Archive for December, 2011

Matt Barkley to declare?

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Tony Pauline (SI.com & Draft Insider) is reporting that Matt Barkley will announce his intention to declare for the 2012 NFL Draft in the near future. This is significant news, considering the implications it’ll have on another big-name USC prospect. Offensive tackle Matt Kalil was reported to be returning to Southern California last week, before he denied the report and stated he was still undecided. If Barkley declares, Kalil almost certainly will too – there’s little point turning down the chance to be a top-three NFL draft pick to block for an unproven quarterback, bowl game or not.

It’d also be significant in confirming there will be at least one consolation prize when Andrew Luck goes first overall. With Robert Griffin III also expected to enter the draft after winning the Heisman, there’s going to be three legitimate quarterback prospects taken within the first fifteen picks next April.

Whether Seattle can get their hands on one remains to be seen…

It’ll be interesting to monitor developments in Miami and Kansas City after both teams fired their head coaches today. Matt Moore, the current Dolphins starter, had ties to Tony Sparano when the pair worked in Dallas during the 2007 season. Moore has done fairly well as the starter, but surely Miami is looking for a big ticket quarterback to finally end the cursed post-Dan Marino era? If they appoint a young, upcoming offensive coordinator to be their Head Coach (especially one with a history of developing young quarterbacks) it could be a big hint towards their intentions in the draft. Kansas City could show a vote of confidence in the quarterbacks already on their roster if they appoint Josh McDaniels (who worked with Matt Cassel in New England) or Kirk Ferentz (who coached Ricky Stanzi at Iowa).

In both cases, the teams are keeping the GM’s who overlooked their last few drafts. Unlike the recent makeovers in Seattle or Denver, this isn’t a complete regime change. That could also play some part in determining what happens in the draft, especially with the Chiefs who invested a considerable sum in Matt Cassel succeeding.

Victory tonight for the Seahawks and they’ll have possession of the 14th overall pick. Washington, Miami, Cleveland and Kansas City would all be picking ahead of Seattle. Although optimistic fans will point towards an unlikely route into the playoffs, it does appear the Seahawks are going to miss out on a post-season berth without the bonus of a pick high enough to draft one of the three solid quarterback prospects.

Stand by for months of speculation and calculation as fans try to work out if a trade up the board is possible or likely.

Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor) game tape vs Texas

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

Tape courtesy of JMPasq

Robert Griffin III wins the Heisman

Saturday, December 10th, 2011

Robert Griffin III accepted the 2011 Heisman Trophy

Robert Griffin  III won the Heisman Trophy this evening, adding to a story that should continue in the NFL next season.

It’s impossible to describe just how far Griffin has come in the last few months. He started the 2011 season as a fringe NFL draft prospect, the type of player you consider drafting due to his sheer athleticism but certainly not with a high pick. I’d watched Baylor games in the past to study Griffin and observed with frustration as he barely attempted a forward pass. He ran an exclusively screen-based offense with a few option-reads and showed very little pro-potential in the process. You only need to go back and watch the tape from the Texas Bowl loss to Illinois to realise the difference 12 months of work can make.

This season, suddenly Griffin was throwing the ball downfield regularly and with success. It started with a 50-48 win over TCU and developed into a season of impressive victories over the likes of Oklahoma and Texas. Griffin completed 72% of his passes, scored 45 total touchdowns and only threw six interceptions. Sure, he was helped by a group of dynamic receivers led by the prolific Kendall Wright – but Griffin became more than just the heartbeat of his team. Now, he too was also a dynamic and exciting playmaker. The level of development he’s made this year cannot be underestimated and it’s a great credit not just to the coaching staff in Waco, but also to Griffin himself for taking the next step.

Baylor only won nine games this season, but it’s interesting how that didn’t hamper Griffin’s Heisman bid. A few weeks ago, Andrew Luck would’ve been a nailed on certainty to win the trophy – yet a stuttering end to his final season at Stanford and Griffin’s surge combined to great effect. So how does this impact the draft, if at all?

What it does do is further raise the profile of RG3. Pundits perhaps a little tentative about promoting him into the upper echelons of their mock drafts will relax a little. Scouts and GM’s may well just get out the Oklahoma tape this evening and have another look. This was a very public form or promotion and the endearing speech he delivered in winning the trophy will have impressed many. Owners will be looking at Griffin tonight and seeing a face for their marketing plans.

Suggestions are starting to be made that this could push Griffin into #1 overall territory, ahead of Andrew Luck. We need to back that bandwagon up and park it fast. Andrew Luck is going to be the first overall pick next year, regardless of any decision this evening or whether Griffin’s socks come with their own cape. It’s a nice suggestion, but since when has any NFL team made a snap decision based on the Heisman Trophy vote in December? Luck has been the #1 pick in 2012 ever since the day he snubbed Carolina and returned to Stanford in January. Nothing has changed there.

But it’d be equally foolish to believe this won’t have any impact on Griffin’s stock. He’s seen as a trailblazer, someone with the skills, athleticism, smarts, looks and potential to lead a team – even a bad one. Being the first Baylor Bear to win a Heisman isn’t unexpected for this guy. He doesn’t really compare to anyone in the NFL right now, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, but being the first RG3 rather than the next Aaron Rodgers may be enough.

Griffin’s skill set does compare favorably, however, with what the Seahawks appear to want at quarterback. So far they’ve added mobile quarterbacks who can extend plays, run naked bootlegs/play action and get the ball downfield when needed. Pete Carroll stresses winning the turnover battle like your life depends on it. Griffin doesn’t just fit the physical desires, but also the mental side of the game – he doesn’t make bad decisions, he’s limited turnovers and he’s been creative. For those reasons I suspect he could be high on Seattle’s board.

Yet as the Seahawks head towards a .500 record and maybe even an unlikely flirtation with the wildcard playoffs, they’re drifting further away from the top ten picks where it appears Griffin is now likely to go. I think the Seahawks would consider Griffin as their guy if he were available, but they’d have to really like him to make an ambitious move up the board.

We’ll have to wait a little longer for official confirmation on Griffin’s decision on the draft (he’s a redshirt junior in 2011). Having been at Baylor for four years now and winning the Heisman, there’s very little reason not to declare. He talked about law school, but this was long before he progressed into the star we see today. He’ll lose star seniors like Kendall Wright and his draft stock will never be higher than it is now. I suspect it’s close to a foregone conclusion that Griffin will be turning pro next April.

Morris Claiborne game tape vs Georgia

Friday, December 9th, 2011

Thursday draft thoughts: Peyton Manning to be cut?

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Peyton Manning is Indianapolis... but maybe not for much longer

Indy facing once-in-a-lifetime decision

At the start of November I discussed the conundrum facing Indianapolis – it’s idealistic to believe Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck can co-exist on the same roster. Sure, it worked perfectly for Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, but Rodgers wasn’t the #1 overall pick and a storied college quarterback seen by many to be nearly flawless. This week we’ve seen Archie Manning state the obvious over this situation, with Mike Florio at PFT basically summing it up in this piece. Something has to give.

Luck won’t want to ride the bench for 2-3 years. He probably won’t want to ride the bench for one year. Manning doesn’t want to spend his final years at a franchise he made relevant looking over his shoulder. The Colts would like a seamless transition, but they also have reasons to choose go solely in one direction. They’re not going to be able to trade Manning before he’s owed close to $30m, because the contract clause kicks in before the league year ends. They’re not going to pay all that money, then trade Manning. It’ll work out being more than $50m for one season where Manning didn’t play a down.

They’re faced with the highest rated college quarterback in decades being there on a plate. Standing by Manning may be painfully impossible. Do you take potentially 10-15 years of Luck, or 3-4 years of Manning? Cutting Manning and making him a highly desirable free agent could not only cause shock waves across the league, it could also severely impact the draft.

I’m not convinced the Seahawks would be interested in an ageing free agent Manning, considering how much they’ve turned this team into a youth movement. It’d be the ultimate short term measure if Manning proves he’s healthy, allowing the Seahawks time to develop a long term replacement in the background. At the same time, it’s a move I just can’t envisage even if a healthy Manning could potentially turn the team into a real force in the NFC. Just ask yourself for a second whether you can imagine Manning in Seahawks blue, because I’m struggling to create that image.

Washington? Miami? Perhaps that’s a different story. You have to believe Dan Snyder would love to land a big name like Manning to make the Redskins an immediate contender in the NFC East (not to mention the two Manning vs Manning games per year would be interesting). The Dolphins need to sell tickets and as appealing as the two Manning’s facing off would be, maintaining the Brady vs Manning battle in the AFC East is another great storyline. If either were to sign Manning, they’d be less likely to take a quarterback early in round one.

That could impact the Seahawks, whether it creates another potential trade partner or simply sees a player sink down to the middle of round one where the Seahawks project to be picking.

We also can’t rule out Team Luck forcing a trade. Indianapolis has shown what life after Manning looks like, and it’s downright ugly. This is looking increasingly like a roster that will go 0-16 without their quarterback/offensive coordinator/heartbeat. However well Luck grades in college – and he’s been hyped beyond reality – he still isn’t anywhere close to being Peyton Manning. He could walk into a situation where not only does he have to try and lift a bad team in a tough division, but he has to live with being the guy the Colts cut Peyton Manning for. It’s not a stretch to imagine Luck won’t want any part of that. Life would be much easier if he joined a team not quite as bad as Indianapolis, without any recent history at quarterback.

Washington, Cleveland, Seattle, Denver, San Francisco, Miami – all places that would appear to be more logical fits. Of the group, Cleveland has the most ammunition for a trade with Indianapolis. Even so, if the Colts open trade discussions you have to believe several teams will pull out all the stops to make a deal.

Yet there’s still one more interesting dynamic here. Indy would have to cut Manning long before the draft. The moment they commit that guaranteed money, they lose an awful lot of leverage if they want to trade ther #1 pick. If the Lucks are going to force a deal and avoid Indianapolis, they’ll have to do so possibly one or two months before the draft takes place. That could create a never-before-seen auction involving picks and players. It sounds like a stretch, but this could be a unique situation. None of this will be possible once Indianapolis cuts Manning, so if a deal happens it’ll probably take place long before April.

This could be unknown territory for the NFL, but that’s hardly surprising given the circumstance. When has a team with a quarterback like Manning, a perennial contender for years, slumped this badly? Particularly in a year with such a coveted quarterback available with the #1 pick? It shouldn’t be a surprise that there’s a level of unknown here.

Matt Kalil staying or going?

A report surfaced today courtesy of Rob Rang suggesting Matt Kalil was expected to return to USC for his senior season. Kalil later responded, stating firmly he wasn’t close to making a decision. It’s long been assumed that Kalil will declare, but USC’s success late in the season (including big wins vs Notre Dame, Oregon and UCLA) could have changed things. Suddenly this looks like a USC team capable of challenging for it all, with talent continuing to surface despite recruiting sanctions and a lack of national publicity. Even a month ago, people thought USC were a good team – but not quite as good as they’ve since become. What’s more, there appears to be further room to grow. Should Kalil and Barkley return next year, USC would have an opportunity to at least win the PAC-12 and earn a Rose Bowl berth. Both will be top-ten picks next April, but that could be the case in 2013 too. They’ll only have one more chance to play in a BCS Bowl.

On the other hand, there’s no doubt both players are ready to play pro-football. Kalil and Barkley will start during their rookie seasons and probably have an instant impact. Staying at USC will be delaying the inevitable and while it’d be a great story to stay in school, there are potentially other great stories to be written in the NFL.

I suspect both players will be leaning on each other here. There’s little point Kalil returning to block for a new quarterback who will need to be worked into the system. Barkley would be taking a risk returning to college without his high quality blind-side blocker. So what happens? The fact is neither player needs to make a decision in the next four weeks, so I suspect they’ll use that time wisely to make the best possible decision. Don’t expect anything to be confirmed for a while yet.

Mel Kiper FINALLY drops Landry Jones

I have a lot of time for Mel Kiper, he’s pure draft entertainment. Having said that, I disagree with pretty much everything he says about quarterbacks. He had Jimmy Clausen as a top first round pick. He touted Dan Le Fevour as a potential first or second round sleeper. He kept Colt McCoy in his top-25 big board every week throughout the 2009 season. That’s not a great run over the last few years.

This year he kept Landry Jones as the #2 quarterback on his board after Andrew Luck. He wasn’t the only one, several other high profile pundits have been promoting Jones as a high first rounder. Finally – and it’s taken until the 8th December – Kiper has dropped Jones behind both Matt Barkley and Robert Griffin III in his rankings. I’ve never graded the Oklahoma QB as a first round pick, but his recent poor displays have convinced me further that he simply isn’t going to hack it in the NFL. That may be considered a harsh critique, but I go into more detail in this article here. You cannot invest a first round pick in this guy and expect to still be in a job a few years down the line. I’ve not included Jones in any of my first round mocks so far and I’m not even convinced he’ll declare now. It’s taken a while, but finally the big name draft pundits are catching up. Jones is not the elite talent they’ve tried to argue for most of this year.

Updated mock draft: 7th December

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

A lot of people aren’t going to like this week’s projection. For whatever reason, a lot of people can’t entertain the idea of stock piling talented receivers. Cornerbacks? Sure. Offensive and defensive lineman? You can never have too many. Receivers on the other are treated with great suspicion. The Seahawks have a better group of wide outs today than they’ve had for a long time, but there’s still room for improvement. Mike Williams has regressed this season while Golden Tate still has a lot to prove even if his performances have been improved in recent weeks. Sidney Rice needs to show he can stay healthy after another injury plagued season and Ben Obomanu is steady and reliable, yet unspectacular. Sure, there have been some high profile busts at receiver in recent years, but there’s also been some big success stories. Busts can happen anywhere, including the much fancied offensive tackle and corner back positions.

What the Seahawks don’t have is a receiver capable of scaring the life out of a defense due to pure speed. This week, I’m sending one of the most under rated players in the 2012 NFL Draft to Seattle. Baylor’s quarterback has received a lot of plaudits this year – including a Heisman nomination – but none of it would’ve been possible without Kendall Wright. Those long downfield passes you see Robert Griffin throwing are often to a wide open Wright, who has the speed to stretch the field and the ability to create separation time and time again. This season he, like Griffin, has taken the next step and become a consistent force in the Big 12. Only one player – Western Michigan’s Jordan White – has more passing yards this season. Wright’s stat line reads: 1572 yards, 13 touchdowns.

The Seahawks need to find a quarterback in this draft, even if that means trading up. BUT… if such an option isn’t possible – we have to look at the alternatives in these mock drafts. I anticipate people will ask why I haven’t got the Seahawks taking Dre Kirkpatrick instead – a player adored by many simply because he happens to be 6-2 and coached by Nick Saban. The Seahawks aren’t desperate to add yet another big cornerback, particularly one who isn’t great in coverage (a pretty big part of a corner’s game, don’t you think?). David DeCastro? Perhaps, but eventually the Seahawks have to trust what they’ve invested in the offensive line, including the coaching staff, and look at other areas of the team.

Justin Blackmon takes a fall this week and I have the Seahawks preferring Wright to his Big-12 rival. Why? The Seahawks already have receivers that offer a similar skill set to Blackmon. What they don’t have – and haven’t had for a long time – is someone with elite downfield speed. If they are forced to look at the best options available in the middle of round one, Wright has to be a possibility. And if Seattle is faced with a situation where they’re rolling with Tarvaris Jackson and developing Josh Portis or a later round pick, Wright is also someone who can have an impact running deep route’s early in his pro-career. The idea with these weekly projections is to run through different possibilities, particularly if the Seahawks are going to win their way out of the quarterback stakes.

A final word on Blackmon falling – many people see him as a top-ten lock. I’m guessing I’ll receive the usual flurry of emails arguing against one of the ‘big names’ falling. That kind of thing happens every year and Blackmon is not a can’t miss type player. If he does go in the top ten, it’ll come with a risk factor and it’ll be a reach based on need. I’ve had Blackmon in the top-five picks in previous projections, today I’m looking at the other possibility that he could fall. He’s not going to run a brilliant time at the combine, he does make several frustrating errors (see this video at the 1:16 mark), he’s not got that elite size that teams dream about and there are some slight concerns with his attitude that will need to be checked out. In many ways he’s similar to Michael Crabtree, but Crabtree was a sensational hands catcher with a tremendous wing span. Last year I gave Blackmon a grade in the 20’s and while I expect he probably will go earlier than that, I’m not convinced he’ll be taken in the same range as superior physical prospects like AJ Green and Julio Jones.

One other note… Indianapolis needs to prepare for a big decision. The noises are already being made that Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck cannot co-exist, something we’ve talked about a lot on this blog. The Colts are almost certainly going to have to choose between the two players, potentially freeing up Manning as a free agent. You have to believe teams like Washington (with an owner like Dan Snyder) will jump at the chance to sign Manning to a bumper deal for 2-3 years while quietly grooming a quarterback like Ryan Tannehill in the background. It’s a possible scenario that could open the door for Seattle if you’re hoping for one of the top three quarterbacks.

Of course, the Luck camp may not see a gig in Indianapolis – and following Manning – as the ideal situation for their man. This is a bad Indy team that could easily go 0-16. Following Manning will be like trying to follow up a brilliant first album. The Lucks could push for a better situation – again, possibly Washington but more likely a team such as Cleveland that has the ammunition to trade up. Getting a big deal for multiple round one picks could help the Colts rebuild their terrible roster, back Peyton Manning who’s done so much for that franchise and still plan for the future at quarterback. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out, but I’ll be stunned if Manning and Luck are on the same roster next season.

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
The Colts are facing a difficult situation where they’ll have to either cut Peyton Manning or trade this pick. Interesting times ahead.
#2 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
The Rams need some offensive playmakers more than anything, but they’ll struggle to pass on a talent like Kalil who can anchor their line for years.
#3 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
He keeps making plays – eleven interceptions in two seasons. Minnesota would surely love a crack at Matt Kalil, but he’s off the board.
#4 Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
With Gene Smith extending his contract, he’ll be tasked with backing his judgement on Blaine Gabbert. That should include an offensive minded coach and a unique target like Jones.
#5 Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
Elite potential and crucially he’s pro-ready. Washington needs someone who can start in year one.
#6 Jarvis Jones (LB, Georgia)
He says he won’t declare for the draft, but after a prolific season (including 13.5 sacks) a top-ten grade could change his mind.
#7 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
Cleveland needs a playmaker on offense and Richardson would be an instant star for the Browns.
#8 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
More of a right tackle prospect than a blind-side blocker, Philly needs to sure up that offensive line.
#9 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
We’re told big changes are coming in the coaching department, which usually means a new quarterback. Griffin will help the Dolphins sell tickets.
#10 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
Tampa Bay fans say linebacker is a big need, so why not draft a player who’s been compared to Lance Briggs?
#11 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Arizona’s priority this off season has to be finding a left tackle. Martin isn’t spectacular, but he’s the best available here.
#12 Luke Kuelchy (LB, Boston College)
Tackling machine who looks like a Scott Pioli-type player. A nice fit in Kansas City’s defense.
#13 Quinton Coples (DE, UNC)
The Bills need a pass rusher, but the options at 3-4 OLB are limited. Coples was a lot better in the second half of the season.
#14 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
With three QB’s off the board and no obvious defensive line options – the Seahawks have to think outside of the box. Wright could be the next Mike Wallace.
#15 Manti Te’o (LB, Notre Dame)
San Diego has to add a reliable feature to it’s defense. Te’o can be a leader who performs every Sunday without fail.
#16 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
There’s a degree of bandwagon jumping when it comes to DeCastro. That’s not to say it won’t help promote the Washington native into this kind of range.
#17 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
Could he suffer a fall? He doesn’t have explosive speed, he can make frustrating errors. Blackmon isn’t a top-ten lock.
#18 Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
Cincinnati has some promising young playmakers and Miller would add another dimension.
#19 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
The Jets need to add to their pass rush and could show interest in Mercilus, who leads the NCAA with 14.5 sacks this year.
#20 Kelechi Osemele (OG, Iowa State)
Looks every bit a future NFL guard. Perhaps a little under rated and closer to David De Castro than most think
#21 Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
Having added an elite talent at running back earlier, Cleveland continues it’s offensive rebuild with a big playmaker at receiver.
#22 Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
Elite talent who only falls due to character concerns. AJ Green and Julio Jones had their worst games against Jenkins in 2010.
#23 Kevin Reddick (LB, North Carolina)
Under rated linebacker, would be a nice compliment to Chicago’s defense.
#24 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
Versatile defensive lineman who can fit into a number of looks. Pittsburgh can afford to take the BPA.
#25 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Tall corner who’s flashed real ability in run support, but needs to improve in coverage. John Brantley shouldn’t be abusing any cornerback in the SEC.
#26 David Wilson (RB, Virginia Tech)
Really productive running back for the Hokies who could have a quick impact in Denver.
#27 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.
#28 Alameda Ta’amu (DT, Washington)
Big nose tackle prospect. Houston switched to the 3-4 this year but could still use Ta’amu’s size up front to anchor their defensive line.
#29 Oday Aboushi (OT, Virginia)
I’ve seen Virginia twice this season and Aboushi looks like a NFL tackle. Baltimore needs to bolster that offensive line.
#30 Nicolas Jean-Baptiste (DT, Baylor)
He’s no Phil Taylor, but every time I’ve watched Baylor this year he’s been the one defensive player who looks to have some pro-potential.
#31 Micheal Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
Production machine but issues off the field will prevent him going much earlier than this.
#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.

Robert Griffin III game tape vs Texas

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Thanks again to JMPasq for supplying us with the tape. I’ll have an updated mock draft on the blog tomorrow, plus a few thoughts as usual. For now, enjoy watching Robert Griffin III defeating Texas.

Austin Davis game tape vs Houston

Monday, December 5th, 2011

As I mentioned yesterday, this isn’t what you’d call ‘picking apart’ an offense. It was far from a perfect performance, and I’ve seen Davis perform a lot better. However, the conditions were very windy and Southern Miss were big underdogs on the road against #6 Houston. Davis had four touchdowns on the day and helped his team to a big victory. If you look at the plays at 2:53, 3:49 and 6:18 you’ll see why I think there’s something to work with here. For more of a breakdown, see my article from yesterday.

Austin Davis, Southern Miss defeats #6 Houston

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

Austin Davis threw four touchdowns in defeating #6 Houston

Austin Davis will do what it takes to achieve his goals. That’s the lasting impression I had following our conversation back in July as Davis prepared for his senior year at Southern Miss. “The biggest thing is to be a winner and to be a guy that people want on their team. You can’t do anything about your height, you can’t do anything about a lot of things. You can do something about your attitude, your work ethic and your mentality towards the game. That’s one thing I want to excel at and be the best at. I want to win games and I want to lead this team.”

In November, Southern Miss were ranked by the AP for the first time since 2004. In dominating Houston, they defeated the #6 team on the road to win a first ever Conference-USA title. This is the first time the school has won 11 games in a season. The impact of Austin Davis – as a leader, playmaker and technician – cannot be underestimated. While the Golden Eagles have some other talented players, particularly at the skill positions, it’s Davis who leads from the front. He’s not a perfect player, he’s not the type that earns non-stop unwarranted hype throughout a season. He just gets on with the job. He’s broken nearly every quarterback record at the school, records previously held by Brett Favre.

In November, Pete Carroll told Brock and Salk on ESPN 710, “There’s some exciting kids coming out of the draft, but there’s exciting ones that the people don’t know about too and they’ll be enough.” I’ve made this point before, but could Austin Davis be one of these players that ‘the people don’t know about’? He’s worked with an offense very similar to the one Carroll wishes to incorporate in Seattle – heavy run attack, ball control and a real emphasis on winning the turnover battle. When I asked Davis about the mindset of the Southern Miss offense, he replied, “Just from day one my coaches have just preached to me about protecting the football and not throwing interceptions so I’ve always tried to be a quarterback that’s always smart with the football. I guess some people call it conservative, but I call it smart football. I know if we hold onto the ball then we’re going to win a lot of games and there’s going to be a lot of big plays that guys are going to make around me.” Doesn’t it just sound so Carroll-esque?

Davis is athletic enough to make gains on the ground and extend plays, he’s improved his arm strength and build through sheer hard graft. He fits the mould of the point-guard quarterback, supplying the ammunition to the team’s playmakers. This was a keynote victory for Southern Miss in a game where many people will have watched Davis probably for the first time. This wasn’t a spectacular performance, there were a few mistakes along the way and you wouldn’t say he picked apart the Houston defense. However, Davis made enough big plays to win the game. Of his four touchdown scores, three flashed a touch of quality.

Some perspective is needed, too. When I talk up Davis’ talents, it’s not as a first round level player. The Seahawks may win their way out of contention for top quarterback prospects like Matt Barkley and Robert Griffin III. Assuming they’ll want to draft a quarterback at some stage, I think we have to look at a player like Davis as an option later on. He’ll need time to work within a pro-weight programme, he’ll need time to learn the playbook. If he’s given that time, I think he can succeed. This isn’t a guy who walks onto the team in week one and carries you to a 10-6 season. There’s something there though, something to work with.

This was a very windy afternoon in Houston and both quarterbacks took a while to settle into the conditions. A touchdown late in the first quarter helped Davis find some momentum, but it’s second score that I want to start with. At 13:42 in the second quarter he has 2nd and ten at the 36-yard line. He fakes the hand off and places a beautifully weighted pass to the receiver for a gain of nearly twenty yards. Effortless throw, good read and a simple completion. It set up another fake hand off, Davis turns to the right side of the field and appears to be running a bootleg to the right. He stops abruptly, turns to his left and makes a second read deep to the left  to the running back on a wheel route and put the ball into the end zone for a touchdown. Great execution, sold the play call perfectly and made the most of the single coverage.

He makes perhaps an even better play for his third touchdown pass – one read down the middle, back across to the right and drops a nice pass into the hands of his receiver, dissecting two defenders. The ball placement is at the right height and just in front of the wide out so he can turn, get up-field quickly and run off a 69-yard score. That, to me, is the definition of point-guard quarterback play. Good decision making, accuracy and the ability to make big plays by using the talent you have outside and getting the ball to them quickly.

The fourth touchdown was another key example of inspired execution. Shotgun snap, two pumps and good accuracy on the wheel route to the running back for another big 60-yard score. The poise in the pocket kept things under control, the pumps created the space in behind and great touch on the throw.

There were also some negatives. Davis’ interception was just as bad as the two previous touchdown’s were good. Not enough velocity on the pass, it’s tipped up into the air and picked off. What was the read there? Three defensive backs, one receiver and throwing into a really tight area. If you’re going to attempt that pass, it needs to come out with much more venom – make it difficult for anyone to catch and hope your guy makes a play. It was a poor read, decision and execution. He should’ve been picked off again with 7:39 remaining in the first half. He does the hard bit – diagnosing the play, stepping into the pocket and away from pressure. However, his pass is weak across the middle and again needed more velocity – the linebacker steps in front of the ball and should’ve caught it.

On a handful of occassions, Davis didn’t do a good job on the option read particularly when pitching the ball. Considering it won’t be part of the pro-offense he eventually works within, I’m not that concerned with this issue. I’m more bothered that he missed on a couple of deep shots, one where two players had seperation down the field. Again, it’s worth noting the strong winds that were clearly having a big impact on both quarterbacks. He fumbled on a scramble which was careless, running into a teammate and letting the ball run loose.

Davis will work to succeed at the next level and that determination will, in my eyes, create at least a serviceable back-up. Could he become more than that? In a league that presents Kevin Kolb as a player worthy of two teams spending a cumulative amount of two second round picks and a cornerback drafted in the top-15 on his services, I wouldn’t rule out Davis getting his shot. In a ball control offense with talent at the skill positions, he can manage a successful unit. If the Seahawks aren’t going to be able to draft one of the top guys, they could do a lot worse than spend a pick on Austin Davis.

Saturday notes

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

On Sunday I’ll be sitting down to study tape from Southern Miss vs Houston, Oklahoma vs Oklahoma State and Georgia vs LSU. I expect to have something on the Southern Miss game the same day, with further pieces on the other two later in the week. I’m particularly interested to see Austin Davis perform – he had a big day in upsetting #6 Houston and I’d like to pass on my congratulations. When I spoke to Davis last summer, his determination to win a conference championship was palpable. This is a guy that will do what it takes to achieve his goals. He is the heart beat of that team. Aside from being an above average athlete and technical player, his intangibles will interest a lot of NFL teams.

The LSU-Georgia game provides a further opportunity to study defensive talent like Jarvis Jones (LB, Georgia) and Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU). I’ll once again be focusing on Landry Jones in the Sooners-Cowboys game, a player I’ve maintained from day one won’t be a first round pick.