Archive for November, 2011

Matt Barkley vs Oregon tape review

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Matt Barkley’s performances have been consistently good all season, but it’s only after beating Oregon that he appears to be getting the praise he deserves. I wrote a piece during the summer that questioned whether Barkley – rather than Andrew Luck – would be the most talented player eligible for the 2012 draft. When you watch the Oregon tape, you look at the Stanford game and observe Barkley’s performance in defeating Notre Dame, that’s far from a ridiculous suggestion.

Luck is a tremendous player who will deservedly go first overall next April. The hype surrounding his potential, however, is not deserved. Revisionist history will tell you he’s the most highly regarded quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning. In reality, Luck has avoided a lot of the criticism’s and questions Manning faced. It’s assumed that Luck will succeed in any environment, that he’s the perfect prospect. That simply isn’t the case and it’s something we’ll look into over the next week. Barkley has a similar level of potential but has received a greater critique on his physical limitations. I feel like we’re looking at two comparable talents – but Barkley deserves a little more credit than he’s getting and the Luck hype machine maybe needs to take a step back.

A play in the Oregon game stood out as one of the best I’ve ever seen from a college quarterback (fast forward to the 2:01 mark in the video above). Barkley takes a snap under center and then a five-step drop. He pumps to the left and then comes back to the right before dropping in a perfectly weighted pass that dissects two defenders for a big first down completion. Look at the footwork, always moving. Look at the field awareness and poise in the pocket. Look at the perfect touch and accuracy on the pass – it couldn’t be any better. And notice that he does it under pressure – Barkley takes a big hit just as he releases the football. That is an elite play, there are franchise quarterbacks in the NFL who can’t make plays like that.

NFL teams value the back-shoulder throw in a big way these days and Barkley’s pass at 3:40 is a perfect example. Great pump to the right, then quickly floats the ball just behind the receiver and two defensive backs. I think this is an instinct throw more than a specific call – he senses the position of the two defensive backs and puts the pass just short of the group to allow Marqise Lee to adjust and make the completion.

One of the big knocks on Barkley is a lack of pure athleticism, but we see in this video that it’s completely overblown. The offenses in Seattle and Washington require the quarterback to run a lot of boot legs and play action and right off the bat against Oregon we see a quarterback moving out of the pocket, choosing his target and firing to the left sideline. We see further evidence of plus-mobility and the ability to throw accurately on the run at 2:41, 7:39 and also on the third touchdown at 4:02 and fourth score at 6:26. He runs a bootleg at 4:49 for a first down, so we’re talking about a pocket passer with plus mobility which is fine – how else would you describe Aaron Rodgers? Barkley doesn’t need to be Michael Vick.

Look closely at the way he switches between reads because this is something that Luck and Barkley flash on a weekly basis and separates them from others like Landry Jones. At 0:07 he doesn’t like his first option to the right and checks down inside for a short gain but keeps the ball moving. He’s reading the defense pre-snap and diagnosing the play as it develops.

The play at 1:34 is what really excites me about Barkley’s ability to play quickly in the NFL. Essentially, it’s what he’ll be doing every Sunday – seven step drop while reading the field, eyes downfield and to the right to create space underneath for the slot receiver who gets the first down. Barkley shows in this play that on a technical level, that ability to work within a pro-system is already there. Watch the all-22 tape on the replay and you’ll see his head turn from the right to the left before going underneath.

Barkley doesn’t have a great deep ball – his arm strength isn’t at a high level on downfield passes. His placement is generally good in terms of putting air on the ball and putting it in an area for the receiver to make a catch. However, when he’s asked to throw beyond 40-yards the ball’s sometimes under thrown because he hasn’t got the elite arm strength. On Marqise Lee’s opening touchdown at 0:55, Barkley’s going downfield all the way. He locks on to the receiver, waits for him to get separation and throws. A pass towards the end zone and it’s a much easier touchdown completion, the under thrown ball asks more of Lee who manages to adjust and make a play.

He does have a mechanical issue – he transfers his weight to the back foot throwing downfield and loses velocity because of it. At the same time, he probably leans back in order to get air on the ball. Several quarterbacks don’t have the elite arm and make downfield completions by exploiting single coverage and putting the ball in an area for the receiver to make a play. Barkley has shown consistently that he’s capable of that – and while the pass was under thrown it was as high percentage as a downfield pass can be. He isn’t going to be competing in an offense where he’s required to throw 5-6 deep passes per-game to a Mike Wallace type receiver, and I’m satisfied that he will make deep completions at the next level working within a ball-control offense like we see at USC.

The pass at 5:14 highlights a similar problem where a stronger pass could lead to an easy touchdown. However, the accuracy and placement on that ball makes the most of what arm strength Barkley does have and puts the ball into an area for the receiver to make a play. He finds way to be effective downfield, even if he’s more Matt Ryan and Carson Palmer throwing the deep ball than Jay Cutler or Matt Stafford.

The outside slant at 1:55 is a staple play that Landry Jones uses at Oklahoma, Barkley shows here that he’s capable of executing that pass with the same level of zip and arm strength. He throws a very good fade, as evidenced in the Robert Woods touchdown 2:20. He’s usually aware of the situation as it develops- he senses at 6:05 he needs to throw low to avoid any chance of a turnover and make a smart completion on a small field. The completion sets up the fourth touchdown on a similar play.

For a player who makes great decisions most of the time, there were also two poor ones here. The first comes on a fumbled snap in the red zone at 4:15, collects the ball and then tries to force a pass down the middle and should’ve been intercepted. He needs to appreciate the situation – fall on the ball, take the third down and try again. It’s not worth turning the ball over there trying to force a play. The second error leads to the interception. Barkley argued that Robert Woods was held – he was – and that’s what led to the turnover. No flag is thrown, but why throw the ball to Woods in that situation? He needs to recognise there that even if there is a foul, the receiver is in no position to make a play. It was careless and avoidable, even if it should’ve been a penalty.

The pass at 8:31 is a further example of a beautifully weighted pass down the middle for a first down.

People talk about the high volume of screen passes and short completions in the USC offense, but that’s football not just in college football but increasingly in the NFL too. Barkley is going to be tasked with managing a ball-control offense that will include a lot of short stuff and high percentage passes. What separates him from a player like Jimmy Clausen who relied a lot on high percentage completions is the evidence we see every week of making several plays that demand more from the quarterback. He’s making difficult pro-throws regularly, he’s throwing on an intermediate level and beyond. Neither Luck or Barkley are running a Robert Griffin III/Baylor style downfield offense and that won’t be the case at the next level either.

On the technical front, Barkley plays on a different level to the vast majority of college quarterbacks. His ability to operate in something akin to a pro-style offense, execute and look as polished as this is beyond impressive. Let’s not forget that this is an Oregon team that made Andrew Luck appear very ordinary last week – and Barkley didn’t have the benefit of a home-field advantage. There’s no doubt in my mind that Barkley could be the top prospect eligible for 2012, that he can have a quick impact in the NFL and enjoy a prosperous career in the pro’s. Will he declare? Arguments can be made on both sides of the debate, but there’s no doubt at all – he’s ready for the NFL.

Thanks to JMPasq for supplying us with the tape

Landry Jones is not a first round quarterback

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Landry Jones doesn't look like a NFL quarterback success story

Before I begin this piece, I want to raise attention to the updated draft order following week 11 of the NFL season. According to NE Patriots Draft, Seattle actually improved it’s position from 11th to 10th overall despite recording back-to-back victories with a win over St. Louis. Miami – one of the favorites to pick first overall just a few weeks ago – are now up to #8 after three successive victories. After Indianapolis there are three teams who almost certainly won’t be drafting a quarterback next April (Carolina, Minnesota and St. Louis). That’s a dangerous situation for Washington at #5, who if it ended like this would be sweating about teams possibly trading above them. I’ll be publishing my first mock draft of the season later this week.  

On Saturday Robert Griffin III met Landry Jones in the Oklahoma vs Baylor shoot-out. It ended in a 45-38 victory for Griffin and the Bears. I’ll discuss Griffin’s performance in a future piece (I believe Griffin tape and also Barkley vs Oregon is forthcoming) but today I want to talk about Jones because I’m at a stage where I feel like I don’t need to see any more tape to determine he’s not a first-round talent.  

Oklahoma’s first drive of this game perfectly sums up Jones as a prospect. On his second attempt, Jones takes a play action in the gun before a pre-meditated throw to a receiver running a short in-route. Jones doesn’t make a read after the snap and forces a dangerous throw straight at a covering defensive end. The pass is tipped up into the air and is almost intercepted. He needs to recognise that pass just isn’t on and progress to another option – he’s too handcuffed to the play call and it almost resulted in a turnover. If I’m drafting a quarterback in round one, he needs to have even a basic ability to get out of a call when it breaks down. Watch Matt Barkley and study how well he makes a pre-snap and post-snap read, continuously diagnosing the defense as the play develops around him. Barkley shows time and time again a natural ability to work on the move and still make good decisions. Watch his performance in dismantlin Oregon at the weekend and then watch Jones forcing blind passes, making zero reads and just throwing the ball to the receiver he’s told to throw to. You’ll be watching a player primed to make a quick impact on the NFL and a player who’s not even close to that level of technical ability.  

Jones’ first possession ends with a 3rd and 28 throw into double coverage which is again tipped up into the air and the interception is dropped by a Baylor defensive back. Jones locks onto his receiver early and should know better than to try and force that pass. In this situation, Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley would be checking down through their progressions but Jones is keyed into the play call. It was incredibly fortunate not to be picked off and he can’t afford to make such a dangerous pass with two corner’s draped all over his intended target. The all-22 tape showed a check down to the running back was an option, but Jones never strays from the call.  

Here’s another example – in the second half he takes a snap, rotates his body to the right and without looking just throws it straight into a jumping defensive black who blitzed the right edge. Jones doesn’t even recognise he’s there – he just throws at maximum velocity straight at the guy. There’s no pre-snap read here to detect the corner who had blatantly moved to the LOS ready to blitz the edge. It’s just snap, turn, throw without any read during the play. The ball hits the DB and goes spiralling up into the air and for the third time is fortunate not to turn into an interception. Blind throws are difficult to watch in college football and a major concern when you see it consistently. Jones is a prime culprit.  

I appreciate that scheme is king in Oklahoma and it requires a fast tempo, quick hitting passing game. However, how can you sufficiently judge that Landry Jones can handle a completely different offense at the next level where he’ll be challenged in so many different ways? He’s not alone in that sense – many college quarterbacks work in systems that don’t translate to the pro’s. Yet Jones doesn’t compensate with an ideal skill set physically – his arm is good some of the time (above average touch on deep fade, nice velocity on intermediate slant and occassionally the short post) but it’s not exactly a cannon either. He’s not a mobile player who can extend plays with his footwork. He doesn’t show any kind of improvisation when plays break down. His decision making is frequently poor in college because he’s tied to the play calls, so do you trust him to make good decisions when the shackles are released?  

When he gets protection and the time to let things unfold, he can be precise. He’ll hit the slants, in-route’s, quick screens and such. That’s great, but in the NFL he’s going to be disrupted, he’s going to have much more pressure and he’s going to need to drive the deep ball with accuracy. I suspect defenses will let him hang himself to a degree – he’ll be really susceptible to safety blitzes and interior pressure. Give him a lot of different looks and get into his head. He’ll show consistent traits on tape so I’d project he’ll be an easy quarterback to figure out. Even when he has good protection and he’s at his most successful, he’s not a surgeon by any means. Saturday’s single interception came with perfect pass protection, he simply missed his receiver (high, wide throw) and allowed the defensive back to make a play. The decision was pretty awful too – he had three Baylor defenders surrounding one receiver and although he managed to get the ball over two of the players, the third made the pick. Again, he needs to diagnose that the pass just isn’t on in that situation and checkdown.  

His lack of poise under pressure is a strong concern. Referring back to the first drive, he takes the snap in the gun but a linebacker goes unblocked straight through the middle of the offensive line. The play is effectively over as soon as Jones notices the blitzing linebacker and just throws it away. To some extent he played it safe, but a one man blitz was enough to impact the quarterback to bail. There’s no pre-snap adjustment. There’s no attempt to extend the play or improvise – at the moment the linebacker penetrates the line Jones knows he isn’t going to have the time to execute to his hot read. His tight end had run an in-route and had space to the left – he could’ve been thrown open with a quick pass. Whenever this offense is knocked out of sync, Jones isn’t capable of making things happen.  

It’s not just the way he struggles against pressure throwing, he’s immobile and cannot extend plays. Nicolas Jean-Baptiste had two sacks from the interior where Jones was basically a standing target. This wasn’t a case of an explosive burst off the snap reaching the quarterback before he can react, these were two slow developing routes and Jean-Baptiste had enough time to disengage and break into the backfield. Jones barely moved in both instances. He may not run a time quite as slow as Ryan Mallett managed last year at the Arkansas pro-day, but even Mallett was superior in his ability to extend plays with pocket smarts and footwork. On the rare occasions where he avoids pressure, it impacts his decision making too much. You can tell Jones is thinking ‘I’ve got to get rid of this’ even when he manages to avoid an outside rush and will throw to the first receiver he sees. He struggles to re-set his feet and drive through the ball, and had another pass tipped in this situation just before the end of the first quarter.  

Jones’ pro’s (Good height, fairly quick release, precise in the pocket when protected, decent arm) are outweighed by the negatives (too many blind throws, lack of mobility, struggles to deal with pressure, no evidence of pre or post-snap reads, poor decision making, no threat in space, slight three-quarter release).  

I used to think Jones would be an unwise first round pick – that somebody would take the chance on his college production. Now, I’m starting to have my doubts. He’s always been a mid-round level player in my eyes, yet I believed he’d still find a home in round one. I have to think he’ll struggle to maintain a first round grade on most boards, despite continued high grades by the mainstream media. He needs to land on a team that runs a timing offense that can afford to keep him on the bench while he develops his play to something akin to a pro-standard. That team isn’t Miami, Washington or Seattle.  

The best case situation would be to land in New England or Kansas City as a back-up – but New England has already taken on project-Mallett and Kansas City appear to be keeping their faith in Matt Cassell for the long haul. Does his current injury situation impact that? Who knows, but KC has the kind of offense that Jones needs to be part of. Arizona already made one mistake trading for Kevin Kolb, but if rumors of an ‘out-clause’ for the Cardinals are true, it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see Jones land in the NFC West. Even so, it appears unlikely that Arizona would depart from their investment in Kolb so soon and without even a full off-season.  

This piece reads mostly negative because I’ve intentionally highlighted flaws in Jones’ game that are not being covered in most other places. We’re not talking about a completely hopeless cause here, but then Jimmy Clausen was considered worth the risk in 2010. In hindsight, Clausen would probably command no more than a late round flier now rather than a second round investment. Established scouts were projecting Clausen as a top-10 pick the day of the 2010 draft and for a long time he was considered the likely #1 overall pick. Highlighting issues within Clausen’s game and how they translate to the next level somewhat explain why he’s struggled to make an impact. I suspect the same for Jones and while he’s physically superior to Clausen, they also share several limitations and could end up having similar careers.  

For me, Jones will probably end up competing with Ryan Tannehill to be top of the second group of quarterbacks after Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley and Robert Griffin III. His floor is probably round two based purely on reputation and the stigma of a big-name quarterback remaining on the board. However, like Clausen he could easily go in the second round and prove ineffective at the next level.

Matt Barkley proves doubters wrong, is elite

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

I’ll compile my notes on Matt Barkley vs Oregon when the tape is ready to be published. In the meantime I wanted to make some notes on his performance overall, because he made a real statement on Saturday.

After months of hype for Andrew Luck, for one evening people were talking about someone else for a change. This year Barkley has continued to progress technically, improve his numbers and lead USC to key victories along the way. Despite that, there’s been a surprisingly negative undercurrent to Barkley’s draft stock. Now, it’s impossible to deny we’re looking at a top end quarterback prospect.

Yes, he has the luxury of playing with two of the finest young receiver’s in college football. No, USC wouldn’t have beaten Oregon without Matt Barkley.

We’ve often talked about what Barkley does well – his high command of the offense, his decision making and ability to make those decisions quickly while reading a defense. There was one throw on Saturday where Barkley looked to the left, pumped, came back to the middle of the field and after some neat footwork just lifted the ball over one defensive back into an impossible window ahead of a cornerback. All the while he had pressure in his face and was actually knocked to the ground just after releasing the ball. The touch, the accuracy, the decision making was at an elite level, it was one of the finest passes you’ll see this season. Let’s not forget, this is a defense Andrew Luck really struggled to cope with last week – and he had the benefit of home field advantage. 

We also know Barkley’s restrictions by now. Nobody would ever argue he’s a physically brilliant quarterback because that’s not his game. He compensates for not having blazing speed, great height or an arm for the ages by being incredibly polished in every other area of his game. His footwork and instinct makes up for a lack of pure speed, making him surprisingly elusive and capable to get the occassional first down on the ground. More importantly though, it allows him to extend plays in the pocket. One of the big problems with Landry Jones is his poor footwork facing pressure off a simple drop or snap in the gun – too often he panics. Barkley’s ability to move away from pressure with a minimal number of steps is as good as I’ve seen from a quarterback this year.

He hasn’t got an amazing deep ball – a lot of the time it’s slightly under thrown and certainly he’s not driving 60-yard bombs in-behind a defensive back for breakaway gains. However, his decision making and precision is again crucial here. I’m convinced I’ve not seen Barkley throw a deep ball into double coverage this season. He plays the percentages and if he needs to look off the safety with a quick pump or misdirection with his eyes – he’ll do it to create the one-on-one match-up he wants. When you’re throwing to a receiver as talented as Marqise Lee, you can afford to get it up there and let him make a play. At the next level he’s going to face greater problems against superior defensive schemes and secondary talent. However, he wouldn’t be the first quarterback to find ways to cope and let the smarts overcome the physical weaknesses. I’ve compared his potential to that of Matt Ryan early in his career – not because they have a lot of similarities in appearance or even technique – but in terms of being able to control an offense and make a lot out of what offensive talent he has. I think in that sense it’s a fair match.

Are there a lot of screens and high percentage passes in the USC offense? Yes, but that’s part of the gameplan. Being able to check down when necessary is part of the game of football, being able to take easy yards is also part of football. As long as you see evidence of a player getting out of that comfort zone and throwing low percentage passes and consistently executing, that’s all you need. Barkley has easily achieved that this year.

It wasn’t all perfect – Barkley made one awful decision trying to force a pass after a bad snap just after half time that probably should’ve been intercepted. The pick he did have was also avoidable – Barkley argued (fairly) that Robert Woods was being held and the flag should’ve been thrown. However, having detected the obstruction, why make the throw to a receiver in no position to make the play?

It’s impossible to define how this performance impacts his decision on whether to declare or not. On the one hand, Barkley has seen the potential in this team and with sanctions lifted next year – could USC be primed for a tilt at the PAC-12 title (or more)? There are also opposing arguments which could persuade Barkley to declare – for example, he could lose his top-end left tackle to the NFL in Matt Kalil. Wins over Notre Dame, Washington and now Oregon would allow him to depart with some level of achievement and his stock is higher now than it possibly ever will be. Returning comes with an injury and performance risk that could severely impact his stock. Perhaps the most important factor in favor of him moving on is simply that Barkley is ready for the pro’s. He’s ready to line-up in a NFL offense and having started three years in SoCal, he’s ready for the next chapter in his career. That doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily take it.

We’ll have a similar debate about Robert Griffin III when I get into the Oklahoma/Baylor tape. Griffin stood out again for his overall performance – including a last minute drive to get the go-ahead score on a brilliant pass across his body to the back of the end zone. Baylor will lose several key players next year and there’s not really much else for them to achieve, especially if they win a Bowl game. Griffin has considered law school, but that was before this season. More than ever it’s looking likely that he’ll declare and he’s seperating himself as the obvious #3 ranked quarterback in this group behind Luck and Barkley.

This week I will be publishing my first mock draft of the new season. Both Barkley and Griffin III will be included.

Thoughts on Barkley, Griffin III and Jones to come

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

I had tape access of USC’s win at Oregon and Baylor’s game with Oklahoma. Both games went down to the wire and featured highly ranked quarterback prospects eligible for the 2012 draft (Matt Barkley, Robert Griffin III and Landry Jones). I’ll be compiling a piece on the three quarterbacks tomorrow, but for now we’ll use this as an open thread for people to debate both games. We’re also hoping to have game tape on Barkley. Stay tuned.

Lamar Miller (RB, Miami) game tape vs Virginia Tech

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

The Seahawks are better off winning

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Guest blog post written by Andy Heiting-Doane

Some Seahawks fans think the team is better off losing than winning this season. I understand the viewpoint. There are many examples of NFL teams going from average to perennial contenders by picking a quarterback in the top five.  It appears that Peyton Manning alone is the difference between the Colts being one of the best teams in the league and being easily the worst.  Colts fans probably say to themselves daily, “Thank goodness we lost all those games in 1997 and got to draft Manning.”

I am here to tell you that is not what you should hope for with this team. I asked Rob if I could post an “always hope the Seahawks win” guest post and he graciously agreed.
 
It is not fair for me to suggest this blog and Rob are “hoping” the Seahawks lose.  My intention is to be a counter-point to the viewpoint below, taken from Rob’s article ‘the win/lose debate – Pete Carroll joins in’.
 
“So what is really best for the Seahawks? Aim for another 7-9 record by finishing strongly, pick in the mid-teens and risk spending another year scraping around at the greatest position of need? … Or is it actually best that this team loses out, picks above Miami, Washington, Cleveland, Denver and any other potential rival?”
 
My point is that yes, we should aim for another 7-9 record, or even 8-8, by finishing strongly. My hope is to convince you that this team will be better, long-term, if this season ends with the Seahawks 8-8 than if the final record is 3-13.
 
I want to assume a few things before we get started, just to make sure we’re all having the same conversation.
 
Assumption #1: No one wants the team to actually try to lose. Players would never make bad plays intentionally, defying a head coach who is trying to win. At some level most or all of the players are playing for their contracts and surely no one wants the coach to intentionally lose games? He would lose the team permanently. No one, from owner of the team to the long snapper, would respect him. We would be looking at yet another new regime and another complete overhaul of the roster. If you agree that they should not try to loseand you still think the Seahawks are better off losing, what you’re saying is that you think the Seahawks are better off being a team that legitimately earns a 3-13 record. A team whose current talent level is enough to lose four games for every one game it wins.
 
Assumption 2: No one wants this team to pick in the top five every year.  One might argue that the only way to build a truly exceptional, dynasty-forming roster is to have top five draft picks at quarterback, defensive end, cornerback, left tackle, and wide receiver. But to get there you would have to endure losing season after losing season, free agents would walk away from the team, and you would once again probably be looking at a new regime and another complete overhaul. Also, as I will argue below, it would be impossible to have truly elite players and continue to lose enough games to pick in the top five year after year. If you agree with Assumption #2, you’re saying the Seahawks will hopefully take one more dip  into the top five picks and then start winning and become a contender, thereby picking in later rounds into the future.
 
If you agree with those assumptions then this comes down to a little football math. You want to take our current roster, add a quarterback, and end up with a contender.  Which of these two formulas do you think is more likely to result in a contender over the next five years?
 
Formula #1
[Elite prospect QB taken in the top 5] + [a current Seahawks roster that just earned a 3-13 record] = Super Bowl Contender
 
Formula #2
[Sub-elite prospect QB taken in top 20] + [a current Seahawks roster that just earned an 8-8 record] = Super Bowl Contender
 
I argue in this post that Formula #2 is the best and fastest way to become a Super Bowl contender.
 
Alternatively, if you really want one of those top five picks, I would rather have to trade up for it than stink badly enough to actually earn it. I think having players on the team this year that will earn you more wins is more valuable than whatever pick you have to give up to move up.  So the alternate math is:
 
Formula #3
[Elite prospect QB taken in the top 5] + [a current Seahawks roster that just earned an 8-8 record] – [next year's first-round draft pick] = Super Bowl Contender
 
It’s all about the rest of the team. It’s all about the eleven starters on defense and the ten starters on offense who are not named Tarvaris. I think this team has several very good young players on defense – Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, and “young enough” Brandon Mebane, Brandon Browner, Red Bryant, and Chris Clemons. Very good young players on defense win more than three games in a year, even if the quarterback sucks.
 
I think this team has several very good young players on offense – Doug Baldwin, Russell Okung, and “young enough” Mike Williams, Marshawn Lynch, Zach Miller, and Sidney Rice. Very good young players on offense win more than three games in a year, even if the quarterback sucks.
 
Drum-roll…
 
So, if we only win three games this year, those players aren’t good. We can’t choose to play the Packers, Steelers, and 49ers twice each. The remaining schedule includes two games against the Rams and one each against the Redskins and the Cardinals.  Losing all four of those games means that this team sucks. There is no other way around it.
 
This week, radio host Mike Salk has been repeating the question as whether we, the fans, would like the Seahawks to “play well, but lose.” You cannot play well but lose twice to the Rams. You cannot play well and lose to the Redskins and Cardinals.
 
Think about the Cleveland game. That’s a game that should have been won, but was lost. How did Kam Chancellor look in that game? Terrible. Do you want Kam Chancellor to look terrible in seven more games? If Kam Chancellor looks terrible in seven more games, are you still hopeful that he’ll develop into a Pro-Bowl level player? If our young defensive backs can’t stop the Rams’ pathetic receivers, in each of the two games, they are not good players. If our defense can’t stop the uniformly awful Redskins offense, it is not a good defense.
 
It’s not fair to look at only one player in one game (hey, Red Bryant looked great against Cleveland). This is a whole team.  It is not possible for Chancellor, Thomas, Sherman, Mebane, Browner, Bryant, Clemons, Baldwin, Okung, Williams, Lynch, Miller, and Rice to play well, or even half of them to play well, and lose those four games. In fact, if most of them have pretty good games, I submit to you they will win at least one of the three other games – Philly and San  Francisco at home and the Bears in Chicago. Good players win games. Good defensive backs can win games even with a crappy quarterback. Good offensive line play can win games even with a crappy quarterback. Run-stopping defensive linemen can win games even with a crappy quarterback. If we don’t win games, the other players on the team are not good.
 
So which would you rather have: a top five quarterback added to a roster that stinks, or a top twenty quarterback added to a roster that is mostly good? Matt Barkley plus the team that lost to the Rams twice in a year, or Robert Griffin III plus the team that beat the Rams twice in a year?
 
Take a look at the last several #1 overall picks (all quarterbacks).  Bradford, Stafford, and Cam Newton did not make their teams into contenders alone. The Rams and Panthers both suck this season. The Lions look pretty good, but I see a lot of players contributing to that, not just Stafford. Remember, nobody wants to be the Lions with losing season after losing season adding up to repeated top ten picks. It’s all about being one player away from a being a twelve win team. A 3-13 team is not one player away from winning 12 games. An 8-8 team might be one player away from winning twelve games.
 
Take a look at the 2008 Jets. They finished 9-7 and “missed out” on the opportunity to draft in the top 5 and pick Mark Sanchez with their own pick. They traded up to get the pick that they could have gotten for free by losing 12-13 games. With their #5 pick, they got a quarterback prospect who was inferior to the #1 overall pick, Matthew Stafford, yet the Jets went to the AFC championship the next two years. Why?  Because Mark Sanchez was good enough and because the rest of the roster was very good. The rest of the roster that helped them finish 9-7 and ruin their draft position. What if the Jets had picked in the teens and taken Josh Freeman? Anyone want to argue that they would have been worse?
 
Picking outside the top five this year is going to mean you can’t take Andrew Luck and it will probably mean you can’t take Matt Barkley without giving up some other draft picks. Yet picking outside the top five this year means you’ve got a good roster. You’ve got players who can earn wins even without a franchise quarterback. What is that roster going to look like when you do add a franchise quarterback? Even if it’s not Andrew Luck or Matt Barkley, that roster is going to look great.
 
Before they ever put on an NFL helmet, it’s easy to say that the “elite” or top-tier quarterback prospects are superior to the second-tier prospects and that getting one of the top guys will be the difference between Super Bowl and bust. In history, the difference is not that clear. Stafford has been better than Freeman, but not far better. Matt Ryan has been better than Joe Flacco, but not far better. Brady Quinn was equal to or better than JaMarcus Russell. Jay Cutler has been far better than Matt Leinart. Aaron Rodgers has been far better than Alex Smith. I think an argument could be made that Roethlisberger is as good as Philip Rivers and I would take either of them over Eli Manning.
 
I know, going further back shows you some counter-examples like Carson Palmer/Byron Leftwich and Peyton Manning/Ryan Leaf, but in recent years examples of “first quarterback taken in the draft is far better than the others” is outnumbered by examples of “they’re about the same” and “the second or third guy is better.”
 
Looking back at those drafts, wouldn’t you be perfectly happy with Freeman, Flacco, or Cutler (I won’t even ask about Rodgers) if it means that your core of young talent on this team is ready to win? Ready to beat the Rams twice? Ready to beat San Francisco on our own turf? I’ll take my chances in that second tier of prospects in exchange for not becoming the Rams – a great young quarterback surrounded by giant holes at other key positions. I’d rather trade up and lose a draft pick than have Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner get smoked by John Beck or Rex Grossman.
 
I would love to have Andrew Luck or Matt Barkley lead this team for the next fifteen years but I would rather have a second-tier prospect, who might be as good or better than Matt Barkley, surrounded by a complete team with young stars at other positions.

Mock draft preview

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Could Morris Claiborne land in Seattle? Can he play quarterback?

I’m in the early stages of writing my first 2012 mock draft and wanted to share a few of the thoughts. When it’s published we’ll have weekly updates and as with previous years we’ll look at different scenarios and possibilities each week.

This is probably the most difficult draft class I’ve had to try and project since starting the blog. There’s a distinct lack of defensive line talent worthy of a high first round grade – a stark contrast to the last few years – and it means having to be creative with the offensive talent in the early first round. Several prospects such as Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon are probably going to end up within the top-ten, when last year that wouldn’t have been the case. There’s still plenty of time for things to change, but I suspect this could be a good year to pick outside the top ten IF you have a quarterback. The difference in talent between the 3rd or 4th pick and the 15th pick could be minimal, making for a comparable situation to the 2009 draft where many of the top ten picks have so far failed to deliver.

I think we could see a rush on quarterbacks similar to last April where four left the board before the 12th pick. This is all, of course, dependant on whether certain players declare for the 2012 draft. Here’s a preview on some of the things I’m contemplating and how they might impact the projection for Seattle…

The Carolina Panthers currently own the second overall pick, which could make for an interesting dilemma. They’ve made the investment in Cam Newton and they actually have one of the better offensive lines among the teams picking early. Would they reach on a receiver to provide Newton with another dynamic target alongside Steve Smith and a decent group of tight ends? The best player on the board at #2 could be Matt Kalil – and of course his brother Ryan has become a key feature at center for the Panthers. Would they invest a high pick to bring the brothers together considering right tackle Jeff Otah has been placed on injured reserve in each of the last two season? It’d be an extreme luxury pick, but without any great defensive line talent available and with some depth at receiver for later on, they may well look to set up the best pair of tackles in the NFL with Jordan Gross.

Miami currently owns the third pick and many people expect they’ll draft a quarterback. With Andrew Luck off the board, it’s hard to work out what kind of quarterback they’d be looking for. I suspect they’ll be changing Head Coach in the off season and who knows what other front office changes could occur? That’ll be the greatest indicator as to what direction they’ll go here. I wouldn’t completely rule out Trent Richardson being the pick. After all, it wouldn’t be a total shocker if the Dolphins looked at the remaining quarterbacks left on the board and decided they couldn’t find the answer they’re looking for. They passed on Matt Ryan when they needed a quarterback in 2008 and took Chad Henne in round two. Would that impact their decision? Could they see Richardson as a can’t miss weapon for a team that has previously been set up to run the ball?

If they are going to focus on the quarterbacks in round one, I keep coming back to Robert Griffin III. Miami want to sell some tickets and whether he’s fools gold or not, RG3 is the closest thing to a big play machine in this group. They’d be foolish to look at Cam Newton and expect similar success, but they may also notice the increased attention in Carolina since Newton’s arrival and buy into the idea (wrongly in my view) that Griffin can match the fast start as a rookie. The concept of Griffin III going that early a few weeks ago may have been considered unlikely, but it’s becoming more and more of a possibility.

Another team likely to be zoned in on the quarterback market is Washington. Mike Shanahan knows what he wants in a quarterback and he’s not going to be forced to take anyone for the sake of it. He traded away the chance to draft Blaine Gabbert last year when many people were talking about the Redskins potentially trading up for Gabbert just a few days before the draft. Shanahan was enamoured by Sam Bradford, suggesting he was a once in a generation type player last season. I long projected Washington to take Jake Locker with the 10th pick and it’s more than coincidence in my mind that they traded down and avoided the quarterbacks completely once Locker left the board.

When I look at the current group I’m not convinced there’s a Shanahan type out there. He may actually show more interest in Ryan Tannehill’s skill set later on, potentially affording further investment in the offensive line or by adding a much needed skill player on offense. I’m not convinced a technical passer like Matt Barkley is what he’s looking for and I expect Landry Jones to be taken lower than most people expect. Although his offense has often produced productive runners with little investment, I just wonder if he’d look at Trent Richardson as a possible consolation prize if the quarterback he wants isn’t available.

I keep coming back to Peyton Manning for Washington. If the Colts are ready to move on with Andrew Luck, they’ll almost certainly release or trade Manning. Dan Snyder loves to make moves like that and there’s some precedent for such a trade. Last year, Donovan McNabb cost the Redskins a second round pick as they looked for a veteran bridge. If Manning is healthy, the ‘Skins have the financial clout and the positional need to make a deal happen. If Shanahan doesn’t see a quarterback he loves in the draft (or if he does prefer a Ryan Tannehill type later on to groom for the future) you have to say Manning to Washington looks ideal for all concerned, it’s almost too realistic. 

There are several no-brainers in the top-ten. Minnesota needs offensive line help to protect their investments at quarterback and running back. Likewise Arizona almost have to draft a left tackle given their hopeless offenive line. St. Louis could look at lineman too – but they really need to find better targets for Sam Bradford and it’s the interior line which should be a greater concern. North Carolina linebacker Zach Brown looks like a great fit for the Eagles who currently own the #9 pick.

Cleveland remains a really intriguing team with their two first round picks. They are probably the only franchise with enough stock to tempt Indianapolis to consider sticking with Peyton Manning and trading the rights to Luck for a kings ransom. Would they be able to pull off an incredible trade like that? If not, do they like a player such as Matt Barkley enough to invest the top-ten pick? Mike Holmgren the coach made a career out of moulding quarterbacks to fit his system. As the man pulling the strings from the front office, can he afford to be so cute at the position? They tried to turn Colt McCoy into a legitimate starter, with very little success. Barkley would make a great deal of sense given the west coast flavor in Cleveland.

That would leave Seattle in a situation where Luck, Griffin III and Barkley are gone. I don’t expect the Seahawks to draft Landry Jones, given that his skill set is very different to what Pete Carroll and John Schneider have looked for at the position so far. They would ultimately have to trade into the top ten should they desire any of the three quarterbacks taken – or they’d have to look elsewhere.

The news this week that John Moffitt and James Carpenter have suffered serious knee injuries was deflating, but perspective is needed. While unfortunate, it certainly shouldn’t be argued that the Seahawks suddenly need to rush out and spend a third first round pick in three years on another lineman. First round picks don’t guarantee good health and the best lines in the league are built on consistency, scheme and talent – not just how many first round picks you have. In many cases the better interior lineman in the NFL are not the best athletes who get drafted in round one, but the guys who understand their jobs and manage to stay healthy.

It may well be that I project the Seahawks drafting a non-quarterback in my first round mock draft, but I still believe they have to do what it takes to move up should that prove to be the case. As I argued this week, picking in the 10-20 range doesn’t mean they can’t draft a first round quarterback – but we have to create a discussion that looks at alternatives however difficult it may be to stomach.

I think there’s a good chance most of the limited defensive talent will be available in this first mock. There is some depth at cornerback, even if there aren’t any players worthy of Patrick Peterson and Jimmy Smith type grades. LSU standout Morris Claiborne could be available and he fits the bill in what the Seahawks look for at the position. Janoris Jenkins is the most talented cornerback in the class, but off-field concerns make him a risky gamble. Dre Kirkpatrick is a 6-2, aggressive corner who excels in run support but hasn’t looked elite in coverage. Georgia’s Brandon Boykin intrigues me enough to consider a first round grade but is probably too small for the Seahawks scheme. I think this current front office believes they can find cornerbacks who fit without investing the top picks – certainly they’ve backed themselves so far and have enjoyed some success. Cornerbacks could be to Carroll and Schneider what offensive tackles were to Tim Ruskell.

There are some defensive lineman who will go in round one – Clemson’s Brandon Thompson and Penn State’s Devon Still for example. Neither look like the explosive three-technique this defense craves, however. PSU’s Still might actually kick out to the five technique at the next level and if teams like San Diego are willing to try and fit Corey Liuget into that role we could see a similar move. Thompson strikes me as a similar nose tackle 4-3 lineman to Brandon Mebane and while he’s combative enough to impact plays regularly from the backfield, his lack of end product is a concern especially considering some of the outside rushers he’s played with. He’d be a good fit for Denver who have the kind of speed off the edge to capitalise on Thompson’s interior work.

Quinton Coples remains a mystery considering he promised so much coming into the year but hasn’t lived up to expectations. How would he fit into Seattle’s scheme? He’s not big enough or explosive enough to move inside and play the three technique in the NFL – although he had his most impressive season for UNC from the middle. He’s not a LEO pass rusher in any shape or form, but the Seahawks don’t use an orthodox five-technique where he appears to be suited. Getting someone else who can consistently create edge pressure would be a huge bonus for the Seahawks, but I don’t think Coples is that man.

There’s talent and depth at both receiver and running back. While I firmly believe you can never have too many good receivers, I don’t the Seahawks’ vision is to stock pile receivers. People are going to ask about Stanford’s David De Castro, but I think expectations should be tempered there slightly. He’s a pure technician who looks polished in Stanford’s machine of an offense. However, the whole of that line struggled when USC found a way to create pressure and it’s shown the way forward for Oregon State and Oregon in the last two weeks. On a side note, Andrew Luck’s inability to maintain standards under pressure is a concern – something I’ll write about more on another day. De Castro is playing right guard for Stanford and while the hype train will serve him well, I’m not sure he’s quite as good as some people believe. Comparisons to Steve Hutchinson are ambitious to say the least.

Considering I don’t include trades in my mock drafts, I’m leaning towards the cornerback position for now based purely on the players available. I do suspect that if the Seahawks were going to spend a first round pick on defense, they’d much rather make the choice on the defensive line. Even if the team thinks it can keep adding talent to it’s secondary with later picks, they may have limited choice if the quarterbacks are off the board and with limited defensive line talent. The debate makes you realise – if you weren’t already convinced – how much the Seahawks need to be aggressive to get their quarterback if they identify him among the top ten picks.

Lamar Miller could be a high first-round pick

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Lamar Miller: Healthy competition for Trent Richardson

Running back’s have quickly become an endangered species at the top of round one. It’s only six years ago that three runners were taken in the first five picks of the 2005 draft (Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson and Cadillac Williams). It’s not a big surprise that times have changed – plenty of teams are finding ways to get serviceable backs later in the draft. Only two of the league’s current top-ten rushing leaders are first round picks (Adrian Peterson and Steven Jackson). The very nature of the position encourages a tough work load leading to shorter careers, almost always ended by the time the player hits 30. When you add the extreme cost that accompanies the top few picks, it’s no wonder the NFL moved away from running backs and looked closer at long term investments at quarterback and both the offensive and defensive lines.   

Could that might be about to change?   

The rookie pay scale is going to have a greater impact on the draft than maybe some people think. Let’s look at the difference in salary for the 1st, 5th and 10th picks in 2010 and 2011 – before and after the pay scale arrived.   

#1 overall

Sam Bradford (2010)
6-year contract worth $78m with $50m in guarantees and a maximum value of $86m

Cam Newton (2011)
4-year contract worth a fully guaranteed $22m   

#5 overall

Eric Berry (2010)
6-year contract worth $60m with $34m in guarantees

Patrick Peterson (2011)
4-year contract worth a fully guaranteed $18.5m   

#10 overall

Tyson Alualu (2010)
5-year contract worth $28m with $17.5m in guaranteed

Blaine Gabbert (2011)
4-year contract worth a fully guaranteed $12m   

Players drafted within the top ten are now making as much money as players previously taken in the 15-20 range. Maurkice Pouncey’s rookie contract is worth only $1.65m less in guarantees than Blaine Gabbert’s, despite an eight-pick difference. If you were considering a running back with a top ten pick, in 2010 you would almost certainly be investing around 20-30m in guarantees at a position carrying a severe injury risk. Post-2010, that’s completely changed to a much more affordable number. We may be about to see a u-turn with teams now returning to the position as an early first round option, tapping into the short learning curve at the position for rookies.   

Of course, there will always be teams who take the stance that drafting a running back in round one is a luxury. I suspect the Seahawks could fall into that category, given they passed on Mark Ingram last year (offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell was a big fan) and considering the previous appointment of Alex Gibbs and his philosophy that believes runners can be found without the high-end investment. That’s not to say they too won’t change their mind in this new climate, but Seattle’s priorities will probably continue to lie elsewhere.   

Trent Richardson should go early next April, offering a cornerstone playmaker to a struggling offense. But what about Lamar Miller? Could he too leave the board early?   

There’s a lot to like about the redshirt-sophomore from Miami. For the year he’s on 1108 yards with eleven touchdowns. Miller has ideal size for the NFL (5-11, 211lbs) and the kind of breakaway speed that will intrigue teams early in the first round. Perhaps his best attribute is patience – it’s reminiscent of Shaun Alexander’s days in Alabama. While Miller hasn’t got that same natural, smooth running style and elusiveness that made Alexander a star, the way he let’s the play develop before exploding into a cut is at an elite level. He seeks out running lanes and explodes through the gap, often making angles with a neat cutback or rounding the edge. He’s the kind of running back that makes things happen and won’t rely totally on good line play.   

His ability to change direction quickly without losing speed is also unique. He glides in and out of cuts to avoid tackles and in the open field he can extend runs for big gains that would otherwise just be first downs. The fluidity of his open-field running style is comparable to Jeremy Maclin’s, albeit it in the body of a running back. On short yardage runs he’s got enough size and power to be effective and he’ll keep carries in the red-zone. If there is one concern about his running style, it’s quite upright and he exposes a lot of his body to the tackle. So far he’s avoided injuries, but it’s something to consider – not that it’s hindered other players who run this way.   

Miller is a non-factor in the passing game, which is a slight concern. He only has 24 career receptions and a single touchdown – you’d like to see more considering how often running backs are used split wide and on screens these days. Neither is he a thriving blocker, but on the tape evidence I’ve seen so far he’s at least willing and this is an area that will improve with pro-coaching. These are minor concerns given how rounded he is as a runner and while he may not have the same brutish running style and size as Richardson, he looks faster on tape and has shown the same ability to dodge or break tackles consistently.   

There’s no doubt he’s ready to have an impact on the NFL and he could provide a team with a young offensive core a nice weapon at running back. He may not join Trent Richardson among the first ten picks next April, but he has every opportunity to go in the top-15. That’s the range I expect to project Miller in my first mock draft for 2012, to be published soon.  

   

  

Can the Seahawks pick 11th and draft a quarterback?

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Matt Barkley is good, but is he a top-ten lock?

Right now the Seahawks own the 11th overall pick in the draft. That’s probably going to change by the end of the year, but it’s a far cry from the top-five pick many people were expecting before Sunday’s win over Baltimore. Can the Seahawks still draft a quarterback if they are picking outside of the top-ten?

Sure. It’s completely possible.

As things stand, Indianapolis, Miami, Washington and Cleveland are all due to pick before Seattle. It’s assumed all four teams picking above the Seahawks will draft a quarterback, but is that really such a foregone conclusion?

What if the Colts decide to avoid nearly $30m in guarantees by cutting Peyton Manning before next March prior to drafting Andrew Luck? Wouldn’t Dan Snyder fall over his own feet trying to bring Manning to Washington? Would the Miami Dolphins see Manning as a proven veteran fix to their Dan Marino hangover? The Colts drafting first overall brings Manning into play as a possible free-agent option for other teams and while he is approaching the back end of his career, there’s sure to be interest if he can prove he’s fully recovered from neck surgery.

How about if Manning does recover and Indianapolis stands by the man that’s played the biggest part in building that franchise? After all, Manning’s made a few reputations for many other people during his time with the Colts. If they decide to have one last run with Peyton over the next four years remaining on his contract, could they possibly trade the rights to Andrew Luck for a kings ransom? Cleveland has two first round choices in 2012 and could add a third first rounder in 2013 to tempt Indianapolis. Although a deal is still highly unlikely, it could potentially allow the Colts to re-load for a legitimate shot at further Super Bowl success over the next few years without enduring any growing pains with a rookie and a bad roster. This scenario could impact two of Seattle’s rivals for the other quarterbacks.

Last April most people expected Washington to draft Blaine Gabbert when he fell to the 10th pick. The Redskins were desperate for a quarterback and this was a perfect match, right? Wrong. Shanahan traded away Gabbert to Jacksonville and ended up drafting defensive end Ryan Kerrigan later in the first round. With such a refined criteria in what he looks for in a quarterback, Shanahan isn’t going to settle on whatever highly ranked player simply remains on the board. What if the answer doesn’t present itself next April? Will Shanahan draft a quarterback he doesn’t really want? It’s hard to believe.

And then there’s Mike Holmgren in Cleveland – a man who has always trusted the system he works with and made it the true MVP. Is it such a long shot that Holmgren decides to wait it out on a quarterback, or even make a trade for a lesser known player already in the NFL? It worked with Matt Hasselbeck in Seattle and the Browns’ only rookie investment in a quarterback so far was a third round pick on struggling Colt McCoy. The good money is on Cleveland spending a round one pick on a quarterback next April but nothing is certain.

What if teams buy into the Cincinnati way of doing things? Last April, the Bengals drafted AJ Green in the top five and took Andy Dalton in round two. Could a team like Miami realistically see Trent Richardson as a can’t miss prospect? Perhaps they’d draft Richardson in round one before looking at the second tier quarterback prospects at the top of round two? It’s not the way I’d go about building an offense, but the NFL is a copycat league and Cincinnati’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed.

We also have to consider the individuals involved and how they fit into this situation, because every team evaluates talent differently. Last year, some teams wouldn’t have drafted Jake Locker in round one at all – yet Tennessee (and I suspect Washington) would happily draft the guy in the top ten. The player or players Seattle are targeting might be very different from the group Cleveland or Washington are hoping for, presenting a similar dynamic to what we saw this year with Locker, Gabbert and Christian Ponder all going to teams we didn’t necessarily expect. Like Jacksonville last year, there’s nothing stopping the Seahawks making a small move up the board. That five-spot trade into the top ten cost the Jaguars a second rounder – hardly a small fortune if Gabbert works out in Florida.

It’s assumed by some that players like Matt Barkley will be sure-fire top-ten picks, yet there’s such a difference in opinion among scouts, pundits and fans – we just don’t know what will happen. Some view Barkley as an elite prospect, quoting his impressive technique, high football IQ and success this year with USC. Others are sceptical due to a lack of truly elite physical qualities and size. I asked Kevin Wiedl at Scouts Inc where he graded Barkley. “First round for sure, just don’t know how high” he replied, adding, “I think he’ll go anywhere between 10 and 20.” Even those who see Barkley as a fine prospect are not convinced he’ll be a top-ten choice.

There’s one guarantee in the 2012 draft and that’s Andrew Luck being taken first overall. After that, it’s anyone’s guess how the dice will fall. Perhaps we see another classic rush on quarterbacks comparable to this year’s event when four left the board after the first twelve picks? Maybe it’s less frenetic in 2012? Either way it’s far too soon to write off Seattle’s chance of drafting a long-term quarterback solution in next year’s draft, even if they continue winning.

Seattle hasn’t drafted a quarterback in round one for approaching 19 years. Picking as early as possible gives you a better shot at finding someone you like but picking later doesn’t eliminate the opportunity completely. The Seahawks can pick outside the top-ten and draft the right quarterback for this team’s future in round one.

Austin Davis (QB, Southern Miss) highlights

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

A lot of people have been asking for game tape on Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis. We’re still working on it, so for now here’s some highlights from last Saturday’s close win over UCF.