Archive for February, 2012

Could Sanchez and/or McFadden be trade possibilities?

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Quarterbacks receive too much credit when the team wins, and too much blame when the team loses. Mark Sanchez's first 3 years are a monument to this truism.

Written by Kip Earlywine

Every now and then, Rob and I are privy to some insider Seahawks information from a proven and reliable source.  In the case of the Carson Palmer trade which Rob reported last year, he decided to go public with that information after confirming it with two NFL sources- but its worth noting that neither of those sources was our usual guy, and when Rob asked him about it, he never confirmed or denied what we had been hearing about talks between Cincy and Seattle last year.  I personally think there really was something there with Palmer, but because then first-place Oakland got desperate and overpaid after Campbell went down last year, we’ll never really know how accurate the information really was.  I bring this up because I want to defend the credibility of our source, who had nothing to do with that report- even if it ends up being true.  Pretty much every piece of information the source has given us has more or less been proven later.

This source has recently been in contact with Rob, who in turn has relayed some information to me.  Obviously, Rob and I are Seahawks fans first and we understand the importance of information warfare this time of year.  A lot of the stuff we have been told could do real damage to Seattle’s offseason plan if we carelessly leaked it.  But that said, we do have some insider knowledge.  Let me say right now that a Mark Sanchez trade is NOT a part of that.  We have no confirmation or denial that a Sanchez deal is in the works to Seattle, based on what we’ve heard.  However, Rob and I both feel that it is a significant possibility regardless, and worth discussing on the blog since obviously it would impact both Seattle’s search for a quarterback and the draft picks they’d have at their disposal in April.  Again, this is all speculative.  This is not a scoop.

Anyway, the last couple months have been pretty interesting for the Jets, to say the least.  They lost their last 3 games of the season to finish 8-8 after entering the season with high expectations.  Rex Ryan stripped his team captains of their leadership titles.  The Jets’ locker room became a poisonous caldron that could scarcely contain itself.  Jets receiver Plaxico Burress took what could be considered a passive aggressive swipe at his quarterback at an autograph session.  Reports of a feud between Santonio Holmes and Mark Sanchez were laid bare by LaDainian Tomlinson on a recent television appearance, though in fairness to Sanchez, many other sources have painted Holmes as a bit of a headcase in 2011.  I won’t repost the entire Tomlinson article above but here are some parts of it that I found revealing:

The Sanchez-Holmes rift was “as bad as I’ve ever been around,” LaDainian Tomlinson revealed in a television interview.  Tomlinson, the latest player to characterize the dissension-torn locker room as The Florham Park Zoo, said he’s not sure if Sanchez and Holmes can co-exist. The future Hall of Famer claimed the locker-room problems “got out of hand” toward the end of the season, adding that coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum fueled the mentality because they like players that speak their mind.

“You know, it was at the point where I think the players could no longer do anything about it. There was nothing that the players could do. So when it gets to that point, there are certain changes that need to happen. Can it be fixed? I think absolutely it can be. But they’re going to have to make some tough decisions.”  If he were the GM, Tomlinson said it would be a “tough one,” the decision on whether to keep Sanchez and Holmes together.

Tomlinson, reiterating what he said last Sunday on ESPN’s NFL Countdown, refuted a claim by one unnamed player telling the New York Daily News that Sanchez is “lazy.” But he did say the Jets need a backup to push him.

“I would say a bit pampered because he has no competition,” Tomlinson said. “He has no real threat to say, ‘This guy may take my job.'”

Tomlinson said Sanchez can overcome the turmoil, but “he just has to have pieces around him to help him get it done.”

The New York Daily News interviewed several Jets players and a “Jets source” last month, and some of the findings were rather shocking.  The “Jets source” did not seem negative towards Sanchez, but also made it clear that he would happily ditch Sanchez in a New York minute for Peyton Manning, even saying it was a “no-brainer” and that it would be “stupid” for the team to avoid trying for Manning.  Among players interviewed, the tone was almost universally negative towards Sanchez.  Not everything the players said is on the level- for example one player accused Sanchez of being “lazy” which has been widely disputed elsewhere.  It doesn’t take much time to read the expose, but in case you decide to skip it, there is one part that really jumps out to me:

Some in the organization told The News that many of Sanchez’s teammates have grown resentful [of Sanchez] for myriad reasons.

“They see the organization babying him,” said a Jets source. “They see him with a sense of entitlement. He’s been given all this and hasn’t done anything. They call him ‘San-chise.’ They make him the face of the organization. They gave him the captain tag. He’s not a captain. He should have never been a captain.”

None of the players who spoke to the Daily News for this story agreed with Ryan’s decision to anoint Sanchez as a captain.

It should be clear at this point that the Jets badly want to win the Manning sweepstakes and have both Manning brothers in New York.  Most league observers consider this unlikely.  However, given how incredibly damaged Mark Sanchez has become among Jets fans and players in his own locker room, it seems very plausible that Sanchez’s days in New York could be numbered regardless.  From perusing a few Jets fan sites, I get the impression that Jets fans are receptive to the idea of getting what they can for Sanchez and moving on, whether they get Manning or not.  And as highlighted above by Tomlinson, its unclear if Sanchez and Holmes can coexist in 2012.

That’s significant because Holmes signed a five year, $45 million deal just before last season, and he was owed a $7.5 million roster bonus of sorts yesterday, meaning that if the Jets cut Holmes now, they will be $7.5 million poorer than if they had cut him on Tuesday.  If the Jets were to side with Sanchez in their dispute and jettison Holmes, this would have been the time to do it.  The deadline came and went.  Holmes will now officially remain a Jets player in 2012.

Woody Johnson, owner of the most unfortunate name in history and also the New York Jets, set up a rather suspiciously timed face to face meeting with Sanchez- set for just after that Holmes deadline.  As Tomlinson alluded to, keeping both Sanchez and Holmes would be difficult; tough decisions will have to be made.  It seems distinctly possible that New York could be considering an early exit from the Sanchez era.  Even if Sanchez and Holmes mend fences, which both he and Holmes are attempting but seems unlikely, there is also the fact that Sanchez has a large amount of antipathy in his own locker room.  It could be an environment poisoned beyond repair.  A change of scenery might be necessary for both parties, and soon.  Regardless of whether Manning is signed by the Jets or not.

If the Jets are looking to trade Sanchez, it seems unlikely he’d get a huge return.  Sanchez’s image is pretty damaged around the league- fairly or not- and consensus (from my own research) seems to indicate that he would command something like a 3rd or 4th round pick in a deal.  Jets fans I’ve encountered seem pretty receptive to the idea of trading Sanchez and getting something for him now instead of potentially nothing later, and dealing Sanchez would also have the side benefit of taking them off the hook for his $14.2 million salary cap number in 2012.  Sanchez posted mediocre (though improved) statistics in 2011, and could be easily replaced by someone like David Garrard, Kyle Orton, or Jason Campbell without feeling much- if any- short term pain.  Dealing Sanchez quickly could also increase the Jets slim chances of landing Manning, and they are expected to at least try for his services.

If Sanchez is dealt, and it increasingly appears this could be a very real possibility, there is no more obvious destination in the NFL than Seattle.  Regardless of our personal opinions on Sanchez, he clearly fits the high upside low cost “value” acquisition Seattle has frequently targeted under this regime.  Guys like Mike Williams, Leon Washington, LenDale White, Kentwan Balmer, Marshawn Lynch, and Brandon Browner.  A lot of Sanchez’s problems could be cured with a change of scenery, being forced to compete for his job, having better teammates around him (both as players and as people), and being part of an environment that is friendly but also stresses accountability.  As we saw with White, Carroll holds his former USC players to the same standard as everyone else.  Playing as far away as possible from the New York media would probably help too.

Pete Carroll commented recently that he wants there to be a real competition at quarterback in 2012.  If all goes to plan, we won’t see a repeat of last year where Jackson was the unquestioned starter from day one.  Making this goal reality is harder than it seems though.  It would be difficult to achieve true competition through any rookie other than Luck or RG3, and as we understand things, the odds of either being a Seahawk next year are extremely slim.  Cousins and Weeden are NFL ready relative to most mid round quarterbacks, but its doubtful they would provide much of a threat to Jackson in August of 2012.  To make this statement a reality, they would probably need to add a veteran who is roughly the same caliber of quarterback as Jackson.  Orton, Campbell, and Garrard could be options, but Seattle showed no interest in either Garrard or Orton when they were free agents during last season, and the team made no effort to trade for Campbell which is saying something since the Raiders acquired him for pennies on the dollar from the Redskins.

Mark Sanchez has slightly improved every season, and last year, his overall statistics were pretty close to Jackson’s.  Their passer ratings were within a point of each other (78.2 vs. 79.2).  Jackson posted a significantly higher yards per attempt, (6.9 vs. 6.4), but its worth noting that Sanchez’s YPA was fairly robust early in the season before issues with his receivers developed.  Only 50% of Sanchez’s attempts to Holmes were completed (worst in the NFL among pairings with 100+ attempts).  While I would give the statistical edge to Jackson last year, you kind of got the feeling that Jackson was near his ceiling as a quarterback (at least mentally), and Sanchez is still improving despite having a ton of distractions and problems in 2011.

Further, Jackson was playing a game manager role whereas the Jets leaned on Sanchez to be a playmaker.  Sanchez had a 26-18 TD/INT ratio last year compared to a 14/13 ratio for Jackson.  It could be that Sanchez could benefit from playing in a less demanding game manger role in much the same way that Jackson did in 2011.

It should be noted that while Jackson was a very poor quarterback in the red zone last year, Mark Sanchez was the NFL’s 5th best red zone quarterback and led the Jets to the NFL’s #1 overall red zone offense, despite the fact that the Jets overall offense ranked just 25th.  Having a quarterback who isn’t afraid to make tight throws could help Williams and Obomanu bounce back after both felt the loss of Hasselbeck last season.

While it no longer seems that Sanchez is a sure-fire franchise quarterback, it is at least credible to say that he’d provide a very real challenge in August for Tarvaris Jackson, much more of a challenge than a mid round quarterback like Cousins or Weeden.  Its also possible that a change of scenery, a reunion with his old coach, and the motivation of having to “earn everything” (one of Pete’s slogans in Seattle) could help Sanchez blossom into a solidly above average quarterback.  And even if a Sanchez acquisition fairs no better than the acquisitions of Balmer or White, the Seahawks will have likely lost less in that deal than what they lost in Charlie Whitehurst, who to me was a far inferior gamble then compared to Sanchez now.

Finally, its worth noting that connections matter to this front office.  The team very nearly signed Matt Leinart last summer before he opted to play for the Texans.  Multiple sources told us that Seattle was involved in talks with Cincy regarding Carson Palmer.  The team signed Tarvaris Jackson in large part because of his connections to new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.  Even Josh Portis had some connections to Pete Carroll through his college offensive coordinator Walt Harris, whom Portis credits for developing him into a point guard quarterback.  Harris and Carroll worked together while in New York and both held coaching positions in the Pac-10 for a time.

There are three possible hangups to a deal.  The first is salary.  Sanchez is basically on a 2 year, $22 million contract and that would certainly have to be restructured.

The second issue is Carroll himself- has Pete Carroll forgiven Mark Sanchez for leaving USC early?  The normally positive and upbeat Carroll was visibly upset with Sanchez for the decision to go pro in 2009, after Carroll worked hard to convince Sanchez into staying.  Rob recently reached out to Scott Enyeart (a USC beat writer who also follows the Seahawks) and Enyeart mentioned that Sanchez was never as close with Carroll as he was with Steve Sarkisian and that the relationship between the two was fractured possibly beyond repair when Sanchez declared.

The third issue are the reports of the Jets cancerous locker room- how much of that is Mark Sanchez’s fault?  From the reports I have read, Sanchez comes across as a hard worker and a dedicated teammate, and I get the feeling that much of the discord is simply a bi-product of adversity coupled with a few big egos which have been poorly managed by the coaching staff- which is never a good combination.  Regardless, this is certainly something that would require looking into.

From the Jets’ side of things, they have given zero indication that they would trade Sanchez up to this point, but with the start of trade and free agency still five weeks away, it would be shocking to hear them say anything else, as it would invite an intense media storm at a time when the Jets can least afford it.

Is Darren McFadden on the trading block?

Oakland is entering the post Al Davis era in perhaps the most painful way possible.  The team’s new GM wants to install a west coast offense and a zone blocking running game, but the team is roughly $15-$20 million over the salary cap and only has only a 5th and 6th round pick to spend in the 2012 draft.  Despite the fact that Michael Bush is expected to leave in free agency, rumors are surfacing that Oakland could look to use star running back and former #4 overall pick Darren McFadden as a 2012 trade chip.  Trading McFadden wouldn’t just add some desperately needed draft capital, it would free them from the last two years of a 6 year, $60 million contract he signed in 2008.  McFadden was the first draft pick by the Raiders during Tom Cable’s turn at head coach.

Its not completely clear if Cable and McFadden would have mutual interest in reuniting though.  McFadden struggled in Cable’s version of zone blocking scheme and did much better after Cable left.  Still, McFadden is a very talented running back who could interest Seattle as a “value” acquisition, depending on what Oakland’s asking price ends up being.  I think Seattle would probably prefer to draft a running back instead, but its not out of the question that they could pursue a veteran to bolster the running game- if they feel the price is right.

Updated mock draft: 8th February

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

The Seahawks are looking for more of this

Drafting first round pass rushers has been more miss than hit over the years. Between 2005-2010, 24 first round picks were spent on 3-4 outside linebackers, orthodox 4-3 ends and specialists. This number doesn’t include interior defensive lineman or five-techniques. Of those 24 players, only seven could be deemed a success: DeMarcus Ware (11th overall, Dallas), Mario Williams (1st overall, Houston), Tamba Hali (20th overall, Kansas City), Chris Long (2nd overall, St. Louis), Brian Orakpo (13th overall, Washington), Clay Matthews (26th overall, Green Bay) and Jason Pierre-Paul (15th overall, New York). 

During those six drafts, a lot of the NFL’s sack production was found outside of the top round. In 2005, Trent Cole was a 5th round pick for Philadelphia and has since recorded 68 sacks for the Eagles. Elvis Dumervil was a steal for the Broncos in 2006 in round four and has 52.5 sacks in five active seasons (he missed 2010 through injury). Lamarr Woodley was taken with the 46th pick in 2007 and has 48 career sacks. The same pick in 2009 brought Connor Barwin to Houston (11.5 sacks for Wade Phillips in 2011) and Carlos Dunlap has so far lived up to some of his potential after dropping to the #54 pick in 2010 with 13.5 sacks for the Bengals. 

It’s not surprising that more players have been busts because that’s the way the draft works. However, a 29% success rate is a bit more surprising given the mass production teams have found in the mid-rounds. I would argue projecting defensive ends to the next level is one of the most difficult things to do. Sometimes you’ll see a guy dominate college lineman but struggle to have the same impact against the NFL’s best. It takes a combination of skills to be a productive pass rusher in the pro’s – in college sometimes it’s just requires speed. But as the Seahawks set about trying to upgrade their pass rush, it could be one of the riskiest picks they make in the Carroll/Schneider regime. 

There’s no rhyme or reason for successful defensive ends. Many expected Brandon Graham to have a big impact after a productive off-season that included a dominating Senior Bowl. So far, he’s been irrelevant for the Eagles – suffering with injuries and failing to make an impact despite Philadelphia’s bold move up the board to draft him. Carolina wasted a future first round pick in 2009 after trading back into the draft to grab Everette Brown. He had the edge speed and performance at Florida State, but was a bust in the NFL and San Francisco remain ever grateful for the first rounder. Derrick Harvey, Vernon Gholston, Jamaal Anderson, Jarvis Moss, Aaron Maybin, Larry English, Robert Ayers, Jerry Hughes – all players expected to have an impact, but became busts. You’re looking for strength, edge speed, a repertoire of moves or at least one move they’ve mastered, technique, leverage and hand use. Essentially, you’re asking for a lot. It still surprises me that a player who ticked all of those boxes – Jabaal Sheard – dropped to round two last April. 

Overall the 2011 group bucked the trend by producing a cluster of impact rookies. Von Miller won defensive rookie of the year for an impressive first season in Denver. Aldon Smith made numerous big plays for the Niners, while Washington’s Ryan Kerrigan also made the Pro-Bowl. JJ Watt and Adrian Clayborn both flashed at times for Houston and Tampa Bay respectively, with only Robert Quinn struggling to make an impression. Of the group, only Quinn relied mostly on speed in college. Perhaps there’s something to learn there? This week I’ve decided to drop Whitney Mercilus into round two for the first time in a while. He’s a player I’m still trying to work out, but could easily become part of either list – first round busts, or players who deserved greater faith after they dropped into day two. Expect further analysis on Mercilus before April 26th. 

The three pass-rushers likely to be on Seattle’s radar are Courtney Upshaw, Melvin Ingram and Quinton Coples. I suspect Upshaw would be the preferred option, but with all three likely to go in a similar range it could be a decision taken out of their hands. This week I have the Seahawks taking a chance on Coples – a player who divides opinion perhaps more than any other prospect this year. Some are intrigued by his potential and we saw at the Senior Bowl just what he’s capable of – he dominated throughout and was easily the best player on show. Others are suspicious of a senior campaign that was decidedly mediocre. 

Yet faced with a situation where both Upshaw and Ingram are off the board – plus a potential ‘wild card’ alternative like Trent Richardson – they may just roll the dice on adding to the small list of success stories at defensive end. Pete Carroll is a coach who believes he can motivate any player to produce results. This would be one of the greatest challenges of his career – and a lot of other GM’s and coaches are likely to be happy to give him the opportunity to take on this test. Upshaw is a complete football player in my view and while he may not have a ceiling to match other pass rushers, I expect he will have an extremely solid career with multiple 8-12 sack seasons. Ingram I’m less crazy about overall, but he’s also a unique prospect in many ways given his size and athleticism. Coples doesn’t just have the highest ceiling among the defensive players in this class – he also has a much greater floor if things go wrong. 

For the most part I’ve argued against Coples due to the scheme fit – an argument I’ve also made against Upshaw and Ingram too at times. However, it appears the Seahawks might be more willing to adapt their scheme than I first thought. That doesn’t mean completely abandoning their hybrid 4-3 system, but still incorporating new looks and being flexible with Red Bryant (if he re-signs) in order to create more of a pass rush. The Seahawks can’t keep relying on just Chris Clemons for pressure – and without a dominating three-technique, they may be forced to use a more balanced 4-3 front or consider more 3-4 concepts with two outside rushers. 

Coples would be a gamble, Seattle’s biggest risk/reward project in the Carroll/Schneider era. They’ve built a defense that plays with a brooding intensity – a young determined core of players who get under your skin. Coples at his best would add a touch of class to the team’s pass rush and could take the defense to another level. Yet Coples at his worst could undermine everything they’ve built so far. Carroll’s rebuild can’t afford to stall, the margins for error are huge. While this team may one day have to gamble on a quarterback, they could initially gamble on a defensive end. They have to hit on both. 

Updated first round mock draft

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
The Colts are cleaning house to make room for the Andrew Luck era. They might as well start talking about a contract now.
#2 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Take this to the bank – the Rams have to take Kalil. He’s too good to pass up. There’s enough depth at receiver to wait until round two.
#3 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
If Minnesota would’ve contemplated taking Andrew Luck at #1, why wouldn’t they consider taking RGIII here?
#4 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
Elite playmaking talent who will have an instant impact. Cleveland may draft Richardson here even if Griffin’s still on the board.
#5 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
You have to believe Greg Schiano would love to draft Trent Richardson. Cornerback is also a need.
#6 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
This would be a foolish reach but Shanahan wants his guy. If Tannehill really is going to go in the top-15 as speculated, Washington is the obvious choice.
#7 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
Assuming the Jaguars attack the market for receivers in free agency, Gene Smith could look for further protection for Blaine Gabbert.
#8 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
Carolina wants to use a lot of different defensive looks and Still is scheme versatile. This is a big need for the Panthers.
#9 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
Miami needs to improve their pass rush and if they aren’t tempted by Justin Blackmon, Upshaw could be the pick.
#10 Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
The Bills could be a wildcard and another potential destination for Blackmon. More than anything though, they need a pass rusher.
#11 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
Some teams will be suspicious of Coples, but Seattle has a Head Coach who believes he’s capable of motivating any player.
#12 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
The Chiefs could do with boosting their offensive line. They’d have the option to play Martin at left or right tackle.
#13 Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State)
Expect the Cardinals to pursue Peyton Manning. Whoever starts at quarterback, they’ll need better protection in 2012.
#14 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
Most people expect Dallas to draft for their secondary in round one, but the options aren’t great – unlike Brockers.
#15 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
Andy Reid doesn’t like drafting linebackers, but Zach Brown will start to rise up the boards very soon.
#16 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
This isn’t the first time I’ve had Blackmon falling a bit. New York could move up to make sure they get this guy.
#17 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
Slightly over rated, a technician who looks great on the move but lacks elite power at the point of attack.
#18 Cordy Glenn (OT, Georgia)
He could play right tackle or guard in San Diego. The Chargers will surely invest in their offensive line this off-season and could trade up.
#19 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
Electric receiver who would quickly become Jay Cutler’s BFF. Capable of having a big impact quickly.
#20 Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
Kenny Britt’s problems off the field and with injuries could push the Titans towards finding a replacement.
#21 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
Safety’s with Barron’s range are difficult to find and his 2011 performance warrants top-25 consideration.
#22 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
He provides a lot of positives in run support, but he struggles in coverage. Could drop lower than this.
#23 Dont’a Hightower (LB, Alabama)
I think he can play outside linebacker – and while Detroit maybe have bigger needs, this guy can help take the defense to another level.
#24 Kelechi Osemele (OG, Iowa State)
Played left tackle at Iowa State but will kick inside to guard at the next level. I really like this guy.
#25 Luke Kuelchy (LB, Boston College)
He’s under sized but what a tackler – he’ll get close to 100 tackles in year one. Has some limitations and he’s no pass rusher.
#26 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
The Texans saw life without Andre Johnson and might add another receiver as insurance.
#27 Peter Konz (C, Wisconsin)
Top-end interior lineman who could be the best in this class. Stuck out on a talented Badgers line and no surprise he turned pro.
#28 Doug Martin (RB, Boise State)
They’ve played for two years now without a running game. Maybe it’s time to go all-in on a running back? Martin is seriously underrated.
#29 Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
Sanu can line up anywhere and make plays. San Francisco use a lot of gimmicks and needs a sure-handed catcher.
#30 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
Cox looks like a pure five-technique to me and would be worth a chance here by the Ravens.
  #31 Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
A top-ten talent on the field, but an UDFA off it. New England are willing to take on projects like this (see: Ryan Mallett).
#32 Sean Spence (LB, Miami)
Underrated linebacker who makes up for great size with speed, instinct, tackling and elite recognition skills.

Whitney Mercilus tape review vs UCLA

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

A lot of people ask why Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois) isn’t universally ranked higher than the late first round. He was the NCAA leader for sacks in 2011 with 16 in total and this isn’t a great year for pure pass rushers. So what gives? He’s not listed among Todd McShay’s top-32 for the draft or his latest mock draft. There’s always room for productive pass rushers, which is why I’ve consistently ranked him in the 16-32 range. Yet I’m still finding Mercilus one of the toughest players to work out. What defines him? What is going to make him a force at the next level, or what will hold him back? I keep coming back to these questions and I’m still searching for the answers.

On the one hand you see a player very capable of beating a blocker around the edge. I like his competitive spirit and you’re going to get a player who will keep thinking of ways to beat an opponent. In the video above you’ll see an instance towards the end of the UCLA game where he’s taken out of five consecutive plays by the left tackle, but on the sixth he beats him with a side-step counter. He’s worked the guy out, found a weakness and forced the error. He looks like an athlete, but you expect that from a pass rusher listed at around 6-3/6-4 and 265lbs. Mercilus was clearly the most productive pass rusher in the NCAA in 2011, registering three more sacks than his nearest rival.

At the same time, far too often in this tape he’s being beaten by tight ends. If you’re going to draft a pass rusher in round one, surely he should be dominating college tight ends? It was frustrating to see examples of speed and tenacity mixed in with mediocrity as he struggled to shed a tight end protecting the blind side against Illinois’ supposed best rusher. That’s when the concern kicks in – if he can’t beat a tight end in the PAC-12, how’s he going to get on against pro-left tackle’s? Illinois mixed him around into different positions, had him standing up and with his hand in the dirt. He never looked truly comfortable apart from when he was rushing an edge 1-on-1 and he might be a bit limited in that sense.

I’ve seen better pure pass rushers not just in this class, but in other drafts too – yet none of them came close to getting 16 sacks in a single season. So what gives? Am I missing something here? Does he just have an intangible knack of getting to the quarterback – and if so will it translate to the next level? Or has he just had one tremendous season, perhaps with a bit of fortune, and now he’s going to make some money off the back of it? I’m pretty suspicious of Mercilus as a round one pick and would avoid him in that 16-32 range. Yet part of me is also thoroughly intrigued if he lasts until Seattle’s pick in round two. You’d almost have to roll the dice and take him in that range.

I don’t expect Mercilus to be an option for the Seahawks in round one with Courtney Upshaw, Quinton Coples and Melvin Ingram all more realistic (and predictable) alternatives. I’ll still be watching him closely at the combine and hope to see further tape in the future. It may take until April to work out just how good (or bad) he really is. See below for the tape review – the video was once again provided by JMPasq:

0:01 – 0:34 - In the first three plays highlighted in this video, Mercilus is pretty easily dealt with by a single block. At 0:34 he has to deal with a double team and again is kept quiet. He doesn’t flash violent hands or a lot of upper body power, he doesn’t tend to bull rush and he can’t punch a blocker in the chest to buy an advantage. In the first three plays he also lined up in different positions – at both left and right end, while also standing in a central position attacking the A gap.

0:46- This should’ve been a flag. He’s clearly offside and is still well blocked by the right guard.

0:52 – Takes on a tight end around the edge and although he forces the blocker backwards, he really needs to dominate that guy and make a play. The full back was behind the TE also in protection, but ended up just getting in the way and backs into the quarterback.

0:57 – Beats the left tackle for speed around the edge with absolute ease to make the sack. Initial burst off the snap is key, but quickly leans round the corner and the tackle cannot match his athleticism to recover. Good hand use on show to bat away the blocker, but would prefer to see a jolt into the pads rather than a swipe of the arms.

1:24 – Lines up in front of the right guard, but gets zero push. Stoned at the LOS.

1:34 – Standing up in a three man front but stoned by the right tackle immediately. Ineffective.

1:49 – Excellent play against the run. Knife’s through the right tackle who take a poor angle on the block and is quickly turned square to the right. Recognises the ball carrier quickly and explodes to make the play for a big loss.

2:15 – 2:28 – Well blocked on the next two plays by each tackle.

2:29 – Another impressive play against the run. Reacts quickest to the snap. Shed’s the initial block from the tight end before taking on the right tackle. His ability to beat the tight end and eliminate the edge forces the runner to check and he’s surrounded by tacklers.

2:36 - Good pursuit on the quarterback after initial block from the tight end. Perhaps could’ve disengaged from the block quicker.

3:20- This isn’t good enough for a first round defensive end. The tight end seals the edge and blocks Mercilus out of the play. The left tackle joins in for kicks, but in reality he’s taken out by a tight end. He needs be dominating guys like that.

3:29 – Again, caught up too easily with the tight end.

3:35 – Double teamed by the tight end and left tackle this time, but where’s the edge speed to punish UCLA for putting a TE on Illinois’ best pass rusher?

3:42- A third big play against the run. Illinois shift the line to favor the left, with Mercilus playing right end but lined up in front of the guard. He dodges a pretty basic block from the tight end who puts his head down and just runs past Mercilus, but he again explodes to the ball carrier for a big loss. The left tackle jumps to the second level too soon allowing Mecilus a free shot at the ball carrier. Not great blocking, not a good assignment, but sometimes you can only make the plays on offer.

4:03 – 4:16 – Well blocked on two plays by the left tackle/guard.

4:17 – Would like to give him credit for forcing the bad throw, but this pick-six is all on the quarterback. Terrible.

4:29 – Ineffective working inside.

5:01 - The most impressive play on the tape in terms of a pass rush. Mercilus drives back the left tackle with ease, dominating him at the point of attack and taking the quarterback down with a free arm. The tackle’s technique is awful and he’s all over the place, failing to get any hands on Mercilus who virtually carries him to the quarterback. But it’s the first sign of any real power to drive back a lineman and make the play.

5:48-6:25 - Better job from the tackle getting hands to the pads and keeping Mercilus out of the next five plays.

6:26- Mercilus counters with a side-step inside and a great double move shimmy to dodge the block, but he’s picked up by the guard and driven to the turf. Good evidence of Mercilus trying something after five unsuccessful rushes, thinking about a way to draw the tackle into a mistake. Equally good block from the interior lineman to protect his QB.

Mock free agency & upgrading at quarterback

Monday, February 6th, 2012

How will changes in Oakland, including Reggie McKenzie's appointment, impact free agency?

In the last week we’ve been discussing the very likely proposition that Seattle won’t be drafting a quarterback early this year. With options limited in the first round and possibly better value to be had elsewhere in round two, we need to prepare for another twelve months of quarterback game tape study and wondering when this team will end a 20-year drought to draft a quarterback in round one. 

Of course, that’s not to say the Seahawks won’t upgrade the position at all this off-season. In fact, I expect they will do somethingwhen free agency and the trade market opens in mid-March. Charlie Whitehurst is out of contract and doesn’t look likely to be re-signed. Josh Portis remains untested and an unknown quantity. It appears unrealistic that this franchise – being built around competition – would drift into next season with Tarvaris Jackson’s only competition coming in the form of a rookie and/or Josh Portis.  

When the Seahawks signed Jackson, they were clearly making the best of a bad situation. Matt Hasselbeck’s deal with Tennessee was tough to match given the cost, length and commitment. The Seahawks likely would’ve had to offer a first round pick to better Arizona’s advances for Kevin Kolb (in hindsight, that would’ve been a catastrophic move). Jackson had familiarity with Darrell Bevell and Sidney Rice, he had a point to prove. It was a low-risk gamble. Is there another low-risk gamble to be had this year? 

Jackson didn’t do enough during the 2011 season to warrant any great faith for the long term. His deal is very modest – he will earn just $4m dollars in 2012. The Seahawks have the opportunity to address the situation with a lot more time and preparation in 2012 and add a player more capable of providing a logical bridge to the future. Even if the Seahawks were open to drafting a quarterback in round two or three this year, it makes absolute sense not to throw them to the wolves. Sure – Andy Dalton wasn’t a disaster as a rookie. Here’s a list of the quarterbacks taken in rounds two and three in the five year’s prior to the 2011 draft: 

2006 – Kellen Clemons, Tarvaris Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst, Brodie Croyle 

2007 - Kevin Kolb, John Beck, Drew Stanton, Trent Edwards 

2008 - Chad Henne, Brian Brohm, Kevin O’Connell 

2009 – Pat White 

2010 - Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy 

In fact, in the last ten years only Drew Brees and Matt Schuab have become legitimate starters in the league having been drafted in the second or third round. Brees would’ve been a first round pick in the modern era, considering he was taken with the 32nd selection in 2001. While the 2012 group of quarterbacks aren’t directly related to the names above and therefore no more or less likely to succeed early, there’s no precedent here for finding quick starters in what we now refer to as ‘day two’ of the draft. Pete Carroll has been quite open about his shift in attitude towards quarterbacks starting early, but I don’t think he’s going to force the issue. 

I do, however, expect the Seahawks to still explore ways to upgrade the quarterback position and possibilities may arise during the free agency period. I don’t expect the team to make a big play for Peyton Manning and according to Scott Enyeart, there is no interest in Green Bay’s Matt Flynn. So where does that leave us? Let’s run through a few scenarios to find an option. It’s worth noting – by the way – that all of the following is pure speculation on my behalf to make a wider point. If any of the following does happen, it’ll be coincidental. Let’s refer to this as a ‘free agency’ mock draft. 

I think Peyton Manning will land in Arizona, Washington or Miami. The Cardinals have the edge due to the relationship between quarterback and coach (Manning and Ken Whisenhunt are friends), the possibility to recreate what the team had with Kurt Warner and the opportunity to compete quickly within the NFC West. Manning would see Arizona as a market he can work within – away from the pressures of playing in New York or having to compete with his brother in the NFC East for Washington. Miami could come into focus, but having failed to land Jim Harbaugh and Jeff Fisher in the last twelve months, what confidence does anyone have that they could pull off a deal for Manning? 

If Arizona lands Peyton, it would free-up Kevin Kolb - with the Cardinals using the option in his contract to get out of their commitment to the former Philadelphia Eagle. With Kolb now testing the market, he could be a realistic option for the Cleveland Browns. Tom Heckert – the GM in Cleveland – was part of the front office that drafted Kolb for the Eagles. He has experience working in a variation of the West Coast Offense with Andy Reid and as we’ve talked up all week – Cleveland may not have the opportunity to draft Robert Griffin III.  Although Kolb may be seen as ‘damaged goods’ at the moment, it’d be a modest low-risk move for the Browns with minimal investment – allowing them to attack the skill positions by drafting Trent Richardson and a receiver with two of their first three picks. They would still have the freedom to draft a quarterback later on if they so wished. 

This would leave Washington and Miami still potentially searching for a quarterback who can start in 2012. Although I wouldn’t agree with such a move, I’ve been projecting Ryan Tannehill to Washington in round one for a few weeks now. I have a lot of issues with Tannehill and think it’d be a foolish move, but he ticks a lot of the boxes Mike Shanahan looks for in a quarterback (better throwing out of the pocket, good on naked boot legs, strong enough arm, athletic). Having missed out on Jake Locker last year, will the Redskins risk going another year without making a splash? Without finding Shanny’s guy? I’m not so sure. 

So what about Miami? You’d expect Joe Philbin to show interest in Matt Flynn, although we have to acknowledge the Dolphins’ active pursuit of Kyle Orton before the 2011 season. That was a Jeff Ireland move – and he’s still part of the Miami franchise. They weren’t willing to bow to Denver’s demands at the time, but with Orton a free agent this year – there’s every chance they could reignite their interest. Flynn or Orton would be a difficult compromise for a franchise that looked to be at the heart of the Luck/RGIII battle for most of the season, but with three quarterbacks potentially off the board before they pick in the draft it might be the only realistic option. The Seahawks are still waiting to make a significant commitment to a quarterback in the Carroll/Schneider era, so are the Dolphins any more likely to search for a quick fix with a new coaching setup? And let’s not forget the performance of Matt Moore as the starter in 2011 – has he done enough to trump all other options for now? 

Flynn remains the intriguing one, mainly because there are two likely suitors in my opinion. Philbin/Miami is obvious, but nobody is really talking about the Green Bay connections in Oakland. Reggie McKenzie has cleaned house since his appointment as GM and will go about shaping the Raiders in his vision. Considering he was part of the Packers franchise from 1994 until the moment he accepted the position in Oakland, it seems likely he’s going to take some influence from the way things were done in Green Bay. With Greg Knapp back as the offensive coordinator, a west coast system seems likely. Yet McKenzie is faced with a difficult situation with no tools to work with. 

For starters, Oakland has no draft picks until the fifth round as things stand. Considering they lost Nnamdi Asomugha, Robert Gallery and Zach Miller in free agency, it’s likely they’ll get some compensation in the third or fourth round. However, it’s not ideal for a team needing to add talent and switch schemes going forward. What can McKenzie do to make a statement? Does he try to build around Carson Palmer, a player he has no working relationship with to date and no commitment towards? Or does he turn to Matt Flynn and try to sell him the idea of being the figure head of the Raiders rebuild? 

McKenzie could see the signing of Flynn as one of the few things he can control, something that will provide a tangible shift towards a new era. Palmer is a player he’s inherited – we have no idea what he truly sees in the former Bengal other than some lukewarm backing at his introductory press conference: “Now, bringing in Carson at the time the Raiders brought him in, to me, as a player, that’s a good move. I think he’s a good quarterback. Period.” There’s every chance he’ll bite his tongue and give Palmer the chance to succeed, but he’d also be risking his own success and long term future as a GM on a player he didn’t sign. So does he shuffle along, or get active? If they want Matt Flynn – or someone else – as their quarterback, it’s their prerogative to make that move and see what they can get for Palmer. Not much, would be the answer – given a disappointing 2011 comeback, 32nd birthday and a $12m salary in which $5m is guaranteed. 

Sometimes moving on alone is necessary, and moving Palmer for something even as miniscule as a late round pick would be cutting your losses and getting on with the job. It’d be painful for the Raiders fans and the team’s 2012 draft class considering the wasted first round pick, but if this team was truly committed to Palmer – they surely would’ve backed the man who made the trade? The appointment of McKenzie and subsequent removal of Hue Jackson as coach was almost an admittance of mistakes made in the midst of Al Davis’ passing. In trying to rebuild, all bets should be off for the new regime. 

So… Palmer in Seattle. Here we are again - with a real sense of deja-vu. While Seahawks fans will be forgiven for being underwhelmed at the prospect of Carson Palmer, for the price of a late round pick, would it not be an intriguing short-term move? Another case of making the best of the situation? To find someone a little more adept at leading a game winning drive in a tight contest? Someone who can get those extra 3-4 wins to put Seattle in contention for the playoffs again? In Jackson’s Oakland he was asked to be the difference for four quarters, in Seattle he’d merely need to be the difference in the fourth. 

Like I said, this is only a speculative piece. All of the scenarios mentioned here are just suggestions for what could happen in free agency. But it does show how the Seahawks could – theoretically – add a veteran quarterback to their roster who would arguably be deemed a superior bridge to the future than Tarvaris Jackson. Even if it’s not Palmer – you can make your own suggestions if you wish – I expect the Seahawks will do something in free agency to provide that extra competition they crave. It won’t necessarily be a blockbuster trade or the addition of a player like Manning (and we can debate the merits of that on another day), but I suspect something is going to happen. And there’s simply no getting away from the familiarity and mutual respect between coach and quarterback in this instance.

John Schneider: Seahawks ‘won’t panic’ at quarterback

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

Seahawks GM John Schneider spoke to KING-5’s Chris Egan this week (see above) and among the topics discussed, inevitably, was the quarterback position. Schneider again stated that the team are “not going to panic” when it comes to finding a long term solution and related to his experience working with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. He wants that type of franchise-defining leader, he’s just not going to force it.

If you’re a Seahawks fan pinning your hopes on this situation being resolved during the 2012 draft, it’s time to start preparing yourself for that not happening. This will be Schneider and Pete Carroll’s third draft with the team and it’s difficult to be too critical of their approach to drafting a quarterback. We can debate the merits of Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie Whitehurst and Tarvaris Jackson all day – but the fact is there hasn’t been a strikingly obvious option for Seattle to select a young replacement. Even with two first round picks in 2010, the Seahawks rightly didn’t spend either on Tim Tebow, Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy or any other quarterback available in that class. People often talk about Andy Dalton last year, but he is still a long way from proving himself in the NFL. Some of the issues that were obvious during the grading process with Dalton were noticeable in the playoff game against Houston and while he enjoyed a credible rookie year and deserves praise for his start in Cincinnati, I still believe the Seahawks were right not to draft him with the #25 pick.

This year Seattle will own either the #11 or #12 overall choice, but again they are faced with limited options. As discussed in this week’s updated mock draft, there’s a realistic chance that Robert Griffin III will be a top-three pick even without a trade. Minnesota coulddraft RGIII, meaning the Seahawks would have to deal with a division rival in St. Louis. That just won’t happen, and people hoping that Griffin will be Seattle’s quarterback of the future better be prepared to be disappointed. I also don’t expect the Seahawks to draft a player like Brock Osweiler or Ryan Tannehill in round one – even though I have a lot of time for Osweiler (and not so much for Tannehill).

Of course there’s always the chance the team will draft a quarterback in round two and that shouldn’t be ruled out. But when Schneider says the team won’t panic, he means it – even in round two. If the Seahawks see better value with a defensive prospect or a running back with that second pick, that’s the direction they will go. We’ve discussed Kirk Cousins on the blog a lot recently and there’s every chance he could leave the board in the second round – that’s the way his stock is going right now. Yet if the Seahawks have a firm round three or four grade on Cousins, it’s unlikely they’ll reach to fill a need – a move that would put undue pressure on Cousins to be ‘the guy’.

Both Schneider and Carroll have been pretty open with the fans in their assessment of the team and plans for the future. Last year the offensive line was highlighted as a target area for improvement, just before the Seahawks drafted James Carpenter and John Moffitt. Carroll has consistently talked up the value he places in the running game – and the offense has been built in exactly that vision. There’s no secret in Seattle’s preference for size in the secondary. In Carroll’s end of season press conference a few weeks ago, improving the pass rush and adding to the front seven was named as priority #1 and you can bet your house that’s exactly what Seattle will attempt to do during the draft. When the Seahawks are preparing to go big on a quarterback, we’ll have a good idea that’s going to be the case – even if it’s not spelt out in as many words.

It’s hard to argue too much with their stance at the moment, because Schneider is 100% correct when he says a bad quarterback pick will set the team back indefinitely and spoil the good work conducted so far in rebuilding this team. However, there will come a time when the position severely holds the Seahawks back (even more so than it did in 2011). That’s when the excuses and talk of patience will fall on deaf ears. For those reasons it wouldn’t surprise me if the Seahawks made some kind of temporary move to upgrade the position during free agency – possibly even via trade. I’m not going to suggest any names but in order to afford themselves time ‘not to panic’, it could be argued they’re going to need a better bridge option than Tarvaris Jackson. Finding a cost-effective upgrade prior to the draft may soften the blow when the Seahawks don’t make an early splash at the position – possibly ignoring it during the first two days.

Regular visitors know my stance on quarterbacks and personally, I think it’s fairly unacceptable that the Seahawks planned so poorly for life after Matt Hasselbeck and missed an opportunity to stay at the forefront of the NFC West. Of course, that wasn’t a mistake made by this current front office. Yet you look at the way the Patriots are stocking quarterbacks and being savvy about their situation – there’s a fairly good chance whenever Tom Brady does retire they’ll at least have a logical plan in place for the future. The Seahawks don’t have that luxury and even players drafted beyond round three will have to deal with a level of anticipation and expectation that a guy like Ryan Mallett or Brian Hoyer doesn’t have to cope with in New England. You only have to look at the way Josh Portis’ one good drive against San Diego’s back-ups in pre-season was received to understand the situation we’re dealing with here. Seahawks fans are desperate for the future at quarterback to be resolved. For that reason, Schneider and Carroll are right to act with some degree of caution.

Even so, the time will come when this front office has to be pro-active rather than reactive – and I’m sure they’d agree with that. I’m a fan of Robert Griffin III, but a deal just may not be possible if you’re attempting to trade into the top three. The team should avoid tokenism to appease a fan-base desperate for some hope beyond the Jackson’s and Whitehurst’s of this world. They should keep building the roster and not rely on one position to define the road to success. But they should also be ready to make the move that will define Pete Carroll’s third gig in the NFL, because it could also define his legacy. Let’s not forget that a player he’s particularly close to, who he recruited and anointed USC’s first ever freshman starter will be part of the 2013 draft class. There will be alternatives too and it may be merely twelve months of further panic-free scouting. After 19 years without a first-round quarterback, what’s a second complete decade between friends?

Chandler Jones (DE, Syracuse) tape review

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

Chandler Jones - a possible LEO pass rusher for the Seahawks?

In three years at Syracuse Chandler Jones only recorded 10.5 sacks, 4.5 of which came in an injury-hit 2011 campaign where he missed five games. The sign of an underachiever? Or maybe someone who’s best days will come in the NFL? There’s something raw and edgy about his play and as an athletic pass rusher in a class lacking a lot of top-end talent, he could be one of the players who’s set for a big rise after the combine.

At the moment he’s more of an athlete than a complete, rounded defensive end. He has a good frame – almost ideal for the LEO – listed at 6-5, 265lbs with a lean frame with minimal body fat. Jones doesn’t flash a lot of technical ability and certainly he doesn’t have a great repertoire of moves, but he doesn’t take many plays off and he’s shown enough speed off the edge to warrant consideration in the second or third round range. He’s also quite inconsistent as you’ll see in the tape, but there’s enough here to intrigue teams like Seattle who are looking to give their pass rush a shot in the arm and maybe fill the roll currently occupied by pending free agent Raheem Brock.

As with most defensive ends playing at this size, Jones isn’t an orthodox fit for 4-3 teams unless he’ll be working mainly as a specialist. At Syracuse he switched between taking snaps in space (LEO) and working in a three-man front and it’s good to see he wasn’t overwhelmed when Syracuse dropped extra players into coverage. He’s still a bit small to act as a pure end in the 4-3 and I’m torn as to whether he’ll fit at OLB in the 3-4. He’s not going to be a consistent run-stopper as you’d probably expect at 265lbs, but he needs to get stronger in the upper body and try to add an effective bull rush to his game. Too many times he engages a tackle and gets very minimal push. There’s also times – especially in the WVU tape – where he flashes well against the run and holds his position even when taking on two blockers. His technique needs a little refining overall, but there’s a lot of potential to work with.

Jones sometimes struggles to read and react, making the wrong judgement as the play unfolds and getting out of position. He doesn’t diagnose run plays particularly well, especially on the draw, but a player like this you’re really concentrating on his abilities as a pass rusher. He’s enough of a threat working in space to interest the Seahawks possibly as early as round two – and don’t be surprised if they spend their first two picks in this year’s draft boosting the front seven.

He comes from a strong bloodline – his brother Arthur Jones was a highly rated 2010 draft prospect who surprisingly fell into the fifth round where he was selected by Baltimore. His other brother, Jon, fights in the UFC. I’ve broken down select plays from the games against Connecticut and West Virginia below. Tape courtesy of MarioCLP and Aaron Aloysius.

0:01 – Good contact with the left tackle to jolt him out of position and force an inaccurate throw/ interception.

0:26- If you want to know why he might run well at the combine, this play shows what he’s capable of. Great hustle to at least try and get downfield to save the touchdown, but it’s the athleticism and ability to move with the play that’s most impressive.

1:01 – Handles the block well from the H-back and bursts into the backfield to help force a loss on this run play. This is the kind of thing you want to see from an undersized defensive end – making plays against the run and not just relying on their ability to rush the passer in space.

1:21 – The other side of the story, because here he’s knocked off his feet by the H-back who gets his revenge and takes Jones out of this running play.

1:29 – Needs to be stronger here to shed the block a little sooner and prevent the first down. Although he makes the tackle, he’s moving backwards throughout and needs to do a better job holding his position.

1:47 – A great play on two levels. Firstly, he deals with a double-team and this time holds his position to make initial contact with the ball-carrier. Secondly, it’s a really opportunistic play to strip the ball and force the turnover.

2:38 – Collapses the pocket forcing the quarterback to move, ending the play before it develops. Great first step inside and beats his blocker before shoving an interior lineman aside. Disrupts the play and deserves credit even though he didn’t get the sack.

2:53 – Needs to be stronger at the P.O.A. The left tackle is deep and almost standing on the quarterbacks toes, plus he’s slightly off balance having dropped a little shallow. A good bull rush here puts the QB in trouble, but Jones is stoned by the tackle.

3:02 – Superb combination of edge speed, burst and hand use – exactly what you want to see from a LEO. He beats the tackle with ease and leans around the contact, brushing the blocker aside before getting to the quarterback for the sack and forced fumble/turnover. He brought the pressure on a three man rush, dominated his opponent and again showed the awareness to go for the football as well as make the tackle.

3:56 – Again great burst on the inside move showing he’s not just an edge rusher. Great side-step to dodge the interior lineman while remaining balance and avoiding contact with perfect hand use. Just misses the sack but forces the QB to step into the pocket.

4:25 – Better against the run, holding his position then disengaging to make the tackle for no gain.

1:47 – The first real evidence on the two videos of a bull rush. Here he drives back the left tackle who is completely dominated and makes the sack on Geno Smith. Good pursuit, ideal pad level and leans into the blocker keeping one arm free to tackle the quarterback. Showing the ability to move inside and counter will boost his draft stock and prove he’s not just a pure edge rusher.

2:06 – Struggles to disengage the block but makes an instinctive attempt to tip the ball into the air using his long arms. This could easily have been an interception with a little more fortune.

3:24 – Too easily dealt with against the run. Gets his body into a strange angle and makes the job of a square-on blocker very easy. Needs to be more disciplined in this situation to hold his position, doesn’t always have to try and make the big play.

3:34- Why is he looking down at the turf on this play? Is he off balance? If he keeps his head up and sees the runner, he could’ve forced a big loss.

3:44 – Reacts well to the play and quickly changes direction to make the tackle.

4:38 – Is well blocked on this play, but it looks as if he just gets enough on Smith’s throwing arm to force an under-thrown ball for an interception. It looks as if there’s contact.

5:22 – Continued effort, the second defensive player to get to the quarterback here and again has the awareness to go for the strip-sack. The ball comes loose and it’s almost a turnover.

Why Doug Martin is an option for the Seahawks

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Doug Martin's style is comparable to Baltimore's Ray Rice

This week I mocked Boise State’s senior running back Doug Martin to the Seahawks in round two. The pick raised a few eye brows, with people questioning why the team would spend such a high choice on the position with Marshawn Lynch likely to be re-signed or at least franchise tagged before hitting the open market. I suppose it all comes down to the importance of the running game for this offense. Pete Carroll made it a priority upon his arrival in Seattle and it’s why he appointed Alex Gibbs and then Tom Cable to coach his offensive line and coordinate the running game. Carroll wants to run the ball, and run the ball with authority.  

The Lynch trade was an inspired move, collecting a legitimate first round talent at a bargain price. Baltimore coach John Harbaugh wasn’t being cute when he referred to Lynch as, “definitely a Top 2 or 3 running back in the National Football League.” He went on to collect 167 total yards against the Ravens after that glowing review. Yet consistent physical punishment comes with the position and it’s why so many backs lose their edge when they hit 30. We saw what the Seahawks offense looked like without Marshawn Lynch in Cleveland, and this front office is well aware that even the best laid plans can be spoilt. Re-signing Lynch is a must, but so is making sure their investment is protected.  

Doug Martin might not be quite ‘Beast Mode’ but he has a similar physical running style and a knack of gaining extra yards after the initial contact. You’ll see in the tape below that he’s also no slouch, with the ability to weave through tackles and break off big gains. He’s a compact 5-9 and 215lbs and enjoyed a productive career with the Broncos, scoring 47 total touchdowns in three seasons. A determined runner with good vision and a patient running style, Tony Pauline this week suggested he could be a first round pick, stating, “We continue to hear nothing but good things about Boise State running back Doug Martin. Several scouts have stamped Martin with a first round grade. And though a first round grade does not necessarily mean Martin ends up a top 32 pick, he won’t be far off.” There’s a very real possibility Martin could be drafted on day one.  

The Seahawks have so far used a change of pace back to spell Lynch and offer more flexibility on third down. Justin Forsett is a free agent, while Leon Washington’s role as a ball-carrier hasn’t truly progressed even if he still has a lot of value as a kick return specialist. It may be that if Seattle’s front office is indeed looking at running back’s early, they’d prefer a Lamar Miller or David Wilson to offer a different skill set to Marshawn Lynch. At the same time, the Seahawks had so much success pounding the ball last year and the concept of a Lynch-Martin one-two punch does appeal. It also gives the Seahawks options for the future, especially if they only re-sign Lynch to a one-year franchise tag contract. Miller and Wilson may only ever be supplemental backs, while Martin appears to primed for a greater workload.  

Of course, it could be a moot point on April 26th if Trent Richardson falls to the #11 or #12 pick. Depending on which defensive players remain on the board, Seattle could end up with the most dynamic running back combo the league has ever witnessed. ESPN’s Todd McShay updated his mock draft yesterday and had the Seahawks taking Richardson in the first round. McShay: “Richardson is a top-five talent but will likely slip a bit because of positional value considerations. Falling this far would be a surprise, but none of the teams in the top 10 have a pressing need at running back. If none of them ignore need to take the best player available, the Seahawks will feel like they’ve won the lottery.”  

I don’t expect Richardson to fall to Seattle, with Cleveland and Tampa Bay very likely suitors for such a talented player. Even so, imagine the prospect of Richardson and Lynch working together in the backfield. It’s an enticing idea, but an idea not too far detached from a Lynch-Martin combo. Believe it or not, the Seahawks may consider a healthy stable of running backs the next biggest priority after improving the front seven on defense. And while quarterback remains the team’s greatest need until it’s finally solved for the long haul, it could be a situation that’s at least improved before the draft even takes place.  

Doug Martin tape vs Arizona State, Nevada, New Mexico (2011) and Nevada (2010) courtesy of JMPasq and Aaron Aloysius  

  

  

  

Kirk Cousins tape review vs Georgia

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

This wasn’t Cousins’ finest individual performance, but he also played his part in a big win for Michigan State. There were several sloppy errors in this tape – he can’t afford to try to fake the throw over the middle by staring at the secondary and then coming back to throw blind to the right. It led to a big turnover in this game and he gave Georgia enough bites of the apple to win this one comfortably. Fortunately, the Bulldogs were equally generous.

However, there were also some key highlights – none more so than a superb two-minute drill to tie the game at 27-27 and take it to overtime. Poise, accuracy, the ability to make a play with his legs when offered the opportunity. That was an excellent drive late on to give his team a shot at victory.

The Seahawks may or may not have the opportunity to draft Cousins, depending on the grade they’ve given him and the area he leaves the board. The early second round may be considered too early, but he could easily be off the board before round three. In my mock draft yesterday, I had Cousins going in the late second round to Green Bay. Seattle will have to weigh up the direction they want to go in round two, but they could well decide to keep adding to the front seven and they may want to spend a high pick on a running back. They aren’t likely to force the issue at quarterback and overdraft someone – even in round two – when there are players higher on their board available.

Even so, Pete Carroll seems to like Cousins and he matches what the Seahawks are looking for in terms of a ‘leader’ at quarterback. His stock has risen during the Senior Bowl and while previously he may have been considered a probably round 3/4 pick, that now seems unlikely. I have Cousins graded as the #4 quarterback behind only Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Brock Osweiler. You’ll find the tape above vs Georgia in the Outback Bowl (provided to us by JMPasq) and the review below.

0:06- I’m torn between whether this is just a bad read and play call, or an exceptional play from Brandon Boykin. Credit goes to the corner, he spots this immediately.

0:28 – Great read from Cousins here, spotting the receiver dropping in behind the corner and noticing he’d be passed off to the safety. He leads the wide out nicely and this is just a really good play from the quarterback.

0:42 – Nice completion, off balance thrown to the sideline under pressure. Exciting for two reasons – one, what a fantastic rush by Jarvis Jones who would’ve been a top-ten pick this year. Two – for Cousins to generate that kind of velocity leaning back and with a hit forthcoming is impressive.

1:01 – Jarvis Jones. Again.

1:49 – Not sure what happens on this play. Good play action, good pass protection and the pass (thrown slightly behind, which is what needed to happen in that thick coverage) just seems to go through the receivers hands.

1:55- Dangerous throw down the middle, Cousins needs to avoid lofting passes too much in 2v1 situations. In that read, better to drive the ball and risk the incompletion than risk the interception by taking something off the pass. He tries to throw off the safety by looking to the right, but he can’t trust the fake. Bacarri Rambo doesn’t bite and jumps the pass – it could’ve easily been a pick.

2:24- Doesn’t notice the linebacker ready to jump the dig. Needs to be careful and identify the danger here, this should’ve been an interception.

2:40 – He’s starting to press with the score at 16-0 to Georgia and MSU struggling with five straight 3-and-outs. However bad things are going, it’s never worth risking a pick here and making it worse. Bad read, bad decision to throw into triple coverage. Must do better.

3:27 – It’s a sloppy route from the intended target, but also a bit of a wild throw from Cousins that almost led to an interception.

4:06 – Superb fake on the bubble screen, completely sells it opening up the tight end down the seam. Much better, intelligent quarterback play.

4:41 – Cousins threads the needle down the middle, dissecting three defenders to find the tight end. Nice, accurate throw with the correct level of touch.

5:02- Inaccurate pass, throws too high. Could’ve been costly.

5:58 – First interception, but it had been on the cards. Ill-advised throw to the sideline, not enough punch on the pass and easily cut off and returned. The big problem here is Cousins looks down the middle of the field on the fake, then throws blind to the right sideline. Being deceptive is one thing, but throwing bad picks that are avoidable is another. This was avoidable and if he makes the read before throwing, he avoids a pick.

7:23 – Better. Cousins anticipates the route and just allows that extra split second to let it develop – then throws a strike into the end zone. Ball placement was perfect, allowing the tight end to go up and make the play.

8:09- Play action before a bad read. If you freeze it at 8:11, what do you see? A wall of three red-shirts blocking off the inside route. Cousins forces it anyway, with the ball being tipped by one defender and caught by another. Alec Ogletree is a very good prospect at Georgia but this was all on the quarterback. He cannot make that throw.

8:33 – 10:02 – I wanted to highlight the entire drive which tied the game and took it to overtime. This is just an excellent two-minute drill, Cousins marching the team down the field with a combination of accuracy throwing the ball, good decision making and when given the chance to make a play with his legs – he took it. A clutch drive that deserves to be highlighted in it’s entirety.

10:15 – Jarvis Jones. Did we ever mention he’s pretty good?

10:23 – Another bad decision here and another pick. He’s throwing into a zone with two defensive backs and one receiver, and hoping for the best. That’s not a good read or decision and he was fortunate to get another opportunity to win this game.

Updated mock draft: 1st February

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Boise State's Doug Martin could be an option for Seattle in round two

This week’s projection is based on information accumulated over the last two weeks and continued tape observation. This mock best describes how I see things unfolding after the Senior Bowl and building up to the combine. Some of the picks will go against on my own personal grades, but I want to put down a mock I can return to after the combine to see how things have changed as we move closer to April 26th. For that reason, I’ve also included a second round to this week’s projection. 

I want to highlight the decision to have Minnesota take Robert Griffin III with the #3 overall pick. Last year, the Vikings spent a high first rounder on Christian Ponder and many people will disagree strongly with the suggestion they would draft another quarterback in round one this year. 

For starters, I think Minnesota’s situation has changed significantly in the last twelve months. When Brett Favre was quarterback in 2009, the Vikings came within a drive of the Super Bowl. They somehow (desperately) managed to convince an injured Favre to return in 2010 and the result was a bit of a mess. I firmly believe the Vikings thought they had a roster good enough to compete if they could sort out their quarterback situation. They drafted Ponder with the #12 pick last April, then traded for Donovan McNabb to be the bridge. During the 2011 season, Minnesota surely realised they weren’t so close to competing after all. They have an old and bad offensive line, they have no secondary and even the pass rush is looking long in the tooth. They lost Sidney Rice and became too dependant on Percy Harvin. Adrian Peterson was left to carry the offense and he ended the year with a serious knee injury. 

Having been so close to the Super Bowl, two seasons later the Vikings are pretty much back at square one. They need to rebuild

Really this situation isn’t too different to the one facing Carolina twelve months ago. Like the Vikings, in the space of two years the Panthers went from NFC challenger to picking very early in round one. When the Panthers drafted Jimmy Clausen with their first selection in 2010, they had greater expectations for the rest of their roster. When it fell apart to the extent they were the worst team in the NFL, they knew they had to start over. Faced with the chance to draft a building block, Carolina took Cam Newton first overall and Clausen became an after-though. Sure, Ponder was a much higher pick – but the situation is very similar. Two years removed from being legitimate NFC challengers, the Vikings are picking 3rd overall and they have a chance to draft their Cam Newton. 

You could argue it’s the team’s duty to build around Ponder and improve the offensive line, find him another receiver and piece together the defense. But here’s the thing: If Minnesota were picking first overall, would they draft Andrew Luck? Of course they would. Sure, they might see what they can get in a trade along the way – but like pretty much every team in the league they’d draft the big prize available at #1 this year. So if they’re willing to move past Ponder for Luck, would they do the same for Griffin III? 

Think about it – Minnesota needs an icon. Adrian Peterson may never be the same again after his injury, so what does that leave you with? If Christian Ponder reaches his peak, the best he can hope to be is Chad Pennington. Is that really what you want to build around? Instead, you could have Robert Griffin III. Start Ponder for a year or two as the bridge and take your lumps. Build around RGIII and give him the time to learn a pro-style offense. If Ponder develops in that time – superb! You have the makings of a nice trade with another team who needs a quarterback. If not, bring on the RGIII era. 

As the 12th pick last April, Ponder’s salary is just $10.5m on a four year contract. Tarvaris Jackson will earn around $8m for two years work in Seattle. There is no financial restriction here and Minnesota could easily accommodate both quarterbacks on their roster. Would it be different if they could draft a left tackle with elite potential such as Matt Kalil? Perhaps, but it’s almost certain St. Louis will draft the USC prospect if they can’t manufacture a trade with someone moving up for Griffin. Nothing is a guarantee of course, but I’m led to believe there’s a feeling among some sections of the league that Griffin III won’t get out of the top three picks. This maybe justifies why St. Louis are actually being touted as a logical trade partner. 

It wouldn’t be a major stretch if the Vikings’ draft board read: 1) Luck 2) Kalil 3) Griffin III. You don’t often get the chance to draft that early so you need to make those picks count. Are you really going to pass on a special talent at quarterback for Christian Ponder’s sake? If Griffin III is set to be taken in the top three picks, Seahawks fans hoping for a deal can forget about  it. The Rams aren’t going to trade with Seattle and if the Vikings do like RGIII, it’ll cost a kings ransom to move up. It appears defense will be on the agenda for the ‘Hawks at #11 or #12 unless a talented offensive player like Trent Richardson suffers an unlikely fall. 

Updated first round

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
The Colts are cleaning house to make room for the Andrew Luck era. They might as well start talking about a contract now.
#2 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
The Rams have to take Kalil, he’s too good to pass up. There’s enough depth at receiver to wait until round two.
#3 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
If Minnesota would’ve been prepared to take Andrew Luck at #1, why wouldn’t they consider taking RGIII here?.
#4 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
Elite playmaking talent who will have an instant impact. Cleveland may draft Richardson here even if Griffin’s still on the board.
#5 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
You have to believe Greg Schiano would love to draft Trent Richardson. Cornerback is also a need.
#6 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
This would be a foolish reach but Shanahan wants his guy. If Tannehill really is going to go in the top-15 as speculated, Washington is the obvious choice.
#7 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
He’s an enigma, but also a player some teams will love to take a chance on. Expect Jacksonville to sign receivers during free agency.
#8 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
Carolina want to have lots of different defensive looks and Still is scheme versatile. This is a big need for the Panthers.
  #9 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
Green Bay has a lot of talented receivers, Miami has Brandon Marshall. If Joe Philbin goes back for Matt Flynn, he’ll need targets.
#10 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
The Bills would be in a good spot here with both Reiff and Jonathan Martin on the board. Pick your poison.
#11 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
Upshaw won’t blow up the combine and that could put him in range for the Seahawks.
#12 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
The Chiefs could do with boosting their offensive line. They’d have the option to play Martin at left or right tackle.
#13 Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
With two offensive tackles leaving the board quickly, it could force Arizona to go for another need – pass rusher.
#14 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
Most people expect Dallas to draft for their secondary in round one, but the options aren’t great – unlike Brockers.
  #15 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
Andy Reid doesn’t like drafting linebackers, but he might have to. Zach Brown will start to rise up the boards very soon.
  #16 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
I’m not a big fan but the Jets need a receiver and Floyd just looks like a Rex Ryan type of pick.
#17 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
Slightly over rated, a technician who looks great on the move but lacks elite power at the point of attack.
  #18 Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State)
He was practically unstoppable at the Senior Bowl and teams will be looking at Adams as a potential blind side blocker.
#19 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
Electric receiver who would quickly become Jay Cutler’s BFF. Capable of having a big impact quickly.
#20 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
They need to improve their edge rush and Mercilus led the nation for sacks. A hard player to work out.
#21 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
Safety’s with Barron’s range are difficult to find and his 2011 performance warrants top-25 consideration.
#22 Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
Having added a running back, they now add possibly the best receiver in the draft class. Quarterback later on or in free agency.
#23 Cordy Glenn (OT, Georgia)
A senior bowl to remember will help promote his stock, but he got better and better as the season went on for Georgia.
#24 Kelechi Osemele (OG, Iowa State)
Played left tackle at Iowa State but will kick inside to guard at the next level. I really like this guy.
#25 Luke Kuelchy (LB, Boston College)
He’s under sized but what a tackler – he’ll get close to 100 tackles in year one. Has some limitations and he’s no pass rusher.
#26 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
Imagine JJ Watt and Fletcher Cox on the same defensive line. If they lose Mario Williams, they need to find a pass-rush replacement.
#27 Peter Konz (C, Wisconsin)
Top-end interior lineman who could be the best in this class. Stuck out on a talented Badgers line and no surprise he turned pro.
#28 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Great in run support but not so much in coverage. Green Bay would get value here but Kirkpatrick has a lot to work on.
#29 Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
Sanu can line up anywhere and make plays. San Francisco use a lot of gimmicks and need a sure-handed catcher.
#30 Dont’a Hightower (LB, Alabama)
A Ravens type of player if ever you saw one. He’s stout against the run but makes enough plays on the move to go here.
#31 Sean Spence (LB, Miami)
Underrated linebacker who makes up for great size with speed, instinct, tackling and elite recognition skills.
#32 Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
A top-ten talent on the field, but an UDFA off it. New England are willing to take on projects like this (see: Ryan Mallett).

Second round 

#33 St. Louis – Juron Criner (WR, Arizona)
The Rams make use of the depth at receiver this year and find Sam Bradford a new #1 target. 

#34 Indianapolis – Alameda Ta’amu (DT, Washington)
In moving to the 3-4, the Colts need a nose tackle. Ta’amu could go earlier than this. 

#35 Minnesota – Reuben Randle (WR, LSU)
Without a great offensive lineman or cornerback available here, the Vikings checkdown and go receiver. 

#36 Tampa Bay – Chris Polk (RB, Washington)
He’s not Trent Richardson, but he’s the kind of physical runner the Bucs will look for. 

#37 Cleveland – Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
A steal for the Browns who are slowly building a top young defensive line. 

#38 Jacksonville – Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)
The Jaguars double dip at defensive end and makeover their pass rush having added Quinton Coples earlier. 

#39 Washington – Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)
Getting a big target for their new quarterback would be a wise idea and Jeffery is good value here. 

#40 Carolina – Brandon Thompson (DT, Clemson)
Like Jacksonville, Carolina double-up on a big area of need. Thompson + Stills = scary. 

#41 Buffalo – Nick Perry (DE, USC)
The next best pass rusher on the board having added to the offensive line in round one. 

#42 Miami – Cam Johnson (DE, Virginia)
The Dolphins also need to improve their edge rush and take this rising senior with a lot of potential. 

#43 Seattle – Doug Martin (RB, Boise State)
The Seahawks know their offense is based around the run and they need to make sure they have strong depth at running back. 

#44 Kansas City – Dontari Poe (DT, Memphis)
Nose tackle is a position of great value these days and the Chiefs make sure they get a young one here. 

#45 Dallas – Jayron Hosley (CB, Virginia Tech)
Just a great playmaker who I suspect Jerry Jones will rate highly. He gambles, but he’s also exciting. 

#46 Philadelphia – Brock Osweiler (QB, Arizona State)
The Eagles always make sure they’re prepared at quarterback and Osweiler is underrated. 

#47 New York Jets – Jared Crick (DE, Nebraska)
This would be excellent value for a player with lots of pass-rushing ability. 

#48 New England – Joe Adams (WR, Arkansas)
Whoever drafts this guy won’t be sorry. 

#49 San Diego – Shea McClellin (DE, Boise State)
3-4 teams looking for an edge rusher will give McClellin strong consideration in round two. 

#50 Chicago – Jerel Worthy (DT, Michigan State)
A player who lurches between dominant and irrelevant, but it’s worth trying to keep the lights on. 

#51 Philadelphia – Lavonte David (LB, Nebraska)
Speedy linebacker who’s gaining momentum. Will provide some pass rushing threat. 

#52 Tennessee Mike Martin (DT, Michigan)
The tape says 100% effort guy with a lot of talent and teams will want him on their roster. 

#53 Cincinnati – Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
This would possibly be the steal of the draft. 

#54 Detroit – Chandler Jones (DE, Syracuse)
He’s raw and lacks technique, but there’s a bit of JPP about his style. 

#55 Atlanta Coby Fleener (TE, Stanford)
The heir apparent to Tony Gonzalez? 

#56 Pittsburgh – Bobby Wagner (LB, Utah State)
He looked good enough in the Senior Bowl to make it into the back-end of round two. 

#57 Denver – David Wilson (RB, Virginia Tech)
A running back with a lot of speed but doesn’t always make the best decisions. 

#58 Houston Josh Chapman (DT, Alabama)
The unsung hero of the ‘Bama defense. He played really well in 2011. 

#59 New Orleans – Stephen Hill (WR, Georgia Tech)
Huge potential in terms of physical quality and ability to catch the ball. 

#60 Green Bay – Kirk Cousins (QB, Michigan State)
The Packers are always one step ahead of the curve when it comes to quarterbacks. 

#61 Baltimore – Alfonzo Dennard (DB, Nebraska)
I’ve always had him in this range and don’t buy the first round talk. 

#62 San Francisco – Orson Charles (TE, Georgia)
The Niners can run a lot of dangerous 2TE sets if they draft this guy. 

#63 New York Giants – Kendall Reyes (DT, Connecticut)
He can do a back flip. He is 299lbs. 

#64 New England Ronnell Lewis (LB, Oklahoma)
I like Lewis, he’s just not spectacular in any particular way. Just a good all-round skill set. 

Just missed the cut: Vontaze Burfict (LB, Arizona State), Brandon Boykin (CB, Georgia), Harrison Smith (S, Notre Dame), Logan Harrell (DT, Fresno State), Dwayne Allen (TE, Clemson), Brandon Washington (G, Miami), Chase Minnifield (CB, Virginia), Nicolas Jean-Baptiste (DT, Baylor).