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Why Seattle will continue to build through the draft

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

The Seahawks are looking for more of this in 2012 and beyond

The day will come when the Seahawks can go into a draft intending to take the best player available, regardless of position. That day has not yet arrived. There’s been a lot of discussion over the past week about what the plan may be – would they draft a receiver? Will they select another offensive lineman in round one? Will they take a quarterback? The way I see it, Seattle’s front office aren’t asking those same questions.

From the day this regime took control, it’s obvious they’ve had a clear vision about what they want to get out of a draft – and it’s worked so far. In 2010 they were determined to go left tackle and safety with their two first round picks. Initially, I understand they believed it was possible to draft Eric Berry with the #6 overall pick and Trent Williams at #14. However, as the process developed it became evident that both would be top-five choices. It’s easy to forget in hindsight that for a long time in the build up to the draft, Williams was far from a consensus high pick. His raw athleticism and fit in the ZBS pushed him into Washington’s path at #4, with Berry the next to go at #5 to Kansas City.

As it turns out, the Seahawks were afforded the opportunity to get their left tackle at #6 in Russell Okung and their safety at #14 with Earl Thomas. Schneider has since admitted a trade was in place to move down the board had Philadelphia – who traded into the #13 slot – selected Thomas as many expected. Instead they took Brandon Graham and Seattle got the man and the position they wanted. That’s not to say the Seahawks wouldn’t have had a contingency plan or secondary target (likely a pass rusher) but the clear vision was set out for offensive tackle and safety – and they executed.

Carroll made a point to emphasise the run game following his appointment as coach, yet the Seahawks struggled in that department in 2010. This was to be the heart and soul of the offense, so the fact it was so ineffective in year one moved Carroll to act. In came Tom Cable and the team’s first two picks in the 2011 draft were spent on big offensive lineman. Robert Gallery was later signed in free agency in what became a complete rebuild and re-structure for the run game. It wasn’t a coincidence that Seattle went the way they did in the draft, it was totally calculated. The Seahawks zoned in on improving their offensive line with a view to getting the run game going. It’s not like they didn’t have alternatives – they turned down a lot of talent elsewhere with the two picks that were spent on James Carpenter and John Moffitt.

This year the focus will be on defense and the front seven. Carroll and his staff aren’t satisfied with a one-dimensional pass rush, with all the pressure dependant on Chris Clemons. He was the only player in 2011 to provide consistent production in terms of sacks and he didn’t get much help anywhere else. In the 2012 draft, that will be the next focus area in this big rebuild. We’ve talked about the possible options at #12 overall, but it seems very likely that at least one of Courtney Upshaw, Melvin Ingram or Quinton Coples will be available. That’s as far as we need to look. There won’t be a wide receiver drafted like Justin Blackmon or Michael Floyd, they won’t go after David De Castro or Jonathan Martin. In year one it was tackle and safety, last year it was the offensive line, now it’s the turn of the pass rush.

So far the results within this strategy have been extremely positive. Both Okung and Thomas have been succesful and although Carpenter and Moffitt suffered serious long term injuries in 2011 – the determination to improve the running game and offensive line provoked a much improved ground attack last season. Considering the new regime had to completely rebuild this team from scratch, so far the decision to target specific zones has worked a treat. Improvement within the front seven is the next target by adding another pass rusher and finding improved speed at linebacker. I suspect in twelve months time we’ll be talking about how this team achieved much more pressure on opposition quarterbacks in 2012.

Under Tim Ruskell, the Seahawks tried to address key needs in free agency in order to take a ‘BPA’ approach during the draft based on the strict grading system of the GM. The end result wasn’t good – the Seahawks became an old and expensive bunch without much forward planning. Although Seattle was being aggressive in free agency to fill needs with older players, the draft wasn’t used properly to plan for the long term. Instead, the first round picks were spent on trying to find further impact players who could contribute relatively early. In hindsight it’s fair to say this wasn’t a great strategy – at least for this team – given they went from being a Super Bowl contender to one of the worst teams in the NFL.

The new plan is almost the polar opposite. Sure, Seattle are making calculated moves in free agency. Last year’s additions of Robert Gallery, Sidney Rice and Zach Miller were a throwback to former moves, although it’s fair to say Rice and Miller are a lot younger than the Patrick Kerney’s, Mike Wahle’s, T.J. Houshmandzadeh’s and Julian Peterson’s of the Ruskell era. Yet the moves made after the lockout concluded were supposed to give the team a kick start – a necessary lift to help the rebuild move a little faster. Only Rice was filling a crucial need and one the Seahawks had previously tried to fill by looking into trades for Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson.

The proper team building has been left to the draft – and that will likely become even more of the case over the next few years. The Seahawks will probably make calculated moves that bring value to the team and don’t create big discrepancies between the big earners and the rest of the team. Carroll is building a core of young, hungry players who will compete – not a group of expensive free agents with a diminished motivation due to new-found wealth. While Ruskell would attack an area of the team in free agency, Carroll and Schneider will do the same in the draft. It’s why I don’t think we’ll see this team make Mario Williams the highest paid defensive player in the NFL and why I do think we’ll see a pass rusher drafted with the #12 pick.

And for those questioning the ongoing need at quarterback – I’m sure a time will come when the aggressive team-building approach to the draft turns to the position. In fact, I’d predict that happens in 2013 unless the situation is somehow resolved before then or other more pressing needs emerge. But this year the aim seems extremely clear – and who’d bet against the end-product being a much improved pass rush for the Seahawks in 2012?

Updated mock draft: 1st March

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

The combine is in the books and it’s time to take stock on where we’re at with less than two months to go until the 2012 draft. I want to offer three thoughts today, starting with this week’s projection:

– Many people are tired of seeing Courtney Upshaw mocked to the Seahawks. However, there’s no point deliberately manufacturing situations that have no chance of happening. This team is zoning in on pass rushers and will almost certainly have the opportunity to draft one of the big three – Upshaw, Melvin Ingram and Quinton Coples. While speculation is rife about the Seahawks making a splash on Mario Williams, we have to remember that Pete Carroll and John Schneider are on the record for saying they’ll build this team through the draft. That means a pass rusher in round one, with only one obvious wild-card alternative (a certain Alabama running back, who is too good to pass if available at #12). No offensive lineman. No wide receivers. Sadly, no quarterbacks. This will be a situation where a need (pass rush) fits supply (defensive end) and the Seahawks aren’t exactly hiding their intentions.

– The Rams will trade the #2 pick, otherwise known as the rights to Robert Griffin III. Several teams interviewed the Baylor quarterback at the combine, but the Seahawks did not. Many wondered whether this was a sign of secret interest, comparable to Mike Shanahan’s stealth pursuit of Jay Cutler in 2006. That is categorically not the case and Seattle will not be trading with St. Louis. The situation is like poker – the Rams have a great hand and they’re looking to draw others in to increase the pot. The more people at the table, the higher the stakes. The Seahawks have no interest in helping St. Louis drive up the price. Cleveland, Washington and Miami are all reported to have discussed a possible trade and the more teams willing to fight over Griffin’s services, the higher the price becomes. An inter-division trade was never realistic and simply won’t happen, so walking out of the casino is Seattle’s best move. They’ve left the table – not interviewing Griffin III was a statement to the rest of the league. St. Louis are still going to get a great deal, but at least the Seahawks won’t be making it any sweeter.

– Various sources are talking up Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn to Seattle, but I understand interest is minimal and virtually non-existent in both players. For several weeks now we’ve suggested keeping an eye on the trade market for a deal that isn’t abundantly obvious. What we know is Manning’s eventual destination could be the catalyst for a trade which would see another current starting quarterback move to Seattle. Before everyone jumps to conclusions and assumes Mark Sanchez, we also understand the team in question isn’t one which has been heavily touted in the media as a suitor for Manning. The deal is far from probable, rather just possible – and will depend on a.) Manning’s health and b.) where he signs. There’s no guarantee that a deal will get done, indeed it’s been described as more unlikely than likely. However, it’s worth noting that the Seahawks will be trying to upgrade the position this off-season even though they may not draft a quarterback in the first three rounds.

Onto this week’s mock draft. I’ve included a second round in the projection.

Round one

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
Indianapolis will need to work out a way to build around Luck, and fast. This is a roster starting from scratch.
TRADE #2 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
The Rams are trading this pick, the only question is whether Griffin III will be a Brown or a Redskin.
#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)
The Dolphins will pursue Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn and could look to improve their offensive line to support such a move.
#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)
People are sick of seeing this projection, but in this situation it would be a certainty. I’m not going to project scenarios that won’t happen.
#13 Cordy Glenn (OT, Georgia)
Glenn showcased enough athleticism at the combine to suggest he can stay at tackle at the next level. He’s rising in a big way.
#14 David De Castro (OG, Stanford)
Dallas could attack the corner market in free agency, allowing them to target Glenn or De Castro at this spot.
#15 Luke Kuechly (LB, Boston College)
Andy Reid has avoided drafting linebackers in the past, but may play it safe here and fill a position of need.
#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 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
Explosive athlete who will convince a team early in the draft that he’s worth a high pick.
#18 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
The Chargers need to find pass rushers, but they also need to rebuild their offensive line. This would be a good start.
#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 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
He could go much earlier than this, but positional need could lead to a slight drop. Denver could use a talented young safety.
#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 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
He proved in Indianapolis that he has the physical attributes to match his mass-production in 2011.
#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 player who fits in Baltimore. A tough football player, simple as that.
#31 Casey Hayward (CB, Vanderbilt)
Bill Belichick likes to draft defensive backs early and he could entertain another cornerback with this pick.
#32 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
A great athlete who might fall due to needs elsewhere. A tough player to project, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he went in the top-15.

Round two

#33 St. Louis – Kevin Zeitler (OG, Wisconsin)
#34 Indianapolis – Alameda Ta’amu (DT, Washington)
#35 Minnesota – Kelechi Osemele (OG, Iowa State)
#36 Tampa Bay – Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
#37 Cleveland – Rueben Randle (WR, LSU)
#38 Jacksonville – Jayron Hosley (CB, Virgnina Tech)
#39 Washington – Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
#40 Carolina – Mychal Kendricks (LB, California)
#41 Buffalo – Ronnell Lewis (LB, Oklahoma)
#42 Miami – Chandler Jones (DE, Syracuse)
#43 Seattle – Doug Martin (RB, Boise State)
#44 Kansas City – Kirk Cousins (QB, Michigan State)
#45 Dallas – Jared Crick (DE, Wisconsin)
#46 Philadelphia – Brock Osweiler (QB, Arizona State)
#47 New York Jets – Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)
#48 New England – Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)
#49 San Diego – Shea McClellin (DE, Boise State)
#50 Chicago – Jerel Worthy (DT, Michigan State)
#51 Philadelphia – Brandon Thompson (DT Clemson)
#52 Tennessee –  Brandon Boykin (CB, Georgia)
#53 Cincinnati – Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
#54 Detroit – Brandon Washington (OG, Miami)
#55 Atlanta – Orson Charles (TE, Georgia)
#56 Pittsburgh – Bobby Wagner (LB, Utah State)
#57 Denver – David Wilson (RB, Virginia Tech)
#58 Houston – Josh Chapman (DT, Alabama)
#59 New Orleans – Sean Spence (LB, Miami)
#60 Green Bay – Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
#61 Baltimore – Harrison Smith (S, Notre Dame)
#62 San Francisco – Coby Fleener (TE, Stanford)
#63 New York Giants – Dwayne Allen (TE, Clemson)
#64 New England – Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)

Updated mock draft: 22nd February

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

In this week’s projection I wanted to contemplate the potential impact of the scouting combine, with work-outs beginning on Saturday. Who could rise? Who could fall? Will we see any significant changes when players have been tested and interviewed in Indianapolis?

I’ve already discussed the possibility that Zach Brown could be set for a boost after he tests at the combine – Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State) may also surge up boards after he works out on Monday. Cox plays like a runaway train – he can be off-balance, but he’s all power and speed and can play both off the edge and inside in 4-3 and 3-4 looks. He’ll be listed above 300lbs but could run a surprisingly fast forty-yard dash for his size, potentially pushing him to the front of the class for interior defensive lineman.

Melvin Ingram, Quinton Coples and Courtney Upshaw are all jostling for position with all three likely to be drafted within the first sixteen picks. Ingram is expected to make the greatest impression as he’s clearly the most agile and will easily record the best forty-time. Coples and Upshaw can stay ahead of Ingram on a lot of draft boards by running respectable times and performing well in other drills. This is a big opportunity for Ingram, though.

Other players will emerge that have so far not been considered likely first round options. Rueben Randle (WR, LSU) was a victim of the Tigers’ offense and has a lot of pro-skills. He can jump ahead of several prospects with a good performance in Indianapolis and that element of unknown – and potential – could work in his favor. New England likes to draft defensive backs early and Casey Hayward (CB, Vanderbilt) could be a name to keep an eye on in the back end of round one.

Dre Kirkpatrick and Devon Still could be set for a fall. Alabama’s Kirkpatrick isn’t a great cover corner and his reputation is largely based on size, run support and hard-hitting. He was exploited by Florida’s John Brantley (not exactly a prolific SEC quarterback) and may not show the kind of fluid hips and straight line speed to warrant some of the inflated reviews he’s received in the last few months. Still hasn’t got the same high ceiling as a Michael Brockers or Fletcher Cox and could fall victim to need. He’s already a fifth-year senior with some previous injury history and teams may feel he’s already peaked and doesn’t possess enough upside to warrant a high first round selection.

I’ve maintained the trade touted in last week’s mock because I think it’s increasingly likely we’ll see a deal which will make Robert Griffin III the #2 pick. The most obvious trade partner is Cleveland, who would surrender their two first round choices to take the Baylor quarterback. Last week I looked at St. Louis going OT/WR with their new picks, this week it’s WR/OC. The center position is taking on an increasingly important role in the NFL and Peter Konz is an underrated prospect coming out of Wisconsin. Don’t be surprised if the Rams look to boost their interior with a pick like this. Will they take Blackmon at #4? It really depends on how they grade Riley Reiff, Mike Adams and Jonathan Martin. If they don’t see an offensive lineman worth the #4 pick, Blackmon has a shot.

As for the Seahawks – nothing much has changed. They’re still out of range for the top two quarterbacks, still needing to focus on their second biggest need at defensive end and still relying on which players leave the board before their pick to dictate the selection. Upshaw is the least likely to impress at the combine, but I suspect he’ll maintain a high grade on many boards and could easily be a top-ten pick. The trio of Ingram, Upshaw and Coples really could go in any order – making Seattle’s choice at #11 or #12 a question mark right up until Buffalo’s pick is called.

Updated first round mock draft

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
The Colts might as well call the pick in now. Indianapolis will draft Andrew Luck. No trade offer will change that.
*TRADE* #2 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
Cleveland would need to part with both first round picks to draft RGIII. It appears likely some form of deal will take place here.
#3 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
This would be a dream for the Vikings. They get a left tackle with elite potential.
*TRADE* #4 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma St)
If Blackmon is going to go this early, he’ll need a good performance at the combine. This might be too high for the Rams.
#5 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
You have to believe Greg Schiano would love to draft Trent Richardson. Cornerback is also a need, so Claiborne is an alternative.
#6 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
This would be a foolish reach but Shanahan wants his guy. If Tannehill really is going to go in the top-15 as speculated, Washington is the obvious choice.
#7 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
Assuming the Jaguars attack the market for receivers in free agency, Gene Smith can concentrate on defense.
#8 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
Carolina wants to use a lot of different defensive looks and Cox is scheme versatile. He could light up the combine.
#9 Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
A blistering forty yard dash could push Ingram up the boards. Right tackle is another likely target area.
#10 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
The Bills could switch to a 4-3 and that makes Coples rather than Upshaw or Ingram a more likely pick here.
#11 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
This could be Seattle’s ideal situation. Upshaw would have an instant impact, balancing out the pass rush with Chris Clemons.
#12 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
This is a little high for me, but Scott Pioli will almost certainly like DeCastro and he has a little Logan Mankins about him.
#13 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
Reiff is a solid, blue-collar lineman. But is he spectacular enough to go in the top 5-10?
#14 Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
Jerry Jones wants to rebuild his secondary. Jenkins is the best corner available, but needs to prove off-field issues are in the past.
#15 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
Philly should do what it takes to keep DeSean Jackson grounded, then set out to draft the BPA. It could be Brockers.
#16 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
The Jets need pass rushers but will be hard pushed to pass on the electrifying Wright to boost that stagnant offense.
#17 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
Brown could be set for a big jump after the combine. Cincinnati could solidify their defense with two first round picks.
#18 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Martin could suffer a fall if there isn’t an early run on offensive tackles. San Diego would get a bargain here.
#19 Rueben Randle (WR, LSU)
Randle struggled for an impact in LSU’s offense but he has a lot of tools to be a success at the next level.
#20 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
Safety is a need for Tennessee and Barron is clearly the best available in this draft class.
#21 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
I don’t expect a big performance at the combine, which will put Kirkpatrick’s inflated stock into perspective.
*TRADE* #22 Peter Konz (C, Wisconsin)
A surprise choice, but the center position is growing in importance in the NFL. Konz has tons of potential and would be a fine pick.
#23 Cordy Glenn (OG, Georgia)
Glenn could play right tackle or move to guard. This would be a good fit for Detroit, even if they have greater needs.
#24 Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State)
This is the domino effect on a quiet left tackle market early in the draft. Pittsburgh need to bolster their offensive line.
#25 Luke Kuechly (LB, Boston College)
He’s under sized but what a tackler – he’ll get close to 100 tackles in year one. Kuechly will also provide needed vocal leadership.
#26 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
The Texans saw life without Andre Johnson and might add another receiver as insurance.
#27 Casey Hayward (CB, Vanderbilt)
Hayward could move into this range if he performs well at the combine. New England loves to draft defensive backs.
#28 Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)
He has the production and enough power – he has a lot to gain at the combine by flashing mobility and speed.
#29 Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
Sanu can line up anywhere and make plays. San Francisco use a lot of gimmicks and needs a sure-handed catcher.
#30 Dont’a Hightower (LB, Alabama)
The type of player that just fits in with Baltimore’s defense. This would be a fantastic addition for the Ravens.
#31 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
It comes down to upside and teams early in round one may be put off by an average ceiling.
#32 Sean Spence (LB, Miami)
Underrated linebacker who makes up for a lack of great size with speed, instinct, tackling and elite recognition skills.

Updated mock draft: 15th February

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

This week I’m going to go against my better judgement and project a trade. It’s unavoidable. There’s a feeling within some front offices that Robert Griffin III won’t get out of the top three picks, even if that means he’s selected by the Minnesota Vikings. Teams with an eye on RGIII will have to weigh up how much they’re willing to spend to deal with St. Louis or Minnesota. I suspect it’ll take something special to get the #2 pick because the Rams will essentially be turning down the opportunity to draft Matt Kalil. St. Louis needs a deal that makes it worth their while – not in the future, but for now.

For those reasons I suspect Cleveland could be an appealing trade partner, with the Browns packaging their two first round picks to move up. This would afford the Rams the opportunity to fill two needs in round one and only suffer a small move down the board from #2 to #4. Cleveland recently appointed Brad Childress as offensive coordinator – a coach who has predominantly worked with mobile quarterbacks during his time with Andy Reid and at Minnesota. The Browns’ rebuild under Mike Holmgren has been slow progress so far, but Griffin III could rejuvenate the team and the fans in Cleveland. For St. Louis, they’d still have a chance to grab a much needed addition to the offensive line and draft a wide receiver later in the first round.

Whether such a move actually happens, we’ll have to wait and see. However, it seems increasingly likely Griffin III will be drafted in the top three. Those hoping the Seahawks will make a bold move to address the quarterback position will be left disappointed – Seattle isn’t going to trade up for a quarterback this year and are unlikely to address the position in round one.

A St. Louis/Cleveland trade could be the catalyst for an offensive-minded start to the draft. Tampa Bay would be in an ideal situation choosing between Morris Claiborne (they need to improve their secondary) and Trent Richardson (a potentially defining player for Greg Schiano’s run-centric system). By the time Jacksonville are on the clock, we may not see a defensive player off the board. That wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Seahawks, who appear determined to improve their pass rush early in this draft.

A lot is still to be determined by free agency and the combine which starts next week. Several players will shoot up the boards after the event in Indianapolis and keep an eye out for North Carolina’s Zach Brown. Sources tell us there’s a feeling that Brown could really propel his stock at the combine due to his overall athleticism and straight line speed. He’s broken sprinting records at UNC and could be set for a big leap, certainly into contention within the first twelve picks. In terms of free agency, Washington and Miami are both expected to be aggressive in the quarterback market. That could dictate what direction they go in round one. For example – if the Dolphins sign Peyton Manning, they could be inclined to go heavy on the offensive line to protect their investment.

Updated first round mock draft

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
The Colts are cleaning house to make room for the Andrew Luck era. They might as well start talking about a contract now.
*TRADE* #2 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
Cleveland would need to part with both first round picks to draft RGIII. Would St. Louis pass on a shot at Matt Kalil?
#3 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
This would be a dream for the Vikings. They avoid any awkward QB situations with Griffin/Ponder and take a left tackle with elite potential.
*TRADE* #4 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
St. Louis softens the blow of trading out of Matt Kalil-range by drafting Reiff and adding a receiver later in round one.
#5 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
You have to believe Greg Schiano would love to draft Trent Richardson. Cornerback is also a need, so Claiborne is an alternative.
#6 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
This would be a foolish reach but Shanahan wants his guy. If Tannehill really is going to go in the top-15 as speculated, Washington is the obvious choice.
#7 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
Assuming the Jaguars attack the market for receivers in free agency, Gene Smith can concentrate on defense.
#8 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
Carolina wants to use a lot of different defensive looks and Still is scheme versatile. This is a big need for the Panthers.
#9 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
Which team bites if Blackmon starts to fall? Joe Philbin worked in a Green Bay offense that was stacked at receiver.
#10 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
The Bills could switch to a 4-3 and that makes Coples rather than Upshaw or Ingram a more likely pick here.
#11 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
This could be Seattle’s ideal situation. Upshaw would have an instant impact, balancing out the pass rush with Chris Clemons.
#12 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
This is a little high for me, but Scott Pioli will almost certainly like DeCastro and he has a little Logan Mankins about him.
#13 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
The Cardinals need to upgrade their offensive line. The only question here is – would they prefer Jonathan Martin or Mike Adams?
#14 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
He’s better in run support and his coverage skills are nothing to write home about. However, Jerry Jones seems to like corner’s with size.
#15 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
Andy Reid doesn’t like drafting linebackers, so he might consider taking a chance on Brockers’ potential.
#16 Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
The Jets pass rush went a bit flat in 2011. Ingram could be moved around in the 3-4 and give things a jump start.
#17 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
Brown could be set for a big jump after the combine. Cincinnati could solidify their defense with two first round picks.
#18 Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State)
San Diego could look to upgrade their pass rush, but that offensive line also needs help.
#19 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
Electric receiver who would quickly become Jay Cutler’s BFF. Capable of having a big impact quickly.
#20 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
Safety is a need for Tennessee and Barron is clearly the best available in this draft class.
#21 Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
Corner with elite potential, hampered by off-field concerns. Cincinnati has a reputation for dishing out second chances.
*TRADE* #22 Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
The second pick courtesy of St. Louis’ trade with Cleveland. The Rams take an underrated receiver to help out Sam Bradford.
#23 Cordy Glenn (OT, Georgia)
Glenn could play right tackle or move to guard. This would be a good fit for Detroit, even if they have greater needs.
#24 Kelechi Osemele (OG, Iowa State)
Played left tackle at Iowa State but will kick inside to guard at the next level. I really like this guy.
#25 Luke Kuechly (LB, Boston College)
He’s under sized but what a tackler – he’ll get close to 100 tackles in year one. Kuechly will also provide needed vocal leadership.
#26 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
The Texans saw life without Andre Johnson and might add another receiver as insurance.
#27 Peter Konz (C, Wisconsin)
Top-end interior lineman who could be the best in this class. Stuck out on a talented Badgers line and no surprise he turned pro.
#28 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
The Packers could look at outside rushers, but Cox is capable of helping the pass rush from the five-technique position.
#29 Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
Sanu can line up anywhere and make plays. San Francisco use a lot of gimmicks and needs a sure-handed catcher.
#30 Dont’a Hightower (LB, Alabama)
The type of player that just fits in with Baltimore’s defense. This would be a fantastic addition for the Ravens.
#31 Chandler Jones (DE, Syracuse)
A raw physical talent with plenty of upside. The Patriots are a hard team to project and have multiple options in this slot.
#32 Sean Spence (LB, Miami)
Underrated linebacker who makes up for a lack of great size with speed, instinct, tackling and elite recognition skills.

Updated mock draft: 8th February

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

The Seahawks are looking for more of this

Drafting first round pass rushers has been more miss than hit over the years. Between 2005-2010, 24 first round picks were spent on 3-4 outside linebackers, orthodox 4-3 ends and specialists. This number doesn’t include interior defensive lineman or five-techniques. Of those 24 players, only seven could be deemed a success: DeMarcus Ware (11th overall, Dallas), Mario Williams (1st overall, Houston), Tamba Hali (20th overall, Kansas City), Chris Long (2nd overall, St. Louis), Brian Orakpo (13th overall, Washington), Clay Matthews (26th overall, Green Bay) and Jason Pierre-Paul (15th overall, New York). 

During those six drafts, a lot of the NFL’s sack production was found outside of the top round. In 2005, Trent Cole was a 5th round pick for Philadelphia and has since recorded 68 sacks for the Eagles. Elvis Dumervil was a steal for the Broncos in 2006 in round four and has 52.5 sacks in five active seasons (he missed 2010 through injury). Lamarr Woodley was taken with the 46th pick in 2007 and has 48 career sacks. The same pick in 2009 brought Connor Barwin to Houston (11.5 sacks for Wade Phillips in 2011) and Carlos Dunlap has so far lived up to some of his potential after dropping to the #54 pick in 2010 with 13.5 sacks for the Bengals. 

It’s not surprising that more players have been busts because that’s the way the draft works. However, a 29% success rate is a bit more surprising given the mass production teams have found in the mid-rounds. I would argue projecting defensive ends to the next level is one of the most difficult things to do. Sometimes you’ll see a guy dominate college lineman but struggle to have the same impact against the NFL’s best. It takes a combination of skills to be a productive pass rusher in the pro’s – in college sometimes it’s just requires speed. But as the Seahawks set about trying to upgrade their pass rush, it could be one of the riskiest picks they make in the Carroll/Schneider regime. 

There’s no rhyme or reason for successful defensive ends. Many expected Brandon Graham to have a big impact after a productive off-season that included a dominating Senior Bowl. So far, he’s been irrelevant for the Eagles – suffering with injuries and failing to make an impact despite Philadelphia’s bold move up the board to draft him. Carolina wasted a future first round pick in 2009 after trading back into the draft to grab Everette Brown. He had the edge speed and performance at Florida State, but was a bust in the NFL and San Francisco remain ever grateful for the first rounder. Derrick Harvey, Vernon Gholston, Jamaal Anderson, Jarvis Moss, Aaron Maybin, Larry English, Robert Ayers, Jerry Hughes – all players expected to have an impact, but became busts. You’re looking for strength, edge speed, a repertoire of moves or at least one move they’ve mastered, technique, leverage and hand use. Essentially, you’re asking for a lot. It still surprises me that a player who ticked all of those boxes – Jabaal Sheard – dropped to round two last April. 

Overall the 2011 group bucked the trend by producing a cluster of impact rookies. Von Miller won defensive rookie of the year for an impressive first season in Denver. Aldon Smith made numerous big plays for the Niners, while Washington’s Ryan Kerrigan also made the Pro-Bowl. JJ Watt and Adrian Clayborn both flashed at times for Houston and Tampa Bay respectively, with only Robert Quinn struggling to make an impression. Of the group, only Quinn relied mostly on speed in college. Perhaps there’s something to learn there? This week I’ve decided to drop Whitney Mercilus into round two for the first time in a while. He’s a player I’m still trying to work out, but could easily become part of either list – first round busts, or players who deserved greater faith after they dropped into day two. Expect further analysis on Mercilus before April 26th. 

The three pass-rushers likely to be on Seattle’s radar are Courtney Upshaw, Melvin Ingram and Quinton Coples. I suspect Upshaw would be the preferred option, but with all three likely to go in a similar range it could be a decision taken out of their hands. This week I have the Seahawks taking a chance on Coples – a player who divides opinion perhaps more than any other prospect this year. Some are intrigued by his potential and we saw at the Senior Bowl just what he’s capable of – he dominated throughout and was easily the best player on show. Others are suspicious of a senior campaign that was decidedly mediocre. 

Yet faced with a situation where both Upshaw and Ingram are off the board – plus a potential ‘wild card’ alternative like Trent Richardson – they may just roll the dice on adding to the small list of success stories at defensive end. Pete Carroll is a coach who believes he can motivate any player to produce results. This would be one of the greatest challenges of his career – and a lot of other GM’s and coaches are likely to be happy to give him the opportunity to take on this test. Upshaw is a complete football player in my view and while he may not have a ceiling to match other pass rushers, I expect he will have an extremely solid career with multiple 8-12 sack seasons. Ingram I’m less crazy about overall, but he’s also a unique prospect in many ways given his size and athleticism. Coples doesn’t just have the highest ceiling among the defensive players in this class – he also has a much greater floor if things go wrong. 

For the most part I’ve argued against Coples due to the scheme fit – an argument I’ve also made against Upshaw and Ingram too at times. However, it appears the Seahawks might be more willing to adapt their scheme than I first thought. That doesn’t mean completely abandoning their hybrid 4-3 system, but still incorporating new looks and being flexible with Red Bryant (if he re-signs) in order to create more of a pass rush. The Seahawks can’t keep relying on just Chris Clemons for pressure – and without a dominating three-technique, they may be forced to use a more balanced 4-3 front or consider more 3-4 concepts with two outside rushers. 

Coples would be a gamble, Seattle’s biggest risk/reward project in the Carroll/Schneider era. They’ve built a defense that plays with a brooding intensity – a young determined core of players who get under your skin. Coples at his best would add a touch of class to the team’s pass rush and could take the defense to another level. Yet Coples at his worst could undermine everything they’ve built so far. Carroll’s rebuild can’t afford to stall, the margins for error are huge. While this team may one day have to gamble on a quarterback, they could initially gamble on a defensive end. They have to hit on both. 

Updated first round mock draft

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
The Colts are cleaning house to make room for the Andrew Luck era. They might as well start talking about a contract now.
#2 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Take this to the bank – the Rams have to take Kalil. He’s too good to pass up. There’s enough depth at receiver to wait until round two.
#3 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
If Minnesota would’ve contemplated taking Andrew Luck at #1, why wouldn’t they consider taking RGIII here?
#4 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
Elite playmaking talent who will have an instant impact. Cleveland may draft Richardson here even if Griffin’s still on the board.
#5 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
You have to believe Greg Schiano would love to draft Trent Richardson. Cornerback is also a need.
#6 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
This would be a foolish reach but Shanahan wants his guy. If Tannehill really is going to go in the top-15 as speculated, Washington is the obvious choice.
#7 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
Assuming the Jaguars attack the market for receivers in free agency, Gene Smith could look for further protection for Blaine Gabbert.
#8 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
Carolina wants to use a lot of different defensive looks and Still is scheme versatile. This is a big need for the Panthers.
#9 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
Miami needs to improve their pass rush and if they aren’t tempted by Justin Blackmon, Upshaw could be the pick.
#10 Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
The Bills could be a wildcard and another potential destination for Blackmon. More than anything though, they need a pass rusher.
#11 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
Some teams will be suspicious of Coples, but Seattle has a Head Coach who believes he’s capable of motivating any player.
#12 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
The Chiefs could do with boosting their offensive line. They’d have the option to play Martin at left or right tackle.
#13 Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State)
Expect the Cardinals to pursue Peyton Manning. Whoever starts at quarterback, they’ll need better protection in 2012.
#14 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
Most people expect Dallas to draft for their secondary in round one, but the options aren’t great – unlike Brockers.
#15 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
Andy Reid doesn’t like drafting linebackers, but Zach Brown will start to rise up the boards very soon.
#16 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
This isn’t the first time I’ve had Blackmon falling a bit. New York could move up to make sure they get this guy.
#17 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
Slightly over rated, a technician who looks great on the move but lacks elite power at the point of attack.
#18 Cordy Glenn (OT, Georgia)
He could play right tackle or guard in San Diego. The Chargers will surely invest in their offensive line this off-season and could trade up.
#19 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
Electric receiver who would quickly become Jay Cutler’s BFF. Capable of having a big impact quickly.
#20 Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
Kenny Britt’s problems off the field and with injuries could push the Titans towards finding a replacement.
#21 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
Safety’s with Barron’s range are difficult to find and his 2011 performance warrants top-25 consideration.
#22 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
He provides a lot of positives in run support, but he struggles in coverage. Could drop lower than this.
#23 Dont’a Hightower (LB, Alabama)
I think he can play outside linebacker – and while Detroit maybe have bigger needs, this guy can help take the defense to another level.
#24 Kelechi Osemele (OG, Iowa State)
Played left tackle at Iowa State but will kick inside to guard at the next level. I really like this guy.
#25 Luke Kuelchy (LB, Boston College)
He’s under sized but what a tackler – he’ll get close to 100 tackles in year one. Has some limitations and he’s no pass rusher.
#26 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
The Texans saw life without Andre Johnson and might add another receiver as insurance.
#27 Peter Konz (C, Wisconsin)
Top-end interior lineman who could be the best in this class. Stuck out on a talented Badgers line and no surprise he turned pro.
#28 Doug Martin (RB, Boise State)
They’ve played for two years now without a running game. Maybe it’s time to go all-in on a running back? Martin is seriously underrated.
#29 Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
Sanu can line up anywhere and make plays. San Francisco use a lot of gimmicks and needs a sure-handed catcher.
#30 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
Cox looks like a pure five-technique to me and would be worth a chance here by the Ravens.
  #31 Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
A top-ten talent on the field, but an UDFA off it. New England are willing to take on projects like this (see: Ryan Mallett).
#32 Sean Spence (LB, Miami)
Underrated linebacker who makes up for great size with speed, instinct, tackling and elite recognition skills.

John Schneider: Seahawks ‘won’t panic’ at quarterback

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

Seahawks GM John Schneider spoke to KING-5’s Chris Egan this week (see above) and among the topics discussed, inevitably, was the quarterback position. Schneider again stated that the team are “not going to panic” when it comes to finding a long term solution and related to his experience working with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. He wants that type of franchise-defining leader, he’s just not going to force it.

If you’re a Seahawks fan pinning your hopes on this situation being resolved during the 2012 draft, it’s time to start preparing yourself for that not happening. This will be Schneider and Pete Carroll’s third draft with the team and it’s difficult to be too critical of their approach to drafting a quarterback. We can debate the merits of Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie Whitehurst and Tarvaris Jackson all day – but the fact is there hasn’t been a strikingly obvious option for Seattle to select a young replacement. Even with two first round picks in 2010, the Seahawks rightly didn’t spend either on Tim Tebow, Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy or any other quarterback available in that class. People often talk about Andy Dalton last year, but he is still a long way from proving himself in the NFL. Some of the issues that were obvious during the grading process with Dalton were noticeable in the playoff game against Houston and while he enjoyed a credible rookie year and deserves praise for his start in Cincinnati, I still believe the Seahawks were right not to draft him with the #25 pick.

This year Seattle will own either the #11 or #12 overall choice, but again they are faced with limited options. As discussed in this week’s updated mock draft, there’s a realistic chance that Robert Griffin III will be a top-three pick even without a trade. Minnesota coulddraft RGIII, meaning the Seahawks would have to deal with a division rival in St. Louis. That just won’t happen, and people hoping that Griffin will be Seattle’s quarterback of the future better be prepared to be disappointed. I also don’t expect the Seahawks to draft a player like Brock Osweiler or Ryan Tannehill in round one – even though I have a lot of time for Osweiler (and not so much for Tannehill).

Of course there’s always the chance the team will draft a quarterback in round two and that shouldn’t be ruled out. But when Schneider says the team won’t panic, he means it – even in round two. If the Seahawks see better value with a defensive prospect or a running back with that second pick, that’s the direction they will go. We’ve discussed Kirk Cousins on the blog a lot recently and there’s every chance he could leave the board in the second round – that’s the way his stock is going right now. Yet if the Seahawks have a firm round three or four grade on Cousins, it’s unlikely they’ll reach to fill a need – a move that would put undue pressure on Cousins to be ‘the guy’.

Both Schneider and Carroll have been pretty open with the fans in their assessment of the team and plans for the future. Last year the offensive line was highlighted as a target area for improvement, just before the Seahawks drafted James Carpenter and John Moffitt. Carroll has consistently talked up the value he places in the running game – and the offense has been built in exactly that vision. There’s no secret in Seattle’s preference for size in the secondary. In Carroll’s end of season press conference a few weeks ago, improving the pass rush and adding to the front seven was named as priority #1 and you can bet your house that’s exactly what Seattle will attempt to do during the draft. When the Seahawks are preparing to go big on a quarterback, we’ll have a good idea that’s going to be the case – even if it’s not spelt out in as many words.

It’s hard to argue too much with their stance at the moment, because Schneider is 100% correct when he says a bad quarterback pick will set the team back indefinitely and spoil the good work conducted so far in rebuilding this team. However, there will come a time when the position severely holds the Seahawks back (even more so than it did in 2011). That’s when the excuses and talk of patience will fall on deaf ears. For those reasons it wouldn’t surprise me if the Seahawks made some kind of temporary move to upgrade the position during free agency – possibly even via trade. I’m not going to suggest any names but in order to afford themselves time ‘not to panic’, it could be argued they’re going to need a better bridge option than Tarvaris Jackson. Finding a cost-effective upgrade prior to the draft may soften the blow when the Seahawks don’t make an early splash at the position – possibly ignoring it during the first two days.

Regular visitors know my stance on quarterbacks and personally, I think it’s fairly unacceptable that the Seahawks planned so poorly for life after Matt Hasselbeck and missed an opportunity to stay at the forefront of the NFC West. Of course, that wasn’t a mistake made by this current front office. Yet you look at the way the Patriots are stocking quarterbacks and being savvy about their situation – there’s a fairly good chance whenever Tom Brady does retire they’ll at least have a logical plan in place for the future. The Seahawks don’t have that luxury and even players drafted beyond round three will have to deal with a level of anticipation and expectation that a guy like Ryan Mallett or Brian Hoyer doesn’t have to cope with in New England. You only have to look at the way Josh Portis’ one good drive against San Diego’s back-ups in pre-season was received to understand the situation we’re dealing with here. Seahawks fans are desperate for the future at quarterback to be resolved. For that reason, Schneider and Carroll are right to act with some degree of caution.

Even so, the time will come when this front office has to be pro-active rather than reactive – and I’m sure they’d agree with that. I’m a fan of Robert Griffin III, but a deal just may not be possible if you’re attempting to trade into the top three. The team should avoid tokenism to appease a fan-base desperate for some hope beyond the Jackson’s and Whitehurst’s of this world. They should keep building the roster and not rely on one position to define the road to success. But they should also be ready to make the move that will define Pete Carroll’s third gig in the NFL, because it could also define his legacy. Let’s not forget that a player he’s particularly close to, who he recruited and anointed USC’s first ever freshman starter will be part of the 2013 draft class. There will be alternatives too and it may be merely twelve months of further panic-free scouting. After 19 years without a first-round quarterback, what’s a second complete decade between friends?

Updated mock draft: 1st February

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Boise State's Doug Martin could be an option for Seattle in round two

This week’s projection is based on information accumulated over the last two weeks and continued tape observation. This mock best describes how I see things unfolding after the Senior Bowl and building up to the combine. Some of the picks will go against on my own personal grades, but I want to put down a mock I can return to after the combine to see how things have changed as we move closer to April 26th. For that reason, I’ve also included a second round to this week’s projection. 

I want to highlight the decision to have Minnesota take Robert Griffin III with the #3 overall pick. Last year, the Vikings spent a high first rounder on Christian Ponder and many people will disagree strongly with the suggestion they would draft another quarterback in round one this year. 

For starters, I think Minnesota’s situation has changed significantly in the last twelve months. When Brett Favre was quarterback in 2009, the Vikings came within a drive of the Super Bowl. They somehow (desperately) managed to convince an injured Favre to return in 2010 and the result was a bit of a mess. I firmly believe the Vikings thought they had a roster good enough to compete if they could sort out their quarterback situation. They drafted Ponder with the #12 pick last April, then traded for Donovan McNabb to be the bridge. During the 2011 season, Minnesota surely realised they weren’t so close to competing after all. They have an old and bad offensive line, they have no secondary and even the pass rush is looking long in the tooth. They lost Sidney Rice and became too dependant on Percy Harvin. Adrian Peterson was left to carry the offense and he ended the year with a serious knee injury. 

Having been so close to the Super Bowl, two seasons later the Vikings are pretty much back at square one. They need to rebuild

Really this situation isn’t too different to the one facing Carolina twelve months ago. Like the Vikings, in the space of two years the Panthers went from NFC challenger to picking very early in round one. When the Panthers drafted Jimmy Clausen with their first selection in 2010, they had greater expectations for the rest of their roster. When it fell apart to the extent they were the worst team in the NFL, they knew they had to start over. Faced with the chance to draft a building block, Carolina took Cam Newton first overall and Clausen became an after-though. Sure, Ponder was a much higher pick – but the situation is very similar. Two years removed from being legitimate NFC challengers, the Vikings are picking 3rd overall and they have a chance to draft their Cam Newton. 

You could argue it’s the team’s duty to build around Ponder and improve the offensive line, find him another receiver and piece together the defense. But here’s the thing: If Minnesota were picking first overall, would they draft Andrew Luck? Of course they would. Sure, they might see what they can get in a trade along the way – but like pretty much every team in the league they’d draft the big prize available at #1 this year. So if they’re willing to move past Ponder for Luck, would they do the same for Griffin III? 

Think about it – Minnesota needs an icon. Adrian Peterson may never be the same again after his injury, so what does that leave you with? If Christian Ponder reaches his peak, the best he can hope to be is Chad Pennington. Is that really what you want to build around? Instead, you could have Robert Griffin III. Start Ponder for a year or two as the bridge and take your lumps. Build around RGIII and give him the time to learn a pro-style offense. If Ponder develops in that time – superb! You have the makings of a nice trade with another team who needs a quarterback. If not, bring on the RGIII era. 

As the 12th pick last April, Ponder’s salary is just $10.5m on a four year contract. Tarvaris Jackson will earn around $8m for two years work in Seattle. There is no financial restriction here and Minnesota could easily accommodate both quarterbacks on their roster. Would it be different if they could draft a left tackle with elite potential such as Matt Kalil? Perhaps, but it’s almost certain St. Louis will draft the USC prospect if they can’t manufacture a trade with someone moving up for Griffin. Nothing is a guarantee of course, but I’m led to believe there’s a feeling among some sections of the league that Griffin III won’t get out of the top three picks. This maybe justifies why St. Louis are actually being touted as a logical trade partner. 

It wouldn’t be a major stretch if the Vikings’ draft board read: 1) Luck 2) Kalil 3) Griffin III. You don’t often get the chance to draft that early so you need to make those picks count. Are you really going to pass on a special talent at quarterback for Christian Ponder’s sake? If Griffin III is set to be taken in the top three picks, Seahawks fans hoping for a deal can forget about  it. The Rams aren’t going to trade with Seattle and if the Vikings do like RGIII, it’ll cost a kings ransom to move up. It appears defense will be on the agenda for the ‘Hawks at #11 or #12 unless a talented offensive player like Trent Richardson suffers an unlikely fall. 

Updated first round

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
The Colts are cleaning house to make room for the Andrew Luck era. They might as well start talking about a contract now.
#2 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
The Rams have to take Kalil, he’s too good to pass up. There’s enough depth at receiver to wait until round two.
#3 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
If Minnesota would’ve been prepared to take Andrew Luck at #1, why wouldn’t they consider taking RGIII here?.
#4 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
Elite playmaking talent who will have an instant impact. Cleveland may draft Richardson here even if Griffin’s still on the board.
#5 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
You have to believe Greg Schiano would love to draft Trent Richardson. Cornerback is also a need.
#6 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
This would be a foolish reach but Shanahan wants his guy. If Tannehill really is going to go in the top-15 as speculated, Washington is the obvious choice.
#7 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
He’s an enigma, but also a player some teams will love to take a chance on. Expect Jacksonville to sign receivers during free agency.
#8 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
Carolina want to have lots of different defensive looks and Still is scheme versatile. This is a big need for the Panthers.
  #9 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
Green Bay has a lot of talented receivers, Miami has Brandon Marshall. If Joe Philbin goes back for Matt Flynn, he’ll need targets.
#10 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
The Bills would be in a good spot here with both Reiff and Jonathan Martin on the board. Pick your poison.
#11 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
Upshaw won’t blow up the combine and that could put him in range for the Seahawks.
#12 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
The Chiefs could do with boosting their offensive line. They’d have the option to play Martin at left or right tackle.
#13 Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
With two offensive tackles leaving the board quickly, it could force Arizona to go for another need – pass rusher.
#14 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
Most people expect Dallas to draft for their secondary in round one, but the options aren’t great – unlike Brockers.
  #15 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
Andy Reid doesn’t like drafting linebackers, but he might have to. Zach Brown will start to rise up the boards very soon.
  #16 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
I’m not a big fan but the Jets need a receiver and Floyd just looks like a Rex Ryan type of pick.
#17 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
Slightly over rated, a technician who looks great on the move but lacks elite power at the point of attack.
  #18 Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State)
He was practically unstoppable at the Senior Bowl and teams will be looking at Adams as a potential blind side blocker.
#19 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
Electric receiver who would quickly become Jay Cutler’s BFF. Capable of having a big impact quickly.
#20 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
They need to improve their edge rush and Mercilus led the nation for sacks. A hard player to work out.
#21 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
Safety’s with Barron’s range are difficult to find and his 2011 performance warrants top-25 consideration.
#22 Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
Having added a running back, they now add possibly the best receiver in the draft class. Quarterback later on or in free agency.
#23 Cordy Glenn (OT, Georgia)
A senior bowl to remember will help promote his stock, but he got better and better as the season went on for Georgia.
#24 Kelechi Osemele (OG, Iowa State)
Played left tackle at Iowa State but will kick inside to guard at the next level. I really like this guy.
#25 Luke Kuelchy (LB, Boston College)
He’s under sized but what a tackler – he’ll get close to 100 tackles in year one. Has some limitations and he’s no pass rusher.
#26 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
Imagine JJ Watt and Fletcher Cox on the same defensive line. If they lose Mario Williams, they need to find a pass-rush replacement.
#27 Peter Konz (C, Wisconsin)
Top-end interior lineman who could be the best in this class. Stuck out on a talented Badgers line and no surprise he turned pro.
#28 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Great in run support but not so much in coverage. Green Bay would get value here but Kirkpatrick has a lot to work on.
#29 Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
Sanu can line up anywhere and make plays. San Francisco use a lot of gimmicks and need a sure-handed catcher.
#30 Dont’a Hightower (LB, Alabama)
A Ravens type of player if ever you saw one. He’s stout against the run but makes enough plays on the move to go here.
#31 Sean Spence (LB, Miami)
Underrated linebacker who makes up for great size with speed, instinct, tackling and elite recognition skills.
#32 Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
A top-ten talent on the field, but an UDFA off it. New England are willing to take on projects like this (see: Ryan Mallett).

Second round 

#33 St. Louis – Juron Criner (WR, Arizona)
The Rams make use of the depth at receiver this year and find Sam Bradford a new #1 target. 

#34 Indianapolis – Alameda Ta’amu (DT, Washington)
In moving to the 3-4, the Colts need a nose tackle. Ta’amu could go earlier than this. 

#35 Minnesota – Reuben Randle (WR, LSU)
Without a great offensive lineman or cornerback available here, the Vikings checkdown and go receiver. 

#36 Tampa Bay – Chris Polk (RB, Washington)
He’s not Trent Richardson, but he’s the kind of physical runner the Bucs will look for. 

#37 Cleveland – Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
A steal for the Browns who are slowly building a top young defensive line. 

#38 Jacksonville – Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)
The Jaguars double dip at defensive end and makeover their pass rush having added Quinton Coples earlier. 

#39 Washington – Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)
Getting a big target for their new quarterback would be a wise idea and Jeffery is good value here. 

#40 Carolina – Brandon Thompson (DT, Clemson)
Like Jacksonville, Carolina double-up on a big area of need. Thompson + Stills = scary. 

#41 Buffalo – Nick Perry (DE, USC)
The next best pass rusher on the board having added to the offensive line in round one. 

#42 Miami – Cam Johnson (DE, Virginia)
The Dolphins also need to improve their edge rush and take this rising senior with a lot of potential. 

#43 Seattle – Doug Martin (RB, Boise State)
The Seahawks know their offense is based around the run and they need to make sure they have strong depth at running back. 

#44 Kansas City – Dontari Poe (DT, Memphis)
Nose tackle is a position of great value these days and the Chiefs make sure they get a young one here. 

#45 Dallas – Jayron Hosley (CB, Virginia Tech)
Just a great playmaker who I suspect Jerry Jones will rate highly. He gambles, but he’s also exciting. 

#46 Philadelphia – Brock Osweiler (QB, Arizona State)
The Eagles always make sure they’re prepared at quarterback and Osweiler is underrated. 

#47 New York Jets – Jared Crick (DE, Nebraska)
This would be excellent value for a player with lots of pass-rushing ability. 

#48 New England – Joe Adams (WR, Arkansas)
Whoever drafts this guy won’t be sorry. 

#49 San Diego – Shea McClellin (DE, Boise State)
3-4 teams looking for an edge rusher will give McClellin strong consideration in round two. 

#50 Chicago – Jerel Worthy (DT, Michigan State)
A player who lurches between dominant and irrelevant, but it’s worth trying to keep the lights on. 

#51 Philadelphia – Lavonte David (LB, Nebraska)
Speedy linebacker who’s gaining momentum. Will provide some pass rushing threat. 

#52 Tennessee Mike Martin (DT, Michigan)
The tape says 100% effort guy with a lot of talent and teams will want him on their roster. 

#53 Cincinnati – Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
This would possibly be the steal of the draft. 

#54 Detroit – Chandler Jones (DE, Syracuse)
He’s raw and lacks technique, but there’s a bit of JPP about his style. 

#55 Atlanta Coby Fleener (TE, Stanford)
The heir apparent to Tony Gonzalez? 

#56 Pittsburgh – Bobby Wagner (LB, Utah State)
He looked good enough in the Senior Bowl to make it into the back-end of round two. 

#57 Denver – David Wilson (RB, Virginia Tech)
A running back with a lot of speed but doesn’t always make the best decisions. 

#58 Houston Josh Chapman (DT, Alabama)
The unsung hero of the ‘Bama defense. He played really well in 2011. 

#59 New Orleans – Stephen Hill (WR, Georgia Tech)
Huge potential in terms of physical quality and ability to catch the ball. 

#60 Green Bay – Kirk Cousins (QB, Michigan State)
The Packers are always one step ahead of the curve when it comes to quarterbacks. 

#61 Baltimore – Alfonzo Dennard (DB, Nebraska)
I’ve always had him in this range and don’t buy the first round talk. 

#62 San Francisco – Orson Charles (TE, Georgia)
The Niners can run a lot of dangerous 2TE sets if they draft this guy. 

#63 New York Giants – Kendall Reyes (DT, Connecticut)
He can do a back flip. He is 299lbs. 

#64 New England Ronnell Lewis (LB, Oklahoma)
I like Lewis, he’s just not spectacular in any particular way. Just a good all-round skill set. 

Just missed the cut: Vontaze Burfict (LB, Arizona State), Brandon Boykin (CB, Georgia), Harrison Smith (S, Notre Dame), Logan Harrell (DT, Fresno State), Dwayne Allen (TE, Clemson), Brandon Washington (G, Miami), Chase Minnifield (CB, Virginia), Nicolas Jean-Baptiste (DT, Baylor).

Senior Bowl notes: Quinton Coples dominates

Saturday, January 28th, 2012

Kirk Cousins scored a touchdown as the North defeated the South

Before I get into this write-up I want to highlight an article I wrote earlier this weekend breaking down possible three-technique option Devon Still. Check it out by clicking here

I’ve just finished watching the Senior Bowl and wanted to quickly put a few thoughts on the blog. Firstly, the best player on the field today was Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina) and it wasn’t even close. He was playing at a different level to anyone else, flashing superb range, athleticism, repertoire and extreme athleticism. His motor kept rolling throughout the game and he played like a top-five pick – he was virtually unblockable at times. The thing is, I’m not quite sure what to make of it all. 

Throughout 2011 Coples flattered to deceive. He was regularly subbed in and out of plays, time-sharing with Donte Paige-Moss (who also had a disappointing year). Coples played without fire, without urgency. He claims he struggled to adjust back to right end having featured mostly inside during 2010, but he still should’ve been dominating average college lineman due to his natural physical talent. His senior season was just a completely wasted opportunity, it was garbage. He turns up in Mobile for what amounts to a public job-interview and performs at a level beyond anything we saw in college this season. NFL teams must be asking themselves tonight which Quinton Coples they’ll get if they take him with a high pick. This version can be an all-pro and rival probably only Julius Peppers for natural-born ability to rush the passer. The North Carolina version is going to be a lethargic non-factor who costs you a lot of wasted money and maybe a reputation. 

In many ways this performance raises more questions than answers. The team that ultimately drafts Coples will be left with the ultimate risk-reward situation. So which team, if any, will it be at the top of round one to take this on? That’s what we have to work out. But today was the Quinton Coples we wanted to see throughout 2011 and nobody can deny the potential he has at his disposal. Quinton – don’t waste that potential

Teammate Zach Brown also showed well at linebacker. He was quick to react to plays throughout, flashed good closing speed and an aggressive edge I’ve not seen before. Brown was making plays all over the field and while he’s never going to be an effective pass rusher or gap clogger, he’s going to have a solid career as a sideline-to-sideline linebacker. There were a couple of occasions were he could’ve made a big play in coverage but missed, yet you have to give him credit for being in position in the first place on developing routes. That’s tough for a linebacker at any size. 

Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall) capped off a nice week with another solid performance. He’s quite a unique player – lacking the really big size but being more of a physical rusher rather than relying on speed. He boosted his stock this week and with teams looking for pass rushers, he could easily work his way into the late first/early second round range. 

Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama) had a quiet evening but for a sack at the start of the second half and a splash on a Kellen Moore throw shortly after. Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina) went a step further and was virtually anonymous. He does seem to have a new BFF in Quinton Coples though, the pair were inseparable all week and were constantly together on the sideline during the game. 

Despite a rough first series, Kellen Moore (QB, Boise State) made two excellent throws on his second drive only to be let down by bad drops. He’s still showing a slightly elongated release, but they were nice throws. We didn’t learn a great deal today from Moore, who was widely panned for his performance in work-outs during the week. At times his weak arm showed up as he made one or two ugly throws, including a near pick from a tipped pass (Coples) on his first attempt. We also saw some very accurate deliveries with adequate velocity when given time in the pocket. 

Twelve months ago I mocked Juron Criner (WR, Arizona) as a first round pick, before he opted to return to Arizona for his senior year. Overall he had a difficult 2011, but he reminded everyone today why he warranted such high praise a year ago. While there’s no AJ Green or Julio Jones in the class, there’s unique depth. Criner could be pushing his stock back into the high second round. The amount of depth at the position may put some teams off drafting Justin Blackmon in the top-ten, something we’ve discussed a lot recently on this blog. 

Teammate Nick Foles (QB, Arizona) looked like the player we’ve talked about all year. Away from Arizona’s high percentage scheme he looked out of rythm, he lacked mobility and struggled with pressure. He only seemed comfortable throwing to Juron Criner, the pair linked up for a touchdown. His footwork was generally poor, he looked uncomfortable getting out of the pocket and being asked to improvise beyond the play call. This week should act as a bucket of cold water to his stock, with some people strangely bumping him into first round consideration in the week leading up to the Senior Bowl despite a mediocre senior campaign. 

The two Arkansas receivers Jarius Wright and Joe Adams are going to make rosters in the league and provide excellent value. They’ll be two guys in a few years where people ask why they lasted so long on draft day. Exciting playmakers, top-end speed. Both will tear up the combine. 

Alameda Ta’amu (DT, Washington) had a really impressive game, flashing the kind of potential that at times had people considering if he could be a top-15 pick. He’s an ideal nose tackle, but moves well too and will offer some pass rush potential. He shouldn’t fall further than the first few picks in round two based on potential alone. Fellow Huskie Chris Polk also had a nice game after receiving criticism during the week for a modest performance during work-outs. 

Isiah Pead (RB, Cincinnati) probably took himself up a round or two today. He had back-to-back big runs on special teams and was awarded the game’s MVP. I’ve always liked Pead as a change of pace back and he’s going to have a lot of interest as a return man. 

Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State) looked superb at left tackle competing against a high quality South defensive line. I’ve never been that high on Adams, but he looked good this week. I’ve not studied left tackles much this year because it’s probably the one position this team will NOT be drafting in round one. I’m happy to admit my brief initial impression of Adams may have been wrong and teams needing a blind-side blocker will have him high on their board. The Seahawks need as many offensive tackles to rise as possible, because potentially it will push some of the better defensive talent into their path at #11 or #12. 

Another Buckeye – DeVier Posey (WR, Ohio State) – did his best job to unsettle Kellen Moore and Kirk Cousins with bad drops and finishing routes poorly. Not a good display at all. 

Jamell Fleming (CB, Oklahoma) had a tremendous year for the Sooners and showed up big here, including an interception on Brandon Weeden (QB, Oklahoma State). He’s one to watch, he has a shot at a good career in the NFL. For what its worth, Weeden’s hype needs checking. That was a bad throw from someone who suddenly is being talked about as a possible first round pick. Weeden had two interceptions on the day – completing only three more passes to his own team. He is not going to be a first round pick. Kirk Cousins (QB, Michigan State) was perhaps the most impressive quarterback, but there’s very little positivity to take from the group today. 

Bobby Wagner (LB, Utah State) isn’t a spectacular player and I’ve not had much chance to scout him during 2011, but he was the second best defensive performer on the field today after Coples. Just a solid football player who will enjoy a solid career if today’s evidence is anything to go by. Fellow linebacker Sean Spence (LB, Miamia) had a quiet game but was highlighted by Mike Mayock as someone who ‘made money’ during the week. In my most recent mock draft, I projected Spence to Seattle in round one.

Seahawks showing interest in Courtney Upshaw?

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Courtney Upshaw could be Seattle's first choice in round one... if they

Depending on your level of faith in the internet, Pete Carroll really likes Courtney Upshaw. An anonymous Alabama fan going under the moniker of ‘8:16am’ supposedly entered an impromptu game of basketball with the Seahawks Head Coach during Senior Bowl week in Mobile. The conversation turned to the Crimson Tide players available this year, where Carroll supposedly revealed his admiration for Upshaw:

“He thinks he is a better player than Von miller. He said Von was more athletic, but Upshaw is stronger, more technically sound and doesn’t have weaknesses.” 

It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that this story is true, given that it’s totally believable that a.) Carroll was shooting some hoops and b.) he didn’t sprint out of the building at the prospect of communicating with a member of the public. Even so, I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether there’s any truth to this. 

I felt obliged last night to go back and review some Alabama tape, so I skimmed through the game against Auburn last year and the two most recent meetings against LSU. My opinion on Upshaw has shifted several times, initially from one of disinterest because I couldn’t logically place him in Seattle’s defense. I became more intrigued when watching the Florida game this season where he stood out and then watched him closely against Arkansas, Auburn and those two games against LSU. After further review, I felt confident enough to make Upshaw the one player I’ve mocked to the Seahawks on multiple occasions. Even so, I still couldn’t place exactly what his best position was. Is he a 4-3 left end? A 3-4 OLB? Can he logically move to outside backer in a 4-3 with a lot of rush duties similar to Von Miller? 

I’ve charted every play he had an impact in for the three games I watched last night – and I’ve come away convinced he’s going to be an early pick. In a season without a lot of elite defensive talent, someone is going to draft this guy at the top of round one. In my most recent mock I projected he could go #8 overall to Miami to play OLB, so I was slightly surprised to see their announcement today that they’ll switch to a 4-3. That shouldn’t exclude Upshaw from being an option for the Dolphins, who suddenly have to find a 4-3 edge rusher as a main priority. I wonder if they have the cash to compete in the Mario Williams sweepstakes? If the Dolphins don’t take Upshaw, then Buffalo (also possibly moving to a 4-3) and Kansas City could show real interest. Being the #11 or #12 pick should be his floor. 

Here’s what I saw on tape and why I think he’s a real option as a pass-rushing linebacker for the Seahawks. For starters, his recognition skills are elite. In the two meetings with LSU and Cam Newton/Auburn, he came up against a lot of run-option. Not only did he show top-end instinct to react to the ball carrier, he also consistently drew the quarterback on the pitch and then adjusted to the runner – essentially taking both opponents out of the play. You see real awarness and athleticism when he tackles the pitch and I’ve not seen anyone comparable with Upshaw here. He showed fantastic awareness to react to screens and reverses and while he’s not an elite athlete, his pursuit skills more than make up for it. It’s incredible how often when teams tried reverse plays and other gimmicks it was Upshaw making the tackle. 

He’s only 6-1 and around 270lbs, so he’s not got the ideal length for an edge rusher. However, the guy just ‘gets‘ leverage. He will consistently attack a lineman with great pad level and drive players into the backfield. He has a deceptive second effort when trying to beat blocks, dropping a shoulder and seemingly giving the impression he’s beaten before bursting by a tackle to make the play. He’ll disengage with violent hands and rarely gets absorbed by even the biggest lineman. Despite not having the longest arms, he does a fine job keeping blockers away from his body so that he’s able to dip inside or burst around the edge. Upshaw’s thick set is comparable to a small three-technique and he has similar skills. He’s never likely to move inside at his size, but it’s funny how the hand use, the bubble and the strength are all comparable to an interior lineman. The guy bull rushes like he was born in Pamplona. 

For a team like Seattle that wants to shut down an opponents runing game, Upshaw is going to make it really difficult to run on the left side when he’s placed next to Red Bryant. Perhaps even more of an advantage though is the ability to spell Bryant a little more and maybe even kick him inside, knowing you can use Upshaw as a pure power end on more orthodox four-man sets. As great as Bryant has been for this team the last two years, there’s going to be big advantages on first and second down when the defense is able to press from both sides. At linebacker you’ll be giving up some coverage ability because he’s never going to be able to stick with top-end slot receivers and tight ends (he worked predominantly on underneath coverage at Alabama) but the WILL position is designed to be more of an attacking threat. Seattle has enough range at the SAM and MIKE (if they keep Hawthorne) to accommodate a player like Upshaw. In those sets the defense will have more of a 3-4 feel to it, but that’s not such a bad thing as discussed earlier this week. 

I also see Upshaw as the kind of guy who will make 4-5 key plays in a season. Not big plays, key plays. Whether that’s a crucial interception to end the game, a sack or a forced fumble – there will be a handful of games at the end of the year where people are talking about Courtney Upshaw’s performance on the ride home. And hey – the Seahawks are building a defense that is filled with attitude. Upshaw wouldn’t just fit into the brooding attitude that’s already part of this team, he’d take it a stage further. 

There aren’t a lot of stand-out defensive options for the Seahawks in this class. I like both Devon Still and Michael Brockers, but I’m not convinced either are the missing three-technique this team is looking for. Drafting a guy like Upshaw will improve the front seven as Pete Carroll is planning. You’re getting an 8-10 sack guy who can become a focal point on the defense for the next ten years. He’ll be the kind of player that is permanently talked about as ‘under rated’, when people suddenly realise they talk about him so much that couldn’t possibly be the case. People have compared him to LaMarr Woodley – I’m not sure he’ll bring the same rush impact as Woodley in Pittsburgh (positions and duties will be different), but his all-round influence could certainly be similar. 

What’s more, the guy is used to high standards at Alabama. He’s used to winning. That’s not a bad thing to have on a growing defense that has already achieved quite a lot given it’s starting point in 2010. 

Last year I argued – quite strongly – against Von Miller being a top-five pick. This wasn’t because I didn’t think he had elite speed and a very attractive skill set – I often remarked that he was the defensive player I’ve enjoyed watching the most in the last few years of writing this blog. My concern was his likely transition to linebacker, that he would have to adapt to different responsibilities and that could ultimately limit what he does best – rush the passer. His size made it unlikely he would play permanently at the LOS, so would he be able to have the same impact at OLB in a 4-3? I’m always happy to admit when I’ve made a bad call and kudos to Denver and Miller for making it work. The biggest concern I have for Upshaw is being able to make the same move, to the same position and role. Yet this is all about a learning process and acknowledging when you’ve made a mistake. Having misjudged Von Miller’s potential impact, perhaps Upshaw deserves a greater investment of faith this time? 

It would not surprise me at all if those internet rumors prove to be true and that Upshaw is near the top of Seattle’s board. He should be, possibly right behind the top two quarterbacks considering they don’t need a left tackle or running back (if they re-sign Marshawn Lynch). The only question is whether he’ll still be on the board at #11 or #12. I suspect not. If he is, then you could be looking at the next big piece in Seattle’s defense. 

Below I’ve included a series of videos featuring ‘every snap’ tape 

 

 

 

 

 

Updated mock draft: 25th January

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

 

Regulars will know the score by now. The idea of these weekly mocks is not to make a firm prediction as to what will happen on April 26th, rather it’s an opportunity to look at possibilities and talk about several different options. A lot of people are going to scratch their head at this week’s pick for Seattle, but I’ll try to explain.

Firstly, I suspect the Seahawks will draft for defense in round one. It appears the only situation I can see where they deviate from this plan is if someone makes a surprising fall or having studied Brock Osweiler since his shock decision to declare, they believe he’s worthy of a top-15 grade. If neither of those situations materialise, then even with a mediocre defensive class I think that’s the direction they’ll go. Pete Carroll has been fairly open about where he needs improvement and the way he highlighted greater speed among the front seven, I think that was a big hint as to what the Seahawks might do in round one.

He also mentioned other areas, such as wanting greater depth at cornerback and a ‘touchdown maker’ on offense if one was available. Even so, adding to the front seven makes a lot of sense given the team’s glaring lack of pass rush during the last two years and the seemingly total reliance on Chris Clemons to create pressure. They need more edge speed at linebacker and players that can cause greater issues on the blitz. They need a dynamic three-technique among the interior. They need at least one more complimentary edge rusher to replace Raheem Brock on third downs and obvious passing situations.

When compiling this latest mock, I considered a number of prospects – some more obvious than others. Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama) has the kind of size this front office has looked for at corner and he grades very highly in run support. However, his technique in press coverage is poor and I’ll never forget the way he was abused by Ryan Mallett (understandable) and John Brantley (more concerning) where his weaknesses as a cover corner were exploited. He’s too stiff, he often plays the man rather than the ball and generally I think he’s pretty overrated.

I understand why people want to avoid the cornerback position this early, because the Seahawks uncovered two new starters this year in Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. It’s worth noting, however, the injuries Seattle sustained at the position last year and the likely departure of Marcus Trufant. Browner will be 28-years-old when the 2012 season begins and we saw with Mike Williams how a player can regress slightly after appearing from nowhere. Let’s not forget that according to PFP, Browner gave up the 7th most passing yards in the NFL. Carroll wants competition and the attitude among the secondary is having a huge impact on the defense. Adding another young prospect who can further add to the team’s identity might be high on the agenda, especially if they value Kirkpatrick as high as a lot of other people do.

I also looked at Devon Still (DT, Penn State), Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina), Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois) and Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina). Still showed flashes of excellence last year, but I’m not convinced he’s a consistent interior penetrater who can provide the missing piece at three-technique. It may be that he’s valued more by teams looking to move him to the five-tech, although I paired him with Philadelphia (a 4-3 team) in this mock. Brown is definitely an option for the Seahawks, offering pure athleticism at linebacker and an ability to move from sideline-to-sideline making plays. Mercilus remains a bit of a mystery having had the chance to study his UCLA tape this week and I don’t expect the team to draft a LEO specialist in round one this year. Ingram causes a lot of heated debate on this blog, I stil maintain that finding a home for him in this scheme is a dilemma I cannot solve.

So this brought me to a new direction, a player I’ve always been fond of but didn’t expect to get first round consideration due to a lack of size. A significant lack of size.

Sean Spence is 5-11 and 228lbs according to the Senior Bowl numbers posted by Tony Pauline. In truth, he probably played most of his career at Miami closer to 220lbs. He’s basically a strong safety playing at linebacker, but it’s what Spence achieved in spite of his size that intrigues me for Seattle – even in round one. The Seahawks are looking for speed at linebacker, but not the kind of speed that Aaron Curry brings to the table. They want a guy who’s capable of blitzing sharply into the backfield and making a splash play, but they also want someone with the recognition skills, coverage ability and discipline to be more than a reckless heat-seeking missile who makes costly decisions.

There are obvious limitations due to the lack of size and although Spence is generally a sharp tackler in the open field, he’s also had a few missed opportunities because he has such a modest frame. If he was asked to play the SAM I think he’d struggle taking on bigger tight ends in coverage, but the WILL places most emphasis on speed and being able to react to different situations. The way the Seahawks stack up their front line with size (Bryant, Mebane and Branch) may afford for a slightly smaller yet faster linebacker. A further way to compensate could be to build up the size at the MIKE, potentially by signing someone in the mould of Dont’a Hightower to provide that real menacing brutality and run support. He does get engulfed sometimes by bigger lineman, but his speed will be a big factor when blitzing and he’s tougher than the 5-11 frame suggests. He’s one of the best coverage linebackers I’ve scouted.

Russ Lande at the Sporting News gave me the confidence to make this projection when he made Spence a first round pick in his latest mock. He also named him, “The best linebacker to come out of Miami since Ray Lewis.” Here are some of the post-Lewis linebackers to leave Miami and join the NFL: Dan Morgan, Jonathan Vilma, DJ Williams, Rocky McIntosh, Jon Beason and Tavares Gooden. Indeed Vilma has comparable size (two inches taller, but the same weight) and ran a 4.54 at the combine. Spence should top that. I asked Lande for further information given the high praise and he told me he believed Spence was an “elite” linebacker prospect with the ability to play the WILL or even the MIKE in the 4-3.

There’s absolutely no doubt that this would be an unorthodox pick and one that would probably come with widespread criticism from the rest of the league. Yet Seattle’s front office has been anything but conventional so far and to a large extent it’s worked. If they were just looking for big, fast players – Aaron Curry would still be on the roster. Very few people expected James Carpenter to be a first round pick, while the likes of Kris Durham and KJ Wright where considered suprising selections at the time. They’re looking for difference makers, impact players, guys who will buy into the system and lead by example. Quite aside from Spence’s athletic qualities, he’s also been the heartbeat of Miami’s defense for a few years. Reports say he’s a coaches dream off the field – dedicated to his craft, a film room junkie and a student of the game.

As with last week’s projection, there could be an opportunity here to move down the board and add some other picks before making a choice like this. I don’t deal with trades, but it’s worth baring that in mind before you send that venomous email and ask why Quinton ‘I’ll take the next play off’ Coples isn’t the pick instead. If the Seahawks really are looking for speed in the front seven this is a player to keep in mind and don’t underestimate how high he could be taken. At the top of this article, you will find 2010 tape of Spence’s performance vs Clemson. Onto this week’s mock…

Updated first round mock draft

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
The Colts are cleaning house to make room for the Andrew Luck era. They might as well start talking about a contract now.
#2 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
The Rams have to take Kalil, he’s too good to pass up. There’s enough depth at receiver to wait until round two.
#3 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
Minnesota need to protect their investment in Christian Ponder. They’d love to have Kalil, but Reiff is a decent compromise.
#4 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
I’m still not completely convinced by this, but Cleveland does need a dynamic playmaker on offense.
#5 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
Sure, they have big needs at linebacker and corner. However, Richardson is an elite prospect who will transform an offense.
#6 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
This would be a foolish reach but Shanahan wants his guy. If Tannehill really is going to go in the top-15 as speculated, Washington is the obvious choice.
#7 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
Corner’s traditionally don’t go in the top-five and Patrick Peterson was the exception last year. Claiborne would be a nice get for the Jags.
#8 Courtney Upshaw (OLB, Alabama)
Miami needs an outside linebacker and Upshaw is doing enough at the Senior Bowl to warrant this kind of projection.
#9 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
A complete lack of defensive line talent could push a raw youngster like Brockers into this range.
#10 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
The Bills need to boost both lines and could consider Justin Blackmon too. However, taking Martin would be a smart move.
#11 Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State)
I’m not a huge fan based on the tape, but he’s doing as much as anyone to promote his stock in Mobile.
#12 Sean Spence (OLB, Miami)
A titanic reach? Or just what the Seahawks are looking for? More speed in the front seven is the aim and Spence could be the ideal WILL.
#13 Brock Osweiler (QB, Arizona State)
Someone is going to fall in love with this guy’s skill set. Arizona should dump Kevin Kolb and draft Osweiler.
#14 Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
Elite coverage skills, the concern comes with the off-field issues. He needs to prove to team’s he’s matured in the last 12 months.
#15 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
The Eagles need a linebacker, but Andy Reid hates spending early picks on the position. Still could be an option here.
#16 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
Incredible production in college but has much changed in 12 months when he would’ve likely been a mid-to-late first rounder?
#17 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
Slightly over rated, a technician who looks great on the move but lacks elite power at the point of attack.
#18 Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
The best receiver in this class as far as I’m concerned. He could end up being the complete package and a sound replacement for Vincent Jackson.
#19 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
Electric receiver who would quickly become Jay Cutler’s BFF. Capable of having a big impact quickly.
#20 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
They need to improve their edge rush and Mercilus led the nation in 2011 for sacks. A hard player to work out.
#21 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Over rated corner who’s great in run support but struggles with press coverage. Not as good as advertised.
#22 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
Cleveland needs to keep adding playmakers. Floyd has his issues, but put him on that offense with RGIII and it’ll be much improved.
#23 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
Athletic linebacker who moves well and could go higher than this. As with all the UNC seniors, his play dropped off towards the end the year.
#24 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
His 2011 performance warrants a higher pick, but positional value could lead to a slight fall.
#25 Luke Kuelchy (LB, Boston College)
He’s under sized but what a tackler – he’ll get close to 100 tackles in year one. Has several limitations.
#26 Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
The Texans might struggle to re-sign Mario Williams, so could look elsewhere for further additions to their growing defense.
#27 Peter Konz (C, Wisconsin)
Top end interior lineman who could be the best in this class. Stuck out on a talented Badgers line and no surprise he turned pro.
#28 Melvin Ingram (OLB, South Carolina)
He’s a tweaner who best suits playing off the edge in the 3-4. This would be a good fit.
#29 Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
Sanu can line up anywhere and make plays. San Francisco use a lot of gimmicks and need a sure-handed catcher.
#30 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
In recent years Baltimore have capitalised on players falling into this range to get value. Coples could drop into the late first.
#31 Dont’a Hightower (LB, Alabama)
Big, brutal linebacker who eats up run plays. Would be a great addition to New York’s defense.
#32 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
He plays like a runaway train – unbalanced, a bit out of control, yet with plenty of power and speed.