Archive for September, 2012

Week three preview

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Ohio State's John Simon - one to watch this weekend

This weekend I’ll be watching the following games: Washington State vs UNLV, California vs Ohio State, Alabama vs Arkansas and Wake Forest vs Florida State. I’ve also got Texas at Ole Miss and Notre Dame against Michigan State saved for later in the week. I’ve highlighted some of the things I’m going to be looking for in each game.

Washington State vs UNLV

Expectations were high at Washington State with Mike Leach running the offense, but the Cougars have struggled in their first two games this year. Marquess Wilson (WR, Washington State) was supposed to be the main benefactor, but he’s pretty much summed up the teams stuttering start – four catches for 61 yards against BYU and four catches for 47 yards (zero touchdowns) isn’t an awful stat-line, but much more was expected. As the Leach offense grows and develops, we need to see more of Wilson. This is an offensive scheme that took talented receivers to stardom at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, even when the quarterbacks were only so-so. Wilson needs to prove he can be the same kind of production machine. There’s nothing wrong with his potential – he’s 6-3 but a lean 185-190lbs but he matches up well for his size. He has decent hands and plays with the right level of intensity. He’s flashed some ability against press coverage which is good given his frame and he’s a big play threat. If Washington State’s offense goes up a notch or two this week, look for Wilson to step up to the plate.

I’m also going to take another look at Travis Long (DE, Washington State). He picked up two sacks in the game against BYU.

California vs Ohio State

We may never truly understand how good (or bad) Keenan Allen (WR, California) is until he enters the league. He has prototypical size at around 6-3 and 210lbs, but he simply isn’t playing in the kind of offense that could push him into the top-15 range. AJ Green had Aaron Murray, Justin Blackmon had Brandon Weeden and Julio Jones was the biggest physical freak since Calvin Johnson, playing in an offense with an elite ground game. Zach Maynard is the quarterback in Cal, and he’s not a prolific passer. Not by a long shot. Which is a shame for Allen, given they’re half brothers. I’ll be watching Cal’s big receiver in this tough match-up against Ohio State, but I don’t expect to learn much. He has made a handful of big plays this season, which he wasn’t known for in the past. Allen’s day will come at the combine – very few prospects could improve or hurt their stock more with a single forty yard dash. That’s what teams are going to go off, because they won’t learn a lot from the on-field play.

I’m not quite sure why there’s so much fuss about Ohio State’s Jonathan Hankins. I’ve seen him projected as a top-5 pick by some, but where’s the evidence for that kind of grade? I’ll be keeping an eye out to see if there’s anything I’m missing with this guy, who just looks ‘above average’ at the college level. I’m much more impressed by John Simon, who lacks a lot of the physical qualities you expect in a defensive lineman but makes up for it with effort. He’s still fast off the line, he’s a terrific football player and he finds ways to have an impact. He’s not going to wow people with a brilliant athletic resume – he’s a shade under 6-2 and around 260lbs. He’s not an elite athlete. But he’s the kind of guy I want on my football team. You find a role for him on defense.

Alabama vs Arkansas

This was supposed to be a heavyweight contest in the SEC, but then Tyler Wilson suffered a concussion and Arkansas lost to U-L Monroe. Reports today suggest Wilson won’t play in this game, raising the chances this’ll become an ugly beat-down. It’s been a strange year for Arkansas and unfortunately it could get even worse. Wilson’s stock is up for debate – he’s a gunslinger with a good arm and some pro-teams will like his overall skill set. At the same time, he’s incredibly slingy with his release and he can get easily flustered. He’s not the tallest quarterback at a shade under 6-2, so the low release point needs further investigation. The health issue also needs to be looked at – the concussions are concerning and not a new problem. It doesn’t help that he gets virtually no protection at Arkansas, but he’s a prospect who’s suffering as his team suffers. Knile Davis doesn’t look like the same player prior to a serious ankle injury, which is also a shame. He started last season as one of the most dynamic running backs in college football. Now, he doesn’t even get the most reps at RB. I’m also hoping to get a closer look at Cobi Hamilton and Chris Gragg against an elite secondary.

Alabama are loaded as usual and have a quarterback in A.J. McCarron who does a little more than the guys he replaced (Greg McElroy & John Parker Wilson). It’s another chance to look at the talent on ‘Bama’s offensive line (Chance Warmack, Barrett Jones and DJ Fluker), but the guy I’m most intrigued with is Dee Milliner at cornerback. He was superb against Michigan – and looked every bit the next SEC defensive back who goes in the top ten. Milliner does it all – great recovery speed, he can press, play run support, he’s a ball hawk. The sky’s the limit for this guy.

Wake Forest vs Florida State

I want to see Bjoern Werner for the first time this year – a guy from Germany who reminds me of J.J. Watt. He came to everyone’s attentions against Oklahoma last year with a dominating performance, and he’s started 2012 with five sacks in two games. He may be better than Watt as a pass rusher and a lot of teams are going to be watching Werner to see if he continues his production over the next few weeks. I also want to have a good look at Xavier Rhodes for the first time in 2012, a player I’ve heard a lot about both positive and negative. He’s had a ton of injuries which is a concern, and he’s better in run support than coverage. But he is the type of corner Seattle goes for – he can hold his own and he’s big at 6-1, 215lbs. I actually much prefer Greg Reid, who is 5-8 and 179lbs.

I’m not a big fan of FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel. He’s physically gifted and was once a highly rated high school QB who joined the college ranks at the same time as Landry Jones. However – there just hasn’t been enough progression. He’s still making the same mistakes, still not leading a dominating passing game. The fact Christian Ponder was actually drafted in the top half of a first round makes me wonder if Manuel still has a chance of going early, because Ponder showed barely anything to warrant the pick Minnesota spent on him. I just cannot see Manuel as anything beyond a round 3-5 pick. He’s not accurate, he makes bad decisions, he has balls tipped a lot despite being 6-4. He just always seems slightly off. On the plus side he can extend plays, but people promoting him as a legit pro-prospect are basing it on physical size and potential rather than tape. He needs to show so much more.

Dion Jordan (DE, Oregon) vs Fresno State

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

What to make of this guy? He’s 6-7, weighs 241lbs and is one of the best athletes in college football. When Daniel Jeremiah asked 20 NFL insiders who will be the best defensive player in the league in five years time, one answered with Jordan.

Cue the hype.

Jordan was on a lot of people’s radar before that article, but it certainly brought about some national publicity. The league is becoming a place where bigger, faster and stronger succeeds. There’s unlikely to be anybody bigger, faster or stronger on defense than Dion Jordan in the 2013 draft.

Yet despite all the great freak-of-nature qualities, he’s not a brilliant pass rusher. Jason Pierre-Paul was raw at USF but he displayed some natural pass-rushing ability. He was consistently threatening off the edge, he showed better technique than you’d expect for a JUCO transfer. It’s easy to say after the event, but a lot of people were high on JPP. What’s more, he wasn’t just a tall athlete – he had a prototype physique for an elite pass rusher. He’s added weight since joining the pro’s, but only his background and lack of experience prevented him from being a top-1o shoe-in.

Jordan lacks a lot of that natural pass-rushing ability. It’s not really a surprise – he was a wide receiver in high school. His Scout.com profile listed hands and concentration, size and red-zone ability as positives during recruitment. With teams looking for athletic, big tight ends it wouldn’t surprise me if a few consider moving him to that position. Here’s a few quotes before he committed to Oregon in 2008: “I have a good combination of size and speed. I am great at creating mismatches on linebackers and can run down the field and make things happen. I’m pretty exciting on the field.” His HS Head Coach at Chandler, Jim Ewan, chips in: “The upside to Dion is that he could play three spots, TE, WR or DE.  He takes pride in doing all three. I think that he will end up a big WR, who can move into TE when needed.”

It wouldn’t be the craziest story if he returned to offense. After all, he’s going to face many challenges as a 6-7 pass rusher.

The first issue is leverage. Tackles are going to have a pretty big target to punch in the chest. Is he ever going to be able to effectively bull rush or dominate a tackle with his hands at 6-7? I’m a big sceptic there. The best way to combat this is to be so much better yourself when it comes to upper body strength or as an elite speed-rusher. Jordan is neither – a great athlete for a guy his size, but not one of the great edge rushers in college football. In fact it’s bizarre to see a defensive end taking the coverage duties he gets at Oregon. At one point in the tape above he was practically lined up at corner back. Great pass rushers don’t tend to go that far away from the defensive line.

We’re two games into the season and Jordan – in his senior year – still has a chance to ramp it up and become a more polished overall player. Even if that doesn’t happen, it’s hard to rule him out as a high pick. Teams love physical potential and Jordan is one of the best. Defensive ends are among the most athletic players on a roster these days – it’s one of the main reasons why offensive line play is down across the league. How can a big, cumbersome tackle or guard expect to match-up against a guy like Pierre-Paul? The best athletes in college football are playing defense these days and not offensive tackle. It’s creating a problem for NFL scouts when they look for O-lineman, and it’s forcing teams to look for the next great athletic defensive end.

Jordan could be that guy. Or maybe he goes back to his roots and ends up at tight end? Either way he’s an interesting guy. And rest assured he’ll be talked about a lot between now and April.

2013 mock draft: The first impression

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Let’s be clear straight away – this is not a serious attempt to try and project how things will play out next April. In previous years I’ve waited until November/December to publish what constitutes as a first ‘go’ at projecting the draft. There are two reasons why I’ve decided to put this on the blog this early:

1 – Despite a lot of internet snobbery over mock drafts or the fact people are even talking about the draft one week into the NFL season, the subject is more popular today than it’s ever been. Fans of teams that aren’t guaranteed contenders want hope. The draft provides hope. This isn’t a real attempt to guess who’s going to be a first round pick, it’s an attempt to highlight a group of individuals who could be. And if this offers any kind of use to anyone during the CFB season, then it serves a purpose.

2 – I had a bigger database for saving games last year, meaning I could stockpile tape and go back and watch it over the summer. When prospects have been highlighted by other writers or bloggers, I’ve been able to go back and take a look for myself. For example, I had a lot of North Carolina games saved as we were looking at guys like Quinton Coples, Zach Brown and Dwight Jones last season. I’ve since been able to review a number of other UNC prospects, highlighted in today’s piece.

It’s unlikely I will re-start the weekly mock updates until later in the year, but I wanted to start the ball rolling. In a week or two, we’ll be able to return to this list and see who has boosted or damaged their stock. For example – I have the Seahawks taking a raw JUCO transfer who is two games into his SEC career. So far so good, but can he maintain his early production and put himself in position to become a high pick?

Another thing worth noting – there are prospects out there I haven’t had the chance to look at yet. Some of the guys below I’ve seen 10-20 times, others I’ve seen two or three times. It’s far too early in the process to make an accurate judgement and if a player is low or not included on the list, it may just be that I haven’t been able to devote enough time to watching their tape.

I’ve used the NFL.com Power Rankings for week one (written by Elliot Harrison) to determine draft order. I’ve tweaked a few things based upon my own views – such as Cleveland picking 2nd overall instead of Indianapolis (the Browns play in a much tougher division and will probably lose more games as a consequence). I’ve also listed a few players who just missed the cut at the bottom.

#1 Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
In this scenario I’d guess Miami trades the pick to the highest bidder. It’s unlikely they’ll get a RGIII-type deal, but Barkley is special.
#2 Jarvis Jones (DE, Georgia)
He’s the best pass rusher in college football. A great athlete who just keeps making plays.
#3 Jonathan Jenkins (DT, Georgia)
Elite talent, a fantastic nose tackle prospect. He’s 350lbs+ but moves well. Teams will love this guy. Immovable object.
#4 Logan Thomas (QB, Virginia Tech)
I’m not convinced he’ll turn pro in 2013, but he might be tempted with a good year. Big, strong and makes good decisions.
#5 Brennan Williams (T, North Carolina)
May be the best left tackle in a class without that clear franchise LT prospect. Has NFL bloodlines – his father played in Seattle.
#6 Bjoern Werner (DE, Florida State)
He could be better than J.J. Watt – he’s that type of player. Already has five sacks in 2012.
#7 Dee Milliner (CB, Alabama)
Physical in run support and can cover better than Dre Kirkpatrick. All-round skill set makes him the clear #1 cornerback prospect.
#8 Star Lotulelei (DT, Utah)
Very raw talent, but needs to be more consistent. Highest ceiling in the draft, but gets blown up too often in the run game.
#9 Sylvester Williams (DT, North Carolina)
Excellent three-technique prospect. Knifes through, plays strong at the line. More consistent than Lotulelei.
#10 Jonathan Cooper (G, North Carolina)
Too early for a guard? This guy will start in week one as a rookie and not look back. Superb prospect. Pass-pro specialist.
#11 Barkevious Mingo (DE, LSU)
The 3-4 teams will be interested in Mingo’s speed off the edge. He’ll be so important for LSU this year.
#12 Cordarrelle Patterson (WR, Tennessee)
Raw, former JUCO transfer. 6-3, 205lbs playmaker with great speed and could be the most explosive receiver in the SEC.
#13 Oday Aboushi (T, Virginia)
Virginia has two excellent tackles this year. Aboushi is the money pick as a potential blind-side blocker.
#14 Arthur Brown (LB, Kansas State)
Just a great footballer. Doesn’t have elite size, but he plays with such intensity and is always around the ball.
#15 Jonathan Banks (CB, Mississippi State)
Tall, physical cornerback who will make plays. He had a great game against Auburn, picking off two passes.
#16 Chaz Green (T, Florida)
Very athletic tackle prospect. Has the kind of skill-set that teams will fall for.
#17 Dion Jordan (DE, Oregon)
He’s 6-7 and 245lbs. Scouts and GM’s will salivate over his freak-of-nature potential. But he’s not a technician yet.
#18 C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama)
Playmaking linebacker off the production line at Alabama. Above average in coverage and plays like a ‘Bama defender.
#19 Robert Woods (WR, USC)
Production machine with rare skills. Problem will be size and perhaps a so-so performance at the combine. Will be a value pick next April.
#20 Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
Tough tackle who projects to the right hand side at the next level. No-nonsense type and part of a great line at A&M.
#21 Keenan Allen (WR, California)
He doesn’t have a great QB situation at Cal – so Allen’s stock will likely be determined by how well he tests at the combine.
#22 Corey Lemonier (DE, Auburn)
Orthodox speed-rusher who’s having a good start to 2012. Slightly undersized but gets to the quarterback.
#23 Manti Te’o (LB, Notre Dame)
Not the tackle-machine type like Luke Kuechly, but he makes more impact plays. Leads by example.
#24 Tyler Wilson (QB, Arkansas)
Jerry Jones loves Arkansas! Wilson’s concussion issues are a concern. He’s a gun-slinger, but there are some technical/release issues.
#25 Terry Hawthorne (CB, Illinois)
Another cornerback with good size. Didn’t have a great game against Arizona State but has a chance to bounce back.
#26 Marcus Lattimore (RB, South Carolina)
Isn’t quite back to 100% after injury. Undoubted quality, but teams will probably wonder if they can rely on that knee.
#27 Jonathan Franklin (RB, UCLA)
He looks like a different player this year. Explosive. Can he keep this up for the rest of the year?
#28 Chance Warmack (G, Alabama)
He’s incredibly strong and dominates against the run. He could be a top-20 pick like Jonathan Cooper.
#29 Geno Smith (QB, West Virginia)
No, Baltimore won’t take a QB in round one. But Smith has the skills to get into this range, forcing someone to trade up.
#30 Justin Hunter (WR, Tennessee)
Like Marcus Lattimore, he’s talented but returning from a serious knee injury. It’s a concern until he proves he’s 100% recovered.
#31 John Simon (DE, Ohio State)
Another great football player. This guy will bring it every single down.
#32 Sam Montgomery (DE, LSU)
Needs to have a big year. Great athleticism and speed off the edge but can be man-handled sometimes.

Just missed the cut
Jonathan Hankins (DT, Ohio State), Akeem Spence (DT, Illinois), Jackson Jeffcoat (DE, Texas), Morgan Moses (T, Virginia), Barrett Jones (C, Alabama), William Gholston (DE, Michigan State), TJ McDonald (S, USC), Kawann Short (DT, Purdue), Alex Ogletree (LB, Georgia), Xavier Rhodes (CB, Florida State), Eric Reid (S, LSU)

Next quarterback on the list?
After two weeks of college football I’d probably go with Tyler Bray (QB, Tennessee). He can get the ball downfield, he’ll put up big numbers if he can stay healthy. He’s also erratic and needs to find a level of consistency, while cutting out the occasional head-scratching decision. But teams will like his throwing ability and he has enough playmakers at Tennessee to build momentum. The game against Florida is a big one for Bray because he struggled against the Gators last year. He’s also got a ways to go to become a trusted, mature leader off the field. His raw skill set is impressive though, more so than Landry Jones’ at Oklahoma. Both could be second round picks next year, although I wouldn’t take either in that range personally. Not on the evidence we’ve seen so far.

Jarvis Jones (DE, Georgia) vs Missouri

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Jarvis Jones could be a better fit for Seattle than any other team in the league. At 6-3 and around 240-5lbs he’s not the prototype 4-3 end. I’m not completely convinced he’s a great fit as a 3-4 OLB. Jones needs to be at the line, rushing the passer, in a scheme that will get the most out of what many will view as an undersized pass rush specialist.

He’s not the ‘ideal LEO’ as Bruce Irvin was described earlier this year. He’s not going to run a 40-yard-dash as well as Irvin. He’s not quite as lean as either of Seattle’s current pass rushers. But Jones has a superior all-round skill set – combining strength, speed, athleticism and motor to create the best overall defensive prospect eligible for the 2013 draft.

Need any further evidence he fits Pete Carroll’s system? Carroll recruited Jones for USC and he spent a year with the Trojans before suffering a neck injury. Disagreements ensued between player and school over when he would return due to the serious nature of the injury, and he chose to head home and transfer to Georgia. He sat out 2010, but returned to the field last year to record 13.5 sacks – the highest in a loaded SEC. He started the 2012 season in the same vein, with 1.5 sacks against Buffalo and then a performance for the ages against Missouri on the road.

Jones dominated the Tigers on their big night (first game in the SEC). He was a constant force off the edge and seemingly always involved. He rushed the passer, he forced turnovers. He ended with a stat line that included two recorded sacks and an interception. He deflected a pass, he forced fumbles. And yet the numbers don’t seem to tell the whole story.

If the raw athleticism wasn’t enough, he played with such an intensity. He’s dragging along that Georgia defense, which was missing several key starters again on Saturday. Does he have ideal size? No. He’s not JPP or DeMarcus Ware. Does his size matter? Absolutely not. He’s not some work-out-warrior or a rusher who relies on one skill (speed, power). He’s the complete pass rusher in college football right now. Jones is good against the run, he can drop into coverage. He does it all.

It’s funny that he wears #29 for Georgia because his attitude and persona compares well to Seattle’s own #29 – Earl Thomas. He’s not a talker, he’ll keep himself to himself most of the time. But he has that fire, and players gravitate towards him because he leads by example. He’s also got that similar playmaking knack – 17 sacks in 1.2 seasons with Georgia. Thomas had eight interceptions as a redshirt sophomore alone. Like Thomas, Jones might get marked down for a lack of true size – but both players have elite potential.

All being well, Seattle won’t be picking early enough to get at this guy. The ambitions of this team go beyond another nice draft pick this year, and one defeat against Arizona doesn’t change that. What’s more, the Seahawks are hoping ‘pass rusher’ will be near the bottom of the list of needs next April after drafting Bruce Irvin and re-signing Chris Clemons. The offense could be the priority going forward, especially if the team wants Russell Wilson to start and succeed long term. In the unlikely event the Seahawks are in position to draft Jarvis Jones, however, drafting him should be one of the easiest decisions this franchise ever makes.

Matt Barkley tape vs Syracuse and why Seattle needs a go-to-guy

Monday, September 10th, 2012

For most of the off-season we’ve talked about Seattle’s need at receiver. When you’re bringing in guys like Antonio Bryant, Terrell Owens and Braylon Edwards knowing one of them will have to contribute, it’s safe to say that’s a position of need. Edwards started against the Cardinals and was mostly OK, but missed a chance to win the game with the final serious play of the game. The Seahawks asked the question and Edwards couldn’t answer.

Overall I thought it was a sloppy performance from the receivers. As noted in yesterday’s reaction piece, I don’t think they did enough to fight for their quarterback. They rounded off routes and gave up. Frequently Wilson had protection and nowhere to go. The camera’s highlighted the coverage downfield on several occasions, and we didn’t see a lot of fighting to come back to the QB to try and make a play.

Above all else I think Wilson lacked a safety net. A go-to-guy. Someone he knew would be there as the second or third read. Someone he can rely on to be in position if the first option isn’t there. Matt Hasselbeck always had Bobby Engram. Peyton Manning always had Dallas Clark. Tom Brady knows Wes Welker will find a way to get open. The Seahawks need a 6-to-10 catch kind of guy in a game like this. In any game – for that matter. He doesn’t have to be Calvin Johnson, he just needs to have that knack of finding a way to get open. He needs to be able to get that chemistry going with the quarterback. The Seahawks never seemed to be able to chip away via the passing game last night, it was boom or bust pretty much every time.

Doug Baldwin has the potential to be that kind of receiver. For the most part last year he was Tarvaris Jackson’s go-to-guy. He had a lot of productive games, he found ways to get open and provided that safety net. But he missed all of pre-season and just didn’t look 100% against the Cardinals. Through no real fault of his own he could end up having one of those years, struggling for fluidity after a frustrating summer. And if Seattle is serious in making Russell Wilson a legitimate long-term starting quarterback, they’re going to have to look at that position in the off-season.

USC’s Robert Woods (see the video above, he wears #2) had a big game for the Trojans at the weekend against Syracuse. He’s the kind of playmaker the Seahawks lacked yesterday – always appearing to offer his quarterback an option. Woods isn’t is a physical guy, but he will come back for the ball and try to help out the quarterback – something else that was lacking on Sunday.

He’s also a playmaker – and but for Sidney Rice’s touchdown catch and the brilliance of Leon Washington, the Seahawks didn’t have enough of that against the Cardinals. See the play at 4:00 where a quick throw to the left is reversed back to the right hand side for a first down. The 70+ yard end-around Woods had in the game isn’t included in this Barkley video, but it was explosive and helped turn the game back into USC’s favor. It’s perhaps apt that this video also includes a 5-yard touchdown pass. Unlike Edwards, Woods delivered for his team.

Instant reaction: Seahawks vs Cardinals

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

- Russell Okung left the game with a twisted knee, although it’s unknown at this stage how long he’s going to be missing. This is becoming a familiar story with Okung unfortunately. Since being drafted with the 6th overall pick in 2010 he’s injured both ankles, torn a pec and now suffered a twisted knee. He had a long streak of starts at Oklahoma State but was injured (knee) just before his final college appearance – a bowl defeat to Ole Miss where he struggled badly in the second half. Tonight was probably his worst individual performance since that game. Yet even a below-par Okung is better than no Okung at all. The Seahawks come up against DeMarcus Ware, Clay Matthews and Chris Long in the next three games. The starting left tackle could be Frank Omiyale. And if he misses considerable time again this year with injury, there’s going to be understandable concern. At what point does he earn the injury prone tag? We won’t break out the Brennan Williams (OT, North Carolina) tape just yet, but Okung needs to get back on the field quickly.

- It’s no big surprise that tonight’s game flashed up Seattle’s need at receiver. What is more concerning is the lack of fight among the group. How often did a Seahawks receiver complete a route and give up on the play? It wasn’t difficult to notice, given the number of times in the second half where Wilson was protected well but had nowhere to go. The TV replays zoned in time after time on a receiver that didn’t fight to come back to the quarterback, they were giving up on the routes and quitting. This has happened before in Seattle, most noticeably when Charlie Whitehurst played last year. They should be made to watch Larry Fitzgerald’s performance on repeat. That’s a receiver determined to drag his team across the line, whoever’s throwing the ball.

- Going back to the need at receiver, it’s telling that on the last play of the game Seattle was relying on Braylon Edwards to win the game. Perfect pass from Wilson, falling agonisingly through the hands of Edwards. Sidney Rice had a good performance overall but he can’t do it alone. I couldn’t help but think during this game that Wilson required a safety net. Rice is a capable option on the outside, he’ll make plays when he’s healthy. He’s earning the money of a #1 and hopefully he’ll prove he’s worth it with a big year. But who is Wilson’s version of Dallas Clark? Who is the guy that Wilson goes to when Rice and some like Edwards is covered? Who is Bobby Engram or Wes Welker for this team? At times last year it was Doug Baldwin, but he doesn’t look 100% after missing pre-season. I can’t help but feel for Wilson to succeed, he’ll need a consistent checkdown option, someone he can build real chemistry with. And that’s why I still kind of think a guy like USC’s Robert Woods is necessary for this offense.

- I wasn’t a fan of the play calling tonight, but it’s easy to sit at home and judge. There wasn’t much rhythm to the offense early and with Arizona blitzing and creating constant pressure, I was surprised they didn’t quicken it up. The Seahawks seemed to stick by a lot of longer, developing routes rather than just three-step drop and throw. It would’ve been nice to see a few slants and developing RB screens to try and slow down the pass rush, rather than testing deep to keep the defense honest. I’m not sure why Darrell Bevell flirted so often with the lateral-style pass that eventually led to a turnover. And it’s also disappointing the team couldn’t kill off a drive at the end despite multiple plays and chances in the red zone with the game on the line. I’m still at a loss as to why they didn’t run at least one boot leg at the end in the red zone – let the play develop, a guy might get open and you’ve always got Wilson’s running ability. Tight end option anyone? I think they made life easy for Arizona.

- Russell Wilson wasn’t spectacular, but it was a solid start. Despite a lot of hype in pre-season (some over the top and unfair) he’s very much a young guy learning his trade. It was a good first game for experience because the Cardinals defense put on a clinic. There were some negatives. I wasn’t keen on two occasions where he chose to run on instinct instead of looking upfield. You can forgive the guy given his success running the ball against Kansas City, but hopefully that’s an area for improvement. There were also three plays I noted where he rejected the inside option, preferring to throw outside in the red zone. I’d like to see him show more willing to look inside – I’m not sure if this is a total play call thing, but if they have guys running inside routes you presume he is allowed to look their way. Even so, it’s tough to judge a guy against this defense on debut, especially considering the play calling and supporting cast.

- Bruce Irvin struggled tonight. At one point he got so frustrated rushing the edge, he dipped inside and wasted at least 2-3 seconds looking for a suitable hole to rush. By that point John Skelton had thrown from a clean pocket to Todd Heap for a first down en-route to a touchdown. Of most concern is the way Arizona ended his challenge at the point of contact. He’s going to need to show more when a tackle gets the hands up – even if it’s a counter move. Irvin doesn’t want to get so wide he’s rushing from a difficult angle, and he doesn’t want to start dipping inside trying to squeeze past a guard. He was drafted for elite speed off the edge and the Seahawks need to back up their investment by finding ways to make that speed a factor. Tonight he was a complete non-factor.

- There will be a lot of overreactions to this defeat, which’ll be harder to take given the nature of the loss and the fact it was against a division opponent. The first defeat is always the hardest. The 2011 season ended 7-9 rather than 9-7 or even 10-6 because the Seahawks couldn’t win close games. Cleveland, Arizona, Washington – three games in 2011 that ended in defeat that probably should’ve been won. That’s how close the Seahawks were to 10-6. If they’re going to avoid another 7-win season they need to start winning a few of these. Even so, getting to 5-5 at the bye would be far from a disaster. The schedule after the bye reads: Miami (A), Chicago (A), Arizona (H), Buffalo (Toronto), San Francisco (H), St. Louis (H). There are opportunities to end strongly within that run. The team just has to make sure it doesn’t give itself too much to do with a slow start.

2013 prospects that look good for Seattle tonight:

Sylvester Williams (DT, North Carolina) – the Seahawks struggled for pressure in the first half, but the edge rushers didn’t get a lot of help inside. Williams has the potential to be a top-end interior pass rusher.

Robert Woods (WR, USC) – Marqise Lee would’ve been even better for those red zone plays, but the Seahawks lacked a guy they could rely on to run good routes and provide a safety net for Russell Wilson. There were a few occasions in this game where I pictured Woods in motion, taking a quick pass and exploiting the blitz to break off a big run. At the very least, he’ll fight to come back to the quarterback.

Week 2 – thoughts on USC, Jarvis Jones & Star Lotulelei

Saturday, September 8th, 2012

Robert Woods had a big day for USC against Syracuse

If anyone wants to know just how good Russell Wilson is, just look at tonight’s Wisconsin-Oregon State game. Last year the Badgers would’ve been in the National Championship but for two freak hail mary plays against Michigan State and Ohio State. This year, they were held scoreless against the Beavers until late in the fourth quarter and lost 10-7. The ineffective play of Montee Ball is a concern. A potential first round pick last year, Ball is suffering in the post-Wilson era due to a reduced threat in the passing game. He had 15 carries for 60 yards and no touchdowns today, with a further 18 yards receiving. His decision to return already looks like a professional error.

One man who certainly won’t be regretting his decision to return is Matt Barkley. He had no chance of supplanting Andrew Luck as the #1 pick in 2012, but he’s almost certainly destined to be the top pick in 2013. I think the Miami Dolphins will ‘earn’ the #1 pick in 2013 and they’ll either trade the pick and stick by Ryan Tannehill or draft Barkley. Even on a relatively unspectacular day against Syracuse he had six touchdowns.

Robert Woods remains an intriguing prospect at receiver. In many ways he looks like a future playmaker in the NFL. Today he caught ten passes for 93 yards, scoring two touchdowns. The first (click here to see it) was down to a precise double-move down the right hand side, a perfect pass from Barkley and perfect execution. For the second (click here) he did well to compete over the middle to grab a four-yard score. He was permanently involved and avoided mistakes, adding a brilliant 76-yard run on an end-around (click here) in the fourth quarter to set up the game ending score. During the run he made two sharp cuts to break away, drawing flashbacks to his freshman year with the Trojans.

On the one hand, Woods is such a difficult player to cover. He runs good routes and creates separation. He is capable of making circus catches and he’ll lay himself out to make a difficult completion. He has YAC potential and he’s probably at his most effective getting the ball in space quickly and using his athleticism. Then there are some issues – he’s not overly physical and may struggle in press coverage. He’s not a great blocker by any stretch, lacks ideal size (6-1, 195lbs) and you’re not going to be throwing many fades or jump balls to the guy. Seattle needs a reliable red zone receiver but Woods doesn’t look like the answer. He is liable to lose concentration at times and have a few drops, although we didn’t see that this week.

I think his final grade could be comparable to A.J. Jenkins – drafted 31st overall in April by San Francisco. At the same time he’s a much higher profile player than Jenkins and a better playmaker with superior production, so he should go a bit earlier – perhaps into the range Kendall Wright was taken (20th overall). Is he the type of receiver Seattle is looking for? This is the question I’m battling with right now. Is he too much of a Doug Baldwin-type and not enough like the big, physical receiver they’ve coveted for a while (Brandon Marshall, Vincent Jackson, Sidney Rice etc)? Can he fill the need for a true downfield passing threat? I’m going to do a piece on Da’Rick Rogers this week, a player who fits the bill in terms of size and downfield speed but has serious off-field concerns and recently transferred from Tennessee to Tennessee Tech.

Back to Barkley… He went about his business despite a clumsy game by Lane Kiffin. There wasn’t much fluidity or variety to the play calling – of Barkley’s 23 completed passes, 21 went to Woods or Marqise Lee. His six scores were all perfectly executed even if he didn’t put up the big yardage (186 yards). He did have one disappointing error for his first turnovers of the year – a pass thrown behind Woods that was easily picked off. It was a minor problem compared to the touchdowns and he looks on cue for a real tilt at the Heisman.

Some other notes from this game – USC center Khaled Holmes, a legit pro-prospect, went down with a bad looking injury in the fourth quarter after getting caught in a crowd of bodies. It appeared to be an ankle problem. He could be take in the first three rounds next year. Syracuse quarter Ryan Nassib did little to boost his stock. He was a hot-tip among scouts this week after a good performance against Northwestern. However, he had two turnovers (click here to see the first) and a very poor first half. His footwork is poor and needs serious work, and he was off-target on too many passes. Technically he has some positives but he’s not a stand-out athlete – he’s almost like a much less spectacular version of Barkley. I would guess he’s at best a mid-round pick next April.

Jarvis Jones was superb against Missouri. In fact, superb isn’t a strong enough word to describe how well he played. He should be given week 2 and week 3 player of the week for his stunning performance. It shouldn’t be a surprise by now – Jones is clearly the best overall defensive prospect who is eligible for the 2013 draft. He provided consistent pressure off the edge and Missouri just couldn’t block the guy. He had multiple sacks, two key forced fumbles in the second quarter, a third in the final quarter and multiples pressures. He’s not the biggest guy and he doesn’t appear to have long arms – that’s why it’s all the more impressive to see how he avoids blockers – they struggle to get hold of him because he’s too quick with great hands. Jones can round the edge with such burst, he’ll also fight inside. He’s a relentless pass rusher and there’s very little he can’t do. He essentially sealed the game for Georgia with a big interception in the 4th quarter, dropping into coverage. We won’t see a defensive player match this performance in 2012. If the Seahawks get a chance to draft this guy, they should take it. They’ll have to be 4-12 bad for that to happen.

Nose tackle John Jenkins was also very impressive – he’s one I’ll do a feature on down the line.

Star Lotulelei isn’t showing much improvement from last year. He had a sack/forced fumble during Utah’s 27-20 loss to Utah State on Friday, but he’s still very inconsistent. As a pure physical specimen he’s an elite talent – he moves so well for a big man. The way he sprints from the LOS to the sideline is reminiscent of Phil Taylor during his time at Baylor, who was vastly underrated as a college prospect. At times he’ll shoot a gap and penetrate better than any other tackle you’ll watch this year. He has a good initial burst, good hand placement and he’ll finish. But on the next play, there’s every chance he’ll be blown up.

I’ve seen numerous occasions where Loutlelei has been a liability in run defense. He’s too easily moved out of position when he needs to hold. It’s ugly too – he’ll lose balance and get driven backwards. Lotulelei has about as much potential as anyone eligible for 2013 and for that reason he’s almost a shoe-in to be a top-15 pick – look at Dontari Poe. But he can’t be satisfied with just being an early pick. To make the most of his potential at the next level, he needs to do a lot of work on his technique and consistency to become a rounded prospect that can feature every down and not just on pass rushing calls. He has a way to go and the gushing praise he receives nationally needs to be checked slightly.

A more consistent defensive tackle with less overall potential – Sylvester Williams at UNC – continued his good start to the season with another sack in a 28-27 defeat to Wake Forest. Williams has three sacks in the opening two weeks of the season. You can see his sheer power and athleticism on today’s sack, driving two blockers into the quarterback to make the play. Williams is an exciting player to watch and could be a high pick in April.

Jonathan Banks – the kind of cornerback Seattle has drafted under Pete Carroll and John Schneider at 6-2 and 185lbs– had two interceptions for Mississippi State against Auburn (interception one, two). He also had two passes deflected. We’ll have tape of Banks’ performance on the blog soon.

Keenan Allen had five catches for 69 yards and a touchdown as California beat Southern Utah 50-31. He’s never going to put up big yards because of the quarterback situation at Cal. Allen needs to keep things ticking over and then impress at the combine. Allen also had a 69-yard punt return for a score today, which he initially fumbled.

DeAndre Hopkins had another big game for Clemson against Ball State. Last week he set a school record for receptions in a game, and today he had six more catches for 105 yards and three touchdowns including this 34-yarder. He’s emerging as a reliable target for Tajh Boyd. Running back Andre Ellington was less spectacular this week. He punched in two touchdowns but only managed 41 yards from 13 carries.

A lot of people expected Washington State to put up big numbers with Mike Leach in town, but it’s not happening so far. In particular receiver Marquess Wilson is off to a slow start. He had four catches for 61 yards against BYU last week and had only four catches for 47 yards against Eastern Washington today. He has zero touchdowns so far.

Justin Hunter had a better weekend. Teammate Cordarrelle Patterson won the headlines last week against NC State, but Hunter put up the big numbers against Georgia State. He recorded eight catches for 146 yards and three touchdowns (touchdown one, two, three). Patterson had three catches for 71 yards (including a long of 45 – click here) while adding 18 rushing yards. Tyler Bray looked sharp completing 18/20 for 310 yards and four touchdowns. Bray could be this year’s answer to Brock Osweiler. Patterson’s YAC ability and downfield threat will make him one of the most talked about receivers in the SEC. He’s raw, but has huge upside.

Tyler Wilson started poorly for Arkansas against L-A Monroe, throwing a pick and missing on a few throws. He responded to make 11/20 for 196 yards and two scores before leaving the game at half time with a concussion. It proved costly – Arkansas (ranked #8) were stunningly defeated in over time. They led 21-7 before Wilson’s exit. Landry Jones also started slowly for Oklahoma against Florida A&M by throwing a pick. Jones left the game in the second half with the Sooners comfortably leading having thrown two touchdowns for 252 yards. There was a bit of a trend for bad starts among quarterbacks this week (Barkley, Nassib, Wilson, Jones, Aaron Murray).

Forecasting the Seahawks 2013 draft needs

Saturday, September 8th, 2012

Some may think this is too early, but I believe that Seattle’s decisions making the final 53 man roster tell us a lot about the plan moving forward.  Remember, this front office thinks things through well in advance.  I’m sure they’ve already begun their planning for the 2013 offseason, and I have my reasons for believing that they were planning for certain parts of the 2013 offseason even before the 2012 draft.  We don’t know what that plan is with absolute certainty, but bearing that in mind, here are my best guesses as to where Seattle’s 2013 draft priorities are at this time:

Early rounds:

Pass rushing Defensive End:

Chris Clemons will be under contract in 2013, but he also turns 32 during the 2013 season. Even if Irvin took over at the LEO and Clemons became the new Raheem Brock, you’d still need a long term replacement for Clemons, and pass rushers typically need some time to develop, especially if you don’t have access to very high draft picks.

Bruce Irvin- even if he is successful immediately- is probably not ideal as an every down player. In addition to his size and run defense issues, it’s also worth noting that Irvin models his game a lot like a fireballing relief pitcher. Because relief pitchers don’t have as high a workload, they don’t have to pace themselves, and they can throw several MPH harder. Irvin plays with a maximum effort level, and is a terrific “hustle” player. He tends to win through pure exertion, not technique. When the team gave Irvin very large rep totals in the preseason, he was always gassed by the end of the game, and it showed in his effort and results.

Ideally, you’d like to keep Irvin as a specialist and look elsewhere for your new LEO.  It’s not that Irvin is totally incapable of being the future at the LEO spot, I just think that he’s going to have more value as a specialist.  In baseball, starters are worth a lot more than relievers, but it’s not like the Yankees were in a hurry to throw Mariano Rivera in the rotation when he broke on the scene back in the 90s.  Similarly, I think the Seahawks are in the business of putting players where they play the best football, and I think that role long term will be the Raheem Brock role for Irvin.

Either way, Seattle will need to find another pass rusher who can produce fairly quickly.  Seattle doesn’t have a ton of money to spend in free agency next year, and what money they do have could end up being spent elsewhere (more on that later), so finding value somewhere early in the draft could be a priority.  Drafting starters is one of the best ways to improve an area of the team without spending much cash.

Wide Receiver:

I actually like our receiver group. It teems with upside. It’s also full of risk- but that risk is offset somewhat by it’s depth.

However, if Sidney Rice does not produce or does not stay healthy, receiver could be an area Seattle targets next offseason in order to make Rice’s contract expendable. Drafting a receiver early would give the front office the ammunition they need to approach Rice about a paycut, because most paycut proposals do not end happily and the front office would need to be prepared for life without Rice before they attempt a restructure.

Even if Seattle’s receivers perform very well in 2012- a distinct possibility- it could still be a consideration early just because if Seattle is picking late in the first round, receivers like Robert Woods and Marquess Wilson could represent the best value available on the board.

Tight End:

Similar to receiver, our tight end group is pretty talented, but is headlined by an expensive player that hasn’t yet played up to his contract. Sidney Rice and Zach Miller have been quality contributors, but they have easily the two least efficient contracts on the team. Miller might have the very worst contract on the team, but what’s even harder to stomach is thinking about how this offense would function without Miller on it. McCoy is talented but still working on his consistency. Moore is a fringe roster player with his 3rd NFL team. Even if Moore is a pleasant surprise this year, he will probably remain a third tight end. As much as Seattle would like to get out of Miller’s contract, they really shouldn’t do it until either Miller gets much worse or they have an obvious high level replacement in mind.

If an obvious value pick materializes at tight end early in the draft, I think Seattle would have to at least consider it.

Mid Rounds:

Linebacker:

Seattle’s linebackers are arguably the “weakest” area on the team, but that is more a statement of how loaded this team is across the roster. This preseason, you could be forgiven if you thought KJ Wright was a 3-4 defensive end, that’s how physical he’s been at enforcing the edge.  It’s been amazing to watch. Wright is kinda “meh” at everything else, but really, this is what Seattle is paying him to do: contain the sweep and force tackles for loss. And it’s exactly what he’s done.

Bobby Wagner is pretty much the definition of a “glue” linebacker. He’ll overtake Alan Branch as the most difficult to notice contributor on the team. Don’t expect Wagner to make the Pro-Bowl any time soon, and if he does it will only be because Seattle’s defense is unbelievably good, allowing him to get in by reputation. He won’t get in by stats.

Hill will be Seattle’s WILL linebacker again this season, and I’m sure he’ll be a quality contributor, but I think this is Hill’s last season here, most likely. I think Seattle is eyeballing a playmaker for that weakside spot- and that playmaker does not currently reside on this roster. He may in fact reside on our practice squad. Korey Toomer flashed very exciting ability as a pass rusher. Allen Bradford looked raw, but showed very fast field speed and was around the ball often in the final preseason game. He can also lay a big hit.

But for as much as I like Seattle’s penny-pincher options here, NFL teams are waiting longer and longer to draft very good 4-3 linebackers. Much like running backs, you can find excellent value at linebacker in the mid rounds of almost every draft. If Seattle has a high rated linebacker fall into their lap in rounds three or four, it would make a lot of sense to jump on that opportunity.

Seattle is looking for a weakside linebacker with speed, but given how they value versatility, don’t be surprised if they draft a guy who’s got the natural ability to play all three linebacker spots. This could be why they passed on Lavonte David last year, despite his outstanding college tape, as David may have been too undersized to man the middle or strong side.

One technique Defensive Tackle:

Seattle has excellent depth at the three technique, but still strikes me as being a little questionable at depth beyond Brandon Mebane at the one. Alan Branch could probably hold the role just fine, but I doubt he’d do it as well as Mebane. Branch might also depart as a free agent next offseason. Branch has been pretty good, but he hasn’t been terribly cheap, at $4 million per season. That’s a lot to pay a potential backup.

I wouldn’t put defensive tackle down as a “need,” but it is an area that could use quality depth, and it’s really hard to find starting caliber run stuffers after the first few rounds. Every team is looking for those kinds of players, and they tend to be fairly rare. If a value reaches them at this area in the mid rounds, it could be a strong consideration. If Seattle lets Branch walk in free agency, that could be a major tell that they will pursue a defensive tackle somewhere in the draft.

Offensive Tackle:

Seattle has two quality starters, and even one good backup if you consider McQuistan to be such. However, compared to how strong the rest of this roster is, offensive tackle stands out as a relative concern. Even if Okung plays every game this season, he still profiles as an injury risk. McQuistan is currently starting and would create a domino effect if used as a reserve. We’ve seen what Tom Cable has done developing talent in the interior of the O-line: he’s been phenomenal. However, we have zero backup players being developed at tackle right now, and I think that will change next offseason. I think Seattle will go shopping for a tackle to develop, and I think they will probably grab that player in the mid rounds as the middle rounds are well known for producing quality tackle prospects.

If Carpenter succeeds at left guard this season, it’s conceivable that Seattle could move McQuistan to be a backup tackle long term. If that happens, then this priority might get pushed into the later rounds.

Late Rounds:

Quarterback:

I’d almost guarantee you that Seattle drafts a QB next year. First, Seattle will want to bring in competition for Josh Portis for the third string job. Second, Matt Flynn could very well be traded. I have a hunch that Flynn will be traded in 2014, but if a team (like say, the Raiders) is desperate enough, we might see Flynn get moved next offseason. Third, Schneider has talked about adding a quarterback every year, which is actually what he’s been doing. In 2010, he added Whitehurst. In 2011, he added Jackson and Portis. In 2012, he added Flynn and Wilson. That’s almost a two quarterbacks per year on average- it’s just easy to miss since only one of them was a draft pick.

And more importantly, one of the next two drafts is going to be amazing for quarterbacks. If every top quarterback declared for the 2013 draft instead of going back to school, you might see seven or more of them get drafted in the top two rounds next year. Green Bay drafted Brian Brohm with a second round pick after he slid in 2006. They did that a year after selecting Aaron Rodgers in the first. If a guy like Geno Smith or Landry Jones slides in the draft, don’t be shocked if Seattle goes quarterback a little early, maybe even as high as the mid to late second round. I don’t expect Seattle to do this, but value is value. I doubt it will happen that way, my point is that it could happen, so be prepared. Rob and I have it on good authority that quarterback was initially Seattle’s top priority for 2013 before Wilson and Flynn happened this past offseason (John Schneider tends to plan at least a year ahead). That speaks to how highly this front office thought of the 2013 quarterback class, and rightly so.

More likely, I think Seattle will draft a quarterback in the later rounds, mainly due to the excellence of Russell Wilson and the promise Matt Flynn showed in the preseason.

I am an admirer of the Packers and Eagles, who just seem to crank out quality quarterbacks at an impressive rate even from modest resources.  Seattle’s quarterback philosophy has the process of Green Bay and the style of Philadelphia. Wouldn’t it be funny if those two “profanity laced” calls John Schneider received after he drafted Russell Wilson were from war rooms in Green Bay and Philly? I have my suspicions.

Anyway, Seattle already has as many as ten draft picks in the 2013 draft, most of them coming after the 3rd round. I expect that one of those later picks will be quarterback. The one player I am hoping for is Aaron Murray from Georgia. I’m assuming that he’ll return for his senior season in 2013, but if he doesn’t, he has an excellent chance to be this year’s Chandler Harnish- a quarterback with high round talent that falls hard in the draft thanks to his 6’1″ height. Keith Price is another, but I very strongly doubt he’ll declare this year.

Defensive back:

Expect this to be an annual tradition. There was a lot to like about Jeremy Lane, but though he is not small, he still seems undersized for the kind of physical system Seattle runs and is hardly precocious in pass coverage. Byron Maxwell has the physicality down and has flashed pass defense ability, but for now he is nothing more than a special teams player. More competition is needed. As they say, you can never have too many good corners.

Seattle is loaded at strong safety but has no real answer in the event that Earl Thomas goes down. Chris Maragos is the presumed backup at free safety, but he simply can’t provide what Thomas brings to this defense through speed. Taking another Mark Legree type late round swing-for-the-fences gamble would be advisable. It would not shock me if Seattle grabbed a fast safety in the mid rounds if a talent falls.

Pass rusher:

Seattle is always looking to add pass rushers, and so far, they’ve done so mainly from late round picks, undrafted free agency, waiver-wire moves, and trades. Bruce Irvin was the exception last year, but for the most part, Seattle has built it’s pass rush off of creativity and spare parts. Even if Seattle drafts a defensive end fairly early to be the heir to Chris Clemons, they may still grab a pass rusher very late. It’s kind of like buying a lottery ticket, with the idea that the harder you work at scouting, and the more chances you take, the luckier you get.

Return Specialist:

Thirty is a dreaded number for any NFL player, especially running backs.  Of course, Leon Washington is a very young thirty and has looked ageless. It would not shock me at all if Washington was still here in his age 31 and 32 seasons. Maybe even beyond that. He’s that good.

That said, kick return specialists- even excellent ones such as Chris Rainey last year- tend to be late round picks. Leon Washington makes a combined $6 million over his 2013 ($2.5m) and 2014 ($3.5m) seasons, which could make him a target as a cap casualty. At the very least, we should expect to see the front office bring in someone that can realistically compete with Washington for return duties (I don’t think it will be Tate- he’s so high risk and so inconsistent, and Carroll prefers safety and consistency). If that doesn’t happen in 2013, it will be soon after.

Positions I don’t expect to be drafted:

Guard, center, fullback, running back, punter, kicker, strong safety, 3-tech defensive tackle (unless they clean house in free agency to save money), 5-tech defensive end.  Barring unusual injury circumstances, of course.

Prediction for Seattle’s 2013 first round pick:

Those of you who followed this year’s draft very closely may recall John Schneider saying something very strange. Paraphrasing: He just didn’t like the 2012 class of receivers very much, and the implication was that he never really expected to draft one. This is a bit odd for two reasons:

Number one:   It was actually a pretty good year for receivers. A higher than usual number of receivers went in the first two rounds. At Mockingthedraft.com, draftniks from fanbases across the league participated in a pre-draft poll which asked which offensive position was the deepest in the 2012 draft. The “wide receiver” option won in a landslide. Rob had a piece on this blog calling 2012 “year of the receiver,” and he wasn’t wrong to think so.

Number two:  Seattle needed help at receiver! As much as I defend our receivers, Mike Williams had a down year (and was hurt), Rice had failed to stay healthy for the second year in a row, Doug Baldwin impressed but carried high risk of being an over-achiever, and Golden Tate was still a mixed bag. Almost every draftnik that followed the Seahawks from anything less than a backpocket distance had Seattle down for a receiver or guard in round one last year (that wasn’t us, we knew Seattle was going pass rusher in the first, but the point was that most fans perceived receiver as a major need for Seattle.  Many still do.).

Obviously, John Schneider is not a moron. So how do you explain those comments? Here’s how: he had his eye on someone else. Someone in 2013.

Last year was the year of the big receiver. Consider Justin Blackmon (6’1″), Michael Floyd (6’3″), Brian Quick (6’3″), Stephen Hill (6’4″), Alshon Jeffery (6’4″), Reuben Randle (6’4″), Mohamed Sanu (6’2″)… all of them but Sanu (3rd) went in the first two rounds. That is a murderer’s row of big receiver prospects.

Seattle loves big receivers, but I think they viewed that aspect of the team as being set. They had Sidney Rice, and still believed in both Mike Williams and Kris Durham. From their vantage point, they didn’t need another big man on the outside. They didn’t need another underneath guy either (Baldwin, Tate, possibly Butler). What did they need? This:

or maybe, this:

Some people say that Mike Wallace is a “one trick pony.” Even if they are right, Wallace is an elite talent at it. That one thing Wallace is amazing at just happens to perfectly fit that which is most sorely missing from Seattle’s offense. What’s exciting is that many who are following the Wallace situation closely strongly suspect that he will be a unrestricted free agent in 2013 (translation: Pittsburgh will not franchise and will just take the compensatory pick).

I really like Mike Wallace. Wallace is a fast, savvy, explosive deep threat. He’s so impressive with his fundamentals, to me he’s worth it even as a relatively one dimensional player because he might be the best in that one area in the entire league, and it just so happens to be the area that Seattle most needs to upgrade in their offense. A lot of teams won’t be willing to sink significant money into a player like that, but Seattle could be.

Seattle is a bit tight on money next year (especially when considering the members of secondary they’ll want to lock up early).  That said, Seattle’s biggest 2013 free agents have already been signed ahead of time, so making a push for Wallace in free agency is conceivable, especially if the team restructures or parts ways with Sidney Rice. I suspect that Seattle’s frantic efforts to free 2012 cap space for a 2013 rollover could be in part based around a plan to make a push for Mike Wallace.

Wallace is not popular with everyone though. I’d go so far as to say that he’s almost “cool to hate” across the league, and that could make him a candidate for a less than meteoric free agent event. It’s not like teams have been banging down the Steelers’ door trying to trade for Wallace over the last couple months, either. John Schneider gravitates towards free agents who receive less attention than they deserve, and if Wallace wallows in free agency even a little bit, that will play into Seattle’s hands all the more.

But if that doesn’t happen, Seattle has some good deep threat options that should be realistic in the first round. Chief among them is Marquess Wilson. Wilson is 6’4″ with very long arms and a freakish ability to high point jump balls. He’s been clocked in the late 4.4′s, which isn’t elite fast, but plenty fast enough. To be sure, Wilson is a different kind of deep threat to the ultra fast Mike Wallace, but he’s a potentially elite deep threat all the same. His ability to use his height and jump ball ability borders on indefensible at times.

Like Wallace, I think Marquess Wilson is probably going to be a relatively one dimensional player in the NFL. However, for what Seattle needs, that is not a problem. We’ve already seen how this front office and coaching staff has shown much love for specialists brought in to serve one purpose based on one elite strength.

You combine that kind of deep threat with a potentially outstanding young quarterback who’s at his best when throwing the jump ball down the sideline and it could explode the offense into elite territory.  Who knows, maybe our offense could even rival our defense in a year’s time.

In 2011, the top priority was offensive line.
In 2012, the top priority was pass rush.
In 2013, I think that top priority will be adding a deep threat to stretch the field.

If we don’t add Mike Wallace in free agency, I expect Marquess Wilson to be high on this front office’s draft wish list.

Geno Smith (QB, West Virginia) vs Marshall

Friday, September 7th, 2012

We’ve talked about Geno Smith a lot on this blog and it’s no surprise he’s starting to generate hype. When West Virginia appointed Dana Holgorsen as coach, they pretty much guaranteed they’d have a prolific passing offense for the foreseeable future. Holgorsen is a Mike Leach disciple – the pair worked together at Valdosta State in the 1990′s and then at Texas Tech a few years later. He built his reputation as a coordinator at Houston and Oklahoma State and helped make guys like Brandon Weeden prospective first round picks.

Smith owes a debt of gratitude to Oliver Luck (Athletic Director at WVU). Without Holgorsen, he doesn’t get anywhere close to the attention we’re seeing today. He could be a first round pick. He could win a major bowl game. Put even a semi-capable quarterback into this offense and it’ll provide results. Smith is way beyond being semi-capable.

Yet the offensive power at WVU is both a positive and a negative in terms of his pro-potential. It’ll provide the gaudy number required to make scouts notice. It’ll probably convince a GM or two in the league that they need to have this guy on their team. What it won’t do is prepare Smith for the ‘NFL experience’. In fairness, there aren’t many college offenses that can truly prepare you for the NFL. But playing in a wide open spread scheme that isn’t remotely close to the pro-game isn’t a great stepping stone. It also creates pressure because media and fans expect the same statistical results at the next level, when that isn’t possible. We’re seeing this with Brandon Weeden, who at Oklahoma State could consistently take a 5-7 step drop from the gun and rely on a one-paced strike ball to find Justin Blackmon in a wide open field. Weeden was all over the place in pre-season for the Browns.

Smith takes his fair share of snaps under center, but there are also multiple ‘Weeden plays’ where he’s just dropping the LOS to stretch the field, using a 4WR set and scanning for the open guy. This negates pressure, forces average college players into coverage and makes the most of his arm strength. It’s scarily effective in college and if you have a strong armed QB and good receivers you can make it work. It’s also a world away from the way the NFL works.

At the next level he’s going to need to play quicker. In fairness, he makes multiple reads and appears to make good decisions most of the time. But he’s going to need to do it at a much increased speed in the NFL. Can he throw a touch pass? And can he throw the touch pass under pressure to his third target? There are lots of nice looking plays in the video above, but really it’s not a great measure of how the player translates to the next level. He looked a lot less convincing against a tough LSU defense last year, despite also making one of the passes of the 2011 season in that game.

I don’t want to be too negative because I like Smith. I really like his potential if he’s afforded time in the pro’s not forced to start on a bad team like Weeden. Like I said, he could be a first round pick. He is making progressions, he’s technically gifted, he has a decent arm and he’s athletic. He’s going to put up better numbers than any other quarterback in the NCAA this year. He still has to deliver, even if the offensive scheme is helping – so it’ll be to his credit when he puts up the big stats. I’m big on improvisation and the way he runs that touchdown in on a broken play (9:11) is a huge positive.

Smith has the prototypical size, he seems to be fairly grounded and he learnt this scheme quickly. He just needs to cut out the occasional poor decision such as the ones witnessed in an ugly loss against Syracuse last year or the ten-step drop from the gun on 2nd and 2 at 2:15 in the video above, just to throw an incomplete screen pass. I like Smith more than Brandon Weeden and now that WVU are in the Big-12, it’s going to be fascinating to see him perform against the likes of Texas (should win easily) and Oklahoma (could be a good one).

Games I’m watching this weekend:

Utah vs Utah State

USC vs Syracuse

Washington vs LSU

Georgia vs Missouri

I’m going to be keeping an eye on Star Lotulelei tonight to see if he’s made strides forward after last year. A lot of people love that guy, I still think he’s only scratching the surface of what he’s capable of and needs to be more consistent. The USC game will be a good one to get in the bag considering there are multiple first and second round picks (offense and defense) on the Trojans roster who are eligible for 2013. It’s a similar situation for Georgia, who have a wealth of talent this year. My main focus of attention in the Washington/LSU game will be the pass rushing duo of Mingo/Montgomery. Thoughts to come over the weekend.

Chris Steuber is reporting Seattle will have scouts at the following games:

And finally… Bill Simmons says the Seahawks are going to the Super Bowl and he likes the Russell Wilson story… a lot: “I’m picking a Ravens-Seahawks Super Bowl. And if when it happens, you’ll hear more about Wilson than any other quarterback this season: More than Brady, more than Rodgers, more than Peyton Manning, more than Tim Teb— actually, you won’t hear more about Wilson than Tim Tebow. ESPN and the NFL Network will make that impossible. But everyone else? Hell yeah!”

The NFL Playbook crew break down Russell Wilson’s pre-season tape. It’s more gushing praise for Seattle’s starting quarterback. Plus, all three predict Seattle to beat Arizona.

With hindsight, Pete Carroll and John Schneider got it right

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Pete Carroll's blue print is the right one for Seattle

When Pete Carroll and John Schneider arrived in Seattle, most people had an idea as to how they would rebuild this team:

a.) Draft a quarterback

b.) Build around that quarterback

A lot of teams have taken this route in the last few years. The Atlanta Falcons drafted Matt Ryan with the #3 pick in 2008 and built around him – adding a left tackle, signing Michael Turner in free agency then bringing in other pieces like Tony Gonzalez and eventually Julio Jones. St. Louis turned down the chance to draft Ndamukong Suh because they believed they needed a quarterback – Sam Bradford – to begin yet another rebuild. The Lions drafted Matt Stafford after going 0-16, hoping he would be the focal point of a more successful era in Detroit.

In the last five drafts (2008-12) ten quarterbacks have been drafted in the top-10. Conventional wisdom says you need a quarterback to succeed. Conventional wisdom also states you sit that quarterback for one or more years, but more and more teams feel obliged to start their latest top-10 pick as a rookie. Instead of drafting the quarterback and then sitting him while you build from the inside out, teams are now throwing their rookies to the wolves and hoping for the best (see: Miami).

Some have been more fortunate than others. Matt Ryan had the benefit of a smart front office that knew it had to do something to protect the rookie, which is why they made an aggressive move to draft a tackle (Sam Baker) and add a running back of Turner’s quality. Joe Flacco – a slightly later first round pick who started in year one – had the benefit of an elite defense in Baltimore keeping games close. Mark Sanchez had a poor regular season as a rookie, but again benefited from a good defense and ground game.

In each case, Atlanta, Baltimore and New York knew what they were doing. Sure, it was a risk starting a quarterback that early. But it was a calculated risk given the quality surrounding the team.

Other quarterbacks haven’t been quite so fortunate. Sam Bradford has taken a pounding playing for a wretched Rams outfit. Stafford came good last year, but only after two seasons collecting injuries because Detroit couldn’t protect the guy. A lot of people love to get at Blaine Gabbert, but really what chance did he have in Jacksonville throwing to… ??? The Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns appear destined to struggle with their rookies for similar reasons.

One quarterback has been talented enough as an individual to make up for a poor supporting cast, and that’s Cam Newton. A lot of national pundits wouldn’t have touched Newton with the #1 pick as they mentioned a lot pre-draft, but few are willing to admit it now.

Seattle didn’t go with conventional wisdow (can you see that recurring theme?) and spent needed time putting themselves in the Atlanta/Baltimore/New York bracket instead of the St. Louis/Miami/Cleveland group.

Starting a rookie or even a second year quarterback is all about the situation you put them in. It is the most important position, everyone knows that. But having talent at that position alone is rarely enough. The Panthers may get by because of Newton. Indianapolis will probably experience years of success purely because of Andrew Luck, just like they did under Peyton Manning. All those guys were #1 overall pick. The Seahawks have never owned the #1 pick to draft a guy of such quality that alone can define a team.

Getting a quarterback and building around him is the presumed the way of doing things, but the Seahawks didn’t play that hand. Many people questioned that decision. I should know, because I was one of those people. I often wrote on this blog about quarterbacks, about needing to make the big push up the board and selling out to get that centrepiece. It was frustrating to see the team drift along with an out-of-sorts Matt Hasselbeck, Tarvaris Jackson or Charlie Whitehurst. Something had to be done. Why weren’t they doing something?

All along Carroll and Schneider knew what they were doing, even if we didn’t understand it at the time. There was a lot of hand wringing when Schneider uttered the words ‘we will not panic‘ time and time again in post-season interviews. Not panicking translated to us as not doing enough. Sitting on your hands. It was only once a solution emerged via Russell Wilson, that people (including myself) ‘got it’. And hey, I’m not the only one. You’re probably reading this and relating to what I’m saying too. And there’s nothing wrong with a front office needing to prove what they’re doing is right, just as long as we accept it when that the evidence is there.

Even if Wilson doesn’t succeed, Carroll and Schneider’s way is worth persevering with. Drafting a rookie and starting him in the 2010 version of the Seahawks would’ve been chaos. When you consider the options (Tebow, McCoy, Clausen), it’s pretty obvious why they didn’t pull the trigger despite owning two first round picks that year. In 2011, the options were Dalton or Kaepernick. Again – would you feel more comfortable now with one of that trio as your long term investment as a round one pick? After a lockout? After you’ve just changed offensive coordinators? Or was rolling with Tarvaris Jackson for a year (he knew the system and coach) a good option after all? Was any long term damage created by going 7-9 last year?

Now we look at a team that is overwhelmingly superior to the 2010 outfit that somehow made the playoffs. The defense is seemingly on the brink of elite status. The offensive line is stronger. The run game is much better. It’s a better environment for a young quarterback to prosper. And now the supporting cast is in place, they’re giving a rookie quarterback a chance to show what he can do.

The Miami Dolphins have basically done the opposite of Seattle – drafting a rookie quarterback in the top ten, naming him the starter and then proceeding to make life as difficult as possible for him. They’ve traded away a solid albeit controversial receiver in Brandon Marshall. They traded away a useful cornerback for draft stock. They’re basically hoping Ryan Tannehill avoids long term damage – physically or mentally – before they start a proper rebuild next year. Good luck with that.

Cleveland – led by a President a lot of Seahawks fans wanted back in Seattle – started in a similar vein to the Seahawks building a good defense with some incredibly solid picks. But then they panicked. They draft a soon-to-be 29-year-old rookie quarterback in round one because they feel obliged to force the issue. Brandon Weeden has no weapons, so they then spend a second round pick on Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft and hope he can offer an immediate impact. It has to be said – a lot of what Holmgren and GM Tom Heckert have done so far has been positive. There’s potential with the defense and the offensive line. They have a future star at running back. And yet they’ve got the quarterback position so wrong because they panicked. Weeden looked completely out of his depth in pre-season and time is not on his side.

Let’s not forget, the Browns and Miami could’ve both signed Matt Flynn. They were probably the favorites to do so. But they wanted to use the draft to solve that problem. Seattle not only signed Flynn, they benched him when their rookie looked better. How different would life be for Cleveland and Mike Holmgren right now if they’d gone Flynn-Wilson and spent the 22nd overall pick on – for example – David DeCastro, Dont’a Hightower or made a small move up the board for Kendall Wright?

The Seahawks took a different approach and didn’t panic. There was no desperation move in the draft, no losing of cool as they took Bruce Irvin or James Carpenter in round one despite some criticism. The team is better for that approach and while this franchise may be a year or two away from maxing out its potential, it’s still a club that’s on the right track.

I suspect in years to come the Seahawks might be used as a role model. If Seattle succeeds and if Wilson succeeds, it may lead to a trend away from the conventional wisdom of drafting a rookie quarterback as stage one of a big rebuild and then being obliged to start them. It is quite staggering how far this team has come in two and a half years and teams will take notice of that. Whatever happens in 2012, without doubt the Seahawks are getting it right.