Archive for October, 2016

Podcast: Seahawks vs Falcons/Cards & draft talk

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

Monday draft notes: EDGE rushers shine

Monday, October 17th, 2016

— Alabama’s Tim Williams had another big day vs Tennessee and is being seriously underrated in the media. He looks every bit a top-ten pick. I’m working my way through the TV tape now and in the first quarter already he has a sack and a half. On the full sack he fakes to the outside before darting into the B gap and exploding to the QB. His body control, change of direction and quickness are top-tier. On the second play he uses one arm to control the right tackle and walk him into the QB. The interior collapses thanks to a pressure by Jonathan Allen and both players hit the quarterback at the same time. If Myles Garrett is the top edge rusher eligible for the 2017 draft, Tim Williams is probably #2.

— I spent the last few days focusing on Dawuane Smoot (EDGE, Illinois). He’s had an underwhelming year statistically but it’s a red herring. Smoot is pretty much the complete package. He has the speed to win off the edge, a terrific first step and get-off, the power to win when engaging and great hands. There are no obvious issues vs the run despite his lighter frame (6-3, 255lbs) and he does a good job controlling the edge. When he has a lane to the QB he explodes like he’s shot out of a cannon — he is going to run a fantastic 10-yard split at the combine. He gives you energy and intensity and his best football is ahead of him. While Derek Barnett has the playmaking stats in a big conference — Smoot has the better physical profile and arguably a much higher ceiling. Based on potential he could be #3 EDGE behind Garrett and Williams.

— Demarcus Walker (DE, Florida State) continues to make plays. He has 8.5 sacks in six proper games (let’s not count minimal snaps vs Charleston Southern, a game where he still forced a fumble). It’s slightly frustrating that he lurches between major impact plays with great technique, grit and finishing ability and passive ineffectiveness. He took over the week one victory against Ole Miss in the second half, won FSU the Miami game with a blocked extra point and did as much as anyone to lead the Seminoles to a win over Wake Forest. His hand-use and ability to shed blocks, at his best, is unmatched in college football. Yet he also goes for long stretches in games where he doesn’t really feature and you barely notice he’s on the field. If he could be more consistent and play with a relentless motor he could be a really high pick. Only Ejuan Price has more sacks in the country.

— Georgia are a strange team to watch this year. Starting a freshman QB will do that to you but they also flit between effective and hopeless. For that reason it’s difficult to judge running back Nick Chubb. Teams are keying in on the running game and daring the young QB to beat them. The result is a game like Saturday vs Vanderbilt — Chubb had 40 yards on 16 carries for a 2.5 YPC. For the season he only has two catches so he’s a non-factor in the passing game. He’s had good days (222 yards vs North Carolina, 121 vs South Carolina) but Missouri, Ole Miss and now Vandy kept him in check. It’d be easy (and somewhat lazy) to just say he isn’t the same player after the knee injury. I’m not sure that’s the case. Georgia are transitioning with a new coach and setup this year. They have the freshman at quarterback. NFL teams will test Chubb’s knee but he’s out there competing. Frank Gore ended up being a third round steal after he had a bad knee injury in college. Chubb isn’t just a similar player — he could end up being a similar success story drafted in a similar range.

— I watched Clemson struggle to beat NC State on Saturday and it was another underwhelming display by DeShaun Watson. I’m surprised he hasn’t been able to reach his 2015 level yet. He is such a talented, creative player. That said, Deshone Kizer had an absolute stinker at the weekend in another Notre Dame loss (this time to a Stanford team missing Christian McCaffrey). He threw two picks, managed only 154 passing yards and ended up being spelled by Malik Zaire again. One of the picks was a horrendous mind-blowing bad decision thrown into a crowd of defenders. Kizer is physically very talented and he has an A+ character. He isn’t playing very good football though at the moment. It’s hard to imagine him going first overall playing this way with so few starts under his belt in college. The hype might be a little too rich.

— Another week, another big day for Evan Engram (TE, Ole Miss). This is is 2016 stat-line so far:

vs Florida State — 121 yards, one TD
vs Alabama — 138 yards, one TD
vs Georgia — 95 yards, one TD
vs Memphis — 82 yards, one TD
vs Arkansas — 111 yards, one TD

In these five games he’s averaging 109.4 YPG and 15.6 YPC.

Engram is an explosive X-factor weapon with fantastic football character, superb hands, a great vertical jump and the ability to dominate at multiple positions. He could be the perfect modern day target on the right offense.

Instant reaction: Seahawks win, somehow

Sunday, October 16th, 2016

Well, they’ve done it again.

2012
Green Bay ‘Fail Mary’ game 14-12
New England home game 24-23
Chicago road game 23-17 (OT)

2013
Houston road game 23-20 (OT)
St. Louis road game 14-9
Tampa Bay home game 27-24 (OT)
San Francisco playoff game 23-17

2014
Green Bay playoff game 28-22 (OT)

2015
Minnesota playoff game 10-9

2016
Miami home game 12-10

Games that lurched between agony and ecstasy, best described as:

No No No No NO NO NO NO YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!

There could’ve been more. The Panthers comeback last season. That Super Bowl. The Falcons playoff game in 2012.

This was one of the strangest games in the Pete Carroll ‘it’s how you finish’ era of nerve-wracking, hair-pulling, nail-biting silliness.

It’s not often since 2010 that the Seahawks have been outplayed via half-time adjustments. That is what emphatically happened today.

The first half was a coast. A 17-3 lead, only 86-yards conceded on offense and the Falcons defense had little answer for Russell Wilson and Jimmy Graham. Matt Ryan was constantly under duress and he was hit several times. A sack fumble led to the opening score.

Then the second half. Ryan started to take deep drops giving himself time to throw. Atlanta’s offense turned into Oklahoma State’s. A deep drop and allowing the pocket to set back opens up a lot of space underneath and doubles the field. If your receivers can get open (they have Julio Jones) you have a chance to make considerable gains.

It wasn’t just the scheme. Ryan was right on it making several key completions. A number of receivers made crucial low grabs right off the turf. Atlanta bossed Seattle’s defense and made them play to their tune.

The 98.5 yard drive to make it 24-17 was a ‘wow’ moment.

The entire second half was a bit of a mess. The defense gave up three consecutive scoring drives without laying a finger on the offense. The Seahawks couldn’t muster a drive to land a counter-punch.

Giving up 21 points to start a half is unheard of in the Carroll era. They blew leads in the fourth quarter in 2015 but never have they played so poorly to begin a second half.

The communication on defense — usually such a strong point — was so lacking in that third quarter. Richard Sherman’s sideline rant was uncomfortable viewing.

The response came in the fourth quarter but even then it was messy. Two long offensive drives and a defensive stop thanks to a big sack from Cassius Marsh offered momentum. And just as the game was turning — the kicking game collapsed.

A bad snap led to a missed chip shot field goal. A blocked extra point after a late touchdown meant instead of a three-point lead the Seahawks trailed by one with just under five minutes to play.

They had an opportunity to make amends after Earl Thomas’ interception and thankfully Steven Hauschka made the game-winning kick (you probably watched it through your fingers or from behind the couch).

It took a favourable no-call on Richard Sherman covering Julio Jones to end the contest as Atlanta tried to get a winning kick themselves. The Falcons were strangely aggressive on that final drive. It would’ve paid off with a flag. Yet considering they’d moved the ball with ease in the second half — two deep shots was an odd tactic on 3rd & 4th and 10.

By the end the feeling was more relief than joy. Waiting for the flag, seeing it wasn’t there, watching Dan Quinn go wild, wondering whether they could take a knee or if they had to keep going.

This is a win that might feel better in the morning.

Either way don’t underestimate it. It’s a win against a tough NFC opponent and genuine contenders for a #1 or #2 seed in the NFC. They get to play six games in the NFC South. They’ll be up there in December.

The Seahawks stay in touch with Dallas and Minnesota. A Rams loss in Detroit means they’re down to 3-3. Arizona is still at 2-3 and the Niners are competing with Cleveland for the #1 pick.

The Packers losing was a nice bonus and they looked poor at home. They’re down to 3-2. Seattle was so close to joining them.

Here are some other quick notes:

— Jimmy Graham is a genuine contender for comeback player of the year. He is a vital part of the team.

— Christine Michael had good and bad moments. He scored two touchdowns and had a couple of really hard runs up the middle. He’s a useful player. There were frustrating moments though — including a missed opportunity to get a first down when he dipped out of bounds two yards short and failed to lunge and get a first down on 3rd and 1 in the third quarter (Seattle punted, leading to the 98.5 yard Atlanta scoring drive). He shouldn’t be criticised because he’s performing well and had two scores. It’d be nice to see him take over a game though and have the kind of big performance his talent suggests he’s capable of. At the moment would a healthy Thomas Rawls come back and start? Probably.

— Russell Wilson, despite two-weeks off, clearly still isn’t 100%. That wasn’t a surprise. The question is will he ever be even 85-90% this season?

— The pass rush was really good in the first half when Atlanta used an orthodox offensive plan. Cliff Avril had two big sacks, Jarran Reed got one too. Cassius Marsh had a crucial sack in the second half (one of the plays of the game). Marsh is quietly having a really strong year and he deserves praise for the way he played today with Frank Clark out and Michael Bennett injured in the second half. He stepped up.

— Earl Thomas gets the game ball on defense. He hit harder than he has in about two years and had the crucial interception in the fourth quarter. This was the elite, best safety in the game version.

— Alex Collins scored his first pro-touchdown but also made a hugely significant catch on third down before Hauschka’s game winner. Wilson was in trouble and scrambling to his right. He threw to Collins and it was an awkward one to grab — but he made it and held onto the ball for a big first down.

— It was uncomfortable watching Richard Sherman’s reaction on the sidelines after Atlanta’s first score. Yes it was a blown coverage and a bad defensive call. Sherman was brought to the sideline to cover the big TE Levine Toilolo. It left Julio Jones in the slot being covered by Kelcie McCray. Jones ran right by McCray and Thomas couldn’t get across quickly enough to get near him. A blown coverage but really — a bad play call from the off. It appeared to hamper Sherman for the rest of the game, impact the defense and he had one of his poorer outings.

Open thread Saturday

Saturday, October 15th, 2016

Let us know who you’re watching today. I’ve got NC State @ Clemson, Ohio State @ Wisconsin and Alabama @ Tennessee (won’t be on TV here until Sunday).

Friday draft notes: Team needs & draft depth

Friday, October 14th, 2016

I wanted to add a few draft notes before the weekend, so here we go…

Team needs

Here’s the list of players who are set to be free agents at the end of the season:

Unrestricted free agents

Luke Willson
Steven Hauschka
Bradley Sowell
Kelcie McCray
Christine Michael
Brandon Williams
Tony McDaniel
C.J. Spiller

Restricted free agents

Garry Gilliam
Deshawn Shead
Brock Coyle
Neiko Thorpe
Dewey McDonald
Steven Terrell

The Seahawks will likely keep Gilliam and Shead considering the low price for installing a tender. All of the unrestricted group are retainable depending on Seattle’s interest in keeping them around.

It puts the team in quite an attractive position next off-season. According to Spotrac they’ll have around $18.5m in free cap space. That can be used to reward existing players with a new contract (eg Michael Bennett and/or Kam Chancellor) or to make new additions via free agency or trade.

It also means they can be quite open in the draft. Unless a major glaring need emerges over the next few weeks, they can afford to make a ‘luxury’ pick (if you want to call it that). By that I mean an extra pass rusher to add to the rotation (not necessarily a starter), an extra weapon for the offense (WR, TE, RB) or a linebacker hybrid (won’t always be on the field and could be a LB/S or a LB/LEO).

A case can certainly be made for continuing to invest in the offensive line and nobody would argue if, like the Cowboys, they simply keep spending their high picks on the O-line. However, it’s worth noting:

a.) This is looking like a really weak class at offensive tackle

b.) The interior O-line looks set

c.) They just spent a third round pick on Rees Odhiambo who figures into their long term planning plus they appear to be enamoured with the potential of George Fant

None of this prevents them from spending a high pick on an offensive tackle — but look at the thin options. Cam Robinson has character red flags and Mike McGlinchey recently revealed he intends to stay at Notre Dame in 2017.

If you’re pinning your hopes on another high pick for the O-line next Spring, you might want to hope other players emerge in the second half of the college football season.

Strengths of the draft at the moment

This is potentially a tremendous class for defensive backs — a sublime class. The group of safety’s are headlined by the likes of Jabrill Peppers, Malik Hooker, Justin Evans, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye. All could end up with top-20 grades with Budda Baker also in the equation. My personal favourite is Ohio State’s Hooker. His range and playmaking ability is reminiscent of Earl Thomas at Texas. That’s no over-exaggeration.

In the modern NFL teams are desperately looking for deep cover safety’s that can do what Thomas does in Seattle and Hooker could easily land in the top-10 as a consequence. Teams are also looking for players that can operate in a similar role to Deone Bucannon and Peppers and Maye look like potential candidates for that. Adams and Evans (plus Washington’s Baker) look like more traditional safety’s.

At cornerback there’s also a cluster of potential first round picks. Tennessee’s Cam Sutton is a tremendous talent while Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey has everything — size, speed, length, physicality. The two Florida cornerbacks could go early (Tabor & Wilson) while Clemson’s Cordea Tankersley, Virginia Tech’s Brandon Facyson, LSU’s Tre’Davious White and Washington’s Sidney Jones are all really good prospects.

It’s also shaping up to be a very intriguing class for front seven players on defense. At the top end you’ve got the likes of Myles Garrett and Tim Williams. Carl Lawson and Derek Barnett are two other EDGE types who could go early while Illinois’ Dawuane Smoot plays like he’s shot out of a cannon and Michigan’s Taco Charlton doesn’t just have a great name — he also plays with great quickness at DE or OLB.

There are DE/DT types in Jonathan Allen, Malik McDowell, Demarcus Walker and Caleb Brantley. If you want a nose tackle, Greg Gaines at Washington is just explosive and might declare if his stock continues to rise as a redshirt sophomore and Lowell Lotulelei isn’t the same pass rusher as his brother Star but he’s tough to move and soaks up double teams.

Linebacker will also provide some options — including Alabama’s Reuben Foster, Florida duo Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis, Washington’s Akeem Victor and Iowa’s Josey Jewell.

These are just the names at the top of the board too. There’s likely to be depth deep down the line, including guys like Ole Miss LB/DE Marquis Haynes and Texas A&M DE/DT Daeshon Hall.

This would tend to suggest it’s a defensive draft — but aside from the lack of resources on the O-line there’s also some really nice depth at running back, receiver and tight end.

Thoughts on the running back position

If the team picking first overall selected Leonard Fournette — I don’t think anyone should complain. He is that good. In fact he’s been so good for so long it almost feels like people are trying to fight it now and find reasons to knock him (a slight ankle injury being the latest example).

Fournette is special. You just don’t see many human beings with his combination of size and explosive athleticism. He is virtually the perfect running back. Plus he has the character and maturity to be an instant face of the franchise and a leader. Teams will have nightmares game-planning to stop him. He is the Julio Jones or J.J. Watt of running backs.

I suspect, at the moment, that there are only two other backs with first round potential — Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey.

Cook’s burst is exceptional and he takes advantage of the smallest crease to make big gains. He won’t be a tone-setting, physical up-the-gut runner but he can be a chunk-play specialist similar to Jamaal Charles.

McCaffrey gives off the vibe of a football junky — a guy who just loves the game. He’s a sudden running back with great patience in the backfield. He will make people miss and does a good job turning probable short gains into big chunks of yardage. Both Cook and McCaffrey are a threat catching the ball but need to work on their pass protection to become complete RB’s.

Personally I think Oregon’s Royce Freeman is a little overrated. He has a nice collection of skills but I’m always slightly wary of finesse bigger backs. He’s 5-11 and 230lbs but he’s not a pounder and not always a great short-yardage back. He’s best working in space but at the next level does he have the speed and quickness to be as effective?

If we’re talking bigger backs I prefer Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine. He can be reckless with his body and he’s been banged up — but he shows tremendous power and balance with a 5-11 234lbs frame. He’s quick for that size too and can make big gains. He doesn’t shy away from contact would be a nice addition to a stable of backs lacking some genuine bulk.

We’ve talked about his team mate Joe Mixon — an exceptional athlete (possibly the most explosive back not called Leonard Fournette) but with major character flags.

Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara isn’t a big RB but he’s an absolute warrior — as we saw in the Texas A&M game last weekend. Whoever gets this guy is going to struggle to keep him off the field. NC State’s Matt Dayes is similarly underrated with a smaller, compact, squatty frame with a low centre of gravity and the ability to eat up space quickly and win 1v1 contests with leverage. He’ll fight for extra yards, makes really nice cuts at the second level and he could be a mid-round gem.

I spent some time watching BYU’s Jamaal Williams today. He’s a really busy running back — keeps his feet moving and finds improbable ways to escape from a packed box to break off runs. He’s a decent athlete but not an outstanding, sudden runner. He’s been at BYU since 2012 and has suffered some injuries. As a day three value pick he could be worth monitoring. Nice personality.

And then there’s Nick Chubb (the last I will talk about here, but not the last one in a deep class overall). He’s bounced back well from a horrific knee injury a year ago and he’s the heart and soul of the Georgia offense. He still plays with great physicality and while maybe the burst isn’t completely back to 100% — he looks like a Frank Gore type for the next level. Gore was a mid-round pick after also suffering a big injury in college. Chubb might have the same fate and ultimately the same success.

Tomorrows schedule

I only have access to three games over the weekend — NC State @ Clemson (watch Matt Dayes), Ohio State @ Wisconsin (watch Malik Hooker) and Alabama @ Tennessee (watch the long list of ‘Bama prospects and Alvin Kamara). For some reason they’re not showing the Alabama/Tennessee game until Sunday. There will be an open thread as usual to discuss what you’re watching.

2017 NFL mock draft: 11th October

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

I’ve never felt comfortable doing a mock draft this early before, not since 2008 when I started writing this blog. Of course it’s way too early to try and get any of this right — it’s just a chance to highlight the depth in this class and certain prospects who are worth watching during the college season. But this is possibly the most interesting group we’ve covered so far.

The 2017 draft has the potential to be one of the best in recent years. That’s not an overreaction.

(Team-record-strength of schedule-pick)

1. Browns 0-5 (.583) — Deshone Kizer (QB, Notre Dame)
2. Panthers 1-4 (.640) — Leonard Fournette (RB, LSU)
3. Jets 1-4 (.609) — Myles Garrett (EDGE, Texas A&M)
4. Bears 1-4 (.583) — Jabrill Peppers (S, Michigan)
5. 49ers 1-4 (.542) — Deshaun Watson (QB, Clemson)
6. Dolphins 1-4 (.458) — Tim Williams (EDGE, Alabama)
7. Chargers 1-4 (.455) — Malik Hooker (S, Ohio State)
8. Saints 1-3 (.550) — Malik McDowell (DE, Mighican State)
9. Jaguars 1-3 (.474) — Marlon Humphrey (CB, Alabama)
10. Giants 2-3 (.696) — Dalvin Cook (RB, Florida State)
11. Titans 2-3 (.600) — Reuben Foster (LB, Alabama)
T12. Bengals 2-3 (.560) — Jonathan Allen (DE, Alabama)
T12. Buccaneers 2-3 (.560) — Justin Evans (S, Texas A&M)
14. Cardinals 2-3 (.520) — Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU)
15. Lions 2-3 (.478) — Carl Lawson (EDGE, Auburn)
16. Colts 2-3 (.375) — O.J. Howard (TE, Alabama)
17. Chiefs 2-2 (.450) — Jarrad Davis (LB, Florida)
18. Texans 3-2 (.583) — Mitch Trubisky (QB, North Carolina)
T19. Bills 3-2 (.520) — Jamal Adams (S, LSU)
T19. Redskins 3-2 (.520) — Azeem Victor (LB, Washington)
21. Titans via trade with Rams 3-2 (.600) — Cam Sutton (CB, Tennessee)
22. Ravens 3-2 (.458) — Marcus Maye (S, Florida)
23. Packers 3-1 (.526) — Brandon Facyson (CB, Virginia Tech)
24. Browns via trade with Eagles 3-1 (.350) — Christian McCaffrey (RB, Stanford)
25. Seahawks 3-1 (.300) — Evan Engram (TE, Ole Miss)
26. Falcons 4-1 (.500) — Demarcus Walker (DE, Florida State)
27. Steelers 4-1 (.478) — Jake Butt (TE, Michigan)
28. Raiders 4-1 (.458) — Budda Baker (S, Washington)
29. Broncos 4-1 (.440) — Jalen Tabor (CB, Florida)
T30. Patriots 4-1 (.360) — Alex Anzalone (LB, Florida)
T30. Cowboys 4-1 (.360) — Cordea Tankersley (CB, Clemson)
32. Eagles via trade with Vikings 5-0 (.458) — Quincy Wilson (CB, Florida)

Considered:

Greg Gaines (DT, Washington)
Dawuane Smoot (EDGE, Illinois)
Derek Barnett (EDGE, Tennessee)
Caleb Brantley (DT, Florida)
JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR, USC)
Malachi Dupre (WR, LSU)
Dan Feeney (G, Indiana)
Mike McGlinchey (T, Notre Dame) — has stated he wont declare
Jehu Chesson (WR, Michigan)
Lowell Lotulelei (DT, Utah)
Josey Jewell (LB, Iowa)
Cam Robinson (T, Alabama)
Sidney Jones (CB, Washington)
Mike Williams (WR, Clemson)
Zach Cunningham (LB, Vanderbilt)
Alvin Kamara (RB, Tennessee)
Damore’ea Stringfellow (WR, Ole Miss)

Thoughts on Seattle’s pick

Engram is having an incredible season and could move into top-20 contention by the end of the season. His combination of size, athleticism, incredible hands, the ability to high point and create mismatches and production deserves a lot more attention.

Rather than just repeat myself I’ll refer back to the piece on Engram from last week (click here).

Luke Willson is a free agent at the end of the season and Jimmy Graham’s contract only lasts until the end of 2017.

Check out these three plays in the video below:

3:05 — Chad Kelly throws into double coverage (almost triple coverage) and Engram makes the play. It’s a lofted pass, a jump ball. Placement is fairly good from Kelly (back shoulder) and Engram is able to locate the football and make a play. The coverage is pretty good but Engram’s body control, size and ability to locate the football makes him a really difficult matchup. Explosive pass completion for about 40-yards.

5:28 — Underthrown pass from Chad Kelly. Look how Engram adjusts and attacks the football, showing off a fantastic vertical jump and high-pointing the ball above the cornerback. A better throw (hitting Engram in stride) could’ve led to a massive gain — the safety has a bad angle and it legitimately could’ve been a touchdown with space along the sideline. Without Engram’s play it could’ve been a pick. This is just a fantastic catch. Go watch it. Now.

6:42 — Straight forward touchdown. The defense stands off Engram in the slot giving him way too much of a cushion. He settles down underneath and runs it in. I wanted to highlight it because it a.) it’s a score and b.) he makes a defender miss, albeit far too easily.

No offensive linemen?

This is not a good class if you want to improve your O-line in the early rounds. Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey says he won’t declare. He could change his mind (Will Fuller made a similar remark a year ago). Cam Robinson looks the part and is a good run blocker but carries serious character risks.

There’s a decent collection of guards but how often do you see the position drafted in round one?

This has been brewing for a while. The top High School recruits want to play defense. The colleges want the top recruits so accommodate their wishes. Some get moved to the O-line after a year or two (eg Cam Erving). The rest play defense. There’s a serious mismatch between the O-lines and D-lines in college and the dearth of talent is starting to translate to the NFL.

The top-100 lists compiled by the NFL Network usually only have 4-5 offensive linemen named. Most of the league is scrambling around to find an answer at left tackle. Teams like Seattle are taking on projects like ex-Basketball star George Fant because what’s the alternative? There isn’t one unless you’re picking in the top ten.

The league is littered with bad pass protection and the best teams are finding ways to manage the problem. Minnesota are a good example — they’re 5-0 and playing without their starting left and right tackles at the moment, yet Sam Bradford isn’t feeling the impact. You can game-plan around these issues — but the entire NFL would surely rather see more quality left tackles coming through the college ranks. The well is dry at the moment.

Emerging prospects few people talk about

Monday, October 10th, 2016

Malik Hooker (S, Ohio State)
Sometimes you only need to see a few snaps of a prospect to notice they’re special. That’s what happens when you watch this guy. The entire NFL is looking for the next Earl Thomas and it could be Malik Hooker. I watched two Ohio State games today and he’s incredible. This draft class is loaded at safety and this guy has the potential to be the best of the lot. The Buckeye’s use him as a single high safety and his range is fantastic. Like Thomas he’s shot out of a cannon, covering ground rapidly and delivering well-timed hits. One interception he had against Bowling Green was stunning. It’s a deep shot to the left sideline — Hooker sprints to the ball and makes a superb leap (amazing vertical) to tip the ball to himself for the pick. Instinct, skill, athleticism — it’s a sensational interception. He reads the play initially, covers about 30 yards in no time at all and his range puts him in position to make one of the picks of the year. He already has four picks this season (most in the country) and returned one for a touchdown. Hooker is special.

Greg Gaines (DT, Washington)
These days big defensive tackles generally don’t go early in the draft unless they offer pass rushing ability (see: Jarran Reed’s fall to round two) — but Gaines has the necessary explosive potential despite his size. On one sack against Stanford last week he showed incredible quickness and get-off combined with a terrific swim move to break into the backfield — despite looking every bit a nose tackle at 6-2 and around 320lbs. He added two more sacks against Oregon (he has 7.5 TFL’s for the season & 3.5 sacks) and people are starting to talk. Yes — he’s playing alongside two other excellent prospects in Vita Vea and Elijah Qualls. Yet Gaines has that X-factor that Danny Shelton had — and he’s a better pass rusher. Shelton was the #12 pick in 2015 and while Gaines might not get as high as that — he genuinely looks the part of an impact D-liner. He’s a redshirt sophomore so could easily choose not to declare — but as this Washington team becomes more nationally prominent, some of these defensive studs will start getting more attention. Gaines is very intriguing.

Azeem Victor (LB, Washington)
The Washington defense is loaded with talent — an exciting group with NFL players at every level. Budda Baker could be a #1, Sidney Jones could be a #1 — it’s not just Gaines on the D-line with high-pick potential and they have talent at EDGE and linebacker too. Usually the really great college defenses have a linebacker that just pulls everything together and that is the case here. Victor gets things organised and sets the tone but his range and versatility really sets up his draft stock. He can play up in the box and handle the run, he can play in space and read/react and he seems pretty adept in coverage. Linebackers need to be explosive to go early and Victor has that level of athleticism. He can handle sideline-to-sideline, recover and quickly change direction and he’s a sure tackler. It helps playing behind the three-headed monster on the D-line but it’s no different for the brilliant Reuben Foster at Alabama. Both players could go in the top-25.

Marcus Maye (S, Florida)
This time last year nobody was talking about Keanu Neal and he ended up being the #17 pick and with good reason. Explosive speed and hitting — the ability to play coverage and handle playing in the box. Neal was a warrior for Florida and was vastly underrated by the media going into the draft. Marcus Maye isn’t quite as good but he is underrated. He can line up in coverage vs tight ends and hold his own (see his matchup vs Jake Butt from the Citrus Bowl last season). He frequently lines up at the LOS and sets the edge. Maye has the same ability as Byron Maxwell for punching the ball out — it’s an instinctive talent. Pete Carroll once suggested you’ve either got it or you haven’t, that some players have an innate feel for dislodging the ball. Maye has a number of forced fumbles in his career. And while he might not hit quite as hard as Neal he’s arguably better and more fluid in coverage with great anticipation and feel for the flow of a play.

Carl Lawson (DE, Auburn)
Lawson isn’t by any means an unknown and many have touted his potential to go in the first round. Yet a series of injuries have prevented him from building up a reputation as one of the truly great pass rushers in college football — and that’s exactly what he is. Lawson is a superior talent to Dee Ford (#23 overall pick in 2014) with a fantastic repertoire of pass-rush moves, great speed and hand use and the ability to finish. He already has six sacks this season including five in his last three games. It’s his ability to keep a lineman guessing that really stands out. He’s not a one-trick pony content to win with a predictable speed rush. He’ll stunt inside, he’ll use a spin move, he uses the club/rip. He’ll set up a lineman by rushing inside initially and then changing direction with great quickness and explosion. Lawson converts speed-to-power well, his first step is terrific. Despite a lack of great size or length (6-2, 258lbs) he is really good setting the edge against the run, he anchors with ease and has great upper body power. He’s a street fighter type who loves a battle — his effort is always 100% and he plays to the whistle. If the injury problems (ACL, hip) lead to a fall it’ll be a real shame.

Mitch Trubisky (QB, North Carolina)
There’s usually one quarterback who emerges and ends up being a high draft pick. Last year it was Paxton Lynch and this year it could be Trubisky. He had a bit of a nightmare against Virginia Tech during the Hurricane/storm that battered the east coast over the weekend. In his previous outings against Florida State and Pittsburgh he was extremely impressive. He doesn’t have a cannon arm but it’s good enough, he manipulates coverage well with his eyes and throws to all areas of the field. He’s mobile enough to extend plays and scramble away from pressure. His footwork is very impressive when he’s moved off the spot and he has to reset and fire. He gets the ball out very quikcly. He hadn’t thrown an interception until the Virginia Tech game and in the Florida State & Pittsburgh games he never came close to a turnover — he was accurate and made great decisions. Plus in those two encounters he led game-winning drives with seconds remaining. He is extremely inexperienced (first year as a starter) and would benefit from more time in college (he’s a junior) but sometimes you have to take the chance when it’s there. And with other quarterbacks eligible for 2017 failing to impress, this could be his chance to compete with Deshone Kizer and Deshaun Watson.

Evan Engram (TE, Ole Miss)
We’ve talked a lot about Engram already but it’s really surprising that he doesn’t get as much buzz as Jake Butt and O.J. Howard. Engram is a terrific athlete with a great vertical and safe hands. He might have the best hands in college football — plus the ability to high point the ball in coverage. He’s finally moving out of the shadow of Laquan Treadwell and turning into Ole Miss’ number one target. He leads the team with 479 yards and four touchdowns in five games — and that includes half a game in a walkover against Wofford. In his four other games against Florida State, Alabama, Georgia and Memphis he has 436 receiving yards (an average per game of 109 yards), he’s averaging 16.25 YPC and he has four scores. He’s not only producing — he’s producing against some of the best teams in college football. He’s 6-3 and 227lbs so he’s not the biggest but he still gives plenty of effort as a blocker (and he’s somewhat effective) but his major strength at the next level will be working in the slot, detached from the line or as a H-back. He will create mismatches against linebackers and safety’s and would be the perfect addition for teams that like to run 2TE sets. He could be the next big thing at the position — a thoroughly modern day weapon.

DeMarcus Walker (DE, Florida State)
When he turns it on — he can be virtually unstoppable. He’s adept at getting off a block. The right coach or environment that gets him amped up could be the catalyst for a productive DT/DE at the next level. By now you’ll know about his 4.5 sack performance against Ole Miss where he flashed get-off, violent hands, technique, burst and the ability to finish. He helped change the game completely. It wasn’t a one-off this year. Florida State’s defense has been pretty miserable in 2016 but Walker was the only player who got close to limiting Lamar Jackson. He did a decent job on his side vs the read-option on a day Jackson helped Louisville to an improbable blow-out. On Sunday against Miami Walker won the game for FSU. In the second half he made a number of crucial plays — including helping DT Derrick Nnandi get a sack by forcing Brad Kaaya to step into the pocket with a great outside rush. And when Miami scored a late touchdown to seemingly tie the game — Walker blocked the extra point to secure a dramatic one-point victory. He’s an impact player who can work inside and out — and when guys make as many plays as Walker has in 2016 so far you can forgive a little inconsistency.

Alex Anzalone (LB, Florida)
Another player we’ve talked a lot about so far this year but surprisingly he still isn’t getting much attention. Anzalone is basically a Clay Matthews clone — and it’s not just the hair style. He plays virtually the same role as Matthews in college. Neither had major sack production but showed flashes of potential. Green Bay moved Matthews into more of an EDGE role in the 3-4 to start his career and he piled up the sacks. Anzalone has great get-off and pursuit and looks tailor made for a similar role either as a WILL or a 3-4 OLB. Florida challenged him to work predominantly in coverage vs Tennessee and he held his own — working well against tight ends and receivers over the middle. This is a loaded Gators defense with talent all over the field but the coaches consistently highlight the play of Anzalone and fellow linebacker Jarrad Davis. Like Matthews he’s unlikely to wow anyone with a great forty time but I’m willing to bet he also has a really good 10-yard split (also like Matthews) and it’s that ability to go from 0-60 in a flash that’ll intrigue teams enough to think he can have the same kind of impact in the pro’s.

Notes on Tennessee vs Texas A&M: Alvin Kamara shines

Saturday, October 8th, 2016

If you watched Tennessee’s games against Florida and Georgia — you’ll struggle to imagine anything could top those two for comebacks. However — this one against Texas A&M was a game of the season contender. An instant classic — containing one of the greatest defensive plays you’ll ever see.

We’ll come to that in a minute.

Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara was sensational. He had 127 yards rushing and 161 receiving including two scores.

He’s listed at 5-10 and 215lbs which is right in the ballpark for Seattle running backs. He gets skinny between the tackles but keeps his legs moving on contact to push the pile. He’s tough to bring down but also has a really nice burst. He’s not an exceptional ‘wow’ athlete but he takes very sudden, short steps and gets upfield quickly.

Kamara showed off really good hands in the passing game. On more than one occasion he was tossed an awkward looking screen pass (low to the turf, wide of the target) and managed to grab control of the football without breaking stride.

He kept the game alive in the fourth quarter with a brilliant 36-yard run on fourth and 1. He punched in the score shortly after to make it 35-28 and give the Vols a chance with time running out.

Cue the play of the weekend.

Texas A&M were driving to kill clock and close out the contest. Then suddenly — the running back breaks free. Game over? Surely.

Not so fast. Cue Malik Foreman…

What a play. Instead of game over, Tennessee gets the ball at the 20. And Kamara was there again helping the Vols drive 80-yards before tying the game with another great catch and run — driving through tackles to cross the goal line:

It all counted for nothing in the end as the Aggies won 45-38 in overtime but what a game. And it shouldn’t diminish Kamara’s efforts or the remarkable play by Foreman. This was a classic.

I’m sure Kamara’s tape will be on Draft Breakdown soon it was that impressive. Watch him for the rest of the season. If the Seahawks look to add another back to their stable in 2017 — Kamara ticks a lot of the boxes they look for. Physical, multi-dimensional, athletic and quick. He’s tough and has the size they look for. Plus he’s not a bad blocker either:

He’s a former four-star recruit and was being touted as a NFL prospect before the season started. He looked the part today and has done in flashes during TEN’s other close SEC games. For balance he did have a fumble (one of seven Tennessee turnovers in the game) after a long +50-yard catch-and-run. It was careless but typically followed a great initial play.

Elsewhere, Texas A&M safety Justin Evans had another terrific game. He’s a top-20 pick. His key plays included an interception and a crucial (at the time) third down pass break-up over the middle (WR caught it, Evans jarred it loose with the hit). He is very similar to Karl Joseph the #14 pick this year.

Tennessee EDGE Derek Barnett didn’t have the kind of impact he had against Florida or Georgia but had a consistent if not explosive game. He had a couple of pressures but surprisingly also did a lot of dropping into coverage. On one play he dropped to cover the slot receiver, mirrored him downfield and had the pass break-up. Nobody would accuse Barnett of being a fluid athlete but he actually did a good job here tracking for a good 20-yards. Could he be more impressive at the combine than expected?

Texas A&M EDGE Myles Garrett came into the game hurt and it showed — he battled through but had to be spelled and was limping at the end. He still managed some impact plays including an early sack/fumble. He stood out playing at probably around 50% healthy with an ankle problem.

Garrett’s partner on the opposite side Daeshon Hall also had a good game and he’s finding some momentum. I’m not sure on the official numbers but he had at least one sack, two passes deflected and a fumble recovery. He came into the game with three sacks in the previous two weeks. He’s long at 6-6 and about 260lbs and he could do with adding another 15lbs and becoming more of an inside/out type on the D-line. He’s not a special speed rusher off the edge but has a nice combination of burst, length and size.

He’d make a great DE/DT type if he can carry the extra weight. He’s from Seattle for what it’s worth and has a cool personality. He could be an interesting project for the Seahawks. He has the edge to his game, the physicality. He plays with heavy hands and contains the edge well vs the run. His hand placement could be better. You’ve got to have good hand technique at the next level if you’re not Myles Garrett as an athlete. Here are some highlights:

I endured Notre Dame vs NC State earlier — played during Hurricane Matthew with a storm to match. The game should’ve been postponed. It’s impossible to judge most of the players as a consequence. Yet NC State’s running back Matt Dayes had the star turn — somehow running for 126 yards at 5.5 YPC. That might as well be 1000 yards at 176 YPC given the conditions. He carried the offense on his back and like Kamara has a nice squatty, physical frame with good burst and the ability to get skinny through the tackles but still play with power.

A lot of people will focus on the big names in this RB class but don’t sleep on Kamara and Dayes. Both could work into the second or third round range.

I’ll also say — this is starting to look like a potentially loaded 2017 draft class with star talent at the top of round one and plenty of depth. The only position without a great deal of depth is offensive tackle — and that’s part of the problem the entire NFL is having right now. There just aren’t that many good offensive tackles in college — and there certainly aren’t many playing in the pro’s. This issue is not just confined to the Pacific North West — and it’s why the Seahawks are working so closely with projects like Garry Gilliam and George Fant.

Another quick note — blog favourite Jehu Chesson (WR, Michigan) scored a nice touchdown today vs Rutgers:

And I don’t have access to Washington @ Oregon, in case you’re wondering…

Open thread Saturday

Saturday, October 8th, 2016

Let us know who you’re watching today. On my schedule is Florida State vs Miami, Notre Dame vs NC State and Tennessee vs Texas A&M. One of the players I’ll be looking at closely is NC State running back Matt Dayes. Keep an eye on him.

Some thoughts on the controversial subject of Joe Mixon

Friday, October 7th, 2016

Joe Mixon is a controversial figure in college football

The last time we discussed a topic like this it was Frank Clark — long before the Seahawks took him in the second round. The community here handled the debate with maturity and I hope that’ll be the case again.

Please be sensitive and respectful in the comments section.

Joe Mixon might be the most explosive player in college football not named Leonard Fournette. That’s not a surprise. Here’s a list of the top-20 2014 High School recruits per Rivals:

1. Da’Shawn Hand (DL, Alabama)
2. Myles Garrett (EDGE, Texas A&M)
3. Jabrill Peppers (S, Michigan)
4. Leonard Fournette (RB, LSU)
5. Quin Blanding (S, Virginia)
6. Adoree’ Jackson (CB, USC)
7. Kyle Allen (QB, Texas A&M)
8. Joe Mixon (RB, Oklahoma)
9. Marlon Humphrey (CB, Alabama)
10. Jalen Tabor (CB, Florida)
11. Travis Rudolph (WR, Florida State)
12. Racean Thomas (RB, Auburn)
13. Sony Michel (RB, Georgia)
14. Rashaan Evans (LB, Alabama)
15. Malachi Dupre (WR, LSU)
16. Bo Scarborough (RB, Alabama)
17. Cam Robinson (T, Alabama)
18. Dalvin Cook (RB, Florida State)
19. Raekwon McMillan (LB, Ohio State)
20. Damian Price (OL, Maryland)

Here are some other select names lower down the list:

26. Malik McDowell (DL, Michigan State)
31. DeShaun Watson (QB, Clemson)
35. Nick Chubb (RB, Georgia)
38. Jamal Adams (S, LSU)
49. Curtis Samuel (WR, Ohio State)
52. Royce Freeman (RB, Oregon)
61. Budda Baker (S, Washington)
77. Christian McCaffrey (RB, Stanford)

It reads like a who’s who of 2017 draft prospects. The best of the best in college football. It’s unusual for the top-20 to have so many names destined not just for the NFL — but as high draft picks. Mixon being at #8 in this group says a lot about his potential.

On tape he is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most impressive prospects you’ll watch this year. Oklahoma’s offense/team is a bit of a mess — but when Mixon is involved it’s must-see TV. Jenni Carlson wrote this piece calling — no demanding — the Sooners feature Mixon instead of persisting with a committee involving fellow running back Samaje Perine.

Mixon has everything you look for. Breakaway speed and the ability to accelerate at the second level, toughness and the willingness to finish runs, ability in the passing game, the physicality to push the pile and break tackles plus the elusiveness to make people miss. As a bonus he’s also a terrific kick returner. Mixon is 6-1 and 226lbs — the same height and 9lbs heavier than Adrian Peterson at the 2007 combine.

He has the freaky athleticism the Seahawks seem to love — plus the suddenness, physicality and ability to turn a good play into a scoring play.

When I wrote about Frank Clark in 2015 — I said something like this: He’s an explosive talent, one of the best in the draft. His tape is incredibly underrated and he dominates. He is a first round, top-20 talent based on what you see on the field. Yet his well publicised character flags involving domestic violence will make him undraftable for many — and some fans and the media will be uncomfortable and find it unacceptable if the Seahawks were to draft him.

This is, unfortunately, a similar situation with Mixon.

In Clark’s case the police report suggested he punched a woman in the face. It also quoted the victim’s brothers as saying they witnessed Clark punch her. He was dismissed by Michigan. After drafting him, the Seahawks claimed they conducted a thorough investigation before making the decision.

John Schneider said the following:

“Our organization has an in-depth understanding of Frank Clark’s situation and background… We have done a ton of research on this young man. There hasn’t been one player in this draft that we have spent more time researching and scrutinizing more than Frank. That’s why we have provided Frank with this opportunity and are looking forward to him succeeding in our culture here in Seattle.”

It was a decision that led to an initial backlash, especially at a time when the league was handling the high-profile Ray Rice domestic violence case. This article on Deadspin used the headline: ‘The Seahawks Didn’t Care Whether Frank Clark Punched A Woman

Two years ago Mixon entered an Alford plea to a misdemeanor assault charge for punching Amelia Molitor in response to her pushing and hitting him. The incident happened on July 25, 2014.

Unlike the Clark case where there was no video evidence, surveillance video of the incident shows, after the two had a discussion, Amelia Molitor pushing, then slapping Mixon, followed by Mixon punching Molitor. The video hasn’t been released yet but has been shown to reporters and could eventually be released to the public.

The plea allowed him to maintain his innocence while also admitting that the prosecution had enough evidence to convict.

As a consequence Mixon received a one-year deferred sentence and was required to perform 100 hours of community service and undergo counselling. He was suspended for the entire 2014 season by the Sooners although he was allowed to take classes and keep his financial aid but not take part in any team activities.

The incident became a heated talking point:

Mixon was reinstated by the team on February 14th 2015 and played last season. He was kept away from media duties and didn’t talk at all throughout the season — until he was required to speak per the rules of the Orange Bowl. It appears he was advised not to discuss the incident:

There’s a very obvious legal case for why he shouldn’t be talking to the media but some have argued the moment was not handled well by the Sooners:

The footage of the press conference isn’t particularly easy to watch. A well prepared apology or signs of sincere regret upon his return would’ve been preferable — instead this delayed, awkward and forced exchange really didn’t aid the situation.

Mixon hasn’t spoken to reporters since the Orange Bowl in December 2015 but last month Bob Stoops suggested he might be set to speak again:

“It’s something we’ve talked about… I’ve talked about it with the administration. We’re working on that. So there’s a possibility.”

Brady Vardeman notes, ‘It’s unlikely Mixon’s lawyers would allow him to talk about his incident with Molitor given the ongoing civil suit filed by her legal team in July.’

It’s impossible to know how the NFL will handle this. Frank Clark was dismissed by Michigan immediately after his incident but still attended the combine and then became a second round pick. He started his pro-career with no limitations, suspensions or sanctions and people rarely refer to what happened anymore.

Mixon wasn’t dismissed by Oklahoma but did sit out a whole season. In context it really isn’t much of a ‘punishment’ but will it conveniently allow the league or specific teams to judge the situation as at least partially addressed?

Clark didn’t fall much by going in round two. Who knows what’ll happen to Mixon — a legitimate first or second round talent. He could fall completely off the radar and never get a chance, he could be an UDFA or like Clark he could still be an early pick.

Teams will investigate. They will research the incident, the legal case and Mixon as an individual.

As the writer of this blog all I try to do is highlight the talent in college football so we can discuss possible Seahawks picks in the draft. I don’t know if Seattle or any other team would entertain drafting Mixon. This isn’t any kind of endorsement — but the Clark situation suggests we also shouldn’t avoid the subject. Talking about Clark pre-draft at least gave the readers of this website an insight into his backstory before the team subsequently selected him.

Mixon truly has the ability to be one of the great playmakers in the NFL. Seriously. We’ll see if the NFL decides he deserves a chance to prove it.

One other note on Mixon — when asked who his mentors were during a pre-college interview, the first name he gave was Marshawn Lynch: