Archive for December, 2012

Solving the pass-rush issues

Monday, December 31st, 2012

Seattle’s greatest need is at the three technique. No doubt what so ever. It’s absolutely crucial for this team that they find a way to create interior pressure. As good as the teams defense has been this season, they’re really only scratching the surface. There’s a lot of untapped potential – for pressure, sacks and most importantly – turnovers. For this team to keep improving even after an 11-5 regular season, they have to upgrade the three technique position.

My vote is still to pursue Randy Starks in free agency. The Dolphins have been unusually lax given that Jeff Ireland’s job is supposedly secure. They haven’t initiated any contract talks with key players such as Starks or left tackle Jake Long.

Presumably Long will be the priority. They’re not averse to big contract extensions – Cameron Wake signed a $49m deal in May. It’ll probably take an even bigger contract to re-commit to a pre-CBA #1 overall pick. Even so, Miami’s offensive line is bad enough without needing to search for another left tackle. As we saw with Mario Williams last year though, the structure of the franchise tag is making it expensive to maintain top-players drafted under the former rookie-structure. If they sign Long, it’s hard to imagine they’d be in a strong position to retain other key free agents.

Starks had an impressive year including five sacks and an interception. He’s the kind of penetrative force needed in Seattle, but he also plays the run particularly well. It’s no coincidence the Seahawks had their toughest day running the ball against the Dolphins interior of Starks and Paul Soliai. A lot of younger three-technique’s struggle to make the transition to the pro’s because by nature they’re undersized. If you’re average guard or tackle is +300lbs, a three-technique usually giving up 10-15lbs. Without the kind of unnatural power a player like Ndamukong Suh had coming into the league, a young, undersized tackle can often get engulfed. It’s no surprise that guys like Geno Atkins and Darnell Dockett play with as much attitude as they do speed.

Starks is 305lbs and has no such issues. He’s big, strong, plays with tremendous pad level and has violent hands. He’ll stunt blockers at the line and win 1vs1 battles against the run. He also has a terrific bull rush and enough explosion off the line to penetrate into the backfield. Starks also has the benefit of experience and it shows – he understands blocking schemes and adapts during games to remain effective (he had no issues against Seattle’s ZBS). He’s almost ideal for the ’4-3 under’ – not giving anything up against the run while being able to double up on the right side with Chris Clemons to collapse the pocket. He just turned 29 so a big contract seems unlikely. If Starks hits the market, a creative two or three-year deal would make a lot of sense. The Seahawks are unlikely to be his only suitor.

Henry Melton is another option and it’ll be interesting to see what happens in Chicago. Lovie Smith has been fired and that could lead to some schematic changes – although all of Chicago’s defensive talent is suited to an orthodox 4-3 system. If he hits the market he’ll likely command a hefty salary. The question is- how much of his production is manufactured playing with elite defensive talent? Teams constantly have to deal with Julius Peppers off the edge, has Melton benefited from that? Would he be able to replicate his success in a different environment to warrant a big outlay in terms of salary?

There aren’t many high-quality three-techniques in the league. Melton is one of the best, Atkins in Cincinnati is the clear #1. If the Seahawks want to solve this problem with a veteran presence, they’ll likely have to get the cheque book out.

Of course the one thing Atkins and Melton have in common is they’re both fourth round picks. Dockett was a third round pick. It’s a position that lends itself to mid-round value. As we’ve discussed on this blog several times this season, many of the first-round defensive tackles drafted in recent years haven’t lived up to expectations. The Seahawks have been prolific in their ability to find mid-round gems in the Carroll/Schneider era. They may feel confident enough to go down this route again. They took Jaye Howard in round four last year, perhaps believing he could bring similar value and fill this role. That move hasn’t worked out so far, but they could continue the search in the same kind of range in 2013. One name to keep an eye on is Kawann Short at Purdue. He mostly disappointed this year, blowing hot and cold and struggling to dominate games. However, he has the size and unnatural speed to feature in the role. His inconsistent play could lead to a fall – he might be available in the 2nd/3rd round range. Arizona State’s Will Sutton is another mid-round option after a productive 10-sack season. His lack of size and ability versus the run is a slight concern though.

Even so, I still maintain they’d be better off trying to add a Starks or Melton for security. The maximum effectiveness of the defense is at stake here. A legitimate interior pass rush would open up so many opportunities for the LEO (Chris Clemons/Bruce Irvin). It would allow the Seahawks to keep rushing four in base defense. It would create many more turnover opportunities for a talented group of linebackers and defensive backs. As good as Seattle’s defense has been this year, it could be even better. By quite some way, too.

There are other possible ways to improve the pass rush via the draft. Jason Jones is a free agent and it’s unclear whether he’ll be retained for 2013. If the Seahawks want a bigger defensive end who can be flexible while also playing inside on nickel and passing downs, Alex Okafor at Texas could be the answer. He dominated Oregon State at the Alamo Bowl (see tape above) recording 4.5 sacks. He’s about 6-4 and 270lbs but could probably get up to the 275-280lbs range. He’s too big for a LEO, but his upper body power and quick feet could make him ideal for the Jason Jones-role.

The biggest issue with Okafor is consistency. He had 8.5 sacks for Texas during the regular season but drifted in and out of games and struggled to make a lasting impact for a disappointing defense. A lot of big-name Texas prospects have flattered to deceive and prior to the bowl game, it appeared Okafor would go down that route as well. Tony Pauline recently graded him in the 3rd/4th round range, but his performance against the Beevers increases his chances of being a day two pick.

On a slightly different note, take the chance to watch Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins against LSU tonight in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. It appears he’ll be declaring for the draft and he’s a legitimate late first round option for any team looking to add a receiver:

Meanwhile USC receiver Robert Woods also confirmed he will be turning pro:

Happy New Year everyone!

Instant reaction: Seahawks beat Rams, finish 11-5

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

Offensive rookie of the year?

St. Louis came agonisingly close to ending Seattle’s unbeaten home record today. It was a gritty, hard fought rivalry game – the type you’re going to have to get used to in the new NFC West. A 20-13 win is only worth as much as a 42-13 win, but there were some familiar issues that cropped up this afternoon.

First and foremost the pass rush simply wasn’t good enough today and it’s becoming a worrying trend. Seattle had zero sacks against a team that had given up 34 going into the final week of the season. Even putting Bruce Irvin on the field for early downs had little impact. When the Seahawks attack with four rushers, they struggle to create pressure. Considering rushing with four is at the heart of the teams defensive philosophy, it’s a problem. Maybe things change in the playoffs? We can but hope. As things stand the pass rush has to be the teams greatest concern going into 2013.

Time and time again Sam Bradford had an age to throw the ball. The Rams do not possess a great offensive line. Jeff Fisher has two first round picks in the 2013 draft and it wouldn’t be a total shocker if both were spent on shoring up Bradford’s pass protection. Miami, Chicago, Arizona, Buffalo, St. Louis. Five opponents since the bye week, five opponents with mediocre or average offensive lines. Seattle has not taken advantage on any occasion.

Chris Clemons had a couple of pressures as usual today but apart from that only an Earl Thomas-blitz gave Bradford anything to think about. If the Seahawks are going to go deep into the post-season, they need more than that. Perhaps they dialled things back a little, not wanting to give anything away for next week? It’s a possibility. But one thing is sure – this team cannot rush four in base. Whether it’s Robert Griffin III or Tony Romo next week, they’re going to need to get creative. And that probably means coming up with some blitz packages.

The greatest need on the team is – still – finding interior pass rush. How did you know we were going to discuss this today? It’s non-existent at the moment. This has to be addressed. Spend big on Henry Melton if you get a chance. Consider adding Randy Starks at a slightly cheaper cost. Trade up for Sheldon Richardson. Work that late round magic again. Whatever. A solution must be found because it’s holding this team back. I suspect the teams front office doesn’t need anyone to highlight this issue. We see it every week.

Seattle relies too much on Chris Clemons. It’s been that way since he joined the team in 2010. Even Bruce Irvin – drafted to help out – has one sack in six games since the bye week. It’s no coincidence that Ray Edwards had a work-out recently. Both players need interior help. And right now the Seahawks are using a 330lbs nose tackle at the three technique. Alan Branch deserves to stay with this team when he hits free agency. But he offers no pass rush. And for that reason, he’d be better served as a rotational cog and backup for Red Bryant rather than a starter at a position designed to collapse the pocket and aid the LEO.

These are topics for another day. But that day will come unless the Seahawks suddenly turn it on in the playoffs. You don’t expect great pressure every week. But so far the only bad offensive line Seattle has abused was Green Bay’s for one half. And there’s too much talent in the secondary to allow this to be an issue again in 2013.

A lot of people are going to want to talk about the offensive line. St. Louis played a great game today. Jeff Fisher and his staff constructed a scheme that consistently confused Seattle’s line. Russell Okung had his worst game for a while. Breno Giacomini took a step back after several weeks of good play. Most of all J.R. Sweezy showed the kind of growing pains we saw against the Cardinals in week one.

It’s also worth remembering the likes of Julius Peppers, Mario Williams, Aldon Smith, Cameron Wake and others who’ve been shut out in recent weeks. This was a bad day at the office. The second half adjustments slowed some of the schemes St. Louis were using. I’m tempted to chalk this one down to experience and good scheming by the Rams. Although John Moffitt really needs to be active next week just in case we see similar struggles from Sweezy again.

Some other issues? Penalties returned with vengeance. One chalked off an early touchdown for Zach Miller, another put paid to a big play for Doug Baldwin. On both occasions, Anthony McCoy was the culprit. There were some sloppy penalties against the offensive lineman, Bruce Irvin had a silly ‘roughing the passer’ call.

Russell Wilson on the whole was exemplary and equalled Peyton Manning’s rookie passing record for touchdowns. In a way, equalling the record and having your name placed alongside Manning seems just as good as breaking the tally. Having said that, in the first half he was guilty on a couple of occasions of trying to do too much. It’s hard to be too critical given the pressure he was under, but there were at least a couple of sacks before half time that were avoidable. Barring a dramatic performance from Robert Griffin III tonight, I think it’s hard to keep the offensive rookie of the year award away from Wilson. How many third round rookie quarterbacks do what he’s done this year?

Nobody appeared to get injured which was a big positive. Golden Tate had another terrific performance. Richard Sherman finished the regular season with eight interceptions, making a mockery of the decision to put Patrick Peterson into the Pro-Bowl ahead of him. Seattle’s 11-5 record is the third best in franchise history. Wilson is the first rookie quarterback to go 8-0 at home. The Seahawks dominated every game they played at Century Link apart from one that we won’t mention here today.

The Rams have come a long way since the New England beat-down I had to endure in London earlier this season. On that night it was like watching the Rams we’ve come to know – lacking in talent and capable of being blown away. This is a completely different beast a few weeks on. And with four first round picks to spend in the next two drafts, the Rams will be a threat in the NFC West with Jeff Fisher running the show. Seahawks fans should be pleased with a hard fought win today. It’s the only type of win you’re going to get against the Rams for the next few years.

2013 draft order

This hasn’t been confirmed, but I understand this is how the top-20 will look now that the regular season is complete:

#1 Kansas City
#2 Jacksonville
#3 Oakland
#4 Philadelphia
#5 Detroit
#6 Cleveland
#7 Arizona
#8 Buffalo
#9 New York Jets
#10 Tennessee
#11 San Diego
#12 Miami
#13 Tampa Bay
#14 Carolina
#15 New Orleans
#16 St. Louis
#17 Pittsburgh
#18 St. Louis (via Washington) or Dallas
#19 New York Giants
#20 Chicago

Thoughts on Baylor’s Terrance Williams

Friday, December 28th, 2012

I’m not convinced by Terrance Williams. He led the NCAA for receiving yards this year (1832) – 152 more yards than Biletnikoff winner Marqise Lee prior to USC’s Bowl game. He almost doubled his output as a junior and scored twelve touchdowns in another successful year for the Bears.

Despite all of that, I’m not sold.

You can’t knock his straight line speed and he’ll probably get a little boost at the combine. However, he lacks elite size (6-2, 200-205lbs) and he flashes inconsistent effort.

The biggest issue I have though is his tendency to body catch and how it leads to mistakes. Against UCLA in the Holiday Bowl there was moment in a simple jump-ball situation where he didn’t even raise his arms above his head. He’s got to go up and high point the football, win the play and make a big gain. Instead he’s waiting for it to drop into his frame. At the next level, he’s not going to be able to just run into space, get open and be in a position to make big yardage in a spread scheme. He’s going to have to win 1v1 match-ups. He’s going to have to compete for the ball in the air.

Not only will he require improved technique in this area, he’s just got to want it more. Like I said, he can’t afford to just rely on speed at the next level. Tell me a current NFL receiver who does that. You’ve got to be smart, competitive and consistent. You don’t see a great deal of that on tape. A corner like Richard Sherman can work a guy like this, beat him for effort and measure to avoid giving up the deep route. It’ll be a cake walk for any chirpy corner playing man.

Teams that are looking for a pure deep threat will show some interest, but the entire package is only worthy of a late second/third round grade in my view. According to Scouts Inc he’s had some maturity issues and I’m not convinced mass-production in a prolific offense will be enough to bail him out.

I’ve added a video showing his performance against Iowa State above. Look at the play at 1:08 where he gets in behind the defensive back, seemingly completes the catch but then drops the ball at the last minute. It’s sloppy and frustrating. At 2:13 he has another unforgivable drop. Sift through his 2012 back catalogue and there are plenty of big plays to counter such a lack of concentration – but this mistakes also keep cropping up.

I’m just not convinced he has enough spectacular aspects to his game aside from speed. The Seahawks want unique, not just fast. Can he fit into a quick strike offense? Possibly. But not as a high first or second round pick in my opinion. There are more explosive receivers with just as much speed eligible for this draft. If the Seahawks do go receiver early, I think they’ll look elsewhere.

Further thoughts on Brandon Coleman

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Yesterday I mocked Brandon Coleman to the Seahawks late in the first round. I’ve written about Coleman before, but this was the first time I’d paired him with the Seahawks. For me he’s a unique prospect. And one of the things we’ve learnt about Seattle’s front office is ‘unique’ isn’t considered a bad thing.

Physically there’s a lot to like. He’s 6-6 with a 220lbs frame. Despite being so tall, he’s shown the ability to run away from defensive backs (see this 85-yard touchdown against Louisville). You don’t see many Brandon Coleman’s in the NFL.

So how come I have him falling to #26 overall in a mock draft? Simple really. He’s had only one year as a permanent starter with limited production in terms of yardage. We’ve come to celebrate receivers like Marqise Lee, Justin Blackmon and Michael Crabtree – putting up insane numbers on the road to Biletnikoff awards. All playing in high-power passing offenses with capable quarterbacks. That’s just what you’re expected to do these days. Despite the obvious potential with Coleman, some teams are going to be put off when they see 39 catches for the 2012 season and just 663 yards. He had only two 100-yard games for Rutgers this year – the second aided by that 85 yard touchdown I linked to earlier.

No other position in college football is impacted by scheme quite as much as the receiver position. Play for an air raid attack, reach 1200-1800 yards and ten scores? You’re likely to receive a nice boost to your draft stock. It’s helped players like Jacksonville’s Blackmon who – although talented – didn’t flash incredible physical qualities like Calvin Johnson or Julio Jones.

A lack of elite production is something Coleman’s aware of:

“You look at other schools across the country and it doesn’t seem like it’s a lot (his production). Look at West Virginia and what their two guys (Stedman Bailey, who has 23 touchdown catches, and Tavon Austin, who has 12) have done this year. One of them had four (touchdown receptions) in a game, and they had a couple of three-touchdown games. I guess it depends on where you play. So I’m not sure if I can compare it to anything.”

He’s right. There’s no point comparing stats. Although there’s no doubt some teams will. Demaryius Thomas is a good example of a player with superb physical qualities. However, he featured in Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense and questions were raised over his ability to work in a conventional system. He only had one year of big production. In the end he fell to the #22 overall pick in 2010 despite having physical qualities matching a top-fifteen pick (6-3, 224lbs, 4.50 forty yard dash). Give him a quarterback in Denver and suddenly he’s a top-ten receiver in the NFL. Seattle won’t have to wait to find their quarterback, and there’s no reason why Coleman can’t have similar success.

The question is – if Coleman does declare for the 2013 draft – which team is going to see beyond a lack of production and experience? Who is going to look past what a player hasn’t done or can’t do, and concentrate on what he can?

I found this quote from NFL.com’s Albert Breer pretty interesting, when discussing the Seahawks approach to scouting:

You have, in short, a roster whose beauty lies in how different it is. This also makes the Seahawks one difficult team to prepare for on Sundays.

“If you wanna point to the height of the corners or the quarterback, it goes to what we’ve looked for, and that really goes back to SC,” said Carroll, who coached the USC Trojans for nine years. “We’re looking for uniqueness in our players — the quality that separates them.”

That plays out in how the scouts and coaches are trained to think by the Seahawks. They’re told to break the football man’s natural inclination to find what a player can’t do well rather than what he can or does do well. It’s born there, in the Seahawks’ goal of identifying players by thinking outside the box — for instance, while (Bruce) Irvin’s troubled teenage years raised a fire-engine red flag for some teams, the Seahawks were amazed that he’d found his way out — and it’s nurtured in a system that accentuates the strengths of the incoming guys.

The Seahawks are constantly looking for unique qualities, and it wouldn’t get much more unique than a gangly 6-6 receiver whose best football is yet to come. As Breer testifies, they concentrate on what a player ‘can’ do. So what can Brandon Coleman do? He’s 6-6, so he’s capable of winning a lot of jump balls – something the Seahawks use a lot in their quick-strike offense. He can out-run much smaller defensive backs. He’s a hands catcher capable of pulling the ball out of the air. And more than anything else – he scores touchdowns. His ten scores this year equalled a school record. He can break that record when he takes on Virginia Tech tomorrow in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

This doesn’t mean you ignore some of the issues. For such a big player he could be more physical. There’s a level of consistency you’d like to see him reach (has the occasional drop). He’s not running a big route-tree in college. Even so – these are aspects you can work on. You can’t expect perfect receivers to be around in the late first round.

In many ways he looks ideal for the Seahawks offense. He’d offer a new dimension – a receiver with different skills to both Sidney Rice and Golden Tate. Coleman would offer a red zone threat and be a great target on those play action downfield passes into single coverage. I contest that the Seahawks aren’t necessarily looking for 1500 yard seasons from their wideouts. They’ll spread things around, run the football. The receivers might get two catches in a game, both for big plays. That’s the nature of the quick strike attack. And the two eligible players capable of adding to that quick-strike mentality in the draft will be Coleman and Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson.

Pete Carroll appears to be switched on when it comes to trends in the league. He helped develop the move to bigger cornerbacks. He studied the use of the read-option in Washington and how that helped Robert Griffin III have such an early impact for the Redskins. At a time when the league was all about big yardage in the passing game, Carroll concentrated on the run – just as several other teams followed this example. Ever since he took over in 2010, the Seahawks have seemingly been ahead of the curve.

Having helped develop the big cornerback trend, he may have to come up with an answer on offense too. Facing 6-3 cornerbacks these days? Perhaps the answer is to draft a 6-6 receiver who can run a 4.5 and win jump balls?

Going back to the yardage issue, here’s a few numbers to consider when judging Coleman. A.J. Green never had double figure touchdowns in a season (highest he had was nine in 2010). Green also never topped 1000 yards at Georgia in a single season. In Julio Jones’ second season as a starter in Alabama, he had 596 yards and four touchdowns. Jones also never reached double figures for touchdowns in a single season. It took Calvin Johnson until his final year at Georgia Tech to top 1000 yards and double figures for touchdowns. In Johnson’s first two years as a starter, he averaged 6.5 touchdowns a year and just over 800 yards.

Suddenly, a ten touchdown season with a game to go doesn’t appear so bad for Coleman given this is his first full year as a starter.

Will he declare? He recently commented he was leaning towards returning to college. Considering most people weren’t even sure he was undecided, this is perhaps a greater development for those hoping to see him in the NFL. It had been assumed he’d return for further seasoning. It appears he’s leaving the door open – and so he should. A big bowl performance could move him towards the NFL.

There are benefits to returning – namely further experience on the field as a starter. However, he’ll need to decide whether he’s just delaying the inevitable. It may be that he has to play in a pro-offense with pro-coaching before he truly takes the next step. There’s no guarantee that staying at Rutgers will automatically mean improved numbers or consistency next year. It’s not like the Scarlet Knights are suddenly going to become an up-tempo passing team. If his main priority is to improve as a player rather than success in college, he might be better off in the NFL.

Finding a tall, explosive receiver to add to the offense is arguably the teams biggest need after an upgrade at the three technique. If Brandon Coleman does turn pro, there’s a good chance he’ll be on this teams radar.

Boxing Day mock draft

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

Imagine Seattle’s offense with one more great receiver.

The Seahawks are averaging 50 points a game in their last three outings. They’re running the ball efficiently. Russell Wilson is throwing the ball well. Everything is clicking.

But just imagine this offense with one more talented wide out to go with Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin. Doesn’t Wilson deserve to be complimented with more weapons? Are you not intrigued to see just how good he could be with another game changing receiver on the roster?

There’s a fear factor about drafting first round receivers, largely inspired by Matt Millen’s ill-fated tenure as Detroit’s General Manager. Between 2003-05, Millen selected Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and Mike Williams with top ten picks. The heavy outlay at the position made little impact on the team, with another top-ten pick Joey Harrington also becoming a top-ten quarterback bust for Millen. Since then, fans have often cited a distrust in drafting receivers early.

Is this a good time to mention Millen also drafted Calvin Johnson?

Here’s the thing – it doesn’t really matter what happened in the past. If 99 first round receivers bust, it doesn’t mean #100 won’t make the Hall of Fame. In the 2008 draft, no receivers were drafted in the first round. At the time it was assumed this was an example of the NFL ‘learning its lesson’. In reality, it was just a review of the draft class on the whole. A year later, six receivers were taken in the first round. And the success rate of the players taken in the subsequent three drafts is quite high.

2011 – A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Jonathan Baldwin
2010 – Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant
2009 – Darrius Heyward-Bey, Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Percy Harvin, Hakeem Nicks, Kenny Britt

That’s eleven receivers in total. Of the group, only the Al Davis-inspired Heyward-Bey is a calamitous bust. Green, Jones, Thomas and Bryant are among the NFL’s best receivers, while Harvin, Nicks, Britt and Crabtree are key components within their respective teams. Jonathan Baldwin has struggled to make an impact, yet Kansas City’s quarterback position is a mess and they’ll likely earn the #1 overall pick next week. Funnily enough, there appears to be a correlation between receivers drafted early being successful and whether they have a good quarterback throwing the ball. Funny that, isn’t it?

After all, Millen’s greatest mistake in Detroit wasn’t to draft three receivers in round one. It was to invest in a bad quarterback.

Really it’s not the receiver position itself that is the issue. It’s whether you can identify the right players and put them in a good situation. The Seahawks have their quarterback and the ‘good situation’. Who would bet against them identifying the right player if they do choose to draft a receiver?

That’s the direction I’ve gone in this latest mock. We’ll continue to look at a lot of different options in the new year. The pick I’ve gone with is a relatively inexperienced player who could fall simply for that reason. Brandon Coleman is far from the finished article. Yet his upside is incredible. This is the first time I’ve mocked him to Seattle, but it’s not the first time we’ve talked about him. His team, Rutgers, is taking on Virginia Tech in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Friday. I wonder if an athletic Russell will be throwing to him in 2013?

Will he declare? It’s still a debating point. He told Keith Sargeant: “That was something I was going to think about after the bowl game, but right now I’m thinking about coming back for another year. I’ll just keep developing. I like this bond I have with this team, and I feel like I still have room to grow as a receiver.” He still sounds unsure, even if he claims to be leaning to a return. A big bowl performance can change things. So can a positive report from the draft committee. Ultimately what he has to decide is whether he’s more likely to take the ‘next step’ with more time in the college ranks in a run heavy system, or whether he’s better off turning pro. It’ll be a tough choice.

Just a first round projection today…

#1 Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
The Chiefs need a quarterback. They don’t have a terrible roster. They have to do this.
#2 Bjoern Werner (DE, Florida State)
The Jaguars need a pass rusher and Werner could steadily move up the boards after a 13.5 sack season.
#3 Damontre Moore (DE, Texas A&M)
Only Jacksonville has less sacks than Oakland. Moore had 12.5 in the SEC this year for A&M.
#4 Luke Joeckel (T, Texas A&M)
This is the starting point for whoever replaces Andy Reid. They have to repair the offensive line.
#5 Dion Jordan (DE, Oregon)
He’s a physical freak. He could blow up the combine. If he does… then hello to the top five.
#6 Manti Te’o (LB, Notre Dame)
The way Buddy Nix is talking, he’ll probably trade back into round one for a quarterback. If he keeps his job.
#7 Sheldon Richardson (DT, Missouri)
Defensive end is the bigger need but three are off the board already.
#8 Dee Milliner (CB, Alabama)
Elite potential. Vastly underrated. The complete cornerback.
#9 Geno Smith (QB, West Virginia)
All the messing around at quarterback cannot happen again next year.
#10 Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
He’ll move over to left tackle in the pro’s.
#11 Chance Warmack (G, Alabama)
He’s good enough to go in the top ten. So is Jonathan Cooper.
#12 Alec Ogletree (LB, Georgia)
Top-ten potential. This would be a steal.
#13 Star Lotulelei (DT, Utah)
He has a lot of upside, but he’s inconsistent.
#14 Matt Elam (S, Florida)
Elam’s a dynamic defensive back who will make plays at the next level.
#15 Cordarrelle Patterson (WR, Tennessee)
The X-Factor player of this draft.
#16 Kyle Van Noy (DE, BYU)
After everything he’s done this year, someone could draft this guy early.
#17 Eric Fisher (T, Central Michigan)
The Rams need to find a left tackle and Fisher looks a lot like Joe Staley.
#18 Jonathan Cooper (G, North Carolina)
Athletic guard who could even switch to tackle. He will start for 10+ years.
#19 Ezekiel Ansah (DE, BYU)
Another player who could really boost his stock with a great combine. A Giants type of pass rusher.
#20 Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan)
The next best tackle on the board.
#21 Arthur Brown Jr (LB, Kansas State)
Don’t under-estimate this guy. He’s legit.
#22 Zach Ertz (TE, Stanford)
This gives Sam Bradford another weapon, but also solidifies the offense in general.
#23 DeAndre Hopkins (WR, Clemson)
It’s time to start talking about this guy as a top-25 talent.
#24 Tyler Wilson (QB, Arkansas)
No, I don’t think Indianapolis drafts Tyler Wilson. But this could be the range where a team like Buffalo trades back into round one.
#25 Jarvis Jones (DE, Georgia)
Jones’ spinal stenosis could lead to a grade in the late first round.
#26 Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers)
Physically immense but undercooked and it could lead to a slight drop if he declares.
#27 John Simon (DE, Ohio State)
Just a solid, blue-collar pass rusher.
#28 Markus Wheaton (WR, Oregon State)
A smart team will draft this guy early. He’s the second coming of Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace.
#29 Jesse Williams (DT, Alabama)
I think he fits best at the five technique in a 3-4.
#30 Sylvester Williams (DT, North Carolina)
Terrific pass-rushing defensive tackle who can line up at the one or three technique.
#31 Dallas Thomas (G, Tennessee)
He had an excellent 2012 season. Thomas can play guard or tackle.
#32 Jonathan Jenkins (DT, Atlanta)
Atlanta could use an interior upgrade.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

Time to give the offensive line credit

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Breno Giacomini is having a fantastic second half of the season

Seattle has one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.

Football Outsiders ranks it as the #1 run blocking unit in the league after week 16. They’re still ranked at #16 for pass protection based on adjusted sack rate, but only seven teams have given up less sacks in the entire NFL.

The 49ers have three first round picks playing on their offensive line (Joe Staley, Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis). They’re the #2 running unit in the NFL. They’re also ranked 31st for pass protection. The New York Giants are ranked #3 for both the pass and the run for the #1 overall line. They have no first round picks featuring on their line. We’ll come back to that.

Offensive lines are a bit of a bug bear in Seattle. A never ending need if you will, a constant craving for an unlikely goal of elite starters at every position. The 2005 Super Bowl offensive line was incredibly effective and set the standard for this franchise. It was still made up mostly of no-thrills blue-collar lineman with minimal cost. The big investment came on the left side, with two first round picks at tackle and guard.

It’s no surprise that some fans are desperate to get there again. However, it’s worth noting the similarities between the two units. Once again the Seahawks have first round picks starting at left tackle and guard. Russell Okung is playing at a league-leading level, just like Walter Jones did for many years. James Carpenter isn’t Steve Hutchinson, but he’s shown flashes of real potential when healthy. The big issue for Carpenter is going to be proving he can stay on the field for a full season, but the team has coped without him.

What this line has over the 2005 group is an elite center (Max Unger) and enough young quality at right guard and tackle to make this a solid, overall unit with good depth. They’re not relying on ageing veterans here. They are starting first and second year players and they’re getting the job done.

Breno Giacomini still can’t catch a break from some fans. I don’t have access to statistics that will back this up, but the eye test says there haven’t been many better right tackles in the league in the second half of the season. The first half was frustrating – he had far too many penalties and the offense suffered as a consequence. Now he’s playing at an elite level for a right tackle. There, I said it.

This is how I’ll back that statement up…

Jared Allen, Cameron Wake, Julius Peppers, Mario Williams, Aldon Smith.

Five of the NFL’s best pass rushers. Five players who had absolutely no impact rushing the edge against the Seahawks. Some of that’s down to Russell Okung. Some of that’s down to Russell Wilson’s quick thinking and elusiveness. Some of it’s down to the brilliant play of Breno Giacomini.

The league isn’t stupid and they’re not going to line these guys against Okung every snap. They’ve tested Giacomini. And he’s answered the question. The entire offensive line has answered the question. Gone are the days where quarterbacks have no time to throw or appear to be under constant duress. Gone are the days when this team gets pushed around in the trenches. ESPN has removed the video of Trey Wingo, Mark Schlereth and Tedy Bruschi all picking the Seahawks to beat the Niners this week. I can’t directly quote Bruschi, but he made reference to there being only one team in the league that was physical enough on the offensive line to deal with the Niners. That team was Seattle.

Amid all the impressive performances against the leagues top pass rushers, the Seahawks maintain the #1 ranking for run offense. There’s no getting away from it, this is an elite unit and Giacomini deserves some credit. They all do.

It’s also a fluid situation. Carpenter, Paul McQuistan and John Moffitt have all spent time at left guard. McQuistan, Moffitt and J.R. Sweezy have all started at right guard. The coaches are happy to do this because they trust all of their guys. How many of you held your breath when you discovered Sweezy rather than Moffitt would start against the Niners? And how many of you noticed Sweezy during the game?

Going back to the New York Giants offensive line – the #1 line in the league according to Football Outsiders. They have a similar system, where they’ve had to plug people into the line-up. They’ve also won Super Bowls. They haven’t filled the line with pricey first and second round picks. Their biggest investment on the line was second round tackle William Beatty in 2009. What they have done is create consistency at the line, let the players learn the scheme and then trust them to execute. I ‘ve used this quote before, and I’ll keep rolling it out. This is the secret to success according to Giants guard David Diehl:

“People forget playing together for a long period of time is what makes you the best as possible. Now with someone getting hurt, or free agency, you don’t see a group together very long. When we had our best years here, it was when the five of us played together during that one long stretch. That’s what you have to have to have an effective offensive line. You have to have a lot of game experience together because there is so much continuity, fitting next to each other, being on the same page, being able to communicate when you can’t hear because of the noise.”

If you buy into this theory – and I do – the worst thing you can do is keep changing the offensive line every year. Consistency is key. You don’t have to keep going to the well to pick up first or second round picks.

Another quote I like? This one from Mike Shanahan:

“Everybody says we don’t have a good right tackle. I say show me who does?”

The Seattle Seahawks, Mike. They have a good right tackle. You might get a chance to meet him in the Playoffs.

This team has underrated quality on the offensive line, solid depth and a group of individuals who just get the system. They are familiar with each other. And they are helping this team win games of football. What’s more, they are organised by one of the best line coaches in the NFL, if not the best. I’m not trying to tell people what to think, but the offensive line just doesn’t look like a vital upgrade target. The depth’s good too.

The teams biggest needs – in my opinion – are as follows:

Three-technique – we’ve all seen how effective Aldon Smith is with a partner in crime. And yesterday we saw how effective he is without Justin Smith. The 4-3 under scheme Seattle uses is supposed to put a three-tech and the LEO next to each other so that a similar partnership can develop. Clemons has 11.5 sacks without that advantage. If the Seahawks can find a guy capable of crashing the pocket from the interior, Clemons and eventually Bruce Irvin will dominate in the same way Aldon Smith has in San Francisco. If only players like Justin Smith weren’t so rare…

Wide receiver – Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin. Essentially, that’s Seattle’s real depth chart at wide out. And it’s not big enough. And it’s not good enough. There’s room for at least one more top target to be added to that group especially with the respective injury history’s of the aforementioned players. Russell Wilson needs good targets just as much as he needs good pass protection and a running game. This is a vital need for the Seahawks.

WILL Linebacker – Leroy Hill continues to start ahead of Malcolm Smith and it leaves open the possibility that this is an area the Seahawks will consider upgrading in the draft next April, especially with players like Alec Ogletree expected to turn pro and Arthur Brown entering the league after his senior year at Kansas State.

Notes

Now that the Seahawks have qualified for the playoffs, they will pick no lower than #21 overall in the 2013 draft.

I’m planning a piece on Kyle Van Noy (DE, BYU) for after Christmas. Although I don’t think the Seahawks will draft another LEO rusher in round one next April, he looks almost too perfect for the role. After his big performance against San Diego State in the Poinsietta Bowl, I wanted to highlight just how good he could be. He has first round potential, but he won’t fit every scheme. He fits like a glove in Seattle.

Instant reaction: Happy Birthday, Jim

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

Marshawn Lynch had two touchdowns in today's latest beat down

For the third week in a row, the Seahawks delivered a beat down. Except this one was a little bit different. It wasn’t against a hopeless Cardinals outfit, or a Bills team going through the motions. This was on a whole different level.

This was a division rival. A ten-win division rival and the current division champions. A team that beat Tom Brady and the Patriots in their own back yard last week. That were placed by many as the NFL’s #1 in several national power rankings. This was the San Francisco 49ers on Jim Harbaugh’s 49th birthday.

Happy Birthday, Jim. And Merry Christmas, too.

Enough of that. Tonight’s all about the Seahawks. This was an opportunity to make a statement to the nation. The TV camera’s were in Century Link and all eyes were on the NFC West. Seattle’s message was, bluntly, “You don’t want to play us in the post season.” Message received, loud and clear.

It was a perfect evening for this franchise. Let’s list the reasons why…

- The fans showed once again that nobody is louder, that the true 12th man lives in the Pacific North West. Colin Kaepernick was visibly confused, used two time-outs in the first quarter and suffered multiple delay-of-game penalties. The 12th man helped Seattle set the tone early and set the stall for a one-sided affair.

- Russell Wilson made his greatest statement yet that he should be offensive rookie of the year with four touchdown passes. He wasn’t perfect, but he was playing one of the best defenses in the NFL. It all looks so easy to him – a testament to his work ethic, preparation and talent. This team has a franchise quarterback.

- Marshawn Lynch was in full-on beast mode. He has three 100-yard games against the 49ers since 2010. The rest of the NFL has two 100-yard games against the 49ers. He’s the most productive running back in the league not named Adrian Peterson.

- Red Bryant had a key blocked field goal that probably goes down as the play of the game. It made a likely 14-3 lead a 21-0 advantage instead. That was a huge turning point.

- Two Stanford players had big days against their former head coach. Richard Sherman returned the aforementioned blocked field goal for a touchdown and added a red-zone interception in the second half. Doug Baldwin scored twice and led the team for receiving yards. Neither display was a coincidence and the Seahawks visibly fed the ball to Baldwin. Sherman has seven interceptions for the season now – only Chicago’s Tim Jennings has more.

- Aldon Smith, chasing the NFL sack record, was a complete non-factor. The offensive line was again superb as a unit, but Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini deserve a special mention. Okung is a sure-fire Pro-Bowler based on his performances this year. Giacomini continues to play far better than anyone’s prepared to give him credit for. Over the last few weeks, you’ll struggle to convince me there’s been a better right tackle in the league.

- Seattle’s 42 points means they’ve averaged exactly 50 in their last three games. Who’d have believed that after the first few weeks?

- This is the fourth time a team has left Century Link Field not just beaten physically, but also emotionally. You could visibly see the life draining out of San Francisco’s players and coaches as the game continued. The same happened to Dallas, the New York Jets and Arizona.

Pete Carroll and John Schneider inherited a joke of a team in 2010. There were no building blocks on either side of the ball. No identity. The only thing left over from the Tim Ruskell era? An extra first round pick that turned into Earl Thomas. Aside from that one parting gift, they had nothing to work with.

In three seasons, this team has made the post-season twice. That is an underrated and incredible feat. The Seahawks suddenly have multiple cornerstone and franchise players. They’ve found a legit quarterback in round three, a shutdown corner in round five and a superstar running back via a steal of a trade. Then there’s the rest.

This team means business. Tonight was the exclamation point. Bring on the Rams and then the playoffs. Fear nobody.

This is not a weekend for draft talk

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

Watch the video above. Get ready for tomorrow. Forget about the draft this weekend. It’s all about Sunday.

Khaseem Greene (LB, Rutgers) vs Connecticut

Friday, December 21st, 2012

In this week’s updated mock draft, we had Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene going to Seattle in the second round. The video above shows his tape against Connecticut from this year. Take a look and let us know what you think.