Archive for December, 2011

Having faith

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Written by Kip Earlywine

Let’s be honest Seahawks fans.  How many of you lose sleep at night worrying about Seattle’s future at quarterback?  From the comments I’ve read across several prominent blogs and message boards, it seems like a lot.

I’m no different.

Tarvaris Jackson’s better than expected 2011 performance has all but guaranteed that he will remain a Seahawk in 2012.  Additionally, it seems highly likely that he will start at least the beginning of next season.  Jackson still has plenty of room for improvement, and while you could argue that he’s held the Seahawks back on numerous occasions, I think it would be wrong to say he’s hurt this team.  This coaching staff has successfully turned Jackson from an erratic playmaker type to a more conservative, safer game-manager type, and its made Jackson a better quarterback, despite playing hurt most of the season.

Pete Carroll and John Schneider have made a big commitment to Jackson.  In words.  In patience.  Even in cash.  They put their foots in their mouths regarding Minnesota and how they “jerked him around.”  If Seattle had benched Jackson at any point, those words would come back to bite them in the ass and paint them as incompetent hypocrites.  That’s a lot of incentive to stay the course at quarterback.  Its an incentive that, I believe, will still factor in 2012 as well.  Pete Carroll has gone above and beyond to reinforce Jackson’s job security and help him believe that he’s “the guy.”  Its smart coaching.  You don’t want your quarterback constantly worrying about his job status.  Just look at Vince Young.  That said, drafting a quarterback in the first round sends a message about the previous starter, and no matter how its spun, its a message that will work against the good trust that Pete has tried to build with Jackson.

This is worrisome to Seahawks fans.  I respect what Tarvaris has done.  I appreciate that he has room for improvement and he’s still a guy with some potential.  As a stopgap, he’s been all I could have asked for.  I have absolutely no problem with him being our starter in 2012, and possibly beyond depending on development time for his successor.  But if Tarvaris Jackson is an obstacle to Seattle drafting a franchise quarterback, I think its safe to say that most Seahawks fans would want him off the team this very instant.  However, I am beginning to fear that this is a very real possibility.

Life is full of adversity and downright scary moments.  As a believer, I find that I can seek comfort in asking God for help, even if its just to help me calm down.  I know many of you probably can’t relate to that, and far be it from me to push my beliefs on anyone else.   Rather, I simply bring this up to illustrate a point- too often, critical things in our lives are completely out of our control.  Prominent Mariners blogger Dave Cameron was recently diagnosed with a form of cancer, and though he’s about as anti-intangible as they come, even he admitted to putting faith in betting against the odds.  Sometimes, if only for the sake of our own sanity, its good to have a little faith.  In this case, it would mean having faith in Pete Carroll and John Schneider and their plan for the quarterback position.

I have a lot of faith in those guys.  I could go on and on about it.  Red Bryant anyone?  How about Stokely, Brock, Hargrove, Browner, BMW, Lynch, Gallery, Rice, Miller and even Tom Cable.  And that’s just on the transaction/player revamp side of the equation.

I have a lot of self-confidence in this site’s ability to project players.  Rob in particular has a rare gift for noticing first round talents before almost anyone else does.  He proclaimed Blaine Gabbert as a top 10 pick in December of last year, back when very few people even knew who Gabbert was.  He called Jimmy Smith, Derrick Morgan, James Carpenter and many, many others before mainstream draft analysts did.  Kyle handily predicted Stafford as the superior quarterback to Sanchez.  My track record here doesn’t go back very far and isn’t as great as theirs, but I was a fan of Russell Okung and many years before that I was a huge fan of Brandon Mebane before Seattle drafted him.

But even having said all that, I don’t think our ability to evaluate talent comes even close to what John Schneider and his scouting group has done.  We tend to focus on big name prospects here- guys that are likely to be drafted in the first three rounds.  We have lives to live outside of Seahawks football, and our resources are very limited.  John Schneider, Scot McCloughan, Scott Fitterer,  and his six regional scouts are all full time, highly paid professionals obsessed with finding as much talent as possible.  Not only are they more qualified than anyone who writes here, but they have resources we can only dream of.  I can only imagine how proud I’d be if I had talked up Richard Sherman before last year’s draft.  And that’s just one player.  Never mind Kam Chancellor, KJ Wright, or Doug Baldwin.

And therein lies the rub.  There are going to be roughly a thousand draft eligible players in any given year, and here at this site, we’d be lucky to cover a hundred of them.  Guys like Doug Baldwin easily slipped past our radar completely, but he didn’t slip past John Schneider’s.  Really, the closest we’ve come to touting a player on the fringe is Austin Davis.  Our front office makes several Austin Davis type sleeper moves every year, with a surprising number of those moves paying off.

I’m not trying to convince anyone that passing on Griffin or Barkley is a good idea.  I think that the potential rewards are such that Seattle should not take them lightly.  But at the same time, I think that this front office has more than earned our patience and good faith should they go a different direction next April.

This front office has been very protective of Josh Portis, even to the point of throwing away a win by starting Whitehurst against the lowly Browns.  Portis is a project, but flashed serious potential in the preseason.  I’m admittedly shooting in the dark here, but is it possible the front office thinks they have something in Josh Portis?  Or what if they have a non-first round quarterback who really intrigues them?  Perhaps Austin Davis.  Or perhaps someone we’ve never even thought about.

This is not meant to be taken as an argument against drafting a first round quarterback.  Its only to say that sometimes, smart people will do befuddling things only to prove later that those moves were master strokes.  The Tapp and Wilson trades caused a righteous outcry among Seahawks fans.  And for good reason, Tapp and Wilson were two of Seattle’s better defenders the year before.  Yet, the Tapp trade netted us Chris Clemons, and the Wilson trade landed us Richard Sherman.  Rather unbelievably, the Seahawks unloaded those players for a fraction of their worth and came out ahead.  Way ahead.

If Seattle passes on Matt Barkley or Robert Griffin III next April, there will be no shortage of consternation.  But should that unfortunate reality come to pass, I would advise us all:  “have a little faith.”  These guys have earned it.  It wouldn’t be the first time they did something that looked stupid on the surface but proved brilliant in retrospect.

Updated mock draft: 1st December

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

On Tuesday I raised a point ahead of this updated mock draft - what if the Seahawks don’t need to trade up for a quarterback? As we saw with Blaine Gabbert last April, teams have contrasting grades on certain players. In that instance Jacksonville aggressively pursued a player that Washington – who desperately needed a quarterback – just weren’t interested in. Despite having a big need at the position, the Redskins completely ignored the options available. Just because a team has a perceived need, it doesn’t mean they’ll just take the next player available in round one. Could this allow a quarterback to slip through the cracks? It’s something we can consider and discuss at the start of December and that’s why I’ve chosen to highlight this in my latest projection.

Scroll down for further analysis after the mock.

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
The Colts will need to make a decision on the future of Peyton Manning, but if they keep this pick then Luck will be the choice.
#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 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
This is too high for Blackmon in my view, but the Vikings need a dynamic, alpha male type at receiver. You have to think they’d love Kalil.
#4 Jarvis Jones (LB, Georgia)
He says he’ll return to Georgia, but getting a grade like this could change his mind. He’s a tremendous playmaker with 13.5 sacks this season.
#5 Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
Elite potential and pro-ready, Barkley can start in week one for the Dolphins and end the post-Marino curse in Miami.
#6 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.
#7 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Drafting a left tackle should be Arizona’s priority and although this is a reach, Martin is the clear #2 blind-side blocker after Kalil.
#8 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
The Skins need a quarterback, but Mike Shanahan showed last year he won’t just take anyone. Richardson is an elite talent and keep an eye on Ryan Tannehill later.
#9 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
More of a right tackle prospect than a blind side blocker. Kansas City needs better line play to compliment their playmakers.
#10 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
He’s played better the last few weeks. Cleveland’s defense has a lot of young talent and Coples would provide a good compliment to Jabaal Sheard.
#11 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
Keeps making plays in a loaded LSU secondary. He’s not the finished article, but time spent at receiver is obvious given his ball skills.
#12 Luke Kuelchy (LB, Boston College)
Tackling machine who would provide a solid, blue collar addition to Philly’s defense.
#13 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
He’s not an obvious fit for the two Mike’s – Shanahan & Holmgren. Seattle could benefit if that’s the case.
#14 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
Tampa Bay fans say linebacker is a big need. Why not have a player who’s been compared favorably to Lance Briggs?
#15 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
The Bills need a pass rusher. Mercilus also needs to play in space at his size, but will need to prove he can adapt to the 3-4.
#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 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
Explosive, under rated playmaker who looks a lot like Mike Wallace. Locker-to-Wright could be a combination for the ages.
#18 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
He’s having a great year and looks like the consistent force he perhaps hasn’t been prior to 2011. His stock is rising.
#19 Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
The Broncos are in a difficult position with ‘Tebow-Mania’, yet they need to add something on offense. John Fox had two first round running backs in Carolina.
#20 David Wilson (RB, Virginia Tech)
The Browns need to find a playmaker, whether that’s at QB, RB or WR. Wilson has game breaking speed and finishes runs well for his size.
#21 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Tall, physical cornerback who will appeal to Jerry Jones and the Cowboys. Specialises in run support, coverage skills need work.
#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 Cincinnati’s defense.
#24 Peter Konz (C, 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.
#25 Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
The Bears need to add a big, consistent receiver to their offense. Sanu will surprise people with early production.
#26 Oday Aboushi (OT, Virginia)
I’ve seen Virginia three times in the last two seasons and Aboushi looks like a future pro. Could he rise to this level?
#27 Manti Te’o (LB, Notre Dame)
Perhaps it’s time to start thinking about inside linebackers in Baltimore? Te’o is the best left on the board here.
#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 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
He’s made a lot of mistakes off the field, but despite inconsistent quarterback play he’s maintained solid production.
#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 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.
#32 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
He’s having a good year, but looks like a five-technique convert to me and that could hamper his stock.

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Why have you left out….?

There are several ‘big names’ not included in this week’s projection. While I do try to look at different possibilities with these mocks, I’m only judging things as I see them. I wanted to try and justify why some high profile prospects are missing.

Landry Jones (QB, Oklahoma) - I think he’s a completely unspectacular quarterback who will be found out at the next level. He’s not making pre-snap reads, he’ll live or die by the play call. He can’t improvise in the pocket and the modern NFL loves quarterbacks who can extend plays and think outside of the box. Jones is the complete opposite of that – a pocket passer with bad footwork who can’t go through 1-2-3 reads and fire. Mike Shanahan isn’t drafting this guy, Pete Carroll isn’t drafting this guy, Mike Holmgren isn’t drafting this guy. That leaves Miami, Kansas City and Denver. There are better options for the Dolphins and I’m not sure John Elway will be able to leave his front door if the Broncos draft a quarterback in round one. My gut feeling is Jones deserves a mid-round projection, but will end up in round two due to reputation.

Courtney Upshaw (DE/LB, Alabama) - Speed is great when you’re judging a pass rusher, but it’s also possibly the most over rated aspect. I love guys who find ways to get the job done, either with good hands and reach to disengage, or with a repertoire of moves to keep lineman thinking. If you’re doing the same edge rush every time, you’ll get found out. When you combine speed rush, violent hands and a repertoire, you’re onto a winner. I really liked Jabaal Sheard last year because he combined those aspects and played above a lack of elite size. He’s had a decent start to his career in Cleveland with 4.5 sacks so far as a rookie, but I loved that pick for the Browns.  There are a lot of things I like about Upshaw particularly his hand use and ability to gain leverage and avoid blockers because he’s not an elite athlete. At 6-1 and around 270lbs, without eye catching speed, he’s going to need to rely on smarts and technique. But if Sheard with all his talents can’t find a home in round one, then I’m struggling to give Upshaw a better grade. He’s a solid football player, but not the type who usually goes in round one.

Vontaze Burfict (LB, Arizona State) – He’s falling a bit because he’s not had a spectacular season and teams will be wary of his temper and attitude. He’s unpredictable, on and off the field, and I’m not sure how he’ll be received in meetings. He doesn’t play a crucial position in terms of draft stock. There isn’t a team in the NFL who’s a middle linebacker away from a big tilt in the playoffs, so teams may well ask, “Do we want the hassle?” I had him in the 20′s last week, but time to look at the possibility he could be a round one casualty.

Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina) - It’s all about separation in the NFL and unfortunately that’s where Jeffery struggles. He has a big frame, but he’s not getting away from anyone. Jonathan Baldwin had similar size but he was an athlete and ran well at the combine. For all his faults, he went in round one because there is that ‘special’ potential hidden away. He found ways to get open, he’d make spectacular downfield plays. Jeffery hasn’t got it. He’ll run a really average time at the combine, because that’s what the tape shows. He’s not exploding into his breaks, he’s not a really consistent receiver and he tends to run sloppy routes. What he does have is the big Mike Williams type frame, so you’re throwing at a big target. He’s been hurt by a bad quarterback situation at South Carolina this season, but this is a class full of better receivers than Alshon Jeffery.

Brandon Thompson (DT, Clemson) - When you watch Clemson, every now and again Brandon Thompson jumps off the screen and looks like a top-15 talent. You want to buy into his potential, particularly in a weak overall defensive tackle class. However, the flashes are hidden among a lot of average tape. He will have games where he’s just not effective against the run, getting pushed around by interior lineman. Plus, you just can’t get away from the fact that he has 4.5 sacks in a four year career – despite playing on the same team as Da’Quan Bowers, Andre Branch and others taking up double teams off the edge. He’s quite good at slipping blocks and getting into the backfield, but can you trust he’ll finish with that low level of production? For me, he looks like the kind of player who slips into the third round or the late second and you end up getting a solid pro. Maybe one day you wonder how he fell as far as he did? But that’s what happens.

How did you work a quarterback going to Seattle?

It’s not as ridiculous as it perhaps looks. Miami regrets passing on Matt Ryan, but Matt Barkley can make up for that. Mike Shanahan is very picky with his quarterbacks, as we saw when he passed on Blaine Gabbert last year. He isn’t just looking for an arm and athleticism to run numerous naked bootlegs, play actions and out-of-the-pocket deep passes. To some degree, I can see the Redskins buying into Robert Griffin III. However, I can also see Shanahan and Washington targeting Ryan Tannehill outside of round one, allowing them the chance to add a much needed offensive playmaker like Trent Richardson. Cleveland could be a home for Griffin III, but does he look like an ideal quarterback for the Holmgren visision?

We know the Seahawks have a different way of looking at the position to Shanahan, even if both teams are looking for similar functions (arm strength, athleticism, ability outside of the pocket). Seattle had Gabbert #1 on their board among quarterbacks according to our sources, but Washington clearly didn’t rate him. I’m guessing Shanahan would’ve loved to draft Jake Locker, but the Seahawks had him at #6 among quarterbacks behind second round picks like Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton.

If the Seahawks and Redskins are looking at different players in round one, there’s every chance they have opposing views on Griffin III too. In that situation, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility Griffin III could fall to the Seahawks.