Archive for March, 2012

Dont’a Hightower (LB, Alabama) game tape

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

Luke Kuechly vs Mychal Kendricks

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

Courtney Upshaw vs Melvin Ingram

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

The Luke Kuechly debate & Thursday notes

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Luke Kuechly is the red-hot choice for Seattle if you believe the mock drafts. Todd McShay thinks so, stating, “Linebacker is among the Seahawks’ top needs, and Kuechly would immediately improve Seattle’s linebacker corps with his instincts, consistency, production and leadership.”

Rob Rang agrees, “Seattle doesn’t appear particularly concerned about the possibility of losing (David) Hawthorne or (Leroy) Hill to free agency. Perhaps that’s because they’re targeting the All-American Kuechly, who’d be an upgrade in the middle.”

So does Walter Cherepinsky, “Kuechly is the best player available who makes sense for the Seahawks. They’ll need an inside linebacker if they don’t re-sign David Hawthorne.”

It’s certainly true that linebacker is a top need, but whether it’s an issue addressed in round one is open to debate. The aforementioned Hawthorne and Hill remain unsigned despite limited interest in the open market. It’s still technically possible both will return to Seattle, but it seems likely the Seahawks will use the draft to upgrade. After all, Pete Carroll highlighted linebacker as an area for improvement in his end of season press conference. What’s more, this is a strong class at the position with strong depth across the first three rounds of the draft.

So are the Seahawks likely to spend their first pick on a MIKE linebacker? Not for me.

Here’s what I wrote in yesterday’s mock draft to explain my reasoning:

Improving the pass rush has to be the priority and that’s something Kuechly won’t do. He’s a pure MIKE who will make plenty of tackles at the second level, but isn’t going to cause too many problems behind the LOS. He added size for the combine (appearing at 242lbs) but is likely to have a playing weight of around 235-240lbs. That’s a concern and people wondering whether he’ll have a Brian Urlacher-type impact in the league have to remember Urlacher is 20lbs heavier. A better comparison for Kuechly would be Sean Lee in Dallas – a fine football player, but also the type that doesn’t cost a top-15 pick.

“Great leadership is another reason quoted to justify Kuechly to Seattle, but the Seahawks already have a vocal and emotional leader on defense and just gave him a $35m extension. While a hole remains at MLB, it’s also worth remembering that David Hawthorne was an UDFA and the front office did a good job plucking KJ Wright from round four last year. Without doubt the MIKE spot will have to be filled if no free agent is signed, but with prospects such as Mychal Kendricks available beyond the first round, there’s no real need for the Seahawks to avoid drafting an impact pass rusher with the #12 pick should the opportunity present itself.”

There’s a lot to like about Kuechly’s game. As you can see in the tape at the top of the article, he’s like a magnet to the ball. His decision making is first class, but he also has the pursuit to match. It’s no fluke he made 191 total tackles in 2011 and he’ll likely enter the NFL and just carry on where he left off. He’s a Field-Marshall at the second level, mopping up the work of the defensive line and consistently gravitating to the ball carrier. The comparison to Dallas’ Sean Lee is fair and just, flashing similar instinct and leadership while possessing the kind of attitude teams love. There’s a reason the Cowboys’ war room celebrated drafting Lee with such vigour, and I suspect whoever drafts Kuechly will have the same reaction. Simply put, a defensive coaches a dream.

On the other hand, there are some concerns. The size issue are unavoidable and while he’s a combative player who will consistently make tackles, he’s not a big hitter and won’t always stop the ball carrier on the initial contact. Will Kuechly be quite the same force in the much more physical NFL? He doesn’t have a lot of forced fumbles or game-changing plays and in goal-line/short-yardage situations he can be a bit of a liability because he’s just not that big. He has the speed and athleticism to be great in coverage and teams won’t have any complaints with the tape in that aspect. He’ll work well in zone, he reads the field extremely well and perhaps most importantly – plays with real control. But again, we haven’t seen many big-plays.

It’s hard to dislike a decision to draft Kuechly and there’s a very real chance someone will take him early. One team could buy into the idea he’ll be a safe, steady player for a long time. He’s the kind of prospect Gene Smith and Scott Pioli like to draft and could easily go at #7 to Jacksonville or #11 to Kansas City. Yet it’s just not a vital position on defense anymore. The introduction of mic’d up helmets has taken away the full effectiveness of an intelligent MIKE with a superb field IQ. One of Lofa Tatupu’s greatest strengths early in his career was the ability to read the offense and organise. Now, a coach sitting in a booth can tell one player on defense – usually the MIKE – what needs to happen. Players like Tatupu will soon be dinosaurs and it’ll just be another position for the bigger, faster player you can find. One of Kuechly’s greatest aspects – his ability to organise – won’t be truly maxed out at the next level.

It could also be argued that the number of difference makers at middle-linebacker in the NFL can be counted on one hand. Seattle needs a pass rush more than anything, and it’s something they just aren’t going to get from Kuechly. With so much young talent in the secondary and with some nice pieces on the defensive line, the Seahawks really need to find someone who can compliment Chris Clemons and get to the quarterback. While it can be argued there may be some defensive end talent in round two, there could be a late-first round rush on the position leaving the Seahawks with limited options. However, there’s unlikely to be a rush on linebackers and a player such as Mychal Kendricks could be primed for the team’s pick in round two. Drafting Kuechly at #12 would put a lot of pressure on Seattle to attack the second tier of pass rushers, something they’ll want to avoid if possible.

Above all else it just smacks of a luxury pick. Kuechly’s the kind of player most teams want to have, but most team’s will only draft him if they’re set at other key positions. Tony Pauline sums it up best in his pro-day round round-up for Sports Illustrated:

“Kuechly continues to impress scouts with his athleticism and quickness. The linebacker was swift today and looked better in pursuit drills than he showed at the combine. That said, most at the workout feel Kuechly grades as a late-first-round pick.”

Essentially, everybody likes the guy, but he’s likely to go to a competitive team that can afford to spend a first round pick on a middle-linebacker. I had Kuechly going to Baltimore in my latest mock draft- not because I don’t like him – simply because I couldn’t find a team that can justify the pick earlier. Denver are a strong candidate at #25, but may feel obliged to keep building their offense to suit Peyton Manning. I could still see Kuechly going in the top-15, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he dropped to the late first. And it certainly would surprise me if the Seahawks drafted him instead of one of the top pass-rushers at #12.

David DeCastro an alternative?

A quick look at the latest mock drafts on NFL.com show Charley Casserly, Chad Reuter and Bucky Brooks all projecting the Stanford guard to Seattle. There’s some logic to the pick, considering the Seahawks released Robert Gallery and haven’t been able to bring in a big-name replacement. They wanted Steve Hutchinson, but he signed a substantial contract in Tennessee. I like David DeCastro, even if I think he’s a little overrated and believe comparisons to Hutchinson are lazy. His best position might be the one he played at Stanford – right guard – where his technical quality and smarts against the run will be fully utilised. But the Seahawks spending another first round pick on the offensive line would be pure overkill and a move they’re highly unlikely to make.

Although talent will always be more important than anything else, consistency and familiarity are also integral when trying to build a succesful line. The Seahawks have talent and depth, including two first round picks, a second round pick and a third round pick on their line. That’s a sizeable investment so far, while other positions haven’t received quite as much love (namely – quarterback and defensive end). For the most part last year, Tarvaris Jackson stayed clean and Marshawn Lynch prospered. Seattle clearly likes Paul McQuistan, Lemuel Jeanpierre and Breno Giacomini while they recently signed Frank Omiyale for further depth. All are familiar with Tom Cable and the zone scheme the Seahawks wish to run, and that familiarity cannot be underestimated. Let’s not forget that the greatest offensive line in the team’s history included just two first round picks and the rest was built around two mid-rounders and an UDFA.

It’s all about weighing up what will make this team more successful. Sure, you draft DeCastro at #12 and maybe he does become a lynch-pin at left guard for the next decade (but that’s not a lock by any means). If the Seahawks start Paul McQuistan at left guard instead, will the impact on the running game and pass protection be significantly weaker in 2012? I’d argue not. This is a well coached line and I expect that’ll continue next year.

Meanwhile, if the Seahawks avoid improving their pass rush in round one, is a solution likely to be forthcoming later? Because the idea of the draft has to be continued overall improvement, not just plugging guys in who might stick around the longest. Maybe some people could argue drafting a Courtney Upshaw or Melvin Ingram is a little bit more of a gamble (I disagree, but I digress…) yet you’re still taking a chance to improve the overall quality of the team. Seattle needs a pass rush more than it needs another first round offensive lineman and I think Pete Carroll and John Schneider will focus on other areas for now. You can’t just keep pumping first round picks into one area of the team and besides – Seattle’s MVP for the offensive line may well be stood coaching from the sidelines anyway. That counts for something.

I want to see Courtney Upshaw work out

One of the consistent complaints I hear about Courtney Upshaw is the fact nobody has seen the guy work out. In fairness, he did perform at the combine - just not in every drill. He chose not to work out at the Alabama pro-day due to a minor injury, which is his prerogative considering he only gets one shot at this. He also knows that every scout in the league will be coming to watch Trent Richardson and Mark Barron, so delaying things a little bit isn’t too harmful in my eyes.

But one thing that’s also forgotten is that Upshaw did perform at the Senior Bowl - every drill. I’ve added a video from Mobile below which focuses on those work outs. I want to highlight two things. Firstly, the glowing review from Mike Mayock in the booth (the first few drills contain no volume, so don’t worry if you’re not hearing anything – it will kick in eventually). The second is a bag drill at 3:16 used to show a prospects quick feet and mobility. Upshaw is the last to compete in this clip (3:35) which also includes Melvin Ingram (the second to have a try). Anybody worried that this guy can’t move should take a look.

Updated mock draft: 21st March

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

The dyamic within the top ten picks is constantly shifting and could be manipulated further in the final month leading up to the draft. Four teams in particular will have a big influence on who the Seahawks pick at #12:

Jacksonsville Jaguars
The big question mark here is whether Shahid Khan will allow his GM Gene Smith to have full control over the draft. The Jags were right in the mix for Tim Tebow before he was dealt to the Jets earlier today. Smith hates distractions and Tebow – through no fault of his own - would’ve been the ultimate distraction. Having traded up for Blaine Gabbert a year ago, Khan’s interest in a local hero somewhat undermines the man he employs to build the roster. Is this a sign of things to come? Will Khan put pressure on his front office to go for a more exciting draft plan than Smith has used in the past? Or will the team’s GM be allowed to get on with the job of building around Blaine Gabbert and trying to make this a relevant franchise under a new coaching setup? It’s a bit of a mess at the moment.

Miami Dolphins
Speaking of franchises that are a mess, let’s move on to the Dolphins. Having struck out on Jim Harbaugh, Jeff Fisher, Peyton Manning and even Matt Flynn, Miami resembles an avalanche of destruction which will probably end up crashing into whoever has the misfortune to be the #1 pick in 2013. They have a new coaching staff, but don’t appear to have any ambitions to build around their vision. The quarterback situation is a joke and they may be forced into drafting Ryan Tannehill at #8 just to appease the masses. Ideally, they would’ve signed a player familiar with Joe Philbin’s system (Flynn), added a pass rusher in the draft and some more talent at receiver to take a methodical approach to rebuilding. They may well draft a defensive end anyway and look elsewhere for a quarterback (Brandon Weeden? Kirk Cousins? Brock Osweiler), but either way expect the Dolphins to get this wrong. A precedent has been set.

Carolina Panthers
Defense has to be the order of the day in Carolina, to support an offense led by blossoming superstar Cam Newton. Ron Rivera could sample with 3-4 looks in 2012 before making the permanent switch, putting scheme-flexible players like Dontari Poe and Fletcher Cox on the radar. Poe could easily line up at three-technique and could shed weight to play the position, but at 345lbs he’s also that rare athletic nose tackle teams drool over. Cox’s best fit is at the five-technique but can play some interior rush – although his run defense isn’t ideal playing inside in the 4-3. More importantly in terms of the impact on Seattle, let’s not rule out the Panthers drafting another pass rusher. Even with bigger needs at tackle and cornerback, Quinton Coples and Melvin Ingram are both local guys who could be on Carolina’s (and Seattle’s) radar.

Buffalo Bills
It’s fair to say the Bills’ threat to Seattle is diminishing and they won’t be competing for the same prospects. Signing Mario Williams to a mega-deal made it less likely Buffalo would add a pass rusher at #10, but the news today that Mark Anderson has agreed a four-year contract with the team shows that the draft priorities will lie elsewhere. It’s impossible to look beyond the offensive line and they’ll have a shot at the #2 ranked offensive tackle after Matt Kalil. Riley Reiff and Jonathan Martin are both good fits. The Bills have offered a contract to Demetrius Bell – the team’s starting left tackle in 2011. However, the offer comes a week into free agency and hasn’t been accepted to date, which suggests Buffalo are ready to look at alternatives. And let’s be honest here, what’s the point in having a great pass rush if your own quarterback is being equally pressured by much weaker opponents?

So what about the Seahawks?
By adding Matt Flynn and Jason Jones, it’s very clear what Pete Carroll and John Schneider are looking to get out of this draft. They still need a pass rushing compliment to Chris Clemons (the defense will never reach elite status without a much improved pass rush), they need to fill two holes at linebacker (although it’s still possible they could re-sign David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill) and finding a quality partner for Marshawn Lynch in the running game is a must. With a month to go, I fully expect the Seahawks to target a combination of – DE, LB, RB – in the first three rounds.

The popular choice for Seattle in a lot of mock drafts at the moment is Luke Kuechly, but I’m not buying into that. For starters, improving the pass rush has to be the priority and that’s something Kuechly won’t do. He’s a pure MLB who will make plenty of tackles at the second level, but isn’t going to cause too many problems behind the LOS. He added size for the combine (appearing at 242lbs) but is likely to have a playing weight of around 235-240lbs. That’s a concern and people wondering whether he’ll have a Brian Urlacher-type impact in the league have to remember Urlacher is 20lbs heavier. A better comparison for Kuechly would be Sean Lee in Dallas – a fine football player, but also the type that doesn’t cost a top-15 pick.

Great leadership is another reason quoted to justify Kuechly to Seattle, but the Seahawks already have a vocal and emotional leader on defense and just gave him a $35m extension. While a hole remains at MLB, it’s also worth remembering that David Hawthorne was an UDFA and the front office did a good job plucking KJ Wright from round four last year. Without doubt the MIKE spot will have to be filled if no free agent is signed, but with prospects such as Mychal Kendricks available beyond the first round, there’s no real need for the Seahawks to avoid drafting an impact pass rusher with the #12 pick should the opportunity present itself.

As for Seattle’s choice in this week’s mock, Quinton Coples gets the nod with Courtney Upshaw and Melvin Ingram off the board. Some team’s will avoid Coples due to his disappointing senior tape and the question marks that come with that. Other’s will believe they can tap into his upside and get the best out of an undoubted physical talent. Pete Carroll is the kind of coach that will thrive on a challenge like that. However, some teams out there are concerned about his run defense and for the Seahawks to invest their faith in the UNC lineman, they’d need to see that as an area he can improve.

Updated first round mock draft

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
The inevitable.
#2 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
The inevitable part II.
#3 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Minnesota won’t waste any time calling Kalil’s name. He has elite potential. The inevitable part III.
#4 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
The Browns have to find someone on offense to build around. Richardson would be the wise choice here.
#5 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
The biggest spenders in free agency, Tampa Bay could still use a stud cornerback.
 
#6 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
The Rams know this is now a three-draft plan so they need to take whoever is highest on their board with this pick.
#7 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
If Gene Smith is still calling the shots by April 26th, Upshaw is the kind of player he likes to draft
#8 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
Is this Plan C? Or are we further down the alphabet by now?
#9 Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
Carolina could consider adding another pass rusher here before drafting for DT and CB.
#10 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
The Bills are going to draft an offensive lineman here, the only question is which one will they choose?
#11 Dontari Poe (DT, Memphis)
Nose tackles who weigh 345lbs and move as well as this guy don’t last long in round one.
#12 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
Pete Carroll would certainly back himself to get the best out of Coples, but some teams are concerned about his run defense.
#13 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Whoever is playing quarterback for Arizona next year, the Cardinals simply must draft an offensive tackle.
#14 Cordy Glenn (OT, Georgia)
The moves made in free agency will allow the Cowboys to target Cordy Glenn or David DeCastro at this spot.
#15 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
One team will fall for Cox’s athleticism and ensure he’s taken early in the first round.
#16 Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)
A potential riser as we get closer to the draft, Curry could go earlier than this even.
#17 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
Cincinnati will want to make sure one of their first round picks is a corner, but DeCastro is hard to pass here.
#18 Dont’a Hightowe (OLB, Alabama)
With the top offensive lineman leaving the board before the #18 pick, San Diego may fill another big need here.
#19 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
Trading for Brandon Marshall will allow Chicago to concentrate on the best lineman available at this spot.
#20 Peter Konz (OC, Wisconsin)
There’s always a shock in round one. Konz is good enough to justify a pick this early and will play in the league for a decade.
#21 Stephon Gilmore (CB, South Carolina)
Gilmore’s performance at the combine has seemingly done enough to cement his place in the top-25 picks.
#22 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
Cleveland needs to keep adding playmakers and could see Wright as a nice compliment to Greg Little.
#23 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
The Lions have built up their interior defensive line, but could look to add another edge rusher here.
#24 Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State)
There are some legitimate concerns about Adams’ play, but Pittsburgh may take a chance.
#25 Doug Martin (RB, Boise State)
This is now the Peyton Manning show, and he needs a running back who does it all, including catch the ball and pass-protect.
#26 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
There are still some lingering question marks about his character that could limit his stock in round one.
#27 Stephen Hill (WR, Georgia Tech)
Josh McDaniels saw something in Demaryius Thomas. He could make a strong case for another Georgia Tech wide receiver.
#28 Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
The Packers are running out of options to improve their pass rush and could consider Branch in this situation.
#29 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Having attacked the receiver market in free agency, San Fran could draft Kirkpatrick to play corner or safety.
#30 Luke Kuechly (LB, Boston College)
A smart, blue collar player who will have a solid career. But he falls because how many teams drastically need a 240lbs MLB?
#31 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
His ability to line up in multiple spots could attract the Patriots, who are looking for more pass rush.
#32 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
Brown is full of potential and could go earlier than this. New York would be a nice landing spot.

Round two

#33 St. Louis – Kevin Zeitler (OG, Wisconsin)
#34 Indianapolis – Coby Fleener (TE, Stanford)
#35 Minnesota – Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
#36 Tampa Bay – Bobby Wagner (LB, Utah State)
#37 Cleveland – Nick Perry (DE, USC)
#38 Jacksonville – Reuben Randle (WR, LSU)
#39 St. Louis – Jerel Worthy (DT, Michigan State)
#40 Carolina – Jayron Hosley (CB, Virginia Tech)
#41 Buffalo – Ronnell Lewis (LB, Oklahoma)
#42 Miami – Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
#43 Seattle – Mychal Kendricks (LB, California)
#44 Kansas City – Kelechi Osemele (OG, Iowa State)
#45 Dallas – Jared Crick (DE, Nebraska)
#46 Philadelphia – Bobby Massie (OT, Ole Miss)
#47 New York Jets – Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)
#48 New England – Shea McClellin (DE, Boise State)
#49 San Diego – Brandon Brooks (OG, Miami OH)
#50 Chicago – Chandler Jones (DE, Syracuse)
#51 Philadelphia – Brock Osweiler (QB, Arizona State)
#52 Tennessee – Kendall Reyes (DT, Connecticut)
#53 Cincinnati – Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
#54 Detroit – Brandon Boykin (CB, Georgia)
#55 Atlanta – Josh Robinson (CB, UCF)
#56 Pittsburgh – Casey Heyward (CB, Vanderbilt)
#57 Denver – Brandon Thompson (DT, Clemson)
#58 Houston – Josh Chapman (DT, Alabama)
#59 New Orleans – VOID
#60 Green Bay – Brandon Weeden (QB, Oklahoma State)
#61 Baltimore – Harrison Smith (S, Notre Dame)
#62 San Francisco – Dwayne Allen (TE, Clemson)
#63 New York Giants – David Wilson (RB, Virginia Tech)
#64 New England – Lavonte David (LB, Nebraska)

Why Shea McClellin could make sense for Seattle

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Written by Kip Earlywine

(Be sure to check out Rob’s review of Ronnell Lewis if you haven’t already.)

Seattle has been pretty up front about their goals this offseason.  Namely, they want to improve the pass rush and add speed at linebacker.  Two-thirds of Seattle’s linebacker corps are currently free agents who may not return.  Seattle wants to “get faster” at linebacker after all, and it would be hard to do that starting the same trio as last year.  This is where a player like Shea McClellin could be particularly intriguing to Seattle, but before I talk about him, I think its important to discuss Seattle’s options.  Thankfully, there are many.

We are almost a full week into 2012′s NFL free agency period, and only one single high profile linebacker has signed with a team (Steven Tulloch), which was literally announced right as I began writing this.  This speaks to just how greatly the NFL has devalued 4-3 linebackers.  David Hawthorne, Leroy Hill, and Curtis Lofton are all still available as of this writing.  Pete Carroll chimed in the other day with his own theory for the lack of earnest pursuit:

“There are close to 12 draftables with good grades which hurts vets looking for deals”

While things could still happen in free agency (with the Matt Flynn and Zach Miller signings being evidence that anything can happen at any time), you can’t help but wonder if Seattle isn’t planning to shun free agency and instead add not one but multiple linebackers in the draft.  This may especially be true if Seattle signs Michael Bush, which would narrow down their draft priorities considerably.

Rob and I have highlighted a couple of obvious speedy linebacker options like Zach Brown and Mychal Kendricks.  We’ll continue to dig through the draft and try to identify as many of Carroll’s twelve as we can over the next month or so.  Today, I’ll start with a dark horse 4-3 linebacker candidate who’s versatility could be very interesting to Seattle: Boise State’s defensive end Shea McClellin.

McClellin starred at defensive end for Boise State, but many draft sites now list him as an outside linebacker.  An explanation might be found in Rob Rang’s post senior bowl observations:

“McClellin accepted the invitation to the Senior Bowl, anticipating he would remain at [defensive end] but perhaps see some time at linebacker. Instead, he has worked almost exclusively at linebacker, taking virtually every snap Wednesday on the weak side and proving his versatility and draft grade are perhaps significantly underrated.

McClellin showed off his potential at his new position early on, demonstrating surprisingly quick feet and balance during bag drills. More important, he made some of the more impressive plays of the day during scrimmages.

Proving much more comfortable than expected considering his lack of experience at the position, McClellin showed good diagnosis skills, quickly attacking gaps in the running game. He took on blocks aggressively, using his long, strong arms to quickly disengage as well as the flexibility and awareness to keep his feet free from the mass of humanity surrounding him near the line of scrimmage. Though not allowed to take ball carriers to the ground during practice, McClellin closed quickly and wrapped up securely before releasing them to finish their runs.

As impressive as McClellin was defending the run, it was his surprising agility and awareness in coverage that caught some by surprise.”

McClellin’s natural ability at linebacker caught many by surprise, but further investigation reveals that maybe it shouldn’t have.  Boise State was known to use McClellin in a versatile manner during his time there, and wouldn’t you know it, McClellin played linebacker in High School.

Its not every day you see a defensive end impress scouts as a weak side coverage linebacker.  McClellin’s combine numbers further added to the intrigue.  Rob Rang once again:

“[McClellin's] workout certainly showed off the straight-line speed (4.63) and change-of-direction skills (7.07 seconds in the three-cone drills) to handle this conversion. McClellin’s speed, in fact, would have ranked him fourth among the 29 linebackers tested at the Combine — and this is after measuring in at 6-3, 260 pounds.”

Having scouted him in a couple of games, I’m personally not the biggest fan of McClellin as a pure defensive end.  He looked average in most ways but made up for it with a high motor and relentless pursuit.  He was a great football player with questionable tools to star at defensive end at the next level- he reminded me a bit of Grant Wistrom.  If drafted purely as a defensive end, I’d probably give him a 4th round grade.

But if McClellin’s Senior Bowl performance and Combine numbers are to believed, he’d be one of the fastest linebackers in the draft after Brown and Kendricks leave the board.  He’d also have the versatility to lineup at defensive end of course.  That could score McClellin bonus points for our front office, as they are looking for players that have versatility. Our defense could use the flexibility in game situations where defensive substitutions are impossible (hurry up offense, etc).  We’ve already seen some evidence of this as Seattle signed Jason Jones for his ability to handle looks at both defensive tackle and defensive end.  If Seattle could get a speedy linebacker who can put a hand in the dirt too, that would be close to a best case scenario, even moreso if for some reason Seattle does not select a pass rusher in round one.

I don’t know how Seattle grades the linebackers, but it would not completely shock me if they have McClellin even higher than a guy like Mychal Kendricks.  Kedricks is a very good player with a ton of speed, but McClellin is bigger and faster than KJ Wright, looks natural at the WILL spot, and comes with impressive pass rush versatility.  McClellin’s stock is rising, and he’s certainly worth keeping an eye on as the draft nears the 43rd pick.  As one NFL scout said when talking to Rang:  “Don’t write too much about the guy, we’ve been on him all year long and don’t want others jumping on him now.”

Ronnell Lewis (DE/OLB, Oklahoma) review

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Lewis will have to change position but could be an effective WILL linebacker

In the lead-up to the draft we’re going to look at some of the linebacker prospects that could be on Seattle’s radar beyond after round one. The Seahawks are looking for more speed in the front seven and with David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill both free agents, linebacker could become a key need. We started this series with California’s Mychal Kendricks  and today we’ll look at Oklahoma’s Ronnell Lewis.  

Game tape vs Texas  

  

Game tape vs Nebraska  

  

Lewis comes into the NFL with a few concerns. He has some injury history including persistent back problems, minor knee surgery and having to be carted off in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl with a neck injury. The coaches at Oklahoma recommended he turned pro after an academic-related suspension for missing class. This goes alongside more favorable reviews about his leadership and a style of play that earned the nickname ‘the hammer’.  

Oklahoma predominantly used Lewis as a pass rusher, often lining him up on the edge of a four-man front of even in certain three-man looks. At 6-2 and 253lbs he’s going to have to transition to OLB – probably as a WILL in the 4-3 – but an impressive 36 reps of the bench press in Indianapolis shows he has more strength than his frame would suggest. His surprising strength will help avoid being engulfed by blockers at the next level and 4.68 speed will help when rushing the passer. Generally, he’s a thoroughly modern defensive prospect who can line up in many different positions to have an impact.  

The element of mystery comes with the fact he’ll transition to a new position at the next level, so judging him as a pass rusher makes a definite grade tough to come by. He’ll need quick instincts to play linebacker and generally looking at the tape there’s room for improvement. He’s more of a ‘pin your ears’ back type and when he is asked to make a judgement to react to the ball carrier or to help set the edge rather than dip inside, he’s sometimes on his heels or dwelling a little longer than preferable to make the right call. He makes up for it with raw athleticism, but to avoid being a liability at the next level he needs to show a natural field IQ – something Mychal Kendricks scores very highly on.  

He appears quickly in pursuit when asked to chase the ball so playing from a deeper position may afford him the opportunity to flash greater instinct as things develop. Kendricks benefits greatly from avoiding the cluster of bodies at the LOS, identifying a gap and exploding. Lewis’ combination of speed, strength and hard hitting may make for an even better overall package – and he’s flashed a greater playmaking knack during his career with the Sooners that could translate even more to the OLB position.  

Lewis’ tackling ability is first rate and he’s a secure, wrap-up tackler who has the wide base and power you want to see for the position. His nickname is well earned and with extra time to let the plays unfold, he could become quite a feared player in the second level and in underneath coverage. He’s a little tight in the hips which will limit his effectiveness in coverage especially in the slot, but he’ll also suffer slightly in 1vs1 situations in the open field.  

The one thing he brings to the table that the likes of Kendricks, Keenan Robinson and others don’t is proven pass-rushing quality. We’ve seen the guy playing defensive end for a powerhouse school and be effective. Whoever drafts Lewis will feel confident using him at the LOS on third downs and will create packages to get him pressuring the QB in obvious passing situations. He could develop into a Julian Peterson-style rusher eventually and while Peterson entered the league much more polished overall, Lewis has the same kind of tools for third-down play calls. I like the fact he isn’t totally reliant on the edge rush and will dip inside and look to keep a tackle guessing. If the Seahawks are looking for a linebacker with experience as a pass-rusher, Lewis has that – even if the need to transition will make him more of a project than other featured players.

Seattle’s draft intentions clearer after Flynn signing

Monday, March 19th, 2012

This beard will soon be appearing in the Pacific North West

Seattle’s off-season game-plan becomes clearer by the day.    

The latest move to sign Matt Flynn on a deal reportedly worth anywhere between $19-26m with $10m guaranteed provides the team with the competition it craves at quarterback. It also allows the Seahawks to move forward without persistent questions over the team’s direction at the position. Pete Carroll and John Schneider can avoid selecting a quarterback in the first two rounds of the draft – minus the scrutiny.    

It’s not a difficult conclusion to come to. In two seperate interviews at the end of the season (one with KING-5′s Chris Egan, the other with Clare Farnsworth) Schneider prepared the fans for what was to come. “I just know if you panic at the position, it can set the organization back. So we’re not going to do that. That may disappoint fans, because they want to see an instant guy and have that instant success. But really, you’re better off continuing to build your team.”    

The Seahawks certainly didn’t panic in free agency. They allowed the market to develop, initially arranging visits with Chad Henne (who signed for the Jaguars) and Flynn – who spent a night in Seattle and conducted a work-out for the team during his stay. No contract was offered as the 2008 BCS Championship MVP flew to Miami to meet Joe Philbin, his former coach in Green Bay. As the mist cleared – and as news broke that the Dolphins were hosting Alex Smith – Seattle’s patience paid off. A modest contract was agreed that will secure a camp battle between two quarterbacks who may never become the team’s long term franchise player, but they’ll at least be competing to get there. Nice work.    

That level of patience will continue into the draft. As Schneider admits, if you don’t see the answer available, “really, you’re better off continuing to build your team.” While the Seahawks will undoubtedly have interest in several quarterback prospects in this class, the level of interest may not match-up to the team’s long term goals. Sure, they may have a lot of time for Brock Osweiler, Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson (for example). That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re willing to draft one of them in the first two rounds.    

So the Seahawks will likely wait it out. Let battle commence between Tarvaris Jackson and Flynn, while other needs are addressed in the first and second rounds – the impact picks. At the start of the off-season, Carroll highlighted the pass rush and defensive front seven as areas for improvement. The signing of Jason Jones from Tennessee will aid the team’s pass rush, providing an interior force to compliment ‘the big three’ of Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch. Jones’ flexibility also lends itself to the hybrid nature of the defense and his ability to line up in different positions and looks will be a real bonus.    

However, there are still significant holes at both the WILL and the MIKE with Leroy Hill and David Hawthorne both free agents and the team will surely covet another dynamic pass rusher. Chris Clemons has been a key capture for the Seahawks, but he can’t keep working alone. In 2011, Clemons had 11 sacks. The next best contributor was Hill with just four. That has to be a concern.    

Considering Jones is unlikely to be an every down feature, it would make absolute sense for Seattle to draft a pass rusher in the first round. San Francisco’s decision to take Aldon Smith with the 7th overall pick last year helped push the 49ers defense closer to elite status. The Seahawks would probably like to find their own version. Although all different players physically, Courtney Upshaw, Melvin Ingram and Quinton Coples are capable of lining up across the front four and even playing some OLB in 3-4 looks. If you’re searching for a clue as to what direction Seattle will go with the #12 pick, you can start right there.    

Round two will provide plenty of options to address the linebacker issue. Mychal Kendricks at California is a fast-rising talent with the athleticism and tenacity to play the WILL or the MIKE. There’s also the obvious PAC-12 connection and Kendricks was named the conference MVP on defense as a senior. North Carolina’s Zach Brown is a strong option should he fall into round two (something that remains unlikely despite an underwhelming off-season) while Sean Spence (Miami), Lavonte David (Nebraska), Bobby Wagner (Utah State) and Ronnell Lewis (Oklahoma) could all be on the radar.    

It also seems likely the ground game will get further love at some point this off-season, possibly with a pick in the first three rounds. Seattle’s offense is being built around the run and even after Marshawn Lynch’s contract extension, the Seahawks will need insurance in case their leading playmaker misses time. Expect a running back to be drafted early or a top second-tier runner to be signed during free-agency.    

That’s not to say a quarterback won’t be drafted at all. Depending on which prospects make it to the later rounds (4-6), we could see one or even two players taken to add to the stable. The previously name-checked Russell Wilson is one to watch, alongside the usual suspects Chandler Harnish and Austin Davis. Should Brock Osweiler or Kirk Cousins fall to round three, they could be too good to pass. But the signing of Flynn today almost certainly rules out a quarterback being taken in the first two rounds.    

What about the long term? The Seahawks will be hoping Flynn or Jackson makes a claim for the too-often used title of ‘quarterback of the future’. In reality, both players own contracts with minimal commitment and maximum opportunity. Realistically, both could be discarded within one or two years – ideal if neither locks down the starting role and the team wishes to draft a quarterback early.    

Yesterday’s news already puts the focus on the 2013 draft and the quarterbacks who will be available in twelve months time. It doesn’t take a detective to realise one player in particular stands out – a former Carroll protégé at USC who will surely interest the Seahawks next year. Signing Flynn will do for now, reassuring fans who simply wanted hope for the long term. In actual fact, this leaves the door wide open for the Seahawks to prepare for a potentially greater commitment to the position next year.

This article was originally written for Field Gulls at SB Nation (click here). I’d like to thank the Managing Editor Danny Kelly for inviting me to contribute on this subject and look forward to working with Field Gulls again in the future.
    
Monday Links    

Michael David Smith believes the Seahawks won’t be the only team keeping tabs on Matt Barkley. Smith: “In this offseason’s game of quarterback musical chairs, the Browns look like they’re going to be left standing when the music stops. And that would leave them stuck with what they have this year, and hoping things turn out differently next year.”    

KC Joyner urges caution for those celebrating Seattle’s addition of Matt Flynn after breaking down tape of his two career starts. Joyner: “(Flynn’s) yards per attempt (YPA) totals are mediocre or worse at every depth level and the 9.0 vertical yards per attempt (YPA) is especially poor. Even more disturbing is the 4.5 percent bad decision rate (BDR). BDR measures how often a quarterback makes a mental error that leads either to a turnover or a near turnover such as a dropped interception. A BDR of 3 percent is considered to be unacceptable and Flynn was 50 percent higher than that in these contests.”    

Mike Florio reports on a negative story for West Virginia pass rusher Bruce Irvin. Florio: “Irvin was arrested late Saturday night in Morgantown for destruction of property, according to WVMetroNews.com.  He allegedly broke a sign at a sandwich shop. Irvin’s performance in Indianapolis resulted in a surge in phone calls expressing interest in him. More phone calls than, say, the two he was allowed to make late Saturday night.”    

Sigmund Bloom believes the Seahawks are well placed to find value in the draft. Bloom: “South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram, USC’s Nick Perry, North Carolina’s Quinton Coples, Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw and Illinois’s Whitney Mercilus are all possibilities to generate more pass rush from the edge. The Seahawks are going to get outstanding value from their first-round pick.”    

Final thought    

Miami’s continuing shambles of an off-season will aid the Seahawks if they don’t find a solution at quarterback before the draft. With Mike Sherman the team’s offensive coordinator, they may be backed into drafting Ryan Tannehill – something that should still be considered a major reach. With the Buffalo Bills expected to look at their offensive line after signing Mario Williams, there’s a very good chance the Seahawks will be able to pick from at least two of Courtney Upshaw, Melvin Ingram or Quinton Coples to address the team’s need for a pass-rusher.

Matt Flynn signs in Seattle & how it impacts the draft

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

The Seahawks have agreed terms with free agent quarterback Matt Flynn, formerly of Green Bay. ESPN is reporting a $26m contract over three years, with $10m in guarantees. Others have suggested it’s a base-salary of $19m over the same time-frame. Either way, Seattle’s ambitions in the upcoming draft just became a lot clearer.

Don’t expect a quarterback to be drafted in the first two or three rounds next month. Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson will compete for a starting role in 2012, with the situation likely to be reviewed at the end of the season. As we discussed yesterday, the Seahawks could already be identifying quarterback targets in the 2013 draft class. Flynn’s contract will offer the flexibility to move on in a year’s time if he fails. If he succeeds, the Seahawks could consider reviewing those plans.

We’ll have to wait and see how Flynn’s contract breaks down - particularly the guaranteed portion - but this could essentially be an incentive laden one or two year investment to see if he has what it takes to succeed as a starter. To date he has just two NFL starts after joining the Packers as a 7th round pick out of LSU in 2008. I’ve supplied tape (see above) from his finest performance of the two – a week 17 victory over Detroit back in January.

He’ll have to compete with Jackson, but should he win that battle – he’ll likely have a one-year trial to win the faith of the coaching staff and front office. I suspect the Seahawks will structure the deal with a get-out clause so if Flynn fails, they are free to move on in 12 months time. However, fans hoping the competition will also include a rookie drafted in the first two rounds will almost certainly be left disappointed.

Seattle is making it clear they are going to improve other areas of the team next month with their ‘impact’ picks (rounds 1-3). That’s not to say another quarterback won’t be drafted – it’s worth keeping an eye on the prospects expected to leave the board between rounds 4-6. But it appears obvious they’ll turn their attention to the pass rush, front seven on defense and running game in the first few rounds.

This is a calculated move which allows the team to concentrate on other areas in the draft, open up a healthy competition at quarterback and take a better look at a guy with only two starts to his name. Perhaps more importantly, it allows the Seahawks a chance to bide their time. The 2013 class of quarterbacks will be a healthy group, and it includes a player very close to this organisations head honcho. The signing of Matt Flynn may well satisfy the masses until the opportunity to pursue that particular player becomes available.

If you haven’t already, it’s worth studying up on the top three pass rushers in this draft class – Courtney Upshaw, Melvin Ingram and Quinton Coples. And don’t rule out moves to set up a full-blown assault on the quarterback class in 2013.

Sunday game tape – Poe, Curry, Mercilus & more

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

Something for a lazy Sunday… game tape on Dontari Poe, Vinny Curry, Whitney Mercilus, Andre Branch and Chandler Jones. Keep an eye on Marshall’s Curry, a player who theoretically fits what the Seahawks are looking for - he’s a high motor pass rusher with a lot of college production. Although he’s not the biggest statistically (6-3, 266lbs) he looks big on tape and plays with a lot of control. Unlike Mercilus and Branch, he’ll be more adept at lining up in multiple looks to create mismatches, but his run defense will ensure he doesn’t challenge the top 2-3 guys in the class. I still fully expect Curry to go earlier than most people are currently projecting.