fist of it. 

Difficult decisions need to be made and that’s exactly what is happening. A new plan is being drawn up.

Absolutely that plan has to include finding stars at the key positions (QB, OL, WR, DL) and being prepared to mix things around in other areas. The OL and WR parts of that equation are being checked off. 

I presume the approch may be the opposite of Ruskell’s with other positions. For example, if they find a decent linebacker who does a good job in his rookie contract, they’ll be prepared to move on rather than spend the big bucks just because he’s had some initial success. They won’t panic and re-sign the guy a year before he hits free agency. 

Invest your resources in positions that matter and try to re-load elsewhere. Know when a player’s star is waning and be prepared to trade them before the inevitable drop off in performance. New England have schooled so many teams by trading players for high draft picks that never live up to the price tag.  The Seahawks need to take note.

And that of course means being prepared to move on from fading stars and fan favorites. Consistent contenders change a lot of the parts around their core, but the key components remain throughout. It’s impossible to have every position on offense and defense filled with a great player. Milking players on cheap rookie deals and selling high is part of the NFL business and it’s what makes great teams. Carroll and Schneider are already showing that willingness to be ruthless.