Archive for November, 2011

The win/lose debate – Pete Carroll joins in

Monday, November 14th, 2011

More audio at MyNorthwest.com

Above you’ll find the latest podcast from ESPN 710’s Brock and Salk show, where they discuss the conversation that has divided Seahawks fans over the last 24 hours. There’s no obvious answer to this situation. On the one hand, of course everyone wants their team to win on a given Sunday. However, if losing presents the best possible opportunity to solve the seemingly neverending need at quarterback – isn’t it worth taking the hit in the win column?

It’s a truly dividing subject and one of the many reasons the NFL is so unique. In one corner, you have the people who want to win every game and don’t even consider the draft until mid-to-late April. Others have a long term focus and believe one horrific season will pave the road to never enduring such misery again in the future. Get a franchise quarterback and you won’t have to worry about the draft anymore. A lot of people – including myself – fall someone in between the two arguments. This year I travelled thousands of miles to watch the Seahawks get beat by a rookie quarterback I graded in the late rounds. I hated watching that game against the Bengals, knowing it was completely winnable yet ultimately drifting towards a defeat. The one positive at the end? The draft position improved.

It was a reverse scenario yesterday against another NFC North opponent. Baltimore – one of the NFL’s elite teams – were roundly beaten by the Seahawks. Perhaps the best thing about the victory was that Seattle never really looked like losing the game, despite a late rally from the Ravens. The long term thinker may argue – this team still has virtually zero chance of making the playoffs and on current form the Seahawks would be picking 11th overall – behind rival teams like Miami, Washington and Cleveland who also need a quarterback badly. What actual benefit do you get from the victory in terms of building a consistent contender, which is ultimately what everyone wants? Even if you’re targetting the same player at #5 or #11 in the draft, wouldn’t you rather the insurance of making sure? Especially given the relative cost of rookies in the new salary cap?

So what really is best for the Seahawks? Aim for another 7-9 record by finishing strongly, pick in the mid-teens and risk spend another year scraping around at the greatest position of need? Could you imagine entering the 2013 draft – Pete Carroll’s forth in a five-year contract – still waiting for a quarterback to be drafted early? That would be 20 years since the Seahawks drafted a quarterback in round one, an astonishing statistic. At the same time, there’s a lot to be said for winning and building this team’s identity – setting the tone for the future.

Or is it actually best that this team loses out, picks above Miami, Washington, Cleveland, Denver and any other potential rival? After all, have we not seen sufficient promise from this team on the whole even when it’s lost games to be secure enough to lose a few more? Is there a danger of consistent mediocrity that comes with finishing 7-9 every year – stopping you getting a shot at the high pick for a quarterback? Or does winning become a healthy habit especially on a young team, and does this front office have enough talent in the scouting department to find a guy who can solve this problem without top-end investment?

Mike Salk wrote a blog post on this issue, I’d recommend checking it out by clicking here. He asks, “So, where are you? Are you an optimistic short-term thinker? A pessimistic long-term thinker? Or some other combination?” I suspect I’m closer to the pessimistic long-term thinker. After all, I write a blog about the NFL Draft and spend hours every week watching players – particularly quarterbacks – who would look good in Seahawks blue. This team does need a franchise quarterback for the long haul and without doubt the easiest way to find one is early in round one. That’s not to say every first round quarterback will be a success, but it’s pure common sense to expect the perceived elite players in each group having a better shot at success compared to whatever follows. You back your coaching staff and your front office to make the right choice and not be the ones to make the big bust.

At the same time, there’s something completely joyless to not appreciating a great win against one of the league’s toughest teams. The Seahawks pounded the Baltimore Ravens – they ran at them, they passed over them and they hit them harder than maybe they’ve been hit all year. Sure, this is also a Ravens team capable of such miserable performances as seen on Monday Night Football against Jacksonville. They’re also capable of beating the Pittsburgh Steelers (twice) something Seattle hasn’t had a lot of success with in recent years…

If you jump to the 32:28 mark in the audio above, Pete Carroll joins Brock and Salk for a live interview. He’s asked about this situation and discusses the idea of a portion of the fan base hoping for draft position at around the 47 minute mark:

“First of all I love that they (the fans) are thinking this way and competing. They want to get better and they want to win games and all of that and so that’s where that comes from. I know they don’t want us to point shave or something you know, of course not. I understand that they just want us to get everything we can possibly get, to get as good as we can get as soon as possible. I’m on board. There’s a lot of wins out there and we’re going to go for it, we don’t know any other way. This is so important for us to build on a mentality to build our style of play, to get better as individual players and as groups on this team. There’s just so much out there for us to gain. John (Schneider) is working real hard, he’s going to make great picks. We’re going to find these guys, we’re going to get guys that fit with us and they’re going to contribute and whatever we pick in the first round it’s going to be a guy that’s going to play. Look at what’s happened, look at our guys right now. I’m so proud. Look at the #1 picks we’ve had, they haven’t missed a step. They’re playing and they’re going to be contributing – they’re great players. We’ll find another one wherever we pick. There’s some exciting kids coming out of the draft, but there’s exciting ones that the people don’t know about too and they’ll be enough. I’m sure they’re not going to worry about where we finish right now. We’re going to try and win every game and get as good as we can be now. That will help us for the future and satisfy them as well so we’ll take care of business.”

This is exactly how you would expect the coach of the team to address this issue. Carroll is in the business of winning and that means every week not just in the future. He may see draft position as some form of consolation if the Seahawks do end up with a poor record, but you don’t expect a coaches attention to turn to the draft until the final game has been played.

Ultimately though, picking later will make it harder for the Seahawks to solve this issue in round one without a big trade up the board or a lot of luck (just not of the ‘Andrew’ variety). Would the Seahawks be aggressive for the right guy? I think they would. The Charlie Whitehurst trade was a calculated gamble which carried a degree of cost, but they were bold in that instance. Let’s not underestimate that move considering it cost the Seahawks a chance to draft three times in the top 40 picks in 2010 and also a valuable third round pick. I understand why they took the chance given the importance of finding a long term answer at quarterback, but the simple fact is they were willing to take the gamble. It was taking a chance then, so two years on why wouldn’t they make an even bigger move given the added pressures to get this situation sorted once and for all?

Of course, Whitehurst was Schneider’s project – his choice. We have to hope if he makes a second attempt next April, it’s a lot more successful than his first try.

Carroll also talked about players that maybe people ‘didn’t know about’. Clearly the team has taken some positives out of the decision to sign undrafted rookie Josh Portis, who showed some potential in pre-season. That’s all well and good, but you could argue the time has long passed for Seattle to be picking through the list of obscure projects to mould into a serviceable player. Tarvaris Jackson has one year remaining on his contract after 2012 and Whitehurst is a free agent at the end of this season. They may need a quarterback who can start games next year as a back-up or starter – they will almost certainly need that player to start in year two.

And let’s not mistake the seriousness of this situation – Carroll’s reputation and final shot in the NFL hinges upon his ability to find a winning quarterback. It’s not the only factor, but it’s the most important. They can’t afford to mess this up, but avoiding the situation all together and hoping to fill the problem with stop-gaps is just as bad.

In the worst case scenario that Seattle finds itself out of range and incapable of drafting a top college passer (and if Barkley and Griffin III don’t declare, that opportunity will be taken away), I keep coming back to Austin Davis. Could he be one of the players Carroll refers to as ‘unknown‘ to most people?

Regulars will know how highly I rate the Southern Miss quarterback. He’s an athletic and hard working player who runs a ball-control offense with a heavy dose of run and a determination to limit turnovers. The Golden Eagles are ranked at #20 in this week’s BCS rankings and will almost certainly play Houston for the Conference-USA title in a few weeks. That’s a major achievement for that school, an incredible achievement in fact. It wouldn’t be possible without Davis.

He doesn’t have elite size at 6-2 221lbs, but it’s good enough. Davis has worked hard to reach that weight, as discussed when I interviewed him during the pre-season. For the 2011 season he’s thrown 20 touchdowns to eight interceptions, passed for 2511 yards and rushed for two further scores and 227 yards. He’s completing 63% of his passes in the last two seasons. His success has coincided with that national ranking – the school’s first since 1994.

The Seahawks will be aware of his talents having sent a scout to watch one of his more impressive performances during a win at Virginia at the end of August. Davis may not be spectacular, he may not be the big name everyone is talking about. He does, however, fit the Seahawks criteria in terms of his attitude, the way he plays the game, his accuracy, mobility and intelligence. He’s one to monitor throughout this process.

Seahawks would own the 11th pick

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

After a 22-17 win over Baltimore this afternoon, the Seahawks would own the 11th overall pick in the draft if the season ended today. The top-16 can be viewed here courtesy of NE Patriots Draft.

Indianapolis (#1), Miami (#3), Washington (#6) and Cleveland (#10) would all pick before the Seahawks – potentially with an eye on the available group of quarterbacks. This could be a dangerous position for Seattle if you’re hoping the team will draft for the position next April. Depending on which underclassmen actually declare, you could be looking at a small pool of 2-3 quarterbacks worthy of a top-ten grade (Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley for sure – Robert Griffin III could join them). The Dolphins and Redskins are desperate at the position and have front offices or coaches that need to make a splash. A strikingly weak group on defense will push teams closer to the quarterbacks as well – I’ve not seen a single defensive lineman worthy of a top-ten grade this year. There’s a lot of strength at offensive tackle but Indianapolis, Miami, Washington and Cleveland have all recently drafted first-round left tackles. In Miami, Washington and Cleveland’s case – they’ve spent top-five picks on the position.

Make no mistake the Seahawks still need a quarterback despite a solid performance from Tarvaris Jackson today. He’s shown flashes of quality during this season, but also a lot of inconsistency and a higher number of turnovers than you’d ideally like. He’s an adequate stop gap who has proven one thing at least – he’s a viable option to start again next year if the Seahawks want to red-shirt a young quarterback rather than start a rookie. The idea that Pete Carroll would hang his hat on Tarvaris Jackson in his last big shot in the NFL still seems unlikely to me. The Seahawks and Carroll must think big at the most important position in football if they’re truly to realise their potential.

Without a lot of top-end defensive line talent in this group, picking later would be less of an issue for the Seahawks if players such as Barkley and Griffin III return to college for a final year. The Seahawks would still have to target other quarterbacks (such as Southern Miss star Austin Davis, a thoroughly under rated quarterback) but they could be forgiven for looking elsewhere in round one without a perceived large group of elite passers. Even so, it’ll be 19 years next April since the Seahawks drafted a quarterback in round one and that’s a run that has to end as soon as physically possible.

Matt Barkley (QB, USC) game tape vs Washington

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

Thanks to JMPasq for supplying the tape

Week 11 Quarterback performances

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

Matt Barkley had a modest performance as USC stormed past Washington 40-17. He ended the day with 174 yards going 18/28 with a touchdown and no interceptions and added a further score on a quarterback sneak. USC’s ground game dominated the Huskies on the day. This was a game Barkley will have wanted to win after losing to Washington last year (the Huskies defeated a USC team without an injured Barkley the year before too). Paired with the win over Notre Dame, that’s two big accomplishment’s which may have some sway in his decision on whether to declare or not.

Robert Griffin III led a dramatic fourth quarter comeback as Baylor defeated Kansas in overtime. Trailing 24-3 with time running out, Griffin had a 49-yard touchdown run, a 36-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams and a further 67-yard score to Tevin Reece to complete an eight-minute turnaround. Griffin added a third touchdown through the air in overtime to complete an improbable 31-30 victory. Of course you’d rather see quarterbacks dominate early and control a game, but Griffin proved today he can take a team on the brink of defeat and make it a winner. This will impress NFL scouts.

The Denver Broncos sent out a large team of personnel men to watch Arizona take on Colorado – with Nick Foles supposedly the focus of attention (hat-tip to Chris Steuber). I’m guessing they weren’t all that impressed given a three-interception performance in a cushing 48-29 defeat. Foles remains a late round pick at best in my view and it’s hard to see how a team like Denver who are desperate for a quarterback would put their faith in Foles being the answer.

Ryan Tannehill and Collin Klein padded the stats in four overtime periods, but the stat line was again disappointing from Tannehill on the whole. Prior to OT he had one score and one interception, but was throwing a meagre 4.6 yard average per pass. Kansas State eventually won 53-50 for Texas A&M’s fifth loss this year and Tannehill hasn’t maintained the magic touch in the win column. A lot of the draft momentum he had earlier this season was built around impressive wins in 2010, but unfortunately it’s slowly evaporating. He’s got some athletic potential but he’s a much greater project than some wanted to believe in the summer.

Brandon Weeden didn’t break sweat in a five-touchdown 66-6 waltz against Texas Tech. Oklahoma State are one win against rivals Oklahoma away from potentially playing in the National Championship game. Weeden went 31-37 with no turnovers, finding Justin Blackmon for two of his touchdowns. He’s a talented quarterback and his maturity shines through, but it’s still hard to picture him in the NFL. That’s aside from the obvious elephant in the room that he’ll turn 29 during his rookie season in the NFL.

Kirk Cousins has been hit and miss the season, but he had one of his better days leading Michigan State past Iowa 37-21. Cousins had three touchdowns and no turnovers, going 18/31 for 260 yards. He hasn’t had a good enough year to boost his stock beyond much more than a late round flier.

It was a bye week for Landry Jones and Oklahoma. Andrew Luck tackles Oregon later tonight while Austin Davis and Southern Miss host UCF.

Robert Griffin III scouting report

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Introduction

Below you’ll find four videos featuring Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor). The first video is every snap Griffin impacted in last year’s Texas Bowl where Baylor were defeated convincingly by Illinois. The next three videos feature tape from 2011 – every snap Griffin took in the games against TCU, Texas A&M and most recently, Missouri. I’ll break down and analyse the Tigers game from last Saturday later in this piece as it’s the freshest example of what Griffin’s going to bring to the NFL if he chooses to declare as a fourth-year junior. However, before you read on I would urge you to watch tape of the Illinois game and then watch at least one of the 2011 videos. Compare and contrast what you see.   

   

   

   

   

Thanks to JMPasq for supplying the game tape

Robert Griffin III provides one of the great mysteries of this year’s potential draft class. I’m struggling to grade Griffin, despite the fact I’ve watched more of his tape this year than the vast majority of players eligible for the 2012 draft.   

If you took the opportunity to watch the Illinois tape, you’ll probably come to the same conclusion I did. I’d seen Baylor a few times in 2010 and never been particularly taken by their quarterback. It’s a heavy screen game – lot’s of passes into the flats, a high percentage for completions but not a lot of real productivity. Essentially, Baylor’s offense was built around getting the ball to track-star athletes playing receiver and trying to create outside space to use that electrifying speed. Griffin was the middle man and very rarely was he asked to make any passes you could grade down as evidence of next-level ability. His skills as an athlete to run with the ball offered a zone-read option – another feature that doesn’t translate to the NFL. Overall, it wasn’t very impressive if you’re a team looking for a franchise quarterback.   

I came into the 2011 season wondering if Griffin was even draftable. Maybe someone would give him a try, but who? In fairness I suspect he had similar realistic ambitions which is why he talked during the summer about staying for a fifth year at Baylor and attending law school, having already completed his degree in political science. He’s an intelligent and personable individual and while football made him a star in college, it wouldn’t necessarily make him a star as a professional. Nobody was talking about Robert Griffin III as a pro-prospect, let alone someone that could potentially be a first round pick.

Now, everything has changed.   

The reason I wanted to highlight that Illinois tape from the Texas Bowl is simply to emphasise the development Griffin has gone through. Look at any of the three subsequent videos and you could be forgiven for thinking you’re watching two completely different players. Suddenly he’s driving the ball downfield with great consistency, he’s making touch throws at every level (short range, intermediate, deep) and he’s progressing through a couple of good, quick reads. I’ve talked a lot about the footwork and mechanical improvements he’ll need to make, but this is just about as good as it gets in terms of a twelve-month improvement.   

All kinds of questions eminate from that. Is it testament to a man who’s worked at his craft knowing he needed to make several improvements for a shot at the NFL? Do we credit the coaches? Ultimately this development will have needed some tuition. Is it simply down to experience? How much better can he get either with further playing time at Baylor or by moving to the NFL to work full-time on honing his skills?   

It’s that final question that intrigues me the most and makes Griffin such an unknown. Right now he has some attractive pro-features and there are also some things to work on. However, if we can see this level of improvement as he grows at Baylor – what level could he achieve being managed in the NFL? Are we looking at a player with elite potential here? Are we looking at a player who just works harder than everyone else and has clicked for one great year and actually may struggle to make further gains? Is he maxed out?   

The only time we’ll find the answer to that is the day Griffin is standing in a NFL stadium and he’s throwing the football. I suspect some teams will be enamoured by the potential, yet others will avoid the unknown. Someone will believe in this guy, probably enough to make him a relatively early pick. So that leads to two further obvious questions – will Pete Carroll be that man to believe in Robert Griffin III and just how high would a team be willing to draft him? Top ten? First round? Early second round similar to Colin Kaepernick?   

We know the Seahawks had some interest in Kaepernick last year – enough to put him at #2 on their list of quarterbacks behind Blaine Gabbert and just above Andy Dalton. We also understand that had they been able to trade down into the early part of round two, they would’ve considered drafting Kaepernick who eventually went in that range to San Francisco.   

Griffin has some similarities to the former Nevada passer – they’re both athletic player with running ability, both own strong arms but require mechanical tweaks to their technique, they’ll both enter the league considered longer term projects than some other quarterbacks but there’s also lot’s of physical potential and both are considered strong characters, good leaders and hard workers. There are, of course, strong differences between the two and I believe Griffin is a more polished overall passer, but he’s less of a threat as a runner. If the Seahawks rated Kaepernick as a potential early second round pick, would Griffin get a similar grade? Or is the mere interest in Kaepernick to begin with enough to suggest that maybe this team would possibly take Griffin earlier given the growing need to solve the quarterback dilemma?   

I’m going to move on from Kaepernick for now and leave that comparison – mainly because he’s yet to even start a NFL game and there are differences between the two that I won’t go into here. I’ve not seen anyone in the NFL I can logically compare to Griffin. More on that in a moment, but for now let’s get into the Missouri tape…   

The first play that stands out comes at exactly the 1:00 minute mark. It’s a 4WR set with two go routes on the outside. Griffin takes the snap in the shotgun before making an initial red to his left, then coming back to the right hand side to search for a second target. None of the receivers run a good route in fairness and the offensive line are unable to maintain a clean pocket for any suitable amount of time to let the play develop. Griffin detects the pressure after the second read and is able to step up into the pocket and scramble to the right hand side. He can run here but instinctively holds up at the LOS to make a pass, throwing back across his body. The throw is high and asks a lot of Kendall Wright, who jumps at full stretch but only manages to get a finger tip to the ball. If you were being kind to you could say he put the ball in an area only the receiver could get it, but ultimately the receiver doesn’t because it’s marginally inaccurate.   

What I liked about this play though was the ability to feel the pressure without letting it impact the play. He still makes two reads and he doesn’t linger on a target when it’s time to move. Buying time for throw gives him the chance to make a completion and he doesn’t sell out on the play to make a run for it. The pass was difficult across his body, but almost completed. With a degree of better accuracy, that could’ve been a play scouts return to when trying to make a strong case for drafting Griffin. It may remain a good example anyway.   

Running with the ball is a concern for me. In fact, I’d go as far to say Griffin is a bit of a liability here. Yes he’s an athlete who can get the first down when the pass breaks down and potentially even make the big unexpected play. However, ball security is a major problem and his lack of bulk and upright running style could make him an easy target. The Missouri game isn’t the first game he’s fumbled the ball carrying it in a bad position. If we’re going to talk about Griffin as a threat running in space, he has to avoid turnovers by doing a better job of protecting the ball. His running style involves a lot of arm movement, but he needs to tuck the ball closer to his chest and not leave it open to be punched out. I counted three fumbles in this game, two from running plays. It’s something I’ve noticed in other games this year and I suspect it’ll happen again.   

He’s got excellent straight line speed and he’s definitely an athlete but whether he’s holding back due to his previous knee injury or whether he’s just not that elusive, Griffin never seems to break open the huge gain with his legs despite having the opportunity to run on a number of plays. That’s not a big deal, because you dont want the quarterback running too much at the next level anyway. However, I think it brings some reality to Griffin’s status because he’s not going to be an explosive Michael Vick-type runner. He may be a better passer than Vick though and his on-field IQ certainly matches the strong academic intelligence he’s shown with his studies.   

What I really like about Griffin is the way he reacts to the environment around him and undoubtedly that’s one of the reasons he’s limited turnovers this year. When he needs to he can get out of a bad situation or play call. If a pass rusher gets in his face just as he’s ready to release, he won’t just jam it in there regardless. Instead, he’ll pull the ball down and look to extend the play for a better passing lane or a run. When he’s in the pocket and the protection fails, he won’t bail too soon and he keeps his eyes downfield. Griffin has consistently shown he understands when to move out of the pocket to buy extra time and when it makes sense to stand tall and deliver the football. When you’re constantly aware of what’s unfolding in front of you, a quarterback can make better decisions and he can improvise. I need to see a quarterback in college that’s able to make something from a broken play, or at least not be tied to the script. Griffin does that.   

The evidence this season shows his placement is fantastic and he plays the percentages. He’s got a rare and under rated talent – which some would write off as conservative – and that’s to put the pass in a position where either his receiver is getting it or nobody is. He’s not ultra-cautious with this with constant check downs all the time (Kevin Kolb) or fearing any pass beyond 20-yards (Kevin Kolb). He’s prepared to take on a pass in a tight window. However, you notice in the red zone how he throws low and that’s a good skill to have. He limits the take away potential and although it demands more from the receiver, they have the opportunity to respond and make a play. It’s another reason why he has such a low number of turnovers.   

One of my favorite plays from the Missouri game came at 4:25. He takes the snap in the gun and pumps with his shoulder to the outside right sideline before throwing a really difficult pass for a ten-yard gain to a receiver in single coverage. He actually throws over two defenders who both leap for the ball, but the pass is too good. That’s perfect placement and touch.   

The announcer at 5:28 made a slight complaint with a pass featured, where Griffin is hammered by a defensive lineman but still gets the throw off with decent velocity. It’s high and misses the target, but I still think the receiver could do a better job at trying to catch that ball. If he makes that pass, it’d be twice as much of a positive than missing the target is a negative.   

Footwork still a problem and I suspect this isn’t going to be something addressed in 2011. Griffin still dances in the pocket too much and it hurts his ability to get the quick release. I wouldn’t be surprised if he misses the occasional opportunity because he has to keep re-setting to deliver the football. If he drops back and the receiver gets instant separation, by the time he’s taken two steps and then needed to plant both feet the chance might have gone. It’s not just missing chances that will occur through this, the extra time wasted will give defensive lineman a chance to reach the quarterback. The constant re-setting also sometimes puts Griffin’s body shape into an awkward position and while I’ve not seen any instances where this has impacted a throw yet, it’s something I’ve started to look for in each new game.   

This is a big issue, but not impossible to fix quickly. Joe Flacco basically had to learn to drop-back from scratch as a rookie. He also had to learn the whole concept of footwork and how it can help a quarterback, yet he still started as a rookie and has been a regular feature for the Baltimore Ravens ever since. Good coaching helped Flacco and there’s every chance it could help Griffin too. Most quarterbacks have some technical flaws to work on when they enter the NFL – thankfully footwork is easier to fix than a throwing motion or a weak arm. Griffin should be fine if he gets the right coaching, but eliminating the pressure to start quickly would help in the long term (as it would for most rookies).   

The touchdown at 7:25 is a thing of beauty. Shotgun snap and Griffin doesn’t like his first read. He scrambles right to avoid an outside rush to the strong side before throwing a lazer to the receiver in the end zone. It’s a textbook throw on the run, mechanically very good with the exact necessary velocity with two defensive backs in the region. A lot of players can’t put that level of power into a throw while running, it’s often lofted into the end zone, broken up or intercepted. That’s a touchdown because Griffin can put the required zip on the ball in that situation. When you see the all-22 replay you realise what a special pass that is. It’s a tiny window to throw into, he’s made a split second decision to make the pass and he’s executed to perfection. That may be the second most impressive pass I’ve seen this season after Geno Smith’s impossibly brilliant pass against LSU.   

His deep accuracy is very good and remains a positive overall but it’s not perfect. The pass at 8:06 should’ve been a touchdown and Griffin just misses by over shooting. He has to make that throw and it’s as poor as the touchdown mentioned above was exceptional.   

They went back to this play at 10:57 and this time made the downfield completion for a big touchdown. I need to decide if this great deep accuracy translates to the NFL because Baylor’s receivers are all very quick. In the NFL, the cornerbacks are generally quick too and they’ll do a better job disrupting your route early in the play. He’s often throwing downfield to players who can create separation through pure speed. It’ll be harder at the next level, but not impossible. My assessment, having seen so many of Griffin’s deep completions now, is that this is a translatable skill but one that must be tempered. He’s not going to do this every week in the pro’s, but it’s good to know he can keep a defense honest with his deep ball and it’s not just a throw and hope either. There is some thought going into these long passes and it’ll be a weapon to take into the pro’s.   

I’ve watched more Griffin tape than I usually need to see to make a judgement on a prospect and stick to my guns. Even now I’m still confused as to what’s holding me back from just saying, ‘you know what, this guy is a top pick after all’. Maybe it’s time to give him the high grade? Maybe it’s because there’s nobody quite like him already in the league? He’s not Cam Newton, he’s not Michael Vick. He’s Robert Griffin. The simple fact is we may never know whether a Robert Griffin type player will work until we see it with our own eyes on a Sunday. He is, quite simply, a unique football player. Aside from mechanical tweaks and footwork issues, I’m not sure there’s any reason not to take on the RG3 experiment.   

So would the Seahawks be interested? Very possibly. Using what information we have (previously signed players, interviews, previous targets, declared philosophy) I think the Seahawks are looking for a quarterback who can lead a ball control offense. They’re not necessarily looking for a Cam Newton-type. I’m a big fan of Newton’s and was among the first to tout him as a probable #1 pick last year, but he’s the kind of player you cannot manage. He’ll go out to lead a drive and you won’t know what to expect – he’s unpredictable. By the end of this year most of his touchdowns could be on broken plays or improvised decisions. A lot of his turnovers may have happened when he’s stuck to the script and tried to force it. Newton is a rare talent with major potential, but he’s also someone who needs to do it his way.   

The Seahawks may want a little more control over their quarterback. That’s not to say they don’t want someone who can improvise and make something out of nothing, but they proabably want to limit the risks a little more and make a concerted effort to restrict turnovers. They want someone who’s mobile enough to extend plays, but also someone who can sit in the pocket and take what a defense offers. The Seahawks want to utilise a deep ball, but there’s also a lot of orthodox WCO short passes and game management.   

When you sit down and think about it, some of the best quarterbacks in the league fit that bill. Aaron Rodgers isn’t a big risk taker, but he manipulates a defense and can extend plays to improvise. He has an arm to drive the ball downfield. He limits turnovers. It’s not that the Seahawks are necessarily looking for a lesser player – they perhaps just don’t want the unpredictable loose cannon who makes it up as he goes along but is talented enough to thrive in that mould (which in fairness, also represents a portion of the NFL’s better QB’s).   

Griffin fits into what I suspect the Seahawks want from their quarterback. The question that lingers is whether or not they’d see him as a top-ten pick type talent or someone they don’t trust enough to hand over the keys to future success. Pete Carroll may only get one shot at drafting a franchise quarterback, so he has to get it right. I suspect other teams could see Griffin as worthy of the high pick and waiting for him later on may lead to a dead end. Will he declare? If he gets a high grade from the draft committee I think he will and it’ll complete the transformation of a player who has grown significantly in the last twelve months. Whether he continues that development in Seattle remains to be seen.

Robert Griffin III tape, ESPN big boards and more

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Above you’ll find game tape from Robert Griffin III’s most recent performance in a victory over SEC-bound Missouri. I’ll be breaking down his display in a larger piece tomorrow. I’m trying to get an angle on a definite draft grade for the Baylor quarterback and so far it’s proving difficult. He’s very much a wildcard prospect with a lot of upside and he’s developed greatly during his four years with the Bears. However, something keeps holding me back when it comes to committing to a high grade, even though he’s definitely an intriguing prospect.

Thanks again to JMPasq for supplying us with the tape.

ESPN draft-duo Mel Kiper and Todd McShay published their updated big boards today. I struggle to grasp the concept of these boards – what determines how far a player drops or rises? For example, in McShay’s first big board he described Matt Barkley as thus, “Barkley is a natural leader with a high football IQ and good short-to-intermediate accuracy and touch and a quick release and adequate arm strength to make all the NFL throws.” Such high praise warranted only the #22 overall position on his board, behind tweener’s like Melvin Ingram with no obvious role in the NFL.

Funnily enough, Ingram is no longer among McShay’s top-32 but Barkley is steadily climbing. Last week he was up to #18 and today he’s at #12. This is McShay’s justification, “He continues to rise in part because of his impressive consistency. The closer we get to the draft, the more quarterbacks start to rise, and Barkley has done nothing to hurt his stock. His tools aren’t elite, but he’s getting better at all the little things to get the most out of his ability.”

Let’s look at Landry Jones’ ranking and how that compares – he’s been as high as #3 but this week dropped to #5. “Jones just hasn’t been as consistent as you expect in recent weeks. His accuracy is good, but he continues to miss within the strike zone, and at this point he hasn’t locked down the No. 2 spot among quarterbacks.” I’m struggling to ‘get’ McShay’s approach here, because if Jones is struggling to lock down the #2 quarterback spot why is he still seven places ahead of Barkley? And if Barkley has been ‘closing in’ on overtaking Jones, why has he been wallowing in the late teens or early twenties until this week?

For me, Barkley is having another strong year where he’s not only made further developments as a true junior, but he’s also been incredibly consistent and productive. Jones – in my view at least – has shown very few qualities that make you believe he’s going to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.

Even more confusing is the introduction of Ryan Tannehill to the board this week for the first time at #31 – fresh off easily his worst performance of the season against Oklahoma. Again, there appears to be no rhyme or reason to the decision to add him now. McShay states, “A closer look at the tape shows improved instincts, which indicates he has plenty of potential given the right coaching, and all indications are he has the mental makeup to realize that potential. His ability to create when the play breaks down is also well above-average.” Yet the evidence suggests very much the opposite if you study the game on Saturday.

For example, what happened when his hot read was covered and Frank Alexander had offered moderate outside pressure from his strong side? Rather than move away from the pressure (which was being handled by the right tackle) to create further time for a throw (or a run, given how much space there was to the right side of the field) Tannehill instead dwelled too long on his intended target before switching to a second option late in the play and making a careless throw into double coverage for an interception and big return. In the second half he again reacted badly to moderate pressure forcing a throw to Jeff Fuller who hadn’t even completed his route and wasn’t facing the quarterback. The defensive back read Tannehill’s eyes and pre-empted the throw, easily picking it off. Two bad decisions, two bad turn overs and further evidence of a lack of poise and too often locking on to one target.

Tannehill has the athletic potential to extend plays and avoid pressure, but so far he’s not doing a good enough job of remaining composed and running through his progressions. It’s also equally baffling that Jeff Fuller remains on McShay’s board despite a poor overall year for Texas A&M. Needless to say, standout North Carolina prospect doesn’t make the cut on McShay or Mel Kiper’s big boards.

On a more positive note, it’s interesting to see Griffin III remain at #24 on Kiper’s list and both acknowledge the impact of Alabama’s Trent Richardson this season. Kudos must also go to Kiper for dropping Dre Kirkpatrick to #25 – a player whose reputation appears to have gained unrealistic momentum due to people’s desire to see tall, physical corners on their team.

Elsewhere I’d highly recommend checking out this analytical piece from Alex Brown for Optimum Scouting, breaking down four Big 12 quarterback prospects (Landry Jones, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden). Although I’ve written contrasting pieces on all four at various times this year, it’s always good to get a different take on things and Alex’s write-up is incredibly detailed and worthy of attention. Check it out. Here’s a taster on Robert Griffin III:

Entering this season, I had trouble giving Robert Griffin III a 4th round grade. His lack of fluidity and feel inside the pocket, coupled with inconsistent ball placement on the deep fade, inability to progress from target to target in his reads, lack of confidence in his previously torn ACL from the season before, and his throwing mechanics as a whole, scared me to death as a talent evaluator. Griffin’s athletic prowess, impressive character and leadership made him a must draft player nonetheless, but I still had my doubts in his ability under center. Griffin wasted no time in winning me over as a believer, as he torched the TCU secondary in the season opening game.”

Jesse Bartolis also has an updated mock draft available for your viewing pleasure. The Seahawks pick fourth overall and choose Griffin III with Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley off the board.

Revisiting first round projections: 9th November

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Lamar Miller looks the part for Miami

On October 7th I wrote this article noting which players I believed were worthy of first round projections. I wanted to go back and review this list and also update it based on the games I’ve watched since. It’s important to remember that in some cases I’ve just not seen enough evidence to grade a player. For example, I’ve not had the opportunity to truly focus on Georgia’s rising linebacker Jarvis Jones – therefore I can’t offer a true evaluation. This is supposed to be a work in progress, moving towards the introduction of the weekly mock drafts that will begin in the upcoming weeks.   

Of the initial twelve, here are the players maintaining first projections this month. Of the group, only the top five warrant high first round grades.   

Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)   

Matt Barkley (QB, USC)   

Matt Kalil (OT, USC)   

Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)   

Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)   

Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)   

Peter Konz (C, Wisconsin)   

Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)   

Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)   

Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)   

Vontaze Burfict (LB, Arizona State)   

One player on October’s list – Alshon Jeffery (WR, SouthCarolina) – has performed poorly in the previous month and I’m going to re-visit his grade in December. Jeffery is struggling – partly due to a bad quarterback situation but also due his own general physique. He’s playing heavier than he did last year and it’s showing up in games too often. He always looked limited to the role of a big bodied possession receiver, capable of flashing the occasional spectacular catch. He wasn’t a burner and while he was never likely to be a consistent downfield threat, this season he’s struggling to get much separation even on simple routes. His burst off the snap is below average and you don’t see any real explosion in his breaks.   

People like to compare him to Jonathan Baldwin last year, but Baldwin flashed #1 receiver potential despite the size. He could get separation quickly and make the big downfield plays, something I’m not convinced AlshonJeffery can do. It has to limit his stock given the depth of talent at the receiver position this year. He was always over rated as a top-ten pick, but now  I’m starting to doubt whether he even look like a solid late first rounder.   

I’m prepared to add two more players to the list following further tape study:   

Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)   

He’s playing like a NFL cornerbackthis year, he’s a converted wide receiver withgreat fluidity and hip movement for a guy who plays above 6-0. His recovery skills are worthy of a high grade, and so is his ability to make spectacular plays on the ball. Claiborne hasn’t got the explosive overall skill set that Patrick Peterson had last year, but he may end up being a more consistent player at the next level. He does need to add a bit of further bulk in order to cope with the physical nature of the NFL, but his technique makes up for it at LSU and he’s got that all important ability to go through the gears when needed and accelerate to make a play on the ball.   

Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)   

I watched Miller in the first week of the season and he looked explosive – ideal size for the position (5-11, 210lbs), breakaway speed and the ability to play any down on offense. One game isn’t enough evidence to give someone a first round grade, but seeing Miller on an off day for his team against Virginia made me realise he’s the real deal. Although he wasn’t spectacular in the game (70 yards, no touchdowns from 16 carries) he flashed the same balance, vision and acceleration you want to see from a first round back. He won’t be a high choice like Trent Richardson and he won’t define anyone’s offense, but a good team looking for a first round playmaker could check out Miller.   

One further player will be added to the list based on previous evidence in 2010   

Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)   

I left Jenkins off the confirmed list of first round picks last month, but noted him among the players to monitor. Since then he’s been ejected from a game for striking an opponent. Clearly this is a player who will always carry an element of controversy, which is a shame. Last year Jenkins would’ve been the clear #3 cornerbackbehind Patrick Peterson and Jimmy Smith. AJ Green, AlshonJeffery and Julio Jones all had their worst games of the season in 2010 when being shadowed by Jenkins. He’s an extreme talent, excellent in coverage with supreme fluidity and instinct. He’ll make big plays and he’ll double up as a return threat on special teams. If he can convince one team he’s matured enough to become a true pro, he’ll go in round one. That’s the only thing holding him back.   

Four players I’ll continue to monitor this month prior to December’s update   

Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)   

Having the opportunity to study Iowa only once this year has limited any opportunities to sufficiently grade Reiff, although I did catch some of his play in 2010. I am a bit concerned that he looks like a right tackle prospect – he can get beat off the edge by even a moderate speed rush and his footwork is hit and miss. He’s got the long frame and he’s not a slouch athletically, but when he’s drawn to the outside he’s susceptible to an inside rush move and like I said before – he’ll always be a little suspect against speed round the corner. I want to see if he’s made improvements in pass protection, because he’s a mean run blocker, he understands leverage and hand use as you’d expect from an Iowa-coached lineman and the worst case is he’ll make a solid book-end (of course most teams shouldn’t be drafting right tackles in round one).   

Kevin Reddick (LB, North Carolina)   

I went back and watched the Georgia Tech game and on a second viewing, Reddick really stood out. I have another UNC game saved against Clemson so I’ll do a bit more homework. Reddick was all over the field against GT and made a number of splash plays against the difficult triple option attack. Great tackler and he also appears to have the kind of restraint and composure lacking in Vontaze Burfict’s play. He’s not a stunning athlete but he consistently made plays outside of his comfort zone and for a guy only playing at 6-2, 233lbs he was a really sure tackler. When he needed to react quickly to the pass against GT (obviously it’s common in the triple option to assume the run) he was quick to get back into coverage and did a good job.   

David De Castro (OG, Stanford)   

Stanford’s right guard and a great technician. The USC game was the first time I’ve really focused on De Castro and he made several impressive plays. On one drive in particular there were three running plays where he drove the defender backwards a good 5-6 yards to create a huge hole for the running back. He seems to know what he’s doing in the run game, his hand placement and technique are about as good as it gets. Thrives on getting to the second level and he’s always looking to block downfield. However, Stanford’s offensive line is among the best in college football, mainly due to the superb coaching they’ve received over the years. There are no explosive athletes – including left tackle Jonathan Martin – this is a group that has grown together. I need to decide whether the sum is greater than the parts in terms of next level projection for both De Castro and Martin.   

Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)   

The great wildcard of the 2012 draft so far. Griffin is intriguing in so many ways – the athletic potential, the deep ball accuracy and the incredible development he’s made from run-first quarterback in year one to  accomplished passer as a fourth-year junior. He extends plays and keeps his eyes downfield, he’s got a decent if not perfect throwing motion, he’s got statistics to die for this year with very few turnovers in his career and he’s the very definition of a character guy (he comes across personable and funny but also hard working and a leader). Even so, something is holding me back from committing to a high grade. His footwork needs a major overhaul and it’s going to take time. His deep accuracy is a positive, but does it translate to the next level? A lofof his big plays have been simple down-the-field bombs with sound placement- often several times in a game. We don’t see that much of a downfield focus in the NFL, so if you take it away and ask Griffin to play a more clinical short passing game will he be able to move the ball? Part of me wants to promote him to the upper echelon of this draft class – especially given his extreme progression as a passer over the years. The other part of me wants to go back and watch his bowl game from last season when I gave him a late round grade at best. This is a tough one.   

Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)   

I’ve seen a lot of Kirkpatrick, but I’m still trying to work out whether he justifies the hype. There’s a stigma around cornerbacks that size = good. Kirkpatrick is 6-2 and about 190lbs and he’s certainly very physical in run support and a sure tackler. However, cornerbacksmake their money in coverage and too often I’ve seen receivers coast past Kirkpatrick with no disruption at the LOS. He’s not been burnt as often as he should’ve been, there’s been a few missed chances in games over the last two seasons. The Florida game this year was a bit of an eye opener in that regard, when Kirkpatrick was at one stage being targeted by John Brantley. Is Kirkpatrick highly over rated due to his Nick Saban coaching and physical appearance? I’m leaning that way, but there’ll be plenty of opportunities to watch Alabama before the season’s end.   

Players who won’t receive first round grades, but are worthy of attention   

Austin Davis (QB, Southern Miss)   

Under rated quarterback prospect and the heart-beat of the Golden Eagles team. Southern Miss are ranked #23 on the coaches poll and #25 according to the AP – that achievement cannot be under estimated and it’s mainly down to the impact of their quarterback. Davis is a pure worker – he knew the areas he had to improve both physically and technically and he’s worked as hard as anyone to get there. He’s a clinical passer who makes very few bad decisions. He works within an offense that stresses the necessity to avoid turnovers (similar to the Seahawks), he’s enough of an athlete to make runs on the ground and extend plays. He’s added upper body muscle this year to improve his arm strength. Davis has a shot to make it and only a lack of national attention is keeping him under wraps.   

Logan Harrell (DT, Fresno State)   

Busy defensive tackle who jumps off the screen and makes a number of splash plays. Few players will trouble the Boise State offensive like like Harrell did this year. He’s not the biggest lineman and that will limit his role at the next level, but he plays with a spark and he explodes off the snap. Hand use is above average and he finds ways to get into the backfield consistently. He could split roles between the three and five technique in the NFL and while he’ll never be a dominating force – Harrell will find a way to get attention. Also owns a world class moustache, which is a big plus.   

Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)   

He’s having a great year with 10.5 sacks already, but where does he play at the next level? He’s not agile enough to consider switching to 3-4 OLB, but he’s not got the ideal size for a base 4-3 end. Curry isn’t an explosive speed rusher despite that lack of true size, but he’s surprisingly strong and his production over the last two seasons has been among the best in college football. He may still end up in the first round if he performs well enough at the combine to match the stats, but I suspect he’ll go after the top-32 and provide someone with a challenge – how to get the best out of this guy given his skill set.   

Over rated players   

Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)   

I’m still hesitant to commit to Coples as a first rounder, despite his near consensus approval ratings elsewhere. What position is he going to play at the next level? He’s not a good enough edge rusher to play 4-3 defensive end, he’s not big enough to kick inside as anything more than a third down rusher. I end up settling for the 3-4 orthodox five technique, but even then I’m not entirely convinced you’d want to make a big splash to get this guy on your team in that role. He’s off the field too much for my liking, including in key third down attempts. For the season he has 4.5 sacks – two of which came against James Madison in week one. If he’s a top-ten pick, I’ll be stunned.   

Landry Jones (QB, Oklahoma)   

Limited physical talent working to execute a small playbook in a high tempo offense. He doesn’t have an amazing arm, he’s very limited in terms of athleticism, he’s predictable and the production he’s having in college will not translate. In the NFL he’s not going to be able to rely on the same play call every week (the now notorious fade to Kenny Stills). A lot of his plays are scripted and he basically does what he’s told, in the NFL he’s going to be presented with multiple options and he’s going to have to improvise – something I’m not sure he’ll be able to do. He struggles against any kind of pressure – Jones’ can’t extend plays by moving out of the pocket and he surprisingly struggles to step up and buy extra time against even moderate edge pressure. I think he’ll be found out quickly in the pro’sand you’ll be left with a very mediocre quarterback.   

Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)   

I still see Floyd cropping up among top-ten projections and I have to ask – why? This is a player who wasn’t considered a high pick last year as a junior and returned to Notre Dame largely because of a poor grade from the draft committee. Needing a strong year to boost his stock back into the first round – he was almost immediately cited for drink driving and suspended by the team. The production has been good this year (as it was in 2010) but the same problems exist – sloppy route running, too many body catches and he’s not an explosive deep threat. He’s a big receiver who may end up being a good #2, but compared to players like Dwight Jones he’s severely lacking the skills to be a top end receiver pick.

Tuesday’s draft mailbag

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

Is this man potentially a year-one starter?

There’s a lot of unanswered questions in the comments section so rather than go through all the individual articles I’ve just listed the questions and answers here in a mailbag session. Feel free to build off the discussion here or ask any further questions.

Kevin Mullen asked, “Is RG3 game one ready? Obviously Luck and Barkley are but not too sure about Griffin. That would mean another half season of TJack then to Griffin3, possibly another top10 pick in 2013, yikes!”

To be blunt, Robert Griffin III is not game one ready. There’s a lot to like about his play, but there’s also a lot of technical flaws he has to repair. For example, his footwork is a major concern. He’s still dancing in the pocket and taking 2-3 unnecessary steps on a pure drop back. It means he has to re-set to release, and it’s just wasting time back there. He needs to find a way to snap, make a 3-5 step drop and release in one fluid motion. This will be particularly difficult for Griffin because I sense it’s a habit that’ll be tough to shake. Considering he’ll also need to learn the basics of a pro-offense and drop backs/reads anyway, you don’t want the guy starting quickly in the NFL. It’s not impossible though – Joe Flacco had similar problems with his footwork and drop backs coming out of Delaware and thanks to some excellent coaching in Baltimore he enjoyed a productive rookie season and started immediately.

I actually think the Seahawks fanbase – if not the media – would tolerate another difficult season in 2012 (and the subsequent high pick) as long as the team makes a long term commitment to the quarterback position. If Jackson or whoever is starting next year with a rookie basically on a red-shirt year, that’s acceptable. What people tend to complain about – and rightly so – is when a team is perceived to be coasting at such an important position. Using stop-gaps and re-treads is fine and so far the Seahawks haven’t passed on any ‘can’t miss’ talents, but eventually they need to take a shot on a player. If the Seahawks wait much longer to draft a quarterback, people are going to start asking questions of the Carroll and Schneider regime. It really is as simple as this – barring several high-profile decisions to stay in college, the Seahawks cannot get out of the 2012 draft without a quarterback.

Rugby Lock asked, “What about Flynn at GB? How expensive would that be?”

Matt Flynn is not the answer for Seattle. Yes – the Seahawks previously found a franchise quarterback trading for a former late round pick from Green Bay. However, Flynn went in round seven for a reason and the Seahawks won’t be introducing that player to an offensive guru like Mike Holmgren when he gets here. Neither will he be protected by two of the finest offensive lineman to ever grace the NFL and neither will he be supported by a NFL MVP at running back. That was a perfect storm for Hasselbeck and combined with his talent, coaching and football IQ – it worked. This is a very different situation in Seattle and a very different NFL.

You need a great quarterback to prosper in this league. Matt Flynn is a physically limited back-up who can spell Aaron Rodgers in a crisis, but he’s a million miles away from starting. Flynn’s reputation is based around one game against the Patriots, but what did we truly learn from that one game? People pair him with Seattle because of John Schneider, but we have no idea what Schneider’s actual view is on the player. Flynn should stay in Green Bay doing what he does best – working as the back-up to the league’s current top quarterback. Seattle needs to be aggressive in the draft to find their Aaron Rodgers, not get cute and sign his understudy.

Reuben asked, “Rob, I don’t know if anyone has talked about this yet, but isn’t it a 4 year contract from rookies under the new wage scale? If so, that would make Luck and Manning have the same amount of years on their contracts if Indy drafts first. I just can’t imagine the Colts having two qb’s under contract for $130 million without one getting a chance to play regularly. If Indy has the first pick I think they have to either cut Peyton or trade the pick away. What are your thoughts?”

I tend to agree, Reuben. This isn’t a cut and dried situation like many people seem to think. It’s illogical for the Colts to pick Andrew Luck and keep Manning, something has to give there. Manning will be owed $26m in guarantees before the draft, so if he’s still on the roster by April you have to believe Indianapolis are going to expect him to start for the foreseeable future. I just can’t picture a situation where not only are the Colts paying $130m for two quarterbacks the next four years, but they’re also facing constant quarterback questions with the most high profile college quarterback since John Elway riding the bench.

And what about Luck in that scenario? He’s read to play in the NFL – so how’s  he going to feel about having to sit indefinitely, becoming a peripheral figure behind a future Hall-of-Famer? Would he force a trade? Of course, Manning’s injury could be serious enough to solve this situation. But I expect Manning to come back, forcing Indy to choose between the man who made that franchise and an unproven yet highly rated rookie. Peyton Manning could be a free agent soon enough and you can just see a team like Washington breaking the bank to sign him. On the other hand, it may offer some ray of hope to a team like Cleveland with two 2012 first rounders who may have ambitions to trade up for Luck. There are questions to be asked and it’s nowhere near as simple as Luck simpy riding the pine for a while as Manning waltzes back into the team.

Ralphy asked, “Rob, where do you stand on Austin Davis now? I was under the impression you thought he was a good second tier guy who might be a round two option. Have you changed your opinion on him? Weren’t the Hawks scouting him? I’m trying to stay excited about at least one second tier guy!”

The Seahawks sent a scout to watch the Southern Miss vs Virginia game, but it’s unclear whether any player in particular was the focus of their attention. My opinion hasn’t changed on Austin Davis – he’s the most under rated quarterback in this class. He’s a player with surprising athletic qualities, he’s improved his arm strength and upper body muscle, he’s accurate and he’s got a great head on his shoulders. Southern Miss are ranked at #25 right now and that’s at least 80% down to Davis. I expect him to be drafted higher than people think and I expect he’ll have a shot to make it at the next level. However, I also think the Seahawks need to be aiming big at the position – meaning the top of round one. Unfortunately the time may have passed to draft and develop an Austin Davis. There are certain situations where turning to Davis may be a viable alternative if other options are blocked, but they have to be aggressive in round one first. Right now Davis is my #4 ranked quarterback behind Luck, Barkley and Griffin III.

Misfit74 asked, “I’m curious where guys like Toon and Sanu grade out in your book? 2nd-3rd rounders? What about Fuller or Floyd?”

I have Mohamed Sanu graded in round one – big, physical receiver with good enough speed to keep a defense honest but more importantly great hands. You can line him up anywhere on the field – maybe even at running back occasionally – and he will make plays. Nick Toon is getting a lot of attention but he’s hit and miss. I have him with a round 2-3 grade, but others have pushed him into round one. He has the NFL bloodline and he can be a sparky playmaker, but he’s patchy. Jeff Fuller has been one of the biggest disappointments this season for me and he’s dropping – he’ll be a steal for someone in the mid rounds considering his potential. Michael Floyd is over rated in my eyes – big body, but not great downfield speed and he’s a body catcher. He runs sloppy routes and isn’t as physically dominating as he should be. I think round two at the most, others have him a lot higher.

Dwight Jones and Justin Blackmon are the top receivers in this class. Jones in particular has the complete package at receiver, he deserves a lot more attention.

Dave asked, “Here’s my question. Suppose Seattle drafts 8th. Luck (Indy), Barkley (Miami) and RGIII (somebody trades up) are off the board. What would YOU do if you were Seattle’s GM? (Honestly curious–not intended as a “gotcha”.) That scenario does not seem implausible. Do you explore the trade/FA market? If so, who are some targets? I agree with you. Seattle has to get a QB. Yet, they’re a lot like major league starting pitching. Everybody needs some, but it’s always in short supply.”

If I was Seattle’s GM, I’d be working a deal to move up and do whatever it takes. Sometimes you have to go after the prize, not sit around and wait for it. This team is a quarterback away from being pretty good, at least more competitive. Without that quarterback it’s 2-6 and drifting. If it takes two first round picks to get Matt Barkley, then it takes two first round picks. If you prefer Griffin, then you go and get Robert Griffin. There’s nobody in free agency that interests me unless Peyton Manning is cut by the Colts and he’s actually healthy enough to start. Seattle has to force the issue, it’s 19 years since this team drafted a quarterback in round one and they’ll be waiting another 19 years if they just sit around hoping for the next big thing to fall to them.

It’s difficult because Washington are in the exact same situation – Mike Shanahan became the Redskins coach the same year as Pete Carroll moved to Seattle. The Seahawks took a left tackle in Carroll’s first draft, the same happened in Washington. The Redskins were hoping to draft Jake Locker last April and when he went to Tennessee, they moved down. Shanahan is losing with John Beck and Rex Grossman, he needs to find a quarterback. Miami also needs to find a quarterback. Denver may still decide they need to find a quarterback. There’s a lot of competition out there, but it’s up to Seattle’s front office to win the day. Tarvaris Jackson can’t be starting for this team on a one year contract in 2012 with no young freshly-drafted player waiting in the wings. It will be unacceptable if the Seahawks don’t come away with a quarterback this April – and the only way that changes is if players like Barkley and Griffin choose to return to USC and Baylor respectively.

Monday draft hits: Seahawks still need a quarterback

Monday, November 7th, 2011

Tarvaris Jackson struggled against Dallas, throwing three picks

Seahawks still hampered by their quarterbacks 

The game against Dallas was there to be won. Take nothing away from the Cowboys, they deserved to win it. However, they’re a team that just can’t get out of it’s own way. They’re stuttering when they should be fluid. In the first half, Seattle had the breaks but couldn’t capitalise. In the second half, all the Cowboys did was iron out a few of the creases and they were barely tested. Why? The Seahawks passing offense couldn’t keep up – it was impotent and turned the ball over. 

Tarvaris Jackson hasn’t been a disaster for the Seahawks this year. Far from it in fact, and I suspect a few of the critics have actually warmed to the guy that provoked a collective groan when it became clear he would be the team’s unchallenged starter this year. Having seen Charlie Whitehurst in the starting role too, it’s clear the right man is playing for this team in 2011. 

However, a performance like the one seen against Dallas just re-emphasises the already obvious need to make a draft splash on a quarterback. If the player you want is out of reach, it’s time to be aggressive – because this team’s development cannot be compromised by getting cute at the most important position in football. 

All three of Jackson’s interceptions were avoidable and while the third may have courted some controversy and debate, the first two were just plain bad. In a game like this against a stuttering Dallas, you need a quarterback who’s going to step up and win you the game. This is the type of meeting where a good quarterback gets you over the finish line – sadly, that quarterback was Tony Romo on Sunday. Say what you want about Romo, he’s still a class above Tarvaris Jackson. 

If you look through Jackson’s career on the whole, he’s always had more turnovers than touchdowns. The exception came in 2008 when he was in and out of the team, starting only five games. In six years he has a total touchdown-to-interception ratio of 30-31, so it’s not really a surprise he’s currently at 6-9 for 2011. Against Dallas he had no excuses – good pass protection, healthy receivers and a running game that suddenly looked productive. The only thing missing was good play from the quarterback.  

The Seahawks have enough talent on their roster to be mildly successful, certainly better than a 2-6 record and being all but out of post-season contention during the first week of November. If all the work so far has been about building the right environment for a quarterback to prosper, it’s time to go all in on finding that player. Put a functional quarterback into this offense and it can win again. Sure, that’s somewhat of a glib remark and maybe stating the obvious – but eventually this team has to bite the bullet on finding that guy. Unfortunately, stop-gaps and re-treads will not get it done. 

The only excuse for not solving this problem is a wave of underclassmen opting to stay in school – your Matt Barkley’s and Robert Griffin’s for example.  

It may be a bit of a dead-horse subject, but it’s going to linger every day until the situation is sorted once and for all. It’ll be 19 years next April since the Seahawks last drafted a quarterback in round one, it cannot be allowed to stretch into a 20th year. 

Landry Jones should stay at Oklahoma? 

Dan Kadar at Mocking the Draft highlights a tweet from Lance Zierlein, suggesting two NFL scouts he’s spoken to believe Landry Jones shouldn’t declare for the draft. I found this interesting, because there’s been little negative reporting on Jones aside from Tony Pauline’s pre-season mid-round grade that has since changed to a first round projection. I’ve been negative about Jones, as evidenced in my review of his performance against Texas A&M this weekend. I wouldn’t draft the guy as I said on Saturday. However, I also don’t see any benefit to him returning to Oklahoma for another year. 

The issues I have with Jones were all on tape last year – he’s not really progressed in 12 months. Part of that is down to the situation he’s in at Oklahoma – he’s basically the conductor of a prolific offense that makes the most of a limited playbook with a high tempo. In order to develop beyond what he is now, he needs to get away from that and start to work within something akin to a pro-style offense. I suspect he’ll be found out at the next level and won’t be able to improvise in the face of trouble – when things break down can he stray from the script? When offered options A, B and C as a pro-quarterback, is he going to be able to move to B or C when A is taken away? I’m not convinced. However, we’ll never know until he actually gets into the NFL and starts working with pro-coaches. 

Another year at Oklahoma will just mean another season with loads of touchdowns and passing yards, but no real technical or physical improvement. I can’t see a situation where his stock improves. The only real positive could be that the 2013 class at quarterback is setting up to be one of the weakest we’ve seen in a long while (unless players like Matt Barkley return for a fourth year at USC) so maybe he capitalises on that? That’s a risky business though, because it only takes one bad injury and the gamble has failed. 

Jones may well be a first round pick next April if he does declare and that should be enough to make his mind up. It’d be an undeserved grade in my view, but such is the desperate need for quarterbacks and given the relatively limited cost in the new rookie pay scale – someone will take their chance. 

Seahawks would pick 7th 

NE Patriots Draft has the updated draft order following the weekend’s games, with the Seahawks picking 7th overall as things stand. They’re tied with Arizona who pick 4th, with five teams sharing a 2-6 record. Miami’s shock win over Kansas City makes it increasingly likely that the Indianapolis Colts will pick first overall, creating an interesting scenario. 

The Colts have an option to avoid a near $30m guaranteed investment in Peyton Manning if they cut him before next April’s draft. The idea of cutting Manning – a franchise icon as well as a brilliant quarterback – would’ve been unthinkable just a few months ago. Having the opportunity to draft the highly rated Luck creates a dilemma though where it has to be considered. 

If the Colts choose to keep (and pay) Manning, they’re likely to expect him to recover and feature for the remaining four years of his contract to put Indianapolis back in Super Bowl contention. Would a bounty of picks for trading the rights to Luck be tempting to aid that push? Or would they look to sit the young quarterback as a long term replacement? That in itself brings about a lot of question marks, namely whether the most high profile college quarterback since John Elway would accept riding the bench for a few years. You also have to wonder whether Manning and the Colts really want a drawn out quarterback controversy, or an amount of nearly $130m invested in two players at the same position. 

All kinds of possibilities exist – Manning becoming a free agent, Luck becoming his heir apparent or Indy potentially trading the pick for a kings ransom. Whatever is most likely at this stage (Indy drafting Luck) it won’t be the foregone conclusion that Miami picking first would’ve provided. 

Speaking of Miami, I just wonder if such an impressive victory over Kansas City will create a spark at that franchise. They have a tough remaining schedule, but they’re also a better team than their record suggests. They are the big threat to quarterback-hungry teams like Seattle, Denver and Washington once Luck leaves the board. 

At the moment, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a situation like this: 

#1 Indianapolis – Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
#2 Miami – Quarterback #2 (Barkley? Jones? Griffin?)
#3 St. Louis – Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
#4 Arizona – Offensive tackle #2 (Martin? Reiff?)
#5 Jacksonville – WR for the young quarterback (Blackmon? Jones?)
#6 Carolina – WR #2 for the young quarterback (Blackmon? Jones?) 

With the Seahawks picking 7th overall, they may actually find the quarterback they want falls straight to them barring any moves up the board. Miami’s philosophy on quarterbacks may differ from Seattle’s, creating a situation where the two teams are not chasing the same player. On the other hand, the Seahawks may end up being out in the cold and looking to secondary options. Would they turn to a big playmaker like Trent Richardson (Adrian Peterson was the #7 overall pick previously) or take their pick of the defensive players, none of which have left the board in the scenario above? 

Or alternatively, would they extend their quarterback wish-list to three? I don’t expect Landry Jones to be among the options due to his overall skill set differing from Seattle’s wishes, but what about a player like Robert Griffin III? He still intrigues me enough to stop me ruling out a top-ten pick as being crazy talk, yet he’s also enough of a project to stop me rolling with it. He is the wildcard in all of this, as he fits Seattle’s criteria but is far from ready to start in the NFL. Either way, it may be time to start rooting for the Dolphins to win. With the Seahawks 2-6 and essentially out of the post-season race, they might as well come away with a quarterback of the future next April. 

Robert Griffin III Highlights vs Missouri 

Speaking of Griffin, I’ve been unable to get full tape on his performance in Baylor’s win over Missouri on Saturday. However, I did find this highlights video which runs through some of his big plays. His accuracy and touch on deep throws is the things that excites me the most, but just behind it is his continuing and rapid development. His rise from true freshman-to-redshirt junior has been remarkable, and he keeps getting better if his performance against Texas A&M is anything to go by. As I said above, he’s the wildcard in this process. Against Missouri he had a typically productive day, going 27-41 for 406 passing yards and three touchdowns. He added another score on the ground and didn’t have a turnover. The combination of athletic prowess, leadership, production and proven ability to not turn the ball over will interest Seattle’s front office. 

 

Andrew Luck tape vs Oregon State 

Courtesy of JMPasq, below you’ll find full game tape of Luck’s performance in Saturday’s victory over Oregon State. For the second week in succession we see that Luck is human after all, because this was far from a faultless performance. Fans and scouts have really got themselves into a situation where’s it’s assumed Luck is an impossibly perfect player. That’s far from the truth and I wonder how he’ll deal with his ridiculously high expectations at the next level. From a technique point of view, from a character point of view and from a physical point of view Luck is a rare talent, but he isn’t flawless. Against Oregon State his accuracy was hit and miss, occasionally throwing behind his intended target or just making a bad decision under pressure (see: first interception). Luck struggled a bit last week when USC brought the heat, and this is becoming a trend – it’s an area of his game he has to improve having experienced very little pressure during his time at Stanford. 

However, we shouldn’t over react to this in the same way we shouldn’t assume Luck is perfect. He’s a fine prospect who will be chosen first overall. However, there are still areas he can improve, it’s just that technically he’s far more advanced than most quarterbacks his age. 

Matt Barkley (QB, USC) vs Colorado game tape

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

More thoughts and a breakdown on this performance tomorrow. For now here’s the tape courtesy of JMPasq.