Before San Francisco’s week-16 meeting with Seattle in 2011, Aldon Smith had featured in 446 snaps. That was 377 less snaps than defensive rookie of the year Von Miller and 267 less than JJ Watt. Smith still managed to accumulate 13 sacks, 12 quarterback hits, 30 quarterback pressures and two forced fumbles. In comparison, Miller had 11.5 sacks, 19 quarterback hits, 28 pressures and three forced fumbles, despite playing nearly twice as many snaps. Watt had 4.5 sacks, eight hits, 24 pressures and two fumble recoveries. Stats aren’t everything, but it goes to show how Irvin won’t necessarily be required to play even 2/3′s of the team’s snaps to have an impact.
And that’s just as a rookie. If the plan is for Irvin to eventually replace Chris Clemons as the full time LEO, he’ll one day play the majority of the defensive snaps. A lot of people have criticised the nature of the pick, questioning how often Irvin will feature and what impact he’ll have. The Seahawks want their version of Aldon Smith, even if their version isn’t quite so orthodox. As John Schneider told Adam Schein today, “We thought there was a good chance the Jets were going to take him at 16. If we walked out without him, it would’ve hurt. If you like a guy, get him. 12, 15, 28.” (more…)
The 2012 NFL Draft is in the books. Seattle came away with ten new players, including five additions who play in the defensive front seven. Only three of the picks were spent on offensive prospects – a new quarterback, running back and a defensive tackle who will convert to guard.
It’s an intriguing draft class, but also one that raises a number of questions. The one I’m wrestling with the most is the choice of Russell Wilson in the third round. When a quarterback is drafted in round one, you fully expect that player to start quickly if not right away. In round two, you’d recognise it in a similar way – just with a little less hype. Quarterbacks drafted in rounds 4-7 come with barely any expectation. Round three is the middle ground, the dividing line between expected starter and late round flier.
Pete Carroll has spoken so glowingly about Wilson, it’s raising expectations. At one point yesterday he went on the record stating, “More than anybody else that was alive in the draft, this guy gives you a chance to have a great player.” What exactly does that mean? That Wilson gives Seattle a better chance to have a great player than Andrew Luck? Even if this is a typically Carroll-esque piece of raw enthusiasm, it doesn’t half raise expectations within a fan-base that has been starved of a freshly drafted quarterback to root for.
Language like that makes you believe Wilson could be, realistically, considered the quarterback of the future for this team. Then you wonder, what if he’s the quarterback for now? You look a little closer and notice the way he quickly transitioned to Wisconsin after leaving NC State. The Seahawks passed on other potential immediate starters in round three at different positions. They wanted Wilson, badly.
There’s been no attempt to mask excitement about this guy. Carroll: “It’s going to be really exciting to see what he can bring. All he’s ever done is be great. This is such an incredible athlete that has had extraordinary, historic success. He has done things that people had never thought of before. The fact that he was also such an extraordinary kid, he can handle all of the pressure that he’s going to be under, and all the scrutiny that he already has.”
Wilson was the keynote addition on offense in this draft class. The decision to switch JR Sweezy to guard is merely a hopeful punt. Robert Turbin was an expected target for the Seahawks as a speedy, muscular back who will take some of the strain away from Marshawn Lynch. Wilson was the star attraction here.
Some of the prospects Seattle passed on in the process of spending that third round pick? Mohamed Sanu, a talented receiver from Rutgers. Michael Egnew, a thoroughly modern-day athletic tight end from Missouri. Lamar Miller, a potential X-factor running back who slipped due to health concerns before Miami traded up to grab him at the top of round four. Brandon Brooks, a highly rated offensive guard with huge size from Miami Ohio. All four could’ve had some kind of impact in 2012.
Yet despite investing in Matt Flynn and somewhat backing Tarvaris Jackson to compete to try and remain the starter, Seattle added another quarterback to the equation. It’s as if Carroll and co. have decided improved QB play is the key to moving the offense forward. A review, perhaps, of the frustrating play from Jackson at times last year. So rather than try to add that skill player or the big offensive lineman, the Seahawks open up the quarterback position and try to find an improvement.
This is the highest draft pick Seattle has spent on a quarterback for 19 years. If this isn’t with the intention of at least allowing Wilson to compete to start as a rookie, I’d be almost surprised. People expect Flynn to get the nod, but his contract isn’t so huge that he’s locked into the role. Jackson could find himself on the outside looking in if he doesn’t win out, given his deal is expendable. Josh Portis remains part of the roster but is he rated highly enough to stick around if the team only runs with three quarterbacks?
The Seahawks want a quarterback who can facilitate a running game, which is exactly what Wilson did at Wisconsin. They want someone who won’t turn the ball over but can still make plays, and in four years as a starter in college Wilson threw 109 touchdowns compared to just 30 interceptions. Carroll has talked about young quarterbacks being ready to start earlier these days and appears willing to consider rolling with a rookie.
At the same time, Seattle may feel like Matt Flynn deserves to have the edge in a tight competition this off-season. He’s started in the NFL, albeit only twice, and if the Seahawks only planned to use him as a back-up they may well have avoided some difficult questions a few weeks ago by choosing not to sign the former Packer. I come back to the grey area that is round three. If Wilson had been a second round pick, people would be asking ‘will he start’? If he’d been a fourth round pick, nobody would be expecting an early impact. The third round sits directly between those two extremes.
Interesting times ahead.
Turbin pick will be seen as crucial
We talked a lot on this blog about Seattle’s desire to add a running back early in the draft. A lot of people presumed the Seahawks were set having signed Marshawn Lynch to a new deal, while adding a couple of other guys to go alongside Leon Washington. However, this is a team being built around the run on offense. Lynch is the centrepiece, the MVP, the heart and soul of the unit. He also runs with a physical style that will provoke injury and he’s going to miss time in the future. It’s inevitable. When he didn’t feature against Cleveland in 2011, it had a major impact. The Seahawks want to avoid that in the future.
Rather than look for a change of pace back or someone different to Lynch, the ideal was to find someone who could logically become a starter in their own right. Doug Martin and David Wilson left the board at the back end of round one, making it unlikely the team would find their answer in the second round. Lamar Miller and Chris Polk – two players who many thought could go in that region – both fell due to injury. Ronnie Hillman and Bernard Pierce both disappeared in round three and options were starting to run out. Enter the Turbinator.
At around 5-10 and 220lbs he has the necessary size to deal with a workload. He ran a 4.50 at the combine and looked pretty ripped for a player running that kind of time. It’s that combination of size and power that will interest Seattle – he can run inside and pound or find the edge. He’s shown some ability in space and in the passing game and has suffered due to the low-profile nature of the Utah State team he played for. He’s not good in pass protection, that has to be mentioned, but it’s something he can work on.
Seattle ensured they have a younger version of the Beast in the stable, and it could be a crucial draft pick. The Seahawks need to be able to run the football, but also keep Lynch from injury-risk with too many carries. This was a smart pick and part of the plan in this draft all along.
Focus on defense
A year removed from spending two early picks on the offensive line and making some key offensive free agent signings (Sidney Rice, Zach Miller), this year the Seahawks went big on defense. Bruce Irvin will be expected to have an impact as the #15 pick in the draft. When you draft a specialist pass rusher in the top half of the draft, ahead of every other pass rusher in the class, he needs to be productive almost immediately. While the Seahawks have earned a reputation for intelligent picks late in the draft, they need to make sure they keep hitting in round one. Seattle’s can’t expect to keep finding fast starters with late round picks (such is the nature of the league) so to improve they’ll need an impact from the early rounds.
It’s not a big surprise that defense was the focus this year. The Seahawks needed a pass rusher, whether you agree with the Irvin pick or not. That was the #1 priority – always was. There’s a reason why we paired the Seahawks with a pass rusher in every single one of our mock drafts from January to April. Clearly we didn’t focus in on the right players (although nobody pegged Bruce Irvin) but a pass rusher was key nonetheless. Linebacker was also an obvious need and it was no surprise to see that position addressed in round two.
The rest of the picks come with a degree of the unknown. Korey Toomer may prove to be special teams fodder, alongside Winston Guy. Expect Guy to get the chance to fill the Atari Bigby vacancy. Jeremy Lane received rave reviews for a performance against LSU last season and could be another one of Seattle’s late round sleepers. I like 7th round pick Greg Scruggs as a physical specimen and watched footage of his pro-day where he looked the part and moved well. Jaye Howard is an underrated pass rusher from the interior who will knife through one-on-one blocks and could end up being the one guy who really has an impact from the R4-7 group.
People are already asking why the offensive line and wide receiver positions weren’t addressed. The Seahawks made some moves last year at receiver and people shouldn’t write of an improved season for all with improved health and better quarterback play. If Sidney Rice and Zach Miller play at anything like their peak in 2012, you’re talking about two potential stars. Doug Baldwin continues to develop, while Golden Tate is facing a make-or-break season. Mike Williams deserves a chance to re-emerge after a disappointing 2011.
As for the offensive line, don’t underestimate Seattle’s depth and appreciation for what they have already. The line didn’t miss a beat last year when James Carpenter and John Moffitt suffered injury and were then joined by Russell Okung. The players who stepped in were not big names or high profile draft picks, but they all thrived. Whether it’s Lemuel Jeanpierre, Paul McQuistan or Breno Giacomini – those guys deserve the chance to compete to start. Seattle has also added Deuce Lutui and Frank Omiyale, so will feel good about their chances of filling the hole left by Robert Gallery. A lot of people like to think you need five first round picks to make a good offensive line, but that simply isn’t the case.
Overall it’s a draft class that will do well to provide Seattle with as many key starters as 2010 and 2011. The Bruce Irvin pick shocked the NFL and will be similarly lauded or hammered depending on the performance of ‘Brucemode’ this year. He’s an explosive pass rusher off the edge and the Seahawks haven’t taken this move lightly. A lot of teams react to the draft, but nobody can fault Seattle for being pro-active. They know what they want, they identify roles and they attack. Irvin isn’t the type of guy you draft on a whim because he’s BPA, you draft him with a vision. Other teams like the Jets drafted Quinton Coples because he was there, and now they have to work him into the system. Irvin was probably in Seattle’s thoughts in January.
They’ll know exactly what they want from their latest first round pick and if he can provide an impact in the Raheem Brock-role, then he could end up being one of the most popular players on this team in a generation (his press conference shows why). An improved pass rush and better quarterback play were Seattle’s two defining needs coming into this draft. Irvin and Russell Wilson may well be the answer.
Rishaw Johnson (OG, Cal. PA), Carson Wiggs (K, Purdue), Jon Opperud (OT, Montana), DeShawn Shead (S, Portland State), Monte Taylor (DE, Cincinnati), Phil Bates (WR/QB, Ohio), Sean McGrath (TE, Henderson State), Jermaine Kearse (WR, Washington), London Durham (CB, McNeese State), Lavasier Tuinei (WR, Oregon), Chris Hart (QB, Weber), Addison Lawrence (OT, Mississippi State)
We’ll have a reaction post to day three, including game tape, on the blog later today. We’ll also be hosting a Live Chat ‘wrap-up’ tomorrow so stay tuned for that. And when all the picks are in, we’ll start to study them. How do they fit? What are the positives and negatives? I’ll also be publishing a top-30 watch-list for the 2012 college football season.
You can see the Day 2 press conference with John Schneider and Pete Carroll by clicking here. They discuss Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson.
In this video Russell Wilson talks about how he idolizes Drew Brees.
Will Russell Wilson start in 2012? It’s one of the questions we’ll ask later this week. This is the earliest Seattle has drafted a quarterback since 1993. Matt Flynn’s contract is stacked heavily towards his first season, but it’s not so monumental that he’s untouchable. Carroll has already talked about competition between Tarvaris Jackson and Flynn, now it’ll include Russell Wilson. It may not be the team’s ambition to thrust him into a ‘quarterback of the future’ role, but this is a team that previously hadn’t drafted a quarterback under this regime. Carroll and John Schneider have raised expectations by speaking so glowingly of the guy, so will he get a chance early? More on this after the draft.
And who left the board that seemingly had Seattle so disappointed? Schneider said yesterday: “This is a hard two round because your always going to have guys disappear on you, like argh, ones you spent so much with them, so much time evaluating the, but really we focused on that linebacker group, and the speed at that position, adding Bobby was a great deal, adding Russel he’s just phenomenal.”
The war room looked a little deflated after Mychal Kendricks left the board one pick before Bobby Wagner was selected. And Schneider admits, they were focused on the linebacker group.
After shocking the NFL by drafting Bruce Irvin with the #15 pick yesterday, Seattle added Bobby Wagner (LB, Utah State) and Russell Wilson (QB, Wisconsin) in rounds two and three on Friday.
The Seahawks moved down four spots in the second round to draft Wagner at #47, after a deal with the New York Jets (who took receiver Stephen Hill). There were a few mixed expressions in Seattle’s war room after Philadelphia took Mychal Kendricks at #46. Was the California linebacker the preferred option? Both are fast, rangy lineman who like to tackle. Carroll would’ve known all about Kendricks – who was awarded the PAC-12 defensive player of the year for 2011.
Bobby Wagner – LB – #47 overall
Regardless, it’s Wagner who makes the trip North. He missed the combine with pneumonia but ran in the 4.4′s at his pro-day. He’s 6-0 and 233lbs and is probably going to play some MIKE and WILL. The Seahawks added Irvin to boost their pass rush, and now have a linebacker compliment to KJ Wright, Leroy Hill, Malcolm Smith and Barrett Ruud. The lukewarm response to David Hawthorne’s free agent status suggested Seattle would always attack the linebacker market and that proved to be the case here. Wagner plays with a good motor – like Hawthorne – but will be able to move much more freely. He’s undersized for your traditional MIKE which could cause issues and he hasn’t a big history of pass rushing. Even so, teams are looking for big, athletic linebackers and the Seahawks clearly see that in Wagner.
He’s flashed an ability to disengage when blocked, something you don’t see from a lot of linebackers his size. At times he was touted as a first round pick for teams like the New England Patriots. Despite a lot of negativity from some pundits, this is a player who was being talked about in the top-50 for some time. He had four sacks and two interceptions last season. He’s likely to start as a rookie.
What are they saying?
Mike Mayock: “This is Pete Carroll’s kind of linebacker. He’s been a fast riser. He tested extremely well, and he’s a big linebacker. This guy is also a four-team special teams player, so you get that production from him, too. He can be explosive for them.”
Charlie Casserly: “Size and Speed is good. Strong guy. Has some instinct issues in talking to scouts.”
Mel Kiper: “I had him in 3rd. Seattle baffles me, I don’t get it.”
Chris Steuber: “Bobby Wagner is my 54th rated player. Doesn’t have definitive LB position, but has a solid skill set. Another interesting pick by the Seahawks.”
Russell Wilson – QB – #75 overall
Seattle’s appreciation for Russell Wilson wasn’t a secret. We’d touched on it a few times on the blog, and certainly there was a feeling the Seahawks would take a quarterback in the rounds 3-6 region. Brock Osweiler was the only signal caller to leave the board in round two, and Seattle capitalised by snatching Wilson in round three. When I sat down to scout players in 2009, the first guy I watched was Russell Wilson. I’ve kind of tracked his progress ever since, at NC State and Wisconsin. A year ago I spoke to several people about the Wolfpack’s decision to effectively ‘move on’ in preference of Mike Glennon, and Wilson’s subsequent decision to snub teams like defending National Champs Auburn in favor of Wisconsin.
I always liked the guy as a pure entertainment player. He spreads the ball around, he has a nice arm. He makes plays. Even so, I’m a little surprised he’s ended up being a third round pick. As much as he has been one of the best quarterbacks to watch in college football over the last few years, there just aren’t a ton of 5-11 quarterbacks out there. And while a lot of people are willing to ignore that, the fact still remains. Personally I think there have been issues with trajectory and some ‘aimed’ passes into areas that have impacted accuracy. He benefited a lot at Wisconsin with a powerful, dominating run game which allowed play-action and bootlegs to thrive, getting him out of the pocket. Is he going to go on and become another exception to the height rule? Or will it limit his ability to start?
Going back to the positives, he has a better than expected arm, perfect character and a will to succeed. The Seahawks suddenly have a very crowded group of quarterbacks, with one of Tarvaris Jackson or Josh Portis likely to be the odd man out. Unfortunately, among the quartet (which also includes Wilson and Matt Flynn) there’s not one true player who stands out. Yet. One other question needs to be asked – what do you expect from a third round quarterback? If he’s a competent back-up for years, is that enough? Does Wilson need to start down the line? What needs to happen for this decision to be deemed a success?
It’s interesting that Pete Carroll and John Schneider’s first pick at the position in three years is Russell Wilson. They were suitably ‘pumped and jacked’ in the war room after making the pick – with visible celebration and excitement. Is Wilson the quarterback of the future? How soon could he realistically start in the league? Will he challenge as a rookie?
What are they saying?
Mike Mayock: “”I can’t tell you how much I like this kid. Not only can he be a competent backup and change-of-pace quarterback, but I think someday he can be a starting-quality player.”
Dan Shonka: “Seattle grabs one of our favorite players in Russell Wilson… maybe they do know QBs?”
Chris Steuber: “Love Russell Wilson. He’s not in my Top 100, but I have him rated 107 overall. He’s my 3rd favorite QB in the draft. Great kid.”
Chris Mortensen: “Evaluators loved his football smarts, how he played under pressure, accuracy and athleticism. The height issue was brought up every time. A few evaluators believed he will become the new exception to the height rule. Big hands, long arms and has a 6th sense that execs kept mentioning can’t be measured.”
Russ Lande: “I love Russell Wilson’s intangibles and arm strength, but taking a backup QB in the 3rd round makes no sense at all to me.”
Seahawks taking risks to get better?
Seattle hasn’t done anything quietly in this draft. They’ve been bold and taken what outsiders would describe as almost reckless gambles. There won’t be any ‘A’ draft grades, but I kind of feel Carroll and Schneider would rather it be that way. Maybe they enjoy being different, or proving people wrong?
There’s a lot of boom or bust to this class so far. A pass rushing specialist from West Virginia who wasn’t an every down guy and has some off-field history. He’ll be 25 in November. A linebacker from Utah State with some athletic tools, but not a lot of splash plays at a level below the top schools. And a 5-11 quarterback. If this ends up being a solid trio in a few years, quite a few people will have to eat their words. I’d consider myself in that group, because so far I’m a bit underwhelmed. It’s quite early for a quarterback with a height question mark who might not be a starter. Irvin was explosive at times in college, but will be judged on production in the NFL and will need to have an impact for such a high pick. And time isn’t on his side as a 25-year-old rookie, he can’t afford three years to bed in.
Wagner was taken before other linebackers such as Zach Brown and Lavonte David, and will be compared to those prospects going forward – even if teams universally preferred Wagner.
Now, the Baltimore Ravens and Ozzy Newsome are the picture of draft excellence in my view. They always let the draft come to them – and it’s helped acquire (among others) Ed Reed, Michael Oher, Jimmy Smith and today Courtney Upshaw and Kelechi Osemele. The one time they were aggressive? To go and get a quarterback. It’s the pure ‘BPA’ approach. The Seahawks appear to be identifying needs and attacking them. They always wanted a LT and FS in 2010, and were fortunate enough to strike gold. They went heavy on the offensive line last year and the defensive front seven this year. Will this prove a successful formula? Only time will tell. But there’s nothing dull about the Seahawks.
Day three picks
The Seahawks made two trades on Thursday and Friday to accumulate further picks. Here’s a list of Seattle’s remaining choice:
Round four: #11 & #19
Round five: #19
Round six: #2 & #11
Round seven: #18 & #25
Tomorrow starts with the fourth round at 9:00 PST. We’ll start an open thread 30 minutes before the re-start.
The Seahawks are going to take a running back, possibly (probably?) with one of those two fourth round picks. Chris Polk (RB, Washington) and Robert Turbin (RB, Utah State) are two names to watch. Lamar Miller (RB, Miami) reportedly remains available due to concerns about an injured shoulder that may need surgery. How far will he drop? Some other names to consider: Alameda Ta’amu (DT, Washington), Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina), David Paulson (TE, Oregon), Orson Charles (TE, Georgia), George Iloka (S, Boise State), Keshawn Martin (WR, Michigan State), Nick Toon (WR, Wisconsin), Jeff Fuller (WR, Texas A&M), Juron Criner (WR, Arizona), Tommy Streeter (WR, Miami), Logan Harrell (DT, Fresno State), Trevor Gutyton (DE, California), Billy Winn (DT, Boise State), Frank Alexander (DE, Oklahoma), Ronnell Lewis (OLB, Oklahoma), Bobby Massie (OT, Ole Miss), Joe Adams (WR, Arkansas), Nicholas Jean-Baptiste (DT, Baylor), Ron Brooks (CB, LSU), Nigel Bradham (OLB, Florida State), Marvin McNutt (WR, Iowa).
Game tape (Wagner & Wilson), Gruden QB’s Camp (Wilson) and Kiper vs Gruden (Wilson)
There were a few whispers doing the rounds in the media pre-draft that a team would take Bruce Irvin in round one. I remember hearing that, pausing for a moment and contemplating. “I wonder? Nah.” In hindsight, I should’ve offered that rumor more than a momentary glance. The Seahawks traded down three spots from #12, collecting a fourth and sixth round pick from Philadelphia. The Eagles drafted Fletcher Cox. The Seahawks drafted Bruce Irvin at #15.
First of all, let’s address the pick. We’ve been saying on this blog for some considerable time that the Seahawks would draft a pass rusher. It has always been the focus in round one. We – and the rest of the world – just didn’t locate who was Pete’s pass rusher. As it turns out, that guy played for West Virginia. Carroll referenced in the video above that he recruited Irvin: “I thought we had special information.” Carroll claims he has incredible speed and that for a time he was the best pass rusher in college football. All true.
A year ago almost to the day, I turned my attention to the 2012 draft. It was time to start looking at the next class after Seattle had just taken James Carpenter in round one. I discovered a player so striking, he stood out as a top-ten prospect immediately. He flew off the screen. He stood out.
Yet in my opinion, he’s right up there at the top end. Ultimate star potential, a defensive prospect who may be the best overall in college football. This is one player who will help define his team as they mount what I believe is a realistic shot at making a BCS Bowl, maybe even the big one. On his highlight’s tape, they borrow the name ‘Beast Mode’, but if Marshawn Lynch watches this guy play I’m sure he won’t complain.
The best pass rusher in college football is Bruce Irvin of the West Virginia Mountaineers. He was part of my top-50 prospects for 2012.
He’s lightning quick as you’d expect given the size but unlike Von Miller who relied completely on speed, Irvin is more than willing to engage a tackle, drive him into the quarterback or beat him with stunning hand placement. I’ve never see a guy with this size paddle away an offensive lineman before.
He’s the best kept secret in college football. Last season he recorded 14 sacks and yet received virtually no hype. West Virginia pulled off a masterstroke appointing Dana Holgorsen as their offensive coordinator and future head coach. He was the mastermind behind Oklahoma State’s free-scoring offense which consistently churned out talent at running back and wide receiver. The Mountaineers will have a productive offense next season and with Irvin leading the way on defense they’re an outside pick to go unbeaten next year. That’ll help to put this guy firmly on the map.
Irvin himself read that article, and retweeted it. He expected to be a round one pick, probably because so many people were complimenting his game. He referenced it in interviews, he talked about having a fantastic final season at WVU and being a round one pick. Without doubt the best pass rusher in college football in 2010 was not Da’Quan Bowers or Von Miller, it was Bruce Irvin.
So what happened?
Irvin had a big impact as a specialist rusher in 2010, acting on third downs and recording 14 sacks after transferring as a JUCO prospect. In 2011, the Mountaineers attempted to turn him into an every down type player. He was used in three-man fronts, right on the line and not in space. He faced regular double teams, he was hit out of plays and struggled to have an impact. In his first five games last season, he had just one sack. When he reverted back to a ‘specialist’ role, he notched 7.5 sacks in five games. Go figure.
The Seahawks have gone after their schematic version of Aldon Smith. Except their version of Aldon Smith looks more like Clay Matthews. Don’t expect Irvin to play every down. For those wondering if Irvin is going to translate to linebacker, it probably won’t happen. He’ll play obvious passing downs, either at the LEO or replacing Raheem Brock’s nickel role. Yet he may well be just as productive. One day he could replace Chris Clemons at the LEO.
He’s a pure, speed, edge rusher with a bit of fight to his game and occasionally surprising strength. But overall, he’s going to have one responsibility – get to the QB. He’s not that young at 24, so they’ll expect an impact. In fact, he turns 25 on November 1st.
The pick at #15 summed up an extraordinary first round which flew by at just over three hours and contained many surprises. There were a number of trades, especially late in the first round. At one point Tampa Bay moved up several spots back into the first to grab Doug Martin and they merely flipped fourth rounders with Denver for the pleasure. That was a king steal for such a talented running back. Prospects like AJ Jenkins went in the first round unexpectedly. Brandon Weeden – a 29-year-old rookie to be – went 22nd overall. Irvin was the first edge rusher off the board at #15, ahead of Quinton Coples. Nobody could call events as they unfolded.
Is this a sign of the times? Or the sign of a bad draft class? Will the numerous trades and unexpected picks continue next year, or is it simply the latest trend? How will teams approach the second round? The Seahawks still have needs at running back and linebacker, but will they keep building the pass rush? Or will they look for a touchdown maker?
The Seahawks got their pass rusher, but it wasn’t the guy many expected. I hope the article I linked to above, written almost a year ago today, shows the kind of potential Irvin has. Don’t be down on this pick. I’ll leave you with some links, game tape and a quote to stew on from Seattle’s latest first round pick: “I love eating quarterbacks.”
NOTE – We’re back tomorrow for another live chat from 15:30 PST
Later we’ll be launching a live chat session, half an hour before the draft running through until the end of the first round. It’ll feature on this blog and also on Field Gulls, with analysis from myself, Danny Kelly and hopefully Kip will be there too. You’ll also be able to join in. It was a great success last year and I hope you’ll join us again.
A few final thoughts…
Albert Breer is reporting that the Seahawks are negotiating with Cincinatti and New England about trading down. It’s not surprising news, if true. Seattle could realistically drop to #21 and maybe even to #27 and still draft a pass rusher. A deal which includes a 2013 first rounder to drop to either of those picks would probably appeal. However, wise man says don’t trade with Bill Belichick and the Bengals haven’t traditionally been the kind of team that throws away future picks. I doubt either team would pair their first round picks this year to get up to #12, but they’d have that option. Can you really see New England making that move though? And why #12?
The Seahawks are going to draft a pass rusher if they stay put. Hey, if they move down they’ll probably still draft a pass rusher. I understand that has been the team’s ambition all along. There’s been some classic misdirection over the last few weeks, and it’s got a lot of people talking about guys like Ryan Tannehill. Yet it’s always been about the pass rush. The big question is – who will they take? I’ve never been as confident about that question as I have knowing Seattle will take a pass rusher in round one. I’m sticking to my guns and saying it’ll be one of Courtney Upshaw or Melvin Ingram. I could be wrong. Maybe it’ll be Quinton Coples? Maybe it’ll be Whitney Mercilus? Maybe it’ll be another pass rusher? We’ll found out shortly.
Chandler Jones from Syracuse is the big riser the night before, at least according to the media. I asked Tony Pauline from SI.com and Draft Insider for his thoughts on Jones’ meteoric rise so late in the day:
“Rob – I’m baffled. Jones is a solid prospect yet not the spectacular talent many are making him out to be…. he’s a solid athlete with a lot of natural pass rushing skills, which teams always look for in the draft. That said, I’m a film guy and not a stats guy- but just ten sacks in 32 college games in the Big East, which has had just one offensive lineman drafted in the initial four rounds the past two years? These were not Big Ten or SEC tackles he was playing against. I also have my concerns about Jones playing OLB in a 3-4. Things like this, players making huge rises the weeks before the draft, often take on a life of their own and the perception is greater than the reality.”
It’s food for thought as we get closer to the start of the draft. I tend to agree with Pauline. Jones has some potential, no doubt about it. But to hear Mike Mayock suggest he’ll be the best defensive player from this draft in three years, 24 hours before the event, is staggering. There are some people who don’t work for NFL front offices that know what they’re talking about. Nobody has made that kind of statement about Jones. I wouldn’t want to bank on Mayock’s premonition coming true.
If the Seahawks did end up moving down, I think that would be with a nod to 2013. They’d love to get some extra stock to take into next year’s draft, knowing full well there will be at least two highly rated quarterbacks available. Regulars will know I’m not one who ever buys into the ‘next year’ theory regarding quarterbacks. In fact, I’ve argued against the banality of the annual “next year’s group are better” debates you see before each draft. There won’t be a quarterback with the grade of Andrew Luck. Indeed, this year’s twosome of Luck/Griffin III have much more hype than any of the 2013 class will gain by next year. However – not being rated quite as highly as that pair could make certain quarterbacks more attainable. Matt Barkley and Logan Thomas are the most intriguing college quarterbacks I’ll be watching in 2012. Tyler Bray and Tyler Wilson could also work into the equation.
And there’s no getting away from the fact Pete Carroll and Matt Barkley are tight. If the Matt Flynn-project doesn’t work out too well in 2012, it could be the precursor to a big move up for Barkley. So getting stock in the bag for next year while also being able to improve key areas like the pass rush and running back would be seen as a positive.
If Seattle does a deal – unexpectedly I would say – for either Cincy’s two picks or New England’s, then I would imagine they’d address the pass rush and one of the offensive skill positions – depending on value.
Names to keep an eye on: Courtney Upshaw, Melvin Ingram, Zach Brown, Quinton Coples, Vinny Curry, Dont’a Hightower.
#2 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
Robert Griffin III has probably already started looking for property in the capital.
#3 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Minnesota want what the Rams got from Washington, and they’re trying, but ultimately they’ll stay here and take Kalil.
#4 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
The Browns have to find someone to build around. Richardson is a future superstar.
#5 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
The biggest spenders in free agency, Tampa Bay could still use a stud cornerback.
#6 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
The Rams need to find an X-factor on offense.
#7 Stephon Gilmore (CB, South Carolina)
Who knows what the Jaguars are going to do? Will Gene Smith or Shahid Khan make the choice?
#8 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
Don’t be surprised after a month of hype if Miami does something else and Tannehill falls a bit.
#9 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
Carolina could go in many different (defensive) directions.
#10 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
The Bills need a left tackle, but can they justify taking one here?
#11 Luke Kuechly (LB, Boston College)
Scott Pioli loves guys like this – blue collar, high work ethic. He’ll make him fit into the 3-4.
#12 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
It’s all about the pass rush.
#13 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
Arizona needs to make a solid commitment to the offensive line.
#14 Dontari Poe (DT, Memphis)
If Barron falls here he could be the choice. Otherwise, I suspect Brockers or Poe.
#15 Chandler Jones (DE, Syracuse)
The fastest riser going into the draft.
#16 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
New York wants to run the ball and dominate up front.
#17 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Better in run support than coverage, but I suspect Cincy will try and add a corner in round one.
#18 Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
If he starts to drop, where does he leave the board? San Diego would have alternatives here.
#19 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
He could fall further if you believe the talk.
#20 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
Tough to read this guy’s stock. Tape not as great as the numbers/measurables. Off-field concerns. But talented.
#21 Peter Konz (OG/C, Wisconsin)
#22 Rueben Randle (WR, LSU)
After taking Richardson to star on the ground, they go for Randle.
#23 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Concerns about existing lineman could force Detroit to address the offensive line.
#24 Dont’a Hightower (LB, Alabama)
This guy was made to play in the AFC North.
#25 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
This is arguably Denver’s biggest need.
#26 Stephen Hill (WR, Georgia Tech)
Would they consider Coby Fleener as an alternative?
#27 Shea McClellin (OLB, Boise State)
Mike Vrabel is often the comparison for this guy.
#28 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
Green Bay’s priority has to be finding another pass rusher.
#29 Kevin Zeitler (OG, Wisconsin)
There could be a late rush on offensive lineman.
#30 Amini Silatolu (OG, Midwestern State)
The Niners may well take a guard and Silatolu is raw – just like Mike Iupati.
#31 Doug Martin (RB, Boise State)
For whatever reason, I can just picture this guy as a Patriot.
#32 Cordy Glenn (OT, Georgia)
He looks a bit sloppy and his stock is all over the place. Even so, he could go higher.
#33 St. Louis – Jerel Worthy (DT, Michigan State)
#34 Indianapolis – Alameda Ta’amu (DT, Washington)
#35 Minnesota – Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)
#36 Tampa Bay – Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
#37 Cleveland – Coby Fleener (TE, Stanford)
#38 Jacksonville – Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
#39 St. Louis – Bobby Wagner (LB, Utah State)
#40 Carolina – Josh Robinson (CB, UCF)
#41 Buffalo – Mitchell Schwartz (OT, California)
#42 Miami – Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)
#43 Seattle – Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
#44 Kansas City – Kirk Cousins (QB, Michigan State)
#45 Dallas – Jared Crick (DE, Nebraska)
#46 Philadelphia – Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
#47 New York Jets – Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
#48 New England – Casey Heyward (CB, Vanderbilt)
#49 San Diego – Bobby Massie (OT, Ole Miss)
#50 Chicago – Jayron Hosley (CB, Virginia Tech)
#51 Philadelphia – Lavonte David (LB, Nebraska)
#52 Tennessee – Kendall Reyes (DT, Connecticut)
#53 Cincinnati – Mychal Kendricks (LB, California)
#54 Detroit – Nick Perry (DE, USC)
#55 Atlanta – Michael Egnew (TE, Missouri)
#56 Pittsburgh – Kelechi Osemele (OG, Iowa State)
#57 Denver – David Wilson (RB, Virginia Tech)
#58 Houston – Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
#59 New Orleans – VOID
#60 Green Bay – Brandon Weeden (QB, Oklahoma State)
#61 Baltimore – Harrison Smith (S, Notre Dame)
#62 San Francisco – Bruce Irvin, (DE, West Virginia)
#63 New York Giants – Brandon Boykin (CB, Georgia)
#64 New England – Keyshawn Martin (WR, Michigan State)
Seahawks beyond rounds 1-2
If the Seahawks go DE & LB with their first two picks, running back is likely to be high on the agenda in round three. Chris Polk and Robert Turbin could be options given they’re more likely to be able to carry the load if Marshawn Lynch misses time. That is the key here. It may put off the Seahawks looking at an Isaiah Pead or LaMichael James. If the value just isn’t there at running back, there are some nice options at tight end such as Dwayne Allen and Orson Charles. At receiver, Seattle worked out Brian Quick and if you get Dwight Jones at any point in this draft, I think you’re getting a steal.
Expect Seattle to look at the quarterback market in rounds 4-6, although round three is a possibility depending on how things shake out. Brock Osweiler, Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson could be on the radar as ‘early’ options, with Chandler Harnish a possible later round choice. Keep an eye on any cornerback over 5-11. There’s solid depth in this class all the way to round four, so Seattle may be able to address several key needs.
Last night I sat down to begin my Draft Spotlight article for Courtney Upshaw, and like I had done previously with Zach Brown, I had to stop partway through because I felt that a scouting report wouldn’t sufficiently convey the thoughts I had discovered while going through the process. I’ll go ahead and treat this like a scouting report and include my Draft Spotlight graphic, but there is also a larger point I want to get across.
Before today, I liked Upshaw as a player but I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that drafting him to fix our pass rush was misguided. I had seen a few compilation videos of Upshaw. He wasn’t explosive. He didn’t seem fast enough to fit the LEO role currently occupied by Chris Clemons. And while I thought Rob’s estimated guesses about scheme changes made a lot of sense, in the back of my mind I wondered. Changing the defense fundamentally for Von Miller is one thing. Changing it for a guy like Upshaw is another. Then there was the question about how Seattle would shift its defense around to make it all work.
After scouting several games tonight, a realization came upon me. I’ll get to that realization later in the scouting report section, because first I think its important to explain the entirety of my observations so that my thoughts will make sense. I want to show my work so that you can understand the answer I came to.
Coming out of high school, Upshaw was ranked a four star prospect by both Scout and Rivals. He was the 4th best graduating high school defensive end in the country according to ESPN. Upshaw had a whopping seven different scholarship offers, but settled on Alabama since he was born and raised there. At Alabama, Upshaw was promoted to full time starter during his junior season (2010) and started nearly every game since. During those two seasons he accumulated 16.5 sacks and 32.5 tackles for loss. Upshaw started in two bowl games, and was awarded MVP both times, including the MVP of the 2011 national championship game. He was also a consensus All-American in 2011.
Thankfully there is a lot of material out there for Upshaw, so I was able to get a larger than usual sampling of his play. One thing that really surprised me is how many 4-3 fronts Nick Saban uses in his “3-4″ defense, and on almost every single play that featured Upshaw, he was lined as a 4-3 end, typically on the strong side, though occasionally he’d see snaps at weak side end too. Upshaw only played a handful of snaps at linebacker in the seven game sample I broke down. He only dropped into coverage one or two times as well. Almost without exception, Nick Saban used Upshaw like a typical 4-3 end, but dropped him into coverage even less than a typical 4-3 end would.
As strictly a 4-3 end, Upshaw probably reminds me the most of Adrian Clayborn, whom I was a big fan of in last year’s draft. Both are enormous strong side ends in the 280 pound range who win with power and awareness instead of speed. Clayborn posted 7.5 sacks as a rookie on what was otherwise a disastrous 2011 season for Tampa Bay’s defense. If Seattle drafted Upshaw with Adrian Clayborn in mind and gave Upshaw Red Bryant’s job straight up, it would upgrade the team and the pass rush. Maybe that’s what the Seahawks could be thinking, and it wouldn’t be a terrible idea, but based on some of the subtle traits I noticed in Upshaw’s game, I think there could be a better use yet, which I’ll explain a bit later on.
Upshaw has short 32″ arms, the same length as Robert Gallery’s. For all the (well deserved) grief that Melvin Ingram gets for his short arms, they are only half an inch shorter than Upshaw’s. However, when watching Upshaw’s tape you honestly wouldn’t know that he had short arms, because his arm usage is one of his biggest strengths. Arm length is important because when linemen engage, the one with the longer arms has the first strike and all the advantages that come with it. What’s neat about Upshaw, and this was only something I noticed after studying him very closely, is how he compensates for this problem.
Upshaw’s is not a speed demon, but his ability to go from a standstill to top speed is impressively quick. One of the tricks he likes to do sometimes is to slow down before engaging, almost to a full stop, and just as he nears arms reach, he’ll explode into the blocker’s body, not merely engaging the blocker but attacking him. This attack is sometimes preceded by a bit of a quick wiggle move, which makes the initial punch more difficult to deliver for the blocker. Upshaw doesn’t do this to shed the block. Upshaw is actually attacking the blocker’s upper body to throw off the blocker’s balance with a violent body impact, and Upshaw is pretty damn good at it. The blocker remains engaged with Upshaw, which temporarily seems as if Upshaw is losing. However, when Upshaw senses that he’s knocked the blocker off balance, he turns on the jets and walks the blocker into the backfield like John Carlson attempting to block Jared Allen. Off balance and reeling, the blocker is doing his best just to simply stay in Upshaw’s way. Upshaw powers into the pocket in moments, and uses his impressive upper body strength to shed the off balance blocker with ease and close for the pressure, hit, tackle for loss, or sack.
If Upshaw was able to pull off this power move with more consistency, he’d be a threat to break double digit sacks with regularity. The reason he can’t is precisely because he’s often playing in a five or six tech role that doesn’t allow him enough of a “flight deck” to take off. Funny enough, I’ve always thought that Upshaw was a terrible fit for the LEO because he lacks the speed and agility of a typical weak side rusher, but on snaps when Upshaw is given the extra yard outside to work with he is able to explode and attack the blocker’s balance with much better consistency. Just an extra yard or two often makes a big difference. Now try to imagine how effective this attack would be if given a full running start instead. It’s an exciting thought, and I’m surprised that Upshaw didn’t get almost any reps as a pass rushing linebacker when he looks his best with momentum at his back.
Upshaw is also very strong in run support. He has the power and leverage to hold his ground, he has the arm strength to disengage from blocks, and he generally does a good job tracking the ball and knowing when to break free for a tackle. He seems to always sniff out cut blocks, though unfortunately he doesn’t have the quickness to completely avoid being slowed by them. I haven’t seen enough of Upshaw at linebacker to pass judgement, but my initial impression is that he’d be a more extreme version of David Hawthorne, really good against the run but even weaker against the pass.
I wouldn’t go so far to say that Upshaw stands out on a great defense, but you might say that he’s the Alan Branch or Red Bryant of the Crimson Tide, not because he’s anything like either of those players, but because Branch and Bryant made the defense better last year in ways that were not easy to notice, and Upshaw was just one of those players that somehow made his defense better. There is so much NFL talent on Alabama’s defense that it would be almost impossible for that defense to have one true standout player. We’re talking about a defense that is probably going to have three players go in the first round next week.
That said, I don’t think its an accident that Upshaw won the MVP award in both of his bowl games. Not just because Upshaw stepped up big in both games, but because his tenacity and spirit sets the tone for the rest of the defense. Nick Saban called Upshaw “the meanest player [he] ever coached.” We saw last year how the nasty style of play by Red Bryant, Kam Chancellor and Brandon Browner helped set the tone and changed the mentality of the defense completely. In that sense, Upshaw seems like a perfect fit for what Carroll is trying to build in Seattle.
I only have two notable complaints about Upshaw that haven’t been said elsewhere ad nauseum. The first is that once the play is by him he will often jog in pursuit instead of running. That’s a minor gripe, but there will be times in a game where backside pursuit can lead to an important tackle that minimizes damage. For a guy that plays so hard when the play is in front of him, he doesn’t really share that urgency when he thinks the play is past him.
The other complaint is that for a guy who doesn’t get a ton of sacks, he had a lot of sacks where quarterbacks slipped or fell down and Upshaw was credited. It makes his eight sacks a year stat feel like five or six instead. Or to put it another way, it felt like Upshaw “over-achieved” to reach 16.5 sacks the last two years because of him having so many shoe-string sacks that very nearly weren’t sacks at all. I think if Carroll plays Upshaw exactly as he was used at Alabama, he’d be a 5-8 sack a season defensive end in the NFL.
Upshaw’s ability to disrupt a blocker’s balance and subsequently walk the blocker into the pocket is a potentially elite trait that has yet to be harnessed. It’s probably because of this that Upshaw looked much more effective in pass rush attempts that gave him even a small head of steam at the start. Nick Saban is one of the best coaches on the planet, but he didn’t experiment much with Upshaw and I’m starting to think he should have. When Upshaw has enough momentum and power to unbalance blockers he looks like an elite pass rushing talent on those snaps. The question is, “how can we enable Upshaw to be in that position more often?”
I’m guessing Pete Carroll has asked himself similar questions regarding Upshaw. Not that I have anything against adding an Adrian Clayborn or Robert Ayers type player to this defense, but I wouldn’t do it at #12 overall, and I don’t think Carroll would either. I think Carroll sees more than a sub-elite defensive end when he looks at Upshaw. If given the chance to rush the passer from an outside linebacker spot with a head of steam, he’d be a fundamentally different pass rusher than the Upshaw who played at Alabama lined up directly across from the tackle and too often had to rely only on hand usage.
It’s common to dismiss the idea of Upshaw as a rush linebacker because of his lack of burner speed. Fair enough. It should be noted though that Lamarr Woodley, a 3-4 outside linebacker for the Steelers, ran the same forty time as Upshaw at a very similar size and weight. Woodley has had 44 sacks over the last four seasons, and he isn’t as violent as Upshaw with his upper body use either. Upshaw may not become a typical rush linebacker, but he wouldn’t be unprecedented.
How Seattle would get Upshaw on the field for a Woodley type role is a discussion in itself, but that’s not the point. The point is that pass rushers are very hard to find, and if you feel good about your chances of landing a difference making pass rusher with a certain player who may not fit the scheme like a glove, there is a lot to gain by getting creative. Carroll has already shown that he’s perfectly willing to tweak the defense to fit available talent.
Whether Seattle plays Upshaw at outside linebacker, the LEO spot, or another position that gives him some room to build up speed, I’m starting to believe there is a chance that he could develop into an elite level bull rush pass rusher. And if I’m wrong, then Upshaw could still be a solid 4-3 defensive end who generates a modest amount of pressure while being very strong against the run. If the Seahawks do draft Upshaw at #12, I think its because they believe they can get more out of Upshaw’s unique talents than he showed at Alabama. Even if they are wrong, Upshaw will still be a solid contributor to this defense. Contrast that with Quinton Coples and Melvin Ingram, who have high ceilings but very low floors. There is a chance that Upshaw has a high ceiling too, but he also comes with a nice parachute if he doesn’t become the bull in the china store that he could be.
Its hard to get behind a pick as high as 12th overall without feeling there is a chance that he could become an elite contributor. But after looking into Upshaw very closely, I can see the faint signs of some untapped talent as a pass rusher that may actually give Upshaw a real chance to justify the #12 pick after all.
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