Archive for December, 2015

3000 NFL mock draft: Episode #16

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

This week Kenny and I look at the NFC playoff picture, the great form of Russell Wilson, which team might end up with the #1 pick, whether Derrick Henry should’ve won the Heisman, Robert Nkemdiche’s run-in with the law and why the Saints might draft a quarterback early. Check it out. Tell your friends.

Seattle’s O-line: Surely they have to keep it together?

Monday, December 14th, 2015

Keeping Russell Okung feels increasingly necessary

Another game, another reason to believe Seattle’s priority in the off-season is keeping this ever improving offensive line together.

The Seahawks allowed 32 sacks in their first seven games. They were on pace to give up 73 for the season. In the next six games? They’ve given up just seven sacks. Now they’re on pace for a yearly total of 48.

According to Brian Nemhauser they’ve gone six straight games allowing two sacks or less. The last time they did that? 2012. Before that? 1983.

What a turnaround.

It’s taken time, patience and a change of center — but suddenly this unit looks like one of the best in the league. Teams all around the NFL are struggling up front. The Seahawks suddenly have a functioning O-line that looks pretty good.

Some of those seven sacks they’ve given up in the last six games aren’t even proper sacks. One includes Russell Wilson keeping a zone-read against Minnesota and being hit in the backfield by Danielle Hunter. It was a run play.

With an estimated $35m to play with in cap space (assuming Marshawn Lynch does move on) they’ll have plenty of scope to do whatever they want.

Re-signing Russell Okung is very possible and feels increasingly like an absolute necessity. In a league with so few elite offensive tackles (there’s probably only 3-4) — keeping a good one is pretty vital. Letting Okung walk to save money seems futile when there’s so much available, the cap is constantly rising and you’d probably have to spend a late first round pick replacing him.

Is it worth risking going into 2016 facing the same kind of growing pains you experienced this year? Hoping either a rookie or Garry Gilliam can fill in at left tackle? They let Breno Giacomini, James Carpenter and Max Unger depart and had some difficulty replacing all of them. Now things are settled — is it worth gambling on further disruption?

That also means keeping J.R. Sweezy — who has really come on strong in recent weeks. It’s hard to imagine what his market value is. He fits Seattle’s scheme well — is he adaptable?

According to Spotrac, if the Seahawks cut or trade Lynch they’ll be among the top-ten teams for free cap space in 2016 (that could change if other teams make high-profile cuts). Not only would they have the room to keep Okung and Sweezy — they could potentially upgrade the O-line. We’ve discussed the possibility of adding a new center. Patrick Lewis isn’t doing anything wrong. If you get an opportunity to sign one of the top center’s in the NFL among this blossoming group — you’d still have to consider it. Look at the way the offense and Russell Wilson has performed with great protection. That’s why there’s no point ruling out the possibility of adding Alex Mack, if he voids his Cleveland contract, to this unit.

Look at Wilson’s play. And this is without Jimmy Graham — who rather than be a distraction I suspect would be putting up monster numbers in this thriving passing game. He certainly was against Pittsburgh pre-injury. For a while the Seahawks have chosen to put a value O-line together. It might be time to adjust that thinking slightly. The results could be a legendary passing quarterback with Aaron Rodgers-style production. It’s genuinely not ridiculous to make that suggestion considering the last four games. Wilson has shown what he can do in a clean pocket.

If we imagine a scenario where the Seahawks do re-sign Okung and Sweezy (and maybe add a new center), it’d shift the team needs elsewhere. They might still add another O-liner in the draft (I would still like to see Adam Bisnowaty from Pittsburgh targeted to provide competition at guard/tackle, replacing Alvin Bailey). Yet ultimately there would be other needs to focus on early.

It’d be easy to point to the interior defensive line. I thought, however, Pete Carroll made some interesting remarks today in his weekly spot with Brock and Salk. Fast forward to 33:59 in the podcast below:

Carroll on Athyba Rubin: “He is really solid now, he’s as tough as you can get. You can’t move the dude and he pursues the football really well. I think he’s been the most effective guy playing three-technique for us that we’ve had. And (the) most consistent. He just won’t budge.”

The Seahawks don’t have a naturally brilliant interior pass rusher in the mould of an Aaron Donald or Geno Atkins. Those players are so rare. It’s one of the reasons why Ndamukong Suh has an average salary of +$19m in Miami.

Carroll talked about Rubin moments after a detailed evaluation of the run defense. The Seahawks are #2 against the run (55 yards behind the Jets at #1). They’re averaging 83.2 rushing yards a game. Philosophically I think the role of the DT in Seattle is, first and foremost, to provide excellent discipline in the run game. Fill gaps, play within the scheme, master your role. Then there are the complimentary rushers. Currently it’s the likes of Frank Clark and Jordan Hill. In the past it was Clinton McDonald.

If the Seahawks aren’t in position to land that other-world pass rushing DT, I suspect they’ll continue with this plan. They’ve plugged in veterans they can trust. And it’s not like they aren’t getting pass rush production elsewhere. Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin have combined for 21.5 sacks. The team has 33 overall — just one less than the Houston Texans with J.J. Watt. Avril is sixth in the league for QB hurries (25).

They’ve made their investment in the pass rush by re-signing Bennett and Avril and then drafting Frank Clark in round two. They may yet re-sign Bruce Irvin or replace him with a high draft pick. I suspect that is more likely than chasing any of this defensive tackle class early in the draft. There really isn’t going to be that dynamic interior rusher in rounds 1-2. Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler might be the most intriguing prospect for this role — and he could be available in the middle rounds.

They may well have to replace Irvin early if he moves on (and remember, they already rejected the opportunity to keep him for $7m in 2016 when they refused to take up the fifth year option on his contract). We’ve looked at possible replacements in Eric Striker and Miles Killebrew. What about Georgia’s slightly overrated linebacker Leonard Floyd? Does he come into play if he tests well at the combine? He’s tall and lean and can cover surprisingly well at 6-4 and around 230lbs. As a pass rusher he’s inconsistent. He only had 4.5 sacks in 2015 after opting not to declare a year ago. He’d have to be some athlete to warrant consideration.

Of course, with so much free cap space in 2016, the Seahawks could do a deal with Irvin that gives him that $7-7.75m average but limits the first year cap hit (something Davis Hsu considered last week).

The secondary could come into play and we’ve run through some of the possible cornerback options (Tre’Davious White, Cameron Sutton, Eli Apple, Mackensie Alexander — all should go early and all would make some degree of sense). They’ve consistently drafted prospects to develop on the third day — and they might continue to back themselves in that regard.

And then there’s running back. I’m still not convinced the Seahawks would go for this position early after the success of Thomas Rawls. The depth at RB is also good and you should be able to get a good back — such as UCLA’s Paul Perkins — in the middle rounds. Even so, let’s consider Ezekiel Elliott doesn’t force his way into round one. And maybe you’ve traded back into the early second. Do you consider it? Watching Rawls’ burst and explosive ability to take advantage of a lane — and then seeing that lost when he got injured — makes you crave more of the same. Elliott shares the same level of suddenness and drive. It’d be a heck of a one-two punch. I’m not convinced, however, that Elliott makes it out of the late first.

Instant reaction: Seahawks beat Ravens, go to 8-5

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

The Seahawks got the job done in Baltimore — but at what cost?

Thomas Rawls broke his ankle and that somewhat takes the edge off another resounding win. Pete Carroll has confirmed he’s out for the season.

Nevertheless we saw more brilliance from Russell Wilson. He now has 1,171 yards and 16 touchdowns in his last four games (plus a rushing score). Wilson had five scores here — three to Doug Baldwin and two to Tyler Lockett. He could be the best player in the NFL right now.

Wilson is putting the team on his shoulders in a way the elite quarterbacks are supposed to. The defense wasn’t brilliant today (it did only concede six points though) and the running game stalled after Rawls went out. Wilson still threw it all over the field and again didn’t turn the ball over.

It’s surely no coincidence that this blast of form has coincided with improved O-line play. Wilson wasn’t sacked and had an eternity to throw the ball. Keeping this entire unit together may yet be an off-season priority. What a turnaround from the early season performance. The O-line has allowed eight sacks in the last six games, after 31 sacks in first seven. The improvement here is the underlying story of Seattle’s dramatic change in fortunes.

The Seahawks jump ahead of Minnesota as the #5 seed with home games against Cleveland and St. Louis to come. They’re also two games clear of the chasing playoff pack after Tampa Bay and Atlanta both lost.

They’ll have to move forward without Rawls. How soon can Marshawn Lynch return? As they have so often in the past, the Seahawks need Lynch in a bad way. However well Wilson is playing, they’ll need a running game in the playoffs.

Heisman winner Derrick Henry a fourth round pick?

Saturday, December 12th, 2015

Dan Hatman is a former scout with the Eagles, Jets, and Giants. He caused a minor stir on Twitter today after sharing these comments with the Florida Times Union about the projected stock of Heisman winner Derrick Henry:

I think in the Nos. 100-150 range — basically the fourth round. I’m a little biased because I don’t value running backs highly. There are too many guys who have been drafted in the sixth round or later — or not drafted at all — and been functional.

Gil Brandt then got involved and then… a typical Twitter set-to:

Hatman’s opinion is shared by many. I disagree with it fundamentally but understand the take. The perception is you can find productive running backs later in the draft. This is true. It’s also true that the NFL’s top three in rushing yards this year (Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin and Jonathan Stewart) were all first round picks. Five of the top six are actually first rounders (Todd Gurley, Chris Johnson). Seattle’s lynchpin (no pun intended) is also a former first round pick.

I wouldn’t a judge running back any differently to most other positions. If you believe a player can be a key impact player as a runner, a guy who can help you win games and if the grade matches up — there’s nothing wrong with an early pick. Gurley has shown in flashes his massive potential. The Vikings have no regrets over taking Peterson (and how Arizona wished they’d pulled the trigger in 2007). Sure, there’s going to be a Trent Richardson every now and again. Is that any different than Robert Griffin III flaring out? Or disappointing left tackle Jason Smith (remember him?) from 2009?

And while there have been star running backs drafted later on — the best cornerback on the NFL’s top-100 list from 2015 is a fifth round pick. The #3 player on the list was a quarterback taken in the sixth round. The second best receiver on the list (who really should’ve been the top ranked receiver) is a former sixth rounder. The four running backs in the top twenty were taken in the third, first, third and second round respectively.

Anyway, back to Henry…

I suspect Hatman saying he could be a fourth rounder is more a review of his overall stance on the running back position rather than the players actual stock. That said, I don’t think Henry will touch the first round.

He’s one of the more unique players you’ll ever see. Tall, long and massive — he’s listed at 6-3 and 242lbs. And yet it’s not power, trucking or tough yards you associate with him.

Henry’s best asset is his surprising ability to accelerate, explode through a crease and be a home-run hitter. He’s a great finisher in the open field capable of turning good runs into great runs. When he gets a head of steam he glides — and that’s when he’s really tough to stop. This season he had a 56-yard run against Wisconsin, a 55-yard run against Texas A&M and a 74-yarder against Mississippi State.

In short yardage situations he doesn’t project to be quite as productive. Henry’s length is actually an issue that takes away the benefit of his overall size. He offers a big target to hit and with long legs he’s easy to knock off balance. He’ll go down after a glancing blow. If you get to him before he’s into the second level, he can be ineffective. He’s not one for dragging defenders or getting an extra 2-3 yards with every run. He doesn’t always fall forward. He’s far from the power-back you’d expect at 242lbs. He’s more Shaun Alexander than Marshawn Lynch.

He also needs a lane. His vision and patience can be very good — but at that size he’s not a crazy cut-back runner who can plant and explode. Again, he’s better going through the gears and building up speed. And for that to happen he needs the space to move forward.

Henry might be an ideal fit for a team like Dallas that blocks pretty well and will offer opportunities to get into the second level. Zone blocking teams or teams (like Seattle) that prefer physical, competitive runners who get the tough yards aren’t likely to be lining up to draft him early.

I think he’ll go in round two, possibly to the Cowboys. It wouldn’t be a major shock though if he did just hang around a bit longer into the third.

Hatman isn’t the only one not enamoured with the idea of taking a running back early. It is a copycat league afterall. And while Gurley has had some success, Melvin Gordon has had a very disappointing first season in San Diego. At the same time undrafted free agent Thomas Rawls has been a major revelation and could yet make a case to be the offensive rookie of the year.

That could have some impact on the upcoming draft class, particularly with nobody as talented as Gurley eligible to declare (it’ll be a different story in 2017 when Leonard Fournette turns pro).

Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott has the best chance to go in the first frame. As one unnamed scout states: “Elliott can create on his own, (Henry) can’t.” A good team picking late in the first (Arizona?) could see the benefit in taking an impact player like Elliott very early. Even he might have to wait until the early stages of round two.

That could be good news for the Seahawks (and not because I think they’ll draft Elliott or Henry).

It seems almost inevitable that Marshawn Lynch will be moving on in the off-season. Jason La Canfora — a trusted and established source for Seahawks news — has suggested as much. The emergence of Rawls and Lynch’s massive $11.5m cap hit for 2016 makes it likely.

In theory the two players would create quite a two-headed monster for the Seahawks. Yet Lynch doesn’t strike you as the type of player to appreciate a new, lesser role in the closing stages of his career like Fred Jackson. As La Canfora notes, “He (Lynch) has been a challenging player to deal with at times.” It’s hard to imagine he’ll be any easier to handle if he’s only getting 10-12 carries a game. That situation might worsen if Rawls continues his prolific form and they find it harder to keep him off the field.

Is Lynch ever going to be effective in a committee approach? Surely his best quality is his ability to break tackles and wear down a defense over four quarters? He’s not really an impact player who will make big plays on a snap-count.

There was some feeling that a Lynch holdout in 2014 was somewhat inspired by quotes attributed to Darrell Bevell discussing a possible committee approach with Robert Turbin and Christine Michael. The Seahawks chose not to create a similar committee this year even during Rawls’ hot form. A week after he ran for 169 yards at Cincinnati and with Lynch back in the line-up he had just a single carry against Carolina. In the subsequent three games Rawls averaged four carries a week. Then Lynch had surgery and the rest is history.

The potential distraction caused by an unsatisfied Lynch, the enormous cap hit ($11.5m), the savings Seattle can make ($6.5m) and the dynamism and success of Rawls makes a possible parting of ways increasingly likely.

That would mean having to add another back at some point in the draft (or UDFA).

If the likes of Henry get pushed back, the next group of runners could also slide — providing great value in the middle rounds. Alex Collins has been a revelation for Arkansas — combining tough short-yardage runs with explosive grand slams. Utah’s Devontae Booker has his favourites and would add a complimentary slasher style to Rawls. UCLA’s Paul Perkins isn’t the biggest runner — but he’s incredibly tough to bring down, has a dynamite cut-back and could develop into a useful third-down specialist.

I’ve not been overly impressed with LA Tech’s Kenneth Dixon — although he has his admirers. Notre Dame’s converted wide out C.J. Prosise is considering his options. There’s also a whole host of other runners we’ve barely even looked at yet.

The Seahawks have shown they’re willing to consider drafting running backs in the middle section of the draft. Robert Turbin was a relatively early fourth round pick in 2012. They took Christine Michael in round two the following year. To be drafted that early by Seattle any runner is going to need to be as athletic as Michael. The third round compensatory selection they’re likely to receive in 2016 would be a similar slot to the range they drafted Turbin — who proved to be a solid if unspectacular #2 back. That could be the range where they ultimately target a value running mate for Rawls if Lynch does indeed move on in the off-season.

Playoff prediction: A take on how it’ll play out

Friday, December 11th, 2015

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So there you go. Using the ESPN Playoff Machine you can predict the final four weeks of the season. That’s my attempt above.

I’ve deliberately blanked out each teams record. I don’t want to linger too much on how they make it. Instead let’s discuss why this would be a very intriguing post season if it played out in this fashion.

AFC Notes

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a very dangerous team. Todd Haley, for me, deserves another crack at a Head Coaching job. He’s re-launched Ben Roethlisberger’s career, created the most dynamic passing offense in the NFL and he’s propping up a defense that can be as useful as wet toilet paper.

According to Football Outsiders’ week 13 DVOA, the Steelers have the third best offense in the NFL this season. Only Cincinnati and New England are ranked higher. That’s pretty astonishing when you consider Roethlisberger’s only played in eight games so far due to injury. They’ve had to use a mix of Michael Vick and Landry Jones. Le’Veon Bell started the season with a two-game suspension, played six times and then tore his MCL (he’s now on injured reserve). Martavis Bryant was also suspended for the first four games.

Matt Hasselbeck recently revealed Andrew Luck likes to be coached hard (and admitted it’d helped him during his cameo this season). Luck enjoyed a very productive spell with Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. Haley can be difficult — but he might just be the ideal candidate to rejuvenate Luck’s career and make the most of all the weapons they’ve accumulated at Indianapolis.

If the Steelers can turn a game into a shoot-out, they can beat anyone. And who’d bet against them making a deep playoff run if it ends up like this?

Pittsburgh would start on the road against division rival Cincinnati. The two teams meet each other this weekend at Paul Brown Stadium. The Steelers are 4-1 in Cincinnati in the last five meetings.

Let’s say this projection rings true and they beat the Bengals. They’d then go to the #1 seed Denver. Cue another storyline. In 2011 the fancied Steelers were dumped out of the playoffs by a Tim Tebow-led Broncos team. Presuming Brock Osweiler starts, it’d be his first playoff game against one of the modern-day greats in Roethlisberger (and yes, that’s how he has to be considered). It’d be a chance for Pittsburgh to avenge the Tebow shocker — or a second opportunity to blow a big game in Denver.

In the other wildcard game it’d be a repeat of the 45-44 slugfest in the 2013 playoffs between Kansas City and Indianapolis. The Chiefs led 31-10 at half time before a famous comeback from Andrew Luck. It’s been a fairly miserable season for Luck and the Colts — can they turn on the magic here for what would potentially be another shot at the Patriots? Or would red-hot Kansas City progress?

At this stage it’s pretty hard to imagine a post-season without the Chiefs. They could easily win out to finish 11-5 after starting 1-5. Their remaining schedule is San Diego (H), Baltimore (A), Cleveland (H), Oakland (H). Which game are they losing? Andy Reid will be a happy man. Now, what about that sandwich?

If the Steelers and Chiefs are the two wildcard teams and if they enter the playoffs on winning streaks — would you favour them over the suddenly injured Pats, Osweiler led Broncos or Cincinnati and Andy ‘no playoff wins’ Dalton? I think I probably would. The Steelers, as the #6 seed, might be my pick if they make it to the post-season.

NFC Notes

Things are a little more predictable in the NFC seeding race. The Panthers might not finish the season 16-0 but their schedule is kind enough in the final four weeks to secure a safe passage to the #1 seed (Atlanta H, Giants A, Atlanta A, Tampa Bay H). The Cardinals are too good to blow the #2 seed — even if they still have to face the Eagles, Packers and Seahawks.

A bad NFC East team is going to squeeze through. Washington had a chance to take control on Monday night and blew it against Dallas — proving they’re more pretender than contender. The Giants lurch from a team that should beat the Patriots one week to miserable failure the next. They’ve also in previous years suddenly shot back into life whenever Tom Coughlin’s job appears to be on the line.

The Eagles were embarrassingly bad against the Dolphins, Buccs and Lions — yet somehow knocked off the Pats on the road last week. That could be the catalyst for a late charge, especially if they can avoid having to start Mark Sanchez in any more games. Their schedule — Buffalo (H), Arizona (H), Washington (H), Giants (A) — is more favourable than the other three NFC East teams.

Seattle’s schedule sets them up to claim the #5 seed. Beating Baltimore (A), Cleveland (H) and St. Louis (H) should be enough (they own the head-to-head tie-breaker over Minnesota). The Vikings will likely take the #6 seed if they win their next two games, both at home, against Chicago and the Giants. For Minnesota to get to #5 they’re probably going to have to win out and hope the Seahawks lose at least one game. They finish the season at Green Bay.

If it played out the way I’ve predicted, we’d get a divisional playoff game between the Vikings and Packers. The safe pick would be Green Bay at home — and yet their playoff record at Lambeau since winning the Super Bowl in 2010 is only 1-2. Recent home defeats to Detroit and Chicago have taken away some of the Lambeau mystique. Even so, it’s hard to pick against Aaron Rodgers vs Teddy Bridgewater (even if he is well supported by Adrian Peterson).

The Seahawks’ match-up with whoever wins the NFC East looks tantalising. There is a chance, however, that the team who wins that division will do so carrying some momentum. Plus, the division winner gets the home game. So it wouldn’t be a gimme.

That said, Seattle has won handsomely in Philadelphia, New York and Washington since 2013. They win in Dallas this season. The match-up to avoid is probably Eli Manning and the Giants simply because it’s the more potent passing attack (a problem area for Seattle’s defense this season during the ‘Cary Williams days’). Manning also knows what it takes to win in the post-season. Plus there’s Tom Coughlin’s, “crap I’m going to get fired, better win another Super Bowl’ attitude to self preservation.

If the Seahawks won in the wildcard, they’d head to Carolina — a place they’ve won in each of the last three seasons — in what could be a classic post-season meeting. Equally intriguing would be a Aaron Rodgers vs Carson Palmer shoot-out in the other game. This is pretty much the dream divisional round for any neutral.

Think about the possible storylines too. Cam Newton and the Panthers potentially trying to orchestrate an unbeaten season. The Seahawks trying to avenge their two home losses this season (vs Carolina, Arizona). A possible meeting between the Seahawks and Cardinals in a NFC West show-down. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers heading back to Carolina after an agonising 37-29 loss a month ago. Or even a rematch of last years NFC Championship.

And on that note, let’s prepare for the Vikings to go to Philly for a place at the Super Bowl. Such is the 2015 NFL season.

Updated first round mock draft: 9th December

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

If the Seahawks need to replace Bruce Irvin it could be with a very different player

#1 Cleveland Browns — Joey Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
There’s no can’t-miss prospect at #1, certainly not at quarterback. It’s impossible to project what the Browns do here. Do they simply take a new QB? Or does a perennially bad franchise just go for the best player?

#2 Tennessee Titans — Jaylon Smith (LB, Notre Dame)
The Titans have a quality left tackle and they’re fifth in the NFL for sacks (34). Smith is just an incredible, athletic modern-day linebacker. He’ll fit into any scheme. Playmaker.

#3 San Diego Chargers — Laremy Tunsil (T, Ole Miss)
The Chargers badly need to repair their offensive line. Tunsil performed well against Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett and is ready to turn pro. His kick-slide, power in the run game and willingness to get to the second level make him an intriguing prospect.

#4 Jacksonville Jaguars — Robert Nkemdiche (DE, Ole Miss)
The Jaguars have a decent collection of talent — now it’s just a case of bringing it all together. Nkemdiche could end up being a Michael Bennett for this defense — lining up at end before kicking inside in NASCAR packages.

#5 Baltimore Ravens — Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU)
White has it all — coverage skills, smooth hips, athleticism. He’s a good kick-returner. He was awarded the coveted #18 jersey at LSU for this season. Teams are going to love his tape and character. He will go early.

#6 New Orleans Saints — Paxton Lynch (QB, Memphis)
If Sean Payton departs at the end of the season — will Drew Brees follow? They are on the verge of a major rebuild. Brees’ cap hit in 2016 is a staggering $30m — they can save $20m by cutting him. A new coach might start with his own guy at QB.

#7 Dallas Cowboys — Jaylen Ramsey (CB/S, Florida State)
Ramsey has some nice tape to go along with some iffy stuff too. He’s shown he can play corner and safety. The combine will help teams analyse his best position at the next level. He could be a rangy free safety.

#8 Detroit Lions — Shon Coleman (T, Auburn)
For me he’s the best tackle in the SEC and the most underrated player in the country. Cancer survivor. He can kick-slide, dominate in the power-run game, explode into a linebacker at the second level. He has a mean-streak. Love him.

#9 San Francisco 49ers — Taylor Decker (T, Ohio State)
Will Joe Staley move on? Will Alex Boone move on? The 49ers O-line is bad enough as it is without losing their two most experienced bodies. Decker could be a good replacement for Staley at left tackle.

#10 St. Louis Rams — Laquon Treadwell (WR, Ole Miss)
The Rams have turned into a mess and who knows what happens next. Do they draft a quarterback here? It’s perhaps more in Jeff Fisher’s nature to find a veteran who can hold things together (Drew Brees?) and give them a weapon.

#11 Miami Dolphins — Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State)
The Dolphins are weak at cornerback and this could be a sweet-spot at the position. Apple has good size, keeps plays in front of him and limits the damage. Occasionally he’ll make a very sharp break on the football. Has the potential to be great.

#12 New York Giants — DeForest Buckner (DE, Oregon)
It’s not often discussed because Oregon has had a relative down year but Buckner has 9.5 sacks in 2015. He’s a better player than Arik Armstead (#17 overall pick this year). The Giants need something — anything — on defense.

#13 Oakland Raiders — Cameron Sutton (CB, Tennessee)
Another team struggling at corner. D.J. Hayden hasn’t worked out and their best defensive back has just turned 39. Sutton is a fantastic athlete and just looks the part. Expect a big jump after the combine.

#14 Philadelphia Eagles — Jack Conklin (T, Michigan State)
It’s hard to know what the Eagles are going to do. Are they the most unpredictable team in the league? One week imploding, the next exploding in New England. Is Chip Kelly staying or going? Conklin could move inside to guard.

#15 Chicago Bears — Darron Lee (LB, Ohio State)
Lee’s underrated. Simple as that. He’s always around the ball. He’s not the same athlete as Ryan Shazier but they have a similar style. This is the range where Shazier was drafted.

#16 Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Corey Coleman (WR, Baylor)
They have bigger needs but just imagine Jameis Winston throwing to Mike Evans and Corey Coleman. You can build a franchise around that. Vincent Jackson is coming to the end of his distinguished career.

#17 Atlanta Falcons — Myles Jack (LB, UCLA)
He suffered a knee injury during the season and it could impact his ability to flash pre-draft. Jack has good range and could play inside or outside linebacker in the Falcons’ defensive scheme.

#18 Buffalo Bills — Andrew Billings (DT, Baylor)
I’ve warmed up to Billings. He’s probably the best penetrating DT in this class. He can cause some havoc at times. He’s not at the same level as Sheldon Richardson or Aaron Donald, however.

#19 Houston Texans — Jared Goff (QB, California)
A no-brainer pick really. They need an answer at quarterback. They can’t keep drifting along. Goff has some inspired play on tape — he can be a surgeon. He needs to be less erratic and more controlled. Bill O’Brien needs ‘his guy’. Don’t sleep on Carson Wentz.

#20 Pittsburgh Steelers — Germain Ifedi (T, Texas A&M)
A powerful, athletic looking tackle who moves well. There’s a ton of potential here. He played very well against Ole Miss. The Steelers have shown over the last few years they’re willing to go O-line early and wait on cornerbacks.

#21 Washington — Michael Thomas (WR, Ohio State)
If Pierre Garcon moves on they’re a bit limited at receiver. They still have a ton of needs. Thomas is big and fast — and he’s very good at getting open. He could be a #1 at the next level. Kirk Cousins is the type of QB who needs help.

#22 Indianapolis Colts — Mackensie Alexander (CB, Clemson)
Vontae Davis is solid — but the defense still needs work overall. Adding a cornerback partner would be a good start. What can the Colts hang their hat on when it comes to the defense?

#23 New York Jets — Tim Williams (DE, Alabama)
He’s having a great year and I didn’t realise until this week he is draft eligible. He has 9.5 sacks for the season and is a classic 3-4 outside rusher. The Jets defense could use some extra speed off the edge.

#24 Kansas City — Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame)
He said he would return to Notre Dame and then asked to hear from the draft committee. It makes sense for Fuller to turn pro — he’s ready. Such a fun player to watch. Incredibly dynamic. Why not add a wing-man for Jeremy Maclin?

#25 Seattle Seahawks — Miles Killebrew (S/LB, Souther Utah)
See below for thoughts on this pick.

#26 Minnesota Vikings — De’Runnya Wilson (WR, Mississippi State)
They are kind of tied to Teddy Bridgewater — a limited quarterback. Stefon Diggs is a nice speed option but they don’t have an outside safety-net. Wilson is similar to Kelvin Benjamin.

#27 Green Bay Packers — Adolphus Washington (DT, Ohio State)
There are times where he looks unstoppable — and times where you barely notice he’s on the field. Washington’s best fit at the next level could be D-end in a 3-4 scheme. He’s a versatile player who can line up in different defensive fronts.

#28 Arizona Cardinals — Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)
It’d almost be unfair if a team as complete and ready as the Cardinals had a weapon like Elliott fall into their laps. I’m not convinced he’ll go early in round one. That’s good for him. He can go to a contender and have an instant impact.

#29 Cincinnati Bengals — Desmond King (CB, Iowa)
Pacman Jones can’t go on forever. King is a feisty cornerback with a powerful lower-body and the ability to shed a block and contribute in the run-game. He’s a ball-hawk too with eight interceptions in 2015.

#30 Denver Broncos — Ronnie Stanley (T, Notre Dame)
After failing to land Joe Thomas, tackle could be a target for the Broncos in round one. I’m not a fan of Ronnie Stanley — he looks stiff, he offers nothing at the second level and that Shaq Lawson de-pantsing is difficult to shake off.

#31 Carolina Panthers — Tyler Boyd (WR, Pittsburgh)
Boyd is just a really good receiver. Great skills as a route runner. Pittsburgh’s best playmaker by far. Look at the way he gave Iowa fits this year. He can be a nice compliment to Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen.

So what about the Seahawks?

I wanted to get Miles Killebrew on the podcast this week with this mock draft in mind. I wanted people to see where I’m coming from considering the projection has a defensive back from Southern Utah in the first round.

When you listen to Killebrew speak — it’s clear he has an infectious passion for the game. And that shows up on tape. Combine that with his size (6-2, 230lbs) and 4.4 speed — and you’re looking at a very intriguing prospect.

He’s been invited to the Senior Bowl where I expect he’ll impress. The combine will be big. I will make the case for why the Seahawks might draft him early — and why he might go as early as day one.

The Seahawks had a fifth-year option on Bruce Irvin’s contract that would’ve paid him $7.8m in 2016. I thought they were going to take it. Irvin became quite the playmaker in 2014 and $7.8m isn’t exactly a hideous amount for a player that has provided sacks and picks over the last 12 months.

Irvin could command a salary worth around $7-8m per year on the open market. By not taking up the option, that to me suggests the Seahawks are willing to let him test the market and find out exactly how much he’s worth. That obviously lends itself to the possibility he signs elsewhere. The Falcons are projected to have $15m in free cap space. Irvin is from Atlanta and Dan Quinn is coaching the Falcons. It’d make a lot of sense. There will be other suitors.

That doesn’t mean an Irvin extension is out of the question. This week Davis Hsu put together an off-season projection that included a new deal for Irvin and letting J.R. Sweezy walk:

As you can see, Irvin’s first-year cap hit is relatively low ($4.5m in 2016). I think there are a couple of things to consider though. How determined is Irvin to at least test the market, especially after the apparent ‘snub’ of not taking the fifth year option? If it comes down to a bidding war, are the Seahawks going to go big to keep their man?

I also suspect they really like Sweezy, for better or worse. It wouldn’t be a total shock if Sweezy signed a contract extension in the next week or so — similar to Cliff Avril and K.J. Wright last year.

I’m also cautious that they drafted Mark Glowinski this year and he’s ideally suited to the right guard spot. So there’s every chance he’s the heir apparent.

Draft position could be the most significant thing here. The later the Seahawks pick, the harder it’s going to be to get at the better offensive linemen in this class. If they’re picking from #25-31, they might prefer re-signing Russell Okung and Sweezy to provide some continuity on a blossoming O-line. That could mean no Irvin.

So how easy will it be to replace a guy who has a unique, almost unmatched skill set as a pass rusher who can cover, blow up screens and make the occasional game-changing turnover (and sack Cam Newton year after year)?

It’s impossible, in a word. You’ll not find another Bruce. That’s perhaps the biggest reason for re-signing him.

Do you need a carbon copy though? Or can you adapt the role?

The Arizona Cardinals have utilised Deone Bucannon — a college safety — almost exclusively at linebacker. He ran a 4.49 at his combine at 6-1 and 211lbs. The Carolina Panthers drafted Shaq Thompson — who started as a safety at Washington before switching to linebacker — and use him in a similar way.

It’s a plan that seems to be working for both clubs.

Bucannon was the #27 overall pick in 2014. Thompson went #25 overall this year.

Is it really that preposterous that the Seahawks would consider drafting a 6-2, 230lbs safety who runs in the 4.4’s to play linebacker — similar to Bucannon and Thompson?

It’d be a different skill set to Irvin — but as noted, there isn’t another Bruce out there. If you can’t keep him — and it might be out of their hands — you have to consider alternatives.

So can a defensive back from Southern Utah go in round one?

“He’s a better football player than Shaq Thompson and Deone Bucannon were when they came out.”

That’s a quote from a regional scout, via

If the scout is right and he’s a better football player than Bucannon and Thompson — and he has the athleticism — why can’t he go in the first frame and in a similar range (mid-to-late 20’s)?

Tony Pauline’s sources are saying he could be a day-two pick. That’s not a bad starting position going into the Senior Bowl and eventually the combine.

What’s more, he clearly has an appealing character. If you haven’t heard it yet, listen to the podcast from yesterday and be prepared to be impressed. He’s Russell Wilson-esque:

He also told us in the interview that he’s been told he might end up at linebacker.

None of us know whether the Seahawks would consider this kind of move — going from an athletic pass-rusher convert at linebacker to an extremely athletic defensive back convert. They might be more likely to plug in a prospect like Oklahoma’s Eric Striker. It’s something to consider over the next few weeks.

The wildcard in all of this is, of course, that Killebrew could end up being a ready-made replacement for Kam Chancellor in the future. Chancellor turns 28 next April and it’s not a stretch to wonder if he’ll be the type of player who continues well into his 30’s. His current contract takes him through until age 30.

Again, it’s something else to consider.

It feels like the futures of Okung and Irvin will have a big impact in the first round of the draft. This is, after all, a team without lots of needs in relation to the rest of the NFL. They’ve consistently had success developing their own guys at cornerback without the big investment. They’ve found solutions at defensive tackle in the veteran free agent market.

If Okung walks and they move Garry Gilliam to left tackle — drafting a right tackle early is probably very likely. If they re-sign Okung and Sweezy and Irvin departs — finding a replacement in round one could be the priority.

I believe in trends and how they help us project what a team will or won’t do. Seattle has so far spent two first round picks on offensive tackles (Okung, James Carpenter), one on a safety (Earl Thomas) and one on an athletic pass-rusher/linebacker (Irvin). There is some history targeting tackle and linebacker early and they like unique traits and athleticism. In contrast they’ve generally looked to draft cornerbacks on day three and defensive tackles in the round 3-5 range.

If they drafted Killebrew in the first round, they could look at the O-line in round two (Adam Bisnowaty? Joe Dahl? Jason Spriggs) and running back in round three (Paul Perkins? Alex Collins).

3000 NFL mock draft: Episode #15 (Miles Killebrew interview)

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

This week Kenny and I speak to Southern Utah safety Miles Killebrew. Every Seahawks fan and draft enthusiast needs to listen to this interview. Be prepared to be impressed — Killebrew talks as well as he plays. Do not be surprised if he ends up being one of the stars of the Senior Bowl.

He’s already being talked about as a possible second round pick. Can he emulate Deone Bucannon in 2014 and find a home in the late first? It’s a distinct possibility. You won’t want to miss this podcast.

And if you aren’t familiar with Miles Killebrew, here’s a refresher:

The December review: Where are the Seahawks at?

Monday, December 7th, 2015

It’s all smiles in Seattle again

The recent upturn in Seattle’s offense has changed the complexion of the season — and maybe the off-season too. Let’s look at some of the reasons why:

How important is it to re-sign Okung and Sweezy?

It was assumed the Seahawks would need to rebuild their offensive line in 2016. The pass protection was struggling badly, leading the league in sacks. Gradually they improved — to the point that this unit has actually been a team strength in recent weeks.

With Seattle climbing into position to qualify for the playoffs — it’ll also make it harder to draft an offensive tackle in the first round. There are so few good O-lines in the NFL — more than ever tackle is a premium position.

Re-signing Russell Okung and J.R. Sweezy might be increasingly vital for two reasons:

1. Having gone through the growing pains with this group in 2015, do you really want to have to replace your two most experienced starters?

2. Are you going to be able to replace Okung in the draft?

Should Doug Baldwin get a new contract?

Baldwin is on pace for the first 1000-yard season of his career. He’s consistently been Seattle’s best receiver during the Russell Wilson era — and he’s a vital character in the locker room.

His contract is up after the 2016 season. His cap hit is $5.6m next year. That’s a very good deal for the Seahawks.

There are two ways of looking at this. Baldwin’s bargaining position has never been stronger in the midst of a career-best season. However, if the Seahawks continue to evolve their offensive identity, Baldwin, inspired by a contract year, could go a step further in 2016. With such a vibrant market for good, veteran receivers — it might be even more costly to wait until the end of his contract to get serious about an extension.

Have they got the cap room for this?

Reports this week suggested the cap will rise to between $150m-$150.34m in 2016. That would represent growth of around $7m (the cap in 2015 is $143.28m).

The Seahawks can save $6.5m if Marshawn Lynch retires, is traded or cut. They saved just under $4m in 2016 by cutting Cary Williams today.

Despite signing many of their existing players to long term contracts — and trading for Jimmy Graham — the Seahawks are slated to have around $28m in free cap space going into the 2016 league year. If Lynch departs, you’re looking at around $34m.

That’s more than enough to re-sign Okung and Sweezy while giving Baldwin an extension (his 2015 cap hit would probably stay the same anyway). You’d also have enough free cash to consider re-signing Bruce Irvin and/or adding a veteran starting center.

What about team needs?

This is changing quickly but remains tied to the current roster. It’s no shoe-in that Okung will re-sign. Danny O’Neil has suggested Okung might be able to extend his career and stay healthy playing in a more pass-friendly offense. O’Neil has also asserted that the Seahawks have a lot of time for Garry Gilliam and could consider moving him to left tackle.

If that happens, tackle remains a high priority need. Picking between #21-31 (the Patriots don’t own a first rounder in 2016) won’t prevent you from picking a tackle. Last week we discussed the play of Texas A&M’s Germain Ifedi — possibly an ideal fit at right tackle for this team/scheme. He might go in the second half of round one. He also has the upside, character and physical qualities to go in the top-20 (just like Ju’Wuan James, who also played right tackle in the SEC).

There is some depth at the position overall. Pittsburgh’s Adam Bisnowaty is a personal favourite and could go in rounds 2-3. He’d also be a better fit moving inside to guard (he appears to have a similar athletic profile to Evan Mathis entering the league). Bisnowaty’s wrestling background will appeal to Tom Cable.

They could also look at Indiana’s Jason Spriggs or Washington State’s Joe Dahl. There are others too. You wouldn’t necessarily have to take a tackle in round one — and if the good ones are gone anyway, it forces your hand.

For me, Auburn’s Shon Coleman is a top-ten talent. For a lot of other people he’s not even on their radar. For that reason, I’m not going to give up all hope he might fall into range for the Seahawks.

If Bruce Irvin moves on, that’s a position that needs filling. This is a draft with a lot of nice options at linebacker in round one. Expect Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith, UCLA’s Myles Jack and Ohio State’s Darron Lee to go in the top-20. A post-season Seahawks are unlikely to get at that trio.

We explored the possibility of Eric Striker being an option last week. Another name to consider is Southern Utah’s Miles Killebrew (talked about here). He’s a 6-3, 223lbs safety who’s been invited to the Senior Bowl. On tape it looks like he runs in the 4.4’s.

Could he rise like Deone Bucannon in 2014? Don’t bet against it. Bucannon was drafted by the Cardinals with the #27 pick and plays a sort of safety-linebacker hybrid role. He’s 6-1 and 211lbs and ran a 4.49 at the combine.

Could the Seahawks use Killebrew in the same way, with Mike Morgan and Kevin Pierre-Louis used as the more orthodox ‘starter’? It’s an intriguing proposition. And whisper this one quietly — could he eventually replace Kam Chancellor at strong safety when Chancellor hangs them up? Maybe.

A running back will need to be added at some point. As well as Rawls has played, it’d be good to have a mid-rounder working alongside him. This is a good class to target the third or fourth round range. Arkansas’ Alex Collins and UCLA’s Paul Perkins are personal favourites.

Receiver is growing on the list of needs. Jermaine Kearse is a free agent. How much do they believe in Kevin Smith and potentially Kasen Williams? Can they get Baldwin extended to avoid the risk of losing him after 2016? Can Paul Richardson ever stay healthy? Nevertheless, having spent so much on Harvin, Richardson, Graham and Lockett in the last three drafts — anything more than a second rounder seems unlikely.

Defensive tackle is a heated talking point in the comments section. The interior pass rush hasn’t been good enough this season but neither has the secondary. Is it a slump or a more serious problem? It’s not a position they’ve invested high stock in previously. Instead they’ve preferred to add role-playing veterans in free agency.

It feels like part of their philosophy, as Davis Hsu discussed in a Tweet last night:

Of course, if you’re ever presented with a ‘special’ talent — that’s different. I highly doubt the Seahawks would’ve passed on Aaron Donald for example due to an existing philosophy. There isn’t, however, anyone close to Donald’s level of talent eligible for the 2016 draft.

They could re-sign Mebane and/or Rubin and find another player in free agency.

I watched two Baylor games over the weekend and came away reviewing my stance on Andrew Billings. I think he is probably the best pass rushing defensive tackle available. I’m still not sure that a.) I’d necessarily want to draft him in round one or b.) the Seahawks will look to go in that direction over considering a mid-rounder such as Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler.

Finally, cornerback. DeShawn Shead is doing an admirable job as a starter — but is he the answer long term? It’s safe to assume something will be done here, even if it’s just adding bodies to the competition. That could mean a veteran, another day three draft pick or two or, for once, a higher pick.

The first round has some options. I’m grading LSU’s Tre’Davious White, Tennessee’s Cameron Sutton and Ohio State’s Eli Apple very highly. Unlike many others, I’m not projecting Vernon Hargeaves to be a first rounder. It’s hard to work out who could be around and whether some of these prospects fit Seattle’s length criteria.

One thing to remember though — the Seahawks are run by a Head Coach who is an old secondary coach and a defensive coordinator who was previously the defensive backs coach. They have consistently found good DB’s even if 2015 was a bit of a down year. While we might presume they’ll go big here to fill the hole Cary Williams couldn’t fill — they might see it differently. Again, it could come down to philosophy.

I’ll have a new mock draft on the way this week and it will include some big changes.

Instant reaction: Seahawks beat Vikings, make a statement

Sunday, December 6th, 2015

The rest of the NFC are peering through their fingers. Is it safe to look?

The Seahawks, as they so often do, are hitting their stride in December. Nobody else in the conference will be feeling particularly festive about that.

They never really got the credit they deserved against Pittsburgh. A fantastic passing performance was put down to a bad defense. Ben Roethlisberger’s sensational display was put on Seattle’s defense, not Big Ben’s brilliance.

It was a shoot-out game that had to be won. And was.

Still people wanted more. The critics demanded Darrell Bevell create a game-plan could enough to toast a better defense on the road. Seattle’s unit had to step up and control Adrian Peterson.

Job done. Again.

Suddenly the Seahawks are on a three-game winning streak with slumping Baltimore, Cleveland and St. Louis ahead before a rematch with Arizona.

This was an ass-kicking.

Adrian Peterson, the NFL’s leading rusher, had 18-rushing yards. Teddy Bridgewater looked overmatched and didn’t have a chance.

Minnesota had nine first downs compared to Seattle’s 25. They were 2/10 on third down compared to Seattle’s 9/13. They had 125 total yards compared to Seattle’s 433.

At the heart of everything was another masterclass from Russell Wilson. Teddy Bridgewater has eight touchdowns and eight picks for the season. Wilson has nine touchdowns and zero picks in the last seven days.

Wilson is on a tear. He’s seeing the field, he’s finding the open man. It’s like the shackles have come off the offense — the pass-pro is much improved, they no longer have to fit specific key players into a game-plan.

This is suddenly Wilson’s offense. He’s free to lead. To be the focal point.

And he’s thriving.

Wilson’s brilliance was summed up by two back-to-back plays. First, a 50-yard run for a touchdown. He sprinted away from defensive backs looking like he’d clock a 4.4. It was called back for a Luke Willson hold. Never mind. On the very next play, he simply threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin. Wilson stood in the pocket, waited for the receiver to get open, knew he was going to get hit and delivered a perfect strike anyway.

The ultimate playmaker and he’s a surgeon right now. He’s taken the controls and he’s driving this team back into contention. Just what you need from your franchise quarterback.

He’s not doing it alone though.

I suspect we don’t really appreciate just how good Doug Baldwin is. If he was playing for Green Bay or New England he’d have a 1000-yard season in his career by now (he’s on pace for one this year). As a route-runner he’s one of the best in the league. He consistently gets open. He also has that gliding running style — similar to Jeremy Maclin in full stride.

If there aren’t many QB’s playing better than Wilson right now (if any) — the same can be said about Baldwin and the NFL’s receivers.

It hasn’t really been discussed — but getting Baldwin signed to a contract extension should be one of the big off-season priorities. He’s up after 2016.

Where Wilson and Baldwin lead, Thomas Rawls follows. After a disappointing early fumble he responded with another 100-yard game and a score. The Seahawks need to add another runner in the draft — but they’ve got the heir apparent to Marshawn Lynch on their roster.

The offensive line played great again. There was a sentiment during the week that J.R. Sweezy had his best game of the season against Pittsburgh. On first viewing today he also looked exceptional. On several running downs he made the key block. Seattle’s greatest weakness in the early part of the season suddenly looks like a strength. It might be changing the complexion of the off-season too.

Is it time to wonder if the best thing for the Seahawks is for this current starting O-line to take the field in 2016?

This was another fine game called by Darrell Bevell. Creative, productive, well-designed, inspired.

I’ve made this point before — but think of the role of offensive coordinator in Seattle. You have a Head Coach that demands ball control but also states publicly he wants to be the best scrambling team in the league. You have an Assistant Head Coach who controls the running game and picks the offensive linemen — and the pass-pro was bad for several weeks this season. You also get the task of trying to fit a tight end into a system that demands blocking (and he can’t do it) while making sure he and a high-profile running back get their touches.

That’s one hell of a gig. Now that some of those issues have gone away it seems like Bevell is revelling. Seattle were ranked #4 for offense by Football Outsiders’ DVOA this week. That could go up again after this performance. And people want to make a change?

Frank Clark has three sacks in his last two games. This was another big outing — and he lined up inside and out. It was about time he received more snaps and look at the outcome. This is his pre-season form. Overall the four-man rush was much improved today.

Suddenly the Seahawks look like one of the hot teams in the league. Now the challenge is to keep it up. It’s never easy going to Baltimore but this is a Ravens team without Joe Flacco, Steve Smith, Justin Forsett and Terrell Suggs.

If they do keep it up — a wildcard spot will be secured. This performance shows what they can do against a supposed playoff opponent on the road.

So, NFC. Hands up who wants to face this version of the Seahawks in the playoffs?

No, I didn’t think so.

Southern Utah’s Miles Killebrew could go early

Saturday, December 5th, 2015

Clemson’s Jayron Kearse gets a lot of attention. He’s 6-4 and 210lbs. Everyone is looking for the next big, athletic strong safety. Kearse’s size is really his best attribute. On the field he’s frequently out of position, over-running plays or failing to wrap-up. He’s an upside player who needs to learn structure and discipline. It should limit his stock and I think it’d be a surprise if he went early.

Southern Utah’s Miles Killebrew on the other hand — he might be set for a big rise over the next few months.

He’s a senior prospect and will get the opportunity to boost his stock during the off-season. He’s 6-3 and 223lbs and apparently runs in the 4.4’s — it shows up on tape. His instinct, feel for the game, speed and hitting ability makes him a very attractive prospect. Perhaps his most impressive quality is closing speed — he covers ground at a rate of knots for 223lbs.

Deone Bucannon shot up draft boards to go in round one because of his athleticism matched with a fantastic off-season. Killebrew has a shot to emulate that. Teams might even consider using him in a similar way as a kind of safety/linebacker hybrid.

Whether he goes in round one or not remains to be seen. Just keep an eye on him. And make sure you check out the video above.