Archive for September, 2013

Mike Evans the perfect example of tough scouting

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

Scouting wide receivers is hard. Most of the time.

Anyone could watch A.J. Green at Georgia and see he was going to be a star. He was on a different technical level to any receiver going into the NFL in recent history.

Route running, hands, competitive spirit, athleticism, character. Green had everything.

And for the last two years he’s made Andy Dalton look like an acceptable starting quarterback. That’s good for Dalton, but bad for Bengals fans who, you know, want to compete for a Super Bowl.

Guys like Green are the major exception though. The only receiver I’ve seen that gets close to his level of polish entering the league is DeAndre Hopkins — and we started to see glimpses of his natural ability on Sunday. You could probably add Julio Jones to the list too.

The rest are a complete mixed bag that are almost impossible to judge with any certainty.

You’re throwing darts with this position.

Most of the time you take a chance on rare size and speed. Some prospects dominate — like Calvin Johnson. Others look clumsy, struggle to raise their game to the next level or become frustrated within a struggling offense.

(see: Jonathan Baldwin)

It’s about so much more than physical talent when you talk about first round picks who need to have an impact quickly. You absolutely have to have — in my opinion — an understanding of route concepts in college. It’s the only way you’ll transition quickly. DeAndre Hopkins used to reel off play calls and discuss specific routes during interviews at Clemson. The guy gets it.

Other players feature in these wide open spread offenses that require very little thought. This hand signal means to run a crosser. This number means go deep. You get the picture.

Those guys often come into the league not really knowing what they’re doing or why. They take an age to adjust in a league that demands instant gratification.

Receivers also need to be fiercely competitive for me if they’re going to go early. Why? See the Anquan Boldin vs Richard Sherman contest on Sunday. In college you might be able to run routes untouched, gliding past cornerbacks who don’t jam you on the line and get in your face.

In the NFL, you’ll get it every time you line up.

Wide receivers have to be sparky, scratchy, tetchy individuals who feel humiliated when they lose even one battle. It needs to burn in their mind like wildfire until the next snap.

“Next time I’ll get you.”

Hands are vital, but that’s obvious. Hands without route-intelligence and competitive spirit are worthless. They have to come as a package.

If they tick those boxes — then (and only then) I want to talk about physical skills.

Height, speed, reach.

That’s just how I approach the position these days. Not because I’m speaking from any position of authority. Not because I’ve read up on how the teams act. Mainly it’s because too often I fell for the guy with height and reach and too often those players didn’t work out on physical qualities alone.

Sadly, nowhere near enough receivers in college are ready for the NFL. It’s too easy in college. When you find the guy who is ready, you better draft him.

So when I come across Mike Evans, there’s immediate suspicion.

As impressive as the numbers were against Alabama, he basically makes a series of catches foreign to what he can expect in the NFL. Against Alabama, he gets downfield and wins jump balls. No jam at the line. All the passes are uncontested. He’s covered, but the defensive back isn’t playing the ball.

Without wishing to undermine his massive game, a lot of those catches are… well… easy. At least for him with his height advantage.

Stuff like this doesn’t happen all that often at the next level. Maybe against the Washington Redskins secondary, but yeah.

Seattle could use a 6-5 receiver with size who can win jump balls and be a factor in the red zone. Evans, with his basketball background, looks the part. And yet I have no idea what kind of prospect he’s going to be at the next level.

There’s no real evidence on tape that he’s a great route runner or understands route concepts. Neither is there a great deal of evidence he’s a fighter capable of dealing with the physical demands of the NFL. How will he do when there’s another pair of hands going after those jump balls?

And yet there’s no real evidence to the contrary either. Nothing to suggest he won’t be just as much of a force.

I suppose you could argue the fact he put up nearly 300 yards on a Nick Saban secondary is something. Is this ‘Bama secondary quite as good as previous seasons though? That’s debatable.

I do like the way he came back to the quarterback at 1:10, adjusting to Johnny Manziel leaving the pocket and giving his quarterback a target. I do like his body control and the way he high points the football. I like the way he appears capable of making a huge play like the 96-yard catch and run for a score.

But as I said, how do we determine whether this guy can be a success at the next level based on the video above?

I’m not sure we’ll ever know, without the ability to sit down and talk about him. Without the chance to speak to coaches about him. Without the chance to dig into his work ethic and discover whether he’s the type of guy who wants to be the best. Badly.

Such is the fallacy of what we do. It’s why for the most part blogging about the NFL Draft is a futile exercise. We only ever scratch the surface. And yet we’re ready and willing to praise and condemn in equal measure.

If the Seahawks drafted Mike Evans on the basis of performances like the one against Alabama, I’d be excited to see how he works out as the teams ‘big man’ at receiver. But I’ll have no qualifications to judge whether it’s a good decision. Not based off tape like above.

Such is the difficulty of trying to project receivers without obvious crossover traits.

If only guys like A.J. Green and DeAndre Hopkins were more common.

Taking stock on Seattle’s potential needs

Monday, September 16th, 2013

It’s still way too early to get an angle on draft needs, but every week we’ll consider the teams performance and how it could relate to needs in the off-season.

Perhaps the biggest plus point of last night was the pass rush. It was enough of a concern last year for the team to go out and invest in Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. Both players stepped up to the plate in a big way against the 49ers.

We’ll see in upcoming games at Houston and Indianapolis whether the success of last night can be emulated on the road. Seattle’s defense has occasionally been accused of being a ‘home’ unit. While nobody can dispute the talent of the secondary, creating pressure on the road has been an issue.

But Avril and Bennett’s display, coupled with the upcoming return of Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin, offers cause for optimism. I still believe a classic interior pass rusher is required. We’ll see what happens there. Clinton McDonald showed again last night why he’s pretty underrated and we’re yet to see anything from Jordan Hill. When you see a run/pass combo performance like last night, this becomes less of an issue.

It is worth noting, though, that Bennett is playing on a one year contract with major incentives. If he performs well in 2013 it’s going to be mightily difficult to keep him. We’ve talked about Florida defensive lineman Dominique Easley. For me he fits the role of that hybrid pass rusher.

What about the offense?

In pre-season Stephen Williams made big plays downfield and appeared set for a role in Seattle’s game plan to start the year. In two games so far he has the grand total (I think) of one target. A downfield shot against Carolina that he dropped.

That’s not to say he can’t be more productive down the line. I’m not writing him off. But his absence so far has been a little surprising.

When discussing Williams over the summer, Pete Carroll talked about how much he likes bigger receivers who can make plays. Until Williams proves he can be that man, it’s something Seattle lacks. They don’t have a possession receiver who can high point the ball and stretch the field for big gains.

It’s unclear how long the likes of Sidney Rice will be with the team. His cap hit next year is $9.7m and it’s $10.2m in 2015. The Seahawks were ruthless in cutting Michael Robinson and might repeat the act in twelve months. Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman will likely receive contract extensions in the off-season. They need to save money somewhere.

Rice is the nearest thing Seattle has to a possession receiver — and he is talented. But is he worth $10m? That’s the sticking point.

Take him out of the equation and it leaves a big hole. Add in the fact Golden Tate is a free agent in 2014 and suddenly the receiver group could be down to Percy Harvin, Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Stephen Williams.

Evidently, there’s room for another guy.

This for me could be Seattle’s biggest need going into the draft, particularly if they want to keep developing the offense.

One of the other things to remember is the time it takes for most receivers to adapt to the NFL. The likes of A.J. Green and Julio Jones are not common. And there’s nobody like that eligible for 2014, let alone in the latter part of the first round.

So while it could develop into a big need come draft time, it could also be the kind of position where Seattle continues to look for the diamond in the rough away from the pressures of first round expectation.

The way Brandon Coleman has started the year for Rutgers, he might make a nice project in rounds 2-3. He’s not looking like a first round pick at the moment. The one guy who has really stood out to me so far is Texas A&M’s Mike Evans.

Another tight end is also vital. Luke Willson, like Stephen Williams, has struggled to build on pre-season momentum. Zach Miller is a reliable veteran but isn’t an explosive player. He too is a possible cap casualty.

One prospect we’ve focused on so far is Oregon’s Colt Lyerla. However, I’m starting to wonder what’s going on with him. This article from ESPN is bizarre, with Lyerla calling out his coach after missing the recent victory over Tennessee.

Something isn’t right here, and it’s not the first time Lyerla has courted controversy.

Not only is he not taking on a more productive role within Oregon’s superb offense, he’s making more headlines for the wrong reasons.

Once again it might be a slow draft at the top end for tight ends. Austin Seferian-Jenkins looks to be the best prospect for now, but he too carries questions over his speed and character. Would he be enough of a difference making athlete for a team like Seattle? I’m not sure.

Tony Pauline says Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro is the talk of scouting circles. You can see his tape vs TCU at the top of this article.

Many fans will focus on the offensive line. For me, this is a unit that needs to be kept together. I can live without big names at every position. I think we saw last night how tight they are as a group — they managed without Russell Okung and Seattle ran all over San Francisco’s much vaunted line.

Breno Giacomini and Paul McQuistan are free agents but the emergence of Alvin Bailey and Michael Bowie is encouraging, as is Tom Cable’s ability to coach up UDFA’s and late round picks.

It is set up to be another monster year for offensive tackles. The top 10-15 picks could be dominated by left tackles if they all declare.

Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan, Cyrus Kouandjio and Zack Martin are all first round prospects. Antonio Richardson and James Hurst — plus one or two others — could also come into contention.

The sheer depth of Seattle’s team plus the need to cost cut in certain areas (Giacomini and McQuistan are both decent earners this year) makes tackle a possibility. If they’re picking in the final frame of round one, however, a lot of these guys will be long gone.

Instant reaction: Seahawks destroy Niners

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

As the game neared it’s conclusion, Al Michaels uttered these eternal words…

“A major beatdown. Major.”

For all of the scratchy, mistake riddled harshness of the first half — this was a beatdown. A beatdown just as comprehensive as the previous meeting between the teams.

Perhaps a better comparison is the Dallas game in week two last year. A far from flawless Seahawks display, but ultimately a complete physical destruction of the opposition.

Seattle broke San Francisco’s will. They made Colin Kaepernick look hopeless. They ran all over a much vaunted defensive line and linebacker group. They shut down Anquan Boldin. Vernon Davis couldn’t finish the game. They didn’t run the ball all night.

This wasn’t about Russell Wilson heroics, gadget plays or fortune.

It was just football.

And on tonight’s evidence, Seattle is better at football than San Francisco.

And they’re better at football without Russell Okung, Percy Harvin, Chris Clemons and Brandon Browner.

As good as Kaepernick looked last week against Green Bay, he looked completely lost in this one.

Sure, his supreme athleticism allowed him to make a few plays with his legs.

As a passer? He couldn’t get anything going.

Part of that was the brilliance of the pass rush. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril played just like two snubbed free agents missing out on the big bucks. Clinton McDonald, re-signed just this week, played like a job was on the line.

The secondary suffocated the 49ers. Richard Sherman had a classic Sherman pick — baiting the throw and making the interception look easier than it was. Walter Thurmond was a sensation. The rest played their part too.

On a night when Wilson struggled for rhythm and had to rely on Paul McQuistan blocking his blind side, the running game really stepped up to the plate. The offensive line to a man deserve huge applause (despite a few too many penalties, particularly from Max Unger). Marshawn Lynch was the key benefactor and without doubt the best offensive player on the field.

Tonight was a sign of how far Seattle has come. Gone are the days when a crucial injury meant the collapse of an entire game plan or even the end of a season. They took the loss of Okung to turf toe in their stride, adjusted, and destroyed the Niners.

Later this evening Colin Kaepernick and Jim Harbaugh will give two more pointless interviews to the media, snarling out three word answers. They’ll need a lot more words to explain this one in private.

They better hope they don’t suffer a similar fate to the Cowboys last year.

They never recovered from their ass kicking in Seattle.

Thoughts on Alabama vs Texas A&M

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

A.J. McCarron would be a good Christian Ponder replacement

Mike Evans, future Seahawk?

I’m pretty sure Pete Carroll watched this game. Probably while playing acoustic guitar on a baseball bat.

If he was watching, then he was probably drooling over Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans.

Carroll loves big receivers. This team has been searching for a reliable big man since day one. It started with the courting of Brandon Marshall, developed into the Mike Williams project, became the Kris Durham experiment and after flirting with Braylon Edwards, Stephen Williams gets his shot.

Seattle lacks a great possession target with size who can be a difference maker in the red zone. We saw in the Pro Bowl this year how attractive that kind of receiver can be for Russell Wilson (courtesy of Vincent Jackson and Larry Fitzgerald).

But it’s not just about red zone targets. Carroll likes a guy who can win jumps balls and make plays downfield.

Mike Evans put on a master class tonight.

Time after time Johnny Manziel tossed floaty passes in the general direction of Evans. And pretty much every time he jumped into the air in tight coverage and made a play. His final stat line was an eye-popping seven grabs for 279 yards.

Evans also flashed his athleticism in a 95-yard catch and run for a touchdown (although Alabama’s defensive call on that play was astonishing).

Sure hands. Great body control. High pointing the football. This was a superb performance, defining what teams are looking for in a big receiver.

I half expect Pete and John to be talking about this guy right now.

Evans is 6-5 and 225lbs with a basketball background. If he plays many more games like this he won’t be available to Seattle in the back end of round one. In three games this year he already has 518 yards and three touchdowns.

He has to be a firm focus on our Seahawks radar the rest of the way.

Quarterback talking points

Johnny Manziel is great fun. Things happen when he’s on the field.

There were times today, particularly when A&M jumped to a 14-0 lead, that you imagined him in the NFL pulling off all these magic tricks.

Unfortunately, there were also some things that made you counter that enthusiasm.

The two interceptions he threw were a portrait of his limitations. He’s essentially a gun slinging play maker without the big arm. He’s a chancer. That can be great when it comes off. But in the NFL, Mike Evans isn’t going to make you look this good nearly every time you throw a 50-50 jump ball.

The two picks were ill-advised throws into tight windows. Poor decision making first off, and he hasn’t got the arm strength to really arrow the ball into a tight window on the intermediate level. He can chuck it high downfield and throw a catchable ball. But in the NFL you have to be able to make throws over the middle into tight spots, anticipating a route and guiding your receiver. You also need to be able to throw a big downfield ball on play action (eg Russell Wilson vs New England) with perfect velocity.

I’m not convinced Manziel can do either of those things. A lot of throws have to be to open guys or it’s a 50-50 dice roll.

He’s a hell of a playmaker and I wouldn’t bet against him having some kind of NFL future. But it’ll always be feast or famine. It has to be with him. You can’t put a lid on the playmaking, so you have to accept the consequences. He’s like a gambler playing with someone else’s money. It’s both exciting and potentially infuriating.

A.J. McCarron on the other hand is a consistent, intelligent passer without much wow-factor.

I think he’s better than a lot of people give him credit for. You can see tangible physical improvements over the last two years and he has the frame to keep getting stronger. He’s in control, he’s assured. He has a terrific supporting cast but knows how to get the best out of them.

Most importantly he makes good decisions. He has a great feel for pressure and knows when to live another down. He’s not a hopeless athlete and can buy time with his legs. For the most part he’s pretty accurate and he shows good touch.

It’s just whether, like Manziel, he can fit those passes into tight windows with an average arm and launch the ball downfield on the home run throw. Again, I’m sceptical.

If Andy Dalton is worth a high second round pick, I think McCarron could be too. Put him on a team that isn’t in total rebuild mode and has at least one solid target and he can make you competitive. I think he’d be ideal for a team like Minnesota, who probably don’t want to burn another first round pick replacing flop Christian Ponder.

Give McCarron Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph, Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson — plus a decent offensive line — and he’ll get the ball out quickly to the playmakers and make you competitive. Put him on Oakland’s current roster and it’ll be messy.

But I guess that goes for most quarterbacks entering the league.

Maybe good teams get penalised?

We’ve talked a lot about how often Seattle is flagged and how much of an issue it’s been. Well, Alabama had 12 penalties for 104 yards today — much more than A&M. In the NFL, the best teams generally get penalised more too.

Is it more than a coincidence? Perhaps.

Stuff like this kind of makes me feel better about how many times the Seahawks get flagged. Although the game finished 49-42, you always felt Alabama were in control despite the penalties.

Other notes

- It was a better day today for Alabama left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio. It’s going to be another stellar year for offensive tackles in 2014.

- C.J. Mosley was barely noticeable today. Not because he had a bad game, for whatever reason the ball kind of just avoided him somehow.

- I’d hate to be an Alabama defensive back in meetings this week. Nick Saban’s hair looked angry today. And when Nick’s hair is all over the place, you’re in trouble.

- On a side note, I watched the game with my dad and at one point he questioned whether Saban wears a rug. I found that amusing.

Seahawks – Niners pep rally

Friday, September 13th, 2013

Will Richard Sherman be celebrating again on Sunday?

Nothing else matters this weekend.

Not draft talk. Not college football. Not Alabama getting revenge over Texas A&M.

There’s nothing else I want to write about tonight other than Seahawks vs 49ers.

The teams are trying not to hype up the rivalry. The players are on their best behaviour (well, apart from Anthony Dixon). Everyone’s saying it’s just another game.

It isn’t.

There are many strands to the rivalry. The national media love to latch on to the Carroll and Harbaugh stuff. They focus on the similarities between the teams. They talk about the new-found power of the NFC ‘Worst’.

One thing that doesn’t get discussed enough is the fact both teams are starved of success.

Yes, the Niners fans love to boast about their five Super Bowl titles. In reality, the next Super Bowl in 2014 will be the 20th anniversary of San Francisco’s last victory.

The ‘Quest for Six’ continues as they say, but it’s probably more a quest to end two decades of under achievement and near misses.

Seattle’s desperation for success is very different. As a less traditional franchise without half a century of history, the Seahawks fans wonder when it’ll be their turn. They thought it might happen in 2006 after years of mediocrity. It wasn’t to be. Super Bowl XL, if anything, has made the situation far worse.

The Niners want to begin a new era of glory. The Seahawks want to be #1 for the first time.

And the one thing that stands in the way for both teams, more than anything else, is each other.

If the current Niners or the current Seahawks were playing in the mid 00′s NFC West, they’d waltz to home field advantage in the playoffs. And with it, they’d have a great chance to play in multiple Super Bowls.

Now they have to compete with each other, plus a blossoming Rams outfit reinvigorated by Jeff Fisher and a Cardinals team that is certainly better than most of the other bottom feeders you’ll see in the NFL this year.

If either of Seattle or San Francisco ends up as the #1 seed in the NFC, they have a great shot at making the Super Bowl.

For the other? Life becomes much harder on the road.

What drives this rivalry is not the soap opera stuff involving the coaches or players, it’s the knowledge that both teams recognise the biggest threat to their title ambitions is each other.

This weekend is an opportunity for Seattle to hold serve. To win their game at home. San Francisco will get their turn in week 14. Neither team can afford to surrender a home defeat to the other. They can’t afford to go 0-2. These could be the games where division titles, playoff bye’s and home field advantages are decided.

So what could decide it?

Run the ball
Marshawn Lynch has three of the five 100-yard rushing performances Jim Harbaugh has conceded as 49ers coach. That’s an incredible record for Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio (who would be my #1 choice if I was an owner looking for a Head Coach next off season). Seattle’s run game never got going against Carolina last week but it simply has to against the Niners. Likewise, San Francisco has to be prepared to run too. In the previous 42-13 defeat they put too much pressure on Colin Kaepernick to throw his team to victory. It was a huge mistake. For me they have an advantage in the trenches on both sides of the ball. They have to exploit that to win.

Get momentum early
The game in December really was a night where everything worked for the Seahawks. It was just one of those occasions where you realise fairly early that it’s going to be your day. Momentum built gradually, snowballing into an avalanche. The three and out to start followed by a quick score from Lynch. Another touchdown before the blocked punt. Before they’d even settled into a gameplan, the Niners were 21-0 down and staring defeat in the face. I suspect we’ll see a very different game on Sunday. But the Seahawks can still take advantage of the crowd and the hostile environment by starting fast. Pete Carroll always says it’s not how you start it’s how you finish. This Sunday will probably require a fast start, a solid middle and a strong finish.

Second half adjustments
I think it’s fair to expect a tight contest, edged by a handful of key plays. In the game at Candlestick last year, the Seahawks missed their opportunity to take control with some ugly drops and misfires. The 49ers trailed 6-3 after a bruising first half. And after the break, they absolutely wiped the floor of the Seahawks. Seattle failed to score again. Unfairly, too much attention was paid to Russell Wilson’s performance. In reality, San Francisco’s second half adjustments won the game. They ran all over the Hawks with some intelligent tweaks, had Alex Smith play a short passing game and they limited Seattle’s offense. If it’s close again at the half on Sunday, making key adjustments will be crucial in a close game.

Bend but don’t break
The Seahawks cannot shut down Kaepernick. He’s too good. And he’ll get more than enough protection on the night to have a productive game. If you give Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin enough time, they’ll get open — even against the ‘Legion of Boom’. I cannot believe for one second that San Francisco will ignore the run like they did last time. Seattle has a good red zone defense and contained Kaepernick in December. That has to be the key again. Make the 49ers settle for field goals and take advantage. Likewise the Seahawks have to do a better job in the red zone than they did last week.

Challenge the 49ers secondary
If you put Seattle’s secondary with San Francisco’s defensive line, you’ll have a defense for the ages. Put San Francisco’s secondary with Seattle’s defensive line and it’s a different story. Russell Wilson is going to be pressured in this game. He’s going to have to be elusive, and he’s going to have to make some difficult throws on the run. But there will be opportunities against this Niners secondary which is far from intimidating. Nnamdi Asomugha and Carlos Rogers are a rare weak link on the San Francisco roster. Exploit it.

As for having to make difficult throws on the run, I had no idea at the time how good this throw was last week. Not many quarterbacks in the NFL can make this pass. Two of them are playing at Century Link on Sunday:

Rest your voice on Saturday.

Stock up, stock down… top prospects so far

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan)
Cyrus Kouandijo struggled against Virginia Tech and Jake Matthews faces the daunting task of a rematch with Alabama this weekend. Lewan had a big day against Notre Dame last week (see the tape above). He might still end up being #3 behind Kouandijo and Matthews, but there’s little doubt he’ll be a top-15 pick next April. Notre Dame’s Zack Martin is another player to keep an eye on.

Ed Reynolds (S, Stanford)
Any team looking for a playmaker in the secondary has to consider Reynolds. He had an interception in Stanford’s opener against San Jose State to go with the six he had last season (three returned for touchdowns). He might not quite be the same athlete as an Earl Thomas, but he has decent size for the position (6-2, 205lbs) and is criminally underrated within college football.

Dominique Easley (DT, Florida)
We talked about him in more detail yesterday, but it’s hard not to be impressed with his display against Miami. Whether he ends up playing as a hybrid, a three technique or an end, Easley has a terrific motor, great get-off on the snap and he makes plays. In what looks like a down year for interior lineman, Easley stands out.

Scott Crichton (DE, Oregon State)
It’s not been a great start for the Beavers in 2013, but Crichton looks back to his best after recovering from injury. He had 1.5 sacks against Hawaii and a strong junior season could mean a high draft grade. He’s 6-3 and 265lbs. Last season he had 17.5 tackles for a loss and nine sacks. He also forced a fumble, recovered two more, and blocked a kick.

Kyle Van Noy (DE, BYU)
I watched the Texas game and Van Noy was all over the field. Again. Because that’s what he does. He’s not an orthodox pass rusher and some teams will look at his frame and run a mile. More fool them. Van Noy is the real deal and a true playmaker.

Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
The quarterback situation at Southern Cal is a problem. Even more of a problem is the coach Lane Kiffin — he was on borrowed time last year. But Lee can’t have any excuses for his two performances so far. He’s dropped easy catches, looked lethargic and he’s been unproductive. Instead of helping two raw quarterbacks get settled, he’s been part of the problem. He can’t afford to feel sorry for himself and lose focus.

Stephon Tuitt (DE, Notre Dame)
At times last year Tuitt really looked the part. Then the Alabama game happened and it raised a few doubts. This weekend, Tuitt again looked sloppy. Yes, he had an interception return for a touchdown. But as a pass rusher he was handled far too easily. He didn’t look like a first round pick in this game.

Stephen Morris (QB, Miami)
I’m pretty confused by the whole quarterback situation this year. Teddy Bridgewater is a lock to go early. After that, your guess is as good as mine. There’s an opportunity though for some guys to surge up draft boards. Morris isn’t one of those players. In two games so far, he hasn’t looked like a guy with a NFL future — even if Miami are 2-0 and playing well.

It’s still very early — and I’m weeks away from doing any updated mock drafts — but at this stage a premature top-15 could look something like this:

Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)
Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville)
Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan)
Kyle Van Noy (DE, BYU)
Anthony Barr (DE, UCLA)
Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame)
Cyrus Kouandijo (T, Alabama)
Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State)
Zack Martin (T, Notre Dame)
Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
Tajh Boyd (QB, Clemson)
Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
Dominique Easley (DT, Florida)
De’Anthony Thomas (WR, Oregon)

Florida’s Dominique Easley one to watch this year

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Sometimes things happen for a reason.

Yesterday I wrote the following:

Louis Nix is a stud at Notre Dame and could be a top ten pick at the all important nose tackle position. After that, the options aren’t great. Some people like Will Sutton at Arizona State but I’m not a big fan. I’ve not seen enough of LSU’s Anthony Johnson to judge but watching the Tigers last year, nobody looked as good as 2012 first rounder Michael Brockers.

Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan is the only other player (defensive tackle) currently on the radar until others emerge.

I didn’t expect a player to emerge later that same night.

Really, there’s no true emergence in this case. It’s more a case of a guy (me) who happens to write a blog about the NFL Draft finally getting around to noticing a certain prospect who deserves attention.

Because a lot of people know about Florida’s Dominique Easley already.

And it’s time he got some attention.

When I watched Easley’s performance against Miami last night, I got excited.

Excited enough to fantasise about him playing against the Niners on Sunday.

(We could probably use him)

There are a few things I want to see in a defensive tackle. Easley pretty much ticks every box.

I want to see a high motor. He has that.

I want to see evidence of a nasty streak. Evidence that a guy just lives and breathes the war that is line play. Somebody who thrives on the scrappy, dirty, horrible nature of football at its purest sense. In the trenches.

I want to see someone who has at least solid hand technique and enough speed and raw athleticism to shoot gaps to stack up splash plays.

If I’m not seeing constant swim or power moves into the backfield, I at least want to see a guard or center being consistently pushed into his quarterback.

I’ve found the guys I like the most are nearly always five star recruits. Hey, at the end of the day, this needs to be a guy with rare athleticism weighing around 300lbs. Not many 18-21 year old’s fit that criteria.

On the evidence of the Miami game from Saturday, Easley does all of these things. Now it’s a case of tracking his season to see if this is a flash in the pan or truly what the guy is offering to NFL teams.

A few months ago we looked into a series by Matt Waldman discussing the characteristics Bill Walsh looked for in a player. Pete Carroll is obviously highly influenced by Walsh, and there are several obvious Walsh characteristics within Seattle’s current roster.

Here’s what Waldman wrote about Walsh’s ‘ideal’ defensive tackle:

Ideal size: 6-2, 290

Must have the girth, strength, ballast to hold off the guard, or to step into a tackles’ block without being knocked off the line of scrimmage.

Quick, strong hands to grab and pull are critical. This is common with the great tackles. The hands, the arms, the upper body strength and then the quick feet to take advantage of a moving man, just getting him off balance.

You are looking for somebody who can move down the line of scrimmage and make a tackle, pursuing a ball-carrier. That would be lateral quickness in a short area, being able to get underway and move over and through people. If you get knocked off the line, or get knocked sideways or knocked off balance, you cannot play this position. You must be able to work your way through people, so that kind of strength is a must.

The best defensive tackles move the offensive guard back into the quarterback. (emphasis mine) They won’t have nearly as many sacks as others, but if they can move the guard back into the quarterback, then the quarterback has to avoid his own lineman as if he were a pass rusher before he throws the ball. So this is a key ability.

Easley is 6-2 and 285lbs. Watch the video above and tell me you don’t see a Walsh defensive tackle. The one thing he probably lacks is girth. He doesn’t have a large rump (no giggling) or powerful base. He looks small.

But he plays big.

He’s a senior so he’ll definitely be in the 2014 draft. He’s a former five-star recruit (like it).

Perhaps tellingly, he never had an offer from Carroll’s USC in 2009 (he did get an offer from UCLA). Easley’s originally from New York. Sharrif Floyd — originally from Philadelphia — had an offer from USC in the same year and also ended up with the Gators. This doesn’t mean Pete Carroll necessarily had no interest in Easley, but it’s food for thought.

It’s also worth noting that Seattle has been anything but orthodox at the three technique. They keep trying bigger, leaner tackles at the position. Jordan Hill was perhaps the most orthodox they’ve been so far, but even he seems to have been tagged with the ‘passing downs’ label.

Even so, I find it hard to ignore pure three technique prospects. I think the Seahawks need one. And the likes of Michael Bennett are only here on one-year deals.

So what else do I like?

He seems to have a knack of jumping the snap and getting off the line quickly. He can switch quickly from power-to-speed and has good hand use. Easley plays end as well as tackle, which is testament to his athletic quality. He’s a brawler. I cannot stress how much that matters at this position.

Most importantly he has the ability to have a major impact on games. When he wasn’t in the backfield against Miami, he was being held. Like Vic Beasley, I’m not going to come out and say this guy is a nailed on first rounder. I don’t know what round he’ll go in. At this stage we’re merely identifying which players to monitor over the next few weeks.

Beasley and Florida need to be on your schedule.

Timmy Jernigan is a hard one to work out

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Last year was a good year for defensive tackles in round one.

Sheldon Richardson (#13 overall) is a future star. When the Jets inevitably move on from Rex Ryan next year and switch to the 4-3, he’ll be dynamic as hell.

Star Lotulelei (#14 overall) had to be checked for suspected heart problems at the combine. Although he was cleared, there’s a chance the stigma carried him into the teens in April. We witnessed on Sunday how disruptive he can be. What a steal for the Panthers.

Sharrif Floyd (#23 overall) was a trendy pick to go in the top five. Short arms plus a lack of pure production and nasty streak led to a fall. Yet he had enough athletic upside to warrant a pick in the 20′s.

Two other pass rushing interior lineman followed quickly — Sly Williams and Kawann Short. You don’t get many drafts with five defensive tackles going in the top-45.

And we almost certainly won’t see it in 2014.

It’s early, but already it’s looking like an miserly group of defensive tackles next year.

Louis Nix is a stud at Notre Dame and could be a top ten pick at the all important nose tackle position. After that, the options aren’t great. Some people like Will Sutton at Arizona State but I’m not a big fan. I’ve not seen enough of LSU’s Anthony Johnson to judge but watching the Tigers last year, nobody looked as good as 2012 first rounder Michael Brockers.

Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan is the only other player currently on the radar until others emerge. And Jernigan is one of the more frustrating players you’ll see this year.

(EDIT — ironically, after writing this piece, I watched tape of one of the best DT performances I’ve seen in a long time… from a name not listed here. More tomorrow).

At 6-2 and 294lbs he looks the part. He’s clearly an athlete. He flashes the occasional pass rush move that makes you sit up and take notice. Yet his overall effort just seems lethargic. He’s not a relentless, beastly tackle like Sheldon Richardson. He lacks the unique physical qualities of Star Lotulelei. He doesn’t have the production of a Kawann Short.

Jernigan’s a player who shows you a bit of leg then runs a mile when you offer to buy a drink.

We’ve seen it before with FSU linemen. It’s hard to explain why. In recent years we’ve seen a handful of players who flatter to deceive.

It’s only four years ago that Carolina gifted San Francisco a first round pick to get back into round two to select Everette Brown. In a 23-sack career with the Seminoles, Brown looked the part as an exciting edge rusher. He used to split out wide and rush from all angles. He did a great job, winning on athleticism rather than effort or technique.

At one point he was considered a possible top-15 pick. At the combine he measured just under 6-2 instead of Florida State’s listed 6-4, and the doubters grew. He ran a 4.65 at 256lbs.

The Panthers were looking for a long term replacement for Julius Peppers, who was demanding a trade and seemed destined to leave when his contract expired. Carolina bought what Everette Brown was selling and made a deal.

In return the Niners got Mike Iupati and went on to build the best offensive line in football.

Jernigan kind of reminds me of Brown. They both flirt with brilliance. The athletic potential is there. But the little things that make a complete player are lacking.

Brown’s athletic qualities didn’t stand out as much in the NFL. His technique was poor, he took such wide angles in college that he rarely had to engage a tackle or beat him with hand placement. Where was the relentless motor? He had just two years in Carolina before bouncing around the league. He recently had a camp with Philadelphia, but was released on cut-day.

I’m not saying Jernigan will have a similar career, but every time I see him I notice similar traits. Quality athletic potential, but a lack of technique, motor and consistency.

His play is largely unimpressive. He gets pushed around, he doesn’t show a nasty streak. He’s not consistently causing problems for an offensive line. One thing the Seahawks will look for in a tackle is the ability to push the blocker into the pocket, even if they don’t shoot a hole themselves. Jernigan doesn’t do that. He’s really powderpuff at times.

I almost switched off the video above after a few minutes. It was the same old Timmy Jernigan display.

Then at 4:26 he makes a play. He gets away from the center and stops the running back down for a loss.

I keep watching.

At 5:10 he gets off a block and sees a route to the quarterback. He turns on the jets big time and flies into the QB. It’s the kind of pursuit you don’t often see from a guy that size. Big sack. Impressive play.

And you want to start believing again.

Jernigan has the athletic potential to be very effective. If he can find an edge — a nasty streak — and just be a complete pain in the ass when he’s not flashing genuine athletic quality, then he has a shot.

However, at the moment he coasts along games waiting for his chance. And that’s not good enough. Until this improves, I just can’t get excited about seeing him in Seattle. But the potential is there. Which is why he’s a difficult guy to project.

Clemson’s Vic Beasley should be on our radar

Monday, September 9th, 2013

I’m not sure whether the Seahawks will be looking for another LEO in next years draft. After all, Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin will be under contract. O’Brien Schofield looks like an able fill-in and Benson Mayowa is getting an opportunity to make it in the NFL.

If they are looking for another LEO, Clemson’s Vic Beasley could be the guy.

It’s difficult to project his stock at this stage. On the plus side, he has 10 sacks in his last nine starts. He launches out of the blocks with the kind of burst Bruce Irvin flashed at West Virginia. He’s quick, and speed matters in this offense. It wouldn’t surprise me if he ran a super-fast 40 and clocked a sweet 10-yard split.

Beasley’s also undersized. He’s listed at 6-3 and 225lbs but is undoubtedly bigger than that in my opinion. I’d say 235lbs approximately. Which is still smaller than ideal, but it’s better than 225lbs. He’s got the length Seattle looks for at 6-3 but could really do with adding weight before the combine and then proving he hasn’t lost the speed.

Here’s what I like — despite the fact he’s smaller than the average edge rusher, he has good hand use. On more than a few occasions he was able to get a push on the left tackle and drive him into the pocket. Sometimes that’s enough, it forces a quarterback to move around. Combine that with a couple (I reckon 2.5) big sacks off the edge and it was an impressive display overall against Georgia.

However, at the next level is he going to get his hands into a guys chest and get a push?

Not at 225-235lbs. And that’s the issue.

Speed kills in the pass rush, but so does a running game that can consistently target one side of the line. Beasley has liability versus the run written all over him in the NFL. That limits his stock. I can see him working as a specialist or depth pass rusher, but to be an early down guy he has to get bigger and keep the speed.

It’d be pretty easy for me to say he’s a round whatever pick right now. Sometimes you just can’t tell. But he’s a player I’ll keep monitoring this year. Clemson’s schedule is beyond vanilla the rest of the way. They host Florida State on October 19th and that’s their only real test until South Carolina on November 30th — their final game before a likely ACC Championship berth.

Check out the tape above and let me know what you think.

Instant reaction: Seahawks win opener on the road

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

There’s an old cliche in English football.

“Good teams know how to win ugly”.

I’m not sure how often it’s used across the Atlantic, but it fits tonight.

This wasn’t a classic Seahawks performance. The running game never got going. The defense didn’t pressure Cam Newton enough. There were costly penalties and missed tackles.

And the end product is a big fat W.

In other words, we’ll take it.

Do not underestimate how difficult it was to win this game. Carolina — particularly Cam Newton and the defense — played well. It was a 10am start on the road. It was an out of division opponent at the opposite end of America.

This is the kind of game Seattle usually loses.

Not any more, it seems.

I had some issues with the game plan early on. Seattle’s first play was a five yard run by Marshawn Lynch, followed by two long developing pass plays (both incomplete, one nearly a turnover). On the subsequent drives, Wilson seemed to be throwing a lot. And when I say throwing, I actually mean running for his life.

Establishing the run early seemed to be a solid plan, even if it meant risking an early 3rd and long. Eventually they did turn to the run, but it couldn’t find any momentum. The first half ended well (before the fumble by Wilson) but overall it was a frustrating start.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing of course, but I would’ve liked to see some early run calls leading to play action. It could’ve taken some of the sting out of the pass rush and set the tone. Instead Carolina tee’d off on Seattle’s offensive line and did a good job stuffing the middle when the Seahawks did hand the ball off.

But hey, we’re all great play callers sat on a sofa watching the game. And I’m not one for criticising Darrell Bevell or the offensive staff. I think Bevell is a superb coordinator who receives a lot of undeserved criticism. It was probably a consensus game plan anyway, led by Pete Carroll.

When it clicked Seattle’s passing game looked crisp and explosive. Doug Baldwin was a sensation. His catch on the far sideline from a Wilson ‘hit and hope’ was a genuine momentum changer. He seemed to make numerous third down conversions. This was undoubtedly his finest hour as a Seahawk.

The other receivers chipped in too. Jermaine Kearse made the game winning catch, while Golden Tate and Sidney Rice both contributed. It was a shame not see more of Stephen Williams — the Seahawks tried very little downfield. His one opportunity was a drop, although Wilson slightly overthrew on the pass despite clear separation.

I wasn’t a big fan of the short stuff they tried to force. They did this a bit last year with Golden Tate, but I suspect this is a Percy wrinkle. But Percy isn’t here, yet. So do we need it?

Luke Willson was a non-factor and made a rookie gaffe for a penalty early on. They need him to grow — and learn — quickly.

Last year Seattle fielded the #1 scoring defense and today they conceded just seven points.

Somehow.

After all, Cam Newton was calm and composed and made some plays. The Panthers running game wasn’t as terrible as it has been recently. And bad penalties (eg Michael Bennett) could’ve been costly.

There was no consistent pass rush, just occasional splash plays (a feature of this defense). The linebacker play wasn’t quite as sharp as we’ve come to expect. Richard Sherman dropped a relatively easy interception and Steve Smith didn’t have the nightmare he witnessed against Seattle last season.

And yet somehow, Carolina had just seven points to show for their efforts.

I put it down to the mental toughness of the Seahawks core group on defense. They created a couple of big turnovers and just stayed in there. They kept believing. That’s not to say the lack of pass rush won’t come back to bite down the line, but for now this unit should be credited. Let’s not forget, they were minus Clemons, Browner, Avril and Irvin.

There were a few things that bothered me…

- 109 yards on 9 penalties. This is a major problem.

- Why no Christine Michael? Robert Turbin might be better as a catcher and blocker, but when he had the ball today he just lacked any kind of spark. Michael is all spark. Let’s use him.

- The big issue last year (interior pass rush) is still a big issue. There’s zero improvement on this evidence. And if this area doesn’t improve, Seattle has to get this sorted. If you want the kind of consistent pressure Carolina showed today, you need an inside rush. I spent the entire half time break dreaming of Star Lotulelei in navy blue.

- Seattle’s pass rush depends on role players. I don’t mind that, but can’t help but feel a more conventional four man front might create more consistent pressure with orthodox edge rushers and a decent interior tackle. I’m watching St. Louis right now, and it’s how they roll.

Other NFL week one notes:

– Christian Ponder today vs Detroit: four turnovers. Yuck. And Matt Cassell is the alternative. Double yuck. The Vikings should look for a quarterback next off-season.

– What a rough start for Gus Bradley. The Jaguars did a decent job starting the long rebuild this off-season, but they’re three or four years of good drafting away from contention. Lets hope Bradley gets the time.

– The Pittsburgh Steelers look like a mess. I gave too much credit to Brandon Weeden. The Bengals aren’t as good as everyone thinks (well, A.J. green is) and Baltimore were blown away by Peyton. The AFC North doesn’t look quite so intimidating these days.

– Anyone else genuinely disappointed for Buffalo and E.J. Manuel?

– Tyrann Mathieu might be the most Seahawky player not playing for the Seahawks. His turnover on Jared Cook was pure Seattle.