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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.

Kirk Cousins – future Seahawks quarterback?

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Kirk Cousins, seen here with a ball glued to his left wrist

One of the more intriguing prospects at the Senior Bowl this week is Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins. Draft Countown’s Shane Hallam reported yesterday that scouts from Seattle spoke to Cousins after yesterday’s opening practise and reports from the work out were fairly positive. Tony Pauline mentioned in his day one round-up, “Cousins showed a big league arm all day, powering the ball into targets and getting passes through the tight windows.  He was relatively accurate for the most part and did a solid job.”     

NFL Draft Scout’s Rob Rang was similarly positive, noting, “Cousins out-shined Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson and Boise State’s Kellen Moore by attacking all levels of a talented North defense. His experience in a pro-style offense was obvious as he made quick decisions, showed accuracy short, middle and deep and thread the needle through tight spaces. Whereas his teammates struggled to find a rhythm with their new receiving corps, Cousins was hitting on all cylinders, spreading the ball all over the field and hitting his backs, tight ends and receivers on a variety of routes.”     

Scott Enyeart added to the intrigue yesterday, tweeting: “(Pete) Carroll has been evaluating Kirk Cousins since this summer at the Elite 11 camp in Malibu, where Kirk was a counselor.” Clearly this is a quarterback we need to monitor during the next few weeks and certainly he appears to be on Seattle’s radar.     

My own view on Cousins is mixed. In many ways, I think he could be the fourth best quarterback in this class after Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Brock Osweiler. Trying to explain why that might be the case is the hard part. Truly he is not a quarterback with a selection of defining, obvious talents. Really, he’s just pretty good across the board. He’s not physically outstanding, weighing just 209lbs at the combine in a modest 6-2 frame, but he has got a surprising punch to his throws and flashes natural talent as a passer, even if he occasionally trusts his arm a little too much. He’s adept at play-action and does a great job selling the fake, but he’s also shown a degree of comfort on bootleg’s and roll outs. Brilliant performances such as the Spartans 37-31 victory against unbeaten Wisconsin (Cousins: 22-31, 290 yards & 3TD’s) are off-set by the occasional head scratcher, such as the titanic struggle against Nebraska (11-27, 86 yards, 0TD’s and an interception). I contacted Michael Wilson from the ‘Little Brother’ Spartans Blog for his take on the team’s quarterback:     

“He is a guy who just finds a way to win. Never been the biggest, fastest, strongest at any point in his career, but still made the most of everything he can do. He commands the offense well and is a good field general. I’ve heard his teammates say when he speaks in the huddle there is just a great level of certainty and confidence and trust. As for his skill set, nothing jumps out at you really. But he does just about everything well. His arm strength is really good (not elite, but above average), he can thread the needle well and does so with confidence (especially this season). He has decent mobility, but does not often pull the ball down and run. He has nice straight-line speed, isn’t going to cut and stiff arm or anything to break for huge yardage. I can recall a couple of 20-yard runs in his career.     

“MSU runs a pro-style offense (and likes to run) with plenty of play action and snaps under center for Cousins, but this year opened it up a lot more. He does best on timing routes and makes very quick decisions. He will struggle, though, when protection breaks down quickly and nothing is open. That is when he struggles with mechanics and will throw off his back foot. Bottom line: As a fan, I will miss seeing him play for MSU. He is a winner. He is a guy who you take pride in playing for your team. And above all, you are really comfortable with him as a quarterback.”     

One thing that stood out from Michael’s answer was the comment about throwing off the back foot, as it’s something I picked up on when noting Cousins during 2010 scouting. Last July I wrote: “It appears Cousins resorts to throwing off the back foot under pressure, which in turn also impacts his accuracy. When he feels the rush he sits back and spears the ball. Given his agility in the pocket you’d like to see a little less panic, stepping up into the pocket and driving the pass. I think he could be more composed which will ultimately lead to better technique. The one player he reminds me of in this regard is Kevin Kolb. Similar release, size and mobility. Neither are severely limited but don’t have the big-time physical skills. Given a nice collection of playmakers, both can succeed. Kolb was drafted with the 36th pick in 2007 and it wouldn’t surprise me come next April if we see Cousins go in a similar area.”     

Although I never much rated Kolb, I was surprised how little success he had in Arizona throwing to Larry Fitzgerald. I watched the Cardinals three times this year and noticed a common trait within Kolb’s play – his tendency to check-down too often and avoid risk despite having an elite receiver who consistently bails out the quarterback. He’s always shown a tentative streak as evidenced in this edition of NFL Playbook from 2o10, but that’s where Cousins differs. Thankfully, he’s willing to take a few more risks and he’ll need to if he’s to succeed where Kolb has failed so far in fleeting starting opportunities. At the same time – as I’ll discuss in the tape breakdown later – there are certain throws Cousins needs to learn to avoid.   

I watched and noted Cousins’ performance in week two of the 2011 season when MSU faced Florida Atlantic. “He drops back with a degree of comfort and in the shotgun and sets to throw with the ease of a seasoned pro. Cousins’ has a great grasp of play action and can both sell it and execute. When he’s forced to move around in the pocket he’s capable and he’ll extend plays while keeping his eyes downfield. Last season there were occasional errors trying to force the issue under pressure, but this was a cupcake game and he wasn’t tested. He isn’t a threat to break off runs and he’s exclusively elusive rather than a scrambler. I have noticed a tendency to panic on inside pressure, often throwing high to his right when rushed up the middle or taking an unnecessary sack. He’s much better against the edge rush, detecting the defender and making room to throw.”     

It’s worth highlighting the intangible aspects before we get into the tape, because Cousins has battled to succeed during his career. Andy Staples at Sports Illustrated wrote an interesting piece discussing his battle to make the college ranks before eventually landing with the Spartans:     

“Cousins quickly became the face of the Spartans. After sports information director John Lewandowski nominated Cousins to speak for the athletes at Big Ten media day in August, Cousins became the face of the Big Ten and — to some — the smiling face of what is right about college football in a time when scandals dominate the headlines. Cousins happily accepts the role. No amount of attention will change him. ‘”He doesn’t have to just be a great quarterback,” Dantonio said. “He’s going to be a great husband, a great father, a great community leader. The guy just sort of has it as a person.’”     

If you want to see what all the fuss is about with regard to that Big Ten media day appearance, I’ve added the video of Cousins’ speech below. Clearly, we’re talking about a confident individual whose personality will appeal to the NFL. As Michael Wilson puts it: “That video epitomizes him — character through the roof. Intelligence through the roof — he plans on going to med school and won an $18K postgrad scholarship from the National Football Foundation. He won the Lowe’s Senior Class Award. He was a captain for three seasons at MSU — even before he was named the starter in his sophomore season. In a sentence: He is that guy you love representing your school/team.”     

      

*********************************************************************************  

Let’s get into the game tape. Below I’ve added Cousins’ performances against Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio State from 2011. I’ll break down certain plays in note form following each video:    

      

vs Indiana   

0:01 – Good, sharp drop-back, identifies his target quickly and delivers the ball for a first down.     

0:08- Effortless deep throw, precision delivery in behind a defensive back allowing the receiver to make a play in stride. Such a difficult throw to defend and the kind Seattle wants to use. Technique here is fundamentally sound, throws off the front foot and a nice spiral. Impressive.     

0:24 – Another crisp drop-back, make a good read and delivers a nice pass to the right sideline.     

0:45 – Excellent play fake executed to perfection and although the deep pass is relatively simple, he doesn’t throw it too conservatively allowing the receiver to continue moving and complete the score.     

1:33- A lot of this touchdown is down to the work of Keshawn Martin (a senior receiver worth keeping an eye on) but Cousins does a great job identifying the coverage and purposely throwing high to make sure only the receiver can make a play. A necessary adjustment and good instincts and feel for the position.   

2:16- This isn’t a good pass, thrown dangerously behind the receiver and without much velocity. That throw has to be arrowed to the left shoulder, closer to the sideline. It’s not a difficult throw that demands a high degree of accuracy. This was a missed opportunity and almost led to a turnover.     

3:23- Evidence of struggles vs interior pressure. I sense Cousins just throws this away, or at least throws high to avoid the turnover and make it difficult for anyone to grab in the end zone. He actually had a checkdown to the left but never looks in that direction, focusing entirely on the end zone.     

3:28 – Inaccurate throw to the end zone. Really needed to get more air on the ball and direct it to the far right corner. This is too short and makes the receiver stop to jump for the ball, when a slightly deeper throw would’ve caught him in stride.     

      

vs Wisconsin   

0:01 – Well executed play fake and a nice touch pass with a little more air to make the completion.     

0:06 & 1:01- Evidence of greater confidence throwing over the middle. Cousins was a bit of a ‘sideline’ thrower in 2010, but these are the kind of throws he has to make at the next level.     

0:21- Throws into a really tight window, but executes and hits the receiver on an inside slant.     

0:44 – Cousins completely sells the toss, runs the bootleg to the right and hits the open receiver for a touchdown. It’s an easy throw, but only because of the perfect execution on the play fake. Nicely done.   

1:22 – Similar throw to the play vs Indiana, the ball leaves the quarterbacks hands before the receiver cuts to the right – just excellent awareness and chemistry, plus good accuracy on the throw.     

1:47 – I’m not entirely sure what to make of this throw. The read says triple coverage off the play action, but Cousins trusts his arm and makes the completion. It’s hard to be critical because it’s a big play, but quite risky at the same time. However, sometimes you have to back yourself and the receiver to make a play.     

2:29 – The other side of the debate, as this time Cousins trusts his arm too much and gets picked off. That is NOT a pass that should be thrown. Cousins needs to identify the double coverage and the position of the safety who has leverage over the receiver. Get out of the call and live to fight another day. Bad decision.     

2:47 – Better execution, putting enough height on the ball to make sure the defensive back wouldn’t get close to it, but also allowing the receiver to make a play.     

4:41- Another bad read and should’ve been an interception. He needs to identify the position of the defender here to the left shoulder of the receiver, facing the quarterback. If he makes that throw, the defender is going to be able to make a play for the ball and cut off the route, while the receiver is always going to struggle to react.     

      

vs Ohio State   

0:24- Cousins gets a great block to keep this play alive, but what a throw to the back of the end zone for a touchdown. It’s a laser – superb arm strength, accuracy and he actually directs his receiver to the ball before throwing.     

1:17 – Underrated throw that will impress pro-scouts. Flashes pro-drop back skills and the ability to look off to his right and snap back quickly to hit a short route to the right. Textbook quarterback play taking advantage of the deep coverage on 2nd and 17 to make a manageable third down.     

1:41 – Needed to drill this pass to avoid it being cut off by a linebacker. Makes the completion and gets the first down.     

2:45 & 5:44- Very fortunate to avoid turnovers here. A common occurrence appears to be the chances he takes on shorter routes that are almost cut off and returned for six. He needs to do a better job progressing from those reads and being a little more careful with the football. A serious concern, because it keeps flashing up on tape.     

3:48- Just one of those things with the wet ball slipping out of his hands. Every quarterback will do this at some point in their career, but he should’ve covered the ball up when it was on the turf.     

5:15 – Good initial footwork to extend the play but he has to hit the receiver in behind the defensive back. He snatched at the pass a little and rushed the throw, but he had the time and the positioning to make a higher, accurate delivery for a potential touchdown.     

6:03- Superb throw under pressure (he was hit) and delivering the ball perfectly to the right sideline for a big gain. Excellent technique and placement to dissect the corner and safety – a difficult throw to make.     

6:27 – Awful fade attempt basically tossed into the air for grabs and is deservedly intercepted. Cousins has to do better throwing the fade, it’s not good enough at the moment and needs work. Such a crucial throw at the next level that must be mastered.   

7:38 – Great pump fake, but once the defensive back bites on the play he has to make that throw. Overshoots the intended receiver.     

7:47- The worst throw and decision in any of the three games so far. Cousins just gets really sloppy here, dropping back and moving into space, before just aimlessly throwing the ball downfield straight to a defensive back. Why make that throw? Terrible decision and mistakes like that can be catastrophic in tight games.     

Conclusion     

Kirk Cousins has a lot of the natural qualities the Seahawks are looking for in a quarterback. They want to run the ball and use play action – a major strength for Cousins having played in MSU’s heavy ground attack. He’s mobile enough to run bootleg’s and roll outs, while he also has the kind of arm strength the front office have looked for so far in acquiring Tarvaris Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst and Josh Portis. He’s the kind of individual teams want fronting their offense and with his technical experience in something akin to a pro-style concept, Cousins could even have a fairly reasonable impact early in his career. There are also limitations and areas for drastic improvement, particularly with decision making on shorter routes, learning to cope with inside pressure and trying to avoid throwing off the back-foot too often.     

The Seahawks seem unlikely to get their fix at quarterback in round one, but it’s almost certain they’ll eventually draft at least one player at the position in April. Cousins is being slightly underrated with some considering him merely as a late round option, but the Seahawks seemingly have enough interest and could take a look as early as round two – particularly if they are able to address a key defensive need in round one.

Updated mock draft: 18th January

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

I want to try and make these mock drafts different, not just a weekly repetition with one or two minor tweaks. These things are never that accurate and a good mock draft should never be the benchmark for validation. This is all about the journey from September to April – watching the tape, making the judgements and coming to conclusions. I expect a lot of people to disagree with this week’s projection, but that’s OK. We’re over three months away from the draft and now is the time for debate.

There is one significant tweak today because although I don’t project trades, I’ve laid things out to look at what will happen if a certain deals occur early in round one. If a team like Miami does move up to draft Robert Griffin III, how does it impact other picks? It seems likely Minnesota won’t draft Griffin, but I’ve put RGIII at #3 to see how the cards fall in that situation.

With Seattle’s pick I’ve gone in a direction I’ve hinted at for the last seven days. I know the Seahawks won’t reach for a quarterback, but John Schneider and Pete Carrol have a different way of doing things. A lot of people in the media hadn’t even considered James Carpenter in round one last April – yet Seattle made him the #25 pick. It was obvious why they liked Carpenter – he stood out on tape for Alabama and even jumped off the screen a few times blocking for Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. We talked about him often on this blog because the guy clearly had talent. Maybe he was a little raw, but the physical potential and room for development was extremely high.

The Seahawks made similar picks throughout, raising a few eye brows when they took John Moffitt in round three and Kris Durham and KJ Wright in round four. There were bigger, more established names on the board – but Seattle’s front office knew exactly what they wanted. This continued all the way into day three of the draft – unique picks, most of which had an instant impact. I’m not here to say Brock Osweiler definitely falls into that same category – particularly as a quarterback – but he’s another player with incredible potential even if he is a little unrefined. Look at the players this team has signed at the position so far and they all have similar physical attributes. Osweiler may be a more talented version of what they already have.

He’s starting to get a bit of national attention too, which isn’t unexpected but certainly it’s helpful. Today I noticed a tweet from ESPN’s Todd McShay stating, “Momentum building for Osweiler as a late-first round grade after three tapes studied. Maybe 3rd QB after Luck, RGIII?” This was closely followed by a reply from McShay’s Scouts Inc colleague Kevin Wiedl (whose opinion is worth noting, he’s one of the best around) who added, “Extremely impressed with Osweiler’s tape. A lot of tools to work with and a competitor. Stock could rise moving further into the process.” Interesting.

We’ve already looked at tape against USC, Utah, Oregon and Boise State. In the video above you’ll see Osweiler’s performance against Illinois (thanks to TTN2810 for supplying the tape). Expect further thoughts tomorrow, but for now let’s get into 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. At this stage, I don’t think there’s any deal Indianapolis would accept to trade this pick.
#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)
Minnesota won’t draft Griffin, but I don’t project ‘trades’. I want to look at a mock where RG3 leaves the board here in the event of a deal.
#4 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
I could see Richardson being Cleveland’s choice even if Griffin is still on the board. He’s that good.
#5 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
He’s had a great year and put his stock firmly in this range. Tampa Bay can’t lose if they take Claiborne or Trent Richardson.
#6 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
This would be a foolish reach but Shanahan wants hisguy. If Tannehill really is going to go in the top-15 as speculated, Washington is the obvious choice.
  #7 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
Jacksonville are known for doing things differently. It’s speculated that a lot of teams see Wright as the #1 receiver in this class.
#8 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
Depending on the appointment of their new coach, I still think Miami are the favorites to trade up for Griffin. Minnesota would then draft a lineman like Reiff.
#9 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
A complete lack of defensive line talent could push a raw youngster like Brockers into this range.
#10 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
If the Bills don’t re-sign Stevie Johnson, receiver becomes a desperate need. They also need to improve the offensive line and pass rush.
#11 Luke Kuelchy (LB, Boston College)
Undersized but a tackling machine. The kind of player Scott Pioli likes to draft for his team.
#12 Brock Osweiler (QB, Arizona State)
The tape doesn’t lie and there’s a lot to like about Osweiler. If Christian Ponder is good enough to go here, so is this guy.
#13 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
This is the kind of range where Martin becomes a bargain and well worth the risk to improve Arizona’s offensive line.
#14 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
He’s big and good in run support, but struggles in coverage at times. Jerry Jones will like this guy, so will Eli Manning.
#15 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
The Eagles will look closely at the linebacker position and Brown is a good fit for Philly’s scheme.
#16 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
Few players have enjoyed the level of progress shown by Barron in 2011. He’s firmly in the round one equation.
#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 Courtney Upshaw (OLB, Alabama)
The kind of player San Diego is lacking on defense and will instantly improve their attitude and pass rush at outside linebacker.
#19 Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
The best receiver in this class as far as I’m concerned. He has enough talent to become the complete package.
#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 Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
Elite cornerback talent but troubled by off-field problems. The Bengals needs to draft a corner and Jenkins is good enough to start quickly.
#22 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
Cleveland needs to keep adding playmakers. Floyd has his issues, but put him on that offense with Trent Richardson and it’ll be much improved. They’d still need a quarterback.
#23 Brandon Boykin (CB, Georgia)
He doesn’t have elite size but he’ll light up the combine and push his stock into this range.
#24 Mike Adams (OT, Ohio State)
I’m not a fan personally, but reports suggest it’s likely Adams will go in this range. The Steelers could look again at the offensive line.
#25 Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
The Broncos run the ball well and could look to add another back to their stable. Carolina had two first round runners under John Fox.
#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 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
I’m still trying to get an angle on Still. It often looks like his best fit may be at the five-technique.
#28 Fletcher Cox (DE, Mississippi State)
He plays a bit like a runaway train. He’s unbalanced but moves well for a big guy. He looks ideal for the 5-technique position.
#29 Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
Sanu can line up anywhere and make plays. New York aren’t desperate at receiver, but they could be creative here.
#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 Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)
Jeffery divides opinion. He is capable of making big plays, but he runs sloppy routes and looks ‘too big’.
#32 Peter Konz (OC, Wisconsin)
Stood out last year in a big-name Badgers offensive line. Could return for another year, but ready to have an impact as a pro.

Updated mock draft: 11th January

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

I’ve gone against my convictions this week. Tony Pauline at Draft Insider.net and SI.com is one of the best in the business at getting the inside edge on what teams are thinking in the draft. Last year he quoted sources claiming Tyron Smith would be a top-ten pick long before people were even including him in their mock drafts. The Dallas Cowboys drafted Smith ninth overall. When Pauline reports on what the teams are thinking, it’s worth taking notice.

Ryan Tannehill isn’t someone I can grade as a first round pick. He was bitterly disappointing during the 2011 season and justifications like a lack of experience were off-set by an ideal environment including high quality pass protection and a cluster of NFL weapons. I’ve not included him in a single projection so far because I didn’t expect him to be drafted in round one. However - despite breaking his foot and pulling out of the Senior Bowl this week - Pauline is today reporting that Tannehill will very likely go in the top-15:

Why is Tannehill making such a bounce up draft boards in recent weeks?  One trusted source told me teams are eating up the quarterbacks upside potential and described it as “the love affair factor”- teams see what Tannehillcan develop into at the next level and can’t stay away.  His athleticism, mobility, toughness and decision making all has scouts giddy. With Cam Newton, Jake Locker and Christian Ponder coming off the board so early in the 2011 NFL Draft, teams now feel they have the green light to select someone such as Tannehill earlier than most anticipate.  Sources are saying don’t be shocked if the Texas A&M product ends up as a top 15 choice, depending on the injury.” – Tony Pauline

It’d be ignorant to brush aside such a report and for those reasons I have to put him in this week’s mock. The question is, how high does he go? I had a strong suspicion last year that Washington were hoping to draft Jake Locker with the 10th overall pick – so much so, I never budged from that predicition throughout the process. Locker fit like a glove in Mike Shanahan’s offense and it wasn’t surprising that the Redskins traded down – rejecting Blaine Gabbert in the process - after Tennessee chose Locker at #8. Tannehill doesn’t have the same upside as the former Washington quarterback, but he has a very similar skill set. Having come so close to getting their man last year, perhaps Shanahan won’t take any chances in 2012? After all, the relative cost of picking in the top-10 is much less these days so he can afford to roll the dice (at least financially). It wouldn’t necessarily prevent the Redskins from signing a prospective free agent like Peyton Manning. After all, Tennessee quickly signed Matt Hasselbeck to a three-year contract after drafting Locker.

The Cleveland Browns still provide healthy debate at #4. I think there’s a good chance they will look at other options at quarterback rather than draft Robert Griffin III and I have to believe  Trent Richardson will be on their radar. We’ll know more depending on what the Browns do in free agency, with Matt Flynn a possible target and maybe even Kevin Kolb if the Cardinals trigger their ‘get-out’ clause after a series of mediocre performances last season. If the Browns do pass on Griffin III, I don’t think it’s a shoe-in that he’d automatically go to Washington. Let’s not forget, many people expected Blaine Gabbert to be the second quarterback drafted last April but he was chosen after Jake Locker. Although the hype for Rg3 is much greater, I still think there’s a very good chance he could fall to Miami at #8 or #9. If the Seahawks want a shot at Griffin, they’re going to have to move up.

For Seattle’s pick this week I’ve returned to Courtney Upshaw. He’s not going to provide that burst of speed in the front seven that Pete Carroll is looking for, but he’ll improve the team’s pass rush. Despite his lack of height, he’s a warrior at the LOS and holds up incredibly well against the run. Seattle could use a lot of different looks, using Upshaw as a power end at times in a front four and in space off the edge on certain calls with the three big bodies in the middle and Clemons at the LEO. They could even try him as a WILL linebacker and certainly he flashed decent mobility against LSU, although coverage skills aren’t a strength. What he could provide is a more balanced attack while helping to build the teams physical style that refuses to concede the run. He’ll be a tone setter, a ring leader and his attitude coincides with the other players already on the team. He might not be the lean, elite edge rusher that usually goes in the top-15 – but there’s every chance he’ll have an impact in the NFL. At the top of this blog post, you’ll find game tape from Upshaw’s performance against LSU in the BCS Championship courtesy of JMPasq.

Note: Yesterday I conducted an interview with Danny Kelly at Field Gulls talking about several quarterback prospects. To see the piece in full, click here.

Updated first round mock draft

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
Despite a lot of talk about keeping Manning and drafting Luck, it remains an unlikely proposition. Long term thinking will win out.
#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 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
Minnesota would love a shot at Kalil. Claiborne is a decent consolation prize to improve their struggling secondary.
#4 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
Richardson has to be a consideration here, but the hype surrounding RG3 is intense and it’ll be tough for Cleveland to justify passing.
#5 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
Elite talent who will be a star in year one. Tampa Bay get a steal with this pick if Richardson is still on the board.
#6 Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M)
A foolish reach but Shanahan wants his guy. If Tannehill really is going to go in the top-15, Washington is the obvious choice.
#7 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
This is too high for Blackmon in my opinion, but his production will interest teams. The Jaguars need to help Blaine Gabbert.
#8 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
Miami will pick 8th if they win a coin toss with Carolina. With RG3 off the board, expect Miami to beef up their run game.
#9 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
A complete lack of defensive line talent could encourage one or two unexpected players to declare. Brockers is one to watch.
#10 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
The Bills go into the off-season needing to improve their pass rush and pass protection. Martin would be a wise pick here.
#11 Luke Kuelchy (LB, Boston College)
Undersized but a tackling machine. The kind of player Scott Pioli likes to draft for his team.
#12 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
If the Seahawks want to improve their pass rush and continue to build a defensive identity, Upshaw could be the pick here.
#13 Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
With the tackles leaving the board early, Arizona will be forced to address their second most important need – an outside rush.
#14 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
He’s big and good in run support, but struggles in coverage at times. Jerry Jones will like this guy, so will Eli Manning.
#15 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
The Eagles will look closely at the linebacker position and Brown is a good fit for Philly’s scheme.
#16 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
Few players have enjoyed the level of progress shown by Barron in 2011. He’s firmly in the round one equation.
#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)
They won’t franchise Vincent Jackson again and need a weapon for Philip Rivers. Jones could be the complete package. Underrated.
#19 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
The ultimate deep threat. Jay Cutler will get the most out of Wright, who should be able to have a Mike Wallace-type impact.
#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 Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
Elite cornerback talent but troubled by off-field problems. The Bengals needs to draft a corner and Jenkins is good enough to start quickly.
#22 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
Cleveland needs to keep adding playmakers. Floyd has his issues, but put him on that offense with Trent Richardson and it’ll be much improved. They’d still need a quarterback.
#23 Brandon Boykin (CB, Georgia)
He doesn’t have elite size but he’ll light up the combine and push his stock into this range.
#24 Vontaze Burfict (LB, Arizona State)
Although his stock is falling, someone could take a shot on Burfict. My guess is he’ll end up playing in the AFC North.
#25 Michael Egnew (TE, Missouri)
He’s very much the modern tight end – a pure pass catcher who will make spectacular plays downfield.
#26 Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
The Broncos run the ball well and could look to add another back to their stable. Carolina had two first round runners under John Fox.
#27 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
I’m still trying to get an angle on Still. It often looks like his best fit may be at the five-technique.
#28 Peter Konz (OC, Wisconsin)
Stood out last year in a big-name Badgers offensive line. Could return for another year, but ready to have an impact as a pro
#29 Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
Sanu can line up anywhere and Jim Harbaugh will find different ways to get him involved. Another powerful weapon for San Fran.
#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 Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)
Jeffery divides opinion. He is capable of making big plays, but he runs sloppy routes and looks ‘too big’.
#32 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
He plays a bit like a runaway train. He’s unbalanced but moves well for a big guy. He looks ideal for the 5-technique position.

Updated mock draft: 4th January

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Sam Montgomery tape vs Alabama & Georgia provided to Seahawks Draft Blog by JMPasq

One thing struck me during Pete Carroll’s end-of-season press conference yesterday – his belief in the need for speed. He talked openly about wanting more pace among his front seven, with the pass rush considered a prime target-area for improvement. The Seahawks generated modest pressure during the 2011 season, often relying on Chris Clemons at the LEO specialist position for sacks. The ‘big three’ in the middle – Alan Branch, Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant – combined for four total sacks. If it wasn’t for a seemingly never-ending question mark at the quarterback position, there’s no doubt what Seattle’s most pressing concern would be.

Speaking of quarterbacks, Carroll spent most of his near 50-minute session answering questions about Tarvaris Jackson. It’s hard to get a read on Seattle’s plans solely based on what we discovered here, but it seemed to me that Carroll appreciates what we all know – that Jackson isn’t a long term option, but right now he’s the best quarterback on the roster. The Seahawks need more than 14 passing touchdowns in the regular season. In fact, Matt Hasselbeck and Jackson combined for just 26 passing scores in the last two years. To put that into context, ten quarterbacks scored 26 or more touchdown throws this season alone – including the much maligned Mark Sanchez. Jackson’s scoring totals matched Colt McCoy, were comparable to Blaine Gabbert and Matt Moore had better numbers in 12 starts for Miami. Sure, he battled a torn pectoral muscle. Yet we didn’t see enough from the healthy Jackson to believe he’d taken any giant leaps from his time in Minnesota.

Carroll has actually been fairly open and honest with his press conferences in the past. Last year he spoke of getting bigger up front and making the offensive line a priority. The end product? Seattle spent its first two picks on big bodied lineman. I believe Carroll was 100% telling the truth when he said re-signing Hasselbeck was the #1 priority, but I also believe the lockout and Tennesee’s offer of a three-year deal changed the situation completely. This year, Carroll spoke about the draft depth at quarterback and the amount of work already conducted by John Schneider to get an angle on this QB-class. Perhaps this is just a presumption made far too early to carry any weight, but I felt like the Seahawks weren’t expecting to make any aggressive moves up the board to target Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. I do believe the Seahawks will be prepared to ‘make their move’ one day to get their guy at quarterback, I just feel like that quarterback is probably playing in SoCal in 2012. 

So this brings us back to the front seven. Carroll says he wants more speed and that he’s looking for improved inside and outside pressure. This isn’t a great class for interior defensive lineman, so Seattle may be forced to look at outside rushers and athletic linebackers who can bring it from the WILL position. Jarvis Jones (DE, Georgia) would’ve been a perfect fit for the WILL but he’s staying in college. However, a lack of top-end depth could persuade several other players to declare. Michael Brockers (DT, LSU) is among the best interior line prospects in the nation. He’s only a redshirt sophomore and still has a lot of developing to do, but could winning the BCS Championship and seeing a chance to be the #1 player drafted at his position tempt him to turn pro?

Seattle’s pick comes in the form of a different LSU Tiger – outside rusher Sam Montgomery. He’s got a near identical build to Clay Matthews III when he turned pro and a similar intensity on the field. He has nine sacks this season, including a deuce in the 9-6 win over Alabama during the regular season. If the Seahawks are looking for speed and a better pass rush, they could easily line Montgomery opposite Clemons and use a more orthodox 3-4 look with the three big bodies in the middle, while keeping the front four on passing downs. It’s hard to imagine how the Seahawks will significantly improve their pass rush by just improving the outside speed at the WILL linebacker position currently occupied by Leroy Hill. Carroll is quite openly prepared to use a slightly unbalanced line that enhances Red Bryant’s effectiveness as a run stuffer, but also flashes his weakness to provide any kind of edge threat. The only issue is run defense and the lack of size the Seahawks would have at the edge. That’s why they may have to ultimately consider switching to a 3-4 to use players like Clemons and potentially Montgomery, unless they’re going to rely on the linebackers to force runs wide. They have the size at cornerback to manage run support, but ideally you want to remain big up front.

Note: Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers) returns for this week’s mock after choosing to declare. Luke Kuelchy (LB, Boston College) has been removed after reports suggested he was leaning towards returning to Boston College.

Updated first round mock draft

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
Despite a lot of talk about keeping Manning and drafting Luck, it remains an unlikely proposition. Long term thinking will win out.
#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 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Minnesota would love a shot at Kalil. It might be a bit of a reach, but protecting Christian Ponder must be a priority.
#4 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
Last year Cincinnati used this pick to draft a supreme playmaker in AJ Green, before taking a quarterback in round two. Cleveland might do the same.
#5 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
He’s had a fantastic season with six interceptions. This seems like an obvious match for the Buccs.
#6 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
I still predict Peyton Manning will be a Redskin, and that Mike Shanahan will target Ryan Tannehill in round two for the future.
#7 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
This is too high for Blackmon in my opinion, but his production will interest teams. The Jaguars need to help Blaine Gabbert.
#8 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
Miami will pick 8th if they win a coin toss with Carolina. If Cleveland and Washington pass, RG3 will take his talents to South Beach.
#9 Michael Brockers (DT, LSU)
A complete lack of defensive line talent could encourage one or two unexpected players to declare. Brockers is one to watch against Alabama.
#10 Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
If Stevie Johnson doesn’t return, the Bills will be paper-thin at receiver. Jones is the complete package.
#11 Sam Montgomery (DE, LSU)
Built like Clay Matthews and with a similar intensity. Montgomery could play opposite Chris Clemons to improve Seattle’s pass rush.
#12 Barrett Jones (OT, Alabama)
Another underclassmen few expect to declare, but a need at tackle and a weak top-15 group could push him into the NFL.
#13 Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
With the tackles leaving the board early, Arizona will be forced to address their second most important need – an outside rush.
#14 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
He’s big and good in run support, but struggles in coverage at times. Jerry Jones will like this guy, so will Eli Manning.
#15 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
The Eagles will look closely at the linebacker position and Brown is a good fit for Philly’s scheme.
#16 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
Few players have enjoyed the level of progress shown by Barron in 2011. He’s firmly in the round one equation.
#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 Courtney Upshaw (OLB, Alabama)
The kind of pass rusher San Diego have drafted in the past. They need to find some outside pressure.
#19 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
The ultimate deep threat. Jay Cutler will get the most out of Wright, who should be able to have a Mike Wallace-type impact.
#20 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
Coples is a complete enigma. He has the physical talents to be great, but we don’t see enough of it on tape.
#21 Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
Elite cornerback talent but troubled by off-field problems. The Bengals needs to draft a corner and Jenkins is good enough to start quickly.
#22 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
Cleveland needs to keep adding playmakers. Floyd has his issues, but put him on that offense with Trent Richardson and it’ll be much improved. They’d still need a quarterback.
#23 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
With 14.5 sacks this year, someone will give him a chance early in the draft. Detroit has bigger needs but could show interest here.
#24 Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
The Broncos run the ball well and could look to add another back to their stable. Carolina had two first round runners under John Fox.
#25 Michael Egnew (TE, Missouri)
He’s very much the modern tight end – a pure pass catcher who will make spectacular plays downfield.
#26 Vontaze Burfict (LB, Arizona State)
Although I think his stock is falling, someone could take a shot on Burfict. My guess is he’ll end up playing AFC North..
#27 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
I’m still trying to get an angle on Still. It often looks like his best fit may be at the five-technique.
#28 Peter Konz (OC, Wisconsin)
Stood out last year in a big-name Badgers offensive line. Could return for another year, but ready to have an impact as a pro
#29 Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
Sanu can line up anywhere and Jim Harbaugh will find different ways to get him involved. Another powerful weapon for San Fran.
#30 Jonathan Cooper (OG, North Carolina)
A player not a lot of people are talking about, but has stood out every time I’ve watched the Tar Heels this season.
#31 Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)
Jeffery divides opinion. He is capable of making big plays, but he runs sloppy routes and looks ‘too big’. Could go much earlier than this, or much later.
#32 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
He plays a bit like a runaway train. He’s a bit unbalanced, but moves well for a big guy. He looks ideal for a move to the 5-technique position.

Griffin out of reach for Seattle? Not so fast…

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

The Heisman winner in Seattle? It's not quite so unrealistic anymore...

The Seahawks are a coin-toss away from the #11 overall pick in April, yet most people have given up on the Seahawks drafting a quarterback in round one. I was one of those people. After a big win on the road against Chicago, I presumed the Seahawks would win one of their last two games. I’m not sure many people anticipated two NFC West defeats to end the regular season, which pushed Seattle up to the fringes of the top-ten. Time to review this particular situation.

There are essentially two quarterbacks worthy of being drafted early in round one. Andrew Luck will go first overall to Indianapolis, leaving the rest to scrap for Robert Griffin III. Ryan Tannehill and Landry Jones get a lot of unworthy hype, but as I’ve discussed at length, I wouldn’t take either in the first round. John Schneider was at the Alamo Bowl to watch Griffin take on Washington and in many ways the Baylor quarterback fits what Seattle has been looking for at the position. He’s mobile, he’s capable of extending plays, he limits turnovers and he’s got the arm to make difficult throws. Nobody can accuse Seattle of looking for perfection with the three quarterbacks they’ve acquired under the current regime (Tarvaris Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst and Josh Portis) but all share similar playing trends. Griffin is a more accomplished, more exiting model.

There’s an assumption doing the rounds that RG3 won’t last very long in round one. In fact, St. Louis are supposedly being primed to make a killing as teams jostle for position to draft the Heisman Trophy winner immediately after Luck leaves the board. I’m not going to rule that out and certainly Griffin’s hype-factor is through the roof at the moment. Not only is he a quarterback fans want to root for, but he’s a marketing dream with the potential to help sell a lot of tickets. He’ll test well at the combine, he’ll interview well and it’s no surprise that reports have surfaced that he’s going to turn pro. He’d be daft not to.

Even so, let’s not ignore the other side of the debate here which hasn’t been covered anywhere. What could lead to a fall, if anything?

The Washington game highlighted a couple of technical issues that haven’t always shown up this season. I sensed Griffin got a little impatient in the game and after a razor-sharp start, he was contained by the Huskies (even if they couldn’t stop the run and the steady stream of points). Feeling frustrated and wanting to make things happen, Griffin tried too hard. Suddenly he was moving around in the pocket trying to make unrealistic runs, bailing on the pass too early and losing a lot of his poise. Baylor scaled down their offense to take advantage of soft coverage and went to a heavy screen game – a staple used prior to the 2011 season that limited Griffin’s grade coming into this year. He didn’t look like a spectacular playmaker and was outshone by his opposite number – Keith Price. He’s also not working within an offense comparable to what he’ll find in the NFL and there’s a learning curve to combat especially if he’s expected to start quickly.

Although he generally makes good decisions, like most college quarterbacks he isn’t being asked to make pre-snap reads and adjustments. There are footwork issues he needs to solve when setting to throw, because he wastes too many steps on the drop back and dances too much in the pocket. Some teams will question the throws he’s making this year – although there’s been some sensational plays, the bulk of his throws are downfield lobs to utilise the extreme speed Baylor has at receiver and there’s a lot of comeback passes on bootlegs or scrambles, or simple screens and digs.

Griffin made enough mind-blowing plays for a lot of teams to see beyond this. However, it’s worth noting a possible flaw or two considering all of the non-stop hype everywhere else. Perhaps it won’t be any fault of Griffin’s ifhe falls? Maybe there’ll be reasons beyond his control that see him take a slight drop?

Indianapolis are clearing house after a 2-14 season – firing Vice Chairman Bill Polian and GM Chris Polian. Head Coach Jim Caldwell could also be on the way out. This is a big step for the Colts, who appear to be preparing for a new era at the franchise. Tellingly, the usually conservative Peyton Manning spent eight minutes with reporters after yesterday’s defeat to Jacksonville talking about the future. He acknowledged the Colts had to act and would do whatever they think is best. Manning sounded resigned to a future where he isn’t the heartbeat of theset-up. This is soon to be Andrew Luck’s team, with everything built around his future success.

Although Bill Irsay says Luck and Manning can c0-exist, the writing is on the wall. Due $28m before the new league season begins, Manning will be cut or traded before Indianapolis is footing the bill. It’ll create a scramble for a future hall-of-fame quarterback who, if healthy, could turn a team into an instant contender within their division and maybe even their conference. I’ve made the point many times on this blog, but doesn’t this just scream for Washington to make a move? Dan Snyder loves a free-agent splash and making Manning a Redskin would be a major coup. Suddenly, Washington would be in the NFC East mix. Mike Shanahan has endured two pretty miserable seasons so far as Head Coach, but adding Manning would suddenly make his offense relevant.

Sure, heisn’t the prototype quarterback Shanahan usually acquires - but this is Peyton Manning we’re talking about here. Washington can’t sit around hoping that Griffin will fall beyond Cleveland come April - they have to act. They could sign Manning and plan to go in a different direction in round one. The Redskins could still draft a younger quarterbacklike Ryan Tannehill, who should be around at the top of round two unless there’s a ridiculous Christian Ponder-type reach. By adding Manning, drafting a player such as Riley Reiff to play right tackle and then adding Tannehill as a developmental successor, Washington could have a direction for the future but also a short term plan to be competitive in the NFC East.

It’s not a ridiculous suggestion, in fact I think it’s fairly logical when you think about it. It’d also take the Redskins out of contention for Griffin.

The team in pole position to draft RG3 is of course Cleveland, who own the #4 overall pick. Colt McCoy hasn’t worked out (why did anyone ever think otherwise?) and they need a quarterback desperately. The Browns have two first round picks meaning they could draft Griffin and still improve another area of their team in round one. However, is there a possibility Cleveland could look to fill their quarterback void elsewhere? Let’s not forget how Mike Holmgren went about his work in Seattle. He hand picked a quarterback from his former employer and despite a bargain price, turned Matt Hasselbeck into a Pro-Bowler and Super Bowl quarterback. Already he’s avoided the position early in consecutive drafts, only to spend a mid-round tester on McCoy. Will he see Griffin as an unmissable talent for his master plan? Or will he believe there are other options out there? After all, this is a Cleveland team with very little offensive playmaking talent.

Griffin alone could be swallowed up, but go and sign Matt Flynn and realistically you could draft Trent Richardson and a first round receiver too. Then you’re looking at a quarterback with some of the technical qualities Holmgren likes, but not the physical brilliance of Griffin. You’ve got a playmaker capable of becoming a superstar in Richardson and a big bodied receiver (Alshon Jeffrey? Michael Floyd?) to help Greg Little. While the running back position is becoming less important in terms of draft stock, let’s not rule out the possibility of a team falling in love with Richardson as much as many expect teams to fall in love with Griffin. The relatively cheap price of a top-five pick these days could make for a more dynamic impact with Richardson pounding the rock in the AFC North and Flynn acting as the string-puller. Too far fetched? Maybe not.

If these two scenarios came true (run with it) it would leave Miami at #9 as the next obvious home for RG3. Suddenly, you could be looking at a situation where the Carolina Panthers are on the clock at #8 and the Seahawks would only need to move up three spots to usurp the Dolphins. The old trade value chart says Seattle would need to make up 150 points, essentially the price of a late third round pick. The Seahawks haven’t had a third round choice in the last two drafts, yet have still managed to find plenty of talent in the later rounds. If Seattle traded it’s early third round pick, they could probably get a 5th rounder out of the deal to soften the blow. It’s hardly a trade that will ruin the future of your franchise, especially if you believed Griffin had the potential to finally end the tedious debate as to who will be Seattle’s quarterback of the future.

A lot would need to happen for this to become reality – not to mention the possibility that other teams could also look to move up and might be willing to spend big in order to do so. However, there was a lot of hype about Blaine Gabbert last April. People might not recognise it considering Gabbert’sstruggles this year, but there was talk he could go first overall and wouldn’t make it out of the top five. At one point, reports suggested Washington were aggressively trying to trade up to draft him in the top-three. As it happens, the Redskins passed up the chance to draft him with their own pick and Gabbert went fell to the #10 pick – a surprise at the time. Although we expect Griffin to go very early – and people expect Griffin to be a better pro than Gabbert has so far - let’s try not to assume anything just yet.

Picking in the late teens would’ve made any potential trade a blockbuster – multiple picks, two first rounders. It would’ve handcuffed the Seahawks  – and Pete Carroll – to Griffin and his success or failure. I’d guess this franchise wouldn’t be prepared to make such a move, a risk that seems out of character. Whether Seattle picks at #11 or #12, suddenly such a deal is no longer so unrealistic. According to the chart, for the price of their second rounder they have enough to get up to #5 or #6. If the Seahawks like RG3 enough to make him ‘the guy’, putting a deal together to bring him to the North West may not cost quite as much as people first thought. Is he in play for the Seahawks? Why not?