Archive for March, 2013

How does the Percy Harvin trade impact Seattle’s draft?

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Note — I don’t usually post multiple articles in a day. I don’t want to flood you with material and most of the Percy Harvin-trade discussion is going on in the other article. If you want to check it out, it’s a piece on the pro’s and con’s of the trade. And yes, we’ll still be doing a live chat on day one of the draft this year!

So… now that there’s no first round pick any more, what are we going to talk about for the next few weeks?

First of all, let’s put the Harvin trade into context here. A few people have brought up — not unfairly — the point that Seattle’s greatest need (pass rush) is now unlikely to be resolved early in the draft. Here’s the thing though. Let’s assume Sheldon Richardson, Star Lotulelei and Sharrif Floyd leave the board early next month. Let’s assume Dion Jordan, Jarvis Jones, Ziggy Ansah, Datone Jones and others also disappear quickly. What are you left with?

Kawann Short? Sylvester Williams? Are they really going to solve this big need?

What about the other receivers? I’m a big fan of DeAndre Hopkins, but is he going to offer explosive playmaking skills? Can you rely on Keenan Allen or Justin Hunter to stay healthy and have an impact at the next level?

Yes the Seahawks need height at receiver and will now field a corps involving 5-10 Golden Tate, 5-10 Doug Baldwin and 5-11 Percy Harvin. But what was the alternative? Allen is 6-2. Hopkins is 6-1. Hunter is 6-4. Are any of those guys likely to have the kind of impact Harvin could have? Very, very unlikely.

I’ve agonised over the last 7-8 mock drafts I’ve done trying to find that ‘unique’ talent the Seahawks would probably look for and most of the time came out empty handed. It’s difficult to find defining difference makers in the late first round. It just is.

Simply put, Harvin was better than any of the options available. I’m sure that’s how Pete Carroll and John Schneider saw this. They looked at the class, looked at who might be available at #25. Then they decided Harvin was that much better than anyone else they could bring in.

Ask yourself who you’d rather have the day after the first round of the draft concludes — Percy Harvin, Kawann Short, Sly Williams or DeAndre Hopkins. I suspect most people will say Harvin. He’s the only player likely to scare the living the daylights out of the rest of the NFC West.

If anything, the trade makes the draft even more intriguing now. It’s a deep class and the Seahawks will still be able to get a good player at #56 (if they keep the pick). What’s more, we’ve kind of been given a direction now. They almost certainly won’t be drafting a receiver in round two. Given the need to address the defensive line and WILL position, it’s pretty safe to assume that’s what they’ll do in round two. Although you never know with this front office.

Of course, free agency could change things even further. For now, let’s look at some of the options at #56.

At defensive tackle, don’t rule out the possibility of Kawann Short or Sylvester Williams making it into the late second. Both players are slightly older (24 and 25 respectively during their rookie seasons) and lack the kind of explosive, difference making skills to guarantee an earlier selection. Right now I have both going in the top half of the second round. The depth at defensive tackle and possibility of ‘the big three’ going in the top-15 could force others down the board as demand lightens. Don’t be surprised if Jesse Williams, John Jenkins and Johnathan Hankins also suffer as a consequence. Hey, there’s every chance all five of these players go in the top-40. Just don’t be shocked if they last a little longer than expected.

Beyond that, Brandon Williams has shown enough athletic potential at 341lbs to combat his small-school upbringing. He’s intriguing. A little inexperienced in some cases and he might need to learn a few extra counters. Yet he moves unnaturally well for a guy at that size. USF’s Cory Grissom similarly impressed during the Senior Bowl work outs and the combine. Montori Hughes has a laundry list of character issues but there’s just something about him that looks right. Jordan Hill remains a favourite of ours on tape although he did look limited athletically in Indianapolis.

As much as improving the pass rush is important, I suspect the Seahawks want to keep size up front. Harvin makes the offense more explosive. They’re going to be leading in a lot of games anyway, which in turn helps the pass rush. Playing stout against the run early on could be more important than ever. It’s easier to ‘tee off’ on the pass rush with a healthy lead.

I suspect they’ll continue to lean on the ‘Jason Jones role’ as a situational pass rusher. Datone Jones appeared the most likely fit here but he’s unlikely to make it to round two. We’ve discussed Margus Hunt many times on the blog and he could be in play at #56. He’s not a polished, orthodox pass rusher. He’s still an athlete playing football. Yet physically he has a ton of upside and he kind of feels like the type of player this team would love to draft. It’s a little boom or bust, but you can see him working inside on third down and playing some edge too. His 4.6 speed and 6-8, 277lbs frame remains intriguing. He could be a first rounder based on upside or a sixth rounder based on the fact he’s a discus thrower chasing a football. His stock is impossible to predict.

In terms of defensive ends or LEO’s — Corey Lemonier’s combine performance makes it unlikely he will be available. He could be a mid-first rounder. Tank Carradine is having his tire’s pumped a little too much recently (in my view) but his ACL injury will push him back. Possibly to #56. It just depends on whether the Seahawks want another pass rusher coming off a serious injury.

Alex Okafor could be there in the late second — not an obvious LEO due to a lack of initial burst and speed, but he has excellent technical skills and hand use. John Simon is a favourite on this blog and could be an asset even in round two.

The best value might come at linebacker. If Khaseem Greene or Arthur Brown last into round two, don’t be surprised if Seattle makes a move in that direction.

Other players who could be on the radar later: Armonty Bryant (Kip’s favourite, LEO), Quinton Dial (DT or five technique depth), Abry Jones (DT), Michael Buchanan (LEO), Lavar Edwards (Jason Jones), Travis Long (LEO), Devin Taylor (LEO or Jason Jones), Cornelius Washington (LEO), Everett Dawkins (DT), Josh Boyd (DT), Jamie Collins (LEO or WILL), Brandon Jenkins (LEO).

There’s always the chance for further trades too, be it up or down the board. We might not have much to get excited about on day one of the draft this year, but there’s plenty to discuss over the next few weeks. Does anyone really expect it’ll be a boring draft with Pete Carroll and John Schneider in control? I didn’t think so.

Percy Harvin links

Danny O’Neil reports that the 2014 pick heading to Minnesota is likely to be a 3rd rounder. For a team that found a franchise quarterback in that range, they sure like to trade away third round picks.

Jason Cole writes that Harvin’s lack of trust in Christian Ponder help drive his desire for a trade. “Percy Harvin wanted two things this offseason: Money and a better quarterback.”

Mike Sando says the NFC West would rather prepare for the #25 pick in the 2013 draft than face Percy Harvin: “Harvin… is a threat to score as a receiver, runner and kickoff returner. Harvin has 20 touchdowns as a receiver, four as a runner and five as a kick returner.”

ESPN has quotes from Golden Tate on the news of the trade. Tate: “The Seahawks are trying to do whatever they think is necessary to put together a Super Bowl quality team. If this is one of the steps they think works to accomplish that, then that’s their choice. I don’t think it will impact any of our work habits. We are still going to grind and let the cards play out the way that they will.”

Marc Sessler notes the size of the story: “It’s a stunning move that will strengthen an already powerful Seahawks roster with a premier wide receiver and return threat, while simultaneously ending Harvin’s often rocky four-year tenure in Minnesota. It’s a bitter pill to swallow for Vikings fans. Harvin was the Vikings’ most exciting player, with the ability to scorch defenses as a pass-catcher and pick up devastating chunks of yardage in open space.”

Gregg Rosenthal believes it’s a great move by the Seahawks: “Coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have been nothing if not bold since arriving Seattle three years ago to re-make the Seahawks. They think different. They build different. They aren’t afraid to take chances.”

Brock and Salk react to the news today with Tim Hasselbeck and Adam Schefter.

Adrian Peterson isn’t happy:

In other news, the 49ers traded a 6th round pick for Anquan Boldin’s four regular season touchdowns.

Seahawks trade for Percy Harvin

Monday, March 11th, 2013

So, who expected to see this today?

The Seahawks will acquire Percy Harvin from the Minnesota Vikings for the #25 pick in 2013, a seventh rounder this year and a mid-round pick in 2014. Life is never dull with Pete Carroll and John Schneider in town.

Firstly, Harvin is a tremendous playmaker. Without doubt one of the best in the NFL. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell worked with him in Minnesota for two years (his rookie season in 2009 and the following year). Pete Carroll also tried to recruit Harvin for USC in 2005. He met with the Gators and the Trojans and nobody else. He chose Florida, which isn’t a total shock given he’s an east coast guy (he’s originally from Virginia). Basically, they aren’t making this deal without deep inside knowledge in the player.

You can put him anywhere on the field and he’ll make plays. Receiver, runner, kick returns. He’s a nightmare to match-up against. If the Seahawks want to persist with the read-option within their offense, Harvin can be effective there too. He certainly was for the Gators in college. Speed, power, game-changing skills. He has the works.

Carroll and Schneider want unique players. Difference makers. Playmakers on both sides of the ball that possess rare qualities that you just don’t find every year in the draft. Harvin doesn’t just fit the bill, he’s the poster boy. There isn’t another Percy Harvin in the league. There isn’t another Percy Harvin in this draft class. That’s why he fits in Seattle.

Then there’s the other side of Percy Harvin…

His fall out with Minnesota was ugly. Very ugly. It was reported he clashed with Head Coach Leslie Frazier in front of other staff members and players. He was seen visibly screaming at his coach in the Vikings defeat to Seattle in November for no obvious reason. ESPN’s Tom Pelissero reported on the fall-out at the end of the season:

TV cameras caught Harvin waving his arms and screaming at Frazier on the sideline over his frustration with the Vikings’ struggling offense.

According to four NFL sources, Harvin and Frazier had another heated exchange weeks later in front of some players and staff members, fueling speculation about a deteriorating relationship that could spell the end of Harvin’s four seasons in Minnesota.

Details of that altercation remain clouded, though it is believed to have begun in the training room at the Vikings’ facility.

CBS Minnesota offered this take:

Multiple sources tell Mike Max that Harvin had an embarrassing tirade directed toward Frasier, disrespecting the coach during the season when Harvin was sidelined with an injured ankle.

Teammates were present, and Max was told that is when Harvin left the team and was put on injured reserve.

Sources say teammates were disappointed in Harvin’s actions and the organization has moved toward less tolerance for that behavior.

Harvin apparently had a similar incident when Childress coached the team.

The Vikings will try to trade him, Max reports, as Harvin does have market value.

It was quite a bizarre situation given Minnesota’s successful season where they made the playoffs. Really, what was there to complain about?

Harvin’s had two Head Coaches in his pro-career and fallen out with both. Will Carroll be the hat trick?

There’s also a substantial injury history.

In 2009 and 2010 he suffered severe problems with migraine’s and was constantly listed on the injury report as a consequence. He’s also had ankle, hamstring, hip, shoulder and finger injuries. In 2009 he was listed as questionable seven times. He was on the injury report eight times in 2010, seven times in 2011 and five times in 2012 before being placed on injured reserve (missing Minnesota’s last five games). He’s competitive for his size when he’s actually on the field, but he’s also been quite brittle.

According to Jason Cole, Harvin is also targeting ‘Calvin Johnson’ type money:

While the Vikings and Harvin’s agent, Joel Segal, have yet to exchange contract proposals, it’s believed that Harvin wants money closer to what Calvin Johnson got from Detroit in 2012 (eight years, $132 million) than to Jackson or Bowe. That’s an average of $16.5 million per year compared to a little more than $11 million for Jackson and Bowe. As one person put it about Harvin, he considers himself a “special” player and executives around the league have fed that attitude by telling people close to him how difficult it is to cover Harvin.

The Seahawks will have the framework for a new deal agreed before any trade is completed. However, this will not be cheap. And it makes you wonder if other players — like Sidney Rice ($9.7m cap hit) or Zach Miller ($11m cap hit) — will be asked to re-work their deals given their substantial salaries in 2013. Cutting Rice would potentially save $6m in cap money — does that become an option? What about releasing Leon Washington (due $2.875m) given Harvin’s quality as a return-man? And surely moving Matt Flynn now becomes even more of a priority?

Then there’s this article by Jeremy Fowler to consider, where he notes other concerns about Harvin:

Percy Harvin “epitomized the climate” of player entitlement under coach Urban Meyer at the University of Florida, according to a Sporting News report posted online Monday, April 9.

Harvin, who played for the Gators from 2006-08, reportedly was one of three players who missed the 2008 season opener after allegedly failing drug tests for marijuana – penalties dictated by university policy – although Meyer publicly blamed an injury for Harvin’s absence.

Harvin also refused to run stadium steps with the rest of the team during offseason conditioning before the 2007 season, according to the Sporting News, and once allegedly threw wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales to the ground by his neck.

Harvin reportedly wasn’t punished for either of those incidents, according to the report, and was treated differently as a member of Meyer’s “Circle of Trust.”

Harvin told strength and conditioning coaches while boycotting stadium runs, “this (expletive) ends now,” according to the report, and the team played basketball as conditioning the next day.

It makes you wonder how this undoubtedly talented but also flawed player will respond to a big new contract. Will this play to Harvin’s entitled nature? Or will he be able to buy into Carroll’s ‘all-in’ philosophy and knuckle down? He’s not managed a 1000-yard season in his career yet, which is incredible given his talent-level. He needs to stay healthy and stay away from drama. If he can do that, he’ll be among the league’s best.

Harvin’s on-field talents will give Russell Wilson a truly dynamic receiver to target. Off the field though, will he be willing to give up time to work with such an intense character like Wilson, who’s a stickler for detail and putting in the hours?

Despite all the perceived negatives both Carroll and Darrell Bevell know the guy and aren’t walking into this blindfolded. They’re acquiring a player who doesn’t even turn 25 until May. And the fact is nobody is going to look forward to facing Wilson, Harvin, Marshawn Lynch and co.

Finally, what does this trade say about the draft? The Seahawks perhaps feel Harvin is too good to pass up. It could also be a review of what’s available in the late first round range. If they feel nobody gets close to Harvin’s level of talent (and they don’t) you can understand the deal. However, there’s little chance now for Seattle to attack their pass rush problems early. The options at #56 won’t be great. So while the offense continues to improve, there will be some concern that the biggest hole within the team will remain unresolved. Signing Harvin to a big contract won’t leave much room to make many other moves in free agency after all.

Yet think of it like this. Sheldon Richardson, Star Lotulelei and Sharrif Floyd were way out of range. The top pass rushers will be long gone too, perhaps even Datone Jones. So if you’re looking at Kawann Short, Sylvester Williams or Percy Harvin, this is a no-brainer, right? Over the next few days we’ll focus on options with the #56 pick, which presumably will be spent on a defensive player (if they keep the pick).

There’s a lot to get excited about as you’ll see in the video below. It’ll make day one of the draft that little bit less exciting, but the Seahawks just acquired one of the best playmakers in the league. If they can keep him in tow, this could be a defining day for the franchise. It’s a big ‘if’ though.

What do you make of the trade? Let us know in the comments section and vote in the poll below.

The USC backup crew

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Might Mike Morgan be the Jeron Johnson of the linebacker corps?

During an interview at the Scouting Combine Pete Carroll talked about the team’s needs, and one of the things that struck me was his seeming ease about the linebacker situation.  He joked about Seattle’s current linebacker situation at weakside linebacker, referring to his “USC backup crew” with a tone of affection.  While upfront about upgrading many areas of the team, Carroll implied that he was only going to seek “someone to compete” with this trio of players.

That group of linebackers- Malcolm Smith, Mike Morgan, and Allen Bradford- all played for Carroll at USC and all ran good forty times.  Bradford had a 4.56 (at 242 pounds), Morgan a 4.46 (pro-day), and Smith a 4.44.  Both Morgan and Smith tilt the scales under 230 pounds, often considered a “cutoff point” for most evaluators.  Bradford was a running back at USC and outside of his time on the practice squad last season, he hasn’t played linebacker since high school.  Factor in Korey Toomer (4.53), a 5th round pick from last season that spent some time on the practice squad, and we have four fast linebackers that can play the weak side already.

We already have a ton of fast linebacker prospects.  Granted, each and every one of them has an issue to deal with.  Mike Morgan is undersized.  Malcolm Smith is undersized and was highly injury prone at USC.  Allen Bradford is learning the ropes again at linebacker.  Korey Toomer was more of an athlete than linebacker last preseason- a player that struggled badly in everything other than his surprisingly potent pass rush ability.

If Seattle acquires another linebacker, and it sounds like they probably will, that player will have to compete with four other players for the final linebacker starting job.  Or maybe Seattle can’t make up their mind and ends up platooning multiple linebackers at the weakside- just like they did last season for Moffitt/Sweezy at guard and Johnson/Guy at big nickle safety.

It wasn’t long ago that I presented the case that Seattle might have to draft a fast linebacker early, because this draft class is thin in that area relative to previous years.  After hearing Pete Carroll’s comments and realizing how athletic our current backup linebackers are, I’m starting to think the opposite might true- Seattle might add a linebacker in the back half of the draft- barring a draft coup at linebacker falling to them in the 3rd or 4th round.  Seattle has the depth and talent to survive a season with a “backup crew” manning the weakside linebacker spot- arguably the least valuable position on our defense- a position where “adequate” is the norm for most 4-3 defenses.

Morgan went undrafted and Bradford was a late round pick by Tampa Bay as a running back that was quickly released that same year.  Seattle signed Bradford off waivers, placed him on the practice squad, and in late December of last year, finally promoted him to the active roster.  Bradford missed most of the 2012 preseason but I personally thought he impressed in his lone performance against Oakland.  His speed and size were plainly evident.  He could lay a hit and played with more instincts than I would have expected.  Toomer was a 5th round pick last year and Smith was a 7th round pick in 2011.  The combined draft expense of these four linebackers was the same as the price the Jets paid Seattle to move down four spots in the second round last year.

As you can see, Seattle is in the business of hunting value at linebacker.  Why does it feel like we’ve seen this before?  It’s because Seattle has used the same scatter shot approach to cornerback and big nickle safety.  Seattle has drafted or acquired via undrafted free agency a corner and a safety in every offseason to date.  That tactic netted us a megastar in Richard Sherman, a pro-bowler in Kam Chancellor, and several quality backups and special teams contributors.

It would appear that so far Seattle is using the same tactic at weak side linebacker.  Malcolm Smith had two touchdowns last season on special teams, and has been no stranger to quality play even though he rarely sees the field.  Mike Morgan filled in for both Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright at times and was a minor star during the 2012 preseason.  He’s a lot like our big nickle safety Jeron Johnson but at linebacker.  Both are players with strong preseason performances and have shown themselves to be adequate or better in real games.  Morgan plays bigger than his 226 pound size and Johnson also plays above his size and speed limitations.  Johnson is a fringe starter (in nickle packages), but a quality one just the same.  Might Mike Morgan be our fringe starter at weakside linebacker in 2013?

If Bradford can build on his good showing in the preseason finale last year, Seattle might already have a fairly robust competition underway for the final starting linebacker job.  And all are fast enough to offer Seattle a fast starter at that position.

Then you factor Korey Toomer’s athletic upside, and you can see why Pete doesn’t seem terribly stressed about weakside linebacker.  He’d still like to add one more, but I no longer think that indicates a priority.  It indicates that he’s in the habit of spending late round picks on scatter shot choices to increase depth and competition, and to perhaps find a diamond in the rough while doing it if he’s lucky.

It’s also possible that Pete Carroll and John Schneider just don’t like this linebacker class very much, and could be holding off for a future offseason which boasts a stronger group, as they did at receiver during the 2012 draft.  I wouldn’t rule that out, especially since this draft isn’t all that great in my opinion for fast linebackers.

With this in mind, I’m going to very quickly post some thoughts on the all the fast linebackers or potential fast linebackers that performed at the combine.  Of course, you will always have non-combine players to watch for (one example being former USC athlete/linebacker Jordan Campbell), so this list won’t be 100% comprehensive, but it should cover all the options that clocked around 4.65 or under (or didn’t run but would be expected to be that fast).  The fastest linebackers run in the mid 4.4s, and the slowest run in the mid 4.8s, so I think 4.65 is a good median to work with.  Remember, these aren’t scouting reports, just quick hits of what I think of each player in a few sentences after watching each of them during the past few weeks:

Zaviar Gooden (4.47): Gooden is the only linebacker this year with clear 4.4s type speed in this draft.  On tape, he is a slight framed looking player but the speed really shows.  I think his instincts are just fine- but he is so aggressive that he often overshoots and misses tackles.  Obviously, with speed like that, Gooden’s upside in coverage is pretty good.  Hands down the fastest linebacker in this draft, but funny enough, he’d only be our 4th fastest linebacker on our team if the Seahawks draft him.  Mid round projection.

Arthur Brown (estimated speed:  4.45 to 4.55 range): Brown did not run at the combine.  Brown has speed and impressive burst, but like Alec Ogletree he is more of an athlete than a linebacker.  Pete Carroll raved about Brown coming out of high school though, calling him the best linebacker he’d seen in many years.  And coming from a guy that ran linebacker U, that’s saying something.  Brown struggled for most of his college career before finally posting a solid season in 2012 for Kansas State.  I don’t think Seattle would draft Brown early, but if he slipped to round three I could see the temptation being there.

Jelani Jenkins (estimated speed: 4.50 to 4.60 range): Jenkins didn’t run at the combine, but you can see on tape that he can cover ground in a hurry.  That’s about the only thing I like about him, though.  He utterly lacks physicality- it’s like watching Kelly Jennings the linebacker.  John Schneider said he thought the underclassman linebacker group was intriguing.  Jenkins is the only underclassman linebacker to possess above average speed (Alec Ogletree ran in the 4.7s).  I’d hate this pick, but it bears watching.  Funny enough, by sheer coincidence both Brown and Jenkins will have their pro days tomorrow (March 12th), so we should get a more scientific idea of their speed by then.  Mid round projection.

Cornelius Washington (4.55): Washington was more of a defensive end for Georgia, but he’s so underdeveloped that it’s not a stretch to draft him as a linebacker/end hybrid and see where he ends up.  His combination of size, speed, strength and athleticism is highly reminiscent of Aaron Curry, which is actually a good thing for a potential late round pick.  Pete Carroll was a huge fan of Curry’s potential before arriving in Seattle and discovering the horrible truth.  Washington could be a player to watch as a high upside project at either outside linebacker or LEO.  Mid to late round projection.

Trevardo Willams (4.57): Standing just 6’1″ with 32″ arms, Williams will not see his game translate as a defensive end in the pros.  However, his build, speed, and diagnosis ability paint a promising picture as a linebacker convert.  If viewed as a linebacker, Williams would be one of the fastest linebackers in this draft despite also weighing 241 pounds.

Jonathan Bostic (4.61): Bostic has just okay speed, basically on the good side of average.  His tape leaves a lot to be desired.  He wears concrete shoes in zone coverage, hardly even tries to get off blocks and reads the run poorly.  If Seattle did draft him, I would be shocked if he made the roster.  Played middle linebacker.  Mid round projection.

Ty Powell (4.64): Powell is a rare player capable of playing at all three levels of a defense.  He played safety for a junior college, but has the size to play defensive end and the speed to play linebacker or safety.  Powell played at the lowest level possible, so it’s hard to judge speed fairly, but he looked fast and there’s a little Bobby Boucher in him as a hitter.  Powell could be a player to keep an eye on in the very late rounds as Seattle likes versatile players with physicality.

Jamie Collins (4.64): Collins made a name for himself at the combine with a towering 41.5″ vertical jump and a combine best broad jump.  Collins played mostly standup end and when he wasn’t doing that he was a 3-point stance end.  He plays the position like a linebacker though, which is why he is often listed as one.  Collins doesn’t handle blocks well and plays mentally slow.  He did have good production, but he played in a small conference and his tape hardly wows.  In a lot of ways, Collins reminds me of a slower Korey Toomer.  Mid to late round projection.

Sio Moore (4.65): Moore is a one of the better linebackers in this draft and boasts one of the most compete packages of skills.  He is worth respecting as a LEO type pass rusher, he’s quick to diagnose, he reads a quarterback’s eyes in zone coverage while trying to hide his presence by staying low, and he’s a good tackler.  If only he had Gooden’s speed, he’d be a star.  Unfortunately, Moore’s speed on tape looks as average as his combine number indicates.  I personally don’t think he’s fast enough for Pete (same goes for Khaseem Green who ran a 4.71), but we’ll see.  Round two or three projection.

AJ Klein (4.66): Though average on the track, Klein is sneaky fast and explosive in short areas.  Klein rarely ventures behind enemy lines and makes his living on damage reducing tackles downfield.  Klein takes on blockers willingly without losing himself to them, and has excellent instincts and reaction speed.  He has the short area burst to be an effective zone coverage player.  Klein’s upside is fairly grounded, but he’s a natural linebacker and you might even say he’s a bargain bin version of Luke Kuechly with less speed and less upside.  Played middle linebacker.  Mid round projection.

Now, compare those times to what Seattle already has.  Smith a 4.44.  Wagner a 4.45.  Morgan a 4.46.  Toomer a 4.53.  Bradford a 4.56.  Wright a 4.75.  Seattle doesn’t need another slow run enforcer like Wright (Mike Morgan did a great job in that role during the preseason despite his size, and Bradford has the size and power to be a natural SAM).  The fastest linebacker in this whole draft might not even crack Seattle’s lineup.  Even the undeveloped athletes at linebacker would be less athletic than many of the options we already have.  That says to me that Seattle probably won’t invest big at linebacker this year, instead opting for a late round or undrafted prospect to bring in for competition.  I could potentially see Seattle showing interest in Arthur Brown if he slides.  A selection of Alec Ogletree, Khaseem Greene, or Sio Moore in the earlier rounds would surprise me.  Gooden, Washington, Williams, Powell and Collins strike me as the most realistic options as they will probably be selected in the rounds 4-7 range of the draft.

*(Interestingly, Malcolm Smith is the brother of Steve Smith the lesser (the one who had 1200+ yards with the Giants in 2009).  Steve Smith was a member of the St. Louis Rams last season.  Another linebacker with a famous brother, Arthur Brown is the brother of the Eagles breakout running back Bryce Brown.)

Sunday draft notes

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

Good news for Jarvis Jones today it seems, but will the NFL agree?

Better news for Jarvis Jones

We expected to have a better idea of Jarvis Jones’ stenosis issue after the combine, but there were no leaked medical reports to confirm or deny what USC had feared back in 2009. So we were left to speculate. Clearly teams will be wary of anything to do with stenosis, particularly if there are life threatening consequences. Yet Jones wasn’t only cleared to play by Georgia, he also had two relatively healthy seasons in the SEC.

Today, Dan Pompei provided the first piece of seemingly valid information on this matter. And it appears to be good news for Jarvis Jones:

Jones’ neck injury is starting to look like it might be a non-issue on draft day, and there is little chance he will fall out of the top 10. In a medical report that was sent to NFL teams, leading orthopedist Craig Brigham refutes that Jones ever had a significant spinal cord contusion. When he was at Southern Cal, the pass rusher was diagnosed with one, and Southern Cal did not allow him to play in 2010. Jones transferred to Georgia and played two seasons with no problems. Brigham concluded that Jones either had a very mild incident of spinal cord concussion or merely a stinger that has long since resolved. Even if another similar injury occurred, Brigham concluded it would not be a career ending issue. After recently examining Jones, Brigham concluded, “Jarvis is cleared to play without restriction.”

Of course, this is only one man’s take. USC and Georgia clearly didn’t share the same opinion on his future. There’s a chance other experts (including team doctors) will diagnose the situation differently than Craig Brigham.

If you want to assume they won’t, then Jones is back in contention to be a top-15 pick. This isn’t a defining report that renders the issue a non-factor. Even so, it only takes one team to make a similar assessment to ensure he is an early pick next month.

Cullen Jenkins update

Anyone hoping he’d be signing in Seattle will be disappointed…

Eddie Lacy still injured

According to Adam Schefter, Lacy will not be able to work out at Alabama’s pro-day on March 13th. He missed the combine in February due to a hamstring problem. He will conduct an individual work out at some point but no date has been set.

It’s not been a great off-season for Lacy so far. He turned up at Indianapolis 11lbs heavier than his listed playing weight, then admitted he’d not necessarily kept in shape since the Notre Dame game.

He ended the season on fire, making the most of Alabama’s top-tier offensive line. For teams like St. Louis that’ll be looking for a power back, he makes some sense even in round one. Yet if the injury issues linger, if he can’t work out before the draft and if teams are concerned about his conditioning, he could easily drop. Plenty of teams find viable runner’s later in the draft. And while there’s always an Alfred Morris or Arian Foster to be had, a bad off-season can have an impact.

Personally, I’d like to avoid facing Lacy twice a season. The Rams are going to need a productive back to compete with Seattle and San Francisco in the NFC West. Lacy fits the bill, but is he working his way out of first round consideration?

Revisionist history

Bucky Brooks – March 2013. He was asked where Geno Smith would rank among the 2011 quarterbacks (Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder):

“I like him better than I liked Jake Locker. I think I liked him a little more than I liked Christian Ponder and Blaine Gabbert I wasn’t a big fan of. ”

Bucky Brooks – March 2011. He had Gabbert at #5 in his mock draft:

“You (Arizona) better take Blaine Gabbert at five. Big, athletic quarterback. Strong arm. Can make all the throws. Ken Whisenhunt will build an offense around his skills and I think the Arizona Cardinals offense will get back on track.”

Kawann Short unimpressive against Wisconsin

Watching a defensive lineman competing against Wisconsin is always a good benchmark. The Badgers consistently churn out big, aggressive, dominating run blockers who do a decent job protecting the quarterback.

It stands to reason that any defensive tackle drafted by the Seahawks is going to need to be able to defend the run. They have to be stout. While the teams biggest priority is to improve the pass rush, they can’t afford to walk into two games against the Niners with a weak interior defensive line. For all of Colin Kaepernick’s athletic ability outside of the hash marks, they’re still a power running team.

Purdue’s Kawann Short is a decent pass rusher, with good finishing speed and a decent swim move. He exploits gaps and works well into the backfield. At the Senior Bowl he was probably the most productive defensive lineman on the field after Ziggy Ansah.

Yet against Wisconsin (see below) I think he struggled. And that’s not a particularly good sign for anyone hoping to see Short in the Pacific North West.

My offseason plan

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

It’s spring forward tonight, meaning that we all lose an hour of sleep.  I was going to do my Tyler Eifert writeup tonight, but in the interest of getting some sleep I’ll just link this offseason plan– rife with rosterbation- that I just completed on the forums.   It’s a long read but if you are into this kind of thing you might enjoy it.  I think it’s extremely doubtful that Seattle will draft a tight end in round 1, but if they did, I think Eifert would be the perfect match for our offense.

Saturday draft notes

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

Ryan Swope -- Set for Seattle in the second?

Cutting through the hype

This time of year is good for two things — hype and reality.

On the one hand, the combine is fresh in the memory and there’s a new batch of players to overrate. If you ran well, jumped well or interviewed well in Indianapolis, the chances are you’ve ‘boosted’ your stock. Congratulations.

In some cases it’s a genuine boost. In others it’s worthless deception. Admittedly some players are just that good physically that they really do save their best football for the NFL. Others find out that running and jumping well in shorts doesn’t automatically make you a superstar.

Hype also works the other way too. If you’re not quite the brilliant athlete everyone was hoping, you can sink like a stone.

We also discover a few nuggets of truth during the months of February and March. There are leaks in the media where you discover certain players are higher on boards than expected. Sharrif Floyd is a great example. On tape, he had a pretty good year. Most people saw him as a first or second round pick. And yet here we are, a few weeks later, and he could go top five. Whether the tape was deceiving or not, it appears to be true that he’s a favourite among scouts and GM’s. Only time will tell if it’s reasonable to put him among this years elite. I’m sceptical personally. Because while he has a fantastic back story and a lot of talent, he doesn’t exactly live in the backfield, he has short arms, he’s not a sensational athlete and he’s not an edgy, penetrative pass rusher like Sheldon Richardson.

Even so, there are a few players out there who are maybe having their tires pumped up a little too much, even more than Floyd…

Ziggy Ansah (DE, BYU) — he ran well at the combine and flashed a lot of physical talent. Ansah also put in a MVP performance in the Senior Bowl. Suddenly everyone from Daniel Jeremiah to Todd McShay is stepping up to praise this apparent top-10 lock. Yet it’s easy to forget how inexperienced he looked this season, often struggling to have any impact as an edge rusher. He ended 2012 with just 4.5 sacks. During the Senior Bowl workouts he appeared lost — like he’d only put pads on for the first time that week. In terms of pure potential, there’s a lot to like here. But he’s not even close to the level Jason Pierre-Paul was at when he turned pro, which is saying something. Expecting him to have an instant impact would be optimistic. And yet he turns 24 in May. When you draft a pass rusher in the top ten you kind of want a decent return quickly. Will we see that from Ansah? In a matter of weeks he’s gone from solid first rounder who could make it to Seattle at #25 to possible top-five pick. Perhaps it’s time to put on the brakes?

Matt Barkley (QB, USC) — last year people were lining up to call him a top-ten pick. I suspect if he had declared, Mike Holmgren would’ve made him the third quarterback to leave the board within the top five picks of the 2012 draft. He’d beaten Oregon in impressive fashion, been the leader of a team facing three difficult seasons and looked so ready for the pro’s. Yet he didn’t run to the NFL and instead opted for one more year in college — to try and achieve that elusive BCS Bowl appearance and a PAC-12 title. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as planned. USC bombed, the defense collapsed, the offensive line couldn’t block four scarecrows and Barkley’s game suffered as a consequence. And now people are lining up to say he’s a fourth round pick. At the same time, E.J. Manuel — who struggled to convince anyone he was a competent passer at Florida State — is being promoted as a possible first round pick because he runs well and can throw further than most people. I’ll take the accurate, poised, technically gifted quarterback every time. But that’s just me.

If anyone was wondering where the Greg Cosell ‘fourth round grade’ quotes came from by the way, here you go. Cosell states he’s seen a lot of NFL tape and therefore “knows” what works in the NFL. It might be worth “knowing” that a guy who is nearly 6-3 is not “a little short”. Or that he once said this: “The most overlooked characteristic when discussing quarterbacks is accuracy.”

For what it’s worth, Cosell likes Zac Dysert and Matt Scott this year. He compares Scott favourably to Russell Wilson, a player he didn’t like last year — comparing him to Seneca Wallace. He also thought Ryan Lindley made “the most ‘wow’ throws of any quarterback in the draft” last year. Yes, including Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. He also listed Lindley as the most intriguing quarterback from the 2012 class. I doubt that’ll get repeated any time soon by the cult of Cosell.

Eric Fisher (T, Central Michigan) — don’t get me wrong, I think Fisher is a fine pro-prospect. Yet it’s funny how impressions change when one big guy runs slightly faster than another. Luke Joeckel just had one of the best seasons you could wish to see from a left tackle. It helps that he was blocking for one of college football’s more elusive quarterbacks. It further helps that he was flanked by perhaps an equally talented right tackle in Jake Matthews. However, Joeckel shut out top-class opponents most weeks in the SEC. He was flawless. What’s more, it comes so naturally to him. You wouldn’t think he looks like an elite tackle based on his appearance. His arms lacks definition, he’s not a brilliant athlete. He’s just a fantastic football player. But shortly after the combine, Fisher was ahead according to many people. Why? Because he ran faster. Because he moved faster in drills. Like that even matters. Whoever takes Fisher will get a good player. Whoever takes Joeckel will probably get a better one.

Barkevious Mingo (DE, LSU) — depending on who you ask, Mingo is a possible top-ten pick. In fairness others have countered that (Mayock, Jeremiah) by giving him a more realistic grade in the 25-40 range. Indeed Mayock continues to list Mingo as only the third best 3-4 linebacker in this class. I watched an awful lot of LSU in 2011 and 2012. I recently went back and watched another seven games just to focus on Mingo, suspecting he could be an option for Seattle if he drops. He just wasn’t that effective. He collected a measly 4.5 sacks this season despite featuring with a number of talented team mates. He’d flash every now and again. He started the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Clemson on fire. Then he stopped. He disappeared. Physically he looks like the perfect LEO — tall, lean and fast. He’s a great athlete. Yet he’s ineffective. A bright combine performance has seemingly boosted his stock, but when you weigh just over 240lbs and speed is your main weapon — you should be doing well in Indianapolis. I think his ceiling will be New Orleans at #15.

Justin Hunter (WR, Tennessee) — He ran faster, jumped higher and basically did everything better than most receivers at the combine. Yet here are a few things that are also important. Catching the football consistently. Competing for the football in the air. Making a tough grab over the middle on fourth down in double coverage to extend a game winning drive. DeAndre Hopkins didn’t run in the 4.4’s, but he did everything else on tape that you want to see from a leading receiver. Unfortunately he’s only an average-to-good athlete. Yet during the combine drills involving routes and catching, Hopkins looked crisp, confident and better than anyone else on the field. Hunter has plenty of upside and didn’t get much help from Tyler Bray. He was also battling back from a nasty ACL injury in 2011. But if you asked me who I want my second year quarterback throwing to in a big game next year — I’ll say Hopkins over Hunter. Despite the lack of 4.4 speed.

Pat Kirwan dropping hints

The relationship between Kirwan and Pete Carroll is a little overplayed. While they have a previous working relationship that appears to still be going strong, it’s not like Kirwan has dropped any defining nuggets of information about Seattle’s draft plans in the last three years. I suspect he doesn’t ask for lots of inside information, so he never gets lied to. And even if he does get info from time to time, I imagine out of respect he wouldn’t put it out there for public consumption.

Having said that, I’ve noticed a couple of things that raised an eyebrow recently.

You’ll find a video at the top of this CBS article where Kirwan is interviewed for a stock up/down piece. When discussing Florida State’s Bjoern Werner, he makes the following remark:

“One of the coaches said to me, ‘this is what I think of Werner… he’s a B+ player who’s going to be a B+ player for ten years. That’s a good thing, he’ll start all the time. But I’m looking for a guy with a special trait’. I don’t Werner demonstrated that to many of the people that were watching him.”

The words, “I’m looking for a guy with a special trait” are so Pete Carroll it almost seems too likely to be him. Yet there’s every chance it was him. The Seahawks are looking for a defensive lineman after all. And they look for special qualities in all their drafted players.

Even if this coach isn’t Carroll or another member of Seattle’s staff, I suspect they’ll share a similar opinion on Werner. They probably want more. They might be willing to take him if he’s there at #25. But the chances are they’ll hit for the fences with another guy.

Following on from that, here’s what Kirwan said during a radio spot on Friday:

It’s a reminder that when we’re looking at the prospects out there, we need to look for those rare qualities. It doesn’t have to be a player that is so much faster than another, or taller. Or bigger. They just have to have something special about them.

Seattle didn’t draft James Carpenter off the back of a combine performance, they drafted him because he was the left tackle for the best running team in college and he dominated the SEC. They needed to boost the running game. They drafted Earl Thomas because he’s rangy and had a ridiculous eight interceptions as a redshirt sophomore. They needed turnovers. They drafted Bruce Irvin because he’s fast and had incredible production for two years at WVU. They needed a pass rusher. And they still do.  So focus the minds. Look for a blend of athleticism and production. Difference makers. Keep running through those TFL lists and look for the guys who also performed well at the combine or at their pro-day. And be prepared for a surprise come April. Who’d be shocked if Margus Hunt was the pick in the end? I wouldn’t be.

Hartline signing good news for Seattle?

I have a hunch — and that’s all it is — that the Seahawks will be infatuated with Ryan Swope. Everything about him says John Schneider. Personality, production, speed. He’s got that ’tilt the field’ aspect to his game where to look at him, he doesn’t look like anything special. Yet he is. In fact he’s very special.

I was watching some Texas A&M tape last night and watched one play where Johnny Manziel was scrambling around. Swope cut off his route noting his quarterback was in trouble, found a soft zone underneath, tracked to the right and then set off downfield. I counted three times where he was open and should’ve received the football. Manziel didn’t throw it. Russell Wilson probably would’ve done. Swope worked that opening.

That level of improvisation interests me in a big way, because I think it’s one of the things Golden Tate and Sidney Rice struggle with. They round off a lot of routes and don’t often come back to the ball. Swope has dealt with two very athletic quarterbacks so far that frequently left the pocket. And the guy knows exactly what he needs to do in that situation. The thought of having him as a target while Wilson does his Frank Tarkenton thing is pretty exciting. Throw in impressive 4.34 speed, consistent hands and the ability to get open and he just sounds like another classic Schneider find.

One other thing that is crucial for any prospective Seahawks receiver — blocking. This remains a power running offense. The receivers are expected to get involved. Watch the tape against Auburn and Mississippi State from 2012 and make your own mind up on his blocking ability. I’d say it’s superb, vastly underrated and should be classified as a major positive if you’re hoping he lands in Seattle.

Before the Dolphins signed Brian Hartline to a 5-year $31m contract, I suspected Miami might take him with one of their second round picks. They have Swope’s old college coach running the offense and his former team mate at quarterback. They could still take him in round two. But with reported interest in Mike Wallace plus the possibility they could still go receiver at #12 (Cordarrelle Patterson?), how much do they want to spend on the position?

Swope’s concussion problems that emerged this week are a slight concern. Based on some quick research, it appears he had four suspected concussions during his time at Texas A&M although he never missed a game. Given the extreme focus on safety in the NFL, he might find life slightly easier. Yet one of the problems with improvising receivers who are fearless over the middle of the field is they’re likely to take hits. So it’s something teams will have to check out.

If he makes it to #56, he could be Seattle’s guy. He isn’t the big, tall 6-4 type they’d ideally like to find. He’s only 6-1. Yet I think in terms of value, he’ll be too tough to pass. And you don’t have to be tall to be a #1 receiver. You just need to get open, make plays and bail out your quarterback from time to time. Wilson-to-Swope could be an unlikely but brilliant combination.

Tony Pauline had this to say about Swope following his pro-day yesterday: “By all accounts Swope dazzled during pass catching drills. He ran crisp routes and caught everything thrown in his direction. His position work today along with his combine performance has Swope heading into the late part of round two.”

Mike Mayock has a short report on Swope from the Texas A&M pro-day. He calls him a second or third round pick.

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out this ‘trick shot’ video Swope made as part of his campaign to be on the cover of NCAA ’14.

Pining over Richardson

Sheldon Richardson remains ‘the guy’ for me. Exactly what Seattle needs at defensive tackle. And probably what Seattle isn’t going to get unfortunately because he’s just too good. Yet there are almost weekly teases at the moment to get your hopes up. Such as this:



And this:

We can but dream.

Mark Harrison

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

Every draft has great players that nobody talks about. Perhaps Harrison is one of them.

In the comments from the Justin Hunter topic yesterday, one name seemed to dominate the conversation:  Mark Harrison.  The predominant thought was that Seattle didn’t need to reach for Justin Hunter in round one if they could get a prospect like Mark Harrison much later.  I hadn’t watched much of Harrison yet, so I figured I’d explore this topic and share my thoughts.

Harrison stands 6’3″ at 231 pounds and ran a 4.46 forty at the combine.  There aren’t very many NFL receivers that play at 6’3″ 230, and even fewer that run fast while doing it.  Andre Johnson is one of the very few.  He’s 6’3″, 230, and ran in the 4.4’s during the 2003 draft run-up.  There are a lot of 6’4″ guys that might weigh 215, but stocky, heavy, tall, fast receivers are pretty unique.

I think the thing that surprises me the most about Harrison is his arm length.  I thought for certain that his arms would be shorter than Hunter’s, just going by the eyeball test.  Hunter has 33″ arms, which is a very good arm length for a receiver.  I thought Harrison might have 31″ or 32″ arms.  He has 35″ arms.  Few pass rushers in this draft have arms that long.  Only two other receivers cracked 34 inches.

Harrison also posted a 38.5″ vertical leap.

Watching Harrison, I have no idea why he’s not at least considered a 3rd round prospect.  Tony Pauline is a highly informed reporter in constant contact with NFL scouts, coaches, and executives, and while his draft rankings badly need an update, I tend to trust them (with a grain of salt, of course).  Those rankings don’t even list Mark Harrison in the top 160.

One of my favorite things to do when talking about a prospect is to try to dig up some nugget of information that almost nobody knows about.  I tried doing a google search on a quest for some Harrison reading, and well, there just wasn’t much out there.  Outside of a token article here and there, it doesn’t seem like a whole lot of people are talking about this guy.

Interestingly, Mark Harrison worked with star Chicago Bears’ wide receiver Brandon Marshall before the combine to work on his catching mechanics (as reported at Mocking The Draft).  He also asked for advice from former teammate Mohamed Sanu.

Harrison never posted a 1000 yard season in college.  He had just 583 yards (but had 6 touchdowns on just 44 receptions) last year.  In 2010, he had his best season with 829 yards and 9 touchdowns (also on just 44 receptions).  His yards per catch that season was an astronomical 18.8, which along with his touchdown numbers suggest that Harrison was a potent vertical threat at receiver.  His yards per catch dropped to 13.3 last season.

I wonder if his usage changed as the team transitioned from centering around Mohamed Sanu to centering around Brandon Coleman.  Coleman’s career yards per catch is an unbelievable 21.2.  Maybe the team handed the deep threat mantle to Coleman and used Harrison as more of an all-purpose receiver?

At the very least, Harrison’s 2010 season proves what he is capable of- monster per catch production- which hints at him being a strong deep threat target.  Last year Golden Tate and Sidney Rice posted very strong yards per target and touchdowns per target rates.  Their potency in the deep passing game played a large part in that.

One of the things I like about Harrison is that while he may not have Percy Harvin type foot quickness, and can turn upfield quickly and shows burst in his acceleration.  I don’t see that same kind of explosiveness in Justin Hunter, who clearly generates his speed through long strides.

Another thing I like- Harrison had a couple drops in this video, but I would think that’s an aberration based on his technique.  He typically extends his hands to the football  and always seems to take that extra moment after every catch to make sure he has the football before turning up field.  And at 9.66″, Harrison has some of the largest hands among this year’s receiver class.  It would be nice if he cut it out with the Willie Mays underhand stuff on deep throws though.  He needs to face the ball and present a target with his hands instead, as he does (and does well) when executing his curl routes.

It was frustrating to watch Rutgers use Harrison so rarely on slants.  Most of his receptions were on curl routes, with most of the rest of his targets coming on post routes.  In fairness, Harrison runs a sharp curl route, but I think he’s a great weapon running diagonally across the field.  The problem with a curl route is that they essentially kill yards after catch since the receiver is coming back to the football.  If Harrison was open running across the field, he could catch a well placed pass and then use his outstanding acceleration to turn the reception into a potential home run play since a tackle wouldn’t be imminent like it is on a curl route or a well covered post route.

Harrison shows good awareness when a defender is about to go for a desperation ankle tackle.  He fires his hamstrings to elevate his knees and ankles far off the ground, something that Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin often did last season when they sensed a defender might be about to go for their feet from behind.

I think Mark Harrison deserves a third round grade when compared to his peers in this draft class.  But in a draft class that has far too many 2nd and 3rd round prospects to actually go in those rounds, we’ll see 3rd round receivers falling into rounds four and beyond.  I think Harrison could be an excellent pick later on as Sidney Rice depth if the team opts for a more all purpose receiver early on, such as Ryan Swope or DeAndre Hopkins.

Free agency set to get under way… kind of

Friday, March 8th, 2013

Will the Seahawks be talking to this man's representatives at midnight tonight?

Technically, free agency begins on March 12th. However, the NFL has decided that as of midnight tonight, teams can legally ‘tap up’ players until Tuesday. No visits, no officially concluded deals. Just a lot of talking with agents and deals ‘in principle’.

Mike Florio explains…

Now that the NFL is launching a three-day legal tampering window, the key term will be “agreement in principle.” Even though contracts can’t be signed until Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. ET, non-binding deals can be struck — like the non-binding arrangement between the 49ers and Chiefs to trade Alex Smith once the new league year begins.

With the league trying to create an NCAA-style “signing day,” it’s safe to say teams will be discouraged from announcing agreements in principle with players who can’t be signed until Tuesday. Still, it’s inevitable that word of agreements in principle will leak; even if teams don’t issue a press release, they’ll be wise to get the word out, so that other teams will back off.

It’s a bit of a bizarre situation. We’ll get all the speculation, all the talking. By Tuesday we’ll have a good idea of what’s going to go down. And yet nothing will be finalised over the weekend. It sounds a bit like a kid finding his Christmas presents before the big day.

Of course, there’s always a chance for some of this…

So what about the Seahawks? They’ve already visited with Cullen Jenkins and John Abraham. They’ve contacted the representatives of Charles Woodson. All three can be signed at any point as they were released from their current contracts.

I suspect the Seahawks will seriously consider adding a veteran pass rusher. With Abraham, Osi Umenyiora and Dwight Freeney on the market, there are options out there. Cliff Avril and Paul Kruger will end up signing big bucks elsewhere. If nobody offers obscene money to the other three, they become realistic options for the Seahawks.

Then I think it’ll be about value. Who made it through the first stage of free agency when the big money was spent? Who is willing to consider a cheaper deal? Who suddenly sees the opportunity to join a contender as a big positive?

Improving the pass rush remains the key. Getting someone to act as a stop-gap during Chris Clemons’ recovery would be useful. Abraham — with ten sacks in 2012 — looks like the best (and perhaps cheapest) option of the three experienced free agents. He’s also minus a ring (Umenyiora has two, Freeney has one). It always helps to have a bit of fire still burning away.

One stumbling block to any potential courtship of Abraham is the 49ers. Having entertained Cullen Jenkins after his visit to Seattle, the former Falcons pass rusher is due to stop off in the Bay Area next.

I’m not expecting any fireworks this year. It could be as modest as the re-signing of Alan Branch and a couple of other low-profile deals. The fun thing about this front office is they keep you guessing. The games begin at midnight tonight.

Other names it might be worth watching: Fred Davis (TE), Robert Geathers (DE/DT), Desmond Bryant (DT), Phillip Wheeler (LB), Delanie Walker (TE), Ricky Jean-Francois (DT), Isaac Sopoaga (DT)

Updateaccording to Jason La Canfora the NFL is trying to ice their own ‘negotiating window’. They put out a memo essentially telling teams they can’t agree deals in principle.

This memo seems intent on putting a chill on any of that — the full memo is attached — and makes explicit that even agreeing in principle to a contract that would be contingent on a physical next week would be prohibited. It came as a surprise to many execs and agents and has created quite a stir as to how to proceed with contact tonight.
It’s also struck many as odd, given that the creation of this negotiating window seemed designed to curtail tampering and create a climate where deals could be effectively struck but not fully consummated.

So what is the point of all this then? Maybe this weekend will be pretty quiet after all?

Rumor casts spotlight on Justin Hunter

Friday, March 8th, 2013

The future is so bright (for the Seahawks), you're gonna need shades

We know that Seattle will consider pass rush early in this draft, but it’s also likely that they will consider receiver somewhere during the early rounds, as they did for a backup running back in 2012.  Other greater, more pressing needs pushed running back to round four, but what if Seattle “loves” a receiver option enough to take him at #25?  I don’t consider it especially likely, but it is an option we must be mindful of, especially if the top pass rushers are all gone in the top 24 picks, which is unfortunately a real possibility.

Walterfootball broke a bit of an interesting story yesterday after talking with NFL scouts: spoke with some scouts, including one from a receiver-needy team picking in the back half of the top 32. All believe that Hunter is likely to go in the first round. They said the Combine really helped Hunter with positive reports from his medical check and an excellent 40-yard dash time of 4.44 seconds…

Scouts told that they love the upside of Hunter. He has the size to work in the short to intermediate part of the field and speed to get vertical. They like his run-after-the-catch ability as well as his combination of size and speed. Hunter hasn’t received a lot of first-round buzz, but one team in the mid 20s said it would be ecstatic if he was on the board for its pick.

Hunter’s upside was another reason that scouts felt he was likely to go in the first round. They said in this draft class, players with big upside are very appealing in the late first round rather than those who are deemed safe.

At first glance, this seems like a dead giveaway that the scout in question was an employee of the Seahawks.  The Seahawks pick 25th afterall, and it doesn’t get any more “mid twenties” than 25.  Consider though, every team in the mid twenties range (23-27) could consider a first round receiver as a realistic option.

The Vikings are having issues with star Percy Harvin, and it seems decently likely that Harvin’s days in Minnesota are numbered, even if he remains a Viking in 2013.  The Vikings passing offense came apart completely after Harvin’s injury last year, so depth is an issue as well.  The Colts had a pleasant surprise from T.Y. Hilton in 2012, but they still heavily depend on Reggie Wayne who is 35 years old next season.  Hilton is just 5’9″ so pairing him with a big vertical receiver makes sense, especially for a vertically inclined quarterback like Andrew Luck.  The Packers will likely lose Greg Jennings in free agency and many people are mocking them a receiver at #26.  The Texans don’t have a ton of needs and are believed to be looking for a weapon to compliment Andre Johnson.  You look up enough mock drafts, you’ll see at least one for each those five teams in the 23 to 27 range that has them taking a receiver.  Surprisingly, the “mid-twenties” comment isn’t anything close to the giveaway it sounds like.

But what if that scout actually does work for the Seahawks?  At the very least, we have to consider it a 20% chance.  That’s enough to pay attention to, especially since I would have thought there was close to zero chance the Seahawks would consider Hunter that early before today.  Of course, it’s lying season, and maybe this is a tactic to help get a guy overdrafted.  Just the same, I want to explore the idea of Justin Hunter at #25 and see if it makes sense for Seattle to be “ecstatic” to see him there.

Justin Hunter is among the tallest receivers in this draft, standing just a shade under 6’4″ tall.  Rounding to the nearest inch, there isn’t a receiver in this draft that stands 6’4″ or above that runs a faster forty time than Hunter’s 4.44 time.  Eastern Kentucky’s Tyrone Goard (4.50) and Florida State’s Rodney Smith (4.51) come the closest.  Rutgers’ Mark Harrison clocked a 4.46 at 6’3″, Arkansas’ Chris Gragg had a 4.50 at the same height, and Virginia Tech’s Corey Fuller had a 4.43.  Da’Rick Rogers had a 4.52.  At 6’2″, Terrence Williams had a 4.52, and Cordarrelle Patterson clocked a 4.42.

In short, you won’t find a receiver in this draft with a better combination of height and speed than Justin Hunter.  His arms (33.25″) are tied for the 3rd longest at the combine among receivers.  His 39.5″ vertical was tied for the best among receivers.  His 11’4″ broad jump was in a class by itself.  He also has big 9.38″ hands, which was roughly 80th percentile in this receiver class.  Everything about Hunter’s measurables screams deep ball receiver.  Seattle has a quarterback who by his own admission has a sexy deep ball and likes to use it.  Seattle released Mike Williams last summer, and scrambled to replace his role on the team with other tall receivers with speed:  Terrell Owens and Braylon Edwards.  They also brought in Evan Moore who was a jump ball threat in the red zone.  Only Edwards provided any real contribution, and none of them are currently a part of the team.

Seattle does have 6’4″ Sidney Rice, but their actions last year suggest that they want a tall receiver with speed and jump ball ability to act as insurance for Rice.  So yes, Seattle’s interest in Justin Hunter- purely as a physical prospect- makes complete sense.

So, is Justin Hunter actually any good?  Decide for yourself:

My take:

Hunter is fast, but isn’t a wizard at changing directions and won’t likely be much of a Golden Tate type playmaker with the ball in his hands.  I actually feel sorry for Hunter’s knees the way he throws his weight around on them, and I’m not surprised at all that Hunter had an ACL in 2011 based on the way his knees buckle from his running style.  On the other hand, consider that every video above was just one year after an ACL.  His 4.44 forty time was just 17 months after the injury, short of the 24 month full recovery time.  For a guy still recovering from an ACL, Hunter can certainly move.

Hunter does seem like a Pete Carroll type player.  He has good hands, but poor catching technique, often catching the ball too close to his body.  He can’t hold on to a contested pass to save his life either.  Swat away and it’s 2nd and 10.  Hunter also struggles to diagnose where the deep ball is going.  Sometimes he’ll hesitate and then realize he screwed up only to miss what should have been an easy deep reception.  Thankfully, all of these areas are coachable.  Pete likes fixer-upper projects:  guys with rare physical talent that need to be coached out of mistakes and sloppy technique.  You can’t coach a 4.44 forty yard dash at 6’4.”  Bruce Irvin, last year’s first round pick, was the epitome of that same philosophy.

For that matter, the term “ecstatic” itself sounds like an adjective that came from our war room; this regime certainly hasn’t lacked for energy or enthusiasm.  And if there is one team that views a player as a steal to the complete disagreement of Todd McShay and Mel Kiper, well, isn’t that the stereotypical first round pick for John Schneider?  Schneider’s “reachiness” in round one is more perception than truth, but regardless, he isn’t afraid of getting a ribbing from the media on draft day.  Not in the slightest.

I have reservations about Hunter’s health going forward: every cut he makes I am amazed how his wobbly little knees somehow hold up.  He already has an ACL on his health record, and every future ACL he tears will make the situation worse.  I also question the idea of reaching for a receiver in a draft that is loaded with value options.  That makes little sense to me.

That said, Justin Hunter gives Seattle something they certainly don’t have already (as depth).  Their actions last season suggest that this type of acquisition is a need, and still is one.  After Hunter leaves the board, you won’t find a truly comparable physical talent.  I could see this pick happening.  Especially if Seattle is more active in free agency with regards to defense than we anticipate.

Thursday draft notes

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Datone Jones had 19 TFL in 2012 -- among the best in college football

Forget sacks, concentrate on tackles for a loss

A lot of attention is paid to sacks, but is it the best way to determine how productive a defensive lineman really is? As this article from Second Round Stats argues, ‘strength of sacks’ can be influenced by a number of factors. Unblocked plays, strength of opponent, quality of team mates. It all has an impact.

The two Florida State pass rushers for example (Bjoern Werner & Tank Carradine) not only help each other, but according to the article they also weaken the strength of their production. You can’t double team both players.

Strength of opponent also needs to be taken into account. Of Werner’s 13 sacks in 2012, five came against Murray State and Savannah State. Three more came in blow out victories over Wake Forest and Maryland. He had eight games without even recording a sack, but still ended the year with perceived fantastic production. How dominant was he in reality?

Carradine’s production was more spread out — he had just three sack-less games with only one of his eleven sacks coming against Murray or Savannah State.

The best way to judge will always come through watching tape, but another way of projecting overall dominance is to look at tackles for a loss. I think it’s a too-often ignored statistic. Generally if a player is constantly in the backfield, he’ll make plays.

This graph shows the leading players for TFL during 2012. Unsurprisingly, Jarvis Jones is well clear in first place with 24.5 TFL last season. Will Sutton (DT, Arizona State) and Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina) closely follow with 23.5 tackles for a loss. Again, further confirmation of what we already knew. Both players had fantastic seasons and will be coveted players in the 2014 draft.

Datone Jones had only 6.5 sacks in 2012 — which is good, but not amazing production. Yet he ranked in the top ten for TFL with 19. That statistic should be getting more publicity. It validates Jones as a prospect, showing he has the production to go with the athletic skills. Had he recorded 10-12 sacks, everyone would be talking about it. Instead, it’s only 6.5 sacks and very few people mention his production. In reality, he was one of the most productive defensive linemen in college football last season.

In comparison, he had six more TFL than Tank Carradine, Sharrif Floyd and Ziggy Ansah. For what it’s worth, Khaseem Greene had 12 TFL — only one fewer than the three vaunted pass rushers.

Another interesting statistic — J.J. Watt had only seven sacks in his final year at Wisconsin but he had 21 TFL. That’s eerily similar to Jones’ production in 2012.

While the question marks remain over how he fits in the NFL, don’t be surprised if he goes much earlier than people expect. He showed at the Senior Bowl and combine what a fantastic athlete he is. Teams will be aware of his production. If the Seahawks get a chance to draft the guy, I suspect they should probably take it. Seattle needs a defensive lineman not named Chris Clemons who is capable of getting 19 TFL in a season.

If you want a counter argument, remember Jones will have benefited from the presence of Anthony Barr — among the leaders for both sacks and TFL in 2012. He will be a high pick in the 2014 draft too. That undoubtedly helped Jones with the pair often acting as a partnership. The thing is, there’s no reason why Jones can’t strike up a similar partnership with Clemons, Bruce Irvin or any other pass rusher added during the off-season. Essentially, that’s what the Seahawks really need.

Impressive interviews will help defensive duo

You can usually find interviews with high profile college players online. It’s no exact science, but it does give you an insight into a players confidence and technical knowledge. Cordarrelle Patterson for example never looked comfortable being interviewed at Tennessee. On the other hand, DeAndre Hopkins would refer to specific routes and play calls. It’s no surprise that one is an inexperienced spark plug while the other is a polished, consistent hands catcher.

I really wanted to get to know Sheldon Richardson and Sylvester Williams during the season, but no interviews were available. Both players went the JUCO route but for different reasons. Richardson had academic issues which forced him to California before returning to Missouri. Williams struggled to motivate himself in High School, dropped out to work in a car parts workshop before eventually having an epiphany moment and returning to football.

In both cases, you want to hear these guys talk. You want to learn about their personalities. And having finally had the opportunity to listen to both players speak,  I couldn’t have been any more impressed.

At the combine Richardson spoke with confidence and humour, which was reassuring given not only his academic problems in college but also his suspension during 2012 for issues relating to missed classes. I also liked the way he talked about sacking Robert Griffin III in this ‘first draft’ feature.

“Against Baylor I had the game of my life. Had two tackles for a loss, made RGIII fumble. I promise you he remembers that game. All you got to do is ask him about his last game against Mizzou. I was in his face a lot.”

I love that quote. I love his attitude and his personality. It’s confident without being cocky. He’s edgy. He’s the type of guy you want playing the three technique.

Williams also appeared in the NFL Network studios this week and has a very different personality. He wore a shirt and tie, seeming humble and modest. More importantly, he had a complete grasp of his position. Williams comes across as a student of the game. While we’re on the subject, he had 13.5 TFL in 2012. Richardson had 10.5. Age is the big issue with Williams (he’ll be a 25-year-old rookie) but don’t rule him out as an option for Seattle in the first two rounds. You won’t see a sweeter swim move, he’s perfected it.

Countering Cosell

Greg Cosell has a well earned reputation as the senior producer at NFL Films. Admittedly, he’s adept at watching tape and explaining clearly and concisely why something has happened.

However, it’s considered sacrilege by some to contradict anything he says — especially when it comes to the draft. And that’s what I’m going to do today.

This week Cosell suggested Matt Barkley is a fourth round talent:

“Number one, he has average arm strength by NFL standards. Number two, his feet are not particularly quick, he has slower feet. And three, he’s a little shorter. So then I go beyond that and think, ‘OK, how can he be successful in the NFL when you got certain limitations?’ And I think those limitations are the things I notice immediately and it’s very difficult for me to look at him as a first- or second-round pick given those limitations and given what I know works effectively in the NFL.”

Cosell isn’t the first person to offer a low opinion of Barkley, but I took particular issue with the reasoning for such a mediocre grade.

Let’s run through each of Cosell’s points individually:

“Number one, he has average arm strength by NFL standards”

Average isn’t ‘bad’. There are several productive quarterbacks in the NFL with only average arm strength. Matt Schaub, Andy Dalton, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees. You wouldn’t say any of these guys have a ‘big arm’. Others like Matt Hasselbeck have been able to forge successful careers without needing a cannon, while the two most productive quarterbacks over the last decade — Tom Brady and Peyton Manning — would not list arm strength among their key attributes.

While there’s some truth that arm strength can be a defining characteristic to own, it’s won’t necessarily make or break a career. Barkley is never going to be Joe Flacco or Cam Newton. He won’t be Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers. But it doesn’t mean he can’t be Matt Schaub. And there are plenty of teams out there who would take a 22-year-old version of Schaub given the opportunity.

“Number two, his feet are not particularly quick, he has slower feet”

Presumably this refers to footwork in the pocket and not the ability to be a threat running with the ball. When watching Barkley in 2011, I thought his footwork was at an elite level. His ability to avoid sacks despite lacking great athleticism was among his best qualities. Even more vital was his ability to keep his eyes down field, make reads on the move and still throw an accurate football. One play still stands out from USC’s victory in Oregon (click here and fast forward to 2:07). Barkley takes the snap under center, drops back and eyes up a receiver on the left hand side. He faces three rushers, one of which penetrates up the middle. Barkley feels the pressure without distraction, side steps to avoid it and keeps his eyes on the desired target. He then slides back to the right and just as he’s about to get hit, delivers one of the best passes you’ll see at any level. Accuracy, poise, footwork and yes — arm strength — all present on that play. It’s only example, but there are others.

In 2012 he lost his left tackle to the NFL, his center got injured and the Trojans were nearly always coming from behind due to a rank bad defense. Barkley was under almost constant duress as a consequence and I’ve no doubt that had an impact on his poise and footwork. He threw a lot off his back foot — something he’d rarely done in three previous years as a starter. He forced passes in a way we’d not seen between 2009-11. He picked up bad habits and his game suffered as a result. However, we’ve also seen how surgical he can be when sufficiently protected. We’ve seen him beat Oregon in their own backyard, handle Notre Dame for three years and destroy other PAC-12 rivals. Ask Chip Kelly what he thinks of Barkley.

A little perspective on the footwork or ‘slow feet’ is probably needed here. I think it’d be a palatable criticism if we’d seen it was a big issue when Barkely was a freshman, a sophomore and a junior. But in fairness, we didn’t.

“And three, he’s a little shorter”

Barkley was measured at 6-2 and a half at the combine. When we’re talking about a 5-10 quarterback like Russell Wilson, I can see the complaint. To suggest a quarterback who is a solid 6-2 going on 6-3 is a little short, for me, is extremely harsh.

And I have to say, are we really still having this debate? Have we not learnt anything from Wilson’s success? That’s not to say every 5-10 or shorter-than-average quarterback will make their height a non-issue. There’s a reason so few short quarterbacks succeed. But Barkley isn’t even short. He’s taller than Geno Smith.

Perhaps Cosell’s fourth round grade will prove to be accurate when the time comes for Matt Barkley to take a NFL field? At worst, I think he deserves a grade in the range where Dalton was drafted (35th overall in 2o11). I still believe Barkley should and will be a first round pick, yet I can see why he might fall into the second round. The fourth round just seems a little extreme, though.

ESPN’s Merril Hodge gave the same judgement today based on a five-game study. That’s the issue though — it’s five games. Had Hodge watched five games from 2011, he’d probably offer a first round grade. It’s one of the reasons they tell talented underclassmen quarterbacks to declare when they get the chance — to avoid this kind of last minute analysis. Hodge calls Barkley a project. He may have limited upside — enough to make his NFL career a short one. But how many four-year starters with this level of technical quality get listed as projects?

Seahawks make call to Woodson & Abraham

Josina Anderson is reporting that the Seahawks are among the teams to express early interest in Charles Woodson.

John Schneider and Pete Carroll continue to leave no leaf unturned. The Seahawks have done their homework on virtually every veteran hitting the market in the last three years. Woodson is no different.

Whether he’s the right fit for this team remains to be seen. He could offer some veteran guidance to a young secondary, particularly if Marcus Trufant moves on this off-season. He might receive stronger offers from other teams promising more time on the field.

Discussions like this will probably set the tone for free agency next week. The Seahawks probably aren’t going to throw big money at anyone, but they’re hunting for value, experience and production. If Woodson or recent visitor Cullen Jenkins don’t get big, attractive offers elsewhere, they could end up playing a role in the Pacific North West.

Doug Baldwin is a fan anyway:

Meanwhile Kimberly Jones is also reporting that former Falcons pass rusher John Abraham will visit the Seahawks:

Again, no stone unturned.