Archive for September, 2011

Lose now but win tomorrow? Seattle’s latest dilemma

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Eyes on the prize: Andrew Luck will be the #1 overall pick next April

The Seattle Seahawks are a bad football team. No revelations there, as anyone who witnessed the first two weeks of the new season will testify. Michael Lombardi compared the Seahawks to an expansion franchise in the post-Pittsburgh aftermath: 

“I hate to be so critical in only the second week of the season but Seattle has not demonstrated any significant player on either side of the football who can make a play or stop someone from making a play. Their offensive line is very suspect. The defensive line doesn’t have a dominating player. And, when you look at the team, where are you going with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback?” 

If we’re being really honest, it’s hard to argue against any of that. 

The offense has been a shambles so far. The defense has performed marginally better but relies on quirky scheme fits for pressure that isn’t always forthcoming. Special teams appears to be suffering – too any errors and the impact of Leon Washington (who won games for the Seahawks in 2010) is diminished due to the new kick off rules. The collective result has been difficult to watch and rightly people are dishing out the level of respect this team deserves so far – very little. 

I hear the counter arguments. It’s only week two, the lockout has hampered some teams more than others, Seattle is yet to have a home game. For the record I do think we’ll start to see a degree of improvement as the year goes on, but Sunday’s game is huge for the ambitions of this team being anything more than a patsy in 2011. Lose against Arizona and you’re looking at a possible 0-6 and goodnight Vienna. Win and suddenly there’s some light in what remains a pathetic NFC West. 

And that’s what bothers me. 

Sure the Seahawks can coast along in the NFC West, trying to make the playoffs every year with seven, eight or nine wins. The New Orleans game was fun to watch – it shocked the NFL world and gave some credence to the efforts of the new regime in year one. Let’s not kid ourselves though, this was an ugly football team that somehow got invited to the cool kids’ party. The subsequent beat-down in Chicago proved that the New Orleans game was a brilliant one-off crafted by a team and coaching staff that was able to create one night of magic. 

An effort that papered over the cracks. 

The Seahawks need a young star to build around, someone who can legitimise everything this regime is trying to do. The gaping hole at quarterback needs to be addressed, get someone who can potentially fill that hole with an injection of elite quality. There’s no guarantees in football, but roll the dice on this gamble working out. Take the pain in 2011 for a shot at a generation of success in the future. 

The city of Seattle needs a star. The Seattle Seahawks need a franchise quarterback. 

There are two players who are eligible for the 2012 draft with the potential to fill that role. Andrew Luck will almost certainly declare and is a shoe-in to be the #1 pick next April. It’s more of a debate as to whether Matt Barkley will join Luck in turning pro, but after three years starting amid USC’s sanctions, coaching changes and an inability to compete in Bowl games – he may be ready for the NFL. Like we said, there’s no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to the draft but it’s time Seattle placed it’s faith in a young, talented signal caller. These two offer as a good a reason you’ll ever find to pull the trigger. The thing is, you may need the #1 or #2 overall pick to have that opportunity. 

With all the ‘Suck for Luck’ talk doing the rounds, some fans have reacted badly to those hoping for a bad enough season to draft early and have a shot at Luck or Barkley. Only this week I argued myself that fans shouldn’t pine for Andrew Luck because it’ll drive you round the bend – it is so difficult to ‘earn’ the #1 overall pick, it’s something that has to be endured rather than enjoyed. Seattle has never had the #1 pick – and considering this franchise has had a few bad teams over the years – it goes to show just how difficult it is to own that top choice. Even when injuries decimated the franchise in 2008, a 4-12 record only brought about the #4 overall pick. 

Some could argue this piece contradicts what I debated in my earlier article about not pining for Luck – but let me explain the difference. Personally I will not spend the next 15 weeks tracking the scores of every other team that stinks or hope that the Seahawks will suffer a painful and embarrassing 0-16 campaign. It goes against the very nature of the sport to ‘hope’ to be awful. I’m not flying over 5000 miles in week eight to watch the Bengals game and celebrate a defeat. Yet despite all of that – I acknowledge that this team cannot keep drifting along being flat out bad, collecting players via the draft but never picking early enough to find the one guy who pieces everything together. It may take one hideous year to break a chain of mediocrity, paving a road to consistent success. That I am prepared for, I just won’t actively petition for it. 

Sure, there are other ways to build a franchise and find that starting quarterback. Tom Brady was a 6th round pick – but that’s not happening again any time soon. Aaron Rodgers was a later first round pick, but Green Bay had a unique situation starting an evergreen future Hall of Famer at quarterback who never missed a game. The Seahawks are in a completely different position. They need the foundation from which the rest of the house is going to be built and that’s going to take a top-end investment at QB. 

In the best interests of this franchise, a year of suffering may be a necessity. The team in it’s current form can only achieve mediocrity at best – be honest with yourself and admit that’s true. It’s only the pitiful NFC West that has allowedsuch mediocrity to thrive in the past. The Seahawks were being blown out plenty of times last season – including against NFC West opponents – had a losing record and relied on a 4-2 division record to make the post season. Could it happen again this year? It’s doubtful, yet equally not impossible –  but they’ll never earn much respect and they’ll never be a significant post-season threat. I don’t think you can repeat the New Orleans game three times to make the Super Bowl. The thought of this offense making the Super Bowl in it’s current form is frankly an insulting thought. 

It’s not a case of rooting for the team to lose because the NFL is unique compared to other sports. The draft lottery in the NBA all but removes the definite ‘advantage’ of being the worst. The NHL draft rarely has the same impact that we see in football (with a few obvious exceptions). The MLB is a completely different beast all together. In football, you can take a bad season and turn it into many good years with one great pick. Every fan wants his team to be successful, I don’t think we should be too critical of those who firmly believe one year of pain could lead to the promised land. It’s just a calculated gamble. 

So take the licks, endure the beatings, dream of a brighter future. The Seahawks need that ray of light that comes with a franchise quarterback that is capable of leading the charge. Dominate this division, don’t coast through it. Be a respected contender in the NFC, not a 7-9 novelty. Win a Super Bowl, move on from XL. None of this is guaranteed by picking at the very top of the NFL draft, but this could be a good year to be bad. 

***NOTES*** 

This weekend promises to be one of the more interesting for Seahawks fans hoping to look at potential quarterback draft picks. On my schedule I’ll be taking in NC State at Cincinnati (Mike Glennon), LSU at West Virginia (Geno Smith), USC at Arizona State (Matt Barkley & Brock Osweiler) and Oklahoma State vs Texas A&M (Brandon Weeden & Ryan Tannehill). In particular I’m looking forward to seeing if Tannehill can keep pace with OKSU’sproduction machine, watching Barkley on the road for the first time and seeing if Geno Smith continues to thrive on Dana Holgorsen’s offense against a SEC powerhouse. Expect plenty of analysis from the weekend onwards.

Luck vs. Barkley: Who fits Seattle best?

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

by Kip Earlywine

I realize the title of this post may sound overly presumptuous.  Seattle is only 2 games into the 2011 season, and to have a realistic shot at Matt Barkley, they would probably have to win fewer than 6 games (maybe less).  To have a realistic shot at Andrew Luck, they may have to win fewer than 2 games.  Seattle is a bad team, but with only a small sample size to work with, its too early to intellectually give up on the 2011 season, even if some of us already have emotionally.  Its entirely possible the Seahawks could win 6 games, especially if they make a change at QB sooner instead of later.  When its all said and done, its possible that neither player reaches Seattle in such a situation.  Talking about Luck vs. Barkley next April would probably be a waste of time if Seattle is picking 12th overall.

But there is a reason we, and even the national media, have been linking the Seahawks to these two quarterbacks.  Seattle is one of the most QB needy teams in the NFL, and they are also one of the league’s worst teams on paper.  Michael Lombardi recently said that the Seahawks reminded him of an expansion team, a point I struggle to disagree with.   At least right now, Seattle is still “in the hunt” for these two QBs, so for right now, its a worthy discussion about which QB would be the wiser investment.  If Seattle picked #1 overall, or if somehow both QBs reached Seattle’s pick, which one should they choose?

Before I get to the players themselves, I need to discuss what might be the single most under-rated aspect of evaluating any prospect:  how well does he fit the scheme you are implementing?  In fact, I’d argue this is near the top end of importance for any position.  For example, consider how size matters for Seattle’s intentions with press coverage, or on the defensive line, or at wide receiver.  Its a big reason why Seattle has had good results from Red Bryant, seen encouraging signs from Richard Sherman, and had success with Mike Williams.  A big reason for the resurgence of Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock is that their pure pass rush skills fit well with the LEO role.  On the other side of the coin, we needn’t look any further than Tarvaris Jackson’s poor pocket presence to see how two weak areas on a team can compound each other.

Scheme consideration was, in my opinion, the biggest reason why Seattle never even considered Ryan Mallett earlier this year.  A lot of people talked about Mallett’s character concerns, but Seattle hasn’t shown much aversion to character risk types.  Rather, I think they viewed Mallett as a pure pocket QB who built his game off of the big play, and that didn’t jive with what Seattle is looking for: a quarterback who is capable of consistently building long drives while avoiding big risks.  I don’t think they have anything against “the big play,” but based on the way that they devalued Locker and Mallett, I would assume they resist QBs who have “propensity for the big play” at the top of their NFL resume.

Many comments have been made about Seattle’s desire for a “point guard” quarterback.  This has confused a lot of fans as the term is not often used and is easily misunderstood.  Here is a quick explanation:  A point guard in basketball plays the ball distribution role on the team.  If he has an open look at the basket, he’ll take a shot, but more often than not, he’ll pass to a teammate with a more open look.  In the NFL, the “shoot” part of the analogy means the quarterback will take off and run if doing so is uncontested.  The “pass” analogy is more direct, as it also means to pass the ball.  A point guard typically passes more than he shoots, and a point guard QB will typically pass more than he runs.  Examples of point guard quarterbacks currently in the NFL include Josh Freeman and Michael Vick.  I’m just speculating, but, I find it less than coincidental that all this talk about Carroll wanting a point guard quarterback came just a few months after he watched Josh Freeman toast his defense (21/26, 237 yards, 5 TD, no picks).  I’ve noticed that coaches tend to be biased in favor of players who kicked their butts.

Is Matt Barkley a point guard quarterback?

Not really.  He’s more of a pocket passer who runs occasionally.  He plays with “heavy legs” as I call it, meaning that he doesn’t look explosive or lightweight on his dropback and isn’t explosive when he takes off.  Barkley may very well run a 4.8 forty in a straight line, but I think that number covers up what looks like decent but not elite athleticism.  That said, Barkley isn’t completely glued to the pocket: he’s had 79 rush attempts in his first two seasons, or about three a game.  He’s a far cry from Ryan Mallett last year in this regard.  Barkley could succeed in the passing portion of the point guard role in that he’s perfectly capable of checking multiple reads and leading long, sustained drives.  He’s also excellent at executing play action and is above average on bootlegs- two areas of importance for a Pete Carroll quarterback.  Matt Barkley has a big play component to his game, but its not the first thing off the tongue when discussing him.  The first thing people mention when talking about Barkley is generally that he’s a very efficient, well rounded, NFL ready quarterback.

Maybe I should refrain from making an NFL comparison for either of these quarterbacks.  Comparisons to successful NFL quarterbacks lead to unfair and sometimes inaccurate expectations.  Need I remind anyone that Bill Walsh compared Rick Mirer to Joe Montana?  On the other hand, looking at comparable quarterbacks in the NFL is a good tool for determining the kind of system a prospect would be best in, so I decided to look over a list of successful quarterbacks to see if any of them strongly resembled Matt Barkley’s game.  Going in, I had a hunch he’d resemble Aaron Rodgers, but as it turns out, not really.  My instincts pointed at Rodgers, a fellow 6’2″ quarterback with an excellent ability to read defenses and all the arm/release goodness to get it done, but the comparison does come up short in one way, and that is that Rodgers plays with significantly more mobility.  After repeating this exercise for several other quarterbacks, I did find one player who looked eerily similar, even down to the little details.  Ironically,  it turned out to be a blindingly obvious comparison that I should have made much sooner.  Check these two out, side by side:

That’s right, Carson Palmer.  If it wasn’t such a dead on comparison, I’d feel ashamed for using it just for how lazy it appears on the surface.   Palmer ran a 4.63 forty time at his pro day, but never became a threat running the ball.  Palmer also has that same “tired legs” dropback, and isn’t an explosive rusher.  Both have nearly identical looking mechanics, pump fakes, and decisive natures.  Both check multiple reads with impressive speed.   I’d probably give Palmer a slight edge in athleticism, but its close, and Palmer was never known as a dual threat quarterback at any time in the NFL.  The biggest difference between the two is size, Palmer has got about two or three inches of height and 15 pounds on Barkley.  Barkley’s size is certainly NFL adequate though.

While its clear that Barkley does not fit the typical point guard quarterback mold, he looks like the mirror image of a quarterback Seattle just spent months hoping to trade for.  And then, obviously, you have the connection Barkley and Carroll share from USC.  Barkley is not a perfect fit, but is he on the radar?  You bet your ass.

Is Andrew Luck a point guard quarterback?

The answer is a surprisingly emphatic “yes.”  Luck has rushed the ball 116 times the last two seasons, and if you’ve ever sat down and watched Andrew Luck play a full game, its obvious that mobility is a huge part of what makes him so effective.  In 2010, he out-rushed Jake Locker in fewer than half the rush attempts, for an outstanding 8.4 yards per carry average.  That high average speaks not just of Luck’s running ability, but to the intelligent timing of when he decides to run.

Luck also completed 70.1% of his passes in 2010, which is astronomically high for having played in a pro style offense.  Andrew Luck is probably the best pro-style college quarterback we’ve seen at grinding out long drives in many years.  Like every good point guard quarterback, Luck excels at spreading the football, although he did show a strong preference for targeting Doug Baldwin.  Conveniently, Baldwin is already a Seahawk and playing himself into the slot receiver role.

Andrew Luck is constantly mentioned in the same breath as Peyton Manning.  While its a great honor to be compared to arguably the greatest quarterback on Earth, I always felt it was a pretty weak comparison when putting on the tape.  Manning has always been a fairly pure pocket passing quarterback.  A much closer analogy would be a right-handed Steve Young.  Young currently holds the best career passer rating among non-active quarterbacks, and is 2nd all time for rushing yards by a quarterback.  Luck has been known for long, impressive runs, including a 58 yard touchdown run last year.  Perhaps the most famous play Steve Young ever made was this run against the Vikings.  Young was also a guy that didn’t run too much, he only ran when running the ball was the most sensible thing to do.  In my opinion, Steve Young is the greatest point guard quarterback of all time, and Luck bears a strong resemblance to him.

As noted in an excellent fieldgulls article by Dan Kelly, Pete Carroll’s book Win Forever mentions how the current Seahawks coach had a formative moment with Bill Walsh back when Carroll was the 49ers defensive coordinator.  Walsh was out of coaching at this time, but was apparently still closely connected to the 49ers organization.  Pete Carroll sought Walsh out, trying to soak up any insights he could offer.  One of the things Carroll recalled about that time was this:

“We talked a lot about the quarterback position. Coach Walsh was one of the great quarterback gurus in the history of the game, and he convinced me that everything a coach does in designing his offense should be about making it easy for his quarterback, because his job is so difficult. He believed that everything should be be structured with the quarterback in mind.”

This pretty much goes to the heart of what Seattle truly wants at quarterback.  They aren’t looking for a Peyton Manning type who can carry the fortunes of a franchise all by himself.  Rather, they are looking for the kind of guy who can walk into a system and have immediate and strong success due to strong synergies with his supporting cast.

A guy like Steve Young, who just happened to be the quarterback of the 49ers during Carroll’s tenure there.

Andrew Luck isn’t just a fantastic quarterback prospect, he’s a perfect fit for what the Seahawks are looking for at quarterback.  I look at Matt Barkley and I see a guy who is going to be a very good, championship level player in the NFL.  But I look at Andrew Luck, and look at how he fits this team, and the word “special” comes to mind.  If Seattle was just some faceless team without any major preferences and could build around either guy, I’d probably take Barkley by a nose (although the remainder of the season could change that opinion).  But considering the rather strict preferences Pete Carroll has for quarterbacks, its hard to ignore just how perfectly Andrew Luck fits them.  If Seattle picks 1st overall, I doubt they’d pass on Luck for Barkley or anyone else.  In the end, we should be very excited should Seattle be privileged enough to land either one.

Landry Jones (vs FSU) & Andrew Luck (vs Arizona) tape

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

I’ll have more thoughts on Luck’s performance against Arizona this week. I think some took my post on the #1 pick yesterday to mean I was aggressively opposed to people hoping for a bad enough record to draft Luck, which isn’t necessarily the case. I appreciate that to have the opportunity to draft a franchise changing quarterback you have to be a bad football team, at least for one year. A single season of woe is worth stomaching for a generation of success. Andrew Luck does have the potential to provide that.

The Seahawks are without the kind of offensive guru and gameplan Mike Holmgren offered when he was Head Coach. They’ve had four offensive coordinators in four years and for all we know it could be five-in-five the way the team has started 2011. The Seahawks needs a star, someone who can lead from the front and make everything else tick. Someone at the most crucial of positions to build around. That means picking early. My point yesterday was really a plea not to beat yourself up over weekly reports on what 6-7 other teams are doing in the vain hope that Seattle ends up being the single worst team in the NFL. You will go grey, maybe even bald with the stress. But ultimately I understand the ‘Suck for Luck’ mentality. If you’re going to be bad in 2011, be really bad. Going 4-12 and missing out on a top quarterback is pointless because you’re a really bad team anyway. Why miss out on the consolation prize? If this Seahawks team is picking in the top ten, it might as well be #1 – especially now the cost of owning the top pick is far reduced. More on this tomorrow.

Time to vote!

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

Joe Sousa at a new web site titled ‘Ultimate Seahawks Fan’ is running a poll for the best Seahawks blogs on the web. He’s very kindly included Seahawks Draft Blog, so check out his site and don’t forget to vote!

PS- I’ve just noticed there’s a prize at stake. I like prizes. Just throwing that out there.

WARNING: Don’t stress about Andrew Luck

Monday, September 19th, 2011

There’s a buzz around the Seattle Seahawks and it’s not being created by the product on the field. Sunday’s miserable 24-0 defeat in Pittsburgh was the viewing equivalent of being poked in the eye.

Several times. With a cactus.

As the game laboured to it’s pitiful conclusion, for the first time in my life watching the Hawks people began to wonder if the team genuinely is the worst in the NFL? The hype surrounding Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is so great, being worst has taken on a Holy Grail status. Who will win the competition to be that bad? Who will be the first to give up on their season and punt for Luck? Have the Seahawks already reached that level in sticking with the clearly struggling Tarvaris Jackson as the unquestioned starter?

Only as the Kansas City Chiefs lost more key starters and conceded even more points did people begin to wonder if this was even a competition. The Colts are kind of bad too – should we be worried here? Are they a ‘threat’ to Seattle’s absolute stinkiness? As the second half dragged on I started to notice fans across the NFL ranking the teams who were in the Luck sweepstakes. Some Seahawks fans were already noting ‘competitors’.

Let’s get one thing straight now – DO NOT ROOT FOR THE #1 PICK. STEP AWAY FROM THOSE THOUGHTS. NOW.

It is unhealthy. You will suffer much more stress than you ever will hoping for the team to win. When you’re investing so much time in taking satisfaction from your own team losing, that’s one thing. When you’re also stressing about other teams winning who you’d otherwise find insufferable, it takes on a whole new world. I more than anyone have banged on and on about needing to draft a franchise quarterback. I more than anyone have banged on about the Seahawks probably needing to draft that quarterback very early in the first round. Rooting to be the #32 team out of #32 however is like rooting for a lottery win. To some extent Seattle needs that early pick to really shift this rebuild into gear, but hoping to be bad enough to pick first overall will be like taking on a second full-time job.

Earning the opportunity to draft Andrew Luck will likely take more than being flat out bad. It’ll probably take an injury list similar to the ones being experienced in Kansas City or Indianapolis – key players missing for the season. The Seahawks do have a tough schedule, but they also play in the NFC West. The 2009 Seahawks were impossible to watch and went 5-11. The 2008 Seahawks were ravaged with an incredible injury list but had superior coaching and younger players and went 4-12. Being ‘just’ bad isn’t enough in my mind – as strange as that sounds – to be the worst in the NFL. It will take more.

I appreciate that people will point to the recently announced absence of Robert Gallery with a groin injury, continued issues with Russell Okung’s ankle and now Sidney Rice’s torn labrum. Others will direct focus at Tarvaris Jackson and say he’s reason enough the Seahawks are capable of earning the #1 pick. I still remain sceptical – I think the Seahawks look like a bad four win team that plays six games in the NFC West, not a truly chaotic 0-2 win team like Carolina last year that has to face divisional games against Atlanta, New Orleans and Tampa Bay.

And while many will prey that the Seahawks will ‘suck for Luck’, the truth is they could get away with ‘bad for Barkley’.

You can take it to the bank now that Andrew Luck will be the #1 pick next April. We can run through different teams that ‘might’ pass, but the reality is you’d need to own a young, elite passer to ignore a player as hyped as Luck. A team with a young, elite passer will not be picking #1 overall in all likelihood. Elsewhere, Indianapolis have seen what life after Manning looks like and it isn’t pretty. Other teams will see it as their opportunity to get the next big thing and players like Matt Cassell are not going to force your hand. Forget about picking anywhere other than #1 overall to get a shot at Luck.

Likewise forget about trading up. The stigma of passing on Andrew Luck for any amount of draft stock will be far greater than actually taking the guy and him not ending up as the greatest quarterback pick since Peyton Manning. Teams will want a kings ransom to put themselves in that position and even that might not be enough to tempt.

The Seahawks will have to be a complete and utter shambles 14-15 times in 2011, not twice, in order for a shot at the Luckmeister. I wouldn’t rule that out right now, particularly after the first two weeks. Yet they may only have to be bad enough to pick in the top five or ten to get a shot at Matt Barkley.

For starters, he simply isn’t receiving anywhere near the same level of hype as Andrew Luck. USC being out of the national picture even at 3-0 is keeping Barkley’s profile in check – almost like he’s admired from afar but not universally discussed. Without sanctions looming over the Trojans like a thick grey cloud, his 70% completions – 892 yard – nine touchdown – one interception start to the season would be generating much more hype.

Luck choosing not to declare for 2011 has created a monster that we didn’t see last year as he grew into a redshirt sophomore starting for a second season. This is Barkley’s first opportunity to consider the draft, thus keeping a lid on things for now. Opinion is also a lot more mixed on Barkley – and while I think there’s actually very little between the two top ranked quarterbacks – big name pundits like Todd McShay have not matched grades offered by the likes of Tony Pauline and Mel Kiper in the early first round.

While Kansas City won’t be able to resist the temptation to bin Matt Cassel in favor of Andrew Luck, they may be more hesitant when presented with the chance to draft Matt Barkley. It could be a similar story for Indianapolis who let’s not forget just invested in an insane contract for Peyton Manning. Drafting Luck would be a steal and set them up for years – but if he’s not there, would they rather concentrate on keeping Manning upright for the rest of his bumper deal with perhaps a franchise left tackle in Ryan Kalil instead? They did just draft Anthony Castonzo.

There are others – Minnesota for example – who would be less inclined to draft Barkley but would probably write off Christian Ponder if offered Luck. Suddenly you’re wondering if the Seahawks could finish possibly with a #4 or #5 pick and still have a very realistic shot at a quarterback with franchise potential. It’d still be a stress inducing wait, because I don’t rate any other 2012 eligible quarterback close to a top ten grade at this stage.

So yeah – this is a bad Seahawks team and only the most eternal optomist can expect they’ll pull off another miracle by somehow scraping into the playoffs. Sunday’s game against Arizona will essentially dictate the season – lose that game and an 0-6 record looks likely before the Bengals arrive in Seattle. Win it and suddenly that Atlanta home game offers an opportunity to maybe – against all odds – take a 2-2 record into road games against New York and Cleveland. It seems unlikely, of course it does, but those are the kind of margins between a team that stutters along just about competing in the NFC West and a team that has a shot at the #1 overall pick.

Having the chance to draft Andrew Luck may well put this team on track for a decade of challenging at the top table. I’m a Luck fan, but he’s not Superman and would have a lot to prove.  Yet if the Seahawks are bad enough to pick early – but not quite bad enough to be worst – there’s every chance they’ll still have a chance at getting their quarterback.

***NOTES***

Speaking of Matt Barkley, see the video above for his performance against Syracuse on Saturday. The USC quarterback threw five touchdown passes – equalling a school record. Although it’s only a highlights tape and doesn’t show bad plays, it’s worth noting how well Barkley goes through progressions. I’m not sure I’ve seen a college player work through 3-4 targets as well as Barkley and still manage to stay fairly decisive. It’s an under rated quality and one which will help him at the next level significantly, particularly if asked to start early.

Thoughts on Landry Jones vs Florida State

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

Landry Jones broke the Sooner's all-time passing record in the win over FSU

Oklahoma and Florida State were ranked #1 and #5 coming into this weekend. My lasting impression afterwards was – why?

This wasn’t a great game by any stretch of the imagination, despite the big billing. Florida State’s offense barely troubled all night and looked positively cupcake when the far-from-spectacular EJ Manuel was replaced by skinny freshman Clint Tricket. The Sooner’s never really capitalised, keeping FSU in the game thanks to a lack of killer instinct on offense themselves.

Opinion is mixed on quarterback Landry Jones. On this blog there have been some aggressive arguments in favor of a high draft grade. National pundits are conflicting in their opinions – Tony Pauline has suggested a fourth round mark, while Todd McShay has Jones ranked among the top prospects for 2012.

My own personal opinion has always been that he has a lot of the qualities needed to start at the next level, but this is not a player I’d want to be handcuffed to with a high pick. Regular visitors will know how aggressive I think the Seahawks need to be in finding a franchise quarterback – but I cannot get behind Jones as that guy. That judgement was only reaffirmed in this game.

This was a typical Landry Jones on the road performance. He’s thrown 28 career interceptions, with 22 coming away from home field. Get pressure on him on the road in a difficult atmosphere and he generally struggles. Put a capable quarterback on the other team and Oklahoma struggles – as we saw last year with Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Tannehill. Unfortunately for FSU, the combination of EJ Manuel and Clint Tricket never threatened.

He finished with a state line of 18-27 for 199 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The first pick came with pressure up the middle, he panics and can’t avoid the defensive lineman and in trying to throw it away ends up turning it over. The second interception came after an over thrown deep ball into double coverage which was way off target. Bad decision, bad execution.

The Florida State defensive line was creating only average pressure, but even that was enough to throw him out of sync at times. Brandon Jenkins again confirmed my suspicions that he’s a long way off many people’s projected first round grade as a non-factor in this game. Instead it was down to sophomore Bjoern Werner – from Berlin, Germany – to stand out and flash pro-potential. Werner consistently caused problems off the edge and he could be a pick in the JJ Watt mould for 2013.

The talk afterwards was about a hard fought Sooners win on the road, but in terms of a pure draft projection you have to say that Jones still has a big question mark after this performance. The Oklahoma fast-paced offense doesn’t have the same fluidity and is easily disrupted by pressure on it’s signal caller. When Jones is taken out of that comfort zone, the errors creep in. How else can you describe a 22-6 interception difference between home and road games? The simple fact is that at the next level Jones isn’t going to be playing in such a well oiled machine of an offense that can operate with quick screens, up-tempo no huddle passes and keeping a defense off guard. He’s going to face almost constant pressure, he’s going to have to stay poised in the pocket and run through progressions. Can he do that? I am totally unconvinced.

Essentially, he’s going to have to be the man to cause the havoc through talent, technique, accuracy, execution and decision making. It won’t be because his offense has gone no-huddle before the other team has set a formation and before you know it the talented wide receiver has the ball on a screen and it’s a first down. Sam Bradford found a way to excel within this sytem because he was such a talented all round quarterback, he stuck out in a way Jones doesn’t. Bradford’s own performances were not dictated by his environment.

Here’s what it all boils down to – Jones is at his best when the Oklahoma offense is at its best. There’s never a case when the offense is playing a sluggish game and Jones carries the team on his back and drags them through. He is a product of his surroundings. When I draft a quarterback in the top 10-15, he better be able to go out there and keep me in a game on his own. That is the biggest question mark I continue to have, is Jones capable of that? Is he going to be found out at the next level when he can’t rely on a well-oiled scheme? When the chips are down and the run game isn’t working – when there’s another QB on the opposition roster throwing the ball around nicely – will he be able to step up to the plate? Or will he be JP Losman?

Until he can perform in a not-ideal environment and really stand out, I don’t feel confident enough to grade him any higher than round 2-3. This performance at Florida State didn’t make me feel like we’d seen a major improvement from that Missouri game last year when Blaine Gabbert looked a much brighter prospect than Jones. Had Gabbert been starting for Florida State, they would’ve probably won this game.

Now I don’t want to come across so overly negative because as I say there are some pro-aspects to his game. He made one excellent throw down the left sideline  in the second half (nice touch/placement) and although the touchdown pass was under thrown to a wide open receiver, he still got the ball into the right area for his playmaker to make a game winning catch. Physically he’s not elite, but he’s going to be able to make most of the throws you expect from a NFL quarterback.

However, I feel like we almost have to talk about the negatives more just because he is being vaulted above his means as a top-10 quarterback. He is not – in any way shape or form – a top ten pick in my view. By giving him a grade in round 2-3, you almost have to justify not having him earlier by talking about negatives rather than the positives that warrant a possible round two selection. Because people have Jones as high as they do, the debate has already become ‘prove that isn’t the case’.

Jones is competing with Ryan Tannehill and a handful of others to be the #3 ranked quarterback in my view. I feel like we should be speaking more positively about that, yet I fear the debate will always carry a negative angle because he isn’t a top ten pick but people will argue the opposite.

And while you can rightly argue Christian Ponder shouldn’t have gone 12th overall this year either, we can’t use that decision by the Minnesota Vikings to justify any quarterback in the forthcoming drafts being projected above their deserved grade.

***NOTES***

Matt Barkley had five touchdown passes for USC as they defeated Syracuse 38-17. He finished with a stat line of 26-39 for 324 yards and no turnovers. I’m led to believe it wasn’t the most efficient performance despite those impressive numbers, but Barkley is carrying his team along kicking and screaming right now. After three weeks he’s throwing 70% completions, he has a 9-1 touchdown-interception ratio and he’s on pace for 3568 passing yards.

Andrew Luck and Stanford outlasted Arizona to record a comfortable 37-10 victory on the road. Stanford should be ranked higher than #6, especially if Luck is truly as good as some appear to believe. Personally I’d have Stanford and LSU as the top two. Luck went 20-31 in this game for 325 yards and two touchdowns. He also had three carries for 36 yards. Nick Foles wasn’t as productive for Arizona, going 24-33 for 239 yards and a score. He maintains a late round grade.

Robert Griffin put up big numbers again in a blowout 48-0 victory for Baylor over Stephen F. Austin. In a delayed game, Griffin went 20-22 for 265 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers. He also added 78 yards on the ground from eight carries.

Ryan Tannehill finished with 337 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in Texas A&M’s 37-7 win over Idaho. He completed 26-39 passing in a stop-start performance.

Austin Davis got back to winning ways in a big 52-6 win for Southern Miss over SE Louisiana. Davis threw two touchdown passes.

Justin Blackmon had a surprisingly quiet day for Oklahoma State with just 57 yards and a touchdown in a 59-33 win over Tulsa. Brandon Weeden had three more touchdown passes and 369 yards, but he added two more interceptions. He’s throwing an 8-6 ratio at the moment, surprising given he only threw 13 picks last year.

Logan Harrell – sleeper defensive tackle prospect from Fresno State – had 1.5 sacks in a victory over North Dakota. He has thirteen sacks in 2010 and 2011 so far. One to watch.

Oklahoma @ Florida State preview notes

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

This is clearly the game of the weekend, featuring several big name draft prospects. A lot of hyped players will need to perform, can they deliver? Keep an eye on FSU cornerback Greg Reid – he’s an excellent cover corner who plays physical but has the speed you look for at the next level. He’ll have a tough task keeping a lid on the Sooner’s pass-heavy offense and he’ll need help from the FSU defensive line. Reid in my opinion is the best player on the field tonight.

I’m not sold on the Brandon Jenkins hype. He’s a one-dimensional player in that he’s got the speed to do serious damage in college but not the repertoire to really trouble pro-lineman. Projections in the first round are premature, but another year collecting sacks will help his cause.

Everyone will be looking for a big performance from Landry Jones, but this is typically the kind of game he’s struggled in previously. He’s on the road, he’s facing a decent pass rush/secondary combo and he’s going to be out of his comfort zone. He had an easy win against a raw Seminoles side last year on home turf, this will be a very different game. If he thrives, so will his draft stock. I keep thinking back to the Missouri game last year when he was outclassed by Blaine Gabbert. Oklahoma were ranked #1 that evening too and blew it. Big game for Jones tonight.

Ryan Broyles is the latest prolific receiver to come out of the OU system. I have a hard time placing him in the NFL despite the numbers, he won’t be able to manufacture stats at the next level. A mid-round grade appears generous and based purely on production.

Expect thoughts on this game tomorrow including a review piece on other top prospects. I’ll be watching tape from Arizona-Stanford and Washington-Nebraska too over the next 48 hours.

Andrew Luck (QB Stanford) vs Duke

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Thanks again to JMPasq for providing the tape.

Michael Floyd tape, McShay on Barkley and Vick 2.0?

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

In the video above (courtesy of JMPasq) you’ll find tape of Notre Dame wide out Michael Floyd. He’s a prospect with a lot of physical qualities to be a high pick, but he’s let down by off the field concerns and technical flaws. In fairness he’s started the year with noticeable improvements to the way he’s catching the ball – he’s showing his hands to the quarterback and making grabs away from his body. In the past he was a big-time body catcher, so he’s worked on that with some success if the tape above is any evidence. I get the feeling old habits die hard though, as we see with his last few catches hitting his chest – including the late touchdown. 

He’s a big guy with NFL size, but he’s not a terrific speed threat and won’t run a special time at the combine. He’s not a polished route runner and he’s not especially quick into his breaks. A lot of people have maintained high grades on Floyd but because he has issues that need to be ironed out with his technique, because he’s not a unique athlete and because of the off the field problems and the bad decisions he’s made I still have a hard time offering anything more than a mid-round projection. Even so, he has this season to put up the big numbers and boost his stock.

We’ve talked a lot about a positive impression for USC quarterback Matt Barkley. Interestingly, ESPN pundit Todd McShay is less emphatic about his stock. He still gives Barkley a round one grade, but at the back end of the first rather than the top five pick I believe he could be. “I have him in the low twenties, late first, early second round” according to this tweet via Evan Silva. He’s also a big Landry Jones fan, complimenting his accuracy. McShay has been hotter than people think with prospects in recent years – he was the first person to talk about Blaine Gabbert last year (we had him at #13 in a mock draft in December, long before people wondered whether he would even declare). McShay was also consistent on Jimmy Clausen, consistently stating he was a second round pick not a high first like many people imagined.

Whether McShay will be proven right on Barkley/Jones remains to be seen, but his view on both is worth noting.

Matthew Elder at Buffalo Bills Draft wonders whether Robert Griffin could be the second coming of Michael Vick. “We have watched Griffin very closely over the past year and we think that the way he runs and throws not only compares well to what Vick was in college, it exceeds it.”

I think that’s a bold statement, perhaps too bold. Vick was a sensational prospect coming out of college, maybe even a once in a generation type of player. Off field problems have tarnished his reputation permanently and stunted his potential achievements, but there’s no doubting he’s an elite NFL performer on his day. Griffin is a good athlete, but is he a Michael Vick athlete?

Elder points out that Griffin is rising up the boards and is already above Landry Jones in terms of a grade in his view. I still maintain a level of caution – as good as his performance against TCU was it must be repeated consistently to really buy into the potential. As I wrote in this piece after that game against the Horned Frogs, I have a lot of issues with his footwork and how that corelates to his ability to pass the ball at the next level. I don’t think he’ll be able to compensate with sensational playmaking ability as he learns on the run. He’s much more of a project than Vick ever was and an absolute mile away in terms of potential. Griffin is a natural born leader though with a perfect character and attitude – we’ll never see any negative headlines in that sense.

That’s not say he can’t get to that Vick-level of on-field talent, but I think it’s a long shot. I doubt we’ll ever see a player that truly warrants the comparison to Michael Vick. Whatever your feelings are about Vick – and rest assured I share them if they’re largely negative – he is a completely unique entity.

I have several games prepared to record for this weekend. I’m away with work for the next two days but will have a review post on Saturday and thoughts on prospects from Sunday onwards. My schedule for week three includes Boise State at Toledo, Tennessee against Florida, Oklahoma versus Florida State, Stanford at Arizona and Washington against Nebraska.

Ryan Kalil & Matt Barkley leaning towards draft?

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

I’d highly recommend making Tony Pauline’s ‘Draft Insider’ blog a regular feature of your daily reading. Not only does Tony provide accurate grades and opinions, he also has a lot of contacts offering insider info on what players, scouts and teams are thinking. This week he had a particularly interesting blog post which seems to suggest a possible exodus at USC at the end of the year:

“The west coast scouts have been incredibly impressed with USC tackle Matt Kalil thus far.  He’s been completely dominant in all aspects and the teams that have watched him say he’s a big time left tackle prospect.  In fact one of the best in recent years.  If he enters the draft, and early word is Kallil will make the move to the NFL, scouts say he’s a much better prospect than Tyron Smith and will be drafted earlier than his former teammate, who was chosen with the 10th selection by the Dallas Cowboys last April.” 

There’s a good chance many of Kallil’s underclassmen teammates will join him and make the leap to the next level in 2012.  Several sources have told us there’s tension in the USC locker room and the players are just not having a good time. Many of the top junior prospects have already begun the process of looking towards the 2012 NFL Draft.  In fact sources told us the players are having family and friends lay the foundation and do the research necessary.  In conversations over the past week with numerous insiders we’ve heard that quarterback Matt Barkley, safety T.J. McDonald, defensive end/outside linebacker Nick Perry and Devon Kennard are all seriously considering opting for the draft after the season.  We hear both Barclay and McDonald will leave if they receive first round grades in post season evaluations.”  

For a long time during the summer I was working under the assumption that Matt Barkley would not declare, there’s enough noise at the moment suggesting the opposite is a greater possibility. USC is Barkley’s team right now and staying for a fourth year would almost certainly come with legendary status at the school, particularly during a difficult few years. However, it’s almost like he’s been groomed from the start to become a NFL quarterback and provided with the opportunity to turn pro with a high grade, that could be just too tempting. This is what Pauline had to say about the Trojan’s quarterback, “Accurate quarterback prospect that has the ability to make most of the passes. Lacks classic pocket passer size but has enough ability to start the next level.” He was given a first round grade.

Pauline has been critical of another big name college quarterback – Oklahoma’s Landry Jones. I didn’t agree with the fourth round grade offered, but certainly I’ve said many times that based on 2010 tape I didn’t see a high first round pick. Even so, things can change and I’m looking forward to watching Jones for the first time this year against Florida State. In a league where Christian Ponder goes 12th overall, there’s every chance Jones will equally go higher than perhaps he should. Here’s what Pauline had to say in his latest post:

“We’ve taken heat from different sources for our initial evaluation on Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones, and that’s fine.  Insiders we’ve spoken with say that while they rate him slightly higher than us, they concur Jones has done nothing yet to prove he’s the first round choice many have anointed him to be.  Surprisingly, or I should say surprising to us anyway, scouts are very high on Oklahoma State signal caller Brandon Weeden, though his age (28 years old next month) is a concern.  We liked what we saw from Weeden in spurts last year but were not as impressed after breaking down his game film.”

On Weeden, I generally agree. He’s got a level of maturity and execution that you’d expect from someone who has already played pro-sports and is approaching his 30’s. He’s a lot older and more experienced than most of the players he’s competing with and that has given him an edge. He’s not a spectacular prospect physically and he’s worked within a productive system that has made life easy for other quarterbacks in the past. It’s hard to imagine any team investing too much stock in a player who turns 29 during his rookie season and if Weeden was hearing the right kind of NFL noises in January, considering his age I don’t see why he would’ve returned to OKSU. Nevertheless, he’s still a fun player to watch and he may still get a shot at the next level.

Pauline has a more positive impression on Ryan Lindley, giving him a third round grade. When I saw him again TCU last year physically there were some pro’s, but he lacked polish and there were several technique issues. I graded him in the round 5-7 range.