Archive for November, 2011

Jarvis Jones game tape vs Florida

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Due to unforseen circumstances I’ll be delaying my updated mock draft until tomorrow, ahead of the Seahawks game against the Eagles. In my first projection last week I paired Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones with the Seahawks in round one. He’s collected 13.5 sacks this season playing as an undersized defensive end, but would move to the WILL linebacker position for Seattle. Jones also has some familiarity with Pete Carroll as a former USC recruit who transferred to Georgia after suffering a neck injury.

In tomorrow’s updated mock, Jones will jump further up the board way ahead of the range Seattle is currently picking. Thanks to John (JMPasq) for putting together the tape so you can see why I have him ranked so highly. He’s clearly not suited to playing every down at the LOS – there are occasions where he just gets flushed out by a tackle, he doesn’t have the necessary upper body power to disengage from blocks or the correct hand use and wingspan/reach. He’s always going to be better in space, and this is what I like about his pass rushing ability from the linebacker position. Look at his third sack in this game at 2:05 and the way he dances round the lineman when he’s in space. It’s not an edge rush (I always look for DE/OLB’s who come inside and don’t rely on the edge in college) and he makes the tackle look foolish it’s so fluid. The fourth sack at 6:22 is pure speed, in space, off the edge.

So why is he going to adjust to linebacker? From what I’ve seen in four Georgia games this season, he’s a sure tackler who can move into coverage and take away crossing routes or checkdowns. Look at the forced fumble at 3:48 where he sprints from a standing left end position to the outside side of the field to make an instinctive play on the ball. At 4:57 he’s in coverage and does a good job disrupting one route before adjusting to another. He’s a little bit stiff on the next play, also in coverage, but he reacted quickly enough to limit the gain. He does a better job at 5:54. 

This is a guy who will create pressure and impact plays, exactly what the Seahawks hoped they’d get with the last linebacker they drafted in round one. Aaron Curry had nine sacks in four years at Wake Forest, barely ever played at the line of scrimmage and didn’t have anything like the pure edge speed and pass rush awareness that Jones shows. In one season of football at Georgia, he has 4.5 more sacks than Curry produced in a four-year college career. Ruskell and co believed Leroy Hill was the ideal WILL and he continues to feature in that role for the Seahawks. It’s not a position in need of immediate improvement, but there is a critical need to create more pressure and not just rely on the LEO defensive end. This isn’t a draft full of defensive line talent, so this is one solution if the Seahawks are forced to turn to defense in round one.

Jones’ best football is ahead of him, which is probably why he’s stated he’ll return to Georgia. However, his stock may never be higher following a season where he has more sacks than all but one player (Whitney Mercilus) in the country. He wears the same number as Earl Thomas and he could end up having a similar impact as a playmaking defensive talent.

Seahawks trade up? It’s hard to judge

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

After winning games against Baltimore and St. Louis, Seahawks fans have been debating whether they’d need to trade up to draft a quarterback of the future. The consensus appears to be that the top quarterbacks will be off the board if Seattle is picking in the 10-15 range. Last April’s draft provides two key examples why that may or may not be true.

Jake Locker wasn’t guaranteed a place in the top ten picks. A lot of people gave him a round two grade and I suspect opinion differed wildly within NFL front offices around the league. However, I always believed Locker would be seen as an ideal fit for Mike Shanahan and the offensive system he wanted to implement in Washington. I assumed that Locker would be available when the Redskins picked at #10 and made that projection in pretty much every mock draft I compiled. Locker working for Shanahan seemed like the ideal match. Draft day came around and Tennessee claimed Locker at #8, right under Washington’s nose.

That was a big surprise. Not just because Locker was considered a reach by many, but also because Blaine Gabbert – who was expected to be taken early – was still on the board. Still, what a consolation for Washington right? Wrong. Despite a huge quarterback need, the Redskins traded out of the top ten with Jacksonville, quite the statement on how they graded Gabbert. The trade from #15 to #10 by the Jaguars wasn’t too expensive, mainly because Washington was actively searching to move down. Would Shanahan have drafted Locker? Almost certainly in my view.

The Seahawks may well end up owning the #15 pick next April, like Jacksonville. There are two points I’m trying to make here:

#1 – Just because a team has a quarterback need, it doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily draft the next best quarterback on the board. It could be a scheme issue, it could be a bad review or even a nagging injury doubt. It could be a personality clash. A player who fits at one team won’t necessarily fit at another, as we saw with Jacksonville, Washington and Blaine Gabbert.

#2 – If trading up is unavoidable, it won’t necessarily cost the earth to make a deal. The Gabbert deal cost Jacksonville a second round pick. While losing a relatively high second rounder isn’t ideal for a team continuing a long term rebuild, it’s also a worthwhile gamble to try and solve a need at quarterback. The New York Jets made a similar move to acquire Mark Sanchez, so if the Seahawks look to make a deal next April there’s every chance it won’t be a blockbuster trade.

In my updated mock to be published tomorrow, I’m going to look at this situation closely. Coaches view players differently – I understand the Seahawks had Gabbert ranked #1 on their board of quarterbacks this year, but Jake Locker was only at #6 behind players like Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton. Washington clearly had a different view on Gabbert, but probably felt more positive about Locker. If the two teams are competing for quarterbacks in the off-season, it’s quite possible they’ll be targeting completely different players. When you also factor in how refined Mike Holmgren’s gradings are for quarterbacks and the unknown future in Miami, it could be that the Seahawks face little competition for ‘their‘ guy.

Some would argue that’s wishful thinking, but it could be reality. The Seahawks might not actually have to do anything to draft the quarterback they want to lead this team, because the teams involved could be looking at different players, maybe even in different rounds. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility some teams will use Cincinnati as a role model, drafting an offensive playmaker or lineman in round one and looking at second tier quarterbacks later. Perhaps that’s the approach Seattle will take?

Matt Barkley game tape vs UCLA

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Courtesy of JMPasq

Seahawks lose, own 11th overall pick

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

According to NE Patriots Draft the Seahawks would own the 11th overall pick after today’s loss to the Redskins. At 4-7, Seattle shares the same record as Washington who would pick 7th. Miami – the other big rival in the hunt for quarterbacks – would pick 6th overall with a 3-8 record. One possible highlight is Carolina picking just in front of the Dolphins – realistically they could be viable trade partners for any team wishing to jump ahead of the pack. Victory today and the Seahawks would’ve been picking either 14th or 15th overall.

I’ll be updating my mock draft this week to reflect the new draft order. Today’s victory for Washington, sending them behind Miami, could actually mix things up significantly. Could it pave the way for the Seahawks to get their quarterback after all?

Seahawks should do what it takes for Matt Barkley

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

Matt Barkley celebrates one of six touchdowns against UCLA (AP Photo/Jae Hong)

Matt Barkley ended his and USC’s season last night by beating UCLA 50-0. The performance included six touchdowns and just seven incompletions (you can see highlights here), passing Matt Leinart’s single season conference record for touchdowns in the process. He’ll finish the year with a 39/7 touchdown-to-interception ratio, completing 69% of his passes for 3528 yards.

In August I questioned whether Barkley was the #1 overall prospect eligible for the 2012 draft. He won’t go first overall – Andrew Luck has that tied up – but the last few weeks have reignited my belief that Barkley may be the superior talent. He’s at least Luck’s equal. Yes, he’s throwing to two extremely talented receivers. However, to suggest USC’s offensive depth is greater than Stanford’s would be a mistake. The Cardinal have an elite college offensive line and pro-level tight ends. Both quarterbacks benefit from their surroundings, but also get the most out of their supporting casts.

Luck is a fine talent and one that richly deserves a lot of the praise he’s received during the last two years. However, assuming Luck is perfect has stopped people really breaking down his game this year. In the last few weeks he’s not looked as sharp especially when dealing with pressure. He was sacked just twice prior to an overtime victory against Barkley and USC – since then he’s looked a little skittish in the pocket as teams use the Trojans’ example to create a pass rush against Stanford’s line. We should temper the expectations for Luck slightly and I’ll be reviewing the tape of his last four games in a few days. At the same time, Barkley has deserved more consistent praise throughout this season.

National draft pundits haven’t given him enough hype. Todd McShay’s first big board had Barkley in the 20′s as a late first rounder. His most recent piece had him as the #2 quarterback behing Luck and within the top-six players- something that should’ve been the case from the start. It’s perhaps worth a mention that McShay’s latest board also listed Whitney Mercilus as a 360lbs nose tackle with a description to match – he was said to be a two-gap nose tackle. It’s since been changed.

A lot of the knocks on Barkley were about physical restrictions, yet we see perfectly placed downfield passes against the Bruins (he had 41, 42 and 52 yard touchdown passes). He’s technically as good as any quarterback I’ve scouted. For a breakdown, check out this tape review piece I wrote on USC’s victory against Oregon.

So why is Barkley perfect for the Seahawks? There are many reasons. Pete Carroll needs a quarterback to hang his hat on for the long term, someone who can define his offense in his last big shot at the NFL. Why not a player he knows better than anyone? The Seahawks need someone who can start quickly without needing major technical adjustments – Barkley in my eyes could start in week one of his rookie season and enjoy similar success to Matt Ryan’s first term in Atlanta. Seattle’s offense has some developing talent and the offensive line is young, it needs someone who can pull everything together and turn it into a unit that can compete with the best in the league.  Barkley is capable of all of these things.

Sure, it would be an expensive trade. It could mean trading into the top-five picks from a position in the mid-first round, similar to the last USC quarterback drafted in round one. It could cost more than one first round pick, or at least a large portion of the 2012 draft. So be it. The Seahawks need to be aggressive in this situation. It’s not to say they’re a quarterback away from an elite squad, but the next step in getting to that position will be finding that guy. It’s the team’s biggest need. Waiting until 2013 will just be delaying the inevitable at a time when the best quarterback may be Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas – a significant drop off to the Luck and Barkley’s available next year.

Of course Barkley will need to decide whether he’s going to even enter the draft, but he’s ready for the NFL. Becoming a legend at USC sounds great on paper, but not as good as becoming a legend in the NFL. Staying with the Trojans will come with an injury risk. If he does enter the draft, it’ll present a rare opportunity for a team to get a #1 talent at quarterback without needing to acquire the #1 pick. Barkley can start quickly for the Seahawks and can take them to where Carroll, Paul Allen and this fan base wants to go. Having been aggressive in their acquisition of Charlie Whitehurst and having flirted with the possibility of trading for Kevin Kolb and Carson Palmer – the Seahawks need to maintain that conviction next April and find a way to draft Matt Barkley.

**NOTE**
After today’s depressing loss at home to Washington, where the Redskins scored 16 unanswered points after the Seahawks led 17-7, perhaps this article should be changed to, “Seattle should just draft Barkley when they have the chance”?

Week 13 notes

Saturday, November 26th, 2011

Landry Jones had another average day, failing to score a touchdown for the second consecutive week. Oklahoma defeated Iowa State 26-6 but Jones only managed 22/43 passing for 256 yards and six-yards per attempt. I left him out of the first round in my mock draft and I just can’t see a team willing to invest their faith in Jones being the future of their franchise.

Robert Griffin III left Baylor’s game against Texas Tech with a concussion and didn’t participate in the second half. It’s a worrying sign for a player not blessed with a physique that looks up to the task of being hit consistently at the next level. Hopefully Griffin makes a full recovery and this won’t be a long term issue that damages his draft stock. Prior to the injury, he’d scored three touchdowns in the game including two on the ground.

Rutgers lost 40-22 to Connecticut but Mohamed Sanu had another productive day. He managed nine catches for 133 yards, having already recorded over 100 receptions and 1000 yards for the season, including seven scores. The 6-2, 215lbs playmaker should be a first round pick considering his size, skill set, consistent hands and physical nature.

Dwight Jones also had another big day with three touchdowns, ten catches and 101 yards as UNC beat Duke 37-21. I’ve argued throughout this season that Jones is the #1 receiver in this class with a perfect combination of size, speed, control and great hands. Perhaps more importantly he seems to always be bailing his quarterback out by adjusting his routes to meet the ball. That could be an important trait for teams bedding in young quarterbacks and needing an adaptable wide out.

Quinton Coples is finishing the season strongly after a slow introduction. He’s starting to grow on me again, although I’m still struggling to work out exactly what his best position is in the NFL. Like Jones he had a productive day against Duke, recording two sacks and a forced fumble. He now has 7.5 sacks for the season and while that isn’t as high as people expected (he had ten sacks last season playing among the interior line) he’s making up for lost time as we move towards Bowl season.

Austin Davis ensured Southern Miss will face Houston next week in the C-USA Championship game. The Golden Eagles beat Memphis 44-7 with Davis adding three total touchdowns and passing for 277 yards. Last week they lost a game against UAB that should’ve been a banker, but it’ll be really fascinating to see how they cope with Case Keenum next week. Can Davis put himself on the map by sticking with the prolific quarterback?

Jarvis Jones tape vs Florida (full game)

Friday, November 25th, 2011

In my first mock draft for 2012 I had the Seahawks taking Georgia’s Jarvis Jones. He’d be an ideal fit at the WILL linebacker position, playing at the LOS on third downs. He has 12.5 sacks this season after transferring from USC, the second most in college football this season. Below you’ll find the entire Florida vs Georgia game, which is where Jones really stood out to me. He had four sacks on the day, and I’d recommend fast forwarding to 55:55 in the first half for an example of his pass rushing ability.

He wears #29.

First Half

Second half

Robert Griffin III vs Oklahoma tape review

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

This was a typical performance from the 2011 version of Robert Griffin III – big plays downfield, a dramatic finish and further evidence of star potential. We’ve said it many times before, but his development from year to year at Baylor is quite phenomenal. In my first mock draft of the year I put him among the top ten picks (#8 Miami) and he could go even higher still.

Even so, I’m still trying to work just how good his deep ball really is. Yes, Griffin has completed a large number of downfield passes for big touchdowns. The Bears, somehow, keep exploiting defenses with the sheer quality of deep speed within their group of receivers. There may not be a faster core of athletes in college football and Kendall Wright in particular will light up the combine next year. More often than not Griffin is throwing into a huge window because of the separation and speed of his targets. Check out the plays at 0:06, 3:08 and 6:18 and tell me those are difficult throws for any quarterback with above average arm strength. The pass at 6:08 was inaccurate and should’ve hit the wide out for another touchdown. There have been instances of just flat out missing a wide open downfield pass at times this season, but you offset that with a number of good plays too.

It’s not that Griffin III is inaccurate in that sense, but there are a lot of examples where he’s throwing to wide open receivers that maybe overplay is deep ball. The pass at 2:28 is over thrown into double coverage – technically he’s plaing it safe putting it in an area where most likely nobody will get it, but perhaps his reciever with elite downfield speed will make an incredible play? In the NFL, if you take away the easier wide open throws are we going to see more of these over thrown ‘no turnover’ passes rather than big downfield completions, as Griffin compensates for not having speed advantages downfield?

Just as you’re starting to wonder whether Griffin’s downfield passing ability is slightly overrated, you see a pass like the one at 4:48. That is just about as accurate as you can get throwing downfield, into a tight window with double coverage. It’s perfection and should’ve been caught for one of the touchdowns of the year. That isn’t just a top-10 draft pick delivery, it’s a first overall pick bomb that very few current NFL quarterbacks are capable of. The pass at 7:17 is a further example of a difficult throw with the necessary pace to find a receiver for a big play.

There are other examples of similar quality too. The pass at 2:42 shows good awareness to sense the pressure and he adjusts his angle to throw a quick strike to his receiver. This is where Griffin’s release and arm strength may be most important, because it enables him to make a quick completion in a difficult situation. Once Wright receives the ball in space, he’s able to make a huge play but it all starts with Griffin getting the ball to his playmaker. At 4:27 he flicks his wrists and delivers a rocket spiral to the sideline for a first down.

For arguments sake we have to point out the negatives. The throws at 1:29 and 5:04 flash inaccuracy and the passes at 1:40 and 8:30 are bad decisions, the second of which should’ve ended in a turnover. Some people have complained about the change in his throwing angle in certain situation. Considering it’s usually part of an improvisation to complete a pass rather than a bad habit he’s developed, I think that’s a little harsh. Most of the time his release point is good enough for the next level, it’s his footwork that requires the most work.

We know about the athleticism and ability to move around in the pocket to avoid pressure while keeping his eyes firmly downfield. We see great examples of this at 6:32, 6:40, 7:02 and 10:09. The other well known feature of Griffin’s play is intelligence, which really shines at 8:23 to deal with a difficult snap and throw the ball back to the LOS in order to avoid a big loss and an intentional grounding flag. That’s an under rated play.

But really this game will always be remembered for one play, and one play only. This is Griffin’s highlight, the thing people will always come back to when discussing his time at Baylor. With the game heading to over time at 38-38 and with 17 seconds remaining he creates space by moving to the left and then throws across his body to deliver a pass of such accuracy, incredible touch and unmatched athleticism it deserves to win any game. Fast forward to 10:34 and watch that play a few times, because it’s what will make Griffin a high draft pick next April. I’m still not sure how he finds that receiver at the back of the end zone, especially considering his body position to throw and the decent coverage. Scouts, coaches and GM’s will replay that many times between January and April.

On a side note, how under rated is Kendall Wright? Deep speed, good hands and playmaking qualities that will improve any NFL offense. He’s fourth in college football for receiving yards with 1281 and has ten touchdowns. That’s more yards than Justin Blackmon. I have Wright going to Cleveland in my first mock draft with the 19th overall pick, but he could easily go earlier than that. He could be another Mike Wallace.

Many thanks to JMPasq for supplying us with the tape

First round mock draft: 23rd November

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Today I am publishing my first projection for the 2012 NFL draft. Regulars will know how it works – the concept of the mock drafts on Seahawks Draft Blog are to create discussion and look at many different possibilities over the coming months.  The draft isn’t an exact science, unexpected things happen and we’ll be looking at many different scenarios between now and April. You can see the mock draft below, scroll down for further analysis on why I left out certain individuals and why I chose a linebacker for the Seahawks.

Don’t forget to check out Kip Earlywine’s excellent piece from yesterday – it’s a great read and highly recommended. I also compiled a tape review on Matt Barkley vs Oregon this week which you can see by clicking here.

First round mock draft

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
The Colts will need to make a decision on the future of Peyton Manning, but if they keep this pick then Luck will be the choice.
#2 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Jeff Otah is on IR for the second successive year. Kalil’s a luxury, but the success of his brother Ryan in Carolina could influence this choice.
#3 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
Steve Jackson’s contract includes a clause that could make him a free agent after this season. Richardson is a much needed elite playmaker.
#4 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
With Kalil off the board, Minnesota could look to draft a dynamic receiver. A reach, but perhaps a necessary gamble.
#5 Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
Elite potential and pro-ready, Barkley would start immediately for the desperate Redskins.
#6 Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
The complete package at receiver and a necessary target if Blaine Gabbert is going to succeed in Jacksonville.
#7 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Drafting a left tackle should be Arizona’s priority and although this is a reach, Martin is the clear #2 blind side blocker after Kalil.
#8 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
Miami needs a quarterback and they need to inject some life back into the franchise. Griffin III will sell tickets.
#9 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
More of a right tackle prospect than a blind side blocker. Philly needs better line play to compliment their playmakers.
#10 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
Brown has the potential to become a star at the next level. Cleveland is building a talented defense.
#11 Luke Kuelchy (LB, Boston College)
Consistent tackling machine with character to boot. He looks like a Scott Pioli type of player.
#12 Jarvis Jones (LB, Georgia)
USC transfer with an explosive skill set. He has 12.5 sacks in the SEC this year but need to prove neck injury is behind him.
#13 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
He’s made big improvements this year, but needs to keep improving to become a premier cornerback at the next level.
#14 David De Castro (OG, Stanford)
Tampa Bay need to improve their interior offensive line and the hype around De Castro could push him into this range.
#15 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
The Bills need a pass rusher. Mercilus needs to play in space at his size, but will need to prove he can adapt to the 3-4.
#16 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
What is his role in the NFL? With limited options at the DE position, Tennessee may take a chance, but he’s probably best in a 3-4.
#17 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
He’s enjoyed a strong season and put himself in the first round bracket. A lack of pass rush options could push NY in this direction.
#18 Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
The Tebow situation is an odd one, but if Denver keeps winning I expect they’ll draft a quarterback in the mid-rounds.
#19 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
Explosive playmaker with elite speed, the type that Cleveland lacks. Could be as good as DeSean Jackson.
#20 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Tall, physical cornerback who will appeal to Jerry Jones and the Cowboys. Specialises in run support, coverage skills need work.
#21 Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
Elite talent with limitless potential who only falls this far due to substantial character concerns.
#22 Vontaze Burfict (LB, Arizona State)
Talented linebacker who will bring some attitude back to the Giants’ defense.
#23 Kevin Reddick (LB, North Carolina)
Under rated linebacker, would be a nice compliment to Cincinnati’s defense.
#24 Peter Konz (C, Wisconsin)
Stood out last year in a big-name Badgers offensive line. Could return for another year, but ready to have an impact as a pro.
#25 Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
The Bears need to add a big, consistent receiver to their offense. Sanu will surprise people with early production.
#26 Oday Aboushi (OT, Virginia)
I’ve seen Virginia three times in the last two seasons and Aboushi looks like a future pro. Could he rise to this level?
#27 Manti Te’o (LB, Notre Dame)
Perhaps it’s time to start thinking about inside linebackers in Baltimore? Te’o is the best left on the board here.
#28 Alameda Ta’amu (DT, Washington)
Big nose tackle prospect. Houston switched to the 3-4 this year but could still use Ta’amu’s size up front to anchor their defensive line.
#29 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
He’s made a lot of mistakes off the field, but despite inconsistent quarterback play he’s maintained solid production.
#30 Nicolas Jean-Baptiste (DT, Baylor)
He’s no Phil Taylor, but every time I’ve watched Baylor this year he’s been the one defensive player who looks to have some pro-potential.
#31 Kelechi Osemele (OG, Iowa State)
Looks every bit a future NFL guard. Perhaps a little under rated and closer to David De Castro than most think.
#32 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
He’s having a good year, but looks like a five-technique convert to me and that could hamper his stock.

***********************************************************************

There’s no Landry Jones?

As I discussed in earlier in the week. I can’t grade Jones in the first round. I also appreciate that I didn’t see Christian Ponder as a first round pick last year and he went 12th overall. There are several teams who need to invest in a young quarterback and others will argue – quite fairly – that someone will likely take the gamble on Jones. I accept that point of view and embrace that it’s a distinct possibility. However, he has a universal grade in the top half of round one that I think is generally undeserved. Is it possible that NFL teams who need a quarterback will also see things like that? Of course.

He’s an unlikely option for the Seahawks given his skill set contradicts the criteria Pete Carroll has settled on for the position (explained in several interviews). Charlie Whitehurst, Tarvaris Jackson and Josh Portis – the three quarterbacks currently on the roster and all signed by this regime - all have plus mobility and the ability to extend plays, something Jones struggles with in a big way. Last April, we understand Seattle’s draft board went #1 Gabbert, #2 Kaepernick, #3 Dalton, #4 Newton. Ryan Mallett, a player who had below average mobility in the pocket, was not included on the team’s board. There’s clear evidence here as to how Seattle is grading quarterbacks and I don’t expect Jones to be the exception.

It’s also important to remember how the league is adapting with a similar thought process. Players without above average arm strength or mobility are dropping (Jimmy Clausen, Ryan Mallett) and players who can move around and extend plays are being graded much higher (Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, Andy Dalton, Tim Tebow). Jones could be the latest example of a player who drops down the board because he’s a pure pocket passer, playing within a system that doesn’t demand any improvisation.

The one team I really considered was Denver. The Broncos fans appear to be turning on John Elway because he’s not so keen on a quarterback he didn’t draft and who can’t throw a football in a passing league. While the Broncos are winning, he’s struggling to compete with fan pressure for Tebow to get his chance. I suspect we could see a situation where Tebow is given the opportunity to fail next year now that it looks like Denver could end up picking in the lower half of round one. That creates a no-lose situation for Elway, who can say he had his chance if he fails, but if Tebow keeps winning (somehow) the Broncos will be successful anyway. They recently sent a large contingent to watch Nick Foles lay an egg against Colorado, so they could be considering options beyond round one.

I do believe there’s a chance Jones suffers a draft day fall and he may even have second thoughts about declaring if he gets a negative review from the draft committee. This year hasn’t gone according to plan for Oklahoma, and there could be a feeling of ‘unfinished business’ for Landry Jones especially if he’s only considered the 4th or 5th best quarterback prospect.

Other big names not making the cut: Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina), Brandon Thompson (DT, Clemson)

Seahawks take a linebacker?

I don’t include trades in my mock drafts, but clearly there’s an opening for Seattle if they wish to move up. Carolina, St. Louis and Minnesota are no threat for Matt Barkley or Robert Griffin III. Trading up 7-8 places in the draft wouldn’t cost the earth and is a logical move for a team that simply must find a long term solution at quarterback. I’m sure we’ll discuss possible trades many times between now and April, but with none allowed in this mock let’s talk about the pick instead.

Jarvis Jones is a player I’ve kept quiet about for a few weeks now with this mock draft in mind. I wanted to create a talking point in my first mock draft, anticipating that the Seahawks might not be picking within the top five to get that quarterback. The first time I saw Jones play was against Boise State, where he showed flashes of quality as an under size edge rusher. Yet it was a four-sack performance against Florida that really sparked my interest. Since then he’s gone on to record 12.5 sacks for Georgia playing in the role vacated by Justin Houston (a third round pick last year). Only Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus (13.5 sacks) has more.

Despite playing predominantly as part of a four man front for the Bulldogs, he isn’t a LEO candidate. He’s playing at around 6-3 / 240lbs and clearly that’s going to be an issue at the next level if you’re asking him to play defensive end. In Seattle’s scheme he’d work as the WILL linebacker – the role currently taken by Leroy Hill. This would afford you the opportunity to use Jones a lot as a pass rusher because he’s not getting caught fighting tight ends and he’s got the athleticism to sit in coverage and not be a liability. On third down passing plays you can move him up to the LOS and let him rush the passer. Essentially, he could be the player Carroll was hoping Aaron Curry could develop into. When you watch the way Jones moves, his quick burst and ability to explode there’s every chance he could be a 7-10 sack player at the next level.

The Seahawks defense needs more of a pass rush threat, but they’re not going to find an elite defensive end who can fit into this scheme in round one. There’s no stud three-technique as we’ve seen in previous years, a position the Seahawks would surely love to fill. Adding a linebacker like Jones could be the answer to creating more pressure and finding another big time playmaker for this defense. You simply can’t argue with 12.5 sacks in your first year in the SEC.

There are two other things worth mentioning. Firstly, Jones was recruited by Pete Carroll at USC and he spent a year with the Trojans before suffering a serious neck injury. The doctors in SoCal wouldn’t clear him once he’d recovered, so he transferred to Georgia. He had to sit out a year in Athens because of that, offering further time for the injury to heal. Will there be any lasting problems due to that injury? And did Carroll see enough potential in that one year to consider working together again in the NFL?

Secondly, this week Jones reiterated his desire to stay at Georgia for at least another year. He’s only a redshirt sophomore, but he’s starting to get a lot of attention due to his production. He was interviewed immediately after a big win over Kentucky which secured a place in the SEC Championship game. With advice and careful consideration, he may well declare (he wouldn’t be the first to change his mind). However, I feel the need to point out that Jones is saying he won’t enter the draft.

The lesson of a gradual draft class and how contending teams get better

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Posted by Kip Earlywine

(Note:  Be sure to scroll down and check out Rob’s recent entry on Matt Barkley.  The Oregon game may well prove to be a turning point for Barkley’s draft status.)

The apparent beginnings of a second half surge by the Seattle Seahawks has ignited the “lose to win”  debate among fans (which in my imagination, is sung to the tune of Paul Stanley’s “Live to win“).  Its a topic that in the past was shied away from and avoided, but in 2011 its taken off to a level I’ve never seen before.  Even radio personalities like Mike Salk have openly advocated for losing games for draft position.  For some reason, perhaps fueled by the long overdue acceptance of moving beyond Matt Hasselbeck, the nearly undeniable requirement for a franchise quarterback to make the playoffs and the well documented success-rate of first round quarterbacks, the subject has ceased to be completely taboo.  I’m guessing a lot of fans were looking at Andrew Luck after getting crushed by Pittsburgh for an 0-2 start and thought, “if we’re going to be bad, lets be bad enough.”

Despite that, the subject does bring out a lot of heated emotions on both sides.  Even on this very blog we’ve seen some heated discussion in the comments regarding this.  So I figured it was high time I weighed in, to explain that there’s really no reason to freak out either way.  At least not this year.

Depending on the season and the context involved, I’ve actually been on both sides of this issue in the past.  I thought that Seattle gained more by winning in 2002 when a hot finish not only helped Matt Hasselbeck establish himself as a franchise quarterback, but also helped Mike Holmgren keep his job.  Without that late 2002 surge, I very much doubt the Seahawks would have been celebrating their first Superbowl berth in 2005.  Conversely, when it was obvious that the team was in need of a complete roster overhaul and change at the top in 2009, I felt that losing to secure that change, as well as needed draft position (to assist in finding a quarterback) was clearly more important.  Seattle did not draft a quarterback the next draft (2010), and I think its safe to say that though frustrating at the time, it was absolutely the right move in retrospect.  Instead, Seattle stayed calm and simply selected the best players they could, and though they didn’t get a franchise quarterback (who didn’t exist in that draft anyway), they did acquire two players who are already pieces of Seattle’s next great team.

So which is it in 2011?  This season doesn’t really fit well with either of those examples:  Seattle does not have a true emerging franchise quarterback as they did in 2002, nor are they a team trending downward and in need of new leadership.  But if we made a spectrum with 2002 being on one side and 2009 being on the other, I think I’d lean towards putting this season on the 2002 (“winning is good”) half.  And not for the reasons many “win now” supporters have suggested.

Rather, while looking ahead to the next NFL draft, one can’t help but notice that this isn’t going to be a top heavy draft.  I don’t know if there is a single player on defense that truly deserves to be a top 10 pick.  The offensive portion of the draft is actually pretty dang good, but its also a muddled group.  Andrew Luck is the consensus top quarterback, and Trent Richardson (if he declares) will be the top rated running back, but after that expect a lot of different front offices ranking the remaining players in a variety of orders.  Its very possible that with time, the quarterback class could solidify into a consensus order, but with Jones being rated highly, Barkley lower than he deserves, and Griffin’s stock being difficult to predict, the early indications hint at what could become an unpredictable remaining quarterback class not unlike 2011′s.  Additionally, you are looking at probably four or five offensive lineman going in round one (Kalil, Martin, Konz, and DeCastro are locks.)  Similarly, there are about four to six wide receivers who could merit first round consideration.  At running back, Lamar Miller will likely be a first rounder, and Chris Polk could end up sneaking into the first round as well.  I wouldn’t rule out LaMichael James either.

In other words, there are going to be three or four superstars in this draft, and its likely they will all quickly be gone in the first five or so picks.  But after that, the draft widens out considerably.  To help illustrate this idea, I’m going to use this basic diagram:

The dark blue area represents players who are uncommon talents.  In 2012, this group is expected to include Andrew Luck, Matt Kalil, Trent Richardson, and Matt Barkley (whether his reputation is there or not).  Richardson has indicated recently that he leans toward returning to school next year, and though I do not think Barkley will return to USC, some believe that Barkley may return as well.  Split the difference, and you are probably looking at only 2 to 4 elite players in this next draft.  That’s not an especially low number, but its dwarfed by the number of Upper Tier players that follows it, a list that probably goes fifteen strong on offense alone, and since teams don’t pick purely by BPA, you can expect some of those 15 players to last to the end of the first round.  And while this draft completely lacks top 10 worthy prospects on defense, there are quite a few defensive players who could make a lot of sense from the mid-first round on, players like Zach Brown, Alameda Ta’amu, Vinny Curry or Janoris Jenkins.  It paints the picture of a draft that falls off quickly at the very beginning, but turns into a gradual plateau for a long time after.

Generally speaking, as you move down the pyramid, each sub-group increases in size and opinion increasingly lacks consensus.  By the time you reach the 4th tier, its really anyone’s guess who goes where, and its no surprise then that the very best front offices separate themselves the most in this area.  And in 2012, you’re looking at a pyramid that has very little dark blue, but a lot of regular blue and light blue.  That’s true with every draft, but its more true with 2012′s group than most.

Where have we seen this before?  Though not perfectly analogous, we’ve seen similarly “dispersed” drafts recently in 2005 and 2009.

Top 10 picks, 2005: Alex Smith, Ronnie Brown, Braylon Edwards, Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams, Pac-Man Jones, Troy Williamson, Antrel Rolle, Carlos Rodgers, Mike Willams (the very same).

In a word, brutal.  But consider some notables from the remainder of that same first round:

Notable picks 11-32, 2005: DeMarcus Ware, Shawne Merriman, Jammal Brown, Marcus Spears, Aaron Rodgers, Jason Campbell, Roddy White, Heath Miller, Logan Mankins.

Its worth noting that while Ware, Merriman and Brown went 11th, 12th and 13th respectively, the rest of those players were drafted 20th or later.  Of course, Seattle drafted Chris Spencer 26th overall in that same draft.  Though not a home run pick, it ended up being the best first round pick Tim Ruskell would ever make.   Now lets take a look at another dispersed year: 2009.

Top 10 picks, 2009: Matt Stafford, Jason Smith, Tyson Jackson, Aaron Curry, Mark Sanchez, Andre Smith, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Eugene Monroe, B.J. Raji, Michael Crabtree.

Yet again, another incredibly weak top field.  Matt Stafford’s career is turning out the way you would hope any #1 overall quarterback would, but after that you have four players in a row who were late draft risers, and all four are picks their teams have regretted or will probably regret in the future.  Sanchez isn’t quite a disappointment just yet, as he’s improved every season and is currently sporting an 80 passer rating, but he hasn’t progressed nearly as fast as Stafford despite having almost double the playing time to this point.  Andre Smith, DHB, and Eugene Monroe had terrible beginnings to their careers, and while I wouldn’t rule out a turnaround, I think its safe to say they haven’t been earning their $40 million contracts.   B.J. Raji has been one of the most valuable DTs in the league, chosen by a team that knows a thing or two about evaluating talent.  Michael Crabtree has actually been a pretty solid receiver, just not the superstar many thought he’d be.  Overall though, you’re looking at two great players and two decent players in a top 10 crop.  Consider now how the rest of round one shaped up that year:

Notable picks 11-32, 2009: Brian Orakpo, Malcolm Jenkins, Brian Cushing, Josh Freeman, Jeremy Maclin, Brandon Pettigrew, Alex Mack, Percy Harvin, Michael Oher, Clay Matthews,  Eric Wood, Hakeem Nicks, Kenny Britt.

That list already includes 5 pro-bowlers and a franchise quarterback, among other things.  And while I think BJ Raji and Matt Stafford are currently on their way to the pro-bowl themselves, the top 10 group has yet to earn a single pro-bowl bid as of this writing.

I guess a logical question when seeing such unusual results is “how could NFL franchises picking in the top 10 let this happen?”  Well, its partly because the higher a team picks, the smaller their section of the pyramid is, and the more “locked in” they get.  Remember that these were not top-heavy years, and determining the top crust of talent became more of a case of guesswork than usual.  It probably also factors that many of the successful players from these lists landed on good teams who were able to put those players in a good place to succeed.  It didn’t hurt that Michael Oher went to a team that had previously invested heavily in the offensive line, and had both a franchise quarterback and franchise running back to make him look better.  It didn’t hurt BJ Raji or Clay Matthews that they went to a great team coming off a strange down year.

And as the picture at the top implies, its hard to not notice just how incredibly well Green Bay did in these two “weak” drafts, securing one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, an elite nose tackle and an elite pass rusher.  And they did so while John Schneider was a member of their front office, using a system he brought over with him when hired as the Seahawks general manager.  While Rodgers was gained through patience and luck, and Raji was gained by staying true to their board, Clay Matthews actually required a highly uncharacteristic trade up to acquire.

Could a 1st round trade up be in the books for John Schneider in 2012?  If the season were to end today, the Colts would likely take/trade Luck at #1.  But after that, you have three teams in a row who have invested in quarterbacks recently (Panthers, Vikings, Rams).  If Richardson opts not to declare, that leaves only Matt Barkley and Matt Kalil as the remaining elite prospects.  In a draft where the talent pool at say the 3rd overall pick won’t be radically different from the talent pool in the mid-first, that creates a massive incentive to trade down, even with the new rookie wage scale.  And of course, after Barkley and Griffin are both off the table, you are looking at a flat-out buyers market year, where trading down will be hard to do and trading up will probably cost less than usual.  We know that John Schneider loves to move down, but its just not going to be easy to do that this time.  In 2005 and 2009, there was only one top 10 trade in those two drafts combined.  That one top ten trade was of course for Mark Sanchez, which may not have materialized if not for then Browns coach Eric Mangini’s connections to the Jets.  A friendly rookie pay scale will help entice buyers to a degree, but why would any team spend significant capital to draft from essentially the same talent pool?  Unless its for a quarterback.

In that sense, there could be an ironic advantage to picking later and targeting a quarterback.  The Atlanta Falcons paid a king’s ransom for Julio Jones, but there is something to like about the fact that they controlled their own destiny.  They got their man.  Had they picked 10th, they might have been tempted to wait it out- and miss out- as a result.  As things are shaping up now, you will likely have teams in the top 5 picks holding Barkley and Griffin out for trade.  I’d rather pay two firsts and get Barkley for sure than take a 50/50 shot at getting Barkley for half that price.  If Seattle ends up picking 8th, that will be a very real temptation.

Great front offices work tirelessly so that they will always make the best decisions possible with the available players at each draft pick.  But that hard work and success does not lure them into an arrogant mentality where they believe hard work alone will always bring a needed piece of the puzzle to their doorstep.  When there is a piece out there that is critical to the equation, they’ve shown a willingness to make a bold move for that player, even in the case of Green Bay: a team that is famous for singing the praises of trading down, not up.

Finally, its worth nothing that as unlikely as it would have seemed at the time, the 2005 and 2009 drafts produced franchise quarterbacks after the top of the first round.  Aaron Rodgers somehow fell all the way to the 24th pick.  Jason Campbell isn’t a franchise quarterback, but he’s no slouch either.  He went with the very next pick.  Josh Freeman was the 17th overall pick in 2009.  What if Matt Barkley suffers from Jimmy Clausen lookalike-itis and has an inexplicable Aaron Rodgers fall?  What if Robert Griffin makes a dramatic rise into the first round, but not the high first round, as Josh Freeman did?  While I strongly advocate Seattle taking their fate into their own hands this next draft by moving up, if they foolishly choose not to, there is legitimate hope that they could luck out anyway.  And even in the worst case scenario- no worthy quarterback reaches Seattle’s first pick- we can take comfort in the knowledge that Seattle will at least be getting a pretty good player thanks to a deep second tier of talent, even if that player isn’t playing the position we want the most.

This isn’t to say that its always better to pick later.  That’s hardly the case.  In many drafts, such as the 2010 version, picking twice in the first fourteen picks was a huge blessing.  However, the way that the 2012 draft appears to be shaping up, this looks like a year where there are significant silver linings to picking a little bit later, enough to legitimately question if it makes it worth the losing and the resulting hot seat it would put our coach and front office on.