Archive for October, 2011

The week ahead

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

Tomorrow I’ll be flying back to Vancouver for a week, this will include a flying visit to Seattle for the Seahawks/Bengals game on Sunday. I’m hoping to keep the blog ticking over as usual, but if it’s a little slower over the next seven days you’ll know why. I’ve programmed the Stanford vs USC game to record and also the Oklahoma vs Kansas State game, but hopefully I’ll arrive in Canada in time to watch both.

For now, here’s tape on a couple of defensive lineman (thanks to Mario_clp) – Brandon Thompson (DT, Clemson) and Kendall Reyes (DT, Connecticut).

Robert Griffin III is intriguing

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Yesterday we highlighted Robert Griffin III’s tape against Texas A&M from the weekend. Overall I found it to be an impressive performance, strangely more impressive than Griffin’s highlight reel display against TCU in week one. The game with the Horned Frogs was a bit of a freak show – repetitive long bombs that made for great viewing but provided more questions than answers. Was this something the Bears had worked on during a long off-season to surprise TCU given Baylor’s strict screen game? Was it just a rank bad performance by a secondary that had previously impressed? Was it a one-off spectacular?

I was leaning more towards scepticism than excitement after watching Griffin’s tape against Rice. The screen game was back and some of the old flaws were still screaming out. There’s no getting around the basic footwork issues that require major work at the next level. For starters, Griffin needs to get rid of the dance moves in the pocket – he often takes two steps without advancing or retreating, before needing to re-set to release.

It’s like watching Justin Timberlake trying to lead a Big 12 offense and it’ll cause problems at the next level because it adds wasted time to the complete motion of delivering the football. In the NFL Griffin may only get a small window of opportunity to find an open receiver, he needs to quicken up the time it takes to drop back and release to give himself the best possible opportunity to hit the target. Secondly, pass rushers at the next level don’t need very long to get free and even if they’re not getting the sack there’s always the chance they’ll force a splash via a deflected pass or by taking away one side of the field.

Griffin being such a good athlete compensates for this wasted time and often he’s able to move out of the pocket to extend plays either by running or throwing. The potential is there to become an even more spectacular player with proper pro-coaching on his footwork, but it’s one of the hardest things a young quarterback has to embrace. Neither is it an unusual thing – Joe Flacco had to learn every basic fundamental of becoming a pro-passer when he was drafted by Baltimore and he still had an impact as a rookie starter. It helps that Flacco’s deep ball was such a threat from day one, but Griffin similarly is a gifted downfield passer.

Bringing it back to the Texas A&M game to talk about the positives, I was surprised at how rounded Griffin looked as a passing quarterback. There were several instances where he visibly went from one target to another and wasn’t afraid to attempt a difficult throw rather than look for checkdowns. The Baylor offense doesn’t use a lot of checkdown stuff, it really is screen-heavy with downfield passing and some intermediate routes. Even so, the big issue I have with quarterbacks like Kevin Kolb is the frequency they play safe to checkdown. Griffin is almost the anti-Kolb but not in a bad way – he’s pretty accurate on downfieldthrows and he’s got a good feel for the football, knowing when to take something off the ball or to go high/low to avoid coverage. I don’t anticipate he’ll change much at the next level, taking what he’s given downfield if possible, but being wise enough to know when to checkdown.

If you look at yesterday’s video and the touchdown pass at 3:47 – that’s a brilliant play. It’s only a short completion, but Griffin disects two defenders and recognises he needs to throw low to avoid them. There’s a greater risk that the pass will be incomplete, but there’s virtually zero chances of a turnover. It’s that kind of execution and quick thinking that will impress NFL scouts.

The athletic side of Griffin’s game speaks for itself – he will run a good forty yard dash at the combine and he’s got the double positive of being elusive in the pocket to extend plays and a threat running the ball if he finds a lane. 

I find it hard to find a par comparison for the player Griffin could be in the NFL. He’s not Michael Vick. At Virginia Tech Vick had 636 yards from 113 attempts with nine touchdowns the year before he turned pro. Vick actually only threw 179 passes that year for 1439 yards and a mediocre 9-7 touchdown-turnover ratio. Griffin works in a completely different offense and has been a much more productive passer throughout his career (3501 yards last season) but less of an explosive rusher (635 yards in 2010 from 149 carries). Essentially it took Vick 46 less carries to reach the same yardage as Griffin managed in 2010. Vick is such a phenomena that we may never see a player with his physical potential again. It’s not just on a production basis that the two differ, there are also physical and athletic differences. Griffin is a brilliant athlete, but he isn’t Mike Vick.

I’ve also seen comparisons to Cam Newton, but again I think they are wide of the mark. I cannot stress enough how impressive Newton was/is. Despite a lot of negative press last year at Auburn, he carried that team through his own sheer brilliance. I suspect in a few years time we may well talk about Newton in the same way we talk about Vick – this is a rare breed of player that will bring his own unique twist to the NFL. Griffin is a safer pair of hands than Newton when it comes to decision making, character and controlling an offense, but Newton is just a complete superstar. He’s harder to control and manage, but you don’t want to control or manage him. You let the guy loose, you let him make big plays using his own talent and instinct. Griffin is much more of a project than Vick or Newton and can’t be expected to have the same impact early in his NFL career.

According to my sources Seattle didn’t grade Newton particularly highly. I suspect this is because they’re looking for a quarterback who can fit into a scheme and help control a possession offense and help win a turnover battle (whether that’s the correct way of viewing Seattle’s needs at QB is another debate completely). Newton would never fit into that way of life - he’s someone who won’t be controlled on the field and will have turnovers in his career. However, he’ll also keep you competitive in most games because of his pure individual talent. If Newton finds a level of consistency he could become a NFL great. That will be his greatest battle though, and I suspect he’ll always be somewhat unpredictable. That may not be what Pete Carroll wants for his offense.

Blaine Gabbert, Colin Kaepernick, and Andy Dalton were all listed above Newton on Seattle’s board. Jake Locker – another precocious but unpredictable talent – was ranked at #6. I suspect someone like Griffin may interest the Seahawks given his low number of turnovers (13 in four years compared to 61 touchdowns), his impressive on and off field intelligence, decision making and ability to extend plays. I can’t stress enough how impressive Griffin the individual is. The players at Baylor see him as a leader and put their necks on the line for him. His interviews are always conducted with respect and without attitude. He has a high level of book smarts and a work rate that is clear given his continued progress. This brings me onto my final point…

The one thing teams love to see more than anything is progress. Matt Barkley has made progress every year at USC – whether it’s technique, production or decision making. Andrew Luck – despite setting high bars in 2010 – has actually managed to continue to progress. Yet both players entered college as talented, natural quarterbacks. Griffin’s progress is maybe more impressive because he was an athlete who has transformed into a passing quarterback. Go back and find tape of Griffin’s freshman year and tell me that’s a guy with any NFL quarterback potential. Even last year I watched Baylor and wondered if I could muster a late round grade for the guy. Now? We’re talking about him in a whole new light.

He has worked at his craft and it shows. Griffin doesn’t just deserve immense credit, he’ll be making people sit up and take notice. He may not declare for the 2012 draft and he’s looked at the possibility of attending law school if he stays at Baylor for a 5th year (he was granted a medical redshirt in 2009). If he does declare, he’ll star at the combine in work outs and in the meeting rooms. Teams are going to fall in love with this guy – from an athletic, academic and personal perspective.

For those reasons, there’s every chance he could end up being a very high pick indeed. Would I pull the trigger? I’m still not convinced, because he is a long term project and there are lingering issues that would concern me enough to put me off investing a high pick. Someone will be convinced though when it’s time to make the decision and that’s the crucial thing when trying to project where he’ll go in the draft. I wouldn’t completely rule out that someone being Pete Carroll or John Schneider.

To learn more about Robert Griffin III, check out this USA Today article by Kelly Whiteside.

Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor) vs Texas A&M

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Thanks to Mario_clp for supplying the tape

This is actually the most impressed I’ve been with Griffin, this felt like a more complete performance than the TCU game in week one which was essentially a cluster of big plays. There’s a lot to like about Griffin the individual and he’s continuing to improve with every game. The jury is still out as to whether he can convince NFL scouts that he can become a rounded pro-quarterback, but he’s a fun player to watch and he has the ideal attitude to become a success at the next level.

At this stage I’d find it hard to project where his stock could fall should he declare. His footwork needs a complete re-work and there are other technical issues, but he also has a very pretty (and accurate) deep ball and he extends plays as well as any quarterback you’ll find in college football. He’s clearly a great athlete. I know what my own grade would be, but I just have this nagging feeling that there’s a team out there that will be prepared to take him much higher.

Monday notes: Seahawks would be picking 8th

Monday, October 24th, 2011

There’s something about Matt

I’m a little bit confused by the way people are reporting Matt Barkley’s pro-potential. The most bizarre thing I think I’ve read all year was Todd McShay’s justification for having him at #22 on his big board. Here’s how McShay described Barkley:

Barkley is a natural leader with a high football IQ and good short-to-intermediate accuracy and touch and a quick release and adequate arm strength to make all the NFL throws

That sounds pretty good to me, just what the Seahawks and several other teams could use right now. Such is the importance of the quarterback position, I don’t believe you can judge them in the same way as other players. To me, if you don’t have a franchise quarterback and a player is worth taking in round one it doesn’t matter whether that’s 2nd overall or 22nd you draft the guy. Once you invest that round one pick in a quarterback, you’re making a statement that this is your man. The implementation of a rookie pay scale increases that belief, making any round one quarterback completely affordable and removing some of the previous horrific cap-crisis risk.

If there’s a quarterback with high football IQ, who’s a natural leader, with good accuracy, touch and a quick release with the arm strength to make all the NFL throws (McShay’s words) why isn’t he in the top ten?

To compound matters, McShay also has some strange picks ahead of Barkley. Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina) has made some big plays this year, no question about it. However, he’s 6-2 / 270lbs and looks like an undersized defensive tackle. He has no obvious role in the NFL, he’s a classic tweener. Sure, he’s athletic for his size and he’s created a bit of a niche for himself with the Gamecocks, but a round one pick? Really?

What about another player in Courtney Upshaw (DE/OLB, Alabama) described by McShay as, “a DE/OLB tweener who won’t fit in with all teams.” Alameda Ta’amu (NT, Washington) is above Barkley, so is talented but problematic Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama).

There’s no rhyme or reason to the Barkley grade especially given the glowing review that accompanies it. I suspect it’s because there’s a fashionable opinion right now to describe Barkley as an unspectacular athlete. Only this weekend Wes Bunting at the NFP tweeted, “USC QB Matt Barkley isn’t the most gifted kid, but is in complete control of offense.” How do we define gifted these days? Arm strength and running ability? Cam Newton had lots of that, but strangely a number of high profile pundits (read: nearly every single one of them) held back from pumping his tires last year because he lacked a lot of the plus points Barkley has such as the technique and football IQ.

It bemuses me why there’s such a difference of opinion on Barkley, who looks every bit a brilliant QB prospect to me just in different ways to the Newton’s of this world. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong down the line and he won’t live up to the expectations I have for his career. However, I firmly believe that if he declares and the Seahawks are fortunate enough to be in position to draft him next April they shouldn’t be thinking about any other player in the draft. With Pete Carroll running the show, at least the best qualified person to judge Barkley is making the final call – whether he’s drafted by the Seahawks or not.

**To see game tape of Matt Barkley leading USC to victory over rivals Notre Dame last Saturday, check the video at the top of this blog post courtesy of JMPasq**

Seahawks would pick 8th

If the season ended today (FAO those who watched the Browns game – it won’t) the Seahawks would own the 8th overall pick according to our friends at NE Patriots Draft. The following teams would be picking before Seattle: Indianapolis, St. Louis, Miami, Minnesota, Arizona, Jacksonville and Carolina.

The most important question is how many of those realistically would be in the market for a quarterback and it’s pretty clear the answer is two. That could change if the Colts don’t own the #1 pick because they won’t necessarily look for the next best quarterback if they miss out on Andrew Luck. If a similar scenario presented itself next April it would be in Seattle’s best interests for Miami to pick first, take Luck away from Indianapolis and potentially giving the Seahawks a realistic shot at whichever quarterback they rank #2 on the board.

On Sunday I was in London to watch the Chicago-Tampa Bay game at Wembley. Using two phones (my battery died) I kept up with the Seahawks game, leading to a very disappointing four hour journey home afterwards knowing Cleveland had won my a meagre 6-3 scoreline. This is still a team in rebuilding mode, but I came away with two striking conclusions (I had a lot of time to think during that four hours)…

Firstly, the Seahawks are the worst kind of bad team at the moment. The injuries are mounting up, yet there’s still enough quality there to win football games. Seattle’s in that middle ground area, seemingly out of realistic playoff consideration (unless San Francisco implodes) but not awful enough to grab a top-five pick. There’s still two games against hopeless St. Louis and a further encounter with the equally poor Cardinals. Home games against Washington and Cincinnati are certainly manageable. Seven wins wouldn’t be a total shock, but it’s not going to be enough to fluke a playoff berth this year. I’m not one of those people who wants the team to deliberately lose for draft position – evidenced by the fact I’m travelling 5000 miles to Seattle this weekend for the Bengals game. However, if it’s a case of picking 8th or 15th come the end of the season, the team would significantly benefit more by owning the earlier pick.

We all know why and that brings me on to point two…

This team absolutely cannot for any longer delay the acquisition of a long term quarterback. Let’s beat this drum until it bursts. No more stop gaps, no more trades or re-treads picked up in free agency. Next off season will be the introduction to year three of this regime and front office – it’s time they put their faith and investment in ‘their guy’. If it costs picks to move up, so be it. It will be unacceptable if this team doesn’t address that situation next April. Of course, we may review this if Matt Barkley and a lot of the other underclassmen simply don’t declare because the team can’t draft a guy who’s not physically available. However, if everyone declares as expected it’s time to end this tiresome debate once and for all.

Congratulations to Austin Davis

Regulars will know I rate Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis very highly indeed. This week not only did he lead his team to a great win over SMU, he was also named as a finalist for the CLASS award which is given to a NCAA FBS senior who has notable achievements in four areas: community, classroom, character and competition. Davis has already graduated with a degree in business administration and has broken many of Brett Favre’s old records for the Golden Eagles.

We’re striving to supply more Southern Miss tape this year to try and raise awareness for a player who really deserves a lot more attention than he’s getting.

Logan Harrell continues to impact games

Another sleeper who deserves more credit is Fresno State defensive lineman Logan Harrell. He had another sack at the weekend in Fresno’s loss to Nevada. In 1.8 seasons for the Bulldogs, Harrell has 15.5 sacks and a cluster of tackles for a loss. He’s constantly in the backfield and although he doesn’t carry elite size to play inside, he’ll have a role in the NFL predominantly as a five-technique who can move inside on third downs.

Harrell is also the proud owner of a world class moustache, which warrants an even higher grade than usual.

Saturday’s quarterback round-up

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Austin Davis (QB, Southern Miss) led the Golden Eagles to an impressive 27-3 victory over SMU. This was a Mustangs team who recently defeated TCU with prolific offensive production, on Saturday they managed three points. Davis whad 266 passing yards going 27/37. He had one touchdown pass and an interception and added 31 yards on the ground from nine attempts.

Matt Barkley (QB, USC) had three touchdown passes, no turnovers and 224 yards through the air as the Trojans defeated Notre Dame 31-17 in South Bend. People have said Barkley can’t win the big games, this is the counter. For the season he’s throwing 68% completions, has a 16-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio and he’s on pace to top 3000 passing yards for the first time in his career. Scouts look for progress, all of those numbers are way up on his true-sophomore year.

Landry Jones (QB, Oklahoma) suffered a shock defeat to Texas Tech which ends any hopes of an achievable BCS Championship appearance. Jones finished with five touchdowns and a pick, with 412 yards going 30/55. I haven’t seen the game so can’t judge his performance. The numbers suggest defensively Oklahoma blew this game. However, this is a loaded team and losing sloppy games like this has been a problem for Jones in the past.

Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford) didn’t have to exert too much energy in Stanford’s 65-21 win over Washington. I have the tape of this game and will be watching it later this week. Luck went 16/21 for 169 yards and two touchdowns.

Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M) also had a comfortable day defeating Iowa State 33-17. Tannehill’s stat line read 23/42 for 249 yards and three touchdowns. The 5.9 yards per attempt average was surprisingly low, however.

Saturday links

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

I have Clemson vs UNC on my schedule along with Washington vs Stanford today. I’ll be in London for the Bears vs Buccs game tomorrow but expect some thoughts on the two games Sunday afternoon or Monday at the latest. In the meantime, here’s some links to check out:

Dan Kadar at Mocking the Drafthas the Seahawks taking Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama). Given the way the board falls, I think that would be a good pick for Seattle. It’s nice to see Dwight Jones (WR, UNC) in the top-20 and Kadar acknowledges that Quinton Coples (DE, UNC) hasn’t had a great season to date. 

Rob Rang and Chad Reuterat CBS Sportsline both have updated mocks out this week. I’m not quite sure how Alshon Jeffery warrants going #2 and #6 overall – he’s had a sluggish year and isn’t the top receiver in this class, let alone a top-10 pick. Dwight Jones is clearly the #1 receiver for me, but he doesn’t appear in either first round projection. I’m also not sure how Jerrell Worthy (DT, Michigan State) is clinging to a first round place in Rang’s mock, while it’s stunning Trent Richardson is all the way down at #16. It is good to see Matt Barkley (QB, USC) graded solidly in the top-10 where he belongs. Reuter’s projection of Zach Brown (LB, UNC) in the the top ten is deserved.

Todd McShay has a top-32 big board with some interesting judgements. Matt Barkley is down at #22 despite the following review: “Barkley is a natural leader with a high football IQ and good short-to-intermediate accuracy and touch and a quick release and adequate arm strength to make all the NFL throws.” Considering the importance of the quarterback position in the NFL, you might expect a higher placement given those comments. Alameda Ta’amu (NT, Washington) still has a lot to prove, Courtney Upshaw (DE/LB, Alabama) is listed as a ‘tweener’ by McShay and Melvin Ingram (South Carolina) - an over achiever who has no obvious role in the NFL – are all ranked above Barkley. UNC’s Dwight Jones and Zach Brown are not listed but it’s good to see teammate Kevin Riddick on the board.

McShay also has this article out todaywhich is a must read. He reports an update on Janoris Jenkins’ progress at North Alabama which reveals he was kicked out of a game for punching an opponent recently. That’s not a good sign for a player who needed to prove he had matured after all the drama at Florida. Undoubtedly Jenkins has top-10 talent and he could have greater NFL potential than even fellow Gator Joe Haden. However, this is another black mark for a player who appears to be wasting a heck of a lot of talent. McShay also has a negative review of Alshon Jeffery’s progress – an incredibly accurate judgement which makes light work of those top-10 projections. He’s simply not that good.

Mel Kiperalso updates his big boad with some very similar projections. He has Barkley ten places higher, but keeps Quinton Coples at #2. I’m a little surprised that both Kiper and McShay are very much on the Landry Jones bandwagon. Certainly pundits appear split on Barkley/Jones, while having very similar opinions on Ryan Tannehill. Jerrell Worthy remains on Kiper’s board.

Gary Klein at the LA Times has an interesting piece on whether Matt Barkley should enter the 2012 draft or not. He speaks to some unnamed NFL scouts on Barkley, with one grading him in the late first round. It remains unclear what Barkley’s intentions are regarding the draft, but a lot will depend on what he hears from the draft committee in the new year.

Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M) vs Baylor

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

We’ve seen quite a lot of tape on Ryan Tannehill now, at least enough to start forming a fair opinion. Let’s break down his latest performance against Baylor.

Note: It’s important to remember that Baylor’s defense is prolific in it’s poor quality. Tannehill’s stat line looks fantastic – 25/37 for 415 yards and six touchdowns with one interception. The performance overall isn’t quite as good as that looks, but there are strong positives and also some big negatives.

A lot of the issues with Tannehill’s game are blamed on a lack of experience. By the time he enters the NFL, he’ll have played 1.7 seasons of college football at quarterback. Let’s remember that Sam Bradford – as prolific as he was and having just won the Heisman – felt he had to return to Oklahoma for a third year starting to sufficiently prepare himself for the next step. The Lewin Career Forecast (LCF) originally projected that quarterbacks’ success at the next level would be dependant on a specific number of starts (35) and whether they had completed 60% of their passes. The system wasn’t an exact science because it projected success for players such as Kellen Clemens and Brian Brohm, but it was a good indicator in highlighting how college experience related to success at the next level.

Football Outsiders updated the LCF to try and find a more accurate system for the future and now looks at a minimum of 20 starts and other factors such as improvement as a senior to determine success. It’s not flawless – Brady Quinn still scores higher than Matt Ryan – but it scores Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees highly while undermining the potential of Alex Smith, Brody Croyle, Ryan Leaf and David Carr.

Tannehill will have to play every game this season – including a bowl game – to get to the 20 starts which would put him in the range to even receive a score in the new LCF. What I would say is this – a lack of experience can be blamed on certain aspects, but how are these problems going to be solved holding a clipboard? Or worse if Tannehill is indeed thrown in at the deep end as a rookie starter in the NFL? The lack of experience can be used as an excuse, but it cannot be used as a definite reason for some of the negatives to his game.

One of the things that bothers me about Tannehill is his inability seemingly to get out of a bad play. At 2:42 he takes PA and the play design is to check it down to the running back who’s taking a short route to the left. It’s diagnosed quickly by the defense and one defensive back gets right into Tannehill’s face to break it up. What bothers me is the way he still tries to force the throw, there’s no adjustment given the play isn’t on. The attempt is tipped and could’ve gone anywhere, but with a bit more poise he could’ve stepped away from the DB and looked for Ryan Swope on a crossing route who was actually 6-7 yards upfield and open.

Is that a lack of game experience? Or is it an issue he’ll carry to the next level? I don’t like to see quarterbacks tied to play calls in college. Landry Jones is similar in this respect – he throws blind too often for my liking and when a quarterback is forcing throws regularly it’s usually one of two things – that a quarterback is incapable of improvisation or he’s being prevented from doing it. One of the things I like most about Matt Barkley is the way he rarely forces a pass that just isn’t on, he’ll get out of a play and look to a second or third option. That’s not to say he’s a flawless decision maker, but the NFL will throw all kinds of challenges a quarterbacks way. I have confidence that Barkley will answer those challenges because he’s able to improvise and make things happen, he plays on the move. The evidence so far suggests Tannehill will lock on to one read and if everything clicks (receiver is open, time in the pocket, nobody on defense makes a spectacular play) things work. If it’s not on, he’ll too often try and force things which will lead to mistakes and turnovers in the NFL.

Another example is the shovel pass interception at 1:03. This is another strict play call which goes wrong – the running back’s body language (turns quickly to look for the ball) shows it was always the call and not a checkdown option. Tannehill tosses it into traffic when it simply wasn’t on – bad decision, bad execution and another example of being tied to a play call.

He also misses on some basic throws – at 8:51 it’s a simple dump off to the receiver on the left hand side but he’s a bit jumpy and misses the target. There are a few examples – in this game and others – where his accuracy is slightly off.

Arm strength is generally a positive and I’m loathe to criticise any player for a 47-yard touchdown pass, but he under threw a wide open receiver who had to slow right down and turn to face the ball in order to make the completion. You really want to see that pass thrown into the end zone. Had one of the two defensive backs managed even a mediocre job in coverage that easily could’ve been broken up and a missed opportunity.

He throws with a slightly greater 3/4 motion than you’d like to see. There are tipped passes with Tannehill which is a bit of a surprise given his height. He can work on this and I suspect come the Texas A&M pro-day and after working with a good QB coach he’ll rectify this, but it’s something that does need work.

Onto the positives and certainly Tannehill does a good job taking what a defense gives him. He gets good protection from the Aggies offensive line and he’ll make the most of single coverage. He does take some risks with defensive backs under cutting routes, but there are several occasions this season where I’ve been really impressed with his pass placement finding a receiver who’s just created enough separation between two defensive backs. The connection between Tannehill and Ryan Swope is very natural, although I don’t think they’ve made enough of Jeff Fuller’s overall skill set in this offense. The pass at 8:15 shows he is capable of fitting passes into tight windows in single coverage, he doesn’t rely purely on the talented weapons he has at receiver.

The pass at 12:00 goes for a touchdown but would’ve been no less impressive had it merely been a first down. Poor tackling allows the score, but that’s a very accurate pass in good coverage with the sufficient level of velocity.

I think NFL teams may be split when they review Tannehill ahead of next year’s draft. Some will look at the physical potential and the relative success he’s had so far and back their coaches to turn him into a more rounded player. Others will wonder whether a lack of experience is a good enough excuse to feel confident about some of the issues he has. He’s a lot lower in my personal grades than Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker and Sam Bradford – but he’s also higher than some of the players I didn’t rate highly such as Jimmy Clausen and Colt McCoy. Even so, I cannot grade Tannehill in round one.

Keith Price and the ideal point guard quarterback

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

by Kip Earlywine

I’ll be honest.  I don’t know when exactly it was, but at some point last offseason I heard the phrase “point guard quarterback” for the very first time.  Its human nature to react negatively to things we don’t understand, and so like many others, my disposition towards the idea began at a low point.  Using a basketball position to describe a quarterback?  What kind of nonsense is that?

Many other Seahawks fans were confused by the term, and yet they talked about it.  Quite a lot actually, without ever bothering to find out exactly what the definition of a point guard quarterback really is.  This led to an epidemic of misunderstanding.  To many Seahawks fans, even right now, a point guard quarterback simply means a signal caller with mobility.  Initially, I was one of those people.  But eventually I became unsatisfied with such a murky definition.  If a point guard quarterback is just a mobile one, then why not just say “mobile quarterback?”  Why invoke the point guard position in basketball?  Surely there must be a reason.

After a bit of research, I came to learn that the point guard analogy is actually a two way street, as point guards in basketball are often referred to as “the quarterback” of the basketball team.  This makes a lot of sense, as some of the greatest point guards, guys like John Stockton and Gary Payton, were more dangerous for their ability to assist than to score directly.  Yet their ability to score themselves was potent also.  Their threat to pass to teammates sometimes opened up chances to score themselves, and being a credible threat to score helped open up the pass.  Another thing about point guards, is that some of the best are very short by NBA standards.  John Stockton is perhaps the best point guard of all time, and he’s only 6’1″.  Steve Nash might be the best active point guard, and he’s 6’3″.  Gary Payton was 6’4″.   The average NBA player is 6’7″, and it was actually slightly higher in Stockton’s time.

So how does this analogy relate to this NFL?  A point guard dribbles the ball up just past mid court, holds up fingers to “call a play”, and as the offensive series evolves, he will eventually have a choice between passing and shooting.  Passing the ball to a more open team-mate is often better for scoring points.  However, occasionally a defender will not take the threat of the point guard shooting seriously and play the point guard soft.  If a wide open shot is available, a point guard will often take it.  Concisely speaking, a point guard prefers to pass, but will shoot if an open look is given.  In the NFL, the “pass” portion of the analogy represents passing the ball, and the “shoot” part means to run.  A typical point guard will take his fair share of shots, but he will pass multiple times for every shot he takes.

A critical part of this analogy is that unlike some NFL quarterbacks, a point guard quarterback will not lock onto a primary receiver all game long.  Just like how an NBA point guard doesn’t just pass the ball to his best player, but the other 4 members on his team; a point guard quarterback distributes the ball to as many receivers, at as many locations, as possible.  Doing so stretches a defense, and can help open up the #1 wide receiver when it counts.  In boxing, a common strategy is to attack where the gloves ain’t, meaning that if he’s guarding his face, attack the body, and when he guards the body, attack the face.  This kind of strategy wears down opponents and ultimately proves more effective in tough fights than just going exclusively for face hits.

As far as the shoot portion of the analogy, a good point guard must also be able to shoot the ball at least somewhat well, because if he shows no threat to do so, defenders can just swamp him without any worries about the risk that entails (being blown by for an easy layup).  That’s an exaggeration for effect, but essentially, its tougher to defend two things than one.   That said, shooting is always the 2nd option, unless the point guard really is the best player on the team (as it was for Payton and Nash for parts of their careers).  A point guard quarterback is the same.  A 5 yard run is better than throwing the ball out of bounds, and if a defense gives it to you, you slide and take it.

So to clear up misconception #1, a point guard quarterback is not a run first position, as the ability to run the football is important, but far less important than the ability to pass the ball.  A lot of people assumed that Jake Locker would be a Seahawk had he reached the 25th pick, since he averaged over 100 carries at year at Washington.  As it turns out, Jake Locker was much lower on Seattle’s draft board than many thought (through an inside source, Rob revealed Seattle’s quarterback draft board earlier this year and Locker was quite low on it).  Further, the Seahawks war room actually erupted into smiles and applause the moment that Locker went well ahead of them, just as they did when the Rams selected Robert Quinn.   Does that sound like the reaction of a disappointed group?  Jake Locker could run, but he tended to have tunnel vision with his receivers, as attested by Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar having several monster games, but almost never at the same time.  He was also a big play quarterback with a 54% completion rate and below average pocket presence.  If just being a mobile quarterback was enough, then Locker was that in spades.  But clearly it was not.

So if the position is not run first, why is mobility emphasized?  There are two reasons.  The first is that a viable threat to run is yet another way to stress out a defense, and while the point guard position was designed to make a quarterback’s life easy, it ironically (or fittingly?) makes defending it a total headache.  If a point guard type checks all the boxes, he can make a defense worry about defending both sides of the field, defend every running back, tight end, and receiver near equally, and have to cover short, intermediate, and deep in near equal parts, plus defending against a quarterback running himself, and also defending against effective play action fakes and non-fakes (the running game is a crucial part of a team that runs this type of offense).  Like the boxer analogy, the ability to run is like adding an extra body area to hit.  The 2nd and perhaps more important reason for the mobility requirement is elusiveness.  The point guard role is not structured but fluid and instinctive; improvisation is required on many plays.  Great pocket presence might be the biggest asset of all to a point guard type.  He must feel pressure and use his mobility to buy extra time both outside the pocket and within it.  Jeff Garcia, when playing in his natural point guard role, was a pretty effective quarterback and huge reason for that was his penchant for completing passes at the very last instant after buying time with his feet.  An elusive quarterback can turn sacks into completions, which is why the good ones excel so much at building long drives.

Another misconception is that point guard quarterbacks are game managers.  This is almost true but not quite.  They are similar in that both types of quarterbacks strongly emphasize possession plays over big plays.  Point guard quarterbacks are known for long drives as are game managers.  Both game managers and point guard quarterbacks stress having few interceptions.  The difference is that point guard quarterbacks actually have balls about it.  A game manager type rarely throws the ball more than 10 yards down the field and typically features a below average yards per attempt.  A point guard type will pass short, intermediate, and deep, all to keep the defense as honest as possible.  Andrew Luck is an effective point guard type.  His YPA is 9.50, one of the best in college football.  Michael Vick (under Andy Reid) is an NFL contemporary of the role.  He had a 8.1 YPA last year (7.9 so far in 2011), which was good for 4th best in the NFL.  A game manager role is given to quarterbacks with limited ability.  A point guard role is similar, but given to players with a lot of natural ability.

For this reason, high accuracy has added importance for a point guard quarterback.  Incompletions and sacks lead to unfavorable down and distance, and the point guard system is built to reduce both.  This is critical, because a point guard offense is built around maintaining drives more than big plays.  Due to the instinctive, less structured nature of the role, and its high emphasis on spreading the ball, comfort checking multiple reads is also further emphasized.  Though the point guard role is designed to make a quarterback’s life easier, it is actually quite demanding in terms of having skills.  Having elite measurables is optional, but having poor innate talent with the fundamentals is not.

Finally, I mentioned before that some of the best point guards in the NBA have been much shorter than the average NBA height.  Similarly, many notable point guard quarterbacks have below average height as well.   A typical NFL quarterback is 6’4″.  The prototypical Steve Young is 6’2″.  Michael Vick is 6’1″.  Jeff Garcia is 6’1″.  I think the reason for this is that in the NBA, point guards typically play far away from the basket, so height is less of an issue.  In the NFL, height is less of an issue since point guard quarterbacks move so much in the pocket that they can usually find windows to look through, even if their lineman stand a few inches taller.  By no means do I think the role cancels out the need for certain height requirements, I don’t think a 5’8″ quarterback would succeed even as a point guard type.  But I do think that mobility behind the line helps cancel out the extra couple inches of height.  And of course, there is nothing wrong with having a tall point guard type.  Josh Freeman is 6’6″.  Its just that for whatever reason, most point guard types tend to be shorter.  Perhaps its because their height is what put them in that system to begin with.  Or because physical elusiveness in taller people is uncommon.

Regarding Keith Price:

Some of these concepts I knew from the research I did earlier this year, but it was when I watched Keith Price take over for Jake Locker about a month ago that the concept fully came into focus.  In almost every way, he is the perfect example of what a point guard quarterback is.

First, let me be clear about something.   This essay is not about discussing Keith Price:  NFL draft prospect.  Its merely to highlight Price as an example of what a true point guard quarterback looks like, without having to venture any further than Lake Washington for evidence.  So with that in mind, consider this comparison between two pro-style college quarterbacks:

Quarterback A:  69.4% completion rate, 8.62 YPA, 21 TD, 4 INT, 177.9 rating (sacked 11 times in 6 games)

Quarterback B:  71.3% completion rate, 9.50 YPA, 18 TD, 3 INT, 180.5 rating (sacked 2 times in 6 games)

Pretty close huh?  The first quarterback is Keith Price, and the second is Andrew Luck.  Both quarterback’s play the point guard role in a similar offense, in the same conference, in the same sub-division of that conference.  In fact, they actually play against each other on national television this weekend.  There are issues comparing the performances of college quarterbacks in many cases, but as both Stanford and Washington play very similar schedules and basically run the same kind of offenses, it makes a comparison worth making.  I’m hardly the only one to notice the similarities, today’s copy of USA Today made a similar statistical comparison between the two.

Luck has a small edge in completion rate, YPA, and interceptions, but Price has a small edge in touchdown passes and has been sacked five and a half times as often.  Eleven sacks allowed in six games is actually not that bad, and its more of a testament to Price’s elusive nature than his unimposing line.  By contrast, Andrew Luck throws behind perhaps the best line in all college football, with two members currently being projected in the mid to high first round of the 2012 draft.  Its just silly that Andrew Luck has one of the best interception per pass rates in football, yet has more interceptions than sacks taken.  Luck is having his best year yet: one of the very best pro-style system seasons in college football history.  And yet the unheralded redshirt sophomore Keith Price is right there with him in his first six games since being named the starter- by far the best 6 game stretch by any Husky quarterback or any Husky offense in its history.  In half a season, he’s already 5th all time for TDs in Huskies history for a single season.  The record is 28, and he’s on pace for 45 or 46.

That’s not to say that Price can hold water to Luck as an NFL prospect.  Please do not interpret this analogy as such.  If anything, the wide gap in physical attributes only furthers a point I wish to make, that a great point guard quarterback can put up elite production without all the elite measurables.

And besides, I didn’t really make this post to talk about production, though its certainly been outstanding out Price’s part.  I made this post to illustrate what a real point guard quarterback looks like.  And Keith Price is just that.  Moreso than even Andrew Luck.  More than just about any quarterback I’ve seen.  So lets get to it:

For starters, Keith Price is 6’1″ with a weight listed at 200 pounds (listed at 195 some places).  Height is not a real concern, since as stated before many successful NFL point guard types were around that height.  Price is outstanding at maneuvering behind his line, and he seems to see his targets just fine because of it.  His line may not be very good, but they are NFL sized.  Height will not be an issue for Price in the NFL.  His weight though… its a major concern.  Most NFL quarterbacks sit around 225 pounds, and 220 is considered to be somewhat fringe, although point guard types are typically lighter weight.  Michael Vick is 215, as was Steve Young, and Jeff Garcia was only 205.

Those players were effective in the role, but they were also no stranger to injuries.  This is true for Price as well.  He’s played hurt in all six games to date, namely with two bad knees and recently a tweaked ankle.  I’d be exaggerating if I said Price comes up limping after every hit he’s taken, but not by much.

That he’s put up the numbers he has in the context of his injury bug is astonishing, and also evidence that mobility is not the end all of a true point guard quarterback.  Price has got decent wheels when healthy, but he’s only had 15 net rushing yards so far in six games.  That’s fewer rush yards than passing touchdowns.  Despite this, Price’s ability to be elusive in the pocket has remained mostly intact, which shows how much more valuable elusiveness is than running ability as a point guard quarterback.

Bottom line though, Price needs to add a more weight to his frame, and cut it out with the constant injuries.  His frame is far from maxed out, and i think he could probably get all the way to 220 if he really wanted to.  I’d say he needs to at least reach 215 if he wants to be a first round pick some day.

Price’s arm strength seemed suspect early in the year against Eastern Washington.  Like Tarvaris Jackson, Price was more of a “tosser” than a “thrower,” emphasizing accuracy and catchability over speed of arrival.  That changed as the season progressed, and after the learning experience that was the Nebraska shootout, Price seemed to perfect this pass throwing:  arriving with decent zip but while maintaining accuracy and a soft catch.  That progress crested in last weeks game against Colorado, when Price had four touchdown passes (to four different targets) in just the first half, and was pulled shortly after due to the blowout score. Price has developed an impressive deep ball, which rivals Jake Locker’s despite the gap in arm strength.  This was evidenced by a 70 yard touchdown pass to beat Cal in the 4th quarter (50 in the air) to Chris Polk (!).

Price’s body language is a little tentative; he’s not as hesitant as Tarvaris Jackson, but I’d say he’s on that side of the spectrum.  Still, almost every throw he’s made has been money, and he’s only thrown 4 interceptions in 170 attempts (1 per 42.5).  Recently against Colorado, he ran full no huddle to devastating effect.  Price is an instinctive quarterback and really shines even more in a fast paced offense.  Its hard to criticize Price for not looking aggressive when the results suggest the opposite.

His throwing mechanics are pretty good.  He has a high release point, a quick arm motion, and a very nice compact tuck move that makes his pump fakes deadly effective.  His footwork needs work, and often I’ll catch him making throws flat footed with his feet spread out pretty far.  Its actually not very different from Jake Locker’s footwork in the pocket, which a lot of scouts believed was the source of his inaccuracy.  Well, accuracy hasn’t been a problem for Price.  I wonder if that speaks well of Price or poorly of his predecessor?

Price is generally outstanding on his execution, with a very convincing play action and good deal of comfort throwing on the move.  I haven’t charted left vs. right yet, but given how ridiculously good he’s been, I’m not expecting much of a split.

Price is a highly accurate quarterback, perhaps even more so than his 69% season rate indicates.  For example, against Utah he completed 73% of his passes, and of the eight total incompletions he had, four of those were drops (three by Devin Aguilar alone).   His completion rates since opening Pac-12 play: 76%, 73%, 75%.  His passes are generally either in the middle of the receivers body or leading them perfectly if its a vertical route.  I think its worth emphasizing how much the soft touch on his passes helps him, other than the mini-drop fest at Utah.  He’s suffered fewer drops than Jake Locker, who threw the ball with about as much subtlety as a bazooka.

Price has excellent pocket presence, feeling pressure without having to see it, and doing more than simply stepping up in the pocket, but moving just inches out of harms way constantly to buy time.  I wouldn’t say his elusiveness is at an elite level, but its probably on par with Andrew Luck’s.

Price regularly checks through multiple reads with ease, which is a fairly rare attribute in a college quarterback.  During the Colorado game, Price even used his eyes to deceive defenders on two of his touchdown passes.  The first was when he appeared to stare down a target on his left, freezing the safeties, then immediately turned and hit Jermaine Kearse for a wide open touchdown up the middle, almost without looking first.   Later, he would sell a stare-down in the middle of the field, then attempt to quick hit Polk on the left.  Polk wasn’t wide open, so Price added a great pump fake for good measure, before throwing a perfect pass that only Polk could catch.

I want to give a big shout-out to qbsacker5394, who posted each of Washington’s three Pac-12 games on Youtube (he also has the other three games if you check his channel).  His videos show every notable play from the broadcast, compressed into 13 to 14 minutes.  Not every play unfortunately, but still good for getting an idea.  I’ve already seen the games live, but for anyone that wants to get a better look at Keith Price (or RB Chris Polk, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, or DT Alameda Ta’amu) themselves, they should definitely check his videos out.

This has become one of the longer posts I’ve ever done, and I still have things to say about Price.  But I’ll sum it up as such, Keith Price is playing at a high level, and in every way that is essential to the point guard quarterback, he’s excelled.  I’d consider him a somewhat polished quarterback that has a few things to work on, and I think its encouraging that he’s gotten better with each game as the seasons gone on.  Keith Price is a somewhat unlikely option for the Seahawks, as will probably declare in 2013 or 2014, and for the love of God I hope this front office has their quarterback by then.

But I must say, watching Keith Price’s first six games has been instructional- witnessing a point guard quarterback play almost the same exact offense as Seattle’s, from a Pete Carroll disciple no less.  And he’s done it so damn well, despite having what looks to be on the surface just average talents.  We may not get Price, but Price’s success shows that if a quarterback fits his role well enough, he can put up amazing production in a pro-style system without playing in a first round body.  If Seattle can somehow acquire Andrew Luck or Matt Barkley, then awesome.  Please do.  But in the likely event that doesn’t happen, Seattle could still find its salvation through their own version of Keith Price.  Maybe Tarvaris Jackson could be that guy.  Or Josh Portis.  Or Ryan Tannehill.  Or Robert Griffin.  Or maybe even Keith Price himself.

Cornerback game tape – class of 2012

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Janoris Jenkins, now at North Alabama, could still rise to the top of the CB rankings

In the last two drafts the Seahawks spent several picks rebuilding their secondary. Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are permanent fixtures at safety, while Walter Thurmond will get his opportunity to nail down a starting cornerback position with Marcus Trufant on injured reserve. There’s certainly scope for further investment because you can never have too many good young corners. Both the wide out and cornerback positions stand to benefit from quality depth and it’s with some surprise that fans tend to under-sell the receiver position in particular. For me, it’s a premium position in the NFL and it’ll be a strong class of wideouts in 2012.

However, I’m less enthusiastic about the Seahawks spending a round one pick at either position next April. This team needs a quarterback, a point that has been made countless times but is completely valid. This front office cannot enter year three of an initial five-year contract for it’s VP of football operations without a big investment at quarterback. Pete Carroll cannot afford to spend too long shuffling around at the position putting his faith in re-treads like Tarvaris Jackson. This team needs it’s on-field identity, the guy who is going to lead this team to prolonged success in the NFC West. With respect, I doubt that man is currently on the team’s roster. Now that San Francisco has seemingly got it’s act together after years of wasting talent, the Seahawks need to provide a worthy challenge themselves. Rest assured that the Niners will not hang about in replacing Alex Smith – they’ve already drafted Colin Kaepernick with a high second rounder and it’d be naive to think they’ll just coast along even if a fast 5-1 start is maintained throughout 2011.

The secondary issue of most concern comes on the defensive line. Chris Clemons’ production so far has continued, but he’s playing in an exaggerated position which is unorthodox to the league and will put stats on the board. I don’t think anyone can claim Seattle is churning out constant pressure and making life difficult for opposing quarterbacks – you only have to look at how badly the Seahawks rank in pass defense. One excellent defensive lineman could change that, whether it’s a disruptive three technique or another defensive end that allows Seattle to run more basic 4-3 fronts and provide pressure from both sides.

Getting a quarterback is the priority, then there’s a long gap to the second most important issue of finding additional defensive lineman. Cornerback may be third on the list, but only once the first two options have been exhausted. I foresee a situation where the Seahawks can’t draft a quarterback – Andrew Luck could end up being the only round one level QB who actually declares this year and you can’t draft for a position of such importance when the quality simply isn’t there. It’s an unlikely scenario though and eventually the Seahawks are going to have to bite the bullet – they’ve looked at the last two classes and said a resounding ‘NO’ to the group of QB’s. They can’t expect Aaron Rodgers the sequel to fall into their laps and only consistent losing will ever secure a player of Luck’s quality.

In the unlikely event that all roads to a quarterback are closed, we have to address some of the other needs. I think this is a cornerback class with some quality, just nobody in the range of Patrick Peterson or Jimmy Smith last year (both had elite potential). We’ll go into more detail later this week, but here’s a selection of some of the players to monitor if you’re looking for 2012 cornerbacks.

 

2012 draft status check: October 17th

Monday, October 17th, 2011

UNC receiver Dwight Jones deserves a high grade

The early stages of a NFL draft usually features a good balance of offensive and defensive talent. In the last seven years, 50 offensive players have been drafted within the top fifteen picks compared to 55 players on defense. In five of the last seven years, there’s been an 8-7 split in favor of one side of the ball with just two drafts edging towards the defense (nine defensive players to six offensive players in 2010 and 2006). In 2008 eight of the first eleven picks were defensive players.

The last draft that weighed heavily in favor of the offense came in 2004 when ten of the first fifteen picks were offensive players – a class that included Eli Manning, Larry Fitzgerald, Philip Rivers, Robert Gallery and Ben Roethlisberger among others.

Aside from that, there’s a balance between the two with a slight edge going to the defense. The last few years have contained some ‘obvious’ stock talent on the defensive side of the ball – players that were projected to go early pretty much from day one. Think Ndamukong Suh, Eric Berry, Patrick Peterson, Gerald McCoy Marcell Dareus and Chris Long. This year I’m struggling to find a single player worthy of an absolute top-ten projection, a striking review of the defensive talent that could be available next April.

Perhaps it’ll simply be a year similar to 2004, with the early picks being dominated by offense? Andrew Luck will be the #1 overall pick and it appears likely at least one more quarterback will be drafted early. Offensive tackles such as Matt Kalil, Jonathan Martin and Riley Reiff could become high picks and with a degree of depth at receiver there’s every chance we could see an early run on wide outs too.

Even so, there’s an uncomfortable feel to a class that lacks quality defensive talent.

Many have projected Quinton Coples as a top-ten player, something I’ve argued against on the evidence we’ve seen so far. When you see the lack of alternatives on defense, perhaps it’s worth considering that someone will tap into the physical potential of Coples even if he’ll be entering the NFL with a lot to prove? Kansas City found themselves in a similar situation in 2009, choosing to reach for Tyson Jackson due to the unappealing alternatives on the board with the #3 overall pick. Coples is far from a lost cause but his physical potential and appearance on the field at the moment far outweighs his perfomance and production.

Cornerback Morris Claiborne has enjoyed a strong start to the 2011 season with three interceptions to go with the five he collected last year. Could he rise to the top of someone’s board? What about a playmaking cornerback like Jayron Hosley at Virginia Tech who lacks ideal size at 5-10 and 171lbs and will give up some plays – but is the definition of a playmaker with 12 interceptions in less than one and a half seasons? Dre Kirkpatrick gets a good review due to his height and background working under Nick Saban at Alabama, but I’ve not been impressed with his tape so far.

Janoris Jenkins is the forgotten man of the 2012 draft, but he flashed top-ten abilities at Florida. He may have transferred to North Alabama after a series of problems off the field, but let’s not ignore that Julio Jones, AJ Green and Alshon Jeffery had their worst games against Jenkins last year. If you feel confident he’s a reformed character with greater responsibility and maturity then he maintains a high grade.

I’m not a huge fan of a slightly over rated group of linebackers, but you can foresee a situation where a player like Vontaze Burfict goes earlier than perhaps he should. The same could be said for Boston College linebacker Luke Kuelchy or Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o. Personally I see North Carolina’s Zach Brown as the superior linebacker prospect so far.

The nose tackle position has taken on an increased level of importance and Alameda Ta’amu may not be an obvious choice early in round one but he has the size, mobility and potential to be a very effective player at the next level. Memphis tackle Dontari Poe is in a similar situation – having the frame and potential but offering teams more physical potential and scheme fit than proven production.

Several defensive ends are starting to draw attention – Marshall’s Vinny Curry is a battering ram of a defensive end with 9.5 sacks already in 2011. Andre Branch at Clemson is starting to become a consistent performer with seven sacks this season and Oklahoma’s Frank Alexander has 6.5. The most impressive defensive lineman I’ve watched this year – Florida State’s Bjoern Werner – will not be eligible until 2013.

Curry looks like a first round level talent so far, but he’s not an explosive player off the snap and he lacks game changing speed off the edge. You can’t fault his effort, size, mobility and effective hand-use, but teams may be put off by average straight line speed. Branch is lighter on his feet and has a greater initial burst – he’s one to keep monitoring as Clemson keeps winning. Tigers teammate Brandon Thompson impresses on tape but has an alarming lack of end product in the stats column over a four year career. Jared Crick has been patchy and inconsistent at Nebraska, but offered a skill-set similar to JJ Watt. He will miss the rest of the 2011 season with a torn pectoral muscle and could drop slightly if it impacts his ability to be 100% for draft work outs.

Mot of these suggestions wouldn’t enter the early first round discussion in previous years, but such is the class of 2012 some of these players may end up being high picks. It’s possibly less of a concern for teams in the era of the rookie wage cap, but the stigma attached to missing on draft picks can be costly for reputations and continued employment.

The question I get asked the most – and I wish I could answer it in a more satisfactory way – is what defensive talent will be available as a consolation prize if the Seahawks miss out on a quarterback? The honest answer is there will be a shortage of big name college defensive players for people to invest their hopes into. I’m yet to find someone like Colorado’s Jimmy Smith who lit up the screen and flashed under rated elite skills and unmatched potential. Last April San Francisco and St. Louis both drafted defensive ends in Aldon Smith and Robert Quinn, yet no player of that quality is making themselves known for 2012.

Perhaps of more concern for the Seahawks – a lack of great defensive talent may push teams towards one of their other great passions, the quarterback position. We saw a run on quarterbacks last year with four being drafted in the first twelve picks. Could the same happen again next April, with players being over drafted like Christian Ponder? It could happen, even if I’ve offered a less than favorable review of Landry Jones and am yet to be convinced by Ryan Tannehill. Seattle will have to be on it’s toes if the intention is to select a specific quarterback in round one.

So what can we project so far? If I was compiling a top-prospects list today I suspect it could be completely different in a months time. This group continues to ask an awful lot questions and the answers are taking a little longer to work out. This is potentially how I see the top seven players so far:

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
#2 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
#3 Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
#4 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
#5 Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
#6 Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
#7 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)

If I was putting together a bigger board I wouldn’t necessarily be able to make a logical case to separate the player at #8 and the player at #22. For example, I like Zach Brown enough to put him at #8 but is he any more likely to have an impact at the next level than Justin Blackmon? At his best Blackmon has a little Roddy White to his game and maybe a little Greg Jennings. He has the ‘alpha male’ streak that could take him to the top on a good offense. He also suffers from basic mental errors that will frustrate you, he’s not a consistent hands catcher, he’s not got incredible size and he won’t run a brilliant forty time.

In terms of importance to a team, the nose tackles and defensive lineman could crack the top ten and so could the cornerbacks such as Morris Claiborne and Jayron Hosley. You come back to Quinton Coples and just wonder what he could be like if he had a consistent motor or was a little quicker off the edge?

So what am I sure about? Trent Richardson is playing at a different level this season and with the rookie pay scale making the running back position a more enticing early pick, there’s every chance he could go in the top five.

Let’s say Indianapolis has the second overall pick next April, with Miami winning the race to draft Andrew Luck. The Colts may not automatically move on to the next best quarterback as a long term replacement for Peyton Manning. They drafted a finesse left tackle in Anthony Castonzo last year and I feel uncomfortable projecting him to the right hand side given his frame and skill set. Von Miller – last year’s #2 overall pick - signed a fully guaranteed four-year $21m contract. Assuming Manning can recover from his current injury, $21m for a player who will be a day one starter and offer an immediate explosion of talent doesn’t seem like a stretch. Without the rookie pay scale you’re looking at a deal similar to Ndamukong Suh’s $68m contract with $40m in guarantees. The difference is quite incredible and it’s why running backs will be back on the agenda at the top of round one.

The 2012 draft will be the first time we see the true impact of the rookie cap, with positions like receiver and running back perhaps getting more of an opportunity as they did before the big boom in contracts. Dwight Jones has been a revelation this season for North Carolina and is the complete package at receiver. He could really help a team breaking in a young quarterback. One of Jones’ greatest qualities besides hands, speed and size is his ability to adjust to the football and make difficult catches from imperfect throws. He could be a dream pick for a player like Sam Bradford, Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton with St. Louis, Jacksonville and Carolina set to pick early again in 2012.

The end of loaded contracts could also see teams rolling the dice more often on quarterbacks in the hope of finding ‘the guy’ for a league dominated by elite signal callers. This won’t avoid reputations being tarnished by bad decisions, but it will allow teams to move on if a player doesn’t work out as hoped. We could see a continuation of last year’s boom in quarterbacks going early despite my own projection of just two players with first round grades at the position.