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Updated mock draft: 11th April

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Could Whitney Mercilus be set for a surprise top-ten appearance?

We’re two weeks away from the 2012 draft, meaning two more projections after this. I wanted to mix a few things up this week and look at scenarios not being discussed. After all, there’s always a surprise or two…

– Fletcher Cox has the athletic potential to be a top-ten pick. So did Cam Jordan last year, and he dropped to #24. Jordan had decent tape and a great combine, but teams just didn’t like him enough to pull the trigger. What was his best position? Where did he fit? The same questions may be asked of Fletcher Cox. I could see him going in the top ten very easily, but nobody is talking about the other end of the scale. He could drop a bit and go in a similar range to Jordan.

– Whitney Mercilus divides opinion, but he had great production in 2011. Someone might buy into the guy, believing he’s a pure pass rusher capable of emulating Aldon Smith who went 7th overall last year. Mercilus has the athleticism to match the stats and the kind of character that will appeal to certain teams. Kind of like Flecther Cox, you could see him going at both ends of the first round. Jacksonville GM Gene Smith is one of the more unpredictable drafters and if he’s still calling the shots for this draft, I could see Mercilus being on his radar. The Jaguars are a team that tend to arrange meetings with the prospects they intend to draft, recent history has shown that. Jacksonville hosted Mercilus and also attended his pro-day.

– Melvin Ingram is widely considered to be a top-ten pick and he’d be a strong option for Seattle at #12. He’s also a bit of a tweener and could suffer if a prospect like Mercilus makes a surprise jump in round one. If Ingram makes it past the Seahawks, his next most likely destinations are New York at #16 and San Diego at #18.

One of the topics discussed a lot on this blog is whether Seattle will move up or down. With only six picks in this year’s draft, there’s little chance the team will move up. I’d put the chances at slightly above 0%. Would they move down? That’s unclear at this stage and would depend on who leaves the board before the #12 pick. It’s common knowledge that the Seahawks had a deal to trade the #14 pick in 2010 but passed because they rated Earl Thomas so highly. That could be the case again this year, where need meets value and any deal to move down is ignored. But if certain favored players go in the top ten, it increases the chances of a trade.

It’s also worth considering why the Seahawks would want to accumulate stock. Pete Carroll and John Schneider like picks as much as any GM in the league, but they’d probably love to get some extra picks for 2013 if possible. I’ll let you decide why that might be the case. A trade similar to the one that saw Atlanta move up for Julio Jones last year would be hard to ignore. The only thing is – who would be prepared to make such a generous trade, and who would you trade up for? At this stage I think any movement in round one is unlikely, but not impossible. Onto this week’s projection…

Updated first round mock draft

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
The inevitable.
#2 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
The inevitable part II.
#3 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Minnesota won’t waste any time calling Kalil’s name. He has elite potential. The inevitable part III.
#4 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
The Browns have to find someone on offense to build around. Richardson would be the wise choice here.
#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 know this is now a three-draft plan so they need to take whoever is highest on their board with this pick.
#7 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
This would be no more surprising than the time the Jaguars drafted Tyson Alualu 10th overall.
#8 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
If the Dolphins don’t take Tannehill here he could fall. How much does Mike Sherman rate his former Texas A&M starter?
#9 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
Carolina wants players that will fit into 3-4 and 4-3 looks.
#10 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
The Bills are going to draft an offensive lineman here, the only question is which one will they choose?
#11 Luke Kuechly (LB, Boston College)
Scott Pioli loves guys like this – blue collar, high work ethic. Not always spectacular, but always solid.
#12 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
Seattle needs to find a DE/OLB hybrid to fit into the defense and help the pass rush. Upshaw could go earlier than this.
#13 Cordy Glenn (OT, Georgia)
Whoever is playing quarterback for Arizona next year, the Cardinals simply must draft an offensive lineman.
#14 Dontari Poe (DT, Memphis)
One of the 3-4 teams will convince themselves they cannot live without Poe’s major potential.
#15 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
Talented prospect at a position that’s becoming increasingly important in the NFL.
#16 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
He’s rising, but not everybody will buy into a guy with off-field issues. New York might be willing to turn a blind eye.
#17 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
Cincinnati will want to make sure one of their first round picks is a corner, but DeCastro is hard to pass here.
#18 Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
A bit of a fall for Ingram, but San Diego would be a good fit for his skill-set.
#19 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
Trading for Brandon Marshall will allow Chicago to concentrate on cornerbacks and defensive lineman here.
#20 Peter Konz (OC, Wisconsin)
Underrated player. Don’t be surprised if he goes earlier than expected. The best player at his position since Alex Mack.
#21 Stephon Gilmore (CB, South Carolina)
Gilmore’s performance at the combine has seemingly done enough to cement his place in the top-25 picks.
#22 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Cleveland needs to keep adding playmakers but may look at Martin as too good to pass here.
#23 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Coverage skills are the issue here but eventually someone will pull the trigger on Kirkpatrick.
#24 Dont’a Hightower (LB, Alabama)
This guy was made to play in the AFC North.
#25 Doug Martin (RB, Boise State)
This is now the Peyton Manning show and they need to build around their prized addition. Martin does everything well.
#26 Stephen Hill (WR, Georgia Tech)
Mind-blowing potential given his size, athleticism and hands. He stood out in limited targets during the 2011 season.
#27 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
He has the physical potential, but where does he fit? Like Cam Jordan, he could suffer a fall.
#28 Shea McClellin (DE, Boise State)
Green Bay’s priority has to be finding another pass rusher.
#29 Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)
A great fit for this defense, Curry would be a real threat in Baltimore.
#30 Coby Fleener (TE, Stanford)
His pro-day raised a few eye-brows and he could go in the top-25.
#31 Chandler Jones (DE, Syracuse)
New England might consider adding a rangy pass rusher early in the draft.
#32 Bobby Massie (OT, Ole Miss)
A bit of a late riser, Massie looks like a solid right tackle. New York are good enough to make a pick this this.

Round two

#33 St. Louis – Jerel Worthy (DT, Michigan State)
#34 Indianapolis – Kevin Zeitler (OG, Wisconsin)
#35 Minnesota – Reuben Randle (WR, LSU)
#36 Tampa Bay – Bobby Wagner (LB, Utah State)
#37 Cleveland – Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
#38 Jacksonville – Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)
#39 St. Louis – Kelechi Osemele (OG, Iowa State)
#40 Carolina – Jayron Hosley (CB, Virginia Tech)
#41 Buffalo – Mychal Kendricks (LB, California)
#42 Miami – Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
#43 Seattle – Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
#44 Kansas City – Amini Silatolu (OG, Midwestern State)
#45 Dallas – Jared Crick (DE, Nebraska)
#46 Philadelphia – Nick Perry (DE, USC)
#47 New York Jets – Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
#48 New England – Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
#49 San Diego – Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State)
#50 Chicago – Josh Robinson (CB, UCF)
#51 Philadelphia – Lavonte David (LB, Nebraska)
#52 Tennessee – Kendall Reyes (DT, Connecticut)
#53 Cincinnati – Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
#54 Detroit – Sean Spence (LB, Miami)
#55 Atlanta – Casey Heyward (CB, Vanderbilt)
#56 Pittsburgh – Brandon Brooks (OG, Miami-Ohio)
#57 Denver – Brandon Thompson (DT, Clemson)
#58 Houston – Josh Chapman (DT, Alabama)
#59 New Orleans – VOID
#60 Green Bay – Brandon Weeden (QB, Oklahoma State)
#61 Baltimore – Harrison Smith (S, Notre Dame)
#62 San Francisco – Brandon Boykin (CB, Georgia)
#63 New York Giants – David Wilson (RB, Virginia Tech)
#64 New England – Keyshawn Martin (WR, Michigan State)

Updated mock draft: 4th April

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

A third round option for the Seahawks?

We’re three weeks away from the draft, meaning just three more projections before April 26th. The top six should be fairly predictable, with really only the order in which Trent Richardson, Morris Claiborne and Justin Blackmon leave the board to be determined. After that, it’s a free-for-all.

I suspect we could see some movement. Jacksonville will hope there’s a market beyond Miami for Ryan Tannehill, enabling them to conjure up an attractive trade offer. Even if that isn’t the case, it makes sense for the Jaguars to explore trade options given their priority must be to build around Blaine Gabbert first and foremost.

Miami could receive trade offers depending on the defensive prospects Carolina are eyeing, while the Panthers themselves could receive interest from anyone looking for the #2 offensive tackle. Even Kansas City could be a hot-spot for teams fearing who the Seahawks will draft.

That uncertainty makes picks 7-11 difficult to project, and therefore it’s tough to gauge who’ll be left for Seattle. Despite increased speculation over the possibility the Seahawks could draft Luke Kuechly or David DeCastro, the teams priority has to be the pass rush. This is a defense that is edging closer to being extremely good. Yet without a compliment to Chris Clemons and an increase in quarterback pressure, it’ll never reach its full potential. Expect the Seahawks to draft a pass rusher in round one and field a top-10 unit if healthy.

I’ve included a second round projection and also a third round choice for Seattle. This mock addresses the three key areas for the Seahawks – pass rusher, linebacker and running back. A prospect in round one who can be a hybrid DE/OLB and will get to the quarterback, a linebacker with range who can cover and a running back that’ll make sure the Seahawks don’t miss a beat when they spell Marshawn Lynch.

Updated first round mock draft

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
The inevitable.
#2 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
The inevitable part II.
#3 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Minnesota won’t waste any time calling Kalil’s name. He has elite potential. The inevitable part III.
#4 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
The Browns have to find someone on offense to build around. Richardson would be the wise choice here.
#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 know this is now a three-draft plan so they need to take whoever is highest on their board with this pick.
#7 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
The Jaguars have been down this route before with Derrick Harvey, but they need a pass rusher.
#8 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
If the Dolphins don’t take Tannehill here he could fall. How much does Mike Sherman rate his former Texas A&M starter?
#9 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
Carolina wants players that will fit into 3-4 and 4-3 looks. Upshaw fits the bill.
#10 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
The Bills are going to draft an offensive lineman here, the only question is which one will they choose?
#11 Luke Kuechly (LB, Boston College)
Scott Pioli loves guys like this – blue collar, high work ethic. Not always spectacular, but always solid.
#12 Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
Seattle needs to find a DE/OLB hybrid to fit into the defense and help the pass rush.
#13 Cordy Glenn (OT, Georgia)
Whoever is playing quarterback for Arizona next year, the Cardinals simply must draft an offensive lineman.
#14 Dontari Poe (DT, Memphis)
One of the 3-4 teams will convince themselves they cannot live without Poe’s major potential.
#15 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
Someone will fall for Cox’s athleticism and ensure he’s taken early in the first round. I prefer him in a 3-4.
#16 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
He’s rising, but not everybody will buy into a guy with off-field issues. New York might be willing to turn a blind eye.
#17 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
Cincinnati will want to make sure one of their first round picks is a corner, but DeCastro is hard to pass here.
#18 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
With the top offensive lineman leaving the board before the #18 pick, San Diego may fill another big need here.
#19 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
Trading for Brandon Marshall will allow Chicago to concentrate on the best lineman available at this spot.
#20 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
He played incredibly well in 2011 and if teams are satisfied with his health, he should be a top-20 pick.
#21 Stephon Gilmore (CB, South Carolina)
Gilmore’s performance at the combine has seemingly done enough to cement his place in the top-25 picks.
#22 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
Cleveland needs to keep adding playmakers and could see Wright as a nice compliment to Greg Little.
#23 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Coverage skills are the issue here but eventually someone will pull the trigger on Kirkpatrick.
#24 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
This would be tremendous value for the Steelers.
#25 Doug Martin (RB, Boise State)
This is now the Peyton Manning show and they need to build around their prized addition. Martin does everything well.
#26 Stephen Hill (WR, Georgia Tech)
Mind-blowing potential given his size, athleticism and hands. He stood out in limited targets during the 2011 season.
#27 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
Would anyone be surprised if New England traded this pick? This could be an area where the fourth QB leaves the board post-trade.
#28 Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)
Don’t be surprised if Curry goes much earlier than this.
#29 Dont’a Hightower (LB, Alabama)
Dont’a Hightower looks like he was born to play defense for the Ravens.
#30 Coby Fleener (TE, Stanford)
His pro-day raised a few eye-brows and he could go in the top-25.
#31 Peter Konz (OC, Wisconsin)
Possibly the best bargain in the first round. Konz is the real deal.
#32 Bobby Massie (OT, Ole Miss)
A bit of a late riser, Massie looks like a solid right tackle. New York are good enough to make a pick this this.

Round two

#33 St. Louis – Jerel Worthy (DT, Michigan State)
#34 Indianapolis – Kevin Zeitler (OG, Wisconsin)
#35 Minnesota – Reuben Randle (WR, LSU)
#36 Tampa Bay – Bobby Wagner (LB, Utah State)
#37 Cleveland – Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State)
#38 Jacksonville – Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)
#39 St. Louis – Kelechi Osemele (OG, Iowa State)
#40 Carolina – Jayron Hosley (CB, Virginia Tech)
#41 Buffalo – Mychal Kendricks (LB, California)
#42 Miami – Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
#43 Seattle – Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
#44 Kansas City – Amini Silatolu (OG, Midwestern State)
#45 Dallas – Jared Crick (DE, Nebraska)
#46 Philadelphia – Nick Perry (DE, USC)
#47 New York Jets – Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
#48 New England – Shea McClellin (DE, Boise State)
#49 San Diego – Brandon Brooks (OG, Miami OH)
#50 Chicago – Josh Robinson (CB, UCF)
#51 Philadelphia – Brock Osweiler (QB, Arizona State)
#52 Tennessee – Kendall Reyes (DT, Connecticut)
#53 Cincinnati – Ronnell Lewis (LB, Oklahoma)
#54 Detroit – Lavonte David (LB, Nebraska)
#55 Atlanta – Chandler Jones (DE, Syracuse)
#56 Pittsburgh – Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
#57 Denver – Brandon Thompson (DT, Clemson)
#58 Houston – Josh Chapman (DT, Alabama)
#59 New Orleans – VOID
#60 Green Bay – Brandon Weeden (QB, Oklahoma State)
#61 Baltimore – Harrison Smith (S, Notre Dame)
#62 San Francisco – Casey Hayward (CB, Vanderbilt)
#63 New York Giants – David Wilson (RB, Virginia Tech)
#64 New England – (Brandon Boykin, CB Georgia)

Seahawks third round pick: Robert Turbin (RB, Utah State)

Exploring how Upshaw/Ingram would fit in Seattle

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

With the #12 pick in the 2012 draft, the Seattle Seahawks select...

If the Seahawks draft Courtney Upshaw or Melvin Ingram in round one, how would they fit into the defensive scheme? Are they LEO pass rushers? Would they play the WILL or the SAM? Are they orthodox 4-3 rushers who take over the Raheem Brock role?

These questions are asked more than any other on this blog. This probably means I’ve not done a good enough job describing why they fit in Seattle, so hopefully we can get to the bottom of this today. Firstly, I was grateful to hear Scott Enyeart – USC beat writer – discussing the subject in a podcast for the HawkBlogger site today.

“The concept is an elephant defensive end. Basically it’s kind of a hybrid linebacker/defensive end type player who’s got some 3-4 principles and it was a way to generate some pass rush and also be really super effective against the run. That fast twitch, speedy edge rusher, that Justin Tuck type – I don’t know it that’s necessarily what Seattle wants because I think they want to be able to be effective against the run and not have a drop off and have to run certain players in the game and those types of things. So I think that’s Upshaw’s versatility over your traditional, you know, ‘LT – I’m a linebacker I’m going to get down on the line and be a pass rusher’. I think that’d he’d be able to be effective against the run and I think that’s what I like about him maybe over Ingram – versus the run. But I do think that maybe an ‘elephant’ role, that would put him in the Clay Mathews class as he was used under Pete Carroll.”

The Seahawks need an elephant. Someone who continues to improve the team’s strong run defense, but also helps create more of a pass rush threat to compliment the LEO Chris Clemons. The player needs to be a three-down type who can line up at the same time as Red Bryant and Clemons. He needs to be in on any play call – 3rd and short against the run, 1st and 20 against the pass. He needs to read well in space, be aggressive against the run and get to the quarterback. He doesn’t need to be Jason Pierre-Paul or DeMarcus Ware, because this is another one of Pete Carroll’s specialist roles. The Seahawks won’t be drafting a prospect who necessarily puts up the big numbers or has the rare athleticism, but as part of a collective group, they have an essential role to play.

Since Carroll arrived in Seattle – facing a substantial rebuild as big as any in the NFL – he’s had to be both radical and patient. This off-season presents an opportunity to address the linebacker position, with David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill both entering the free-agent market and with other needs (QB, OL, DB, WR etc) addressed, at least for the immediate future. This coincides with a wealth of talent in the particular target areas discussed here.

I’ve included part of a presentation conducted by Carroll at a Nike coaching clinic during his time as Head Coach at USC. The colored words below are Carroll’s, per Trojan Football Analysis. Although there’s quite a lot of detail and X’s and O’s to this piece, it does explain the team’s base defense and how Upshaw or Ingram would be used as an ‘elephant’ or SLB if they’re taken with the 12th overall pick.

Pete Carroll:

The front of the defense is called a “4-3 under” defense. We use it in combination with different secondary schemes such as Cover 1, 2, 3, or man to man coverage, etc. I’ll start out by explaining the 4-3 under in conjunction with Cover 1. In this case we’ll call it Under-Cover-1 Flex (Diagram 1). The flex call means that free safety is going to the split end side of the offense. The word flex is just a term we use in reference to the split end side of the offensive line. The tight end side we call the solid side. From this front we get a “gap control” type of play. When you put a defensive lineman in a gap and tell him he has to control the gap he can play very aggressively. He can aggressively attack the line of scrimmage and not just read and react.

The more the attacking oriented the defense is the better off it will be. Obviously when you come off the ball, sometimes it is run and sometimes it is pass. We like to be in the mode of attacking the line of scrimmage, so when it is a pass we will get pressure on the quarterback.

Diagram 1. 4-3 Under-Cover 1-Flex Front

With this basic front we can get eight players in the box area of this defense on run plays. We are going to stop the run on defense very well when we use this front. In this defense we outnumber the offense. The defense has more players at the line than the offense can block.

The SLB plays the tight end in man-to-man with this front using outside leverage as he is aligned in a loose 9 technique. The SLB can not get hooked as he is playing outside leverage on all blocks. The nose tackle (NT) is in a 1 technique to the strong side. The defensive tackle (DT) is in a three technique to the weak side. The ends (DE) are in a 5 technique on the offensive tackles. The MLB has responsibility for the strong side B gap and the WLB for the weak side A gap.

The free safety (FS) is playing down to the line of scrimmage on run plays and is responsible for the number two receiver to the weak side of the formation on pass plays. He plays the receiver as well with outside leverage. It should allow him to play really aggressive in the running game because the running back can not beat the free safety coming out of the backfield. The WLB and MLB are bracketed on the other running back playing him in and out with outside leverage. The corners are matched up with the WR’s man-to-man in this scheme.

The thing that is challenging is the MLB defending the play action plays. However, he knows that he is vulnerable and can overplay to where he is vulnerable.

No matter what coverage you are playing you have to convince your players to win their leverage side. If the coach tells a player to play outside leverage and complains when a receiver catches a ball to his inside, the coach is wrong. When we give them a leverage side, we are telling them to just do that aspect right at least.

To take this even further for example we tell our corners to play inside leverage (i.e. to the inside shoulder of the receiver) in this defense. This helps the corner avoid giving up the big play to the inside of the field. If you want them to play the out route towards the sideline you have to give them someone playing support over the top. There is not a corner in college or the NFL that can both play the out routes and also avoid giving up the deep ball to the inside. You have to be realistic as to what your players can do. They only way a corner can play inside leverage and make a play on the out route is if the offense screws up or the quarterback makes a bad throw or the receiver runs a bad route. If you don’t understand that then you are asking the corner to do something he can’t do.

The flex side defensive end is playing on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle in a 5 technique. He does not have to be a large player and can be more of a pass rushing end. The only thing he can not do is get hooked or reached by the defender and moved out of position. He can play pass first and still be effective. However he does have to maintain gap responsibility for the defense to work. The key to the defense is not getting hooked. If the solid side defensive end is aligned in the strong side C gap he simply can not get hooked. He has to control that gap as does each position on the defensive line.

If the offense comes out in a one back set everyone plays the same except for the free safety. He is still playing the number two receiver to the flex side but he has to move outside to cover him.

Diagram 2. One Back Set & Doubles

Diagram 3. Trips Set

To stay out of mismatches, the corners can take the wide receivers and match up with them (Diagram 4). If both wide receivers come to the same side, we can put both corners on them and cover the remaining receiver with the strong safety. If the corners are on the boundary side the free safety is in the middle. If the corners are on the other side of the field the strong safety is in the middle.

Diagram 4 Twin Doubles

The other one-back set we see a lot of is the one-back and two tight end set (Diagram 5). We put the free safety up on the second tight end. That gives you a problem with run support, but we can play it that way. Everything in the defense is basically the same.

Diagram 5. One-back and two tight ends set

If the offense comes out and gives the defense a two-back and two tight end look nothing changes for the defense (Diagram 6). The corner comes inside and plays man-to-man on the second tight end. Everyone else has the same match ups they had with any two-back sets.

Diagram 6. Two-back set with two tight ends

I want so show you how we react to the run so when you see the film you will know what we are doing (Diagram 7). Our defensive ends are aligned in 5 techniques. The nose tackle is in the A gap to the strong side in a one technique. The weak side defensive tackle is in a 3 technique off the outside shoulder of the guard. The WLB has the A gap to the weak side, but on plays to the strong side he has to get over the center’s block quickly. He cheats somewhat to the strong side with his alignment.

Everyone on the defense is turning the play inside. No one can ever get hooked. The MLB has the strong side B gap. If he is attacking in the B gap, he meets the block and turns it back inside. He plays with his head and outside arm free taking the block on with his inside shoulder. The free safety is our backside player. If the ball breaks back to the weak side A gap he has to make the play there. If there is a reverse run back the other way he has to make that play also. He generally does not cross the center line to make many plays.

Diagram 7. Strong side run responsibility

On the strong side if the offense is lined up in an I formation they have only four blockers to that side. The defense has four defenders and the WLB flowing fast to that side. Everyone on the defense is knocking the ball back inside to the WLB on this play.

If the ball is run to the weak side the MLB becomes the backside run player (Diagram 8). His play depends upon the direction of the run. He has to first defend against any cut back runs through the strong side B gap. If he needs to run through the backside B gap on plays away from him he can. The free safety can do the same thing on the plays away from him. If you ask the MLB to play the cutback and to get over the top then he is not going to be able to be aggressive.

Diagram 8. Weak side run responsibility

On plays to the strong side everyone plays with their outside arm free. If the SLB gets a down block from the tight end he rides him down and looks into the back field for the next block coming at him. On that block we ask him to wrong arm the block and bounce the ball outside. With that type of play we get what we call backer force. The MLB sees the power play going off tackle. He knows the SLB is going to bounce the play. He comes over the top and plays the ball with the strong safety coming up late to play the ball from the outside. Everyone plays with their outside arm free.

There are various adjustments we can make with our personnel. We can take our nose tackle and move him head-up onto the guard for example into what we call a G position. What we normally do is slant back to where we came from. As long as the defender keeps the ball on his inside shoulder he can play as fast as he wants to.

We can also use our base alignment to show overload to one side and then slant back to the other side before the snap of the ball. That is the flexibility of the defense.

There is a lot of flexibility for changing the force in this defensive scheme. If the offense picks up on the fact that the free safety is your weak side force man then they can develop schemes to make it hard for him. All we do then is to change the force on the play from the free safety to the corner in order to switch it up.

We can also change the force by slanting the defensive 3 technique and 5 techniques inside and scraping the WLB outside. We bring the corner off his wide out and make him the force man. He is playing the number 2 wide receiver out of the backfield and thus is the force man on the run to him. The free safety then rolls over the top of the corner into the deep half of the field. If you don’t want to play him in man-to-man you can play zone. With this kind of force change you can play quarter zone coverage to the strong side and half coverage to the weak side.

Most of the time we play our corners in some form of press coverage and have at least one safety deep in the hole for protection against the big play. Against some of the more spread out offenses we will back off our corners. With some spread formations we want to get the defensive backs eyes on the football. The deep safety is a player that is close to my heart. That is what I played. The deep safety has to play two routes. He has to defend the seam route and the post route. That is all I ask him to play. He has to find the seam route from the number two receiver. If there are two of them then he has to get in the middle and play them both. On the post route he has to stay on top of that route. That is easy to do but it becomes harder as offenses do more of it and get better at it.

In general we flip flop our defense. The SLB always goes to the tight end side. We often employ a rush and drop end from either side of the line. The rush guy goes with the SLB and the drop end goes with the WLB. The MLB aligns then to the SLB side of the play. The corners match up with the wide receivers and the safeties flip flop to the passing strength and running strength of the formation. This is our base defense.

As you can see, the base defense has a linebacker playing up at the LOS in each call. The determination to be strong against the run is described in detail, and a player like Courtney Upshaw would provide the kind of edge control the defense requires. The big issue that is often referred to on this blog is how Upshaw would deal in coverage versus a tight end, but I think this is adaptable. Carroll has consistently taken players (Red Bryant being the key example) and played up to their strengths, while minimising the weaknesses. Suggesting a possible adaptation or manipulation to suit a player such as Upshaw is not about changing the entire concept of the defense, it’s about limiting a weakness while still benefiting from the positives.

In many ways Upshaw is ideal for the elephant in that he can provide solid run defense but still rush the passer, as Enyeart testified in his quote at the top of this piece. If covering certain tight ends is an issue (it would be, certainly compared to a more athletic prospect such as Melvin Ingram and even he’d struggle against the best) then why can’t you work around that? One of Seattle’s tall and physical corners can move inside, the MLB can come across and cover. I would describe it as acknowledging that you can’t always find the perfect player for every role. If a prospect is ideal in every way but for a certain aspect (ie. coverage vs TE’s) then you work around it to benefit from the other positive aspects. That’s not such a major stretch and not a great detachment from game-planning to face a certain prospect in a given week. After all, it could be that in some cases against weaker tight-end opponents, you revert back to the original base-plan anyway. You’re not going to likely put a linebacker on Jimmy Graham anyway.

I think the information above will help paint a better picture of how Upshaw and Ingram would be used as an aggressive hybrid of the DE/LB position – an elephant. The reason Upshaw might have the edge is due to his superiority vs the run and his physicality, plus his ability to read in space. Ingram would still fill the role and would have other advantages, they’re just not as valued as the run defense aspect. I think the other goal aside from drafting for this position is to make the MLB and WLB as athletic as possible. Hawthorne is unsigned for a reason and I think the Seahawks would really like to install linebackers who can cover as almost a premium. This is why I believe Zach Brown could be an option, because his major positive coming into the league will be sideline-to-sideline mobility and coverage. If you have Brown covering the TE and one of the big corners in a 2TE set, you’re maxing out the potential of your elephant.

Elsewhere…

Mark Eckel of the Times has been surveying NFL scouts and personnel on the top defensive prospects in the 2012 draft. Here’s some of the quotes he received for the defensive lineman:

On Michael Brockers: “I think he’s the best DT in the draft. He can play the run and he has some pass rush.”

On Fletcher Cox: “He’s OK. He can be a bit of an enigma. He’s getting a little overhyped because of the Combine. He’s perfect for a 3-4 team as an end, I don’t like him as much in a 4-3.”

On Dontari Poe: “He’ll be overdrafted. He did all of that at the Combine, so some team will take him way higher than he should go. I mean watch him play, just watch. He didn’t do anything. And he wasn’t playing at a very high level, either. All I know is he had one sack last year and it came against Austin Peay. You probably didn’t even know Austin Peay had a football team.”

On Kendall Reyes: “Of all of them, he’s a pure 4-3 tackle, he can play the 3-technique for you.” Another scouts is quoted as saying: “He’s soft. He doesn’t finish.”

On Devon Still: “He was very inconsistent from what I saw. He’s going to need a lot of work. I think he’ll be all right, just not right away.”

On Jerel Worthy: “I don’t like him. He’s lazy and he’s not productive.”

On Alameda Ta’amu: “He’s a classic 3-4 nose. I’m not sure I like him in a 4-3.”

On Quinton Coples: “He’s good as hell, but he’s nuts. I’m not sure what’s up with him. I’d put him at left end in a 4-3, but he could do everything if he wants it.”

On Whitney Mercilus: “Those 16 sacks are a little deceiving. A lot of it was just cleaning up. He’s not good against the run at all, so he might have to be a situational pass rusher.”

On Jared Crick: “A lot of his sacks came when (Ndamukong) Suh was still there. A real try-hard guy. What you call a plugger.”

The Luke Kuechly debate & Thursday notes

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Luke Kuechly is the red-hot choice for Seattle if you believe the mock drafts. Todd McShay thinks so, stating, “Linebacker is among the Seahawks’ top needs, and Kuechly would immediately improve Seattle’s linebacker corps with his instincts, consistency, production and leadership.”

Rob Rang agrees, “Seattle doesn’t appear particularly concerned about the possibility of losing (David) Hawthorne or (Leroy) Hill to free agency. Perhaps that’s because they’re targeting the All-American Kuechly, who’d be an upgrade in the middle.”

So does Walter Cherepinsky, “Kuechly is the best player available who makes sense for the Seahawks. They’ll need an inside linebacker if they don’t re-sign David Hawthorne.”

It’s certainly true that linebacker is a top need, but whether it’s an issue addressed in round one is open to debate. The aforementioned Hawthorne and Hill remain unsigned despite limited interest in the open market. It’s still technically possible both will return to Seattle, but it seems likely the Seahawks will use the draft to upgrade. After all, Pete Carroll highlighted linebacker as an area for improvement in his end of season press conference. What’s more, this is a strong class at the position with strong depth across the first three rounds of the draft.

So are the Seahawks likely to spend their first pick on a MIKE linebacker? Not for me.

Here’s what I wrote in yesterday’s mock draft to explain my reasoning:

Improving the pass rush has to be the priority and that’s something Kuechly won’t do. He’s a pure MIKE who will make plenty of tackles at the second level, but isn’t going to cause too many problems behind the LOS. He added size for the combine (appearing at 242lbs) but is likely to have a playing weight of around 235-240lbs. That’s a concern and people wondering whether he’ll have a Brian Urlacher-type impact in the league have to remember Urlacher is 20lbs heavier. A better comparison for Kuechly would be Sean Lee in Dallas – a fine football player, but also the type that doesn’t cost a top-15 pick.

“Great leadership is another reason quoted to justify Kuechly to Seattle, but the Seahawks already have a vocal and emotional leader on defense and just gave him a $35m extension. While a hole remains at MLB, it’s also worth remembering that David Hawthorne was an UDFA and the front office did a good job plucking KJ Wright from round four last year. Without doubt the MIKE spot will have to be filled if no free agent is signed, but with prospects such as Mychal Kendricks available beyond the first round, there’s no real need for the Seahawks to avoid drafting an impact pass rusher with the #12 pick should the opportunity present itself.”

There’s a lot to like about Kuechly’s game. As you can see in the tape at the top of the article, he’s like a magnet to the ball. His decision making is first class, but he also has the pursuit to match. It’s no fluke he made 191 total tackles in 2011 and he’ll likely enter the NFL and just carry on where he left off. He’s a Field-Marshall at the second level, mopping up the work of the defensive line and consistently gravitating to the ball carrier. The comparison to Dallas’ Sean Lee is fair and just, flashing similar instinct and leadership while possessing the kind of attitude teams love. There’s a reason the Cowboys’ war room celebrated drafting Lee with such vigour, and I suspect whoever drafts Kuechly will have the same reaction. Simply put, a defensive coaches a dream.

On the other hand, there are some concerns. The size issue are unavoidable and while he’s a combative player who will consistently make tackles, he’s not a big hitter and won’t always stop the ball carrier on the initial contact. Will Kuechly be quite the same force in the much more physical NFL? He doesn’t have a lot of forced fumbles or game-changing plays and in goal-line/short-yardage situations he can be a bit of a liability because he’s just not that big. He has the speed and athleticism to be great in coverage and teams won’t have any complaints with the tape in that aspect. He’ll work well in zone, he reads the field extremely well and perhaps most importantly – plays with real control. But again, we haven’t seen many big-plays.

It’s hard to dislike a decision to draft Kuechly and there’s a very real chance someone will take him early. One team could buy into the idea he’ll be a safe, steady player for a long time. He’s the kind of prospect Gene Smith and Scott Pioli like to draft and could easily go at #7 to Jacksonville or #11 to Kansas City. Yet it’s just not a vital position on defense anymore. The introduction of mic’d up helmets has taken away the full effectiveness of an intelligent MIKE with a superb field IQ. One of Lofa Tatupu’s greatest strengths early in his career was the ability to read the offense and organise. Now, a coach sitting in a booth can tell one player on defense – usually the MIKE – what needs to happen. Players like Tatupu will soon be dinosaurs and it’ll just be another position for the bigger, faster player you can find. One of Kuechly’s greatest aspects – his ability to organise – won’t be truly maxed out at the next level.

It could also be argued that the number of difference makers at middle-linebacker in the NFL can be counted on one hand. Seattle needs a pass rush more than anything, and it’s something they just aren’t going to get from Kuechly. With so much young talent in the secondary and with some nice pieces on the defensive line, the Seahawks really need to find someone who can compliment Chris Clemons and get to the quarterback. While it can be argued there may be some defensive end talent in round two, there could be a late-first round rush on the position leaving the Seahawks with limited options. However, there’s unlikely to be a rush on linebackers and a player such as Mychal Kendricks could be primed for the team’s pick in round two. Drafting Kuechly at #12 would put a lot of pressure on Seattle to attack the second tier of pass rushers, something they’ll want to avoid if possible.

Above all else it just smacks of a luxury pick. Kuechly’s the kind of player most teams want to have, but most team’s will only draft him if they’re set at other key positions. Tony Pauline sums it up best in his pro-day round round-up for Sports Illustrated:

“Kuechly continues to impress scouts with his athleticism and quickness. The linebacker was swift today and looked better in pursuit drills than he showed at the combine. That said, most at the workout feel Kuechly grades as a late-first-round pick.”

Essentially, everybody likes the guy, but he’s likely to go to a competitive team that can afford to spend a first round pick on a middle-linebacker. I had Kuechly going to Baltimore in my latest mock draft– not because I don’t like him – simply because I couldn’t find a team that can justify the pick earlier. Denver are a strong candidate at #25, but may feel obliged to keep building their offense to suit Peyton Manning. I could still see Kuechly going in the top-15, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he dropped to the late first. And it certainly would surprise me if the Seahawks drafted him instead of one of the top pass-rushers at #12.

David DeCastro an alternative?

A quick look at the latest mock drafts on NFL.com show Charley Casserly, Chad Reuter and Bucky Brooks all projecting the Stanford guard to Seattle. There’s some logic to the pick, considering the Seahawks released Robert Gallery and haven’t been able to bring in a big-name replacement. They wanted Steve Hutchinson, but he signed a substantial contract in Tennessee. I like David DeCastro, even if I think he’s a little overrated and believe comparisons to Hutchinson are lazy. His best position might be the one he played at Stanford – right guard – where his technical quality and smarts against the run will be fully utilised. But the Seahawks spending another first round pick on the offensive line would be pure overkill and a move they’re highly unlikely to make.

Although talent will always be more important than anything else, consistency and familiarity are also integral when trying to build a succesful line. The Seahawks have talent and depth, including two first round picks, a second round pick and a third round pick on their line. That’s a sizeable investment so far, while other positions haven’t received quite as much love (namely – quarterback and defensive end). For the most part last year, Tarvaris Jackson stayed clean and Marshawn Lynch prospered. Seattle clearly likes Paul McQuistan, Lemuel Jeanpierre and Breno Giacomini while they recently signed Frank Omiyale for further depth. All are familiar with Tom Cable and the zone scheme the Seahawks wish to run, and that familiarity cannot be underestimated. Let’s not forget that the greatest offensive line in the team’s history included just two first round picks and the rest was built around two mid-rounders and an UDFA.

It’s all about weighing up what will make this team more successful. Sure, you draft DeCastro at #12 and maybe he does become a lynch-pin at left guard for the next decade (but that’s not a lock by any means). If the Seahawks start Paul McQuistan at left guard instead, will the impact on the running game and pass protection be significantly weaker in 2012? I’d argue not. This is a well coached line and I expect that’ll continue next year.

Meanwhile, if the Seahawks avoid improving their pass rush in round one, is a solution likely to be forthcoming later? Because the idea of the draft has to be continued overall improvement, not just plugging guys in who might stick around the longest. Maybe some people could argue drafting a Courtney Upshaw or Melvin Ingram is a little bit more of a gamble (I disagree, but I digress…) yet you’re still taking a chance to improve the overall quality of the team. Seattle needs a pass rush more than it needs another first round offensive lineman and I think Pete Carroll and John Schneider will focus on other areas for now. You can’t just keep pumping first round picks into one area of the team and besides – Seattle’s MVP for the offensive line may well be stood coaching from the sidelines anyway. That counts for something.

I want to see Courtney Upshaw work out

One of the consistent complaints I hear about Courtney Upshaw is the fact nobody has seen the guy work out. In fairness, he did perform at the combine – just not in every drill. He chose not to work out at the Alabama pro-day due to a minor injury, which is his prerogative considering he only gets one shot at this. He also knows that every scout in the league will be coming to watch Trent Richardson and Mark Barron, so delaying things a little bit isn’t too harmful in my eyes.

But one thing that’s also forgotten is that Upshaw did perform at the Senior Bowl – every drill. I’ve added a video from Mobile below which focuses on those work outs. I want to highlight two things. Firstly, the glowing review from Mike Mayock in the booth (the first few drills contain no volume, so don’t worry if you’re not hearing anything – it will kick in eventually). The second is a bag drill at 3:16 used to show a prospects quick feet and mobility. Upshaw is the last to compete in this clip (3:35) which also includes Melvin Ingram (the second to have a try). Anybody worried that this guy can’t move should take a look.

Updated mock draft: 21st March

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

The dyamic within the top ten picks is constantly shifting and could be manipulated further in the final month leading up to the draft. Four teams in particular will have a big influence on who the Seahawks pick at #12:

Jacksonsville Jaguars
The big question mark here is whether Shahid Khan will allow his GM Gene Smith to have full control over the draft. The Jags were right in the mix for Tim Tebow before he was dealt to the Jets earlier today. Smith hates distractions and Tebow – through no fault of his own – would’ve been the ultimate distraction. Having traded up for Blaine Gabbert a year ago, Khan’s interest in a local hero somewhat undermines the man he employs to build the roster. Is this a sign of things to come? Will Khan put pressure on his front office to go for a more exciting draft plan than Smith has used in the past? Or will the team’s GM be allowed to get on with the job of building around Blaine Gabbert and trying to make this a relevant franchise under a new coaching setup? It’s a bit of a mess at the moment.

Miami Dolphins
Speaking of franchises that are a mess, let’s move on to the Dolphins. Having struck out on Jim Harbaugh, Jeff Fisher, Peyton Manning and even Matt Flynn, Miami resembles an avalanche of destruction which will probably end up crashing into whoever has the misfortune to be the #1 pick in 2013. They have a new coaching staff, but don’t appear to have any ambitions to build around their vision. The quarterback situation is a joke and they may be forced into drafting Ryan Tannehill at #8 just to appease the masses. Ideally, they would’ve signed a player familiar with Joe Philbin’s system (Flynn), added a pass rusher in the draft and some more talent at receiver to take a methodical approach to rebuilding. They may well draft a defensive end anyway and look elsewhere for a quarterback (Brandon Weeden? Kirk Cousins? Brock Osweiler), but either way expect the Dolphins to get this wrong. A precedent has been set.

Carolina Panthers
Defense has to be the order of the day in Carolina, to support an offense led by blossoming superstar Cam Newton. Ron Rivera could sample with 3-4 looks in 2012 before making the permanent switch, putting scheme-flexible players like Dontari Poe and Fletcher Cox on the radar. Poe could easily line up at three-technique and could shed weight to play the position, but at 345lbs he’s also that rare athletic nose tackle teams drool over. Cox’s best fit is at the five-technique but can play some interior rush – although his run defense isn’t ideal playing inside in the 4-3. More importantly in terms of the impact on Seattle, let’s not rule out the Panthers drafting another pass rusher. Even with bigger needs at tackle and cornerback, Quinton Coples and Melvin Ingram are both local guys who could be on Carolina’s (and Seattle’s) radar.

Buffalo Bills
It’s fair to say the Bills’ threat to Seattle is diminishing and they won’t be competing for the same prospects. Signing Mario Williams to a mega-deal made it less likely Buffalo would add a pass rusher at #10, but the news today that Mark Anderson has agreed a four-year contract with the team shows that the draft priorities will lie elsewhere. It’s impossible to look beyond the offensive line and they’ll have a shot at the #2 ranked offensive tackle after Matt Kalil. Riley Reiff and Jonathan Martin are both good fits. The Bills have offered a contract to Demetrius Bell – the team’s starting left tackle in 2011. However, the offer comes a week into free agency and hasn’t been accepted to date, which suggests Buffalo are ready to look at alternatives. And let’s be honest here, what’s the point in having a great pass rush if your own quarterback is being equally pressured by much weaker opponents?

So what about the Seahawks?
By adding Matt Flynn and Jason Jones, it’s very clear what Pete Carroll and John Schneider are looking to get out of this draft. They still need a pass rushing compliment to Chris Clemons (the defense will never reach elite status without a much improved pass rush), they need to fill two holes at linebacker (although it’s still possible they could re-sign David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill) and finding a quality partner for Marshawn Lynch in the running game is a must. With a month to go, I fully expect the Seahawks to target a combination of – DE, LB, RB – in the first three rounds.

The popular choice for Seattle in a lot of mock drafts at the moment is Luke Kuechly, but I’m not buying into that. For starters, improving the pass rush has to be the priority and that’s something Kuechly won’t do. He’s a pure MLB who will make plenty of tackles at the second level, but isn’t going to cause too many problems behind the LOS. He added size for the combine (appearing at 242lbs) but is likely to have a playing weight of around 235-240lbs. That’s a concern and people wondering whether he’ll have a Brian Urlacher-type impact in the league have to remember Urlacher is 20lbs heavier. A better comparison for Kuechly would be Sean Lee in Dallas – a fine football player, but also the type that doesn’t cost a top-15 pick.

Great leadership is another reason quoted to justify Kuechly to Seattle, but the Seahawks already have a vocal and emotional leader on defense and just gave him a $35m extension. While a hole remains at MLB, it’s also worth remembering that David Hawthorne was an UDFA and the front office did a good job plucking KJ Wright from round four last year. Without doubt the MIKE spot will have to be filled if no free agent is signed, but with prospects such as Mychal Kendricks available beyond the first round, there’s no real need for the Seahawks to avoid drafting an impact pass rusher with the #12 pick should the opportunity present itself.

As for Seattle’s choice in this week’s mock, Quinton Coples gets the nod with Courtney Upshaw and Melvin Ingram off the board. Some team’s will avoid Coples due to his disappointing senior tape and the question marks that come with that. Other’s will believe they can tap into his upside and get the best out of an undoubted physical talent. Pete Carroll is the kind of coach that will thrive on a challenge like that. However, some teams out there are concerned about his run defense and for the Seahawks to invest their faith in the UNC lineman, they’d need to see that as an area he can improve.

Updated first round mock draft

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
The inevitable.
#2 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
The inevitable part II.
#3 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Minnesota won’t waste any time calling Kalil’s name. He has elite potential. The inevitable part III.
#4 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
The Browns have to find someone on offense to build around. Richardson would be the wise choice here.
#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 know this is now a three-draft plan so they need to take whoever is highest on their board with this pick.
#7 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
If Gene Smith is still calling the shots by April 26th, Upshaw is the kind of player he likes to draft
#8 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
Is this Plan C? Or are we further down the alphabet by now?
#9 Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
Carolina could consider adding another pass rusher here before drafting for DT and CB.
#10 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
The Bills are going to draft an offensive lineman here, the only question is which one will they choose?
#11 Dontari Poe (DT, Memphis)
Nose tackles who weigh 345lbs and move as well as this guy don’t last long in round one.
#12 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
Pete Carroll would certainly back himself to get the best out of Coples, but some teams are concerned about his run defense.
#13 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Whoever is playing quarterback for Arizona next year, the Cardinals simply must draft an offensive tackle.
#14 Cordy Glenn (OT, Georgia)
The moves made in free agency will allow the Cowboys to target Cordy Glenn or David DeCastro at this spot.
#15 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
One team will fall for Cox’s athleticism and ensure he’s taken early in the first round.
#16 Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)
A potential riser as we get closer to the draft, Curry could go earlier than this even.
#17 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
Cincinnati will want to make sure one of their first round picks is a corner, but DeCastro is hard to pass here.
#18 Dont’a Hightowe (OLB, Alabama)
With the top offensive lineman leaving the board before the #18 pick, San Diego may fill another big need here.
#19 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
Trading for Brandon Marshall will allow Chicago to concentrate on the best lineman available at this spot.
#20 Peter Konz (OC, Wisconsin)
There’s always a shock in round one. Konz is good enough to justify a pick this early and will play in the league for a decade.
#21 Stephon Gilmore (CB, South Carolina)
Gilmore’s performance at the combine has seemingly done enough to cement his place in the top-25 picks.
#22 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
Cleveland needs to keep adding playmakers and could see Wright as a nice compliment to Greg Little.
#23 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
The Lions have built up their interior defensive line, but could look to add another edge rusher here.
#24 Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State)
There are some legitimate concerns about Adams’ play, but Pittsburgh may take a chance.
#25 Doug Martin (RB, Boise State)
This is now the Peyton Manning show, and he needs a running back who does it all, including catch the ball and pass-protect.
#26 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
There are still some lingering question marks about his character that could limit his stock in round one.
#27 Stephen Hill (WR, Georgia Tech)
Josh McDaniels saw something in Demaryius Thomas. He could make a strong case for another Georgia Tech wide receiver.
#28 Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
The Packers are running out of options to improve their pass rush and could consider Branch in this situation.
#29 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Having attacked the receiver market in free agency, San Fran could draft Kirkpatrick to play corner or safety.
#30 Luke Kuechly (LB, Boston College)
A smart, blue collar player who will have a solid career. But he falls because how many teams drastically need a 240lbs MLB?
#31 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
His ability to line up in multiple spots could attract the Patriots, who are looking for more pass rush.
#32 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
Brown is full of potential and could go earlier than this. New York would be a nice landing spot.

Round two

#33 St. Louis – Kevin Zeitler (OG, Wisconsin)
#34 Indianapolis – Coby Fleener (TE, Stanford)
#35 Minnesota – Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
#36 Tampa Bay – Bobby Wagner (LB, Utah State)
#37 Cleveland – Nick Perry (DE, USC)
#38 Jacksonville – Reuben Randle (WR, LSU)
#39 St. Louis – Jerel Worthy (DT, Michigan State)
#40 Carolina – Jayron Hosley (CB, Virginia Tech)
#41 Buffalo – Ronnell Lewis (LB, Oklahoma)
#42 Miami – Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
#43 Seattle – Mychal Kendricks (LB, California)
#44 Kansas City – Kelechi Osemele (OG, Iowa State)
#45 Dallas – Jared Crick (DE, Nebraska)
#46 Philadelphia – Bobby Massie (OT, Ole Miss)
#47 New York Jets – Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)
#48 New England – Shea McClellin (DE, Boise State)
#49 San Diego – Brandon Brooks (OG, Miami OH)
#50 Chicago – Chandler Jones (DE, Syracuse)
#51 Philadelphia – Brock Osweiler (QB, Arizona State)
#52 Tennessee – Kendall Reyes (DT, Connecticut)
#53 Cincinnati – Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
#54 Detroit – Brandon Boykin (CB, Georgia)
#55 Atlanta – Josh Robinson (CB, UCF)
#56 Pittsburgh – Casey Heyward (CB, Vanderbilt)
#57 Denver – Brandon Thompson (DT, Clemson)
#58 Houston – Josh Chapman (DT, Alabama)
#59 New Orleans – VOID
#60 Green Bay – Brandon Weeden (QB, Oklahoma State)
#61 Baltimore – Harrison Smith (S, Notre Dame)
#62 San Francisco – Dwayne Allen (TE, Clemson)
#63 New York Giants – David Wilson (RB, Virginia Tech)
#64 New England – Lavonte David (LB, Nebraska)

Matt Flynn signs in Seattle & how it impacts the draft

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

The Seahawks have agreed terms with free agent quarterback Matt Flynn, formerly of Green Bay. ESPN is reporting a $26m contract over three years, with $10m in guarantees. Others have suggested it’s a base-salary of $19m over the same time-frame. Either way, Seattle’s ambitions in the upcoming draft just became a lot clearer.

Don’t expect a quarterback to be drafted in the first two or three rounds next month. Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson will compete for a starting role in 2012, with the situation likely to be reviewed at the end of the season. As we discussed yesterday, the Seahawks could already be identifying quarterback targets in the 2013 draft class. Flynn’s contract will offer the flexibility to move on in a year’s time if he fails. If he succeeds, the Seahawks could consider reviewing those plans.

We’ll have to wait and see how Flynn’s contract breaks down – particularly the guaranteed portion – but this could essentially be an incentive laden one or two year investment to see if he has what it takes to succeed as a starter. To date he has just two NFL starts after joining the Packers as a 7th round pick out of LSU in 2008. I’ve supplied tape (see above) from his finest performance of the two – a week 17 victory over Detroit back in January.

He’ll have to compete with Jackson, but should he win that battle – he’ll likely have a one-year trial to win the faith of the coaching staff and front office. I suspect the Seahawks will structure the deal with a get-out clause so if Flynn fails, they are free to move on in 12 months time. However, fans hoping the competition will also include a rookie drafted in the first two rounds will almost certainly be left disappointed.

Seattle is making it clear they are going to improve other areas of the team next month with their ‘impact’ picks (rounds 1-3). That’s not to say another quarterback won’t be drafted – it’s worth keeping an eye on the prospects expected to leave the board between rounds 4-6. But it appears obvious they’ll turn their attention to the pass rush, front seven on defense and running game in the first few rounds.

This is a calculated move which allows the team to concentrate on other areas in the draft, open up a healthy competition at quarterback and take a better look at a guy with only two starts to his name. Perhaps more importantly, it allows the Seahawks a chance to bide their time. The 2013 class of quarterbacks will be a healthy group, and it includes a player very close to this organisations head honcho. The signing of Matt Flynn may well satisfy the masses until the opportunity to pursue that particular player becomes available.

If you haven’t already, it’s worth studying up on the top three pass rushers in this draft class – Courtney Upshaw, Melvin Ingram and Quinton Coples. And don’t rule out moves to set up a full-blown assault on the quarterback class in 2013.

Updated mock draft: 14th March

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Yeah... probably won't need to do this in Buffalo

Free agency is in full flow, so before we get into this week’s projection I wanted to consider how it’s impacting the draft landscape:  

– The Bills are going all-in to sign Mario Williams and it seems like a deal is close. Williams will spend a third day with the team on Thursday as the two parties hammer out a contract which could threaten Calvin Johnson’s record-breaking extension. This is fantastic news for the Seahawks, as it increases the chances Buffalo won’t draft a pass rusher at #10. With so much money invested in one star defensive end, expect the Bills to target offensive lineman in round one.  

– Jacksonville likewise re-signed Jeremy Mincey, their best pass rusher. They still need more at the position, but having only been able to attract Laurent Robinson to Florida – could they possibly consider looking at a wide receiver at #7? They need to support Blaine Gabbert if they want him to succeed.  

– The Dallas Cowboys have been busy, acquiring Brandon Carr today and also hosting Dan Connor. This says to me that they’re trying to address key needs at cornerback and linebacker to draft an interior lineman in round one. Cordy Glenn and David DeCastro could be in play at #14.  

– The Seahawks re-signed Red Bryant and Marshawn Lynch, ensuring they weren’t left with any extra holes going into the draft. Linebacker is still an area of need with David Hawthorne (receiving interest from New Orleans) and Leroy Hill on the market, but Pete Carroll highlighted the position as an area for improvement at the end of the 2011 season. The Seahawks will kick the tire’s on the free agent quarterback market – which could be boosted in the next few days if players like Kevin Kolb are released. Matt Flynn and Chad Henne will only be offered competitive ‘Tarvaris Jackson’ type contracts, if they’re even offered a deal. This team appears to be setting itself up to attack the position next year to get the player the fans crave in Seattle.  

– Unless the team shows any serious interest in a player like Kamerion Wimbley when he’s eventually cut by Oakland, it appears the Seahawks will be set up to draft a pass rusher at #12. I’m not expecting the team to draft a quarterback until round three at the earliest, but Brock Osweiler and Kirk Cousins are probably the two players to keep an eye on in that range.  

– The Seahawks should be applauded for their work in free agency so far. The priority was always to re-sign Marshawn Lynch and Red Bryant. Job done. Anything else is a bonus.  

– It’s also worth touching on why it’s not the end of the world that Seattle will not be introducing Peyton Manning and Mario Williams to the media this week. This remains a very fluid rebuild for the Seahawks, it’ll take time and maybe every one of the five-years on Pete Carroll’s contract before you see his vision completely installed. Spending over $100m on Mario Williams would’ve excited a few people, but it would also mean potentially difficult decisions down the line. When you have a player on the kind of salary Williams will command, the cap ramifications could mean you’re not be able – for example – to franchise Earl Thomas when he’s up for renewal. Perhaps it’d be a case of keeping Thomas, but losing Kam Chancellor or Russell Okung? The Seahawks want to sign great players, but they also want to reward their own first and foremost. That’s how you build. While the options at #12 won’t be as emphatic as Mario Williams, they will still find a prospect capable of complimenting the teams pass rush.  

– One final quick thought – it seems like it’s becoming a six-player race at the top of the board. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Matt Kalil, Justin Blackmon, Morris Claiborne and Trent Richardson are looking pretty safe to be the first six players off the board – with the only real debate at picks 4-6. Cleveland could draft any one of Blackmon, Claiborne or Richardson – with Tampa Bay and St. Louis picking through the scraps.  

It’s a two-round projection this week by popular demand. I’ve listed some of ‘the next best available’ for round three at the bottom and also offered some thoughts on what I don’t like about the projection (they’re never perfect). So before you throw your computer across the room (Doug) after seeing Seattle’s pick, please read my explanation.  

Updated first round mock draft

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
The inevitable.
#2 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
The inevitable part II.
#3 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Minnesota won’t waste any time calling Kalil’s name. He has elite potential. The inevitable part III.
#4 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
This is where it gets interesting. The Browns must have a plan. Will it be to reunite Weeden and Blackmon in Ohio?
#5 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
The biggest spenders in free agency, Tampa Bay could still use a stud cornerback.
#6 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
The Rams know this is now a three-draft plan. This guy will be a star, so take him and don’t look back.
#7 Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
The Jaguars need to improve their pass rush and will have their pick of the group at this spot.
#8 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
Plan B if they can’t pursuade Peyton Manning to take his talents to South Beach?
#9 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
Carolina will probably have a good look at Dontari Poe, but the upside of Cox could win the day.
#10 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
Buffalo are desperately trying to get a deal done for Mario Williams. If they land the star prize, they’ll go offensive tackle here.
#11 Dontari Poe (DT, Memphis)
Nose tackles who weigh 345lbs and move as well as this guy don’t last long in round one.
#12 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
The Seahawks’ draft priority is to improve their pass rush. Upshaw will have a big impact on Seattle’s defense.
#13 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Whoever is playing quarterback for Arizona next year, the Cardinals simply must draft an offensive tackle.
#14 Cordy Glenn (OT, Georgia)
The moves made in free agency will allow the Cowboys to target Cordy Glenn or David DeCastro at this spot.
#15 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
Why not get a big possession receiver to compliment newly re-signed DeSean Jackson?
#16 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
The talent is there, but teams have concerns about his 2011 tape and his run defense.
#17 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
Cincinnati will want to make sure one of their first round picks is a corner, but DeCastro is hard to pass here.
#18 Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
With the top offensive lineman leaving the board before the #18 pick, San Diego may fill another big need here.
#19 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
Trading for Brandon Marshall will allow Chicago to concentrate on the best lineman available at this spot.
#20 Peter Konz (OC, Wisconsin)
There’s always a shock in round one. Konz is good enough to justify a pick this early and will play in the league for a decade.
#21 Doug Martin (RB, Boise State)
An extreme playmaker who will have an impact from day one. He could be the second coming of Ray Rice.
#22 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
Cleveland could use another edge rusher and this guys production last year could intrigue the Browns.
#23 Stephon Gilmore (CB, South Carolina)
A smart performance at the combine will promote Gilmore’s stock into the bottom half of round one.
#24 Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State)
There are some legitimate concerns about Adams’ play, but Pittsburgh may take a chance.
#25 Luke Kuechly (LB, Boston College)
Yes he performed well at the combine – but he’s still a middle linebacker, a position with a restricted value.
#26 Stephen Hill (WR, Georgia Tech)
He’s a tremendous athlete who makes spectacular plays. It’s more than combine hype that puts Hill in round one contention.
#27 Kevin Zeitler (OG, Wisconsin)
He’s rising up the boards and could be seen as a solid pick for a team looking for a long term piece to their offensive line.
  #28 Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)
The Packers are running out of options to improve their pass rush and could consider Curry in this situation.
#29 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Having attacked the receiver market in free agency, San Fran could draft Kirkpatrick to play corner or safety.
#30 Dont’a Hightower (LB, Alabama)
The very definition of a defensive prospect who fits in Baltimore. A tough football player, simple as that.
#31 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
His ability to line up in multiple spots could attract the Patriots, who are looking for more pass rush.
#32 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
Brown is full of potential and could go earlier than this. New York would be a nice landing spot.

Round two  

#33 St. Louis – Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
#34 Indianapolis – Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
#35 Minnesota – Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
#36 Tampa Bay – Bobby Wagner (LB, Utah State)
#37 Cleveland – Brandon Weeden (QB, Oklahoma State)
#38 Jacksonville – Reuben Randle (WR, LSU)
#39 St. Louis – Kelechi Osemele (OG, Iowa State)
#40 Carolina – Jayron Hosley (CB, Virginia Tech)
#41 Buffalo – Ronnell Lewis (LB, Oklahoma)
#42 Miami – Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
#43 Seattle – Mychal Kendricks (LB, California)
#44 Kansas City – Bobby Massie (OT, Ole Miss)
#45 Dallas – Jared Crick (DE, Nebraska)
#46 Philadelphia – Nick Perry (DE, USC)
#47 New York Jets – Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)
#48 New England – Shea McClellin (DE, Boise State)
#49 San Diego – Brandon Brooks (OG, Miami OH)
#50 Chicago – Dwayne Allen (TE, Clemson)
#51 Philadelphia – Brock Osweiler (QB, Arizona State)
#52 Tennessee – Chandler Jones (DE, Syracuse)
#53 Cincinnati – Casey Heyward (CB, Vanderbilt)
#54 Detroit – Brandon Boykin (CB, Georgia)
#55 Atlanta – Josh Robinson (CB, UCF)
#56 Pittsburgh – Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
#57 Denver – Brandon Thompson (DT, Clemson)
#58 Houston – Josh Chapman (DT, Alabama)
#59 New Orleans – Lavonte David (LB, Nebraska)
#60 Green Bay – Kirk Cousins (QB, Michigan State)
#61 Baltimore – Harrison Smith (S, Notre Dame)
#62 San Francisco – Orson Charles (TE, Georgia)
#63 New York Giants – Kendall Reyes (DT, Connecticut)
#64 New England – Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)  

Best available in round three: Sean Spence (LB, Miami), Alameda Ta’amu (DT, Washington), Chris Polk (RB, Washington), Jerel Worthy (DT, Michigan State), Dwight Bentley (CB, Louisiana-Lafayette), David Wilson (RB, Virginia Tech), Cam Johnson (DE, Virginia), Logan Harrell (DT, Fresno State), Bruce Irvin (DE, West Virginia), Robert Turbin (RB, Utah State), Mike Martin (DT, Michigan), Brandon Washington (OG, Miami)  

Things I’m not happy with (because a mock cannot be perfect…)  

– Brock Osweiler dropping to pick #51. In my opinion, he’s clearly the third best quarterback in this class and worthy of a tentative first round grade. However, opinion is mixed and it’s difficult to find a home for him earlier than this. The Seahawks might avoid the quarterback position in the first two rounds, but they must sprint to the podium if Osweiler is there in round three.  

– Kansas City really needs to repair their offensive line and it could hold them back considering the talent they have at the skill positions. At the same time, can they afford to pass on a future nose tackle who could anchor their defense for years to come?  

– I don’t do trades and the exception for Robert Griffin III has since been justified. However, I suspect we’re going to see an awful lot of movement this year – maybe more than ever. For that reason, I don’t expect the majority of mocks you’ll see over the next few weeks to hit the mark – including mine.  

– I’m concerned about the sanity of some readers (I’m looking at you, Doug) after mocking Upshaw to Seattle again this week. I know, I know. Look – I’m not doing this to provoke people, I’m not doing this because I’m unable to move away from my own high grade of Courtney Upshaw. This is not a man-crush. I actually intended to move away from this pick today. However, with events working the way they have in free agency and with Buffalo in pole position to re-sign Mario Williams, I worked through each pick carefully and couldn’t see a realistic way of avoiding it. I’m preparing my crow pie just in case the Seahawks pass on the guy on April 26th, but I will not go out of my way to deliberately make a projection I don’t trust. It was the same last year with Jake Locker going in the top-10 – I always believed it would happen… 100%. So why stray? We look at alternatives during the week and will continue to do so (expect a big article on this subject later in the week). For now – I apologise, but it is what it is.

Thoughts on the STL-WASH trade

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

Robert Griffin III - future Redskins quarterback

The Washington Redskins have won the Robert Griffin III sweepstakes, striking a deal with St. Louis for the #2 overall pick. The trade can’t be ratified until the new league year starts next Tuesday, but it appears RGIII will be playing in the NFC East. The price? Potentially as much as three first round picks, including Washington’s #6 overall pick this year. A heavy price, and people now see why Seattle never had any realistic chance of moving up for the Baylor quarterback.

Cleveland essentially rejected the chance to draft Robert Griffin III, because they always had the upper hand in trade talks. Not only do they pick before Washington this year, but their bounty of two first rounders in this year’s draft was always the joker in the pack. Time will tell if that was a wise move or not, but the thought of turning to Matt Flynn instead of RGIII is cringe-worthy for the fans in Cleveland. That’s a franchise that has needed a superstar for a long time now. While Griffin III was no guarantee, he would’ve provided a spark for a city still reeling from Lebron James’ departure.

So what direction do the Browns go in the draft? There are three obvious candidates at #4 now – Justin Blackmon, Morris Claiborne and Trent Richardson. It’s worth noting that Pat Shurmur was at the Oklahoma State pro-day yesterday. Could Cleveland target both Blackmon and Brandon Weeden? It’s a possibility, although it’s unclear what round the Browns would target Weeden. Richardson is good enough to go #4 overall but his off-season has been stalled after minor knee surgery and let’s not forget – even Adrian Peterson didn’t go that early.

St. Louis will now pick 6th overall. They could find themselves in a situation where Blackmon is taken 4th overall and Claiborne 5th overall by Tampa Bay. What then? Do they take Trent Richardson? Do they draft a defensive tackle such as Dontari Poe or Michael Brockers? Could they realistically move down the board again, accumulating further picks? Although the Rams came away with a treasure chest in this trade with Washington, you have to believe they would’ve preferred the #4 pick in a big way.

And what about Ryan Tannehill? In recent weeks he’s become the popular choice to go #6 overall to Washington. Personally, I wouldn’t draft him in round one. The idea of having him go so early was purely down to Mike Shanahan and the way he grades quarterbacks. Now what? He’s unlikely to be drafted by Cleveland at #4, but could he reunite with Mike Sherman in Miami should the Dolphins miss out on Peyton Manning? And if Miami doesn’t draft Tannehill, what then?

Does this trade impact the Seahawks? A lot of people will start to project the Texas A&M quarterback to Seattle – a scenario that would be stunning in my eyes. The Seahawks focus remains pass rush and that will likely remain that case right up until April 26th. Manning’s eventual destination will impact a lot, because if he joins Miami or Kansas City – they’d be more likely to go offensive line with their first pick to protect that investment. If Manning moves to Denver, then the Dolphins could go Tannehill. Either way – it’s another team out of the running for Upshaw, Coples or Ingram. It could also increase the chances of Trent Richardson being a nice wild-card option for Seattle.

Possible top-12 picks post trade

#1 IND – Andrew Luck
#2 WAS – Robert Griffin III
#3 MIN – Matt Kalil
#4 CLE – Justin Blackmon
#5 TB – Morris Claiborne
#6 STL – Dontari Poe
#7 JAC – Melvin Ingram
#8 MIA – Ryan Tannehill
#9 CAR – Michael Brockers
#10 BUF – Quinton Coples
#11 KC – Trent Richardson
#12 SEA – Courtney Upshaw

Updated mock draft: 7th March

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

We’re 50 days away from the 2012 NFL draft and just over a week away from the start of free agency. The complexion of the draft could shift dramatically when the market opens, with teams adjusting priorities and making deals. Where will Peyton Manning land? What about Mario Williams? We could be looking at a very different first round projection by April.

There are a few minor tweaks to this weeks mock, but no substantial changes. I’ll continue to project Cleveland trading up for Robert Griffin III rather than Washington. Although many people make the Redskins favorites at this stage, the Browns will have to physically reject the chance to draft Griffin III not to make this happen. Whatever Washington is willing to pay, Cleveland can better it with their two first round picks this year.

Some reports have suggested the Browns aren’t willing to part with the #22 overall pick. We’re in a period now where teams are jostling for leverage in negotiations, things will eventually pick up after the posturing is complete and a deal will be made. Cleveland appointed Brad Childress – a coordinator from the Andy Reid coaching tree – for a reason. The Redskins would have to be creative to beat the Browns to RGIII and I suspect they’ll be less inclined to do so knowing they can still draft Ryan Tannehill at #6 without giving up as much as three first round picks. Given time I expect Cleveland will do what it takes to get the deal done and it’s very much in their hands.

The prospect I’m most intrigued with at the moment is Alabama’s Trent Richardson. He won’t participate in Alabama’s pro-day after minor knee surgery, having already missed the combine. A player with such undoubted quality doesn’t need work-outs to prove anything, but teams will want to see him healthy and running prior to the draft. Richardson is good enough to be a top-five pick and could be drafted as a luxury by teams with a star running back already in the stable. For example, there’s nothing to stop Tampa Bay, Jacksonville or Miami deciding the guy is just too good to pass. If he’s an option for the Seahawks having just re-signed Marshawn Lynch to a four-year extension, he’s an option to partner Maurice Jones-Drew or Reggie Bush.

At the moment I have Richardson going to Kansas City, a team who could build their offense around a double-headed monster alongside Jamaal Charles. But if he did make it to #12, the Seahawks would have a choice to make. The concept of a Lynch-Richardson partnership is beyond exciting, yet Seattle really wants to improve their pass rush first and foremost. With a lot of the second tier defensive ends promoting their stock into round one, the Seahawks would be taking a big risk by not adding to their front seven in round one. At the same time, the depth at running back in rounds 2-3 is very good with the likes of Doug Martin, Lamar Miller, David Wilson and Chris Polk likely to be available.

Passing on a player like Richardson would be tough to handle, even though Seattle has one of the more productive running backs in the NFL. But if other teams picking in the top-ten are willing to look elsewhere, so could the Seahawks.

I can already hear the groans from some as Courtney Upshaw is once again placed with the Seahawks in this mock. I have to stick to my guns with this and call the board as I see it. There’s still a chance Upshaw could go higher than a lot of people expect, even in the top ten. A prospect like Melvin Ingram has momentum on his side after an impressive display at the combine, but over the next few weeks teams will go back to the tape. Below I’ve included two games from each prospect – Ingram against two tough opponents from 2011 in Nebraska and Clemson, Upshaw against Cam Newton and Auburn (National Champions) from 2010 and also this year’s BCS Championship game against LSU. Ingram takes the athletic edge, but on tape I firmly believe Upshaw wins out. Judge for yourself:

Melvin Ingram vs Nebraska & Clemson

Courtney Upshaw vs Auburn & LSU

Either way, it seems likely both players – and Quinton Coples – will be off the board when Jacksonville, Miami, Buffalo and Seattle have made their picks.

Updated first round mock draft

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
Indianapolis confirmed the inevitable this week. Peyton Manning will be cut, Andrew Luck will be the team’s new quarterback.
TRADE #2 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
The Browns have the ammunition to make this happen. Eventually, they’ll come to a deal with St. Louis.
#3 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Minnesota won’t waste any time calling Kalil’s name. He has elite potential.
TRADE #4 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
I wouldn’t take Blackmon this early, but the Rams need a playmaker more than anything else.
#5 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
Linebacker and cornerback are the two biggest needs on this team, but they must be tempted by Trent Richardson too.
#6 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
If the Redskins don’t trade up, it’s hard to see them drifting into another year without some long term thinking at quarterback.
#7 Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
The Jaguars need to improve their pass rush and will have the pick of Ingram, Upshaw and Coples.
#8 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
If the Dolphins sign Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne, their priority would have to be protecting that investment.
#9 Dontari Poe (DT, Memphis)
Players who weigh 345lbs and move as well as Poe don’t last long on draft day. Carolina will transition to more 3-4 looks.
#10 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
Moving to a 4-3 defense makes Coples a solid fit here. The Bills desperately need to improve their pass rush.
#11 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
Richardson is too talented to keep falling and if he drops out of the top ten, he probably won’t get past Kansas City and Seattle.
#12 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
The Seahawks’ draft priority is to improve their pass rush. Upshaw will have a big impact on Seattle’s defense.
#13 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Whoever is playing quarterback for Arizona next year, the Cardinals simply must draft an offensive tackle.
#14 Cordy Glenn (OT, Georgia)
Dallas could attack the corner market in free agency, allowing them to target Glenn or David DeCastro at this spot.
#15 Flecther Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
Andy Reid hasn’t drafted linebackers early in the past and he might find it difficult to pass on a physical freak like Cox.
#16 Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
New York needs to improve it’s pass rush. Branch has a ton of potential and can transition to the 3-4.
#17 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
Cincinnati will want to make sure one of their first round picks is a corner, but DeCastro is hard to pass here.
#18 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
With the top offensive lineman leaving the board before the #18 pick, San Diego may fill another big need here.
#19 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
Floyd’s combine performance was good enough to confirm his likely position within the first round.
#20 Nick Perry (DE, USC)
Tennessee are another team that has to look at the edge rushers. The tape doesn’t always match Perry’s excellent combine performance.
#21 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Tall, physical cornerback who specialises in run support but his coverage skills need work.
TRADE #22 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
St. Louis has some edge rush talent but they don’t have a space clogger in the middle. Brockers could be BPA at this stage.
#23 Stephon Gilmore (CB, South Carolina)
A smart performance at the combine will promote Gilmore’s stock into the bottom half of round one.
#24 Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State)
There are some legitimate concerns about Adams’ play, but Pittsburgh may take a chance.
#25 Luke Kuechly (LB, Boston College)
Yes he performed well at the combine – but he’s still a middle linebacker, a position with a restricted value.
#26 Stephen Hill (WR, Georgia Tech)
He’s a tremendous athlete who makes spectacular plays. It’s more than combine hype that puts Hill in round one contention.
#27 Peter Konz (C, Wisconsin)
Nick Mangold, Alex Mack and Peter Konz. That’s how good Konz is leaving college.
#28 Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)
The Packers are running out of options to improve their pass rush and could consider Curry in this situation.
#29 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
Wright could drop a bit after running slow times. San Francisco won’t care – they’ll find ways to max-out his talent in different ways.
#30 Dont’a Hightower (LB, Alabama)
The very definition of a defensive prospect who fits in Baltimore. A tough football player, simple as that.
#31 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
The injury isn’t helping matters and although he has legitimate top-20 potential, he may fall a bit.
#32 Josh Robinson (CB, UCF)
A late riser after a great combine. New York are in a position to look for value.

The case for why Peyton Manning won’t be a Seahawk

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

This man will not be Seattle's next quarterback

It was finally confirmed today that Peyton Manning will leave Indianapolis and become a free agent. What a shocker, nobody saw that coming. You can almost hear the collective gasp of anticipation among Seahawks fans as they hope against hope that their team will be the ones to win the Manning sweepstakes. This is a great solution, right? Get a future Hall of Fame quarterback, let him go to work and lead a blossoming young team to the promise land? A quick fix to make the Seahawks a competitor? The answer to the team’s prayers?   

Not exactly.   

Any team would love to build around the younger model of Peyton Manning – he’s the very definition of a franchise quarterback. However, there’s no way of knowing that this version of Manning is anything remotely like the one that churned out AFC South division titles like they were going out of fashion. He’s old, he’s been injured and there’s no way of knowing how long he’ll hold up. Could he break down in training camp? Will it be week three of the season? Will it be at the end of year one? With respect, all of those options are just as likely – if not more likely – than Manning rolling back the years to regain his former peak.   

Any team that signs Manning will have to make concessions. In Seattle’s case, they’d have to adapt their playbook in quite a big way. You’d have to remove a lot of the naked bootleg’s and developing routes, you might have to temper some of the downfield stuff. Even play action might be less likely with an emphasis on keeping Manning clean and getting the ball out quickly to the receivers. The player himself would also want to add some plays and modify things to fit what he’s been used to. After all, if you’re going to sign Peyton Manning you’re going to want to make life as comfortable for him as possible. You’d also have to change the blocking schemes to max-protect, because one hit could mean curtains. You’re kidding yourself if you believe you can just plug him in and let him run whatever offense you have. Some would argue, ‘why not change?’ for the sake of having Peyton Manning. In reality, there are lots of reasons.   

The Seahawks are building a young, hungry contender. It’s patently obvious that a zone blocking scheme, heavy run game with developing routes, bootlegs and play action is not a Peyton Manning offense. I watched the video below featuring Brian Billick and Charles Davis where the former Ravens coach suggests Seattle has no identity on offense and this is something Manning could provide. In fairness, Billick is completely wrong. The Seahawks have a very defined vision on offense and know exactly what they want to do. Manning doesn’t fit. So do you change everything around, modify the playbook and blocking, sign Reggie Wayne and make this the Peyton Manning show only to discover he can’t take the strain of the NFL anymore? What then? Change back in a rush?   

   

There are other teams out there – some with new coaching staffs – in a better position to take on Project:Manning without needing any major repair work if things go wrong. Arizona for example are in the process of rebuilding their offensive line and can adapt their blocking schemes. Manning and Ken Whisenhunt are close and Peyton would be afforded the opportunity to control most of the offense. There’s room for Reggie Wayne to join Larry Fitzgerald and the dome/warm weather will appeal too. If Manning can’t continue, it wouldn’t be a major re-tool to fit John Skelton back into the starting position. In many ways, Arizona makes a lot of sense. The Cardinals don’t really have a clear identity on offense and the Kevin Kolb trade proved to be a failure. Seattle on the other hand has priotised the run and the passing game to a degree is being used to supplement that. A lot of passing play calls in Seattle are used as an extension to the run, with mobile quarterbacks encouraged to improvise and tuck and run when required. That isn’t Manning – and the Seahawks would have to detach from their blueprint to accommodate Peyton.   

It’s also important to understand the men re-building this Seahawks roster. Can you see Pete Carroll and John Schneider signing Peyton Manning? I think this tweet from Hawk blogger sums it up best: “From ESPN: “GM John Schneider has a track record of finding diamonds in the rough, not entering a bidding war for the Hope Diamond.” Personally, I don’t think Peyton Manning would be that interested in the ‘always compete’, ‘win forever’ mantra. I don’t think Carroll is his kind of coach, or Manning Pete’s kind of quarterback. Manning’s used to doing things his way, but it’ll be Carroll’s way that wins out in Seattle. Simply put, it’s just not a great match.   

Arizona, Kansas City, Oakland, New York, Miami. These are the teams I think will be making the strongest push for Manning. We may have to wait a while to find out what’s going to happen, because nobody is likely to sign the man while his health remains in doubt. Brief footage emerged this week of him throwing a football at Duke University, but teams will need further reassurance before a contract is inked. I expect the Seahawks to sign or trade for a quarterback. That player will compete with Tarvaris Jackson to start in 2012. It may be a bridge-type player and they may draft at least one quarterback in the round 4-6 range next month. It may be that next year is the time to go ‘all-in’ on the quarterback they want. Yet despite all the media talk today, I wouldn’t expect #18 to be appearing regularly in the Pacific North West.   

Other free agency predictions:   

Vincent Jackson (WR) – San Diego, Jacksonville, Washington   

Marcus Colston (WR) – Jacksonville, New Orleans   

Matt Flynn (QB) – Oakland, Miami, Cleveland   

Mario Williams (DE) – Houston, New England   

Red Bryant (DE/DT) – Seattle