Archive for December, 2011

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

I want to wish all of our readers a Happy New Year and all the best for 2012! Only four months to go until the NFL Draft…

Rob.

Breaking down Brandon Weeden (QB, Oklahoma State)

Friday, December 30th, 2011

Brandon Weeden will be a 29-year-old rookie next year

Yesterday we looked at Ryan Lindley (QB, San Diego State) as a possible quarterback option beyond round one for the Seahawks. Today I’m going to look at Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden.

There’s a lengthy back story here. Weeden is a former all-state high-school pitcher and 2002 second round pick by the New York Yankees who also spent time with the LA Dodgers and Kansas City Royals. By 2006 he was out of Baseball due to a persistent shoulder injury, so he turned his hand to football knowing he was still eligible to play at the college level. Weeden walked onto Oklahoma State’s roster and redshirted in 2007 before making one start in 2008. A year later he took over the starting job, replacing former Seahawks scout team QB Zac Robinson. He took time to adapt to football and West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen – Weeden’s former offensive coordinator at OKSU – admitted that at first he was “too deliberate” and played like he was on the pitcher’s mound. He’s since developed into an established passer and an instantly familiar name within the college ranks.

In two years starting he’s thrown 68 touchdowns compared to just 25 interceptions, topped 4000 yards twice and this year completed 73% of his passes. If not for one bitterly disappointing defeat to Iowa State, Weeden would be preparing for the BCS Championship game right now. Instead, he has to make do with a Fiesta Bowl berth against Andrew Luck and Stanford.

There’s been a lot of talk about Weeden’s draft stock, with the age-factor always cropping up. There’s simply no getting away from the fact he’ll turn 29 in his rookie NFL season. Weeden is not going to be exempt from the same kind of learning curve experienced by most rookie quarterbacks. Oklahoma State runs a prolific passing game that basically asks the quarterback to start in the gun and still utilise a three, five or even seven step drop. By the time he’s throwing the ball, he’s often ten yards behind the LOS. This draws the pocket away from the original line creating a lot of space for underneath throws and passes to the sideline. By spreading out the receivers like they do, it almost doubles the size of the field and makes it hard to cover talented receivers like Justin Blackmon (and in the past, guys like Dez Bryant). It’s a scheme that relies on playmakers at the skill positions, good pass-protection and solid quarterback play. Over the last few years, OKSU have become quite the offensive force by mastering this way of business and Weeden has continued that tradition.

Being a mature 29-year-old adult who’s worked within pro-sports, you would expect Weeden to be comfortable competing against teenagers in college. I expect Weeden’s age will provide some smaller benefits when he enters the NFL too because he’ll not be overwhelmed by the situation. This is a guy who’s been drafted by the Yankees, so he won’t be fazed by the challenge of playing on the big stage. However, let’s not make the mistake of assuming he’ll be ’pro-ready’ just because he’s a little older. The system he works in at OKSU is very different and a lot less technical than anything he’ll experience in the NFL. When I’ve watched Oklahoma State – and I said the same thing when people asked about Zac Robinson – I see a scheme that scares me. In the same way that Weeden needed two years to get out of pitcher-mode, he may need the same amount of time to get up to speed with a NFL offense. He needs to learn to take snaps under center, make a quick and accurate read and deliver a pass into a crowded, tighter field. He needs to learn the concepts of play action. He needs to learn the footwork required playing within a pro-offense.

If it does take two years, suddenly you’re talking about a 31-year-old quarterback making his first start. That’s not the end of the world, but obviously it’s not ideal. Weeden has a live arm, as you’d expect from a former pitcher. He delivers the ball with good velocity and he can fit the ball into tight windows. However, he’s not the kind of player who can make up for inexperience or a lack of technical quality with brilliant physical plays. That’s another reason why I think he’d have to sit, because he’s not going to be able to ‘wing it’ early in his career.

A lot of questions raised so far would’ve limited his stock at any age. I’ve seen people argue Weeden would be a first round pick if he was in his early 20′s, but I disagree with that. Given everything I’ve discussed here I would expect a younger version to be graded solidly in round two or three with the potential to grow into a starter one day. I wouldn’t rule out Weeden being taken in round three anyway given the need for quarterbacks – if not sooner. He’s a polished quarterback in OKSU’s system, but he’ll be raw at the next level.

That said, he does make some pretty throws and the arm strength, as mentioned, is good. In the tape below from the game against Oklahoma, you’ll see a handful of quality passes. Even so, ask yourself about the situation and how the field is stretched in order to make those plays. How far behind the LOS is Weeden throwing and how has the coordinator spread his receivers?

A good example of this is at 0:32, where we see a 4WR set and one tailback split to the left. When Weeden sets to throw, he’s around 7-8 yards behind the LOS. The RB runs a checkdown route and the receiver to the left runs an inside slant to offer an underneath option. The two wide-outs to the far right just run go-routes to clear two defensive backs and Weeden looks for the slot receiver on a crossing route. It’s actually a throw that flashes his arm at it’s best – it’s quite a long-distance pass given his passing position and he shows perfect velocity even if it’s a relatively easy moving target under no pressure. However, you can see how much the field is stretched by witnessing the YAC from such a basic route. The pocket is at least six yards behind the LOS and with the 4WR set, everything is so spread out. Weeden is perfect for the system considering his arm strength and poise, but whether he can make the same plays under center in a much more compacted field is a big unknown.

Fast forward to 0:57 and you’ll see the same thing. Again it’s a 4WR set and again Weeden is taking 6-7 steps backwards despite being in the gun. The pocket moves backwards too, freeing up so much open space. He’s always got the underneath option – which he uses a lot – but he’s also got the arm strength to hit the other receivers who will consistently get open in this environment. He’s essentially a ‘fast-ball’ thrower. That may sound crude to some who expect to read a better review, but that’s how I judge the tape. In fairness, he does a good job mixing up his trajectory and he knows when he needs to put more air on the ball to find gaps. Having said that, I’m not a big fan of the way he often throws off his back foot and he could stand to add a bit more bulk to what appears a thin frame that lacks a lot of tone (he’s listed at 218lbs, but there’s room to get up to 230lbs and wear it well).

The way he currently works in the pocket could develop into something of a bad habbit. By nature, Weeden is going backwards as soon as he gets the ball. The system asks him to do it, because Robinson did the same thing from the gun. However, I wonder if Weeden’s instinct has turned into ‘move backwards’ at the sign of pressure? He drifts too much and at the next level, being a long way behind the LOS and with tighter coverage it’ll make life very difficult. There’s also a few times where I’ve noticed Weeden trusting his arm a little too much and throwing into a crowd. He often gets away with it because the arm is good enough, but there are times when he’s had multiple picks (three interceptions vs Lafayette & Iowa State).

Weeden’s arm intrigues me enough to take on the challenge, but it’s a challenge that will take time and coaching. Unfortunately, because of his age, time isn’t working in Weeden’s favor.

Breaking down Ryan Lindley (QB, San Diego State)

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Ryan Lindley has some talent but there's enough concerns to temper expectations

Just before Christmas, Kip posted two excellent articles looking at later round quarterbacks that could be in play for the Seahawks. To see both pieces, click here and here. I wanted to continue this theme by taking a look at other options the front office might consider. I think it’s likely Seattle will draft a quarterback at some point, even if it’s not the top-end first rounder a lot of people are hoping for. I wanted to highlight Ryan Lindley (QB, San Diego State) as someone who’s drifted off the radar this season despite being one of the pre-season tips to get among the big name quarterbacks.

Back in September, Tony Pauline at SI.Com said Lindley, “could be the most underrated senior prospect in the nation.”However, a poor performance against Michigan at the end of the month led to this rethink by Pauline:

“Prior to the season I referred to San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley as one of the most underrated prospects from the senior class. After a fast start to his campaign, NFL scouts were of the same opinion. Yet Lindley faltered in Ann Arbor against Michigan one week ago, a game that was likely to be the toughest challenge he’ll face on the field this season. He completed just 48 percent of his passes and struggled to get the offense into the end zone. While this is far from the end game for the signal caller, several insiders from the scouting community have confided in me that Lindley missed a big opportunity to establish himself as one of the top senior quarterbacks available in next April’s draft.”

One of the big problems with Lindley is the low completion rate he’s endured throughout his four years starting at San Diego State. He threw over 420 passes in each season, but never topped 58% completions. In 2011 he actually recorded a career low 53%, ending with an average of just 56% overall. Teams want to see more than 60% completions, particularly if a player has had four years of solid starting time. As you’ll see in the video below, Lindley suffers from a lot of dropped passes. He’s also strikingly inconsistent, flashing definite pro-potential on several throws and just flat out missing on others.

Lindley has the size, arm and mobility that teams are looking for at the moment. Despite some negative reviews and all of the inconsistencies, he’s a player to watch as we get closer to April. At 6-4 and 230lbs he looks the part and there’s a chance he’ll impress at the Senior Bowl if he receives an invite. As a 5th year Senior, some of the mistakes are a little concerning considering he’s had plenty of time under center. He’s not raw, so scouts will study the tape and judge whether he’s capable of becoming a more rounded prospect with pro-guidance. I’ve included two pieces of game tape below – the aforementioned defeat against Michigan and the most recent New Orleans Bowl defeat to UL Lafayette.

There are a few throws here where Lindley really looks the part. Against Lafayette, look at the pass at 0:54 and the way he drops it into his receiver making sure he’s the only one who can make the completion. At 1:41 he extends the play by running to his right and doesn’t panic, before throwing a nice downfield pass to his tight end. The throw at 5:09 from deep inside his own endzone shows a lot of poise and confidence to get a difficult first down. The second touchdown pass at 6:10 is a thing of beauty – perfect touch and precision to find the back of the end zone and one of the prettiest passes you’ll see this season. The score that puts SDSU ahead with seconds to spare is also an excellent piece of quarterback play – high pressure situation, pinpoint accuracy to dissect two defenders for a touchdown.

Then you look at the throw at 2:16 where there’s an obvious breakdown somewhere and he almost throws it straight to the cornerback for a pick-six. At 4:03 he throws into thick coverage and has a pass tipped into the area that could easily have been intercepted. At 5:19 he’s basically throwing one up for grabs in a situation where it wasn’t warranted. It’s a bad read, a careless throw and should’ve led to a turnover. He follows it up with a near identical deep attempt that again could’ve been picked off. There’s nowhere near enough punch in that deep ball and throwing short from such a range is asking for trouble. By 8:18 he’s really pushing his luck with another pass that should’ve been easily taken by a defensive back. At 6:43 he has a receiver wide open for a touchdown and just has to hit him in stride but misses badly. He has to make that throw.

Against Michigan he flashes some arm strength with a nice cross-body throw at 0:10. After that though he really struggles to cope with the pressure created by the Wolverine front four. Although he doesn’t get anything like adequate protection from his offensive line, it’s visible how much the pressure impacts Lindley and he loses any level of composure and never regains any momentum. It’s hard to find many positive highlights in the game as he’s just off for most part. His sole touchdown at 4:34 asks a lot of his receiver, but a score’s a score.

When Lindley is making plays I want to say he’s the third best quarterback eligible for 2012. Then you watch one of his mistakes and you have to remember he’s a 53% passer who hasn’t taken any giant leaps as a senior. It’s worth noting he’s played for three different head coaches in four years starting and that has to have an impact on his development. In a more settled pro-environment with time to develop, could he settle down? He’s only 22 so there’s still time for him to sit for a year or two. My biggest concern, however, is that he will end up always being what we see now. In any given game he’ll make plays where you sit up and take notice, but he’ll likely follow it up with a drive-killing miss or a turnover. He needs to do a better job reading the field and judging when a pass isn’t on. Too many times defensive backs are gaining position on the receivers and under-cutting routes, only for Lindley to make a late throw anyway and almost get picked off. He only had eight interceptions for the year but it could’ve easily been more. He also needs to improve the consistency with his arm strength and get a better feel for velocity. Sometimes he takes pace off the ball when he needs to really drive it to the target, other times he’ll fire a bullet on a short range throw to his full back.

From a size, arm potential, frame and mobility stand point there’s a lot to like. There’s also enough to temper expectations and limit his stock. Having said that, if he can go to the Senior Bowl and show greater consistency and a strong arm there’s no reason why he couldn’t end up going higher than many people – including me – first thought.

Updated mock draft: 28th December

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Projecting the 2012 draft is proving increasingly difficult. High-profile prospects opting to return to college is hitting a talent pool that was never particularly deep to begin with. Matt Barkley will head back to USC, dynamic linebacker Jarvis Jones will remain with Georgia and emerging defensive tackle Star Lotulelei has reaffirmed his intentions to stay at Utah. It could impact the draft in two ways – some players will be taken earlier than they should, while others could now declare in the hope of taking advantage of a weaker class.

In this latest mock I’ve added three news names to the mix, purely down to the increased chance they will declare. Barrett Jones (OT, Alabama) has played virtually every position on Alabama’s offensive line, but has caught the eye replacing James Carpenter as the team’s blindside blocker this season. With a lot of teams expected to consider drafting a left tackle, he could end up competing with Riley Reiff and Jonathan Martin to be the next player taken after Matt Kalil.

Sam Montgomery (DE, LSU) missed a lot of  2010 through injury, but he’s had an impact this year with nine sacks. He’s got a lean frame with room for extra size (he’s playing at about 250lbs right now). He fits as an outside rusher in the 3-4 and has an outspoken character, which could attract people like Rex Ryan but repel others.

Michael Egnew (TE, Missouri) is a big time playmaker and the epitome of a modern-era tight end. He’s not going to be restricted to a lot of blocking duties, he’s a pure pass-catcher and the impact of Jimmy Graham in New Orleans will make players like Egnew more appealing in a copy-cat league.

I’ve paired another new name with Seattle too as we run through the different options they face with limited quarterback options available. I still think this team will really attack the WILL linebacker position currently occupied by pending free agent Leroy Hill. I’m surprised Jarvis Jones has given so little consideration to turning pro with a lot of teams looking for his skill set. Zach Brown at North Carolina isn’t the same kind of edge threat on third downs, but he’s a sideline-to-sideline player who gets around the field and makes tackles. He’s very fluid, he’s a sure tackler despite needing to add some size. In many ways he’s the anti-Aaron Curry – more measured in his approach but silky smooth in the process.

Whether he’s enough of a pass rusher, I’m not sure. The Seahawks need to find ways to create pressure in a scheme that utilises three big-bodied defensive lineman, no top-end three technique and one pass-rush specialist. If they’re forced into a situation where the top two quarterbacks are unavailable, I expect linebacker to be a target area in round one.

Updated first round mock draft

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
Despite a lot of talk about keeping Manning and drafting Luck, it remains an unlikely proposition. Long term thinking will win out.
#2 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
The Rams will end up with the #1 pick if Indianapolis wins again. Whether it’s St. Louis or Minnesota picking here, they should take Kalil.
#3 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Minnesota would love a shot at Kalil. It might be a bit of a reach, but protecting Christian Ponder must be a priority.
#4 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
I have a feeling Holmgren will target quarterbacks later now that Barkley is out of play. That opens the door for Richardson.
#5 Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
The complete package at receiver – size, speed, good hands, competitive, adjusts to the ball. Gene Smith often does the unexpected.
#6 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
Cornerbacks don’t often go in the top 2-3 picks, so Claiborne isn’t a shoe-in to go earlier than this.
#7 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
I still believe Shanahan will show most interest in Ryan Tannehill later, while Peyton Manning remains an immediate option.
#8 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
Are Miami starting to believe in Matt Moore? In reality, he’ll probably only be used as a bridge to the future.
#9 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
Welcome to the 2012 draft. The complete lack of defensive line quality will see players like Still drafted above their means.
#10 Barrett Jones (OT, Alabama)
With several potential top-ten picks staying in school, others will emerge. Barrett Jones could be one of the players to take advantage.
#11 Luke Kuelchy (LB, Boston College)
Tackling machine who doesn’t flash many big plays but will quickly become the heart of a defense. A Scott Pioli-type pick.
#12 Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
They need an OT but the top three are off the board. The next biggest need is a pass rusher and Branch will start to rise up boards.
#13 Kevin Reddick (LB, North Carolina)
I won’t be too surprised if Reddick goes before teammate Zach Brown. He’s less flashy, but more consistent. Just a solid football player.
#14 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
The Seahawks could look for a more athletic option at the WILL. Brown has a bit of the Lance Briggs about him.
#15 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
Consensus opinion has Blackmon in the top ten, but he makes mental mistakes and doesn’t have elite tools. This really isn’t much of a slip.
#16 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
Wright’s downfield speed and game-breaking ability will get the most out of Jay Cutler. Under rated receiver.
#17 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
Teams will be suspicious of a player with Coples’ physical qualities who doesn’t dominate as much as he should.
#18 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
He’s big and good in run support, but has struggled in coverage at times. Jerry Jones will like this guy, so will Eli Manning.
#19 Sam Montgomery (OLB, LSU)
Redshirt sophomore with the kind of lean frame and speed to develop into a pass-rusher for Rex Ryan.
#20 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
Slightly over rated right guard from Stanford. A very technical player, but isn’t the all-dominating power lineman some think.
#21 Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
Elite cornerback talent but troubled by off-field problems. The Bengals needs to draft a corner and Jenkins is good enough to start quickly.
#22 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
Cleveland needs to keep adding playmakers. Floyd has his issues, but put him on that offense with Trent Richardson and it’ll be much improved. They’d still need a quarterback.
#23 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
With 14.5 sacks this year, someone will give him a chance early in the draft. Detroit has bigger needs but could show interest here.
#24 Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
The Broncos run the ball well and could look to add another back to their stable. Carolina had two first round runners under John Fox.
#25 Michael Egnew (TE, Missouri)
He’s very much the modern tight end - a pure pass catcher who will make spectacular plays downfield.
#26 Vontaze Burfict (LB, Arizona State)
Although I think his stock is falling, someone could take a shot on Burfict. My guess is he’ll end up playing AFC North..
#27 Alameda Ta’amu (DT, Washington)
His potential to play nose tackle could keep him in round one, even if his play has been inconsistent for the Huskies.
#28 Peter Konz (OC, Wisconsin)
Stood out last year in a big-name Badgers offensive line. Could return for another year, but ready to have an impact as a pro
#29 Nicolas Jean-Baptiste (DT, Baylor)
He’s no Phil Taylor, but every time I’ve watched Baylor this year he’s been the one defensive player who looks to have some pro-potential.
#30 Courtney Upshaw (OLB, Alabama)
Combative pass-rusher who fits the mould of the Baltimore defense. Brawling style makes up for lack of elite size and speed.
#31 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
He plays a bit like a runaway train. His running style looks off balance, but he moves for a big guy. A 3-4 fit looks ideal.
#32 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
He’s having a good year but his stock is limited due to the position he plays. This would be a nice get for the Packers.

Thoughts on Austin Davis vs Nevada

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

This was largely described as a disappointing performance by the media, but it wasn’t quite as bad as I expected. The game was littered with offensive line penalties putting Davies in not-ideal 3rd and long situations. There were some key drops and a perfect pass at the end of the first quarter would’ve gone for a touchdown but for a blatant hold on the receiver that wasn’t called. On a go-route downfield, Davis throws nicely into the back of the end zone but his receiver – seemingly not expecting the ball – hesitates for some reason and checks back, losing a step and then missing what would’ve been a pretty simple touchdown catch. Southern Miss generally looked a bit off which isn’t surprising given the ‘job done’ element of their win over Houston and the fact their coach Larry Fedora has since accepted the vacant position at North Carolina. For what it’s worth, I think that’s a great appointment by UNC.

At the same time, this wasn’t the usual polished Austin Davis performance. One play sticks in the mind – it was a pretty simple post route where he just threw high. I think he expected the receiver to run deeper before making his cut, but Davis didn’t adjust well enough and threw the ball away from his target. That was an adjustment I’ve seen him make in the past time and time again, but the fact he missed generally summed up his performance on the whole – there was a slight lack of sharpness. It contradicted one of the things I like about Davis - his ability to improvise. It’s a skill often lost among QB grades yet for me is so crucial at the next level. In the NFL a defense will keep giving you different looks, you’ll think a play call is adequate and then the unexpected happens and you have to react. Being able to get out of that situation and make a first down is paramount to a quarterbacks success – it flashes poise, field vision and good decision making.

Being able to make those decisions in unfavorable situations is even more important. On 1st and 10 inside his own ten-yard line, Davis takes a shotgun snap and fakes the hand-off. He’s looking down the middle of the field for a crossing route that isn’t on, so he pumps and then looks to his right for a completion and a first down. It’s a decisive read and execution in the face of adversity despite having pressure in his face. That’s what I’ve come to expect from Davis in the last two years.

On the same drive he shows off his under-rated mobility. Penalties against the offensive line force Southern Miss into 3rd and 18, but Davis almost makes the first down with his legs after sensing an opening to his left hand side and scrambling into space. He is capable of catching a defense off guard to break off runs, but his athleticism will also enable him to extend plays – a more crucial aspect looking ahead to the NFL.

He’s worked very hard to improve his arm strength and last off-season added some upper body muscle to generate greater velocity. It’s clear he’s not going to be a big-time downfield passer with an arm for the ages. On intermediate throws there’s a level of inconsistency. In this game there were two shorter range passes where the ball floated and took too long to get to the target. Both were completed, but in the NFL that pass has to have more zip or it’s getting broken up as a best case scenario. At other times, he’s capable of fitting passes into tight windows with just enough juice. The velocity on his quick slant and outside slant is good enough. That gives me some encouragement that there’s room for further work. A lot of quarterbacks – Tom Brady included – have vastly improved their arm strength in the pro’s. Davis has the frame to add further weight and continue improving, but right now it’ll work against him in terms of draft stock.

I’ve always liked Austin Davis in the red zone – he’s very productive and doesn’t make many mistakes. If the pass isn’t on, he throws it away. He’s very good on the back shoulder and traditional fade to the back of the end zone. In a short field with a lot happening in front, Davis excels. His first touchdown in this game was a throw put into an area where only his receiver can catch it right behind the defensive backs’ helmet. It’s a catchable ball, it’s well executed and Davis deserves credit for keeping his composure right at the end of the first half with a lot of penalties going on in an unusually elongated drive with a short field.

With the game drifting into a defensive battle at 17-17, he makes two big plays to set up the game winning score. The first is a well driven outside slant forcing the ball into the receivers hands and allowing him to break off a big gain. The second is textbook, three step drop with three defenders in his face. Davis steps up into the pocket and with a crowded midfield somehow locates an open receiver for a smart completion. Good composure and field vision, nice accuracy too. It sets up a touchdown pass in the red zone where Davis makes one read to his right, rejects it, then has to move away from pressure on his blind side before fitting a pass into another tight window for the score. He does well to extend the play, find a receiver and also act quickly against the pressure.

See Davis’ game winning touchdown pass by clicking here

At no point in the game did he come close to a turnover. There were no close calls and Davis made enough plays to win against a tough, well prepared Nevada defense. We shouldn’t mistake Davis for a player who is going to make a late surge into first round contention. However, he certainly warrants more credit than he’s currently receiving on a national scale. There’s something to work with – he’s a technical player with mobility and room for further development. I’ve said it many times on this blog that if the Seahawks are looking for quarterbacks beyond round one then Davis is one to keep a firm eye on.

Courtney Upshaw game tape vs Ole Miss & Tennessee

Monday, December 26th, 2011

I mocked Courtney Upshaw (DE/OLB) to the Seahawks in this week’s mock draft but I’m still trying to work out whether he fits Seattle’s scheme and desires with a high first round pick. If he’s limited to the LEO, is that a position they believe can be filled without the need for top-end investment (see: Chris Clemons)? Would they consider using more orthodox 3-4 looks to accommodate a player like Upshaw? He’s not the lean, fluid pass rusher I’d associate with the LEO, so can his ability to generate leverage and shed blocks negate some of the issues? I’m still working on Upshaw and trying to work out where he fits in the 2012 draft. More importantly, I’m trying to work out whether he fits in Seattle.

Tape provided by JMPasq

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

Hope everyone has a great day.

Late round Quarterbacks of interest, Part II

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

Chandler Harnish

Written by Kip Earlywine

Part I

I’m gonna level with you guys, I’ve been a long time skeptic of searching for franchise quarterbacks with late round picks.  I’ve seen numerous studies done, and they inevitably come to the same conclusion:  Quarterbacks may be the riskiest 1st round picks, but the odds of getting a QB anywhere else is far worse.  Here is a chart that tracks pro-bowl quarterbacks taken from 1995 to 2006:

So please understand, this series is not about convincing anyone that a late-round approach is guaranteed to find us the next franchise savior.  However, our front office has to be prepared to do the best they can with the hand they are dealt.  Going the late round route in 2012 is a far inferior option, but it might be the only one.

Now that I’ve gotten all of that out of the way, there is some reason for optimism using this approach.  Unless you’ve been living in a cave, it should be abundantly clear that John Schneider knows a thing or two about identifying value in the later rounds, and Pete Carroll knows a thing or two about developing those players: Chancellor, Wright, Sherman, Browner, Baldwin and even Tate are among them.   We’ve even seen some development with Tarvaris Jackson this year, and while its clear that Whitehurst is on his way out due to his not being very good, he did post the best preseason of his career this year after Carroll tailored a dumbed-down offense to cover Whitehurst’s substantial deficiencies (something he didn’t do for Whitehurst in the regular season, unfortunately).

Seattle is quickly becoming a good landing spot for a young quarterback.  It has an improving offensive line.  It has an improving running game.  It has quality at receiver and tight end.  And it has a serious up and coming defense.  But perhaps best of all, it has a philosophy which asks precious little of it’s quarterback, the same philosophy that made a good starter out of Alex Smith of all people.  In other words, Seattle does not even need to find a quarterback who was a world beater in college, it only needs a coachable player who can learn and has the tools to execute basic plays with ease.

Remember when Michael Vick was a bust who couldn’t throw the ball to save his life?  That changed pretty quickly when he was introduced to Andy Reid’s version of the point guard role.  Just because a guy makes lousy decisions in one offense or appears to have a limited grasp doesn’t mean he would in ours.  Hence, it makes sense that Seattle has generally targeted quarterbacks with a lot of innate talent, but who lacked mental skill.  While I think Jordan Jefferson is far from being a good quarterback, his pros and cons fit nicely with what this front office is trying to accomplish at the position.

Having such low requirements and a good quarterback environment not only increases Seattle’s odds of success, but it also widens the lens and allows Seattle to look at a very large number of potential quarterbacks, including some who may not get drafted by any other team at all, just like Josh Portis last year.

One comment from yesterday was almost incredulous that I seemed to be touting Keenum and Jefferson.  Believe me, I’m not.  The purpose of these posts is NOT to make you guys believe that there are dozens of franchise saviors out there for the taking dirt cheap.  Rather, its to provide some basic information from a Seahawks perspective regarding this late round field of quarterbacks, so that hopefully, when Seattle drafts one (or two) of them next April, it won’t leave us all saying “Who?”  That said, there are a few quarterbacks out there later on that I do actually find a little exciting.  Today I’ll actually cover a couple of them (its not the first one).

So without any further ado:

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Dominique Davis, E. Carolina. Size: 6’3″, 215. Class: Sr.  Age:  22.

Yet another Conference-USA quarterback on this list.  Davis is an athletic quarterback with size and build similar to Robert Griffin, though with perhaps a touch less speed.

Davis began his college career at Boston College as Matt Ryan’s backup.  After losing the battle for the starters job the next season, and also failing to meet academic standards, he transferred to Fort Scott community college, where amazingly enough, he found himself in a playoff game later that year against Cam Newton, and would have won a shootout if not for his team surrendering an 84 yard punt return touchdown with 15 seconds left.

Unfortunately, for all the positives Davis possess, he is the definition of a project.  Davis completed 67.6% of his passes, but also threw a whopping 19 interceptions this year.  He has a great deep ball, but could only muster a 6.53 YPA.  His 2010 numbers were similar.  Its hard to say anything of substance regarding Davis since I don’t have access to game tape, but everything I read about him paints the picture of a quarterback with mental deficiencies.  Davis fits the profile Seattle is seeking, but I don’t know if they would actually spend a draft pick on him.  Josh Portis looks like the better 3rd quarterback between the two, and Seattle didn’t spend a pick on Portis.  That said, would it shock me if Dominique Davis was a member of this roster next August?  Not in the slightest.

Expected draft trajectory:  Late rounds, possible UDFA.

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Chandler Harnish, N. Illinois. Size: 6’2″, 220. Class: Sr.  Age:  23.

While I am trying my best to not paint too positive a picture for any of these late round prospects, Harnish has presented maybe the greatest challenge so far.  I haven’t seen much, but what I’ve seen, I like.

Harnish is very close to prototypical NFL height and size.  Coming from the MAC, Harnish didn’t exactly play the world’s toughest schedule, but he did lead his team to eight straight regular season victories to end is NIU career.  His 2011 stat line was very impressive:  62.9% completion rate, 8.45 YPA, and 26/5 TD/INT, and his 2010 stat-line was almost identical.  Harnish also had a Kaepernick-esque 1,382 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns last year.  In 2010, he had 836 rushing yards and 7 rushing scores.

In the link above, there is a compilation video from his game against Army.  Unfortunately, its not comprehensive and only includes positive plays, but its enough to see the kind of ability Harnish has.

Harnish has been accused of having an “average arm,” but I don’t see it that way.  Harnish is capable of making some great downfield throws with zip, but often deliberately chooses to take a lot off the ball to ensure accuracy and touch on certain throws.  Keith Price had the same “problem” early on in 2011, but as the season went along, he learned how to blend touch and zip to perfection.  As I recall, Tarvaris Jackson had a bit of a touch/zip balancing issue in the preseason and for years with the Vikings before ironing out the creases during the regular season this year.  Harnish hardly looks like a weakling either, as you might have guessed based on his weight/height.  With his pads off, he almost looks like a lesser Jake Locker in terms of bulk.  From what I’ve seen, I’d “sell” any notion that Harnish doesn’t have a good arm.

His dropback is pretty seemless, and his footwork is above average.  His release point could be better, but its not horrible, and the ball gets out of his hand very quickly- except when he’s lofting to add touch.  He executes plays in a crisp manner.  He doesn’t appear to make a ton of reads, but based on the front office’s history, that probably won’t be a sticking point- especially for a late rounder.  I can’t be definitive from so little data, but it does appear that he has above average pocket awareness and is highly elusive.  Its not surprising that he’s only been sacked 9 times this year.  And obviously, he possesses impressive mobility, like a shiftier Ryan Tannehill.

Another positive for Harnish is as a multi-sport player and great athlete, he could contribute at another position if he doesn’t make it at quarterback.

We’ll get a better look at Harnish when he plays in the GoDaddy Bowl (January 8th) against Arkansas State.

Expected draft trajectory:  Mid-to-Late rounds.

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Russell Wilson, Wisconsin. Size: 5’11″, 201. Class: Sr.  Age:  23.

Note:  Some sites list Wilson’s height as 5’10″.

Russell Wilson probably deserves a writeup all to himself, but for now just let me say that Wilson’s college career was so tantalizing that its causing me to rethink my stance on sub-six-foot quarterbacks.  If you follow college football even a little, you probably already know what Wilson has done at Wisconsin this year, which is dominate one of the better conferences in college football and help Wisconsin to a Rose Bowl berth.  Wisconsin lost on the road to two tough teams by margins of six and four points (and one of those losses was successfully avenged in the conference championship game), but won every other game by an average margin of 33.5 points.  That’s some seriously dominant football.

Wilson was (yet another) transfer quarterback, having been a star at NC State before transferring to Wisconsin just this year.  The recent success of transfer quarterbacks is slowly changing the way major programs look at recruiting the quarterback position, and Wilson is just the latest example of that.

A very common comparison for Wilson is Troy Smith, who was roughly the same height and also dominated while playing in the same conference.  Troy Smith won a Heisman, but he never had a season quite like the one Wilson is having this year.  Consider these unreal numbers and remember that Wilson wasn’t playing a cakewalk schedule:  72.5% completion rate, 10.14 YPA, 31 TD, 3 INT.  Obviously, stats never tell the whole story for evaluating college prospects, but HOLY CRAP!  In 2011, Russell Wilson was basically a five foot eleven inch version of Cam Newton (albeit less explosive).  If Russell were the exact same player in a 6’3″ body (assuming weight scaled with his height), he’d be a serious candidate to go #1 overall in most drafts.  He’s that good (not to mention, a perfect fit in the point guard quarterback role).

Wilson has a great throwing motion.  The ball gets out fast enough and comes out very high.  Its enough to make me legitimately wonder if he can overcome his height issue in the NFL because I just don’t see a lot of batted balls with that throwing motion.  Sure, he’s going to have trouble seeing targets on 3 step drops, but on 5 step drops, 7 step drops, and shotgun snaps, I have yet to see him “tiptoe” before making a pass.  His mobility is not elite but scores as solidly above average.  His dropbacks are smooth and his footwork is solid with some room for further improvement.  As you might expect for a short and mobile quarterback, Wilson really shines on rollouts and bootlegs.  He executes plays well, is extremely accurate, and has a pretty deep ball.  He’s also a great leader on the field and gives good interviews off of it.  There is so much to like about this guy.

But alas, height is a major sticking point for NFL front offices, and durability could be a big concern as well (he’s barely 200 lbs without much room for growth).  If Wilson becomes a dominant NFL quarterback, it wouldn’t just be an amazing achievement, he’d literally be the first great quarterback of his kind.  Still, if there ever is a sub-six-foot quarterback who can pull it off some day, I can hardly imagine that player being any better of a college quarterback than Russell Wilson.

Expected draft trajectory:  Late rounds / UDFA.

To be continued…

Late round Quarterbacks of interest, Part I

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

Case Keenum

Written by Kip Earlywine

Now that Matt Barkley has extended his holiday wishes to all the NFL teams and fan bases hoping to acquire his services next year, its time that we as as Seahawks fans accept the fact that our front office probably isn’t getting you that BB gun your metaphorical inner Ralphie badly wants next draftsmas.  Instead, its time to start preparing yourself for socks, veal, or an embarrassing bunny suit.  I wouldn’t completely rule out an 11th hour blockbuster shocker for RG3 should he declare: even Ralphie got his BB gun, but only when he least expected it.  Failing a Hollywood ending, here are some names to keep in mind over the next 5 months as we begin the painfully long wait to what could well become the most anticipated Seahawks offseason in half a decade.

Please keep in mind that I have NOT scouted these players, and this isn’t intended to fool anyone into thinking Seattle could be getting the next Hasselbeck, Warner, or Brady out of this group.

Pete Carroll recently hinted in a radio interview that this looks like a good year to draft a quarterback later.  To be exact, he said thisThere’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.”   To me, the key phrase there comes at the very end- “they’ll be enough.”  Seattle isn’t like the old couple at the beach searching for lost Spanish gold doubloons with their Minelab metal detectors.  They aren’t looking to find an MVP candidate in the sixth round.  Rather, they are looking to repeat the success Jim Harbaugh had with mega-bust Alex Smith.  Smith had more interceptions than touchdowns before this year, but as a game manager, he’s currently sporting a shiny 16/5 ratio in 2011.  Being polished or overly skilled is not an absolute requirement.  The front office’s pursuit of T-Jack and Whitehurst is proof enough.

So just who might those quarterbacks be?  Rather than try to pinpoint a few guys, here is a longer list of candidates (presented in increments) and why they may be of some interest for our front office, either late in the draft or even in undrafted free agency.

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Jordan Jefferson, LSU. Size: 6’5″, 223.  Class:  Sr.  Age:  21.

It seems weird that the quarterback of the undisputed #1 team in football would top this list, especially since Jefferson has excellent size, athleticism, and doesn’t turn 22 until just before next season starts.

Jefferson has the tools of a 1st round pick, and he’s having a good 2011 season (albeit with only 83 total attempts) but teams will not be quick to forget that Jefferson posted a 7/10 TD/INT ratio last year with a 56.5% completion rate and a low 6.75 yards per attempt.  This year he’s completed 60% of his passes with 8.24 yards per attempt and a TD/INT ratio of 6/1.

In between those events, Jefferson (“allegedly”) kicked a marine in the face during a barfight.  He was later charged for second degree (felony) battery.  The charges were later reduced to misdemeanor level, but this kind of thing can do tremendous damage to a quarterback’s draft stock.

Jefferson controls an offense that is similar to ours in spirit.  He’s a very athletic version of a game manager who orchestrates an offense completely built around running the football.  Character concerns could scratch him off the list, but in almost every way Jefferson feels like a Pete Carroll / John Schneider special.  This is NOT to say that I think Jefferson is a good quarterback.  He ran the ball 345 times compared to just 661 passes in college.  But Jefferson is an excellent specimen of horseflesh so to speak, he won’t cost very much to acquire, and he seems at his best in a limited game-manager type role.  I think the fact that he cut down on his interceptions so dramatically this season will interest our front office too.

Expected draft trajectory:  Mid-to-Late rounds, possible UDFA.

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Case Keenum, Houston.  Size: 6’1″, 210.  Class:  Sr.  Age:  23.

Case Keenum redshirted in 2006, behind decorated Houston starter Kevin Kolb.  He began starting the next year in 2007 (he missed most of 2010 with a torn ACL).  Its startling to think that Keenum has been starting games going back even further than Mark Sanchez has.  Keenum would eventually go on to be the most prolific passer statistically in NCAA history.  It should be noted that his closest competitors are Timmy Chang, Graham Harrell, and Ty Detmer, who didn’t exactly end up as NFL royalty.

Its easy to look at Case Keenum’s gaudy stats in a goofy offense in Conference USA and see Graham Harrell.  I look at Keenum and see Jeff Garcia.  Garcia was 6’1″, 205, and undrafted.  Both players will catch you off guard with their quickness and instincts.  Neither Keenum nor Garcia would wow you in a 40 meter dash, but on the field, they can book it and buy time as good as anyone.  Some might not consider a comparison to Garcia as much of a compliment, but when Garcia was used in a point guard offense role (SF, PHI, TB) he was actually a very effective QB who regularly posted passer ratings in the 80s and 90s.

Keenum probably won’t be drafted anywhere earlier than the mid rounds due to a very low- almost sidearm- release point.  That coupled with a below average height for the NFL could cause problems.  His listed weight of 210 is also lower than what most NFL GMs would prefer (keep in mind, Josh Portis is also 210, and Green Bay’s system Schneider is adopting hasn’t shied away from smallish quarterbacks with late picks).  Keenum has obviously passed for a lot of yards though, and a big reason for that success is his ability to maneuver and find passing lanes to throw through which helps mitigate his low release.

Expected draft trajectory:  Mid round pick.

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Austin Davis, So. Miss.  Size: 6’2″, 221.  Class:  Sr.  Age:  22.

Rob has written extensively on Austin Davis.  But to quickly summarize, he has few glaring flaws, plays to avoid mistakes, has broken school records held by Brett Favre, and has led his So. Miss. team to its first national ranking since 2004, topped off with a beatdown of #6 Houston in the final game of the season.  Watching Davis play, he just looks like an NFL quarterback.  He’s about as polished as a late round QB can be.

Davis reminds me a lot of Blaine Gabbert last year, in that his heady, efficient collegiate play can easily distract you from noticing that he’s a pretty good athlete too.  Gabbert had better size and will probably have posted a better forty time, but whereas Gabbert struggled with deep passes, the deep passing game seems to be an asset for Davis.

Despite Davis’ impressive 2011 season and overall career at So. Miss, it seems like Seahawks Draft Blog is the only place so far to single him out for praise.  Walterfootball.com lists him as a rounds 4-6 guy, and this kind of projection is typical for Davis right now.  I think that as teams and draftniks take a closer look this offseason, Davis stands a real chance of rising up boards.  Its really hard to pinpoint Davis’ stock until that happens though.

Expected draft trajectory:  Mid-to-late rounds.

To be continued…

Barkley stays at USC, Seahawks won’t get a QB in 2012

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

In 1993, the Seattle Seahawks drafted a quarterback with their first round pick. It was the last time the Seahawks spent their first draft choice on a quarterback. By 2013, they’ll be celebrating the 20th anniversary of that event because this situation isn’t being resolved next April.

Matt Barkley’s decision to return to USC next year wasn’t totally unexpected, but it’s completely changed the complexion of the draft. Seahawks fans can almost certainly forget about addressing the team’s biggest need in round one. While there was a pool of three players, they had options to move around and possibly be aggressive to trade up. With Barkley gone and speculation that Robert Griffin III may also return to Baylor, that pool could be down to one player - Andrew Luck. The Seahawks will not be trading up for the #1 pick. Matt Barkley and Pete Carroll have a mutual respect, they’ve worked closely for a long time and I believe a lot of work would’ve been done to reunite the pair in the NFL. He could’ve been the guy Seattle’s front office has been talking about, the player they’d be willing to break the bank for to lead this franchise. In my mind, that opportunity has now gone.

In some ways this allows us all to move on. We can draw a line under the situation and concentrate on other areas of the team. In recent weeks I’ve mocked the like of Courtney Upshaw, Kendall Wright and Devon Still to Seattle and this is the discussion we’ll be having from here on in. It may be frustrating, but that’s the hand that’s been dealt.

This won’t necessarily have a knock-on effect for other quarterbacks. Players like Nick Foles, Ryan Tannehill and Landry Jones had no place in round one to begin with and while the need is huge at quarterback for a lot of teams, I don’t expect to see a cluster of Christian Ponder-style reaches next April. The most likely to be over-drafted is Tannehill purely down to his greater athletic qualities, but even that seems like a stretch. The Seahawks are simply going to have to try and make the most of their picks again, just like they’ve done the last two years. That’s not such a bad thing as they rebuild this roster, but I suspect until they find ‘the one’ at QB, they’ll always be just short.

The big problem created here is the stretching of the talent pool. While Barkley would’ve been an early pick in 2012, he could easily have been the third quarterback off the board. The 2013 class of QB’s was looking incredibly weak – I haven’t identified one current sophomore or junior worthy of a first round grade so far. Now Barkley is the hot favorite to go first overall. Ultimately, the Seahawks will find it harder to trade into the #1 spot than a place lower in the top-ten or early teens. If the depth of quality is permanently spread thin, how can a Seahawks team avoid being terrible and still address this issue?

Griffin may still declare, particularly now that Barkley is going back to USC. If he makes the move – and he should – he’ll be the most desirable player in the entire draft purely because he’s the next in line after Andrew Luck. Every team needing a QB will be desperate to get him, it’ll create a bidding war where the price will be far too high. The Seahawks need to be aggressive, but Griffin is much more of a project than Barkley even if he does have a higher ceiling. Chasing after Griffin wouldn’t be a wise move if it comes at a huge price.

Matt Flynn isn’t the answer, let’s get that straight right away. The Seahawks really need someone who can realistically start at a decent level by 2013, so they won’t have an eternity to groom a long-term project. Tarvaris Jackson has performed above expectations, but he’s still not a player realistically capable of leading this team to the promise land. It’s a serious problem for Seattle – this team is building into a contender, but they still need that player capable of duking it out with the best in the league.

People will want to mention Josh Portis in this debate, but he’s still such a major unknown. Nobody has enough knowledge of Portis to judge whether he even has enough talent to be a good back-up. The Seahawks have basically red-shirted him this year but if he isn’t the #2 quarterback behind Jackson in 2012, when is he going to make that move? We’ll learn a lot in the next 12 months even if Portis isn’t on the field.

It’s probably not what Seahawks fans expected a few weeks ago, or what they even wanted, but the team’s first pick in 2012 is going to be about BPA and adding to the talent pool already created. I just hope they don’t force this issue by making a bad decision at quarterback – just like Arizona and Kevin Kolb – leaving themselves handcuffed and the situation unresolved. I’ve been banging this drum for a long time now, but Austin Davis at Southern Miss would be a wise choice if they’re looking to add a player with eventual starter potential – but we’re looking at quarterbacks beyond the first round now.