Archive for January, 2013

Monday’s draft thoughts

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Senior Bowl gets under way

Day one started with measurements and a weigh-in. It was disappointing to hear that Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown wouldn’t be attending due to injury. Another linebacker — Rutgers’ Khaseem Greene — impressed during coverage drills. Seattle sent scouts to a few Rutgers games this year (per Chris Steuber) and while many assumed it was to observe giant receiver Brandon Coleman, the main focus could’ve been Greene. I see him as a solid second or third round option. He appears to fit what the Seahawks are looking for at the WILL.

Margus Hunt showed off an impressive physique and confirmed his stature at 6-8, 277lbs. Hunt also has 33 inch arms — good length for a defensive end. Alex Okafor came in at 6-4 and 261lbs with 33 inch arms. Kawann Short flashed an impressive 6-4 and 308lbs (lighter than expected), while John Simon came in at 6-1 and 256lbs.

Sylvester Williams didn’t get rave reviews for his body type, apparently looking a little sloppy in the midriff. He measured 6-2 and 313lbs with 33 inch arms. That’s quite big for a potential three technique, although Seattle has used 325lbs Alan Branch in the role for the last two years.

Jonathan Jenkins looked every bit a future nose tackle at 6-4 and 359lbs. According to Shane Hallam the Seahawks set up an interview with the Georgia prospect.

After speaking to Sylvester Williams yesterday, it seems like the Seahawks are putting in the leg work to check out this defensive tackle class. Jenkins would appear to be an unlikely option given his massive size and lack of pass-rush, but it’s worth doing due diligence this week. With three high calibre defensive tackles set to hit free agency in mid-March (Randy Starks, Henry Melton and Desmond Bryant) it makes sense to check on the prospects in Mobile to weigh up options. There’s more on Williams and Florida’s Sharrif Floyd later in today’s article.

Many of the offensive lineman impressed — D.J. Fluker showed off a compact frame with little body fat but still came in at 6-5 and 355lbs with 36 inch arms. At that size the big question will be mobility, even if he doesn’t have a sloppy frame. I think he’ll end up being an excellent guard as opposed to a starting tackle. Eric Fisher measured at 6-7 and 305lbs with 34 inch arms. He’ll likely be the second left tackle off the board in April.

Kyle Long started working at right tackle during drills and has shorter arms at 32 inches, which could have an impact on whether he starts at tackle or guard at the next level. It was a similar case for Justin Pugh (31 inches).  Teams are looking for tackles with a long reach and a strong punch. Shorter arms aren’t a death sentence by any means (Atlanta’s Sam Baker had this issue going into the draft) but they can impact your stock.

Sanders Commings measured in two inches shorter than Georgia had him listed (5-11, 223lbs). It shouldn’t be too much of a concern though, especially given his recent display against Alabama in the SEC Championship. I like Commings as a possible Seahawks target at corner.

Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson helped his stock by measuring at 6-2 — there had been some concerns he would come in at around 6-0/6-1. Height is much less of a taboo these days following Russell Wilson’s brilliant rookie season, but it would be a concern for his namesame who has a slingy, low release point. He had the smallest hands among the quarterbacks (between 8-9 inches). E.J. Manuel and Ryan Nassib led the group for hand size. Landry Jones had a disappointing first work-out according to eye witness accounts.

Wilson was apparently the best of a mediocre bunch today, spreading the ball around and connecting on a big play to Terrance Williams in 7v7 drills. Williams also had some issues with body catching, something that flashed up as a consistent problem on tape during the season. Reports suggest Markus Wheaton is looking smooth early on — he’s the best senior receiver so this should be no surprise.

For thoughts on the Senior Bowl work-outs I’d recommend following Tony Pauline on Twitter. He’ll also post practise notes on his website Draft Insider.net — such as the following on Ziggy Ansah: “Played in spurts but when he was on Ansah was terrific. The athleticism, explosion and power is there but he really needs to improve his overall techniques and polish his game.”

For a full breakdown on all the height/weight checks, click here (courtesy of NE Patriots Draft).

The Miami Dolphins web site provides a nine-minute podcast on how the players performed in drills. It’s worth a listen.

Rob Rang at CBS Sports has a breakdown of his observations on day one.

SB Nation has put together a ‘Senior Bowl’ hub where you’ll find multiple articles discussing events in Mobile.

Further thoughts on Slyvester Williams and Sharrif Floyd

Seattle’s pursuit of the defensive tackles at the Senior Bowl sparked my interest in the position again this week. It’s no great shock that the Seahawks are looking here — it’s the teams greatest need. Whatever happens this off-season, they need to come away with a defensive tackle capable of collapsing the pocket. Alan Branch has done a fine job during the last two seasons, but he isn’t a pass rusher. The 4-3 under scheme that the Seahawks are using requires a pass rusher at the three-technique position.

Sharrif Floyd and Sylvester Williams are two players that continue to interest me, but for different reasons. There are also some concerns.

I’m constantly going backwards and forwards with Sharrif Floyd. One minute I’m convinced he’s better off concentrating on the five technique position in a 3-4 scheme, the next I’m looking at his frame and imagining ideal three-technique size and some incredible raw potential.

I’ve talked about his background before (click here) but if you want a quick recap — he had a tough upbringing without his parents, was scrambling around looking for basically anywhere to live during High School. He was going to school in the same tattered old clothes every day. Floyd had to raise money on his own by making and selling brownies to get a plane ticket to attend an All-Star game in Texas — despite being a 5-star recruiting prospect.

And despite all of these hardships, he got on with his life. He’s a well spoken, driven individual. This is a man who has had pretty much everything thrown at him and not once has he complained. He’s a true inspiration.

I did some further digging on Floyd over the weekend and found some interesting information. Pete Carroll recruited Floyd in 2009, inviting him to USC for a visit. Pretty much every major school was trying to convince him to join their programme — and the Trojans were no exception. Floyd wrote a blog for Sports Illustrated during his recruitment experience. And he had a few interesting notes about his time with Carroll:

“I had a few opportunities to meet with coach Pete Carroll once before the game and than Sunday morning, prior to my departure. That last meeting was really chilled as we had breakfast on the beach. We spent some time just talking, and we didn’t talk football that much. We walked around for a bit after breakfast, just taking in the scene along the pier.

“I found out that he’s a great man and I enjoyed just being able to see him as a person and not the coach on the sidelines. I liked being able to talk with him about life.”

Of course he eventually committed to Florida, but despite a cluster of interest from all of the major schools — it seems like USC were in the running all the way. That suggests Carroll was pretty keen to bring him to Southern Cal. He made a policy of only going after out-of-state prospects who could be potential first round NFL picks.

Carroll already knows about this guy. Eventually the Seahawks are going to lose this edge when players recruited by the Trojans have all moved on to pastures new. For now, this front office continues to benefit from a unique insight courtesy of the Head Coach.

Combine this with Dan Quinn’s two years as Floyd’s defensive coordinator at Florida and the Seahawks barely have to scout the guy. I noticed an article from March 2012 where Quinn referenced his best position was defensive tackle, rather than end. It’s interesting that Carroll also saw him as a fit for his scheme at USC and both coaches will have insight into his strengths and weaknesses, which will help if you’re trying to manufacture an impact in year one.

Rest assured if the Seahawks do pass on Sharrif Floyd it’ll be more than an educated guess on his NFL potential.

We know he’s off the charts in terms of character and has the ideal frame for a three-technique at 6-3 and 298lbs. He’s only really scratched the surface of his potential in college. And he’s young – he won’t even turn 21 until late May.

What does the tape show? He has a lot of areas to improve if he wants to make the most of his obvious physical quality. Floyd takes a lot of wasted steps. He often lacks an explosive first step off the snap which is one of the big no-no’s when you’re looking for a three-technique. He plays with a lot of heart with a high motor, but he sometimes lacks that nasty streak you love to see for the position. He has almost a tendency to play too nice at times. There’s not a lot of evidence of a pass-rush repertoire or even one move that he can rely on. He’ll need some technical refinement to become an effective interior pass rushers in the NFL.

At the same time he shows well against the run and does have an effective bull rush. Mobility wise you can’t ask for much more and that’s why you can’t ignore this guy. Any player that moves this well at nearly 300lbs will interest a good defensive line coach. If you can teach him to judge a snap count and find that little edge by improving his first step, he could be effective. He looks to have long arms so there’s no reason why he can’t master the swim move. In one of the videos below you’ll see he more than holds his own against prospective t0p-five left tackle Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M.

It’s very easy to put 2+2 together and get 5 sometimes. The recruiting history with Carroll and the Dan Quinn-connection makes Floyd one to monitor, without any guarantees he’ll be on the teams radar. In terms of pure potential he’s off the charts — and there could be enough people banging the table to take a chance on him in April. The only concern will be if he’s almost too much of a high-upside project. Can he have an impact immediately? Can he rush the passer in year one? Fellow Gator Jaye Howard — another of Quinn’s former lineman — had absolutely no impact as a rookie and spent the year on the inactive list. The Seahawks need an interior presence now, not in 2014 or 2015.

Sylvester Williams played most of 2012 nursing an ankle injury — and it showed at times. Fair play to him for competing through the pain barrier, but he lacked the kind of burst and freedom we saw in 2011.

He’s bigger than most three-techniques, but you have to assume Seattle wouldn’t be put off by that given their use of Alan Branch previously. It does help against the run — and Williams is difficult to shift, eats up space and stands his ground well. He understands leverage and generally plays with good pad level. Even if he underwhelms as a pass rusher in the NFL, you’re going to get a fine run stopper.

The two things I think you want more than anything in a three technique are explosion of the snap and attitude. You can’t be a nice person and play the three-tech. These guys are not generally nice people on the football field. They’re outspoken, often leaders on the defense. One of the great things about Sheldon Richardson is the fact he’s a prototype for the size but he also has that sparky attitude.

Williams isn’t the same in that regard, but he does explode off the snap. Considering he’s 313lbs, he gets off the line really well and combines it with a superb swim move to penetrate. His technique is something to behold in this area, as he’ll slap an arm away and with such fluidity before escaping into the backfield. It’s unnatural for his size. Whether this will be equally effective against veteran pro-lineman remains to be seen, but there’s a lot to like here.

He too has had an unusual path to the NFL. At one point he almost gave up the game, dropping out of High School. He went to work making radiator parts for large trucks and had something of an epiphany moment — deciding he truly did want to make football his career. Since then he hasn’t really looked back — walking onto Coffeyvile in the JUCO ranks and then eventually getting his chance with the Tar Heels.

It means he’s going to be a 25-year-old rookie. That’ll put some teams off, but it’s worth noting that Bruce Irvin also turned 25 in his first season with the Seahawks. Team scouts from Seattle met with Williams on Sunday upon his arrival at the Senior Bowl.

There are a handful of concerns that I have here. One — he has a body type more suited to the one-technique. While his swim move and burst is impressive, will the quickness we’ve seen in the college ranks translate to the next level? Smaller, squatter lineman have often had greater success in the NFL at the three-technique. Two — he’s almost given up on football once before, so can he be trusted to keep the fire burning once he gets paid? Does he appreciate that the NFL should really be the start of his career, not the climax of a smaller journey from that car-parts workshop back onto the field?

Williams is a talented player who deserves a lot more hype than he receives. But he’s a classic defensive tackle prospect. By that I mean — tantalising skills but a constant, nagging element of doubt as to whether it’ll all translate to the next level. There’s a reason why there’s barely any good three-techniques in the league — it is such a difficult position to judge and get right.

Want a great example of this? Geno Atkins had three sacks in his final year at Georgia and zero sacks the year before. He ends up being a fourth round pick for Cincinnati and now he’s the best three-technique in the NFL. Work that one out. I suspect it all comes back to what I was talking about earlier — this position is as much about attitude, scheme and a natural feel for the position as it is about physical skills. Atkins is 6-1 and 300lbs. He’s squat, he masters leverage and he explodes into the backfield. He’s a constant disruptive force. There are better athletes out there, but he just gets it.

It’s really difficult to project how an undersized defensive tackle will translate to the pro’s. And you can gamble on upside and fail. Even the ideal prospects for the position — like Nick Fairley — can take a while to adjust or just flat out struggle.

Weirdly production in college doesn’t always translate to the next level. Sharrif Floyd only had three sacks in 2012 and two came against Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. Sylvester Williams had six sacks this season. Yet can we really rule out the possibility either will be enjoying 12.5 sack-seasons like Geno Atkins in the future? There was no precedent for Atkins having a season like that before he arrived in Cincinnati. Alternatively you could just as easily envisage both players struggling at the next level due to some of the issues we’ve discussed in this piece.

I’ve included tape of both Sylvester Williams and Sharrif Floyd at the bottom of this article. Three videos per-player.

Free agency options

The defensive tackle issue could be a problem filled in free agency. Signing a proven commodity would eliminate some of the boom-or-bust issues of having to take a guy in round one of the draft.

Randy Starks (named to the AFC Pro-Bowl roster today as an alternate) could provide a cost effective answer, but at 29 he’s approaching the final throngs of his career-peak. Henry Melton will need to escape the franchise tag in Chicago, but the former running back could be a blue-chip signing. It’d come with a hefty price tag though. Desmond Bryant is less spectacular but also young and coming off a good year for the Raiders. It seems unlikely Oakland will be able to re-sign him given their serious cap problems and he too could be a potential target.

Signing a veteran tackle would allow the Seahawks to consider adding a physical freak like Margus Hunt to play some edge rush or maybe even take over the Jason Jones role. Getting an interior presence signed and sealed before April 25th would make such a proposition more likely.

Of course, they could do things the other way around. Cliff Avril will be a free agent this year and Detroit will not use the franchise tag to keep him. He was offered a contract worth $30m over three years in the summer, but turned it down. He’s been a productive pass rusher for the Lions in recent years and fits the size requirements of a LEO. He ran a 4.51 at the combine with a 1.50 10-yard split, which is certainly quick enough to interest Pete Carroll. It’s just a case of price and whether the Seahawks want to go big on a pass rusher of Avril’s nature. He’s certainly benefited from the presence of Ndamukong Suh over the last three years.

What works against Avril is that he’s in the second tier of pass rushers. We’re not talking Mario Williams territory here, far from it. As soon as you start talking about a deal worth around $10m a year, I think it’s less likely the Seahawks would bite. He’s a player to keep an eye on though. He turns 27 in early April, so a three-year contract with big incentives wouldn’t be a complete non starter.

Osi Umenyiora would be a cheaper, shorter term option similar to Raheem Brock’s arrival in Seattle. He’ll be 32 next season and coming off a year where New York relegated him to spot duty. Even so, he’s a proven commodity and wouldn’t cost anything like the outlay you’d have to spend on Avril.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how the Seahawks play free agency. Whatever they choose to do is going to have a major impact on the draft, even more so than usual.

Shrine game notes (offense)

A big thank you once again to guest blogger Morgan Goulet for providing us with his take on the Shrine Game over the weekend. Be sure to check out his notes on the defensive players if you missed it from yesterday. Today, Morgan focuses on the offense:

Collin Klein was the first QB to set foot on the field on Saturday and the Heisman candidate had a lot of questions about his skill set to answer. He had a difficult week of practice and not much changed after the whistle blew. He completed 5 of his 13 passes with an INT in a scattershot performance.

I have no idea what Southeastern Louisiana QB Nathan Stanley was even doing suiting up. I was excited to see what Louisiana Tech QB Colby Cameron could do, though. Pete Carroll had casually mentioned that it’s be nice if they could find someone that can “do what Russell Wilson does,” which I assume means run the complete playbook and minimize turnovers. Cameron had just finished a season where he threw for over 4100 yards with only 5 INTs. On the way he broke Wilson’s record for passes completed without a pick. Here he had one of the worst passes of the game, flinging an out late to a covered receiver, and well to the inside instead of the outside. The pass was picked and returned for a TD. It was pretty ugly and summed up the evening for the East QB’s. Fortunately for Cameron, he has plenty of better tape with a Tech program that was actually pretty decent this year.

The West QB situation was only a bit better. Seth Doege got the start despite Tony Pauline’s flat “he can’t throw” dismissal earlier in the week. He didn’t really show that he could throw on Saturday, either. Matt Scott was uncomfortable on the field, calling two timeouts on one series because he couldn’t get the play call right. He did turn what I thought was a poor decision to pass into gold on a long TD throw to Mississippi State WR Chad Bumphis. Georgia CBBranden Smith was closing fast but jumped a fraction of a second early, and the ball slid right past his fingers and into the arms of Bumphis who raced untouched into the endzone (helped by an uncalled block in the back on S Cooper Taylor by Nevada TE Zach Sudfeld). The pass itself was a thing of beauty, and was probably the prettiest of the evening in terms of touch and trajectory.

Scott ran a very effective ZRO offense at Arizona but needs some work. He does a good job of keeping his eyes up and scanning the  field as he’s scrambling, but locks onto his first read and lacks downfield accuracy. He’ll also need to play a little bit safer as he’s slide-averse and had to leave consecutive games with concussion symptoms this season. With the mobile QB revolution in full swing, Scott is going to be drafted this year and that team will spend the time to hammer out his rough edges because he is fully capable of performing in an offense like Seattle’s, but he needs to be a better passer; even his mediocre 60.3% accuracy rating was buoyed by a lot of short passes. Western Michigan’s Alex Carder was the final QB to feature and he showed the poise required to get a shot at the tail end of the draft, despite also tossing a pick.

There was a good mix of running backs on display. Vanderbilt’s career rushing leader Zac Stacy showed off an absolutely nasty stiff arm and some bounce to find holes at the line, but whiffed on an easy swing pass. Texas A&M tailback Christine Michael has near-ideal size at 5’11 and 225lbs but brings with him the baggage of a falling out with the A&M coaching staff. He lost time to junior Ben Malena and also to freshman Trey Williams, who emerged as a dynamic threat. Michael still managed to lead the team in rushing TD’s with 12 on only 88 carries. He has a good jump cut and not a lot of mileage on the tires.

Leon Johnson had a pro-bowl year in 2012, but his age and contract might make him vulnerable. Enter Kerwynn Williams. A fellow Utah State alumnus with Robert Turbin and Bobby Wagner, Williams is a shifty and quick and did it all for the Aggies last year, running for 1507 yards with 15 touchdowns and added 45 receptions and another 5 scores. Williams finished his career with 235 rushing yards against Toledo in the Idaho Potato Bowl. I really hope his name gets called by Seattle on draft weekend.

Production for the wide-outs was limited by the horrendous QB play, but there were some plays made. Bumphis almost broke a hundred yards on his four receptions and the aforementioned touchdown. He showed he can catch the ball but his draftability probably hinges on his combine numbers as his size and production are unremarkable. There were a lot of big receivers on both rosters but despite their size, the quarterbacks just couldn’t find them. The 6-4 Corey Fuller out of Virginia Tech made a nice move to juke Aaron Hester out of his cleats on the way to converting a first down and 6-4 Marcus Davis of West Virginia pulled down a nice 16-yarder, but that was it. Even the impressive array of TE’s didn’t contribute. All of the tight ends on the East roster were 6’6″ and 250+ lbs and only Chris Pantale from Boston College managed a reception. The biggest name on the West, UCLA’s (and former ‘Hawk TE Christian Fauria’s nephew) Joseph Fauria, didn’t play due to an injury incurred during the week.

All talk of the offensive line starts with Arkansas-Pine Bluff OT Terron Armstead. Armstead slammed, slid, twisted, and contorted his 6’5 310 lb frame anywhere he had to to keep the quarterback clean. I’ve heard rumblings about him having to kick inside to guard but to me it looks like he carries his weight like a tackle. He is toolsy but doesn’t completely lack technique. For comparison’s sake I’ll say he looked better than former Hillsdale grad and Raiders third-rounder Jared Veldheer looked in his All-Star game, and Veldheer went on to win the Raider’s left tackle job a few games into the season. Armstead isn’t the physical freak that Veldheer is but I think he’ll find success on Sundays. The middle of the line was typically a mess but TCU guard Blaize Foltz looked solid and warrants the attention he’s been getting. He was alert and active and used his 6’4, 315 lb bulk to hold his ground as best he could against the talented East front four.

Sylvester Williams & Sharrif Floyd game tape (three videos each)

Senior Bowl preview — Shrine game notes

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

Margus Hunt will be in Mobile for the Senior Bowl

Senior Bowl preview

It’s Senior Bowl week and thanks to the efforts of former Cleveland GM Phil Savage, it’s going to be a good one this year. Savage has led a concerted effort to improve the event, allowing fourth-year juniors to attend and working on getting as many of the top eligible players to Mobile. There are always high-profile absentees, but credit to Savage that many big names will be on show.

So who won’t be there? Montee Ball (RB, Wisconsin), Star Lotulelei (DT, Utah), Geno Smith (QB, West Virginia), Chance Warmack (G, Alabama) and Jonathan Cooper (G, North Carolina) will not attend. Manti Te’o also pulled out, something he’ll probably live to regret given recent events. Matt Barkley (QB, USC) will also continue his rehab from a shoulder injury and won’t compete.

Apart from that it’s a strong year for the Senior Bowl, particularly on the north roster. Work outs begin at 1:30pm tomorrow. I wanted to highlight some of the key players to monitor from a Seahawks perspective…

North roster

Alex Okafor (DE, Texas) and Margus Hunt (DE, SMU) could be book-end pass rushers for the north roster. They’ll split time with John Simon (DE, Ohio State).

Okafor has ‘LEO’ size but I’m sceptical he has enough burst and pure speed to interest the Seahawks. His first step can be a little sluggish at times. Having said that, he ended the year with a very strong display against Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl and for a 260lbs defensive end, he plays the run well. Hand use is key for Okafor and he’s shown consistently good technique.

Hunt is a physical freak and one of the more unique players to enter the league in recent years. He needs to prove to scouts he has natural football skills and a feel for the game. He can’t appear lost out there, either in the workouts or the game itself. If he finds a comfort zone early in the week, he’ll have the opportunity to really boost his stock in Mobile. I have a feeling he’s going to have a big game at the weekend.

Simon (DE, Ohio State) is vastly underrated, a relentless pass rusher and two-time captain for the Buckeye’s. Whoever drafts Simon will not be disappointed. He’s undersized, but he makes up for it in so many ways. He’s likely to see some time at linebacker as well as end given his side, but I like him better playing at the line of scrimmage.

Sylvester Williams (DT, North Carolina) and Kawann Short (DT, Purdue) are also part of the north roster. Imagine a line with Okafor and Hunt at defensive end and Williams and Short playing inside. Williams is already receiving interest from the Seahawks per Shane Hallam:

I’m going to do a bigger piece on Williams this week. He’s the most likely option for the Seahawks at #25 if they want to draft an interior pass rusher. He struggled with an ankle injury for most of the 2012 season so it’ll be good to see a healthy Williams in Mobile. Short blows hot and cold on the field — occasionally flashing brilliance as a penetrating force, then disappearing for long stretches. He has round one upside, but he could fall into round two or even three because of his inconsistent nature.

The north roster is also loaded at linebacker, with several potential Seahawks. Arthur Brown (LB, Kansas State), Kevin Reddick (LB, North Carolina) and Khaseem Greene (LB, Rutgers) are players to monitor, although Brown is probably the only potential first round pick from that trio.

There are four defensive backs I’ll be keeping an eye on. Jordan Poyer (CB, Oregon State) is a 5-11 corner with a competitive nature and good cover skills. Blidi Wreh-Wilson (CB, Connecticut) stands even taller at 6-1 and fits the criteria for a Seahawks corner. Phillip Thomas (S, Fresno State) can be a big time playmaker but has a boom or bust nature. Will Davis (CB, Utah State) could be a fast riser after a very productive 2012 season.

On offense — Eric Fisher (T, Central Michigan) has an opportunity to solidify his position as the #2 left tackle in the draft behind Luke Joeckel. Kyle Long (T, Oregon) is going to get a ton of attention this week and could be a quick riser due to his bloodlines. Brian Winters (G, Kent State) is another player to keep an eye on while Justin Pugh (T, Syracuse) is also expected to attend under the new rules that allow fourth year juniors to participate. Pugh is a character and he has good size — he could kick start a run on the second tier tackles in round two.

At the skill positions, Markus Wheaton (WR, Oregon State) is a terrific player and could be given the chance to show off his extreme speed this week. It’ll be interesting to see how Denard Robinson (QB, Michigan) works out at running back and receiver. Kenjon Barner (RB, Oregon) and Jonathan Franklin (RB, UCLA) both had strong seasons in the PAC-12.

The three quarterbacks on the north roster are Mike Glennon (QB, NC State), Ryan Nassib (QB, Syracuse) and Zac Dysert (QB, Miami OH). I had a chance to watch some NC State tape this week and Glennon deserves some of his recent hype. He didn’t have a great Bowl game, but when he’s given time in the pocket he looks like an accomplished passer. He could be a first or second round pick. I’m not a fan of Nassib’s personally, but he has the kind of physical tools that’ll fool somebody to force a reach. I don’t like his ‘one-speed’ fast ball or accuracy and feel in the pocket. Dysert is a trendy late round option but I think he’s a limited player unlikely to have much impact at the next level.

South roster

There isn’t quite as much depth on the south roster. I’m most excited about the south’s group of defensive backs. Sanders Commings (CB, Georgia) has Seahawks written all over him — he’s 6-2 and 216lbs. He plays as physically as you’d expect for his size. He was probably Georgia’s stand-out performer against Alabama in the SEC Championship. Keep his name on your radar. Bacarri Rambo (S, Georgia) is way too talented to receive such little attention during the 2012 season. Part of that is due to minor off-field issues. He’ll be a starter in the NFL. Shawn Williams (S, Georgia) is the other safety at Georgia. He’ll be a second or third round pick.

Ezekiel Ansah (DE, BYU) is one of the more intriguing players to monitor. I’ve watched a fair bit of BYU tape now and you can just tell looking at his frame that he has incredible upside. Physically, he looks a lot like Justin Tuck. However, he’s incredibly raw as a pass rusher. I can’t knock his run defense — he shows a good punch at the point of attack, he’s difficult to move out of position. Yet he doesn’t always flash a great edge rush. Is it a technique issue? Can he tap into the physical potential? I like the way he’s moved around (rushes from the interior as well as the edge), but this is a good opportunity to flash his athleticism and get teams salivating over honing his technique.

Ansah is likely to line up alongside Jonathan Jenkins (DT, Georgia) and Malliciah Goodman (DE, Clemson). Jenkins is a pure nose tackle with limited pass rushing skills, while Goodman showed enough against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl to warrant a watchful eye during the post-season.

Among the linebackers are two players I intend to look closer at over the next few weeks — Zaviar Gooden (LB, Missouri) and Nico Johnson (LB, Alabama). The big name is Chase Thomas (LB, Stanford) — a potential second or third round pick.

There’s some talent among the offensive lineman. Lane Johnson (T, Oklahoma) is a pure technician and could be the third left tackle off the board in April. Dallas Thomas (G, Tennessee) had a terrific year for the Vols and can play tackle or guard. Oday Aboushi (T, Virginia) has starter potential at left tackle and Larry Warford (G, Kentucky) is a massive 345lbs guard with third round potential. It’s a nice group of tight ends too — Mychal Rivera (TE, Tennessee) and Michael Williams (TE, Alabama) will both make a roster in 2013.

Terrance Williams (WR, Baylor) is the biggest name at receiver. He suited the system at Baylor and I want to see if his speed translates to a foreign environment. There’s no doubting he has talent — and he was among the most productive receivers in college football this season. However, I’m a little concerned he’s a one-trick pony. His effort was sometimes inconsistent too and he won’t be able to get by at the next level running mostly deep routes. Cobi Hamilton (WR, Arkansas), Tavarres King (WR, Georgia), Quinton Patten (WR, Louisiana Tech) and Ryan Swope (WR, Texas A&M) all have mid-round value. Swope is going to make a fine slot receiver.

I like two of the running backs on the north roster — Andre Ellington (RB, Clemson) is a do-it-all type and should be a good receiver out of the backfield, while Stepfan Taylor (RB, Stanford) moves the chains and deserves a lot more hype. I’d draft either in round three.

It’s a big week for the quarterbacks. Fair play to Tyler Wilson (QB, Arkansas) for attending, likewise Landry Jones (QB, Oklahoma) and E.J. Manuel (QB, Florida State). Wilson is a mobile gun-slinger with a vocabulary superior to any of the other eligible quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl. Say what you want about Bobby Petrino, but his offensive schemes demands a lot of the quarterbacks. There’s not a great deal between Matt Barkley and Wilson to be the #1 quarterback in this class in my view. The hype for Jones is long gone, but don’t forget we’re only a year removed from many people touting him as a first round pick. He’ll be lucky to go in round three. Manuel is more of an athlete than a passer and might struggle to have much impact at the next level.

Shrine game notes (defense)

Many thanks to guest blogger Morgan Goulet for compiling this report on the Shrine game over the weekend. This piece covers the defense, he’ll have a report on the offense to come.

The mouthy and athletic Keith Pough tweaked an ankle early on, but displayed some impressive athleticism to thwart a cutback run in the third quarter, stopping on a dime, changing direction and making a diving wrap-up of the ballcarrier. With Leroy Hill’s status uncertain as the highest-paid LB on the Seahawks roster, WLB could be a position of interest come draft day and it just so happens that that’s where Pough has been spending his Saturdays.

A.J. Klein and Sio Moore also represented for the linebacker class but are two very different types of players. Klein brings his lunch pail to the field, Moore brings an energy drink. Klein was sticking his nose in the pile just about every time he was on the field, while Moore was a bit more careful in deciding where to throw his 229-lb frame. Once he made the decision, though, he wastes no time in getting there. Moore looks to have speed to burn and showed it by picking good angles and flying to the ball-carrier, especially on a nice backside loop where he traversed from one sideline to the other to make the stop. Klein looks to have a little Heath Farwell in him.

The defensive line was the story today, at least, the good part of the story. Devin Taylor stepped out of the shadow of Jadevon Clowney and walked right into the bank. How you hide 6’7″ and 270 lbs is beyond me but South Carolina found a way to do it. Taylor turned opposing offensive linemen into cardboard cut-outs today, and made Kansas guard Tanner Hawkinson his personal blocking sled. Stepping away from the carnage he left on the field for a moment to do a sideline interview, Taylor said the difference today versus the regular season was he didn’t have to play within the SC defensive scheme. He could improvise. See ball, get ball. Taylor had two sacks and two forced fumbles and likely ended the careers of several aspiring blockers. He did lose contain once, in the first quarter, but Taylor is all upside and this was a nice coming out party for him. He went on to say that he wasn’t going to get carried away, that he knows during a game to maintain a level head and not get too high, nor too low. Who does that sound like?

Maryland must have a really good defensive line coach as both A.J. Jenkins and Joe Vellano showed off fine technique to beat their man. Maryland transitioned from a 4-3 to a 3-4 this year, with the 315-lb Jenkins anchoring the line at nose and Vellano shifting from his 3-technique spot, where he amassed 94 tackles as a junior, to end. Vellano has bulked up to 300lbs from the 280 or so he played at last year. It looks like it’s robbed him of some of his short quickness but he’s still tenacious in pursuit and is a sure tackler. He also does some impressive hand-fighting and even uses a spin move (to varying success). In the first quarter lined up over West C James Ferentz and chucked him so violently and with such suddenness that Ferentz stood up as if shocked – and Vellano just ran right by him into the backfield. I’m interested to see where they go in the spring as they have tools to work with; Francis with his apparent strength and good first step and Vellano with solid technique and unstoppable motor.

Also getting some push into the backfield was Princeton DE Mike Catapano. I didn’t see a lot of moves but he uses quickness and leverage to his advantage and even reached up to get his mitts on a pass at least once. He’s 6’4, 270, and should find a place to play on Sundays next year. I kept my eye out for David Bass, the Missouri Western State DE that was the talk of the town leading up to the game, but I’ve scanned and re-scanned my notes and the only thing I have is “91 – ?”. It’s a good thing the money is made during practice, I guess.

A few performances stood out for the defensive backs. Making a positive impression was Notre Dame safety Zeke Motta. Motta has good size at 6’3 and 215lbs, but also doesn’t get lost in space and is a sure tackler. He’ll make a solid strong safety at the next level. There were five total interceptions in this game but I’m loathe to actually congratulate anyone on any of them, as most were gifts. The Seattle secondary was mentioned a lot but the seemingly analogous players didn’t really show up. Richard Sherman’s pod-person Aaron Hester out of UCLA used his 6’3, 195 lb to miss tackles and draw two PI calls. Kam Chancellor clone Cooper Taylor lacks the assassin’s creed that Kam brings and the re-digitized Earl Thomas suffered a failure to launch as Syracuse’s Shamarko Thomas is missing from my notebook. I don’t even know if he ever hit the field. Two corners from big programs did flash at times today: Miami’s Brandon McGhee and Georgia’s Branden Smith. Smith misplayed a pass that went for a touchdown early but had the stick-to-it-iveness to come back later and get a pick off of Alex Carder, who had the distinction of almost looking like a QB today, and not just Ronnie ‘Sunshine’ Bass.

Adam Schefter — Barkley will be the top quarterback

For the last few weeks on this blog, we’ve touted Matt Barkley as a potential first overall pick despite a lot of talk to the contrary. So it makes perfect sense that the week we move Barkley into the late first in the latest mock draft, ESPN’s Adam Schefter suggests Barkley will be the top quarterback drafted. You’ll have seen a lot of projections this week on NFL.com and from Mel Kiper with no quarterbacks in round one. That won’t happen. Take it to the bank. We could see multiple quarterbacks taken in the top-20. The position is too important. And today’s information from Schefter suggests Barkley will be the guy to go earliest.

Kansas City and Andy Reid make a lot of sense for Barkley. It’s just whether or not the Chiefs see enough value to address their one defining need with the #1 pick. But if they intend to wait until round two, they might find that most of the top QB’s are already off the board.

Manti Te’o is gullible, but he’s not a monster

Saturday, January 19th, 2013

A villain? Or just a gullible young man, in over his head?

I wanted to write an article about this subject, but felt it was best to sit on it for a few days. If there’s anything this story should tell the world of journalism, it’s to do some research. There is too much unnecessary pressure on being ‘first’. Frankly, it’s been embarrassing at times watching Adam Schefter, Chris Mortensen, Ian Rapoport and Jason La Canfora trying to beat each other to the punch over every pathetic little scrap of news regarding the NFL’s coaching carousel. Is that journalism? Is it just about being able to Tweet something 32 seconds before someone else? Being able to react to a group text or email before a rival? Surely it should be about being accurate, thorough and detailed?

This is at the heart of the Manti Te’o story. Why did it take weeks to uncover the truth? Why were media conglomerates and journalists happy to tell a story of such magnitude without ever bothering to consider the full facts? Why did the truth get pushed to one side, a forgotten aspect of a story that seemed too good to be true for so many, mainly because it was.

On Twitter as the news of a hoax broke, you had the initial gasps of disbelief then people trying to play ‘detective’. Oh right! Now’s the time to do some digging! Suddenly people were explaining how Te’o ‘had to be in on it all along’.

“There was this interview three weeks ago where he said blah blah blah, so he must be in on it.”

People were hyping up his involvement, questioning his sexuality, questioning his sanity. Had the Deadspin revelation not taught anyone anything?

I am not a Notre Dame fan. I have no reason to stick up for Manti Te’o. But the way people rushed to condemn this man was equally as pathetic as the way people rushed to build him up. This was modern media at its worst. Plucking a story that sold, feeding off it for weeks, then acting shocked when it proved to be a big steaming pile of bull. Send in the lynch mob.

Here’s what I think — and I’ve actually waited to hear his side of the story, unlike some. I think Manti Te’o is very gullible. I think he can be taken advantage of. I think he truly believed there was a women out there named Lennay Kekua and that he was having some form of ‘relationship’ with her. I think he believed this girl was involved in a car crash and was then diagnosed with leukemia. I think he believed she’d died. I think he shared with his family, friends and team mates information about this ‘relationship’ — from its early stages to apparent tragic conclusion. When the media found out about this story, he talked to them about it too.

And when he found out it was a cruel practical joke, he lied to cover up the fact he’d been taken for a complete fool.

So why did he lie? Most people wouldn’t ever consider developing a relationship with a stranger on Twitter. Heck — if you meet your partner on the internet, there’s a certain stigma attached to that. In most cases that’s completely unfair. Society loves to judge people. You’re supposed to meet your partner at University, or in a bar, or while out running in Central Park. Not on the internet. In hindsight he should’ve just come forward, told the truth and taken his role as the victim. Seemingly through sheer embarrassment, he took the wrong path. One of further deceit.

It started to spiral out of control. He was in over his head. And the inevitable conclusion is what we’ve seen over the last few days. A very public, even more embarrassing spectacle. Te’o made himself look very silly.

His judgement was incredibly weak. But do we honestly believe he was in cahoots with the hoaxers all along? I can’t buy that.

People have questioned why he didn’t rush to the bed side of the supposed ‘love of his life’ when she was allegedly diagnosed with leukemia. It’s a fair question to ask. But then this is a guy who had fallen in love with a woman he’d never met. They’d never had face to face interaction. To him, spending all night with a phone pressed to his ear while ‘Lennay’ slept on the other end was probably his version of rushing to her bed side. In this bizarre relationship that he created — this was probably par for the course.

Te’o will never shake this off. He’s always going to be that gullible, foolish, inexperienced kid who made a national laughing stock of himself in his final year of college. He let himself be deceived and then he made a complete mess of trying to cover it up. But did he have any part to play in this? Did he somehow devise this whole story to try and promote himself and help Notre Dame? That just seems ridiculous. Too ridiculous even for this crazy story.

I think we are right to question how Te’o let this happen, but I don’t think we’re right to try and invent conspiracy theories on his involvement without doing the proper research. There’s a world of difference between being gullible and embarrassed and conniving and scandalous.

The other big question everyone is asking is how will it impact his draft stock? There are several things to consider here.

Is the stigma of this story too damaging that a team won’t want to deal with the hassle of this coming up again in the future? Will a lot of GM’s simply say, “let somebody else deal with this situation”?

Having met with Te’o, can teams reassure themselves that he’s thick skinned enough to deal with the forthcoming onslaught? Does he have the strength of character to deal with not just opposition players bringing it up every week, but maybe even his own team mates?

What does the incident say about his character and personality? Is he easily influenced? Is he immature? Is he constantly making bad judgements? Will this lead to problems down the line? Is he prone to moments where you just cannot fathom what he was thinking?

Part of his charm at Notre Dame was the leadership aspect he brought to the team. Is he capable of being the same leader for a NFL team given the worldwide publicity this story has received?

And most importantly, will this affect his play on the field?

Nearly every team will be monitoring his off-season closely. He’s going to be working out with other college players and presumably he’s going to be at the combine. Te’o made a big mistake in my view deciding not to attend the Senior Bowl. What a fantastic opportunity to show he was getting on with the job. There’s no point hiding. He’s better off going to Mobile, performing well and showing teams his head is back in the game. This could be a crucial error and I suspect it won’t be well received.

He does still have that opportunity to show he’s moving on with his life and not letting it impact his play. He’ll face some tough interviews and he better be ready. He needs to prove to GM’s and coaches that he’ll win the respect of his team mates by out working and out performing everyone in the pre-season. If he does that, he’ll suddenly find he has twenty or thirty players on game day willing to get his back when the opposition starts chirping.

Te’o has to be sincere and convincing. That’s the only way he’s going to repair his stock. Missing the Senior Bowl isn’t a good start. If he goes into the combine a quivering wreck, then it’s time to wonder just how low he could fall in the draft.

He could still be a first round pick. It only takes one team to believe he can get over this. Playing middle linebacker — a none premium position — doesn’t help the cause. But there’s enough teams out there who could use the Manti Te’o we saw on the field for a 12-1 Notre Dame. If he fails to convince teams he can get over this then he’s going to be avoided like the plague. Who knows where he’d fall?

Camera’s will be following his every move in the build up to the draft. If I was advising his family, I’d tell them to embrace that. Don’t reject any interviews. Answer every question. Appear to be beyond this. Try to laugh it off when you can. I have a real fear they’re going to be uptight about this subject and that will not help.

The Te’o’s need to show the NFL they can move on. The best way to combat embarrassment is to be self-depreciating and take it on the chin. If he has any ambition of being a first or second round pick, he needs to win the media battle and ace his interviews. It’s going to be a tough battle ahead. But let’s not try too hard to turn a gullible young man into a villain.

Manti Te’o conducted an interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap in response to this story. For more details, click here.

Why trading Matt Flynn will be difficult, not impossible

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Errrrr.... OK

It’s going to be very difficult to trade Matt Flynn. Not impossible, but very difficult.

John Schneider is already trying his best to create a market. In interviews with ESPN 710 and KJR this week he admitted the team will listen to offers for the quarterback. He’s also — rather optimistically — touted a value of a first or second round pick.

The main reason they won’t receive that level of interest is he’s just not as good as some people think. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported just over a week ago that we shouldn’t expect a hot market:

“Everyone keeps bringing up Flynn, but what people forget is that last offseason there were only two teams, Seattle and Miami, mildly interested in him. He did not get near the attention many thought he would. And he didn’t play this season. His value isn’t as high as many people think.”

Was it just a coincidence that all the teams last year needing a quarterback — except Seattle — said, “No thanks” to Matt Flynn?

I appreciate that things change. Just because a market was cold twelve months ago doesn’t mean that’ll be the case this year. But we’re talking about a quarterback who turns 28 in June. He has a grand total of two career starts. He’ll rely on a precise passing offense with at least some structure. You can’t throw him into a rebuilding organisation and expect miracles.

Not even his former offensive coordinator in Green Bay — Joe Philbin — appeared to bang the table for his services a year ago. Instead the Dolphins risked going into the season with Matt Moore as their starter. There was no guarantee Miami would be able to draft Ryan Tannehill with the #8 pick. They could’ve had Flynn as a cost-effective alternative. It appears they didn’t think there was much difference between Moore and Flynn — at least not enough to offer a deal like Seattle.

The recent trades for Kevin Kolb and Matt Cassel will linger among league front offices. Neither deal worked out, despite the second round investment and subsequent big contracts. The coaches and GM’s that orchestrated both deals have all been fired.

There’s a growing sentiment that this is a bad off-season to need a quarterback with a number of teams trying to find an answer to the NFL’s biggest question. The thing is, you can pretty much run through each team that needs to find a signal caller and come up with a reason why they wouldn’t show much interest in Matt Flynn.

Buffalo — can anyone really see them exchanging Ryan Fitzpatrick for Matt Flynn? Talk about a sideways step. Doug Marrone favoured a big-armed, mobile quarterback in Ryan Nassib at Syracuse. GM Buddy Nix is already talking to the media about drafting a quarterback. Marrone’s old buddy Nassib will be part of the 2013 draft.

New York Jets – Mark Sanchez is guaranteed $8.25m in 2013. If the Jets bring in another quarterback, expect it to be a rookie on a modest contract. It’s unlikely to be a veteran like Flynn who is due $5.2m this year. Trying to sell Flynn as the alternative to Sanchez might be a hard sell in New York.

Cleveland — Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner favour a vertical passing game. They will not be trading for Matt Flynn. They might as well stick with Brandon Weeden.

Kansas City — This franchise spent a second round pick on Matt Cassel, who bombed. Expect Andy Reid to try a different approach, rather than repeating previous mistakes. It’s also worth noting that his three most recent starting quarterbacks in Philadelphia (Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick) all had plus mobility.

Oakland — GM Reggie McKenzie inherited a team with hardly any draft picks last year and he’s already reiterated there won’t be any more high profile deals this off-season. Carson Palmer wasn’t spectacular in 2012, but he’s far from the biggest problem for a team that has barely any structure.

Arizona — Division rival. Bruce Arians, to me, has clearly been brought in to work with a freshly drafted quarterback, just as he did in Indianapolis.

The one team I’ve not included on the list is Jacksonville. I couldn’t find any logical reason why they wouldn’t consider a trade. The decision makers that drafted Blaine Gabbert have all departed that franchise. Chad Henne is Chad Henne. It stands to reason that new Jaguars GM David Caldwell will review the position and look to stamp his own authority on that situation.

At the same time, he’s appointed a defensive minded coach in Gus Bradley. Jacksonville’s defense was among the worst in the NFL last season and that is likely to be the starting point of any rebuild. They have some pieces on offense — Maurice Jones-Drew, Eugene Monroe, Justin Blackmon, Marcedes Lewis. Despite all the hand-wringing about Gabbert, he’s barely had a fair crack in the NFL so far competing for a demoralised franchise. He’ll start the 2013 season working with his third offensive coordinator in three years. It’s not even close to ideal.

Caldwell was quick to highlight Gabbert’s youth and it’s important to remember that a lot of teams graded Gabbert highly going into the 2011 draft. Opinion was certainly split, but for every team that lacked interest in the Missouri prospect, there was a team that had Gabbert at the top of their quarterback boards. We can only guess what Caldwell’s impression was — he was part of Atlanta’s front office during the 2011 draft.

He may or may not get the opportunity to reignite his professional career, but the point is — will they be so opposed to Gabbert starting that they make a trade for a veteran such as Matt Flynn? Especially when they need every possible draft pick to rebuild a hopeless defense? Will Gabbert get one last chance, buying the new regime some time? If he fails, he was somebody else’s mistake.

There’s going to be a degree of ‘connect the dots’ with Jacksonville this off-season, purely due to Bradley’s presence within that franchise. People will assume he wants Flynn. He might do. Maybe he’ll bang the table to bring Flynn to Jacksonville? The thing is, we have no idea what his impression of the player is. We have no idea whether Caldwell would buy into any proposal, or that either man is looking for an offense built around a quarterback with Flynn’s skill-set. Bradley going to Jacksonville doesn’t make a deal any more or less likely.

Even so, the Jags are the one team I can’t come up with an obvious reason for why they wouldn’t make a trade.

You’ll hear many people play down the 2013 class of rookie quarterbacks. It’s not quite as bad as some people want you to believe. It’s perhaps understandable that the media and certain ‘sources’ want to be negative about the group. After all, when you have Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III going #1 and #2 last year — it’s a tough act to follow.

It’s easy to forget that teams and GM’s by nature love to draft their own guys. So while at the moment nobody is talking up the likes of Matt Barkley, Geno Smith, Tyler Wilson and co — there’s every chance the front offices of the NFL will convince themselves they need one of these quarterbacks over the next few weeks. Even if it’s not one of the top three, there’s every chance a Mike Glennon, Ryan Nassib or even Tyler Bray could curry favour among one or two teams in the second round.

There might not be a Luck or RGIII to take with the number one pick, but there are plenty of young quarterbacks available in the draft for teams to get at. And while there’s no guarantee this will keep happening — the Cincinnati Bengals and Seattle Seahawks have shown in the last two years you don’t need a top-ten quarterback to kick start a play-off run. Teams will fantasise about mimicking those two franchises.

There’s also the possibility of trade competition. Alex Smith seemingly has no future in San Francisco despite completing 70% of his passes in 2012, throwing 13 touchdowns and sporting a quarterback rating of 104.1. He’s one year older than Matt Flynn, but he also has eighty career starts and his last two seasons in the NFL were his most productive.

His age and previous inconsistencies will make it difficult to generate a high pick, but he’s more of a proven commodity. He’s also physically superior to Flynn. Someone will be willing to give Smith a starting job I suspect.

Ryan Mallet is another quarterback who could generate some interest. I had the opportunity to interview Mallet in October and he appeared focused and ready to make up for the disappointment of a dramatic draft-fall in 2011. Having spent two years learning from Tom Brady and being coached by Bill Belichick, this could be the off-season where teams consider kick-starting his pro-career.

Will Nick Foles become available in Philadelphia? He’s hardly an obvious fit if Chip Kelly sticks with speed at the core of his offense. Would he potentially be available for trade after featuring in seven games in 2012? Would Andy Reid consider a deal for Kansas City having previously drafted the former Arizona quarterback?

With reports suggesting Tampa Bay has no plans to discuss a contract extension with Josh Freeman, could he find himself on the trade block? He can walk for nothing next year without a contract — and he’d have to play some spectacular football to warrant the franchise tag. Working on a trade this off-season could make sense if the Buccs have already made up their mind on Freeman. Of course, this could just be sending a message that he needs to improve. And if he was dealt, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would then need to find a replacement, creating another team potentially in the market for a guy like Flynn.

Overall I think these arguments out-weigh the reasons why a team would consider trading for Flynn. He’s still a largely untested NFL quarterback. The Seahawks needed someone before the draft last year to compete with Tarvaris Jackson. Let’s not forget — their first call went to Chad Henne, who didn’t leave the Jacksonville HQ without a contract. Signing Flynn was the right move to make at the time. But it was an unchallenged move as far as the rest of the NFL was concerned.

As I mentioned at the start though, a trade is far from impossible. It might have to be a creative deal. Perhaps they can make a move that takes influence from the infamous Charlie Whitehurst trade in 2010?

On that occasion the Seahawks dealt a third round pick to San Diego, but also swapped second rounders. The Chargers moved up twenty spots from #60 to #40. While I can’t see any new picks coming Seattle’s way (such as the extra third rounder) perhaps they could work something out to swap picks with a team in the second, third or fourth round? Putting themselves in position to draft a superior player, without actually generating any new picks?

That’s probably the best they can hope for and it shouldn’t be sniffed at either. If the Seahawks want to get a defensive lineman and a receiver (for example) within their first two or three picks, drafting earlier in round 2/3 would be a considerable advantage. One of the stumbling blocks could be that the quarterback-needy teams all pick at the very start of round two where there could be something of a run on rookie quarterbacks. When John Schneider completed the Whitehurst deal with San Diego, there were no obvious early second round quarterbacks to draft. This probably makes a deal like this more likely in the third or fourth round.

Even that might be a stretch for a 28-year-old career back-up (sorry, but that’s what he is). Those clinging to the hope of a straight out first or second round pick are probably going to be disappointed.

If the Seahawks do trade Flynn, they’ll need a back-up. Expect a veteran addition with a similar athletic skill-set to Russell Wilson. They could also look to the draft — and Arizona’s Matt Scott might be a later round target. His tape against Nevada in the New Mexico can be found below:

Bradley moves out, Quinn moves in, Schneider speaks

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

No time to sleep? Pete Carroll might as well adopt Russell Wilson’s motto from now on. Almost immediately after Gus Bradley was named the new Head Coach at Jacksonville, Dan Quinn was confirmed as the replacement defensive coordinator.

The timing suggests to me that Bradley was focused on taking a Head Coaching role. Some reports have claimed it was only Chip Kelly’s sudden change of mind that usurped Bradley from the Eagles job. Twenty-four hours later, he took the Jaguars gig. Quinn’s return to Seattle had probably been planned for a few days, with Carroll likely knowing Bradley would be taking one of the jobs he was interviewing for.

It’s a seamless transition — Quinn is familiar with the Seahawks set-up having previously worked under Pete Carroll as defensive line coach in 2010. He was originally appointed by Jim Mora the year before.

This will remain Carroll’s defense. His scheme. His vision. There was no big-name coming in to make sweeping changes like we’re seeing in Dallas or St. Louis. This was about getting on with the job with minimal fuss. Quinn will have his own concepts, his own ideas. But he’s mainly coming here to implement Carroll’s master-plan. Much in the same way Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable are working on his plan for the offense. Carroll is king in Seattle.

This almost certainly means a continuation of the 4-3 under defense, which is often mistaken for a hybrid. We discussed it in some detail earlier in the season. Quinn had a positive impact on Red Bryant’s switch to defensive end in 2010 and I don’t see any reason to think the Seahawks will move away from that experiment. They might be more creative though — using balanced four man fronts on certain downs. It’s worth noting that Florida mixed between three and four man fronts to try and create pressure, without blitzing a great deal.

It stands to reason that at least two new pass rushers will be added to the roster. There won’t be any big changes to the defense, but we could see some fresh ideas installed to the defensive line. What more would you expect from a man who coaches wearing a ‘SWARM’ T-shirt?

Inevitably you’re going to start seeing Florida prospects linked with the Seahawks now. Every mock draft will have defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd penned next to Seattle. Quinn will no doubt pass on valuable information about several of his former players, but I don’t think his appointment as defensive coordinator has much impact as to whether we see any Florida Gators players drafted by this team.

Speaking of Floyd, I keep flipping my opinion of him. Firstly I was intrigued by his potential and back-story. Then, after watching more tape, I came to the conclusion his best position would be the five technique in a 3-4. In preparation for this weeks mock I felt obliged to go back and watch two of his games again. And low and behold, I’m still trying to work him out.

I still maintain he’s best suited to the 3-4. Yet there are little flashes that just make you wonder if he can play inside in the 4-3. He’s got a superb motor, he’s a big-time athlete for 298lbs and when he plays low he’s a real force against the run. Can he be coached up and develop into a productive interior pass rusher given time? Perhaps.

He needs to improve his hand use because it’s pretty poor at the moment and he lacks that explosive burst that we see from players like Sheldon Richardson and Sylvester Williams. That might be the real stumbling block here. A classic three-technique — more than anything — flies out of the traps. That initial step forward is crucial. Exploding into a gap or initiating contact into a swim or dip is how you make your money at that position. Floyd has too many wasted steps without advancing or engaging. You can have the attitude, the size and the athleticism for the position, but there’s an X-factor to the role that’s maybe lacking here. It’s undoubtedly the main reason there are so few great three-techniques in the NFL.

A Florida player who’s maybe more likely to be on Seattle’s radar is linebacker Jelani Jenkins. At the top of this piece you’ll find audio from John Schneider’s appearance on ESPN 710 yesterday. He told Mike Salk and Brock Huard that he was impressed by the group of junior linebackers available in 2013. Well, there’s only four — Alec Ogletree, Kevin Minter, Jelani Jenkins and Tom Wort.

Not only is Jenkins an elite athlete (and former #1 overall recruit), he’s also very intelligent — recording  a 4.0 grade-point average in high school due to higher weighted advanced placement courses. No, he is not related to Jenoris Jenkins. He ran a 11.14 100 metres in high school and  also threw the discus. After yesterday’s touting of Margus Hunt as a possible draft pick, what chance the Seahawks draft two discus throwers in April?

Here’s Jenkins’ blurb via Scout.com during recruitment: “An absolute assassin from his linebacker position, Jenkins is always in attack mode. Because of his athletic ability and anticipation, he is equally comfortable reading a play to make a tackle as he is forcing the action on a blitz. He’s a sideline to sideline linebacker that is never out of a play because of his athletic gifts and his desire. As he gets bigger in college, he’ll be just plain scary.”

Of course, it never quite worked out that way. He’s added 30lbs in college but still struggles taking on blocks and his tackling can be poor. We’re talking about a big time athlete here, but will the speed compensate for the lack of physical skills at the next level? Maybe for a team like Seattle. When he doesn’t have to get his hands dirty, he’s an elite linebacker. He’s about as good a sideline-to-sideline player you’ll ever find. If he can find a crease he’ll explode into the backfield, but he moves around the second level with ease and he’s decisive in coverage. Ask him to play great run defense or up at the line and he’s going to struggle.

The Seahawks appear to want athletes at linebacker that can move. They’re not asking them to do a lot of pass rushing and the WILL isn’t really getting involved with the offensive line up front. You need to let Jenkins just roam around, use his instinct and react to plays. Because of his size, he’s probably going to go in the late second or early third round. Unless Carroll feels he already has this type of player in Malcolm Smith, he could be in play for Seattle’s second round pick. And out of all the Florida Gators prospects, he’s probably the one to keep an eye on.

Note — I’ve included Sharrif Floyd and Jelani Jenkins tape at the bottom of this article

Quinn’s greatest influence could be on an existing Seahawk. Jaye Howard had virtually no impact for the team this year, usually finding himself among the list of inactives. Surely Schneider and/or Carroll spoke to Quinn before making this pick last year? If so, you have to assume he gave a glowing review. After all, they drafted him in round four. Howard registered 65 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in his only year under Quinn’s guidance.

It’s possible that he could be a late bloomer at the pro-level. The only problem is, the Seahawks cannot afford to wait and see if he improves. They can’t rely on Jaye Howard. And whether it’s via free agency or the draft, a player or two will almost certainly be placed directly above the former Gator on the depth chart. Even so, he has a lot of potential and working with Quinn again could help.

As for Gus Bradley, I think it’s a great hire for Jacksonville. He’ll bring energy to that Jaguars franchise and almost certainly a much improved defense. It’s going to be a tough job – he’ll be inheriting the worst pass rush in the league, plus a franchise that still has a lot of question marks at the quarterback position. Look for the #2 overall pick to be spent on a pass rusher. Bradley will know, however, that he has to find the right solution at quarterback to ultimately be successful. He’ll need to decide whether Chad Henne, Blaine Gabbert or someone else can lead that offense. For those hoping Matt Flynn will be traded this off-season, you better hope that Bradley was impressed during their year in Seattle together.

Schneider speaks out

There are a few other things I wanted to discuss after listening to John Schneider with Brock and Salk yesterday.

His admission of greater interest in the receiver class was reassuring. There is a cluster of talented players worthy of first and second round grades. The Seahawks are perfectly placed at #25 to consider investing in another target for Russell Wilson — and could even launch a run on the position.

Just list the names — DeAndre Hopkins, Robert Woods, Cordarrelle Patterson, Zach Ertz, Tavon Austin, Markus Wheaton, Justin Hunter, Keenan Allen, Terrance Williams, Tyler Eifert, Gavin Escobar. There’s also quite a lot of range too, be it with size, speed, catching, YAC or kick returning. If we’re talking about round one, I maintain that Hopkins and Ertz are the two best fits. Both seem to fit the character of this team (hard working, professional, consistent). You can just imagine both players developing a great relationship with Russell Wilson — working overtime in the off-season to build a chemistry.

I wrote an article at the start of January arguing that Hopkins was a top-20 talent. You can check it out by clicking here. If you like receivers who catch nearly everything, score touchdowns and run great routes, Hopkins is your man. Ertz is the prototype of a modern tight end – big, athletic, can stretch the field and run a deep post despite his size. He was Stanford’s most productive receiver last year and would be a nice compliment to Zach Miller — allowing the Seahawks to run a lot more 2TE sets.

If the Seahawks go in a different direction (eg – defensive line) then any of the names listed above would be worthy second round additions. I’d be a little surprised if Carroll and Schneider ended day two of the draft without a new pass-catcher.

He also touted a group of ‘unique’ pass rushers. I don’t think there’s any mystery to what he’s referring to here. How many other draft classes contain the following defensive lineman:

- Dion Jordan — a converted 6-7 tight end with the speed to play linebacker or even safety

- Margus Hunt — a former 6-8 discus thrower from Estonia with dynamic pass-rushing qualities

- Ezekiel Ansah — a 6-4 defensive end from Ghana with two years of football experience who doesn’t even understand what AFC and NFC means

- Bjoern Werner — a German pass rusher from Berlin, discovered as a football prospect while acting as an exchange student in Connecticut

That’s just a sample of the ‘different’ types of player available this year. I suspect this is all the more intriguing for a guy like Schneider, who will enjoy getting to know these players and learning about their backgrounds. I wouldn’t bet against any being future Seahawks.

I noticed among some of the comments in yesterday’s mock draft update that several people feel we’ve overplayed Seattle’s penchant for the unusual — the avoidance of conventional wisdom. I wouldn’t try to argue that the Seahawks will only make quirky draft picks. I think we have to keep an open mind, though. We’ve projected a lot of different picks so far — Ertz, Hopkins, Sylvester Williams, Arthur Brown, Margus Hunt. Different players, positions and backgrounds. Some teams will just write-off a prospect like Hunt and not even include him on their big board. I suspect the Seahawks won’t do that, at least not because he’ll be 26 next summer and is new to the game.

Carroll and Schneider do it their way. Sometimes their way will be a little out there, other times it’ll be a lot more conventional. The Head Coach wants a pass rush though — and as the General Manager notes — this is a unique bunch of pass rushers.

Considering I’ve talked about them in this article, I’ve included tape below of Sharrif Floyd’s performance against Florida State from this season. There’s also Jelani Jenkins display against the Seminoles from 2011 (no 2012 tape available yet):

Mock draft Wednesday’s: 16th January

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Time for this weeks mock. And before we start, read this. It’ll explain why Manti Te’o isn’t included. If you’ve missed the news, it’s probably the weirdest story you’ll ever read about a Heisman finalist. Or any football player. Ever.

We now know the Seahawks will pick 25th overall. We also know Pete Carroll wants to improve the pass rush. Interestingly, John Schneider appeared on ESPN 710 this morning and chipped in with some thoughts of his own. We’ll go into this in more detail tomorrow, but here are the highlights:

- Schneider mentioned it was a superior group of receivers compared to last years draft
- He talked up the offensive line talent at the top of the first round
- He also mentioned that there were some ‘unique’ defensive lineman available
- Schneider says he finds the crop of junior linebackers ‘impressive’

Like I said, we’ll go into this more tomorrow. I did find the receiver comment interesting given the team avoided the position last year. Depending on how the board shapes up, I think we’ll see a pass catcher taken within the first 2-3 rounds.

He’s absolutely right to talk up the offensive line talent. Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper could all be top-15 picks. It could’ve been an even better class had the likes of Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan declared.

The word ‘unique’ intrigues me when he refers to the pass rushers. The Seahawks have drafted ‘unique’ players before. Could he be referring to guys like Margus Hunt, Ezekiel Ansah and Dion Jordan who are a little unorthodox?

As for the junior linebackers — there’s only four (unless he counts pass rushing OLB’s). Alec Ogletree, Kevin Minter, Jelani Jenkins and Tom Wort were the only four pure linebackers to turn pro. You have to believe this team would love a shot at Ogletree.

For this weeks mock I have to go with a defensive lineman. Was there any choice after everything that’s been said over the last few days? I considered John Simon (DE, Ohio State), Alex Okafor (DE, Texas) and Sharrif Floyd (DT, Florida). Then I remembered what we’re dealing with here. John Schneider says there are ‘unique’ pass rushers available. This is a team that consistently thinks outside of the box. And I thought, why not?

Why not just put Margus Hunt with the Seahawks this week?

He’s unorthodox. He’s 6-8, 275lbs and he throws a discus. He’s Estonian. He’s also unlike any player I’ve watched before. His speed, height and weight combination is unnatural and unmatched. He’s one of the biggest physical freaks you’ll find anywhere in the world. And for all of those reasons, he’s possibly one of the most Carroll-y, Schneider-y draft picks we’ll ever find.

You can’t get anymore outside of the box than Margus Hunt. If he was 22-years-old with three years experience at a top programme he’d be a contender to go first overall. Because he’s coming to the NFL via Estonia, a cancelled SMU track and field programme and a last minute football scholarship, his stock is slightly different. Conventional wisdom tells you this is a guy who’ll be 26 in July with limited experience. The Seahawks don’t deal in conventional wisdom.

If Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert are willing to draft a 29-year-old rookie quarterback in the late first round, why wouldn’t a team crying out for a pass rusher consider this guy in a similar range? Carroll and Schneider drafted Bruce Irvin a year ago and he turned 25 during his rookie season. That’s a whole one years difference.

He’s got the upper body strength, the ideal frame, the speed off the edge, the ability to beat a blocker with good hands. He struggles with leverage which is no surprise at 6-8. That’s something you have to live with. For a team that wants to be bigger, faster and stronger than anybody else – he fits the bill. And he’ll get to the quarterback.

Really the age thing isn’t so much a concern if he can have an impact quickly. That’s going to be the defining judgement here. For a team with Super Bowl ambitions (this team has come a long way) it doesn’t matter how old you are. It’s about finding a way to go that little bit further. Winning a Championship. He’s not going to be a ten-year starter. He’ll probably max out with a 6-year career. That’s still six potential Super Bowl runs where you have a legitimate, freak of nature pass rusher.

There are more orthodox players available, but that doesn’t seem to be how this team thinks. Where would he line up? He could start at defensive end if Chris Clemons goes on the PUP list. He can line up opposite Clemons in some balanced four-man fronts. He could line up inside like Jason Jones.

Coincide a pick like this with a free agent acquisition (Randy Starks, Henry Melton, Desmond Bryant) and suddenly this situation looks a little brighter. Margus Hunt might be part of the answer to Seattle’s problems with the pass rush. I’ve included his game tape against Fresno State at the top of this piece.

In terms of the mock draft on the whole, I’ve tried to mix things up a bit this week. I wanted to do a projection that represented two things:

1. The Kansas City Chiefs not taking a quarterback with the #1 pick

2. No early rush on quarterbacks

The position is so important that I expect the best of the group to go early. However, there are a lot of contradicting views here. And what if those views are right? There are so many noises coming out of the league that there won’t be an early rush on the position. I guess anything could happen this year. This is the first draft I’ve covered without a really obvious prospect who’s going to go first overall. It’s a unique. And I don’t want to do the same mock every week.

First round

#1 Luke Joeckel (T, Texas A&M)
This would be something of a sideways step, replacing Branden Albert. But it’s a possibility if they don’t like the QB’s enough.
#2 Bjoern Werner (DE, Florida State)
The Jaguars need a pass rusher and Werner could be the choice after a 13.5-sack season.
#3 Star Lotulelei (DT, Utah)
Both of Oakland’s starting defensive tackles are free agents. They had the second worst pass rush in the NFL behind Jacksonville.
#4 Chance Warmack (G, Alabama)
Why not? He’s good enough. Chip Kelly might be more ‘pro-style’ than people think.
#5 Damontre Moore (DE, Texas A&M)
The Lions could use an edge rusher. Moore had 12.5 sacks in the SEC this year.
#6 Jarvis Jones (DE, Georgia)
Jones has top-five talent but the spinal stenosis issue will really linger. He’ll need to be cleared to go this early.
#7 Eric Fisher (T, Central Michigan)
Like Kansas City, they’ll need to really distrust the QB class to do this. But they DO need a left tackle.
#8 Alec Ogeltree (LB, Georgia)
Ogletree might have the most upside in the entire draft.
#9 Barkevious Mingo (DE, LSU)
Get Revis back, plug in a speedy pass rusher and New York’s defense will be scary. In a good way. Unlike the offense.
#10 Ezekiel Ansah (DE, BYU)
He could be a combine star.
#11 Lane Johnson (T, Oklahoma)
They need to take a left tackle.
#12 Cordarrelle Patterson (WR, Tennessee)
The X-Factor player of this draft.
#13 Dee Milliner (CB, Alabama)
The complete cornerback. This would be a steal.
#14 Sheldon Richardson (DT, Missouri)
Pure three-technique. This would be a steal.
#15 Dion Jordan (DE, Oregon)
Jordan can make some money at the combine, so he needs to get healthy.
#16 Kenny Vaccaro (S, Texas)
Out of all the safety’s in this class, Vaccaro is getting talked up the most. He’s a solid football player.
#17 Xavier Rhodes (CB, Florida State)
I’m not a fan of Rhodes, but big physical corners are the en vouge thing.
#18 Barrett Jones (C, Alabama)
It’s a big reach, but Dallas need to fix their offensive line. And it starts with the center.
#19 Jonathan Cooper (G, North Carolina)
New York should skip to the podium if this happens.
#20 Zach Ertz (TE, Stanford)
Terrific tight end prospect. Could go even earlier.
#21 Arthur Brown (LB, Kansas State)
This guy is legit. A brilliant linebacker prospect.
#22 Jonathan Jenkins (DT, Georgia)
Will they switch to the 3-4 if they appoint Rob Ryan? If so, plug in a nose tackle to take up blockers for Long, Quinn and Brockers.
#23 Travis Frederick (C, Wisconsin)
Big body, intelligent player and looks made for a man-blocking scheme.
#24 DeAndre Hopkins (WR, Clemson)
DeAndre Hopkins is a fantastic receiver. Simple as that.
#25 Margus Hunt (DE, SMU)
I just have a hunch this front office will like the idea of drafting a beast of a pass rusher who’s also a discuss thrower from Estonia.
#26 Jesse Williams (DT, Alabama)
His best fit in my opinion is at 3-4 end.
#27 Dallas Thomas (G, Tennessee)
Underrated lineman who had a great year for a bad team.
#28 Sylvester Williams (DT, North Carolina)
He can play the one or the three technique.
#29 Kevin Minter (LB, LSU)
Tough shoes to fill, but Minter has as good a chance as anyone to succeed in replacing Ray Lewis.
#30 Sharrif Floyd (DT, Florida)
He’s well suited to the five technique in a 3-4 scheme.
#31 Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
No, I don’t think New England will draft Barkley. But it’s the kind of position where someone could trade up to kick off a run on QB’s.
#32 Johnathan Hankins (DT, Ohio State)
I don’t rate Hankins, but he might be the best ‘big’ left on the board.

Second round

#33 Jacksonville – Eddie Lacy (RB, Alabama)
#34 Kansas City – Robert Woods (WR, USC)
#35 Philadelphia – Kyle Long (T, Oregon)
#36 Detroit – Matt Elam (S, Florida)
#37 Cincinnati – Giovanni Bernard (RB, North Carolina)
#38 Arizona – Geno Smith (QB, West Virginia)
#39 New York Jets – Tyler Wilson (QB, Arkansas)
#40 Tennessee – D.J. Fluker (T, Alabama)
#41 Buffalo – Ryan Nassib (QB, Syracuse)
#42 Miami – John Simon (DE, Ohio State)
#43 Tampa Bay – Tyler Eifert (TE, Notre Dame)
#44 Carolina – Logan Ryan (CB, Rutgers)
#45 San Diego – Terrance Williams (WR, Baylor)
#46 St. Louis – Menelik Watson (T, Florida State)
#47 Dallas – Alex Okafor (DE, Texas)
#48 Pittsburgh – Markus Wheaton (WR, Oregon State)
#49 New York Giants – Johnthan Banks (CB, Mississippi State)
#50 Chicago – Justin Pugh (T, Syracuse)
#51 Washington – Tavon Austin (WR, West Virginia)
#52 Minnesota – Kawann Short (DT, Purdue)
#53 Baltimore – Sam Montgomery (DE, LSU)
#54 Cincinnati – Eric Reid (S, LSU)
#55 Seattle – Justin Hunter (WR, Tennessee)
#56 Green Bay – Oday Aboushi (T, Virginia)
#57 Miami – Brennan Williams (T, North Carolina)
#58 Houston – Keenan Allen (WR, California)
#59 San Francisco – Jordan Poyer (CB, Oregon State)
#60 New England – Blidi Wreh-Wilson (CB, Connecticut)
#61 Atlanta – Gavin Escobar (TE, San Diego State)
#62 Denver – Stepfan Taylor (RB, Stanford)

Tuesday draft notes: Underclassmen deadline & defense

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Could the unfortunate Kaleb Ramsey be a late-round steal?

Further thoughts on the defense

Coaching changes?

Suddenly both of Seattle’s coordinators are hot property. Gus Bradley is meeting with Philadelphia and Jacksonville. Darrell Bevell will also speak with Jacksonville along with division rival Arizona and Chicago. The NFL wants a piece of Seattle’s 2012 magic and Pete Carroll could have two big holes to fill this off-season.

If Bradley leaves — and premature reports suggested he’d already accepted the Eagles gig — who replaces him? And how will that impact Carroll’s ambition to improve a struggling pass rush?

New Mexico State Head Coach DeWayne Walker was linked to the Seahawks upon Carroll’s appointment in 2010. He runs an aggressive and creative defense, having previously worked for Greg Williams in Washington. Walker and Carroll became close during their time at USC. His spell at New Mexico State has been something of a disaster so far – they recorded a 1-11 record in 2012 and he’s 10-40 overall with the Aggies. Whether that would have any impact on a potential return to the NFL remains to be seen, but he has pro-level experience and a move to Seattle could prove to be a convenient way out of a bad situation.

Would Carroll consider appointing from within? Rocky Seto (pass-defense coordinator), Kris Richard (secondary coach), Todd Wash (defensive line) or even Ken Norton Junior (linebackers) could be promoted in order to maintain stability.

What about trying to entice Dan Quinn back to the Pacific North West? He took over as the Florida Gators’ defensive coordinator last year after a spell as Seattle’s defensive line coach. Could they go for a big name looking for a route back into the league? Lovie Smith is unemployed and wants to coach in 2013. He hasn’t received much interest in terms of becoming a Head Coach again, but a productive year as a coordinator could make him a popular choice in twelve months time.

Why not make a left field decision? Who expected Monte Kiffin to go to Dallas? Could there be a similar surprise in Seattle, with a name nobody expects? Perhaps from a background nobody expects? Pete Carroll is the main architect of this defense, but would he welcome an outside voice and some fresh ideas to get the pass-rush going?

Bradley would leave a void on the coaching staff, but it’s something Carroll is used to. His success at USC meant he was forced to replace coordinators all the time. While the Seahawks keep winning and setting trends, other teams are going to want to try and mimic that success.

While it’s unlikely they’ll go for a complete 360 by switching schemes like Jerry Jones in Dallas, it’ll be interesting to see who — if anyone — replaces Bradley. And it could bring some insight into the kind of players they’ll look for in free agency and the draft.

Trading up?

Some people have asked how likely it is the Seahawks move up in round one to target a specific player. Sheldon Richardson appears to be the best true three-technique in the 2013 draft class. He could be a top-1o pick, but there’s also every chance he slides a little. New Orleans at #15 overall might be his floor, but even they have to consider other needs such as an effective edge rusher.

Moving up would appear to be detrimental for this team given how well they’ve used later round picks in the Carroll/Schneider era. Losing a third or fourth rounder could mean losing out on another Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, K.J. Wright or Kam Chancellor. Even so, the team is in a stronger position today to consider moving up. There’s really only one striking need — improving the pass rush. Targeting a particular player to fill that remaining need would be considered a pro-active move.

Schneider was part of the front office in Green Bay that completed a big trade to get Clay Matthews in 2009. The Packers moved from #41 to #26 — a jump of 15 spots — to acquire their pass rusher. That year Green Bay was transitioning to the 3-4 defense and picked B.J. Raji to play nose tackle with the ninth overall pick. Matthews was going to be the edge rusher in the scheme, and they had to get their guy. He won defensive rookie of the year in 2009 and followed it up with a Super Bowl ring the season after. It proved to be an unmitigated success.

The trade cost the Packers two third round picks. It was a steep price, but ultimately worthwhile. There’s a tendency to overvalue draft picks sometimes, even when you have a front office with Seattle’s recent success in the middle rounds. Eventually, you’re going to have more drafts than not where you aren’t finding impact starters in the 4th or 5th rounds. You’re not going to find a franchise quarterback in round three every year. Being pro-active can be part of tipping a team over the edge. Matthews had that kind of impact for the Packers. We’re seeing some of that with Julio Jones in Atlanta too.

It’s also worth noting what the New England Patriots got in return for that trade. They used the #41 pick to draft to get cornerback Darius Butler (since released), traded one of the third round picks to Jacksonville — who selected cornerback Derek Cox (a regular starter for the Jaguars in 2012) — and selected receiver Brandon Tate with the other pick (since released). For all of Bill Belichick’s reputation as an arch-trader on draft day, he didn’t win this battle with Ted Thompson.

Moving up isn’t a total write-off for this team. There’s no doubting they’d rather avoid doing it, but sometimes needs must. The Seahawks’ window is officially open and they need to make the most of it.

The impact of free agency

March 12th can’t get here soon enough. That’s the day when the new league year starts and free agency begins. Ever since Pete Carroll’s admittance yesterday that he wants to improve the pass rush, I’m guessing a lot of people have been trying to work out how he’s going to do it. And the truth is, we won’t really know until we see what they do in free agency.

Do they re-sign Jason Jones and Alan Branch? Do they go after a veteran three-technique? Will they consider signing a proven pass rusher like Osi Umenyiora? These are all questions that’ll shape the Seahawks ambitions in the draft. I’ll be publishing an updated mock draft tomorrow, and it’s difficult to consider anything but defense. Yet the Seahawks have used free-agency to fill needs in the past. They paid big money to land Robert Gallery, Sidney Rice, Zach Miller and Matt Flynn. Although we’re looking at a defensive draft today, things could be very different by March.

I still believe they’d like to add at least one new target to the offense for Russell Wilson. Guys like Zach Ertz and DeAndre Hopkins make a lot of sense for this offense and for this quarterback. Unless they use free agency to solve the problems up front on defense though, can they really afford to go in that direction?

Semantics?

Last year, Pete Carroll didn’t simply identify the pass rush as the teams greatest need. He actually said he wanted to add speed to the front seven. It wasn’t just about bringing in a guy like Bruce Irvin, it was just as much about getting a linebacker who could move around too. Bobby Wagner was the pick in the end, but he could easily have gone for a Zach Brown or Mychal Kendricks instead.

This year, Carroll isn’t using the word ‘speed’ anymore. And he isn’t talking about the front seven. This is all about the pass rush and the defensive line.

Maybe this is just pure semantics, but I’m going to read into it anyway. The Seahawks might not be looking for a certain physical trait here. They might just be looking for guys who gets it done. Whatever position, whatever way. It could be a great edge rusher, or a dominating interior presence. I suspect this will be a broad search.

What I’m trying to work out is whether this means a raw, untapped talent is less likely than a guy who has shown he can get the job done. Will Carroll be less inclined to go for a Ezekiel Ansah at BYU or a Margus Hunt at SMU because they’re more upside than proven commodity? Do we need to look at prospects with a track record of success in college (or the NFL if we’re talking about free agents)? Or does that work against one of their key philosophies of looking at what a player ‘can’ do as opposed to what he ‘can’t’ do?

Carroll and John Schneider have been emphatic in filling needs so far and there’s no reason to believe they won’t succeed in this latest challenge either. It’s going to be fascinating to see how they try to work this out.

Late round defensive tackle

Kaleb Ramsey weighs 285-290lbs at 6-2 and he rushes the passer. He also has a very unfortunate injury record. He applied for an extra year of eligibility after missing almost all of Boston College’s 2011 season. Unfortunately, things didn’t get much better in 2012. He played two games before again succumbing to injury. A plantar fasciitis issue kept him out, much to the disappointment of his teammates and any fan of a team looking for a three-technique option beyond round one.

Not many defensive tackles can chase down Colin Kaepernick. Kaleb Ramsey can. I’ve included his game tape below against Nevada from 2010 and you can see the kind of talent that’s been wasted the last two years. It’s going to cost him on draft day — teams will not be able to trust an injury record consisting of so many problems. He’s had concussions, hip problems, a nasty foot injury in 2011 to go along with the plantar fasciitis. The concern isn’t going to be so much what he does on the field, rather that he may never actually leave the medical room.

Even so, it’s a name I wanted to throw out there as a possible late round option for the Seahawks. He’ll probably get a chance in the NFL to prove he can stay healthy and pro-conditioning could boost his chances of making it at the next level.

Underclassmen update

Today is the deadline for underclassmen to declare, and we’re not expecting any late drama (see: 2009, Mark Sanchez). A lot of Seahawks fans will want to know about Rutgers wide-out Brandon Coleman, but it appears he’s be staying in school. He admitted he was considering the NFL to his local media, but with no official announcement either way it looks like he’ll play another year of college football in 2013.

Here’s the list in full of the underclassmen declaring for the draft:

Tyler Bray (QB, Tennessee)
Kyle Padron (QB, Eastern Washington)
Eddie Lacy (RB, Alabama)
Giovani Bernard (RB, North Carolina)
Joseph Randle (RB, Oklahoma State)
Marcus Lattimore (RB, South Carolina)
Le’Veon Bell (RB, Michigan State)
Jawan Jamison (RB, Rutgers)
Cierre Wood (RB, Notre Dame)
Knile Davis (RB, Arkansas)
Spencer Ware (RB, LSU)
Stefphon Jefferson (RB, Nevada)
Michael Ford (RB, LSU)
Travis Ward (RB, Tennessee State)
Keenan Allen (WR, California)
Robert Woods (WR, USC)
DeAndre Hopkins (WR, Clemson)
Cordarrelle Patterson (WR, Tennessee)
Justin Hunter (WR, Tennessee)
Da’Rick Rogers (WR, Tennessee Tech)
Stedman Bailey (WR, West Virginia)
Kenny Stills (WR, Oklahoma)
Josh Boyce (WR, TCU)
Brandon Kaufman (WR, Eastern Washington)
Marquess Wilson (WR, Washington State)
Tyler Eifert (TE, Notre Dame)
Zach Ertz (TE, Stanford)
Jordan Reed (TE, Florida)
Dion Sims (TE, Michigan State)
Gavin Escobar (TE, San Diego State)
Levine Toilolo (TE, Stanford)
Luke Joeckel (T, Texas A&M)
D.J. Fluker (T, Alabama)
Justin Pugh (T, Syracuse)
Chris Faulk (T, LSU)
Menelik Watson (T, Florida State)
David Bakhtiari (T, Colorado)
Alvin Bailey, (G, Arkansas)
Travis Frederick (C, Wisconsin)
Bjoern Werner (DE, Florida State)
Damontre Moore (DE, Texas A&M)
Sam Montgomery (DE, LSU)
Corey Lemonier (DE, Auburn)
William Gholston (DE, Michigan State)
Stansly Maponga (DE, TCU)
Joe Kruger (DE, Utah)
Jarvis Jones (DE, Georgia)
Barkevious Mingo (DE, LSU)
Johnathan Hankins (DT, Ohio State)
Sheldon Richardson (DT, Missouri)
Sharrif Floyd (DT, Florida)
Akeem Spence (DT, Illinois)
Bennie Logan (DT, LSU)
Kwame Geathers (DT, Georgia)
Brandon Moore (DT, Texas)
Darrington Sentimore (DT, Tennessee)
Kevin Minter (LB, LSU)
Alec Ogletree (LB, Georgia)
Jelani Jenkins (LB, Florida)
Tom Wort (LB, Oklahoma)
Dee Milliner (CB, Alabama)
Xavier Rhodes (CB, Florida State)
Logan Ryan (CB, Logan Ryan)
David Amerson (CB, NC State)
Tharold Simon (CB, LSU)
Nickell Robey (CB, USC)
Tyrann Mathieu (CB, LSU)
Terrence Brown (CB, Stanford)
Steve Williams (CB, California)
Mike Edwards (CB, Hawaii)
Matt Elam (S, Florida)
Eric Reid (S, LSU)
Tony Jefferson (S, Oklahoma)
Brad Wing (P, LSU)

The following players have announced they won’t be turning pro this year:

Tajh Boyd (QB, Clemson)
Derek Carr (QB, Fresno State)
A.J. McCarron (QB, Alabama)
Aaron Murray (QB, Georgia)
Bryn Renner (QB, North Carolina)
Dri Archer (RB, Kent State)
Jake Sims (RB, Kansas State)
Trey Millard (FB, Oklahoma)
Cody Hoffman (WR, BYU)
Jordan Matthews (WR, Vanderbilt)
Ace Sanders (WR, South Carolina)
Ju’Wuan James (T, Tennessee)
Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan)
Zack Martin (T, Notre Dame)
Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
Morgan Moses (T, Virginia)
Zach Fulton (G, Tennessee)
Garrison Smith (DE, Georgia)
Kyle Van Noy (DE, BYU)
DeAndre Coleman (DT, California)
Ra’Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota)
Daniel McCullers (DT, Tennessee)
Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame)
Will Sutton (DT, Arizona State)
Anthony Barr (LB, UCLA)
Jonathan Brown (LB, Illinois)
C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama)
Khalil Mack (LB, Buffalo)
Aaron Colvin (CB, Oklahoma)
Antone Exum (CB, Virginia Tech)
Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State)
Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State)
Jason Verrett (CB, TCU)

Today’s game tape

Yesterday I published tape of Sheldon Richardson, Margus Hunt, Alex Okafor, Ezekiel Ansah and Sylvester Williams. In order to continue to look at the pass rushers available in 2013, I’ve posted further tape below of Corey Lemonier (DE, Auburn), Kawann Short (DT, Purdue), John Simon (DE, Ohio State), Barkevious Mingo (DE, LSU) and Malliciah Goodman (DE, Clemson).

Off-season priority #1… find a pass rush

Monday, January 14th, 2013

There are never any secrets in Seattle.

Think back to the start of 2011. In Pete Carroll’s end of season press conference he identified the running game as a cause for concern. It was supposed to be the heart and soul of this team, yet the Seahawks ranked 31st in the league for rushing. Jeremy Bates was fired as offensive coordinator, in came Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable. The teams first two draft picks were offensive lineman. There was no media kidology here — this was pure, unadulterated honesty. Carroll did what he said he was going to do.

A year later the pass rush was identified as a key area of weakness. Only ten teams had less sacks than the Seahawks in 2011. Carroll and Schneider zoned in on a pass rusher in the first round of the draft and selected a player defined by Carroll as, “the ideal LEO.” Bruce Irvin was taken with the #15 overall pick in the 2012 draft. Jason Jones was added in free agency to act as a specialist three-technique. Once again the Seahawks had been honest about their ambitions in the off-season, and most definitely pro-active.

The problem is, one plan worked better than the other. The repair work to the run game turned the #31 ranked rushing attack in 2010 into the third best this season. For all of Seattle’s moves to improve the pass rush a year ago, it’s only warranted a three-sack improvement. Bruce Irvin, Jason Jones, Greg Scruggs, Jay Howard, re-signing Chris Clemons to an extended contract. It all adds up to three more sacks.

Seattle’s total of 36 this year is probably a generous review of the pressure they were able to exert on opposing quarterbacks. An eight-sack half against the Green Bay Packers — more freak than anything – bloated that statistic into mediocrity. Without that blistering half of pass-rushing, the Seahawks are among the league’s worst for sacks. A true bottom dweller, belittling the claims that this is an elite unit.

Of course, it’s not all about sacks. It’s about consistent pressure. Green Bay aside, this was never achieved. The Seahawks faced some of the worst offensive lines in the NFL this year and couldn’t get home. In key moments against Detroit, Miami and in the season finale against Atlanta, a lack of pressure equated to defeat. Pete Carroll and Gus Bradley were forced to rush five against the Falcons in the two key plays that set up Matt Bryant’s game winning field goal yesterday. That’s music to Matt Ryan’s ears. The top pocket-passers in the NFL want. you. to. blitz.

This is one of Carroll’s rare failures so far. He and John Schneider have found a franchise quarterback with a third round pick. They’ve created easily the best secondary in the NFL despite spending only one first round pick on Earl Thomas. They’ve devised a dominating running game and found a superstar running back via a trade worth a couple of late round picks. The roster is deep with young talent and it’s trending upwards.

The lack of pass rush, however, is right up there with the Charlie Whitehurst trade. Two big blotches on the copy book. The plan hasn’t worked and it’s time to start again.

Don’t take my word for it — these are Carroll’s sentiments exactly. He appeared on the Brock and Salk show (ESPN 710) this morning and was asked about the teams needs going forward:

“We didn’t settle the issue of rushing the passer. You know Jason (Jones) came in here and he got banged up and wasn’t really able to contribute the way we’d hoped. He did everything he could but he had a bad knee. We need pass rush, I think more than anything that’s it…. We need to add up front somehow to bring the heat.”

You can here the audio at the top of this article. The quotes used above appear at the 19:00 mark.

Carroll unsurprisingly appeared deflated in his post-game press conference yesterday, where he again addressed the lack of pass rush. On Bruce Irvin he commented, “I didn’t really see him out there.” In today’s open media conference he again stated, “We need another pass rusher. We really do. We’re going to need a couple of them.”

It’s a dose of refreshing honesty in a league where most teams guard their intentions like it’s a matter of national security. Then again, it doesn’t take a genius to work out Seattle’s biggest problem. NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal has written a lot of positive articles about the Seahawks this season. Even he couldn’t avoid spelling it out when reflecting on the 30-28 defeat to Atlanta:

When Pete Carroll looks at the film from Sunday’s heartbreaker, he’ll know that his team’s lack of a pass rush hurt badly. The Seahawks’ defense didn’t force a punt until midway through the fourth quarter. The Seahawks registered one “quarterback hit” and zero sacks in 35 drop-backs. With the game on the line, Carroll had no faith he could get pressure Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan with his front four.

Rosenthal’s rather bleak but honest ending to the piece kind of sums it up: “That made the difference in sending the Seahawks home for the offseason.” And he’s absolutely right. The Seahawks were a pass rush away from the NFC Championship game and a one-off shot at the Super Bowl. That’s how vital this issue is — and Carroll knows it.

Everything else in place. The offense will continue to grow with Wilson and Lynch. The rest of the defense is set. There’s plenty of depth across the roster. They just need to do a better job at rushing the passer.

We now know what the primary ambition is going to be during the off-season. This team will add at least two key pass rushers. It all begins when free agency opens on March 12th and moves on to Seattle’s #25 overall pick when the draft begins on April 25th. The hard part is working out what exactly they might do to rectify this problem.

Nobody guessed the Seahawks would take Bruce Irvin with a mid-first round pick. Trying to guess what they’ll do this year could be even tougher.

What are the options?

Free agency

According to John Clayton, the Seahawks have $18.6m in cap room for 2013. Part of this will come from the savings made on Alan Branch and Jason Jones becoming free agents (both could still re-sign for cheaper deals). The other part is down to the rules of the new CBA which allows teams to ‘carry over’ unused cap into future seasons. You have to expect the front office will build on this strategy going forward with many of the teams young stars due major pay increases if they’re going to stick with the Seahawks. For example, in 2014 Richard Sherman is due to earn $690,606. He’s an unrestricted free agent in 2015 and will probably command a much greater salary. Earl Thomas and K.J. Wright will also be free agents that year.

Keeping the band together is not going to be easy unless money is saved.

Even so, there’s enough cap room to at least entertain the possibility of making some moves in free agency. The cap situation could be improved further if Matt Flynn is traded/cut or if Zach Miller is willing to spread some of his $11m 2013 cap hit into future years (he’s due to make $7m in 2014 and $6m in 2015).

In terms of pass rushers, there are some nice prospective options assuming teams don’t use the franchise tag. Desmond Bryant (DT, Oakland), Henry Melton (DT, Chicago) and Randy Starks (DT, Miami) would all upgrade the teams interior pass rush. Bryant (27) and Melton (26) are both entering their prime and will be costly. Starks (29) would probably be more cost effective but with a much more limited upside. The Seahawks made two big splashes prior to the 2011 season by signing Miller and Sidney Rice. Would they entertain a similar move to bring in a veteran three-technique?

It’s unlikely Oakland will be able to afford Bryant, given they’re a projected $4.5m over the cao for 2013. Chicago has enough room at $13.3m to make an offer to Melton, while Miami has $35.8m to play with. Funnily enough, both teams could be impacted by the future of Jake Long. Miami will surely try to re-sign their left tackle, but using the franchise tag would cost $15.4m next season. The Palm Beach Post has already reported that it’s an unlikely scenario for the Dolphins. If Long hits free agency, the Bears could be a suitor given their major issues blocking for Jay Cutler. If the left tackle market dominates the start of free agency, it could present an opportunity for teams chasing the top defensive tackles.

Out of the three options I still favour a move for Starks. He’ll not be as expensive as the other two, while his run defense is superior. He’s still capable of collapsing the pocket and making plays, plus he might be open to a front-loaded two-year contract that’ll end in time for the Seahawks to free up cap room to re-sign their own key players. Both Bryant and Melton will be searching for longer term deals with lots of guaranteed money spread over several years. At the same time, there’s no doubting that Melton is the best pass rusher of the three and would have the greatest impact overall. But at what price?

Finding a veteran edge rusher could also be a possibility, especially if Chris Clemons needs to start the 2013 season on the PUP list as he recovers from an ACL injury. Anthony Spencer (DE, Dallas), Paul Kruger (DE, Baltimore) and Michael Johnson (DE, Cincinnati) will all command good contracts as young, productive pass rushers. Osi Umenyiora (DE, New York Giants) will also be a free agent and at 32-years-old, he might be willing to sign a more modest contract to play for a contender in his final 2-3 years in the league.

Addressing other needs in free agency could allow the Seahawks to concentrate on the pass rush in the draft instead. Receivers like Dwayne Bowe (WR, Kansas City), Mike Wallace (WR, Pittsburgh), Wes Welker (WR, New England), Greg Jennings (WR, Green Bay) and Danny Amendola (WR, St. Louis) are all likely to reach free agency. Victor Cruz (WR, New York Giants) is a restricted free agent, while former USC tight end Fred Davis (TE, Washington) could emerge on Seattle’s radar.

The problem is, this will be an expensive road to go down. Last year, the Jacksonville Jaguars invested $32m in former Dallas wide-out Laurent Robinson (anyone remember him?). He caught 24 passes for 252 yards and no touchdowns in 2012. Rest assured the big-name stars listed above will be wanting at least as much as Robinson stole from the Jaguars.

This is a team being built through the draft, with pay-days earned via performance and competition. It’s unlikely that the Seahawks would ‘chase the dream’ in free agency by making multiple big moves. Stuff like that turned the Philadelphia Eagles into a laughing stock. A choice move or two seems likely though.

2013 draft

Finding productive pass rushers in the draft can be a bit of a crap shoot. For every Aldon Smith and Von Miller, there’s a Derrick Harvey, Brandon Graham or Aaron Maybin. Who expected J.J. Watt to dominate as the most dynamic pass rusher in the NFL? Probably not even the Houston Texans. The Sehawks have been burned before in this situation, owning the #25 overall pick and trading down before taking Lawrence Jackson. No other position is quite so boom-or-bust when it comes to the draft.

The 2013 class actually has a cluster of talented pass rushers available. Bjoern Werner, Damontre Moore, Jarvis Jones, Dion Jordan, Ezekiel Ansah, Barkevious Mingo, John Simon and Alex Okafor could all be first round picks at defensive end or outside linebacker. Sheldon Richardson, Star Lotulelei, Sylvester Williams, Jesse Williams and Sharrif Floyd could all be drafted at the three or five technique positions.

And that’s just a sample size. This is a deep class for defensive lineman.

Seattle’s greatest need is an interior pass rusher. They’ve lacked a natural three-technique all season and it’s been costly. It’s testament to Chris Clemons that he’s once again managed to record double digit sacks this season playing almost as the teams sole pass rusher in base defense.

There’s no reason why the Seahawks couldn’t go big in the draft to improve the pass rush. They drafted offensive lineman back-to-back in 2011 to improve the run game, would they do defensive line back-to-back in 2013? Getting an interior presence is vital, particularly if they don’t find a solution in free agency. Edge rushers and a cost-effective replacement for Jason Jones are also possible.

One player I keep coming back to at the moment is Margus Hunt — the most Seahawky non-Seahawk who’ll turn pro this year. There are numerous things that will put off teams riddled with conventional wisdom. He’ll be a 26-year-old rookie. He has limited football experience having travelled to America to work on his discuss throwing. His technique is raw. None of these things stand to concern the Seahawks, who will no doubt ask what he can do as opposed to what he can’t. What you’re getting with Hunt is a 6-8, 275lbs beast with unnatural speed for his size. While he might be an outside bet as a possible first or second round pick for Seattle, he’s exactly the kind of player you can see Carroll and Schneider taking a chance on.

In the last fortnight I’ve also begun to consider Texas’ Alex Okafor as a more realistic possibility for the Seahawks. His 4.5-sack domination of Oregon State was a master-class in speed rushing off the edge, technique and control. He has a similar frame to Clemons at 6-4, 260lbs and he had 12.5 total sacks for the Longhorns this season. Importantly, he has solid upper body strength, good hands and he understands leverage to work against the run. That’s crucial for a tall and lean defensive end.

If the Seahawks do target edge rushers in round one again, it still won’t shake the biggest need unless they act in free agency. A nasty, violent three technique is a must. Sheldon Richardson is that man. He’s likely to be a top-15 pick given the rarity of good three-techniques in the NFL. The position has proven so difficult to get right in recent years with the leagues best (Geno Atkins, Henry Melton, Darnell Dockett) being found in the middle rounds. Every now and again though, a talent emerges. And Richardson looks like he could buck the trend of disappointing first round defensive tackles.

Do you need further evidence that he fits the Seattle’s scheme? USC spent considerable time trying to prize him away from Missouri during his time in the JUCO ranks. At one point he appeared to commit to the Trojans, only to stick to his initial decision and play in the SEC. Monte Kiffin wanted this guy in his defense — and it just so happens Seattle’s two key defensive brains are both Kiffin disciples.

Getting Richardson with the 25th overall pick would be a gift from the football gods. Yet there’s some hope in the form of character red flags. He’s the prototype three-technique, right down to the attitude and smack talk. It’ll rub some coaches and GM’s up the wrong way. He also served a one-game suspension in 2012 as a punishment for skipping class. It’s still a long shot, but if you’re lucky enough to find a franchise quarterback in round three of the draft, you’ll never rule out Sheldon Richardson suffering a fall on April 25th.

Scheme changes

Carroll seems agitated by the lack of pass rush, and maybe even a little let down. Bruce Irvin has endured a mixed rookie season. He hit a wall mid-way through the year and struggled to have much impact after the bye week. The Atlanta game was supposed to be his chance to show he can be a starter at the LEO position — but he struggled mightily. So concerned at getting beaten by the run, Irvin committed to it almost exclusively. The end result? He was a complete non-factor as a pass rusher.

The Seahawks might be going through the same moment of realisation experienced by West Virginia. They tried to force a starting role on Irvin, albeit in an ill-suited three-man front. He struggled and quickly reverted back to his productive specialist role. The decision paid off and he ended his final year with the Mountaineers strongly.

It might be time to accept what Irvin really is — a specialist. He’s always been at his best concentrating on one thing and one thing only… getting to the quarterback. Let him pin his ears back and go. Playing at the line of scrimmage in a four man front carries too much responsibility for a player incapable of manning the role. He’ll get you 8-12 sacks a year as a third down specialist. He’ll make big plays — just like he did against Carolina and Washington. But those big plays will come in decisive and specific moments, not regularly during a four-quarter game of football.

The thing is, Carroll truly believed Irvin was the ‘ideal LEO’ for his scheme. I’m not sure that’s the case. Not any more. That could be premature, it could be unfair. But I have to believe Carroll is contemplating Irvin’s duties going forward, especially if Chris Clemons can’t start the 2013 season. When you draft a pass rusher with your first round pick and 12 months later state “pass rusher” as the teams biggest need, something isn’t right. Irvin can be a fine specialist pass rusher, but that might be his ceiling.

This isn’t about one player though. Overall the Seahawks haven’t rushed the passer well enough in three seasons of Carroll’s programme. If you’re truly going to review how to make things better, don’t you have to look at the scheme too? It hasn’t really ever created sufficient pressure, even against the bad teams.

One of the problems is the unbalanced nature of Seattle’s attack. By focusing solely on a LEO rusher, it’s easier for the offensive line to max protect one side. A running back in pass protection can cover the left tackle and suddenly Clemons is trying to beat a double team to get home on a lot of plays. Using three big bodies in base defense (Bryant, Mebane, Branch) should theoretically make the Seahawks tough to run on. That isn’t the case. The run defense got progressively worse as the season went on. The unit failed to receive any benefit from using three non-pass rushers on their defensive line.

Theoretically things stand to improve immensely with the introduction of a legitimate three-technique. It’s also worth noting that San Francisco use a tandem on one side more often than not with Justin and Aldon Smith. It’s unbalanced, but works because the two pass rushers are high-quality and the rest of the line plays stout against the run. Will it be enough for Seattle though? If the Seahawks are going to use a 4-3 defense, do they need to start running a more balanced pass rush? Do they have to re-consider Red Bryant’s role as a defensive end and consider moving him back inside?

I’ve argued with several people about the significance of Bryant this season. Carroll made him the highest paid defensive player on the team for a reason. I believe the use of a proper three-technique will lift the defense and perhaps legitimise his role as a defensive end if the pass rush and run defense both improve next year. He continues to be a vocal leader for a young roster. That doesn’t excuse poor play, but it has to factor into why the Seahawks are so keen to keep him at the forefront of their defense.

I concede Carroll will likely review the situation during the off-season. He’s shown a willingness to be pro-active and go against his own beliefs for the greater good. I also suspect after some soul searching he’ll stick with his original plan and try to enhance it. That doesn’t mean the Seahawks can’t bring in personnel to incorporate a more orthodox 4-3 front if needs be. I’m not convinced Irvin and Clemons can act as a base tandem without any pass rush up the middle. But get a player who can act as a more natural left end, bring in a proper three-technique and suddenly, you can be flexible against certain opponents and situations.

This is still a good defense overall, but they need a plan to combat late game winning drives like we saw in Detroit, Miami and Atlanta. Being able to turn to a more balanced pass rush in the hour of need is crucial. I don’t think this team will totally go away from the Bryant experiment or the 4-3 under. But I do think they’ll make the moves to be more flexible.

Moving forward

We’ve talked a lot about the defense here and it seems somewhat unfair not to even mention Russell Wilson. Hours after a stunning performance against Atlanta, he was in front of the media today for his final press-conference of the season. His performance in front of the microphone was almost more impressive than the action on the field. He looked and sounded like the heart of this franchise. He oozed confidence and spoke with authority. For the first time, he came across like a spokesperson for the players.

Wilson sported a hoodie noting his slogan, “No time 2 sleep” and acted like a ten-year veteran. This is a team game, he’ll be the first to tell you that. Yet Wilson looked every bit a franchise quarterback during this interview — saying exactly the right things, talking about his optimism for the future. I always believed the identity of this team would come back to Pete Carroll. Slowly but surely, it seems to be shifting towards Russell Wilson.

You’d like to make his life easier next season by at least investing in one more solid receiving option. A Zach Ertz, a DeAndre Hopkins or even one of those free agent pass-catchers could be a key addition to the offense. I suspect at least one of those early draft picks will be saved for a pass-catcher.

Ultimately though the difference between joy and pain this time next year will rest on Carroll and Schneider’s ability to improve the pass rush. To quote Kip — and I’m sure he won’t mind me using this quote — “I truly believe that the Seahawks would be unbeatable if they had a defensive line like Denver’s or Cincinnati’s and stayed healthy. They’d be the Women’s UCONN team of the NFL.”

I tend to agree.

I’ve included some game tape videos below to show off some of the prospects that could provide the answers in 2013. This includes a new Sheldon Richardson video vs Tennesse, courtesy of JMPasq.

Instant reaction: Cruel defeat ends season, Seahawks pick 25th

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Russell Wilson almost pulled off a miracle

Well, that’s a cruel way for a season to end.

The Seahawks had no business making this a close game after an error-strewn first half. Marshawn Lynch’s fumble, odd play calling in the red zone and bad time management all combined to give Atlanta a 20-0 lead at half time. Somehow this team came back. They fought their way back into the game. And with 30 seconds to go, they led. 28-27.

Surely not?

Unfortunately, 30 seconds was enough for Matt Ryan. He completed two big passes and Matt Bryant kicked a field goal. Game almost over. The Falcons decided to give the Seahawks one more chance with a bizarre on-side kick attempt, but the game had gone.

One stop… one stop away from one of the greatest playoff comebacks in the history of the NFL. A pass rush, a brilliant play in coverage, a mistake from Ryan. That’s all it would’ve taken for a victory. In reality it was always going to be a tough ask. Atlanta’s two timeouts were crucial. They could send receivers deep to drive open the field in a prevent formation, and the ability to stop the clock kept the middle as an option. The last big play went to Tony Gonzalez – probably the last player you want to try and cover in this situation.

There won’t be any trip to San Francisco next week. Instead, the 49ers travel to Atlanta for the NFC Championship game. San Francisco has to feel good about its chances. The Seahawks never truly exploited Atlanta’s weakness against the zone read, something Colin Kaepernick won’t have much trouble doing. They’ve just seen how badly mistakes cost the Seahawks so expect a tight game. The 49ers can’t ask for a better match-up to try and make a Super Bowl. This is no New York Giants outfit playing inspired football.

Looking back it’s hard to know what to think about the first half mistakes. Without such a miserable initial two quarters, there’s no heroic second half comeback. The end result could’ve been the same even if it wasn’t 20-0 at the break. Even so, we saw how fragile the Falcons are under pressure. When the Seahawks asked the question, they struggled. They couldn’t stop Russell Wilson. Suddenly in the fourth quarter, they struggled on offense. It would’ve been interesting to see how this game would’ve played out had the Falcons conceded early points.

Still, it didn’t happen. And there’s little point dwelling on uncharacteristic mistakes. The result won’t change.

It’s better to savour the great face-saving effort of the second half. At one point it looked like the Seahawks were being exposed. It looked like it was going to be a long off-season, with people second-guessing just how good this team really is. A beat-down on the big stage isn’t a good look. Instead, respect was earned. Wilson’s star quality is extended. It was very nearly a victory for the ages.

The defeat means the Seahawks will pick 25th overall in the 2013 draft. They had the same pick last time they made the divisional round of the playoffs in 2011. James Carpenter was the choice on that occasion. Baltimore’s victory against Denver on Saturday ensured the Seahawks jumped up a spot. Green Bay will pick 26th overall.

This season will be defined as the year Wilson appeared on the scene. It’s been one of the most enjoyable years in franchise history, mostly because of the teams rookie quarterback. The greatest question mark for any franchise is finding a quarterback. The Seahawks don’t just have a good one, they have a great one. The Seahawks won’t win the Super Bowl this season, but they found a long-term franchise quarterback. That’ll do for now.

It’s a young roster already punching above its weight. The secondary looks set for a generation, the offensive line has shown great promise and there are playmakers on both sides of the ball.

There also improvements to be made. The pass rush simply isn’t good enough. Ryan wasn’t sacked today and the defensive line has had issues all season trying to create pressure — even against the bad teams. If the defense ever wants to be known as truly elite, you have to be able to press the leagues best quarterbacks more than the Seahawks are doing. The Falcons pass rush wasn’t much better, and it might prove to be their downfall next week.

The injury to Chris Clemons is a big concern, because Bruce Irvin didn’t look ready to be a full-time LEO today. It might be time to appreciate Irvin for what he is — a specialist pass rusher for obvious passing downs. He will get 8-12 sacks a year in this role, which is still a good enough return to warrant a first round pick in my view. If Clemons misses considerable time with an ACL injury, they have to look at alternatives. Osi Umenyiora might not cost the earth aged 32 and seems like a reasonable free agent addition if the terms are fair. Alex Okafor is a more orthodox pass rusher who can play the run and should also be an option in this years draft. An Estonian pass rushing discuss thrower? No other explanation is needed to tout Margus Hunt as a possible Seahawks pick.

It also extends beyond the possible need to replace Clemons if he faces a long recovery period. The interior pass rush is the biggest need on the roster. They have to find a more orthodox three-technique to rush inside. It’s surely the number one priority, because it’s the only position on the defensive line other than the LEO with consistent pass rushing responsibility. If we’re going to play the 4-3 under, let’s at least do it justice by using a proper three-technique. The Seahawks have to do what it takes to get the pass rush going next season.

On offense, it’s all about adding weapons for Wilson. Providing the quarterback with the best environment to progress will be the key to consistent winning season. Another strong target wouldn’t go amiss. The ambition for this team next season has to be to regain the NFC West, secure the #1 seed and home field advantage. The best way for this team to get back to the Super Bowl is to play home games and keep Wilson rocking.

There’s enough talent to be optimistic about the future, but there’s also the key needs to keep the long off-season interesting. We’ll cover it all on seahawksdraftblog.com.

Updated 2013 draft order

1. Kansas City Chiefs
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
3. Oakland Raiders
4. Philadelphia Eagles
5. Detroit Lions
6. Cleveland Browns
7. Arizona Cardinals
8. Buffalo Bills
9. New York Jets
10. Tennessee Titans
11. San Diego Chargers
12. Miami Dolphins
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
14. Carolina Panthers
15. New Orleans Saints
16. St. Louis Rams
17. Pittsburgh Steelers
18. Dallas Cowboys
19. New York Giants
20. Chicago Bears
21. Cincinnati Bengals
22. St. Louis Rams
23. Minnesota Vikings
24. Indianapolis Colts
25. Seattle Seahawks
26. Green Bay Packers
27. Houston Texans
28. Denver Broncos

Draft talk is banned today

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

These will get you in the mood for tomorrow…