Archive for November, 2011

Landry Jones & Ryan Tannehill not first round QB’s

Saturday, November 5th, 2011

Landry Jones met Ryan Tannehill in the 'not worth a first round pick' bowl

This was an opportunity for two big name quarterbacks to impress.

Neither did.

Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M) and Landry Jones (Oklahoma) have received a lot of positive hype this year. It’s far from a consensus, but a lot of people expect Jones to be a top ten pick. Tannehill was a fancied outsider – the kind of player scouts and fans look to in the hope he can add his name to the list of potential stars available in this class. Some high profile draft pundits even touted the possibility that Tannehill may be the second best quarterback eligible for 2012.

Wrong on both accounts.

I’ve seen quite a lot of Tannehill this season (five games) and this was my third batch of tape on Jones (I have a fourth Oklahoma game saved for later vs Kansas State). In each game I’ve seen from the pair this season, I’ve found myself highlighting the same issues. In Jones’ case, a lot of his problems were prevalent last season and there just hasn’t been enough of a leap in 2011 to warrant the kind of grades he’s receiving. Expectations went through the roof for Tannehill – perhaps unfairly – and games like this bring about something of a reality check.

Let’s start with Jones.

It only took until 6:04 remaining in the first quarter before we saw the play. I refer to it as the play because it’s had exagerrated success for Oklahoma this season in the previous two games I’ve seen. I fully expected to see it again today and low and behold, there it was midway through the first quarter. It’s not a hard play to detect – Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills bunch together on the left and Landry Jones is in the gun. Jones takes the snap, pumps with his shoulder in the direction of Broyles who runs a short inside slant sucking in the coverage to open space down the left sideline for Stills on a fade. It’s the play that won the game against Florida State earlier in the season and it’s become a staple for Jones and the Sooners.

This time it wasn’t so successful – Jones pumped but then strangely floats an under thrown high pass with no touch or direction into coverage and somehow the linebacker drops an easy interception. It was unclear on the replay if the pass was tipped or not, but it was a great precursor to Jones’ overall performance on the day. It was awkward, generally inaccurate and a little predictable. I’ve seen him look a lot sharper than this and I suspect when I dig out the K-State tape that’s what I will find. However, this game raised one of my biggest concerns with Jones.

We saw the exact same play again in the second half and this time it led to a Stills touchdown. As a mere observer when I’m going into a game expecting to see this play once, that’s something. But the Oklahoma offense is based around the same small collection of plays and whether teams can cope with the speed in which they’re snapping the ball to execute these plays. Teams are so scared of Broyles – who is a production machine – they compensate in coverage when he runs anything inside allowing Stills the space to get open in single coverage. Everyone knows they’re gong to run this play eventually yet it still works. It’ll be interesting to see if they go away from it since Broyles unfortunately tore an ACL, but I’d also love to go back through the games since the FSU win and chart how many of Jones’ touchdowns come from this single play. In the NFL, he won’t be able to rely on staple plays. More worrying, I haven’t seen enough evidence of improvisation where Jones is going to a second or third option consistently. Jones is almost handcuffed to his playbook.

We’re not talking about a physically excellent quarterback, or even a big play quarterback who does the unpredictable. This is a guy who generally gets the job done in college – he executes his small playbook well enough to make the most of the talent he has to work with and let’s give credit where it’s due – he has to make this thing tick. He’s achieved that and from a college point of view, he’s done an excellent job avoiding any post-Sam Bradford hangover for the Sooners.

However, I really believe that he’s quite a limited player and at the next level he’ll just be found out like so many quarterbacks before him. When the environment isn’t perfect, neither is Jones. When things break down, he won’t improvise. One of the biggest issues I have is a complete lack of mobility. Ryan Mallett was labelled a statue last year, but he knew how to work a pre-snap read and had the ability to get the ball out quickly with accuracy to avoid outside pressure. He also – surprisingly – flashed ability to extend plays with footwork (he dodged Von Miller twice against Texas A&M last season to complete passes, one for a touchdown). Jones has nothing like this level of technical or mental ability. He takes unnecessary sacks when offered an open pocket to step into to buy time. He won’t round the edge and get out of the pocket. Get him moving on the run and nine times out of ten the ball’s going out of bounds. His footwork is plodding and weighted and if you take away his first read there’s every chance you’ll get to him.

I often get asked for the positive side of things – sometimes we can be too focused on the negatives and arguing why a player doesn’t warrant the hype rather than a balanced review of pro’s and con’s. If you want me to write down a handful of nice things to say about Landry Jones, I can do that for you. He has passable arm strength, decent height and a throwing motion that’s slightly 3/4 but he doesn’t have many passes batted down at the LOS (unlike Tannehill, more on that later). Like most quarterbacks with any reputation in college, he does a good job when afforded a clean pocket and he flashes his ability to throw his hot read open. There are a lot of blind throws in the OU offense, but there are also several passes that do require some touch and when given time he can be accurate at times it just isn’t consistent enough to be the positive it needs to be. His production is excellent and had Oklahoma stayed unbeaten he could’ve been a Heisman candidate. His two touchdown passes were both nice plays on the day – one coming on the wide open fade to Stills and the other a catch-able back shoulder throw to Jaz Reynolds who made a spectacular one-handed grab.

Here’s the bottom line though – I wouldn’t draft Landry Jones. I cannot see him ever succeeding at the next level. His best situation would be to land on a team with an experienced offensive coaching staff and a defined scheme that doesn’t require a lot of pocket mobility (most teams see mobility as being crucial these days). Allow him to master a playbook and groom him to replace a succesful veteran who still has miles on the clock. Of course, that’s an ideal situation for any quarterback entering the NFL – but for some it’s more necessary than others and Jones fits into that category. If he starts early, he’ll struggle. He won’t be able to digest complex defensive reads, he’ll take too many sacks and with greater pressure and a less fluid offense he’ll turn the ball over. There are no logical reasons for any team to touch the guy in the top half of round one and I suspect by the time April arrives his stock will be lower than it is right now.

What about Tannehill?

I’ve been more negative than most about his play so far this year. He entered 2011 a really intriguing prospect – this was a guy who took over the starting gig at Texas A&M last season converting from receiver and he just won games. He beat Jones and Oklahoma, he beat Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas. His only defeat came in the Cotton Bowl to LSU – currently the #1 ranked college team before tonight’s game against Alabama. He’s big, he’s athletic and he appears to have the right attitude. Understandably, people bought into his potential.

The hype went too high, too soon. A guy who ended last year with modest round 3/4 range grades was suddenly touted as possibly the second best QB to Andrew Luck – ahead of Matt Barkley. Big plays were being received with nods of approval and premature ‘I told you so’s’ about his potential, while negative plays (and there have been a few) were greeted by naysayers calling out those creating the hype. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Tannehill has physical qualities that are attractive, but he’s not anywhere close to anything like an established or technical passer. There is so much he has to learn to play quarterback in the NFL and the question is whether or not he’ll be able to do that considering we only have 1.5 seasons of college tape to make a projection.

Here’s what happened today and this was as poor a performance I’ve seen from Tannehill so far.

With 2:31 left in the first quarter, Tanehill takes the snap in the gun and locks on to his primary receiver. He stays with the receiver for three seconds – which was too long – and really needed to progress to another option. He sticks in the pocket and eventually turns to the sideline and unwisely forces a pass into double coverage which is easily picked off for a big interception return. It was a very poor decision to attempt that pass, at no point should it have been an option and it was proof of a quarterback feeling pressure from his blind side, panicking and making an avoidable mistake.

It highlighted a significant issue I have with Tannehill – he locks on to his primary target too often and for whatever reason (experience or because he’s incapable of doing it) he doesn’t do a good enough job getting away from his hot read. In each game I’ve watched Tannehill this season I’ve seen a quarterback too attached to the first option that he becomes tentative, sometimes waiting for clear separation before attempting the pass. If it doesn’t come, he’ll panic and sensing pressure (that isn’t always there) he forces mistakes. He needs to show much greater poise, timing, awareness of not only his position and that of the defensive lineman and better decision making. On this particular play against Oklahoma he could’ve easily run a bootleg to the right getting out of the pocket – it would’ve bought as many as 4-5 extra seconds to complete a pass or as a secondary option he could’ve chosen to run with the ball – the space was that substantial on the right boot leg. Instead he forces the throw and turns it over.

There are two technical complaints I have. Firstly, he’s quite robotic in his throwing motion and looks stiff. It doesn’t appear to be a natural motion and while this is something he can improve with a good quarterbacks coach (and by simply relaxing a little) he doesn’t have a natural flow in the same way a lot of high first round picks have shown. Secondly, he has a 3/4 release which is too low for my liking. At his height, he shouldn’t be having the number of tipped passes we see. Some quarterbacks (like Landry Jones) get away with it, but not Tannehill. His second interception came from one of these tipped passes and he almost had another in the second half. He’ll need to straighten out that delivery during the senior bowl and subsequent work outs.

The third interception may have been the worst of the lot – a desperate throw chasing the game just lobbed up for grabs down the right sideline. This just isn’t good enough in general, it was maybe the worst throw I’ve seen this season. He’s under no pressure and breaks out of the pocket this time with a clean line of vision to Jeff Fuller. He can clearly see the receiver is not only covered, but he’s got into a bad position with his back turned and the DB is facing the football. Tannehill cannot throw that pass under any circumstance. At least with the first pick there was moderate pressure from Frank Alexander and it was just a bad decision on his second read. He’s locked onto Fuller here and just forced an interception. It’s the kind of play you just don’t see from Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Robert Griffin, Landry Jones, Austin Davis or Brandon Weeden. It’s the kind of lazy turnover Nick Foles makes.

Again we can run through the positives and unlike Jones we’re not talking about a limited physical prospect. Tannehill is a mobile player who can extend plays while also making significant gains on the ground. His touch on deep passes is generally good. His poise is inconsistent but on a key 3rd and 6 from inside his own end zone I liked the fact he was patient enough for Ryan Swope to get open before making the completion for a nice gain. On the touchdown pass just before half time, Tannehill has perfect protection and must’ve been tempted to run the ball when nobody was open initially – the first down may well have been achievable running the ball. However, he keeps his eyes downfield and when Swope breaks coverage it’s an easy pass for a big score. That flashed good decision making to contrast the bad turnovers and at least suggests there is something to work with in that regard.

The inexperience issue can be used both as a positive and a negative, but there’s enough of an unknown there to wonder ‘what if’? Of course unknown development holding a clipboard isn’t even a real intangible and while someone like Jake Locker boasted real physical and playmaking potential, Tannehill is far from that level. I wouldn’t rule out Tannehill the way I’d rule out Jones, I just have very little confidence that in a few years time we’ll be talking about him as a starting NFL quarterback. It was incredibly ambitious to ever even suggest he could possibly be graded higher than Matt Barkley – who is far superior in terms of a NFL projection. I’d grade him in rounds 3-4 and whether he goes higher than that in my view will depend on a teams desperation to fill a hole at quarterback.

I do feel slightly vindicated watching a game like this. For me it has always been about Luck and Barkley in round one – hardly an ambitious suggestion, but certainly not a common one given it doesn’t include the likes of Jones, Tannehill etc. Too many people have tried to create problems with Barkley, when the reality is he’s a tremendously accurate and technical passer primed to have a quick impact in the NFL. We all know about Andrew Luck. The rest of the group aren’t anywhere close to the top-two. The one wildcard is Robert Griffin III – a major project but one in possession of a lot of intriguing physical tools, elite character and rare consistency with the deep ball in terms of accuracy, touch and placement. Not every team will be able to draft Griffin early and he’s a long way off Cam Newton type potential, but there is something there. Remember to keep an eye on Austin Davis too – he’s the reason Southern Miss are ranked and another victory today at East Carolina will boost that reputation further.

If you’re looking for a first round quarterback who can come in and have a very real chance to lead your team for over a decade, the list starts with Luck and ends with Barkley. The Seahawks should let someone else take a chance on Jones and Tannehill.

Case Keenum (QB, Houston) vs Rice game tape

Friday, November 4th, 2011

Andrew Luck trade a possiblity?

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

Andrew Luck will go first overall, but who makes the pick?

Would Indianapolis pass on Andrew Luck if they pick first overall?

The Colts are drifting towards an 0-16 season and the obvious conclusion is they’ll draft Andrew Luck as the heir apparent to Peyton Manning. It’s a complete formality, right?

Manning will have four years left to run on a $90m contract in 2012, taking him through to the age of forty. Holding a clipboard for 3-4 years may not sit well with a young player who would otherwise expect to start quickly. I can’t see the Luck camp accepting such a situation, where essentially he’s cast into the wilderness indefinitely. Every quarterback can benefit learning from a guy like Manning, but the NFL and everyone working for Luck will want him part of the league now, not in 2015.

Peyton Manning essentially built the Indianapolis Colts and as we’ve seen this year, he’s made a bad team a perennial contender. It’s not just the on-field success either – that new stadium is down to Manning’s impact. The fact they sell season tickets is down to Manning. The front office and coaching staff owe their reputations to Manning. Is his reward going to be an on-going quarterback controversy until he finally retires?

It also makes little sense for Indy to contemplate keeping Luck as potential trade bait if Manning does make a full recovery. If you’re going to get a package of picks for the guy, get them so they can help the elite quarterback you already own. The Colts made their $90m commitment to Manning knowing he had an injury – they will surely stand by the man that has basically made several undeserved reputations?

A trade might be more likely than you first think. Of course it sounds great – draft Luck and have this seamless progression at quarterback. The reality is much more complicated and I doubt the Luck camp will sit by quietly and encourage a situation where the man is kept off a football field. It’s unusual to have a team still in possession of a quarterback like Manning being quite this bad, even in his absence. A team like Cleveland withtwo first round picks in 2012 could be an ideal trade partner. Clevelands send the two #1’s to Indianapolis and their first rounder in 2013 for the rights to Luck. Holmgren gets his quarterback, Indy has four first round picks in 2012 and 2013 to stock up for 3-4 more title tilts with Peyton. They’d also still have plenty of time to groom an eventual replacement, it just won’t be the most high profile college quarterback since Manning himself.

It’d make real sense for the Browns who need a quarterback and a.) have a pretty good offensive line and b.) spent three high picks in the last two years building their defense (Joe Haden, Phil Taylor, Jabaal Sheard). Sure, they’d be losing three potential first rounders – but what an opportunity to draft a quarterback to make that franchise relevant. Luck would surely jump at the chance to work on Holmgren’s patch as a day one starter and it’s a team he can quickly make his own. Indianapolis could add a pair of impact players on offense in 2012 (Trent Richardson? David DeCastro?) while maintaining two further first round picks the following year – either of which could still be spent on a quarterback for the future.

Like I said, I have a hard time imagining the Luck camp accepting a situation where their man is benched for the foreseeable future and kept in the shadows. It may still be unlikely, but it also makes a lot of sense for all concerned. It might not be a foregone conclusion though that a trade is impossible and a team like Cleveland has the ammunition to make it happen.

Root for Miami to pick first overall

Seahawks fans need to hope the Miami Dolphins are picking first overall next April. Why? Because if they don’t have a shot at Andrew Luck, they’ll almost certainly be drafting the next best quarterback on the board – Matt Barkley. If the top two guys leave the board that early, it could cause a rush on quarterbacks even greater than last year. Even picking 8th overall (as Seattle would if the season ended now) could possibly only be good enough for the fourth best quarterback. Remember, there isn’t a string of elite defensive players in this year’s class to draw attention away from the quarterbacks.

This is how bizarre the situation could be – put Miami at #1 instead of the Colts and Barkley could realistically fall to the Seahawks in that #8 overall range. There’s no guarantee Indianapolis will simply go for the next best quarterback if Luck is gone – I’d say it’s unlikely the Colts would just turn to Barkley. St. Louis, Arizona, Jacksonville, Carolina and Minnesota aren’t drafting a quarterback in 2012 – leaving teams like Seattle, Denver and Washington (among others) to scrap it out.

Certainly it could make life a lot easier for the Seahawks if Miami had the #1 overall pick and not Indianapolis.

NFL Mocks interview

This week I took some time to talk to Jesse Bartolis at NFL Mocks. You can see the Q&A session here and don’t forget to make Jesse’s site a regular part of your draft intake.

An alternative take on Luck vs Barkley

Wes Bunting at the NFP has a good write up on Saturday’s Stanford vs USC encounter. I agree with a lot of what Wes has to say here, particularly the assessment of how Luck performed and how it may help his continued development.

Quarterback rankings

Tony Pauline’s Draft Insider is a must visit – absolutely integral reading. Tony published his quarterback rankings this week with four players graded in round one – Luck, Barkley, Robert Griffin and Landry Jones. I agree with the order of the top three – although I’m still debating where I actually want to grade Griffin. I’m a little disappointed that Pauline moved away from his pre-season mid-round grade for Oklahoma’s Jones, although this may be based on what he’s hearing from some NFL scouts. I suspect Jones will divide opinion among the teams, with some grading him much higher than others. My own rankings would be slightly different after the top three – Austin Davis at Southern Miss would be my fourth ranked quarterback ahead of both Jones and Ryan Tannehill.

Why I’m looking ahead to the 2012 running back class

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

By Kip Earlywine

While Seattle’s record has so far been a disappointing 2-5, in many ways, the roster is shaping up exactly as John Schneider and Pete Carroll hoped it would.

The defense has been death to the run and surprisingly solid against the pass, thanks to the emergence of young potential stars in the secondary such as Kam Chancellor, Walter Thurmond, and Richard Sherman (Brandon Browner has been a useful contributor as well).

On offense, the team has weapons and a quarterback who seems competent enough to get the ball to them, but is being undermined by other aspects.  In my view, there are some areas of this team which strike me as being even bigger problems than quarterback.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think Seattle should just forget about drafting a quarterback.  Even if Tarvaris Jackson continues to improve and becomes a legitimately good stop gap option, he’s still only a stopgap.  Seattle needs to invest in a quarterback soon, especially if they choose the developmental quarterback route in a player like Robert Griffin III.

That said, when I look at how this team ranks statistically in every offensive/defensive category, Seattle is doing surprisingly well, but there are two areas that really leap off the page for concern:  Seattle’s offensive line ranks 32nd in the NFL in sacks allowed, and Seattle’s running game ranks 31st in the NFL in yards per carry.

The Seahawks have already invested very heavily in the offensive line.  I do not think further high investment in the line is indefensible, the same way that picking first round receivers for years didn’t deter the Lions from drafting Calvin Johnson, but suffice to say, drafting another first round lineman would not be my first preference.

However, there is another way to improve our offensive line performance, and that is by finding a special talent at running back who fits a zone blocking scheme.  A truly great running back can make his offensive line’s run blocking look better than it really is, and the threat of a viable running game and play action can also take some of the teeth out of a pass rush.  And the last two seasons, that just hasn’t been happening.  Marshawn Lynch hasn’t had a productive season since 2008.  Leon Washington is a 3rd down back.  Justin Forsett is a 3rd down back who at least appears to have lost a little something this year.  Seattle needs to get more production out of their offensive line, but the running back group isn’t helping much and, in my opinion, does not have much of a future here.  When your most promising back isn’t a workhorse and turns 30 next season, its time to start thinking about finding some new blood.

Fortunately, the 2012 draft is shaping up to be a very solid draft class for running backs.  Its not going to be like 2008 when a very hyped class produced five running backs that went in the first round.  But this is a running back class that has a few potentially under-rated backs who will prove to be value picks in the first three rounds.  Here are a few backs that figure to be on the NFL’s radar next April:

Trent Richardson

Highlights

Alabama’s star running back is the consensus #1 running back and has a real chance to be a top 10, possibly even top 5 pick in the 2012 draft.  Richardson has a rare blend of size, speed, shiftiness, power, and toughness.  He reminds me a lot of a slightly smaller Corey Dillon, or a bigger Frank Gore.  How those two running backs were not first round picks I’ll never know, and they went on to make the rest of the league look foolish for it.  It doesn’t appear that NFL teams will be caught overlooking Richardson though.

Lamar Miller

Highlights (nsfw)

I like Miller quite a bit.  He might be the shiftiest back in this class.  Miami has been no stranger to producing NFL backs:  Clinton Portis, Frank Gore, and Willis McGahee have come out of Miami in just the last decade.  The video above makes an interesting comparison between Miller and Clinton Portis.  Portis was shiftier and lost less speed making cuts, but its fair to say that the similarities are somewhat striking.  I think I actually like Polk more than Miller for the Seahawks offense, but Miller is generally rated a little higher by most draft sites.  I can see why.

Chris Polk

Highlights

Polk might be the most unique member of this running back class because he actually converted from wide receiver in high school.  It shows too.  He runs the best routes for a running back that I’ve seen since Reggie Bush.  Polk is also a strong blocker, and a consistent rusher, despite playing behind perhaps the worst offensive line of any player on this list.  His vision, toughness, durability, start-stop, and decision-making are excellent, and I like how he lowers the shoulder into defenders and is adept at falling forward for extra yards.  He might be the very best back in this draft at “getting skinny” at the first level, which is a huge factor for the Seahawks putrid run blocking.  He’s also nearly identical in size to Richardson, which helps.  One of the more natural born zone blocking scheme running backs I’ve seen in a while.  He may not make huge plays every time he touches the ball, but he will win you over with quality performances week in and week out.

LaMichael James

Highlights

Maybe I’m the first person (who’s not a Duck fan) to use this word regarding James, but has he somehow become under-rated at some point in the last year?  People talk about him like he’s a 3rd round pick, yet all the guy does is explode for long touchdowns.  From what I’ve seen of him, he seems like a solid receiver and could be a real weapon as a 3rd down back.  But something that doesn’t get talked about, and its something that I like about James a lot, is his ability to get skinny and slip through where no running lane exists at all.  Its no accident that many of James’ biggest runs were right up the middle, which is very unusual for a scat-back type.  James may not survive long with a 300 carry workload in the NFL, but there is no reason to pull him off the field on first and second downs.

Montee Ball

Highlights

I don’t know if Ball is a great fit for Seattle, as he benefited immensely from some great blocking at Wisconsin and he isn’t especially quick or shifty.  But he does have excellent vision and is a very smooth, powerful runner, somewhat akin to LaGarrette Blount in Tampa. I like how, like Chris Polk, Ball has a good habit of keeping his legs going which helps him pick up yards after contact.  I do not know if Ball would be worthy investment early for the Seahawks, but I do think he has a very bright future ahead of him somewhere else where the blocking is better than what Seattle offers.  Knowing how some of my predictions turn up though, I might have just jinxed Ball into becoming a future Seahawk.

Texas  A&M’s deadly duo:  Cyrus Gray/Christine Michael

Highlights

Cyrus Gray is kind of this year’s version of CJ Spiller.  Which isn’t to say that Gray is as gifted as Spiller, only to say that they both fall into a the same category:  not a workhorse back, but plays with good moves and big play speed.  The difference between the two is that Spiller put up some gaudy numbers which helped get him over-drafted, and Gray has actually been somewhat quiet this year as he’s shared carries with another quality back in Christine Michael.  Seattle needs an every-down back and Gray doesn’t really fit that bill, just like Spiller hasn’t in Buffalo, but Seattle might want to start looking for a successor to Leon Washington.

Michael is a very similar back, and I’d rate the two almost identically.  If Seattle is interested in acquiring a back like Gray, but only Michael is left, then drafting Michael would make sense too.  I prefer Gray between the two of them, as he appears just a touch more explosive on video.

Knile Davis

Highlights

Davis was injured at the very beginning of the 2011 season and is considered highly unlikely to declare for the 2012 draft.  On the off chance that Davis does declare though, I’d probably put him very high on this list, perhaps higher than Chris Polk and LaMichael James.  Every game I scouted for Ryan Mallett, Davis had a phenominal game.  In fact, over the 4 game sample I watched, I think Davis actually contributed even more to the offense than Mallett did, which says an awful lot.  His size, acceleration, and intangibles (knack for the first down marker) was reminiscent of Terrell Davis.

Nick Perry (DE, USC) vs Stanford game tape

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Barkley vs Luck – Seahawks would pick 8th

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Apologies for the lack of updates this weekend – internet access hasn’t been as forthcoming as hoped during this trip back to the PNW.

Matt Barkley vs Andrew Luck

I fought off the jet lag to stay awake during the marathon encounter between USC and Stanford. It actually proved to be a very similar meeting to last year’s game – closely fought with a nail biting finish. The other piece of deja vu? I actually thought Matt Barkley performed better than Andrew Luck.

There is an awful lot to like about Luck and of course he’s going to be the #1 overall pick next April. If you break down all the physical aspects of being a quarterback, Luck will be superior to Barkley. However, Barkley has a vital edge.

This was the first time I’d seen Luck pressured this season – the USC defensive line provided something akin to the kind of pressure Luck will face at the next level. Usually, Luck is given carte blanche to run the offense how he sees fit, picking his passes and allowing a dominating run game to prosper. In three years starting, Luck has been sacked a mere 16 times in total. To put that into perspective, Matt Barkley was sacked 16 times in 2010 alone. Luck’s quick release, understanding of defensive reads and mobility have played a part in his low number of sacks, but it’s one cog in what is essentially a machine of an offense.

The two sacks registered by USC in this game doubled Stanford’s total conceded for the season. This game offered a rare insight into how Luck copes with pressure and to be perfectly honest, he looked flustered. The Trojans got into his head and it led to mistakes. The touchdown interception was uncharacteristic, but then so was the pressure Stanford’s quarterback was facing. His accuracy – usually pinpoint – dropped a few notches. Suddenly the guy looked human.

That’s not to say this was a poor performance that will impact his draft stock – it wasn’t and it won’t. However, it showed that there’s still work to be done if Luck is going to become the player most expect him to be. Maybe this was the game he needed in terms of his development? After all, he settled down well after the pick six to lead a touchdown drive and negotiate three over times for the victory. He is going to face pressure like that every week at the next level – particularly early in his career for a bad team – and he has to learn to deal with it.

Barkley on the other hand is already at that level and this was evidenced again on Saturday. He’s composed in the pocket when challenged, he knows how to buy that extra split second to complete a pass. I thought this was another tremendous performance again flashing high on-field IQ – making good decisions, progressing through his reads and getting the ball to his playmakers. In the first half he was let down big time by his receivers – particularly a far from 100% Robert Woods. I counted one bad pass that asked too much of his target.

Give the guy even a mediocre line, a good running back and a few guys to throw to and he can be the next Matt Ryan. He doesn’t have elite physical tools, but everything else that matters in the game (accuracy, touch, decision making, experience in a pro-offense, character, experience making multiple reads) is top notch. And when we talk about a lack of elite size or arm strength, it’s not that either are a major weakness. Barkley has sneaky mobility and will be able to a.) extend plays and b.) make plays on the ground to keep a drive going. Barkley can get a football down field at a level that will test an NFL secondary.

These last two performances against Notre Dame and Stanford have me as convinced as everthat Barkley is primed for a successful career at the next level and that he thoroughly deserves a high first round grade. A lot of the issues that will he will be faced with as a rookie – such as learning a playbook on the run, dealing with pressure behind a suspect line and having to be the key part of a growing team – he will have faced at USC.

That’s not to say he’ll be a pro-bowl QB in year one, but I have no reason to believe he can’t be introduced in the same way as Matt Ryan. Atlanta made life easier for their young QB by investing in Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez and a new left tackle within 12 months of drafting Ryan third overall. Eventually, they made the splash for another receiver in Julio Jones. The Seahawks already have their left tackle, they’ve already invested in a wide receiver (Sidney Rice) and an expensive tight end (Zach Miller). Seattle is ready for a quarterback of Barkley’s caliber to come in and lead this team for the foreseeable future.

Will he declare? It’s still up for discussion, although Lane Kiffin says he’s ready almost with a resigned tone. Kiffin also says it’s more about what he wants to do, and I can see the argument that says he’ll stay for a fourth year as the starter at USC. However, with Matt Kalil almost certainly turning pro and if he receives a high grade from the draft committee, the scene is set for the next stage of Barkley’s career. He needs to strike while the iron is hot – and I suspect it’ll be burning by the end of the year.

Seahawks would be picking 8th

Here is the current draft order heading into week nine of the NFL season:

#1 Indianapolis
#2 Miami
#3 Arizona
#4 St. Louis
#5 Carolina
#6 Jacksonville
#7 Minnesota
#8 Seattle
#9 Denver
#10 Washington

A lot can happen between now and the new year and the Seahawks do have some winnable games remaining on their schedule. However, I expect this is quite likely to be the range Seattle is picking next April. Without doubt, the Seahawks need to draft a quarterback. Yes – Tarvaris Jackson has performed perhaps better than people expected so far. No – Pete Carroll cannot afford his legacy to rest upon Jackson’s ability to take this team forward.

John Clayton mentioned on ESPN 710 this week: “If they don’t get a quarterback in the draft next year, their whole coaching staff will be gone.” It wasn’t intended to be a defining statement as a result of whether the team does indeed draft a quarterback or not, rather a review of what will inevitably happen. There needs to be a long term plan in place for the offense that you will never achieve signing quarterbacks to two-year deals. If the Seahawks really believe Tarvaris Jackson is ‘the guy’ they need to sign him to a five-year extension now and make that clear. Otherwise, this issue will linger on until a statement of intent is made.

Right now the offense looks like a patchwork job. There’s a young offensive line learning on the run, quarterbacks coming and going due to injury, new playmakers being bedded into the team and the tap runs hot and cold for every piece of this unit. The offensive line isn’t helped by a mixed bag of execution by the playmakers and the quarterbacks/running backs are not helped by the offensive line being green and facing defensive fronts that simply don’t respect Seattle’s playmakers.

It’s a difficult situation for Pete Carroll. This season hasn’t been a step back in performance – it’s pretty similar overall and maybe even improved in certain areas. What has changed is the fact there’s another team in this division that suddenly has it’s act together. Let’s not forget that last season was a losing effort at 7-9 – and it would’ve been worse had the Seahawks not been competing in a woeful NFC West. Of those seven wins four came within the division and a fifth came against the NFL’s worst team (Carolina). The two other wins came courtesy of a special performance from Leon Washington against San Diego and an impressive victory in Chicago (similar to this year’s win in New York).

Two year’s into this regime there’s been a lot of turnover and predictably some mixed results. However, by year three I suspect people will expect to see further progress – especially in what remains a very winnable division. This will coincide with the possibility of drafting a rookie QB and needing to give them time – whether that’s on the field or holding a clipboard. Ultimately this is why the Seahawks cannot afford to ignore the QB position any longer. This time next year people may be willing to accept more defeats if the quarterback for the future is being primed – that will buy further time for ‘Project Carroll’ to unfold.

However, being 2-5 next year having avoided the quarterback position again probably won’t be tolerable to many people. Right now, this team looks like a 2-5 team in the worst division in the NFL. Fans, owners, the media – they need the kind of hope you can’t get with improving run defense and some nice personnel moves at positions like cornerback and safety. This franchise needs the player it’s foundations will be built around for the long haul. You can’t get cute when it comes to the QB position, and the teams that fudge the issue get left behind.

All Tarvaris Jackson can do is prove he’s capable of holding the fort until the next guy is ready. This team cannot avoid drafting a quarterback next year. Of course it’s not just about drafting any player, so that’s why you have to be aggressive if he’s out of your reach. Waiting for the ideal player to fall into your lap is kind of like waiting to win the lottery.