Archive for September, 2011

Friday links

Friday, September 30th, 2011

Thanks to the Major League Baseball playoffs, I have no access to college games this weekend. That’s right, despite showing two full hours of college gameday - ’ESPN America’ as it’s called over here aren’t showing any actual games live. I’ll get replays on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday but unfortunately it’ll take a while longer than usual to process. I’ll have a review post up on Saturday night and maybe there’s a stream or two to be had somewhere?

In the meantime here’s a few links for Saturday and further game tape on Robert Griffin III…

Tony Pauline has more excellent insider information on this year’s top draft eligible prospects. According to Pauline’s sources Trent Richardson, Don’ta Hightower and Dre Kirkpatrick will all turn pro next year. Richardson is one of the few prospects deserving of a high 2012 grade so far in my view, a truly excellent running back prospect.

Rob Rang and Chad Reuter have the thankless task of projecting a full first round mock draft in September. It still baffles me how anyone can project Donte Paige-Moss (DE, UNC) in the first round, let alone 15th overall as Rang has here. Like I said, it’s hard to be too critical given it’s September but Paige-Moss has done absolutely nothing to warrant even a second-day grade for me. On a more positive note, it’s great to see Reuter giving some love to another Tar Heel – linebacker Zach Brown. He’s clearly the star player on the UNC defense and stands out every time I watch North Carolina.

Russ Lande is a respected scout who runs the GM JR website and this week published his top-99 prospects for 2012. I’d recommend checking out his material. Having said, that I often find myself disagreeing with some of his judgements but that’s part of the process. He’s higher on Landry Jones than I am and makes a comparison between Matt Barkley and Jimmy Clausen which I cannot agree with. Clausen played within an offense that made life far too easy – it demanded nothing from Clausen, limiting turn overs and living off high percentage short completions. It’s no surprise that the system made two quarterbacks (Clausen and Brady Quinn) that were both snubbed by the NFL (rightly so). Barkley isn’t just asked to do much more than Clausen ever was, he generally excels within that environment. The only comparison I can see between the pair is height – which is in that borderline 6-2 range. What I would also say is – if you genuinely think Clausen/Barkley is a legitimate comparison, why rank Barkley even at #50? If you could go back and re-live the 2010 draft, Clausen would be a 6th rounder at best.

Kudos to Lande for promoting not only Zach Brown as discussed earlier, but also Logan Harrell (DT, Fresno State). I’ve been promoting Harrell all summer as a big-time sleeper. Dwight Jones (WR, UNC) also gets a top-20 grade, something we also suggested was a possibility earlier this week. It’s time Jones received a consensus first round grade.

Draft Tek has a new consensus mock draft, calculating team needs to combine with their existing grades and big board. The Seahawks take Landry Jones at #3.

Mel Kiper has a new big board out, with Matt Barkley dropping from #3 to #10 based on last week’s performance against Arizona State. I have an issue with weekly big boards – would you move Tom Brady from #1 quarterback in the NFL to #7 after last week’s performance in Buffalo? Brandon Jenkins (DE, Florida State) is also among the top-25, a baffling projection for someone who looks like a mid-rounder at best.

Steve Muench is another big fan of Landry Jones, while he gives Matt Barkley a late first round grade which goes along with his Scouts Inc. colleague Todd McShay. Maybe John and Pete will get their version of Aaron Rodgers after all?

Walter Cherepinksy updates his 2012 mock draft. The Seahawks continue to own the #1 overall pick despite last week’s home victory over Arizona and of course Andrew Luck is the choice. The Seahawks are not a good team right now, but it’s nothing a good quarterback cannot solve. However, while ever this team competes in the awful NFC West it will be a near miracle to pick first overall. Let’s not underestimate just how bad St. Louis had to get to be 1-15 in this division. As poor as Seattle have been so far, they’re still a long way away from that sorry Rams outfit in 2009.

Robert Griffin III has started the new season strongly and his performance against TCU really caught the eye. However, his display against Rice was more akin to what we’ve seen in the past from the Baylor quarterback. He runs a screen game with very little challenging throws. His footwork is very poor and technically he’s not a strong passer. When he lit up a really tough TCU team, you had to take notice. However, I do wonder if he’ll always remain a substantial project in terms of the NFL and therefore limit his stock to the round 2-4 range at best. See the tape below, courtesy of JMPasq:

Richard Dent: “It’s important to have one move”

Friday, September 30th, 2011

Richard Dent was the MVP at Super Bowl XX

I was fortunate enough to interview Richard Dent this afternoon, former Bears defensive end and 2011 Hall of Fame inductee. Richard was in London to promote the Bears vs Buccs game at Wembley in October. After discussing several different topics, I asked him about young players coming into the draft and how they can prepare themselves for the NFL, click the link below to hear the response:

Richard Dent interview

Stephen Hill (WR, Georgia Tech) game tape

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Earlier this week I discussed junior Stephen Hill (WR, Georgia Tech) as one to watch after witnessing his performance against North Carolina. JMPasq has kindly put together the tape highlighting Hill’s display. To see the article I wrote talking about the game, click here.

Wednesday notes: 2012 a down year on the d-line

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Could Washington's Alameda Ta'amu benefit from a down year on the DL?

This is a down year for defensive line talent 

I watched the tape from UNC’s defeat at Georgia Tech and Quinton Coples was again a disappointing non-factor. It’s not a total surprise that he struggled to create pressure against the triple option, but this isn’t the first time I’ve been totally non-plussed by Coples inability to have an impact. He’s not an explosive pass rusher to play off the edge and he’s not got the size to move inside and possibly work out at tackle. I’m always sceptical of defensive lineman that don’t flash great hands and technique because I want to see more than physical potential, which is essentially what Coples is all about. With greater physical development he could become a very solid five technique at the next level, but is that really enough to warrant the universal elite grades he’s receiving in pretty much every mock draft and big board? Coples is #2 overall on Mel Kiper’s latest board, he’s named at #3 overall by Scouts Inc and NFL Draft Scout ranks the Tar Heels lineman at #2

Against Georgia Tech he was often subbed out and missed large chunks of drives. Was this a reaction to the fast paced offense he was competing against, or should we be concerned that on key first and ten situations he’s on the sidelines? Why isn’t he on the field when the opponent has 2nd and 1 in midfield? The amount of attention he received when he did take the field afforded the UNC linebackers to have an impact on the game, but that to me isn’t enough to deserve top-five consideration. Da’Quan Bowers regularly endured double teams last year for Clemson and still recorded 16 sacks. 

SI.com’s Tony Pauline – one of my favorite draft writers and someone who’s opinion is worth noting – had this to say about Coples’ performance

North Carolina senior defensive lineman Quinton Coples was universally accepted by NFL scouts and draft pundits as the top overall prospect in 2012. His play during the first month of the season has been disappointing to say the least. He’s registered just two sacks in four games this season, and both came during Carolina’s opener against small school foe James Madison. Against Georgia Tech, he was credited with just a single solo tackle. The lack of playmaking is becoming an issue and while Coples flashes brilliance on occasion, he also shows the propensity to disappear for stretches. 

Overall it sums up what a miserable year this is for defensive line talent. Brandon Jenkins (DE, Florida State) is only worth of a mid-round grade. Jerel Worthy (DT, MSU) is another player hugely over rated who often appears in various mock drafts as a top ten pick. Jared Crick (DT, Nebraska) jumps between explosive and non-existent. I’m yet to agree with any of the high profile pundits on the defensive line prospects they see worthy of a top-16 grade. Having been spoilt in recent years with a vast array of top-end talent like Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy and Marcell Dareus, this is looking like a distinctly poor year at tackle and end. 

One player who is worth monitoring is Logan Harrell (DT, Fresno State). He’s a speedy penetrative tackle without the big size but he gets into the backfield with a combination of quicks and technique. He has 14 sacks working as a DT since the start of 2010, with 3.5 already this season. In terms of LEO prospects, Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall) has a lot of potential and could be worth a first round grade. Alameda Ta’amu (NT, Washington) has the kind of size and athleticism teams look for in a nose tackle, but I prefer Baylor’s Phil Taylor – taken by Cleveland in round one this year. 

Wide receivers making a move 

On a more positive note, the 2012 class of receivers could be one of the deepest in years. Although there’s no defining top-ten talent (we’ll have to wait a year to discuss USC’s brilliant true-sophomore Robert Woods) overall there’s a lot of depth and possibly several first and second round picks. Everyone knows about Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State) and Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina). Neither are worth top-ten picks but should be taken before the end of round one. Jeff Fuller (WR, Texas A&M) has had an inconsistent start to the year but has big-time pro talent and was possibly the only player last season to give Patrick Peterson the run around. Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame) is enjoying a fast start as he looks to repair his stock after a series of off-the-field problems. Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers) is finally benefitting from a stable quarterback situation and looks every bit the first round talent as an explosive dual threat playmaker who could have an incredible impact in the NFL. 

One player I was really high on coming into this season was UNC receiver Dwight Jones. He’s struggled with consistency in the past but this year looks like a more mature, rounded individual who’s letting his talent do the talking. I have no reason to believe he can’t push his stock into the first round area considering he has every single skill you want from a wide out coming out of college. Strong hands? Check. Ability to make difficult catches and avoid drops? Check. Top-end deep speed? Check. Size? Check. Good route runner? Check. You get the picture, but he’s also a competitive player who fights for extra yards and one of his greatest assets is the ability to turn on the jets and accelerate through the gears from a standing start. At 6-4, 225lbs and with the production he’s having as a senior, it’s time to start talking about this guy. 

Against Georgia Tech he had seven catches for 85 yards and it’s 421 yards and four touchdowns from his first four games this season. One play stood out last weekend – Jones takes a screen pass at the LOS and is met by a linebacker immediately. He catches the ball one handed, turns and just burns him off rounding the LB and racing up field. He got through the gears quickly showing great acceleration for his size. He ran past two more defensive backs before eventually being taken down for a 49-yard gain. It was an explosive play, really showing incredible speed and YAC ability. 

And oh yeah – he does an excellent job re-adjusting to the ball to bail out the quarterback and he just about catches everything. Jones is potentially the complete package and if he keeps this up in 2011, he’s a first round pick. 

Another receiver that caught the eye in the UNC/GT game was the Yellow Jacket’s junior wide out Stephen Hill. He made a stunning one handed grab for a first down in the second quarter and scored a 59-yard touchdown on a blown coverage. 

He’s 6-5 and around 210lbs. He struggled to make an impact as a freshman or sophomore, recording just four touchdowns, 21 catches and 428 yards. This season he’s already clocked 14 receptions, 462 yards and four touchdowns. He had 181 yards against Western Carolina, 126 yards against Middle Tennessee and 151 yards against UNC. The stats may be deceptive because teams play run support with their cornerbacks against the triple option allowing Hill to find holes in the secondary. Essentially he doesn’t need to run great routes to get open. However, Georgia Tech is a production line for good receivers and as a 2012 draft eligible prospect I’d recommend checking out Hill if you get the opportunity. 

Over rated players – is this going to be a weak draft? 

The overall strength of the 2012 draft doesn’t look good right now. I have to believe that’s partly the justification for many players receiving unwarranted praise and high grades, even from some high profile pundits and scouts who’s opinions are taken as gospel and who are never made accountable for bad judgements. The fact that players like Donte Paige-Moss (DE, UNC) are given grades in the first round or are listed among ‘top prospects to watch’ is quite incredible. I have Paige-Moss as a late round pick at best right now, how can anyone justify anything more? Jerel Worthy, a completely unspectacular defensive tackle who’s neither a spectacular pass rusher or run stuffer, but he’s a top ten pick? 

Landry Jones (QB, Oklahoma) is graded in the top ten by an awful lot of people, I’d guess mainly because of statistics and the fact he’s not been a total failure replacing Sam Bradford for the Sooners. I understand there’s a need to collate early big boards and mocks that not even the most gifted pundit can realistically compile in September, but this year has been a real eye opener so far with big names being paid lip-service to take up space. 

Right now I’m concerned that the 2012 draft will be very weak in terms of depth, but it will be boosted by an unusually talented quartet at the very top of the board. Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Ryan Kalil and Trent Richardson are as good you will find at their respective positions in any given draft. That along with a strong group of receivers (but no obvious top-ten talent) looks like being the big storyline from next April’s event in my opinion. What it does provide is an opportunity – a chance for players to rise dramatically up boards and cement a home within the first 32 picks that otherwise wouldn’t be possible most other years. It’ll provide a chance for players to get over drafted – such as Landry Jones and maybe even Robert Griffin. Players like Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford) who deserve solid mid-first round grades could end up being top-five/ten picks. 

If I was going to try and do a mock draft today, I’d struggle to get beyond pick five. I may even include Alameda Ta’amu (DT, Washington) in the top ten, purely down to the new importance of the nose tackle position and the lack of alternative quality on the defensive line. When I talk about opportunities, that’s what I mean. There’s every possibility that a guy like Ta’amu could be a high first round pick due to the generally weak overall quality of the 2012 draft. Phil Taylor – formerly of Baylor now a first round pick in Cleveland – could easily have been a top 5-10 pick in 2012. 

Austin Davis impresses in front of Seahawks scout 

A player I’ve had the opportunity to interview and someone I grade highly as a draft sleeper is Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis. The Seahawks sent a scout to watch the Golden Eagles’ victory over Virginia at the weekend, and that scout will have surely been impressed with what he saw from Davis in a three-touchdown winning effort. Physically he’s an improving player with plus accuracy and decision making. It would not surprise me in the slightest if the scout was sent specifically to watch Davis, given his mobility and mantra to avoid turnovers. Speaking to Davis during the pre-season, it was almost Pete Carroll-esque the way he discussed the importance of not turning the ball over and managing the offense. 

Game tape and highlights are not particularly forthcoming for Southern Miss this season but I did find two links highlighting a couple of his touchdown passes at the weekend: Link one, Link Two. You can see extended highlights of the game using this link courtesy of the Virginia Sports TV website. 

Davis is completely dedicated to his craft, evidenced by the improved upper body strength that is clearly evident this year. If you want to learn more about the kind of character Davis is, check out the video below at fast forward to the 50-second mark. You can read my interview with Davis by clicking here

 

Matt Barkley (vs ASU) & Ryan Lindley (vs Michigan) tape

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Thoughts on Ryan Tannehill vs Oklahoma State

Monday, September 26th, 2011

JMPasq has supplied us with the tape (see above) for Ryan Tannehill’s performance against Oklahoma State. I’ll have more on this game later in the week and also some thoughts on UNC vs Georgia Tech that I’ve just finished watching.

This really was a contrasting performance from Tannehill. It was interesting to see on Twitter how people were climbing over each other to jump on the Tannehill bandwagon. In the second half, the masses fell silent. The only noise you could hear was a distant choking in the background, emanating from the television screen showing the game.

Before I get into a review of the performance I want to make a general point. A lot was written about Tannehill in the week, with high profile draft pundits such as Rob Rang tweeting that he could leap frog Matt Barkley and Landry Jones to be the #2 ranked quarterback behind Andrew Luck next April. In fairness Rang wasn’t alone in making that early prediction, yet I couldn’t disagree more.

This was Tannehill’s 1oth start for the Aggies, having previously been beaten to the starting job by Stephen McGee (a 4th round pick) and Jerrod Johnson (an UDFA, now a free agent after being released by Philadelphia). He’s had some impressive victories since replacing Johnson and shown plenty of promise and potential. Yet projections in the first round were putting the cart before the horse in my mind, a point I made long before Tannehill threw three picks against Oklahoma State in a floundering second half. I have no doubt that Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley are a class above any other 2012 draft eligible quarterback. Can Tannehill rise to the top of a growing second tier of QB’s? Sure – but let’s not go over the top on what he’s capable of achieving here.

Are we desperate to promote quarterbacks above their means, particularly this year given how much everyone has talked up the class? Possibly so and it’s not a surprise given how many teams (including the Seahawks) need a franchise passer. However, we can’t force players into grades they don’t deserve. I’ve maintained a mid-round grade on Tannehill with potential to rise. I see him as someone who shouldn’t be expected to start early, but could sit and learn and develop into a possible starter. You also have the added bonus that he could work out at receiver or take part in some trick plays and special packages early in his pro-career. Is he a handcuff quarterback who you stake your reputation on with a first round pick? No. No. No.

I’m far from an oracle on quarterbacks, but I’ve had some success grading the position since I started writing this blog. When most people were projecting Jimmy Clausen as a shoe-in top five pick, potentially the #1 overall choice, I gave him a round two grade and put Sam Bradford at #1 long before those two possibilities became a reality. Not many people will remember Bradford as a skinny, spread offense quarterback who would be a permanent liability with injury - but that’s what a lot of people believed at the time. Clausen wasn’t turnig the ball over and was putting up big numbers, but he played in a Charlie Weis offense that dictated the situation. Here’s what I wrote on the 16th November, 2009: “I’ve just gone through Notre Dame’s 27-22 defeat to Pittsburgh and I have to admit quarterback Jimmy Clausen was very disappointing. Despite all the injuries and the fact he’s coming from a spread offense, Sam Bradford has to be the highest ranked quarterback for the 2010 draft.”

I didn’t have Colt McCoy in round one or two that year – and projected Tebow poorly despite admitting he would almost certainly be a first round pick. A year later I was among the first (if not the first) to pair Cam Newton with the Carolina Panthers. In fact, as soon as Andrew Luck chose not to declare, Newton was my #1 as evidenced in this piece I wrote: “I’ve no doubt that Newton has star-potential – the kind of ceiling that Clausen will never have. It’s unfortunate for him that Carolina have regressed this much to be in position to own the #1 pick – but that’s life. Cam Newton can have the kind of impact for the Panthers that a Bowers, Fairley, Green – or a Clausen – simply cannot match. For that reason, I maintain that Carolina should and possibly will draft a quarterback with the first overall pick – even with Luck out of the picture.”

Has Newton shown start potential so far? I’d say so. It wasn’t just about physical qualities either – he was always a much more natural passer than many gave him credit for. What about the next two quarterbacks taken – Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert? Against popular opinion I consistently maintained Jake Locker would be a top-ten pick throughout the process – he went #8 to Tennessee. I couldn’t find a mock draft that included Blaine Gabbert in round one before my own, when I had him going to Seattle at #13 by Christmas Eve. A little while later he declared and eventually was taken with the 10th overall pick. I stated he had top-ten potential in this piece.

So by now I know what you’re thinking – how arrogant to spend the last three paragraphs pumping up his own tyres. I’ve not got everything correct – far from it in fact. I graded Christian Ponder in the mid/late rounds last year – projected he would be taken as a reach in round two – yet he ended up being the 12th overall pick. I thought Andy Dalton would be a mid/late rounder but he went at the top of round two. C’est la via, you can’t win them all.

However, the reason I linked to those old pieces and took the role of shameless self promoting was purely to try and add some value to the point I’m about to make – that the class of 2012 will not bring about a timeless group of quarterbacks. If Matt Barkley returns to USC, which remains a possibility, we’ll have one player and one player only who I believe is capable of having a lasting impact as one of 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL -  and of course that’s Andrew Luck.

Landry Jones, Ryan Tannehill, Kirk Cousins, Robert Griffin III – if you’re banking on those guys being your savior, good luck with that. That’s not to say they can’t start or shouldn’t be on your board – I’d happily take a flier on Jones in the second round for example knowing I could move on if it didn’t work out possibly with reputation intact. I would’ve gambled on Ryan Mallett in a similar range, knowing that the risk was decreased outside of round one. If you can sit a quarterback like Jones and really work on the things he needs to improve, I think it could be a long term success story. Unfortunately, he’ll almost certainly be drafted above his means to a team that will essentially throw him in much too soon. Blaine Gabbert is already starting in Jacksonville and how long will it be until Christian Ponder takes over from Donovan McNabb in Minnesota? Both quarterbacks needed much more time than either will be given, although obviously I believe Gabbert is much more equipped to make it work.

That’s just my opinion. Like with Ponder, I could be completely wrong. On the other hand, maybe I’ll be right and next time I need to back up a bold statement on a quarterback class I’ll be linking to this piece. If I am wrong I’ll eat my words - I’m not here to be seen to be right every time, I’m here to make judgements and form opinions with the same differing results that everyone else has who follows the draft.

So what about Tannehill? For starters he’s strictly a one-read guy. I’ve noticed he often stares down receivers and doesn’t even resort to the checkdown and a number of his bad throws against OKSU came when trying to force things on the hot read. Some of the good throws came from this issue as well, including the first touchdown pass to Jeff Fuller which was a good, accurate throw with perfect velocity to a receiver who was well covered but only by one defensive back. Good throw, good catch.

He anticipates routes quite well, particularly come backs to the back shoulder. That’s a plus because it translates to the next level. What I didn’t like was his inability to react and get out of either a broken play or realise when the hot read wasn’t on. One of his three picks came when the receiver tripped up, yet Tannehill still makes the throw despite the cornerback having an obvious advantage. It’s a bad decision, one that I suspect Luck, Barkley and Landry Jones would avoid by checking off to the next option or throwing underneath. You simply don’t try that pass in any circumstance, yet Tannehill just ploughs in like a bull in a china shop.

The second interception was another bad decision – he’s staring down his target despite blanket coverage to the right hand side. He tries to fit the pass into an impossible window despite heavy pressure and an advancing pass rusher. Tannehill gets hit as the ball comes out, but in reality where was he going with that pass? Why doesn’t he see the danger there? I can’t decide whether it’s just a lack of experience, the system or if this is a more pressing concern. Staring down receivers will not get you a starting job in the NFL, and it’s one of Tannehill’s biggest issues based on the evidence in this game. The third and game-deciding pick was almost identical – again a bad decision to throw to a receiver he tracked all the way.

Teams are going to adapt and respond during a game. If something is working in one half, it won’t necessarily work in the second. Brandon Weeden took a difficult first half for his team and turned it around for an impressive win by making adjustments. When Texas A&M needed a response, they were found wanting. Andrew Luck’s offense at Stanford is a well oiled machine and he rarely has to make more than one read, but always has the checkdown or scramble option. Matt Barkley is adept at going through his progressions and already manages the USC offense like a pro-starter. Considering both players are also technically excellent and physically capable, it already puts them both on a completely different plateau to a quarterback like Tannehill. Really the only area Tannehill grades higher is with physical attributes, but even then it’s not like Luck and Barkley aren’t athletes, just just won’t see USC’s quarterback running a QB-option to the house.

There’s no doubt he is an athlete. The quarterback option draw that led to a big touchdown run was pure brilliance – Tannehill had the vision to make the call, execute and punish the Oklahoma State offense. It’s a big play aspect he’ll have in his locker that will interest pro-teams, even if this isn’t the kind of play he’ll ever run at the next level. Arm strength is more than good enough and from a technical point of view, his release and footwork is better than you’d expect from a convert.

Overall my impression is that Tannehill warrants a grade in the R3-4 area based on physical potential, but is likely to be one of thoseprospects who goes earlier due to the increasing importance of the QB position. I would be very cautious of investing a high pick and then hoping that he’ll end up making your reputation because you need to find ‘the guy’ for the next decade. He could be another Kevin Kolb who will not ultimately benefit the team who drafts him on the field, but could train up behind a proven veteran and earn a trade/starting gig elsewhere.

From a pure physical and potential stand point, he may be a more promising overall player than Landry Jones with more experience and starts. However, the suggestion that he could be better than Luck or Barkley I find slightly preposterous. Until he learns to run through progressions and stop staring down targets - even just take what a team gives him – he will turn the ball over against good teams when fighting from behind or needing to press matters.

Week four: Notes, Geno Smith and Matt Barkley

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Geno Smith had an inconsistent performance against LSU

Before I begin this week four review, I’d like to say a few words about an individual who decided to send me five abusive emails last night because Matt Barkley made a few mistakes against Arizona State. I won’t mention the guys name, but we’ll refer to him as ‘Glenn Close’. It’s a good job I don’t own a pet rabbit. The moment tracking the draft becomes that serious, Glenn, is the moment you need to sit down and take a moment to relax. Yes, Matt Barkley made some mistakes in the game. He needed to read Vontaze Burfict’s position on the first half pick. Maybe he shouldn’t try and force the throw that leads to the pick six?

Even so, he’s still a fine quarterback prospect and made several pro-level throws in the game that warrant high first-round consideration. He’s still a country mile ahead of every other draft eligible quarterback prospect not named Andrew Luck. If you don’t agree, Glenn, that is fine and I encourage debate in the comments section. But please don’t boil any pets because someone disagrees with your take on things.

Geno Smith (QB, West Virginia) vs LSU

This really was a Jekyll and Hyde performance from the WVU quarterback. On the one hand his accuracy was patchy, he tried to force too many throws and he consistently failed to diagnose the LSU defense and back out of bad play calls. The best example of poor awareness came just before half time when the Mountaineers faced 3rd and a mile and just needed to accept the situation to get into half time at 20-7. Instead, a pass into the flats is called and promising Tigers defensive back Tyrann Mathieu (one to watch) is all over it. He positions himself at the LOS, Smith forces the pass to the left and it’s picked off for a huge gain to the one-yard line. Moments later, the half time score is 27-7 and there’s a mountain to climb.

Contrast that with one of the greatest throws you’ll see this season. With 3:29 left in the third quarter, WVU have the ball at their own ten yard line - Smith takes the snap and drops back to his own goal line. He makes two reads and throws an impossibly perfect 40-yard pass to Tavon Austin in behind two defensive backs – making a huge gain after the YAC. Touch, vision, awareness, timing and placement were all 100% perfect. It wasn’t the only example where Smith flashed – but given that he threw an incredible 65 times in the game (38 completions, 463 yards, two touchdowns, two picks) you’d expect to see some highlights.

I’ve been impressed with certain aspects of Smith’s play over the last two seasons and Dana Holgorsen’s offense is going to give him many opportunities to impress again in the future. LSU won the field position battle, played steady on both sides of the ball and had big plays at crucial moments to win 47-21 in a game that could easily have been much closer. Smith will face much weaker opponents this year and he’ll probably look more consistent. When he’s given time in the pocket he looks poised, he is capable of making a number of NFL throws and he’s tough to bring down. Even so, he is inconsistent and you couldn’t say overall accuracy is a plus. It’s OK making mind blowing throws some of the time if you maintain a decent level most of the time. He can’t afford to lurch between great and poor so strikingly.

There’s plenty for scouts to like and coaches to work with, but it’s times like this that you remember there’s only 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Geno Smith, just like several quarterback prospect eligible for 2012, doesn’t stand out enough for you to invest faith that he’ll become one of those 32 on a long term scale which limits his stock. Even so, I think a grade in the rounds 4-5 range is fair and you’d take a chance on him working out as a possible back-up and longer term project. I suspect he’ll return to WVU next year if he gets a similar grade from the draft committee and maybe further seasoning in this offense will help boost that stock higher for 2013?

Matt Barkley (QB, USC) vs Arizona State

Due to scheduling issues and the over-running LSU vs WVU game I was unable to watch the first half of the USC vs Arizona State game. I will take a closer look at Brock Osweiler later this week, but for now I concentrated on the Trojans starting QB in his first road performance of the season. Overall it was a mixed second half – there was the usual dose of what I like about Barkley (technically very sound, accurate, masterful in play action, excellent placement/touch) but also a few crucial errors. Let’s spend a bit of time dissecting those mistakes.

Barkley threw two interceptions, the first coming in the first half although I’ve since seen numerous replays. He doesn’t diagnose Burfict as he goes through his progressions and makes the kind of throw he’ll know was a mistake the moment it leaves his hand. The linebacker steps across the route and makes the pick. It’s a bad decision by Barkley but also an excellent play by a linebacker who will be a first round pick next April. A little more patience in a clean pocket will allow that play to develop a split second longer and he can make the decision to look elsewhere or throw it away. I’d be more concerned about this mistake if I hadn’t seen hours of tape already showing Barkley to be possibly the best quarterback I’ve ever scouted in terms of running through progressions.

In the second half, USC were driving into the red-zone when Barkley fumbled the ball having pumped twice in the pocket. The commentary team slammed the error, stating he needed to get the ball out. I disagreed with that assertion, because you can clearly see in the wider view replay that all three Trojan receivers were well covered. Can we really criticise Barkley for trying to let the play develop just a little bit longer in order to try and get the touchdown? Do you want your QB to bail out after two reads, seeing nothing is on and throwing away? Rather than criticise him for not throwing, I felt a more accurate issue was the inability to buy a little more time by scrambling to the right, potentially affording a receiver time to get open. Yet it was such a crowded pocket, the protection was poor and I’m not sure such an option was available.

The pick six ended the game, but again I’m less inclined to hammer Barkley in this situation. His team is trailing and he needs to make a play. The defensive end is being held, but still manages to stretch an arm out and get a handful of jersey. Barkley is falling backwards and tries to force a throw anyway, but he’s off balance and the pass goes high in to the air, over the running backs head and into the grateful arms of a linebacker. Sure, it looks bad because the play leads to an ASU touchdown. In reality, the game’s over one way or another because if he takes the sack they’re punting the ball away or going for an unlikely fourth down conversion. Some quarterbacks have made a living out of making impossible plays like that and one day Barkley will try it, he’ll get a first down and people will rave about the decision. Such is football at the highest level. It’s not like the pick showed up a technique issue, it was a forced play trying to keep the game alive.

The earlier turnovers cost USC and Barkley in particular and greater red zone efficiency could’ve made for a very different result. It’s the kind of game you want to see Barkley drag him team across the line. It’s the kind of performance that give critics (see: Glenn) plenty of ammo to be critical. I’m not going to back up every mistake Barkley makes or justify every turnover – but I feel like a sense of perspective is needed because even Andrew Luck turns the ball over and isn’t unbeatable. While he continues to make passes like the touchdown to start the second half (perfect touch, flight, placement) and while he continues to made reads like a pro, show plus accuracy and capable physical attributes I will maintain my high grade.

For me there’s Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley and then a long pause until the rest. If you want a franchise quarterback next year early in the first round, I firmly believe you’re looking at a quota of two. I’ll have thoughts on Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Brock Osweiler on the blog shortly but none of that trio – or Landry Jones – come close to the top two passers in my opinion. Today changes little.

***NOTES***

Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor) had another spectacular day, throwing five more touchdowns and running in a sixth during a 56-31 victory over Rice. Griffin went 29-33 for 338 yards, added 51 further yards on the ground and had no turnovers. After three games he’s throwing 85% completions, has 962 yards, 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions. He also has a key-note victory against TCU. Although he has a lot of areas to work on - particularly footwork – such a positive start to the 2011 season will significantly boost Griffin’s stock.

Austin Davis (QB, Southern Miss) led the Golden Eagles to a big 30-24 win at Virginia. Davis passed for three touchdowns, no interceptions and 313 yards. This was a much more productive performance from a quarterback prospect I still believe is one to monitor. According to Chris Steuber, a Seahawks scout was present at the game.

Michigan State hammered Central Michigan 45-7, but I suspect Kirk Cousins’ stock will continue to sink. The MSU quarterback only managed 13-22 completions in a blow out, including a touchdown and an interception. Replacement Andrew Maxwell completed 7-8 passing for a touchdown. Like Geno Smith earlier, there are aspects of Cousins’ game that fit in the pro’s. However, it’s hard to imagine a starting role at the next level. He started the year a possible second round pick, but he could be sinking into the mid-round range or even later.

Bruce Irvin (DE, WVU) was a non-factor against LSU. It’s a disappointing start to the season for a player who was explosive in limited play last year. Unfortunately it appears any hopes of a high grade are dwindling fast. Raw athleticism is great, but a lack of size has been more of an issue in 2011 and he doesn’t look comfortable as an every down player. He was taken out of the action frequently as LSU dominated on offense.

Vontaze Burfict (LB, Arizona State) is a nasty linebacker with playmaking qualities. He’s not the most outstanding athlete, but he finds a way to get involved. It’s four sacks, several tackles for a loss and now an interception for the 6-3, 250lbs player who looks an ideal fit at 3-4 MLB. In a year that looks very weak indeed on defense, Burfict should find a home in round one.

Landry Jones (QB, Oklahoma) had three touchdown and two interceptions against Missouri as the Sooners won 38-28. He made 35-48 passing for 448 yards and added a further score on a QB sneak.

I’m still not convinced Alshon Jeffery (QB, South Carolina) warrants the kind of high grade many are dishing out. He’s a talented, big receiver – but he’s not a dominating player with great production. Yesterday he had just two catches for 34-yards as the passing game struggled for the Gamecocks in a mediocre 21-3 win over Vandebilt. Against Navy last week, Jeffery only managed two catches for 35-yards and he has one touchdown in four games. We need to see more, although I accept the South Carolina quarterbacks are not helping.

Quinton Coples (DE, UNC) went sackless for the third game in a row in a defeat to Georgia Tech. I have access to tape of this game and will take a look this week, but I’m becoming less convinced that Coples warrants a top-five grade like many project.

Logan Harrell (DT, Fresno State) is my own personal sleeper – and he had another sack yesterday in a 48-24 win over Idaho. That’s 3.5 sacks to start the season after 10.5 last season. Keep an eye on this guy – nobody is talking about him and they should be.

Week four preview: Weekend of the quarterback

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Will Ryan Tannehill continue his winning ways against Oklahoma State?

This is one of the most eagerly anticipated weekends of the college football season. At least if you’re a Seahawks fan wanting to watch some quarterbacks. Whether you believe the Seahawks will pick first or seventeenth in the draft next year, I think we can all agree that it’s time to start seriously judging the possible 2012 quarterback class. My schedule tomorrow includes LSU vs West Virginia, USC vs Arizona State and Oklahoma State vs Texas A&M. Five high profile quarterbacks, four of which compete against another.

Geno Smith (QB, West Virginia)

Smith’s an under-rated passer who is more polished than people think. He’s not a spectacular athlete like Cam Newton, but he’s efficient and doesn’t turn the ball over. Dana Holgorsen’s appointment at WVU could prove to be the greatest shot in the arm for Smith’s pro-prospects. Many players with less talent thrived under Holgorsen in the past and already we’re seeing a fast start for the Mountaineers’ – three wins in which the quarterback has completed 70% of his passes for 1008 yards, seven touchdowns and just the one interception. Even so, those numbers came against Marshall, Norfolk State and Maryland. On Saturday, a SEC powerhouse is in town.

LSU have looked dominant so far and can make a strong case for being the strongest team in the nation. Their success so far owes a lot to an excellent defense which will test Geno Smith with pressure up front and a secondary that ranks among the best. West Virginia are a good overall team capable of causing an upset here, but this could be a career-making day for their quarterback. Scouts will come back to games against the top opponents, so if Smith can impress here it’ll leave a lasting impression. I’ve seen some signs that he could be the third best 2012 eligible quarterback, tomorrow will determine whether talk like that is premature.

Matt Barkley (QB, USC)

I’ve been quite vocal in my support of Barkley having elite potential as in my mind there’s no doubt that he belongs alongside Andrew Luck at the top of the 2012 class (of course, if he chooses to declare). USC’s three games so far have all been at home and they’ve all come with some element of struggle, but Barkley has remained a consistent force almost dragging his team onwards. He’s completing 69% passing and already has nine touchdowns and just one pick. He’s set two significant records – passes completed vs Minnesota in week one and he equaled the record for touchdown passes (five) against Syracuse.

Arizona State will offer a tougher test on the road, but it’s the kind of test Barkley should overcome if he’s as good as advertised. There are still some growing pains at USC with a number of young players coming through the ranks. If Barkley can avoid some of the inconsistent moments we witnessed as a true sophomore last year, I don’t understand how anyone can see him as anything other than an elite talent. He doesn’t have the great size and his arm strength is good rather than great. However, he does an incredible job for a true junior running through progressions like a pro. He’s accurate, he senses pressure with such consummate ease. He’s a playmaker in the truest sense. So can he drive his team past Vontaze Burflict and co?

Brock Osweiler (QB, Arizona State)

I saw Osweiler perform once last season and was impressed just enough to keep him in the back of the memory bank going into 2011. I received a number of emails after week two when ASU defeated Missouri in overtime with people waxing lyrical about this lanky quarterback who looked like the real deal. At 6-8 and 240lbs, he’s way above the recognised height for a NFL quarterback. Even so, he doesn’t look too awkward to warrant complete abstinence from pro-projectors. He followed up the Missouri win with a less spectacular 17-14 loss at Illinois where he completed 55% passing and threw two interceptions compared to just one scoring pass.

He’s a junior so could declare for the 2012 draft but this is really his first season as the confirmed starter. It would take something spectacular to expect he’d declare after this season, but he’s one to watch nonetheless even if it’s with an eye to 2013. I’m looking forward to seeing how he duels it out with Matt Barkley, particularly if the USC quarterback is on top form and keeps the scoreboard ticking over. Osweiler will have the home field advantage, so can he make it pay?

Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)

A lot has been written about Tannehill this week. Todd McShay gave him a late round grade, Rob Rang disagreed, then McShay addressed the situation by suggesting he actually meant to offer a 3rd or 4th round assessment. Rang went one further and said Tannehill could leapfrog Barkley as the #2 ranked QB behind Andrew Luck, a proposal I respectfully disagree with in a strong way. Against Southern Methodist we saw a quarterback picking apart a weaker opponent whose secondary basically played like they’d spent the summer on a beach. He was less spectacular against Idaho after a week two bye, but still clocked up another win. That’s an 8-1 record since taking over the starting gig last year, with the only defeat coming in the Cotton Bowl to LSU.

Tomorrow’s test could be the best environment to track Tannehill’s performance. He’ll be facing an offense that has maintained it’s production levels despite the departure of Dana Holgorsen to WVU. Brandon Weeden has turned the ball over a few more times than expected this season, but he’s still throwing bombs to future first round pick Justin Blackmon. Joseph Randle has also emerged as a dangerous weapon for OKSU adding another dimension to an already potent offense. Can Tannehill keep up if it becomes a slug-fest? Will he be able to strike up a connection with Jeff Fuller that’s regressed a bit to start the year? Can he justify the praise he’s received this week by continuing to win and by being the better quarterback on the day?

Brandon Weeden (QB, Oklahoma State)

Every time I bring up Weeden, I feel obliged to mention his age. It’s the big white elephant that just won’t get out of the room because he’ll turn 29 in his rookie year if he makes it to the NFL. He had the opportunity to turn pro this season as a 27-year-old but decided to return to Oklahoma State, you can only presume after discussing things with the draft committee. If he truly coveted a career in the NFL and if it was a realistic proposition, I suspect he would’ve declared. I’m not sure this has ever been about forging a career in the pro’s rather than taking an opportunity to get back to school and play some ball after his baseball career stalled.

Even so, some people are giving out generous mid-round grades. He is a talented player, if not a spectacular physical specimen. He’s benefited like others before him in a pass-obsessed system that always generates production. He’s turned the ball over a lot this year – six interceptions compared to eight touchdowns. He threw two picks in a close 38-35 win over the Aggies last year. The Oklahoma State offense has continued to be a relentless machine of production and that should remain the case tomorrow. It’s an interesting match-up between two big name quarterbacks and you suspect at least will be getting a lot of draft attention after tomorrow’s meeting.

Carroll and Schneider not seeing eye to eye?

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

This video emerged today courtesy of Pro Football Weekly, touting the possibility of unrest between Seattle’s two power brokers. What do you think? Is there something in this, or is it perhaps an obvious piece of speculation given the team’s poor start to the new season and 0-2 record?

Aaron Curry’s demotion defines the Tim Ruskell era

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Demoted: Aaron Curry is now part of Seattle's 2nd unit defense

Today Eric Williams confirmed what may have been inevitable. Linebacker Aaron Curry was demoted to the second string unit, essentially confirming that the #4 pick Seattle spent on his services in 2009 was a mistake.

I was never a fan of the pick. This was a player that had shown no pass rushing qualities at Wake Forest – in fact he was never even asked to rush the passer in college. He frequently played 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage and was used as a heat-seeking missile type linebacker. He made a few memorable plays on tipped-pass interceptions, but ultimately recorded only nine sacks in four years. He was suitably athletic enough to impress at the combine and played college ball with an edge that helped him boost a third round grade from the draft committee as a junior into a top five grade come draft day.

Curry was the classic over achiever and a heck of a lot of people fell for it. I remember debating with some Lions fans who were adament he should’ve been the #1 overall pick that year for an 0-16 team with no quarterback. Really?

Kansas City – who were crying out for an impact player on defense – didn’t see Curry as an ideal fit in their 3-4 scheme and instead went for LSU five-technique Tyson Jackson. I posted a mock draft that proposed a situation where Curry wasn’t taken by the Chiefs or the Seahawks and wondered if he could actually fall out of the top ten. In hindsight, he probably should’ve done.

But of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing. Every team would have great drafts if they could only go back and do things differently. Curry isn’t an awful linebacker by any stretch of the imagination – he’s just not ‘special’. If you’re going to spend $60m on a linebacker, he better be special. The main issue I have isn’t with Curry or his level of play, it’s the decision to draft him at all.

The AP reported shortly before the draft that Seattle had no intention of drafting a quarterback in 2009. According to the report, Tim Ruskell believed that a soon to be 34-year-old Matt Hasselbeck was ‘in his prime’ and the position didn’t need to be addressed. Hasselbeck had enjoyed a Pro-Bowl season in 2007 where he almost single handed dragged the team to a 10-6 record and a playoff victory against Washington. But a year on the injuries started to become a regular feature and even if he could manage to go on for a few years longer, surely the team had to be thinking this was the perfect time to take the plunge on a quarterback? Why did they get that situation so wrong?

Apparently the Seahawks had no interest in Matt Stafford, Mark Sanchez or Josh Freeman – the three quarterbacks that went in round one that year. This was all about an ‘impact’ signing. The 2008 season was a freak one off, let’s take advantage by drafting a pick for today, not tomorrow. Never mind that Hasselbeck is 34, Walter Jones is getting old too, Patrick Kerney is close to the end of his career and we won’t be able to rely on the Holmgren offense for productive receivers anymore. Let’s think short term. 

So what do you do? Of course you franchise tag one linebacker, trade another veteran to make room for the #4 pick and suddenly you’ve got a $140m trio of linebackers. A $140m trio of 4-3 linebackers who aren’t expected to be the sole source of pressure. Three positions most other 4-3 teams put such little investment into.

The rest is history – Hasselbeck never returns to full health and doesn’t return to the highs of 2007. The Seahawks have no developmental investment at the QB position, meaning we now watch Tarvaris Jackson on Sunday’s. A fourth successive losing season in 2011 looks like a distinct possibility for a team that had ambitions of a deep playoff run just prior to the collapse.

Say what you want about Mark Sanchez – and people love to give credit to everyone but Sanchez in New York – but he’s had to learn on the run with a Jets team that was no great shake before Rex Ryan arrived on the scene. They’ve since made consecutive post seasons and it could easily be three out of three this year. He was probably never a consideration in Seattle because he didn’t match Ruskell’s strict criteria – he wasn’t a senior and he wasn’t a choir boy with year’s of production. Would he be a possible saviour in Seattle today? Who knows. What we do know is he would’ve had two years sitting behind Matt Hasselbeck in preparation to start. It would’ve created a smooth transition and would’ve avoided most of the drama surrounding Hasselbeck’s future during the lockout.

Not a Sanchez fan? Well what about Josh Freeman. Sure, the Seahawks weren’t the only ones to pass on a player who has since become quite a force for Tampa Bay. They had him in for a visit though, they did all of the homework. He doesn’t appear to ever have been a serious consideration at #4, but haven’t we got a right to ask why? When the Seahawks were crying out for a long term investment at QB, why didn’t they take Freeman seriously?

The fact Curry never really worked out just creates a high profile stick to beat Tim Ruskell with. In reality, he missed so many times in his drafts and this wasn’t a one off error. These are Ruskell’s first round picks: Chris Spencer, Kelly Jennings, Deion Branch (trade), Lawrence Jackson and Aaron Curry. Only Curry is still with the team, but given his contract re-work and today’s demotion that looks like a temporary thing. Let’s dip into round two: Lofa Tatupu, Darryl Tapp, Josh Wilson, John Carlson and Max Unger. Tatupu had three Pro-Bowls and for a time was a great leader and good player for the Seahawks. Yet his old college coach just cut him and nobody has picked up the tab. Tapp and Wilson are gone – Carlson will probably follow as a free agent next year. Unger currently starts, but is still a big question mark for the long haul.

That’s not good enough and that’s how you turn a Super Bowl team into a shambles in just a few years. If you consistently miss on first round picks you will be judged badly and you will lose your job, as Ruskell did. The new regime will have to hit on high picks for a different fate as they rebuild this team. If the 2011 season goes the way many expect, next year’s first round pick could be the most important this team has had since they took Curry in 2009. Let’s hope for a more positive outcome.