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First round mock draft: 23rd November

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Today I am publishing my first projection for the 2012 NFL draft. Regulars will know how it works – the concept of the mock drafts on Seahawks Draft Blog are to create discussion and look at many different possibilities over the coming months.  The draft isn’t an exact science, unexpected things happen and we’ll be looking at many different scenarios between now and April. You can see the mock draft below, scroll down for further analysis on why I left out certain individuals and why I chose a linebacker for the Seahawks.

Don’t forget to check out Kip Earlywine’s excellent piece from yesterday – it’s a great read and highly recommended. I also compiled a tape review on Matt Barkley vs Oregon this week which you can see by clicking here.

First round mock draft

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
The Colts will need to make a decision on the future of Peyton Manning, but if they keep this pick then Luck will be the choice.
#2 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Jeff Otah is on IR for the second successive year. Kalil’s a luxury, but the success of his brother Ryan in Carolina could influence this choice.
#3 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
Steve Jackson’s contract includes a clause that could make him a free agent after this season. Richardson is a much needed elite playmaker.
#4 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
With Kalil off the board, Minnesota could look to draft a dynamic receiver. A reach, but perhaps a necessary gamble.
#5 Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
Elite potential and pro-ready, Barkley would start immediately for the desperate Redskins.
#6 Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
The complete package at receiver and a necessary target if Blaine Gabbert is going to succeed in Jacksonville.
#7 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Drafting a left tackle should be Arizona’s priority and although this is a reach, Martin is the clear #2 blind side blocker after Kalil.
#8 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
Miami needs a quarterback and they need to inject some life back into the franchise. Griffin III will sell tickets.
#9 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
More of a right tackle prospect than a blind side blocker. Philly needs better line play to compliment their playmakers.
#10 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
Brown has the potential to become a star at the next level. Cleveland is building a talented defense.
#11 Luke Kuelchy (LB, Boston College)
Consistent tackling machine with character to boot. He looks like a Scott Pioli type of player.
#12 Jarvis Jones (LB, Georgia)
USC transfer with an explosive skill set. He has 12.5 sacks in the SEC this year but need to prove neck injury is behind him.
#13 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
He’s made big improvements this year, but needs to keep improving to become a premier cornerback at the next level.
#14 David De Castro (OG, Stanford)
Tampa Bay need to improve their interior offensive line and the hype around De Castro could push him into this range.
#15 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
The Bills need a pass rusher. Mercilus needs to play in space at his size, but will need to prove he can adapt to the 3-4.
#16 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
What is his role in the NFL? With limited options at the DE position, Tennessee may take a chance, but he’s probably best in a 3-4.
#17 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
He’s enjoyed a strong season and put himself in the first round bracket. A lack of pass rush options could push NY in this direction.
#18 Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
The Tebow situation is an odd one, but if Denver keeps winning I expect they’ll draft a quarterback in the mid-rounds.
#19 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
Explosive playmaker with elite speed, the type that Cleveland lacks. Could be as good as DeSean Jackson.
#20 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Tall, physical cornerback who will appeal to Jerry Jones and the Cowboys. Specialises in run support, coverage skills need work.
#21 Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
Elite talent with limitless potential who only falls this far due to substantial character concerns.
#22 Vontaze Burfict (LB, Arizona State)
Talented linebacker who will bring some attitude back to the Giants’ defense.
#23 Kevin Reddick (LB, North Carolina)
Under rated linebacker, would be a nice compliment to Cincinnati’s defense.
#24 Peter Konz (C, 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.
#25 Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
The Bears need to add a big, consistent receiver to their offense. Sanu will surprise people with early production.
#26 Oday Aboushi (OT, Virginia)
I’ve seen Virginia three times in the last two seasons and Aboushi looks like a future pro. Could he rise to this level?
#27 Manti Te’o (LB, Notre Dame)
Perhaps it’s time to start thinking about inside linebackers in Baltimore? Te’o is the best left on the board here.
#28 Alameda Ta’amu (DT, Washington)
Big nose tackle prospect. Houston switched to the 3-4 this year but could still use Ta’amu’s size up front to anchor their defensive line.
#29 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
He’s made a lot of mistakes off the field, but despite inconsistent quarterback play he’s maintained solid production.
#30 Nicolas Jean-Baptiste (DT, Baylor)
He’s no Phil Taylor, but every time I’ve watched Baylor this year he’s been the one defensive player who looks to have some pro-potential.
#31 Kelechi Osemele (OG, Iowa State)
Looks every bit a future NFL guard. Perhaps a little under rated and closer to David De Castro than most think.
#32 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
He’s having a good year, but looks like a five-technique convert to me and that could hamper his stock.

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There’s no Landry Jones?

As I discussed in earlier in the week. I can’t grade Jones in the first round. I also appreciate that I didn’t see Christian Ponder as a first round pick last year and he went 12th overall. There are several teams who need to invest in a young quarterback and others will argue – quite fairly – that someone will likely take the gamble on Jones. I accept that point of view and embrace that it’s a distinct possibility. However, he has a universal grade in the top half of round one that I think is generally undeserved. Is it possible that NFL teams who need a quarterback will also see things like that? Of course.

He’s an unlikely option for the Seahawks given his skill set contradicts the criteria Pete Carroll has settled on for the position (explained in several interviews). Charlie Whitehurst, Tarvaris Jackson and Josh Portis – the three quarterbacks currently on the roster and all signed by this regime – all have plus mobility and the ability to extend plays, something Jones struggles with in a big way. Last April, we understand Seattle’s draft board went #1 Gabbert, #2 Kaepernick, #3 Dalton, #4 Newton. Ryan Mallett, a player who had below average mobility in the pocket, was not included on the team’s board. There’s clear evidence here as to how Seattle is grading quarterbacks and I don’t expect Jones to be the exception.

It’s also important to remember how the league is adapting with a similar thought process. Players without above average arm strength or mobility are dropping (Jimmy Clausen, Ryan Mallett) and players who can move around and extend plays are being graded much higher (Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, Andy Dalton, Tim Tebow). Jones could be the latest example of a player who drops down the board because he’s a pure pocket passer, playing within a system that doesn’t demand any improvisation.

The one team I really considered was Denver. The Broncos fans appear to be turning on John Elway because he’s not so keen on a quarterback he didn’t draft and who can’t throw a football in a passing league. While the Broncos are winning, he’s struggling to compete with fan pressure for Tebow to get his chance. I suspect we could see a situation where Tebow is given the opportunity to fail next year now that it looks like Denver could end up picking in the lower half of round one. That creates a no-lose situation for Elway, who can say he had his chance if he fails, but if Tebow keeps winning (somehow) the Broncos will be successful anyway. They recently sent a large contingent to watch Nick Foles lay an egg against Colorado, so they could be considering options beyond round one.

I do believe there’s a chance Jones suffers a draft day fall and he may even have second thoughts about declaring if he gets a negative review from the draft committee. This year hasn’t gone according to plan for Oklahoma, and there could be a feeling of ‘unfinished business’ for Landry Jones especially if he’s only considered the 4th or 5th best quarterback prospect.

Other big names not making the cut: Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina), Brandon Thompson (DT, Clemson)

Seahawks take a linebacker?

I don’t include trades in my mock drafts, but clearly there’s an opening for Seattle if they wish to move up. Carolina, St. Louis and Minnesota are no threat for Matt Barkley or Robert Griffin III. Trading up 7-8 places in the draft wouldn’t cost the earth and is a logical move for a team that simply must find a long term solution at quarterback. I’m sure we’ll discuss possible trades many times between now and April, but with none allowed in this mock let’s talk about the pick instead.

Jarvis Jones is a player I’ve kept quiet about for a few weeks now with this mock draft in mind. I wanted to create a talking point in my first mock draft, anticipating that the Seahawks might not be picking within the top five to get that quarterback. The first time I saw Jones play was against Boise State, where he showed flashes of quality as an under size edge rusher. Yet it was a four-sack performance against Florida that really sparked my interest. Since then he’s gone on to record 12.5 sacks for Georgia playing in the role vacated by Justin Houston (a third round pick last year). Only Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus (13.5 sacks) has more.

Despite playing predominantly as part of a four man front for the Bulldogs, he isn’t a LEO candidate. He’s playing at around 6-3 / 240lbs and clearly that’s going to be an issue at the next level if you’re asking him to play defensive end. In Seattle’s scheme he’d work as the WILL linebacker – the role currently taken by Leroy Hill. This would afford you the opportunity to use Jones a lot as a pass rusher because he’s not getting caught fighting tight ends and he’s got the athleticism to sit in coverage and not be a liability. On third down passing plays you can move him up to the LOS and let him rush the passer. Essentially, he could be the player Carroll was hoping Aaron Curry could develop into. When you watch the way Jones moves, his quick burst and ability to explode there’s every chance he could be a 7-10 sack player at the next level.

The Seahawks defense needs more of a pass rush threat, but they’re not going to find an elite defensive end who can fit into this scheme in round one. There’s no stud three-technique as we’ve seen in previous years, a position the Seahawks would surely love to fill. Adding a linebacker like Jones could be the answer to creating more pressure and finding another big time playmaker for this defense. You simply can’t argue with 12.5 sacks in your first year in the SEC.

There are two other things worth mentioning. Firstly, Jones was recruited by Pete Carroll at USC and he spent a year with the Trojans before suffering a serious neck injury. The doctors in SoCal wouldn’t clear him once he’d recovered, so he transferred to Georgia. He had to sit out a year in Athens because of that, offering further time for the injury to heal. Will there be any lasting problems due to that injury? And did Carroll see enough potential in that one year to consider working together again in the NFL?

Secondly, this week Jones reiterated his desire to stay at Georgia for at least another year. He’s only a redshirt sophomore, but he’s starting to get a lot of attention due to his production. He was interviewed immediately after a big win over Kentucky which secured a place in the SEC Championship game. With advice and careful consideration, he may well declare (he wouldn’t be the first to change his mind). However, I feel the need to point out that Jones is saying he won’t enter the draft.

Matt Barkley vs Oregon tape review

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Matt Barkley’s performances have been consistently good all season, but it’s only after beating Oregon that he appears to be getting the praise he deserves. I wrote a piece during the summer that questioned whether Barkley – rather than Andrew Luck – would be the most talented player eligible for the 2012 draft. When you watch the Oregon tape, you look at the Stanford game and observe Barkley’s performance in defeating Notre Dame, that’s far from a ridiculous suggestion.

Luck is a tremendous player who will deservedly go first overall next April. The hype surrounding his potential, however, is not deserved. Revisionist history will tell you he’s the most highly regarded quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning. In reality, Luck has avoided a lot of the criticism’s and questions Manning faced. It’s assumed that Luck will succeed in any environment, that he’s the perfect prospect. That simply isn’t the case and it’s something we’ll look into over the next week. Barkley has a similar level of potential but has received a greater critique on his physical limitations. I feel like we’re looking at two comparable talents – but Barkley deserves a little more credit than he’s getting and the Luck hype machine maybe needs to take a step back.

A play in the Oregon game stood out as one of the best I’ve ever seen from a college quarterback (fast forward to the 2:01 mark in the video above). Barkley takes a snap under center and then a five-step drop. He pumps to the left and then comes back to the right before dropping in a perfectly weighted pass that dissects two defenders for a big first down completion. Look at the footwork, always moving. Look at the field awareness and poise in the pocket. Look at the perfect touch and accuracy on the pass – it couldn’t be any better. And notice that he does it under pressure – Barkley takes a big hit just as he releases the football. That is an elite play, there are franchise quarterbacks in the NFL who can’t make plays like that.

NFL teams value the back-shoulder throw in a big way these days and Barkley’s pass at 3:40 is a perfect example. Great pump to the right, then quickly floats the ball just behind the receiver and two defensive backs. I think this is an instinct throw more than a specific call – he senses the position of the two defensive backs and puts the pass just short of the group to allow Marqise Lee to adjust and make the completion.

One of the big knocks on Barkley is a lack of pure athleticism, but we see in this video that it’s completely overblown. The offenses in Seattle and Washington require the quarterback to run a lot of boot legs and play action and right off the bat against Oregon we see a quarterback moving out of the pocket, choosing his target and firing to the left sideline. We see further evidence of plus-mobility and the ability to throw accurately on the run at 2:41, 7:39 and also on the third touchdown at 4:02 and fourth score at 6:26. He runs a bootleg at 4:49 for a first down, so we’re talking about a pocket passer with plus mobility which is fine – how else would you describe Aaron Rodgers? Barkley doesn’t need to be Michael Vick.

Look closely at the way he switches between reads because this is something that Luck and Barkley flash on a weekly basis and separates them from others like Landry Jones. At 0:07 he doesn’t like his first option to the right and checks down inside for a short gain but keeps the ball moving. He’s reading the defense pre-snap and diagnosing the play as it develops.

The play at 1:34 is what really excites me about Barkley’s ability to play quickly in the NFL. Essentially, it’s what he’ll be doing every Sunday – seven step drop while reading the field, eyes downfield and to the right to create space underneath for the slot receiver who gets the first down. Barkley shows in this play that on a technical level, that ability to work within a pro-system is already there. Watch the all-22 tape on the replay and you’ll see his head turn from the right to the left before going underneath.

Barkley doesn’t have a great deep ball – his arm strength isn’t at a high level on downfield passes. His placement is generally good in terms of putting air on the ball and putting it in an area for the receiver to make a catch. However, when he’s asked to throw beyond 40-yards the ball’s sometimes under thrown because he hasn’t got the elite arm strength. On Marqise Lee’s opening touchdown at 0:55, Barkley’s going downfield all the way. He locks on to the receiver, waits for him to get separation and throws. A pass towards the end zone and it’s a much easier touchdown completion, the under thrown ball asks more of Lee who manages to adjust and make a play.

He does have a mechanical issue – he transfers his weight to the back foot throwing downfield and loses velocity because of it. At the same time, he probably leans back in order to get air on the ball. Several quarterbacks don’t have the elite arm and make downfield completions by exploiting single coverage and putting the ball in an area for the receiver to make a play. Barkley has shown consistently that he’s capable of that – and while the pass was under thrown it was as high percentage as a downfield pass can be. He isn’t going to be competing in an offense where he’s required to throw 5-6 deep passes per-game to a Mike Wallace type receiver, and I’m satisfied that he will make deep completions at the next level working within a ball-control offense like we see at USC.

The pass at 5:14 highlights a similar problem where a stronger pass could lead to an easy touchdown. However, the accuracy and placement on that ball makes the most of what arm strength Barkley does have and puts the ball into an area for the receiver to make a play. He finds way to be effective downfield, even if he’s more Matt Ryan and Carson Palmer throwing the deep ball than Jay Cutler or Matt Stafford.

The outside slant at 1:55 is a staple play that Landry Jones uses at Oklahoma, Barkley shows here that he’s capable of executing that pass with the same level of zip and arm strength. He throws a very good fade, as evidenced in the Robert Woods touchdown 2:20. He’s usually aware of the situation as it develops- he senses at 6:05 he needs to throw low to avoid any chance of a turnover and make a smart completion on a small field. The completion sets up the fourth touchdown on a similar play.

For a player who makes great decisions most of the time, there were also two poor ones here. The first comes on a fumbled snap in the red zone at 4:15, collects the ball and then tries to force a pass down the middle and should’ve been intercepted. He needs to appreciate the situation – fall on the ball, take the third down and try again. It’s not worth turning the ball over there trying to force a play. The second error leads to the interception. Barkley argued that Robert Woods was held – he was – and that’s what led to the turnover. No flag is thrown, but why throw the ball to Woods in that situation? He needs to recognise there that even if there is a foul, the receiver is in no position to make a play. It was careless and avoidable, even if it should’ve been a penalty.

The pass at 8:31 is a further example of a beautifully weighted pass down the middle for a first down.

People talk about the high volume of screen passes and short completions in the USC offense, but that’s football not just in college football but increasingly in the NFL too. Barkley is going to be tasked with managing a ball-control offense that will include a lot of short stuff and high percentage passes. What separates him from a player like Jimmy Clausen who relied a lot on high percentage completions is the evidence we see every week of making several plays that demand more from the quarterback. He’s making difficult pro-throws regularly, he’s throwing on an intermediate level and beyond. Neither Luck or Barkley are running a Robert Griffin III/Baylor style downfield offense and that won’t be the case at the next level either.

On the technical front, Barkley plays on a different level to the vast majority of college quarterbacks. His ability to operate in something akin to a pro-style offense, execute and look as polished as this is beyond impressive. Let’s not forget that this is an Oregon team that made Andrew Luck appear very ordinary last week – and Barkley didn’t have the benefit of a home-field advantage. There’s no doubt in my mind that Barkley could be the top prospect eligible for 2012, that he can have a quick impact in the NFL and enjoy a prosperous career in the pro’s. Will he declare? Arguments can be made on both sides of the debate, but there’s no doubt at all – he’s ready for the NFL.

Thanks to JMPasq for supplying us with the tape

Robert Griffin III scouting report

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Introduction

Below you’ll find four videos featuring Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor). The first video is every snap Griffin impacted in last year’s Texas Bowl where Baylor were defeated convincingly by Illinois. The next three videos feature tape from 2011 – every snap Griffin took in the games against TCU, Texas A&M and most recently, Missouri. I’ll break down and analyse the Tigers game from last Saturday later in this piece as it’s the freshest example of what Griffin’s going to bring to the NFL if he chooses to declare as a fourth-year junior. However, before you read on I would urge you to watch tape of the Illinois game and then watch at least one of the 2011 videos. Compare and contrast what you see.   

   

   

   

   

Thanks to JMPasq for supplying the game tape

Robert Griffin III provides one of the great mysteries of this year’s potential draft class. I’m struggling to grade Griffin, despite the fact I’ve watched more of his tape this year than the vast majority of players eligible for the 2012 draft.   

If you took the opportunity to watch the Illinois tape, you’ll probably come to the same conclusion I did. I’d seen Baylor a few times in 2010 and never been particularly taken by their quarterback. It’s a heavy screen game – lot’s of passes into the flats, a high percentage for completions but not a lot of real productivity. Essentially, Baylor’s offense was built around getting the ball to track-star athletes playing receiver and trying to create outside space to use that electrifying speed. Griffin was the middle man and very rarely was he asked to make any passes you could grade down as evidence of next-level ability. His skills as an athlete to run with the ball offered a zone-read option – another feature that doesn’t translate to the NFL. Overall, it wasn’t very impressive if you’re a team looking for a franchise quarterback.   

I came into the 2011 season wondering if Griffin was even draftable. Maybe someone would give him a try, but who? In fairness I suspect he had similar realistic ambitions which is why he talked during the summer about staying for a fifth year at Baylor and attending law school, having already completed his degree in political science. He’s an intelligent and personable individual and while football made him a star in college, it wouldn’t necessarily make him a star as a professional. Nobody was talking about Robert Griffin III as a pro-prospect, let alone someone that could potentially be a first round pick.

Now, everything has changed.   

The reason I wanted to highlight that Illinois tape from the Texas Bowl is simply to emphasise the development Griffin has gone through. Look at any of the three subsequent videos and you could be forgiven for thinking you’re watching two completely different players. Suddenly he’s driving the ball downfield with great consistency, he’s making touch throws at every level (short range, intermediate, deep) and he’s progressing through a couple of good, quick reads. I’ve talked a lot about the footwork and mechanical improvements he’ll need to make, but this is just about as good as it gets in terms of a twelve-month improvement.   

All kinds of questions eminate from that. Is it testament to a man who’s worked at his craft knowing he needed to make several improvements for a shot at the NFL? Do we credit the coaches? Ultimately this development will have needed some tuition. Is it simply down to experience? How much better can he get either with further playing time at Baylor or by moving to the NFL to work full-time on honing his skills?   

It’s that final question that intrigues me the most and makes Griffin such an unknown. Right now he has some attractive pro-features and there are also some things to work on. However, if we can see this level of improvement as he grows at Baylor – what level could he achieve being managed in the NFL? Are we looking at a player with elite potential here? Are we looking at a player who just works harder than everyone else and has clicked for one great year and actually may struggle to make further gains? Is he maxed out?   

The only time we’ll find the answer to that is the day Griffin is standing in a NFL stadium and he’s throwing the football. I suspect some teams will be enamoured by the potential, yet others will avoid the unknown. Someone will believe in this guy, probably enough to make him a relatively early pick. So that leads to two further obvious questions – will Pete Carroll be that man to believe in Robert Griffin III and just how high would a team be willing to draft him? Top ten? First round? Early second round similar to Colin Kaepernick?   

We know the Seahawks had some interest in Kaepernick last year – enough to put him at #2 on their list of quarterbacks behind Blaine Gabbert and just above Andy Dalton. We also understand that had they been able to trade down into the early part of round two, they would’ve considered drafting Kaepernick who eventually went in that range to San Francisco.   

Griffin has some similarities to the former Nevada passer – they’re both athletic player with running ability, both own strong arms but require mechanical tweaks to their technique, they’ll both enter the league considered longer term projects than some other quarterbacks but there’s also lot’s of physical potential and both are considered strong characters, good leaders and hard workers. There are, of course, strong differences between the two and I believe Griffin is a more polished overall passer, but he’s less of a threat as a runner. If the Seahawks rated Kaepernick as a potential early second round pick, would Griffin get a similar grade? Or is the mere interest in Kaepernick to begin with enough to suggest that maybe this team would possibly take Griffin earlier given the growing need to solve the quarterback dilemma?   

I’m going to move on from Kaepernick for now and leave that comparison – mainly because he’s yet to even start a NFL game and there are differences between the two that I won’t go into here. I’ve not seen anyone in the NFL I can logically compare to Griffin. More on that in a moment, but for now let’s get into the Missouri tape…   

The first play that stands out comes at exactly the 1:00 minute mark. It’s a 4WR set with two go routes on the outside. Griffin takes the snap in the shotgun before making an initial red to his left, then coming back to the right hand side to search for a second target. None of the receivers run a good route in fairness and the offensive line are unable to maintain a clean pocket for any suitable amount of time to let the play develop. Griffin detects the pressure after the second read and is able to step up into the pocket and scramble to the right hand side. He can run here but instinctively holds up at the LOS to make a pass, throwing back across his body. The throw is high and asks a lot of Kendall Wright, who jumps at full stretch but only manages to get a finger tip to the ball. If you were being kind to you could say he put the ball in an area only the receiver could get it, but ultimately the receiver doesn’t because it’s marginally inaccurate.   

What I liked about this play though was the ability to feel the pressure without letting it impact the play. He still makes two reads and he doesn’t linger on a target when it’s time to move. Buying time for throw gives him the chance to make a completion and he doesn’t sell out on the play to make a run for it. The pass was difficult across his body, but almost completed. With a degree of better accuracy, that could’ve been a play scouts return to when trying to make a strong case for drafting Griffin. It may remain a good example anyway.   

Running with the ball is a concern for me. In fact, I’d go as far to say Griffin is a bit of a liability here. Yes he’s an athlete who can get the first down when the pass breaks down and potentially even make the big unexpected play. However, ball security is a major problem and his lack of bulk and upright running style could make him an easy target. The Missouri game isn’t the first game he’s fumbled the ball carrying it in a bad position. If we’re going to talk about Griffin as a threat running in space, he has to avoid turnovers by doing a better job of protecting the ball. His running style involves a lot of arm movement, but he needs to tuck the ball closer to his chest and not leave it open to be punched out. I counted three fumbles in this game, two from running plays. It’s something I’ve noticed in other games this year and I suspect it’ll happen again.   

He’s got excellent straight line speed and he’s definitely an athlete but whether he’s holding back due to his previous knee injury or whether he’s just not that elusive, Griffin never seems to break open the huge gain with his legs despite having the opportunity to run on a number of plays. That’s not a big deal, because you dont want the quarterback running too much at the next level anyway. However, I think it brings some reality to Griffin’s status because he’s not going to be an explosive Michael Vick-type runner. He may be a better passer than Vick though and his on-field IQ certainly matches the strong academic intelligence he’s shown with his studies.   

What I really like about Griffin is the way he reacts to the environment around him and undoubtedly that’s one of the reasons he’s limited turnovers this year. When he needs to he can get out of a bad situation or play call. If a pass rusher gets in his face just as he’s ready to release, he won’t just jam it in there regardless. Instead, he’ll pull the ball down and look to extend the play for a better passing lane or a run. When he’s in the pocket and the protection fails, he won’t bail too soon and he keeps his eyes downfield. Griffin has consistently shown he understands when to move out of the pocket to buy extra time and when it makes sense to stand tall and deliver the football. When you’re constantly aware of what’s unfolding in front of you, a quarterback can make better decisions and he can improvise. I need to see a quarterback in college that’s able to make something from a broken play, or at least not be tied to the script. Griffin does that.   

The evidence this season shows his placement is fantastic and he plays the percentages. He’s got a rare and under rated talent – which some would write off as conservative – and that’s to put the pass in a position where either his receiver is getting it or nobody is. He’s not ultra-cautious with this with constant check downs all the time (Kevin Kolb) or fearing any pass beyond 20-yards (Kevin Kolb). He’s prepared to take on a pass in a tight window. However, you notice in the red zone how he throws low and that’s a good skill to have. He limits the take away potential and although it demands more from the receiver, they have the opportunity to respond and make a play. It’s another reason why he has such a low number of turnovers.   

One of my favorite plays from the Missouri game came at 4:25. He takes the snap in the gun and pumps with his shoulder to the outside right sideline before throwing a really difficult pass for a ten-yard gain to a receiver in single coverage. He actually throws over two defenders who both leap for the ball, but the pass is too good. That’s perfect placement and touch.   

The announcer at 5:28 made a slight complaint with a pass featured, where Griffin is hammered by a defensive lineman but still gets the throw off with decent velocity. It’s high and misses the target, but I still think the receiver could do a better job at trying to catch that ball. If he makes that pass, it’d be twice as much of a positive than missing the target is a negative.   

Footwork still a problem and I suspect this isn’t going to be something addressed in 2011. Griffin still dances in the pocket too much and it hurts his ability to get the quick release. I wouldn’t be surprised if he misses the occasional opportunity because he has to keep re-setting to deliver the football. If he drops back and the receiver gets instant separation, by the time he’s taken two steps and then needed to plant both feet the chance might have gone. It’s not just missing chances that will occur through this, the extra time wasted will give defensive lineman a chance to reach the quarterback. The constant re-setting also sometimes puts Griffin’s body shape into an awkward position and while I’ve not seen any instances where this has impacted a throw yet, it’s something I’ve started to look for in each new game.   

This is a big issue, but not impossible to fix quickly. Joe Flacco basically had to learn to drop-back from scratch as a rookie. He also had to learn the whole concept of footwork and how it can help a quarterback, yet he still started as a rookie and has been a regular feature for the Baltimore Ravens ever since. Good coaching helped Flacco and there’s every chance it could help Griffin too. Most quarterbacks have some technical flaws to work on when they enter the NFL – thankfully footwork is easier to fix than a throwing motion or a weak arm. Griffin should be fine if he gets the right coaching, but eliminating the pressure to start quickly would help in the long term (as it would for most rookies).   

The touchdown at 7:25 is a thing of beauty. Shotgun snap and Griffin doesn’t like his first read. He scrambles right to avoid an outside rush to the strong side before throwing a lazer to the receiver in the end zone. It’s a textbook throw on the run, mechanically very good with the exact necessary velocity with two defensive backs in the region. A lot of players can’t put that level of power into a throw while running, it’s often lofted into the end zone, broken up or intercepted. That’s a touchdown because Griffin can put the required zip on the ball in that situation. When you see the all-22 replay you realise what a special pass that is. It’s a tiny window to throw into, he’s made a split second decision to make the pass and he’s executed to perfection. That may be the second most impressive pass I’ve seen this season after Geno Smith’s impossibly brilliant pass against LSU.   

His deep accuracy is very good and remains a positive overall but it’s not perfect. The pass at 8:06 should’ve been a touchdown and Griffin just misses by over shooting. He has to make that throw and it’s as poor as the touchdown mentioned above was exceptional.   

They went back to this play at 10:57 and this time made the downfield completion for a big touchdown. I need to decide if this great deep accuracy translates to the NFL because Baylor’s receivers are all very quick. In the NFL, the cornerbacks are generally quick too and they’ll do a better job disrupting your route early in the play. He’s often throwing downfield to players who can create separation through pure speed. It’ll be harder at the next level, but not impossible. My assessment, having seen so many of Griffin’s deep completions now, is that this is a translatable skill but one that must be tempered. He’s not going to do this every week in the pro’s, but it’s good to know he can keep a defense honest with his deep ball and it’s not just a throw and hope either. There is some thought going into these long passes and it’ll be a weapon to take into the pro’s.   

I’ve watched more Griffin tape than I usually need to see to make a judgement on a prospect and stick to my guns. Even now I’m still confused as to what’s holding me back from just saying, ‘you know what, this guy is a top pick after all’. Maybe it’s time to give him the high grade? Maybe it’s because there’s nobody quite like him already in the league? He’s not Cam Newton, he’s not Michael Vick. He’s Robert Griffin. The simple fact is we may never know whether a Robert Griffin type player will work until we see it with our own eyes on a Sunday. He is, quite simply, a unique football player. Aside from mechanical tweaks and footwork issues, I’m not sure there’s any reason not to take on the RG3 experiment.   

So would the Seahawks be interested? Very possibly. Using what information we have (previously signed players, interviews, previous targets, declared philosophy) I think the Seahawks are looking for a quarterback who can lead a ball control offense. They’re not necessarily looking for a Cam Newton-type. I’m a big fan of Newton’s and was among the first to tout him as a probable #1 pick last year, but he’s the kind of player you cannot manage. He’ll go out to lead a drive and you won’t know what to expect – he’s unpredictable. By the end of this year most of his touchdowns could be on broken plays or improvised decisions. A lot of his turnovers may have happened when he’s stuck to the script and tried to force it. Newton is a rare talent with major potential, but he’s also someone who needs to do it his way.   

The Seahawks may want a little more control over their quarterback. That’s not to say they don’t want someone who can improvise and make something out of nothing, but they proabably want to limit the risks a little more and make a concerted effort to restrict turnovers. They want someone who’s mobile enough to extend plays, but also someone who can sit in the pocket and take what a defense offers. The Seahawks want to utilise a deep ball, but there’s also a lot of orthodox WCO short passes and game management.   

When you sit down and think about it, some of the best quarterbacks in the league fit that bill. Aaron Rodgers isn’t a big risk taker, but he manipulates a defense and can extend plays to improvise. He has an arm to drive the ball downfield. He limits turnovers. It’s not that the Seahawks are necessarily looking for a lesser player – they perhaps just don’t want the unpredictable loose cannon who makes it up as he goes along but is talented enough to thrive in that mould (which in fairness, also represents a portion of the NFL’s better QB’s).   

Griffin fits into what I suspect the Seahawks want from their quarterback. The question that lingers is whether or not they’d see him as a top-ten pick type talent or someone they don’t trust enough to hand over the keys to future success. Pete Carroll may only get one shot at drafting a franchise quarterback, so he has to get it right. I suspect other teams could see Griffin as worthy of the high pick and waiting for him later on may lead to a dead end. Will he declare? If he gets a high grade from the draft committee I think he will and it’ll complete the transformation of a player who has grown significantly in the last twelve months. Whether he continues that development in Seattle remains to be seen.

Revisiting first round projections: 9th November

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Lamar Miller looks the part for Miami

On October 7th I wrote this article noting which players I believed were worthy of first round projections. I wanted to go back and review this list and also update it based on the games I’ve watched since. It’s important to remember that in some cases I’ve just not seen enough evidence to grade a player. For example, I’ve not had the opportunity to truly focus on Georgia’s rising linebacker Jarvis Jones – therefore I can’t offer a true evaluation. This is supposed to be a work in progress, moving towards the introduction of the weekly mock drafts that will begin in the upcoming weeks.   

Of the initial twelve, here are the players maintaining first projections this month. Of the group, only the top five warrant high first round grades.   

Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)   

Matt Barkley (QB, USC)   

Matt Kalil (OT, USC)   

Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)   

Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)   

Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)   

Peter Konz (C, Wisconsin)   

Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)   

Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)   

Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)   

Vontaze Burfict (LB, Arizona State)   

One player on October’s list – Alshon Jeffery (WR, SouthCarolina) – has performed poorly in the previous month and I’m going to re-visit his grade in December. Jeffery is struggling – partly due to a bad quarterback situation but also due his own general physique. He’s playing heavier than he did last year and it’s showing up in games too often. He always looked limited to the role of a big bodied possession receiver, capable of flashing the occasional spectacular catch. He wasn’t a burner and while he was never likely to be a consistent downfield threat, this season he’s struggling to get much separation even on simple routes. His burst off the snap is below average and you don’t see any real explosion in his breaks.   

People like to compare him to Jonathan Baldwin last year, but Baldwin flashed #1 receiver potential despite the size. He could get separation quickly and make the big downfield plays, something I’m not convinced AlshonJeffery can do. It has to limit his stock given the depth of talent at the receiver position this year. He was always over rated as a top-ten pick, but now  I’m starting to doubt whether he even look like a solid late first rounder.   

I’m prepared to add two more players to the list following further tape study:   

Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)   

He’s playing like a NFL cornerbackthis year, he’s a converted wide receiver withgreat fluidity and hip movement for a guy who plays above 6-0. His recovery skills are worthy of a high grade, and so is his ability to make spectacular plays on the ball. Claiborne hasn’t got the explosive overall skill set that Patrick Peterson had last year, but he may end up being a more consistent player at the next level. He does need to add a bit of further bulk in order to cope with the physical nature of the NFL, but his technique makes up for it at LSU and he’s got that all important ability to go through the gears when needed and accelerate to make a play on the ball.   

Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)   

I watched Miller in the first week of the season and he looked explosive – ideal size for the position (5-11, 210lbs), breakaway speed and the ability to play any down on offense. One game isn’t enough evidence to give someone a first round grade, but seeing Miller on an off day for his team against Virginia made me realise he’s the real deal. Although he wasn’t spectacular in the game (70 yards, no touchdowns from 16 carries) he flashed the same balance, vision and acceleration you want to see from a first round back. He won’t be a high choice like Trent Richardson and he won’t define anyone’s offense, but a good team looking for a first round playmaker could check out Miller.   

One further player will be added to the list based on previous evidence in 2010   

Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)   

I left Jenkins off the confirmed list of first round picks last month, but noted him among the players to monitor. Since then he’s been ejected from a game for striking an opponent. Clearly this is a player who will always carry an element of controversy, which is a shame. Last year Jenkins would’ve been the clear #3 cornerbackbehind Patrick Peterson and Jimmy Smith. AJ Green, AlshonJeffery and Julio Jones all had their worst games of the season in 2010 when being shadowed by Jenkins. He’s an extreme talent, excellent in coverage with supreme fluidity and instinct. He’ll make big plays and he’ll double up as a return threat on special teams. If he can convince one team he’s matured enough to become a true pro, he’ll go in round one. That’s the only thing holding him back.   

Four players I’ll continue to monitor this month prior to December’s update   

Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)   

Having the opportunity to study Iowa only once this year has limited any opportunities to sufficiently grade Reiff, although I did catch some of his play in 2010. I am a bit concerned that he looks like a right tackle prospect – he can get beat off the edge by even a moderate speed rush and his footwork is hit and miss. He’s got the long frame and he’s not a slouch athletically, but when he’s drawn to the outside he’s susceptible to an inside rush move and like I said before – he’ll always be a little suspect against speed round the corner. I want to see if he’s made improvements in pass protection, because he’s a mean run blocker, he understands leverage and hand use as you’d expect from an Iowa-coached lineman and the worst case is he’ll make a solid book-end (of course most teams shouldn’t be drafting right tackles in round one).   

Kevin Reddick (LB, North Carolina)   

I went back and watched the Georgia Tech game and on a second viewing, Reddick really stood out. I have another UNC game saved against Clemson so I’ll do a bit more homework. Reddick was all over the field against GT and made a number of splash plays against the difficult triple option attack. Great tackler and he also appears to have the kind of restraint and composure lacking in Vontaze Burfict’s play. He’s not a stunning athlete but he consistently made plays outside of his comfort zone and for a guy only playing at 6-2, 233lbs he was a really sure tackler. When he needed to react quickly to the pass against GT (obviously it’s common in the triple option to assume the run) he was quick to get back into coverage and did a good job.   

David De Castro (OG, Stanford)   

Stanford’s right guard and a great technician. The USC game was the first time I’ve really focused on De Castro and he made several impressive plays. On one drive in particular there were three running plays where he drove the defender backwards a good 5-6 yards to create a huge hole for the running back. He seems to know what he’s doing in the run game, his hand placement and technique are about as good as it gets. Thrives on getting to the second level and he’s always looking to block downfield. However, Stanford’s offensive line is among the best in college football, mainly due to the superb coaching they’ve received over the years. There are no explosive athletes – including left tackle Jonathan Martin – this is a group that has grown together. I need to decide whether the sum is greater than the parts in terms of next level projection for both De Castro and Martin.   

Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)   

The great wildcard of the 2012 draft so far. Griffin is intriguing in so many ways – the athletic potential, the deep ball accuracy and the incredible development he’s made from run-first quarterback in year one to  accomplished passer as a fourth-year junior. He extends plays and keeps his eyes downfield, he’s got a decent if not perfect throwing motion, he’s got statistics to die for this year with very few turnovers in his career and he’s the very definition of a character guy (he comes across personable and funny but also hard working and a leader). Even so, something is holding me back from committing to a high grade. His footwork needs a major overhaul and it’s going to take time. His deep accuracy is a positive, but does it translate to the next level? A lofof his big plays have been simple down-the-field bombs with sound placement- often several times in a game. We don’t see that much of a downfield focus in the NFL, so if you take it away and ask Griffin to play a more clinical short passing game will he be able to move the ball? Part of me wants to promote him to the upper echelon of this draft class – especially given his extreme progression as a passer over the years. The other part of me wants to go back and watch his bowl game from last season when I gave him a late round grade at best. This is a tough one.   

Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)   

I’ve seen a lot of Kirkpatrick, but I’m still trying to work out whether he justifies the hype. There’s a stigma around cornerbacks that size = good. Kirkpatrick is 6-2 and about 190lbs and he’s certainly very physical in run support and a sure tackler. However, cornerbacksmake their money in coverage and too often I’ve seen receivers coast past Kirkpatrick with no disruption at the LOS. He’s not been burnt as often as he should’ve been, there’s been a few missed chances in games over the last two seasons. The Florida game this year was a bit of an eye opener in that regard, when Kirkpatrick was at one stage being targeted by John Brantley. Is Kirkpatrick highly over rated due to his Nick Saban coaching and physical appearance? I’m leaning that way, but there’ll be plenty of opportunities to watch Alabama before the season’s end.   

Players who won’t receive first round grades, but are worthy of attention   

Austin Davis (QB, Southern Miss)   

Under rated quarterback prospect and the heart-beat of the Golden Eagles team. Southern Miss are ranked #23 on the coaches poll and #25 according to the AP – that achievement cannot be under estimated and it’s mainly down to the impact of their quarterback. Davis is a pure worker – he knew the areas he had to improve both physically and technically and he’s worked as hard as anyone to get there. He’s a clinical passer who makes very few bad decisions. He works within an offense that stresses the necessity to avoid turnovers (similar to the Seahawks), he’s enough of an athlete to make runs on the ground and extend plays. He’s added upper body muscle this year to improve his arm strength. Davis has a shot to make it and only a lack of national attention is keeping him under wraps.   

Logan Harrell (DT, Fresno State)   

Busy defensive tackle who jumps off the screen and makes a number of splash plays. Few players will trouble the Boise State offensive like like Harrell did this year. He’s not the biggest lineman and that will limit his role at the next level, but he plays with a spark and he explodes off the snap. Hand use is above average and he finds ways to get into the backfield consistently. He could split roles between the three and five technique in the NFL and while he’ll never be a dominating force – Harrell will find a way to get attention. Also owns a world class moustache, which is a big plus.   

Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)   

He’s having a great year with 10.5 sacks already, but where does he play at the next level? He’s not agile enough to consider switching to 3-4 OLB, but he’s not got the ideal size for a base 4-3 end. Curry isn’t an explosive speed rusher despite that lack of true size, but he’s surprisingly strong and his production over the last two seasons has been among the best in college football. He may still end up in the first round if he performs well enough at the combine to match the stats, but I suspect he’ll go after the top-32 and provide someone with a challenge – how to get the best out of this guy given his skill set.   

Over rated players   

Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)   

I’m still hesitant to commit to Coples as a first rounder, despite his near consensus approval ratings elsewhere. What position is he going to play at the next level? He’s not a good enough edge rusher to play 4-3 defensive end, he’s not big enough to kick inside as anything more than a third down rusher. I end up settling for the 3-4 orthodox five technique, but even then I’m not entirely convinced you’d want to make a big splash to get this guy on your team in that role. He’s off the field too much for my liking, including in key third down attempts. For the season he has 4.5 sacks – two of which came against James Madison in week one. If he’s a top-ten pick, I’ll be stunned.   

Landry Jones (QB, Oklahoma)   

Limited physical talent working to execute a small playbook in a high tempo offense. He doesn’t have an amazing arm, he’s very limited in terms of athleticism, he’s predictable and the production he’s having in college will not translate. In the NFL he’s not going to be able to rely on the same play call every week (the now notorious fade to Kenny Stills). A lot of his plays are scripted and he basically does what he’s told, in the NFL he’s going to be presented with multiple options and he’s going to have to improvise – something I’m not sure he’ll be able to do. He struggles against any kind of pressure – Jones’ can’t extend plays by moving out of the pocket and he surprisingly struggles to step up and buy extra time against even moderate edge pressure. I think he’ll be found out quickly in the pro’sand you’ll be left with a very mediocre quarterback.   

Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)   

I still see Floyd cropping up among top-ten projections and I have to ask – why? This is a player who wasn’t considered a high pick last year as a junior and returned to Notre Dame largely because of a poor grade from the draft committee. Needing a strong year to boost his stock back into the first round – he was almost immediately cited for drink driving and suspended by the team. The production has been good this year (as it was in 2010) but the same problems exist – sloppy route running, too many body catches and he’s not an explosive deep threat. He’s a big receiver who may end up being a good #2, but compared to players like Dwight Jones he’s severely lacking the skills to be a top end receiver pick.

Robert Griffin III is intriguing

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Yesterday we highlighted Robert Griffin III’s tape against Texas A&M from the weekend. Overall I found it to be an impressive performance, strangely more impressive than Griffin’s highlight reel display against TCU in week one. The game with the Horned Frogs was a bit of a freak show – repetitive long bombs that made for great viewing but provided more questions than answers. Was this something the Bears had worked on during a long off-season to surprise TCU given Baylor’s strict screen game? Was it just a rank bad performance by a secondary that had previously impressed? Was it a one-off spectacular?

I was leaning more towards scepticism than excitement after watching Griffin’s tape against Rice. The screen game was back and some of the old flaws were still screaming out. There’s no getting around the basic footwork issues that require major work at the next level. For starters, Griffin needs to get rid of the dance moves in the pocket – he often takes two steps without advancing or retreating, before needing to re-set to release.

It’s like watching Justin Timberlake trying to lead a Big 12 offense and it’ll cause problems at the next level because it adds wasted time to the complete motion of delivering the football. In the NFL Griffin may only get a small window of opportunity to find an open receiver, he needs to quicken up the time it takes to drop back and release to give himself the best possible opportunity to hit the target. Secondly, pass rushers at the next level don’t need very long to get free and even if they’re not getting the sack there’s always the chance they’ll force a splash via a deflected pass or by taking away one side of the field.

Griffin being such a good athlete compensates for this wasted time and often he’s able to move out of the pocket to extend plays either by running or throwing. The potential is there to become an even more spectacular player with proper pro-coaching on his footwork, but it’s one of the hardest things a young quarterback has to embrace. Neither is it an unusual thing – Joe Flacco had to learn every basic fundamental of becoming a pro-passer when he was drafted by Baltimore and he still had an impact as a rookie starter. It helps that Flacco’s deep ball was such a threat from day one, but Griffin similarly is a gifted downfield passer.

Bringing it back to the Texas A&M game to talk about the positives, I was surprised at how rounded Griffin looked as a passing quarterback. There were several instances where he visibly went from one target to another and wasn’t afraid to attempt a difficult throw rather than look for checkdowns. The Baylor offense doesn’t use a lot of checkdown stuff, it really is screen-heavy with downfield passing and some intermediate routes. Even so, the big issue I have with quarterbacks like Kevin Kolb is the frequency they play safe to checkdown. Griffin is almost the anti-Kolb but not in a bad way – he’s pretty accurate on downfieldthrows and he’s got a good feel for the football, knowing when to take something off the ball or to go high/low to avoid coverage. I don’t anticipate he’ll change much at the next level, taking what he’s given downfield if possible, but being wise enough to know when to checkdown.

If you look at yesterday’s video and the touchdown pass at 3:47 – that’s a brilliant play. It’s only a short completion, but Griffin disects two defenders and recognises he needs to throw low to avoid them. There’s a greater risk that the pass will be incomplete, but there’s virtually zero chances of a turnover. It’s that kind of execution and quick thinking that will impress NFL scouts.

The athletic side of Griffin’s game speaks for itself – he will run a good forty yard dash at the combine and he’s got the double positive of being elusive in the pocket to extend plays and a threat running the ball if he finds a lane. 

I find it hard to find a par comparison for the player Griffin could be in the NFL. He’s not Michael Vick. At Virginia Tech Vick had 636 yards from 113 attempts with nine touchdowns the year before he turned pro. Vick actually only threw 179 passes that year for 1439 yards and a mediocre 9-7 touchdown-turnover ratio. Griffin works in a completely different offense and has been a much more productive passer throughout his career (3501 yards last season) but less of an explosive rusher (635 yards in 2010 from 149 carries). Essentially it took Vick 46 less carries to reach the same yardage as Griffin managed in 2010. Vick is such a phenomena that we may never see a player with his physical potential again. It’s not just on a production basis that the two differ, there are also physical and athletic differences. Griffin is a brilliant athlete, but he isn’t Mike Vick.

I’ve also seen comparisons to Cam Newton, but again I think they are wide of the mark. I cannot stress enough how impressive Newton was/is. Despite a lot of negative press last year at Auburn, he carried that team through his own sheer brilliance. I suspect in a few years time we may well talk about Newton in the same way we talk about Vick – this is a rare breed of player that will bring his own unique twist to the NFL. Griffin is a safer pair of hands than Newton when it comes to decision making, character and controlling an offense, but Newton is just a complete superstar. He’s harder to control and manage, but you don’t want to control or manage him. You let the guy loose, you let him make big plays using his own talent and instinct. Griffin is much more of a project than Vick or Newton and can’t be expected to have the same impact early in his NFL career.

According to my sources Seattle didn’t grade Newton particularly highly. I suspect this is because they’re looking for a quarterback who can fit into a scheme and help control a possession offense and help win a turnover battle (whether that’s the correct way of viewing Seattle’s needs at QB is another debate completely). Newton would never fit into that way of life – he’s someone who won’t be controlled on the field and will have turnovers in his career. However, he’ll also keep you competitive in most games because of his pure individual talent. If Newton finds a level of consistency he could become a NFL great. That will be his greatest battle though, and I suspect he’ll always be somewhat unpredictable. That may not be what Pete Carroll wants for his offense.

Blaine Gabbert, Colin Kaepernick, and Andy Dalton were all listed above Newton on Seattle’s board. Jake Locker – another precocious but unpredictable talent – was ranked at #6. I suspect someone like Griffin may interest the Seahawks given his low number of turnovers (13 in four years compared to 61 touchdowns), his impressive on and off field intelligence, decision making and ability to extend plays. I can’t stress enough how impressive Griffin the individual is. The players at Baylor see him as a leader and put their necks on the line for him. His interviews are always conducted with respect and without attitude. He has a high level of book smarts and a work rate that is clear given his continued progress. This brings me onto my final point…

The one thing teams love to see more than anything is progress. Matt Barkley has made progress every year at USC – whether it’s technique, production or decision making. Andrew Luck – despite setting high bars in 2010 – has actually managed to continue to progress. Yet both players entered college as talented, natural quarterbacks. Griffin’s progress is maybe more impressive because he was an athlete who has transformed into a passing quarterback. Go back and find tape of Griffin’s freshman year and tell me that’s a guy with any NFL quarterback potential. Even last year I watched Baylor and wondered if I could muster a late round grade for the guy. Now? We’re talking about him in a whole new light.

He has worked at his craft and it shows. Griffin doesn’t just deserve immense credit, he’ll be making people sit up and take notice. He may not declare for the 2012 draft and he’s looked at the possibility of attending law school if he stays at Baylor for a 5th year (he was granted a medical redshirt in 2009). If he does declare, he’ll star at the combine in work outs and in the meeting rooms. Teams are going to fall in love with this guy – from an athletic, academic and personal perspective.

For those reasons, there’s every chance he could end up being a very high pick indeed. Would I pull the trigger? I’m still not convinced, because he is a long term project and there are lingering issues that would concern me enough to put me off investing a high pick. Someone will be convinced though when it’s time to make the decision and that’s the crucial thing when trying to project where he’ll go in the draft. I wouldn’t completely rule out that someone being Pete Carroll or John Schneider.

To learn more about Robert Griffin III, check out this USA Today article by Kelly Whiteside.

Keith Price and the ideal point guard quarterback

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

by Kip Earlywine

I’ll be honest.  I don’t know when exactly it was, but at some point last offseason I heard the phrase “point guard quarterback” for the very first time.  Its human nature to react negatively to things we don’t understand, and so like many others, my disposition towards the idea began at a low point.  Using a basketball position to describe a quarterback?  What kind of nonsense is that?

Many other Seahawks fans were confused by the term, and yet they talked about it.  Quite a lot actually, without ever bothering to find out exactly what the definition of a point guard quarterback really is.  This led to an epidemic of misunderstanding.  To many Seahawks fans, even right now, a point guard quarterback simply means a signal caller with mobility.  Initially, I was one of those people.  But eventually I became unsatisfied with such a murky definition.  If a point guard quarterback is just a mobile one, then why not just say “mobile quarterback?”  Why invoke the point guard position in basketball?  Surely there must be a reason.

After a bit of research, I came to learn that the point guard analogy is actually a two way street, as point guards in basketball are often referred to as “the quarterback” of the basketball team.  This makes a lot of sense, as some of the greatest point guards, guys like John Stockton and Gary Payton, were more dangerous for their ability to assist than to score directly.  Yet their ability to score themselves was potent also.  Their threat to pass to teammates sometimes opened up chances to score themselves, and being a credible threat to score helped open up the pass.  Another thing about point guards, is that some of the best are very short by NBA standards.  John Stockton is perhaps the best point guard of all time, and he’s only 6’1″.  Steve Nash might be the best active point guard, and he’s 6’3″.  Gary Payton was 6’4″.   The average NBA player is 6’7″, and it was actually slightly higher in Stockton’s time.

So how does this analogy relate to this NFL?  A point guard dribbles the ball up just past mid court, holds up fingers to “call a play”, and as the offensive series evolves, he will eventually have a choice between passing and shooting.  Passing the ball to a more open team-mate is often better for scoring points.  However, occasionally a defender will not take the threat of the point guard shooting seriously and play the point guard soft.  If a wide open shot is available, a point guard will often take it.  Concisely speaking, a point guard prefers to pass, but will shoot if an open look is given.  In the NFL, the “pass” portion of the analogy represents passing the ball, and the “shoot” part means to run.  A typical point guard will take his fair share of shots, but he will pass multiple times for every shot he takes.

A critical part of this analogy is that unlike some NFL quarterbacks, a point guard quarterback will not lock onto a primary receiver all game long.  Just like how an NBA point guard doesn’t just pass the ball to his best player, but the other 4 members on his team; a point guard quarterback distributes the ball to as many receivers, at as many locations, as possible.  Doing so stretches a defense, and can help open up the #1 wide receiver when it counts.  In boxing, a common strategy is to attack where the gloves ain’t, meaning that if he’s guarding his face, attack the body, and when he guards the body, attack the face.  This kind of strategy wears down opponents and ultimately proves more effective in tough fights than just going exclusively for face hits.

As far as the shoot portion of the analogy, a good point guard must also be able to shoot the ball at least somewhat well, because if he shows no threat to do so, defenders can just swamp him without any worries about the risk that entails (being blown by for an easy layup).  That’s an exaggeration for effect, but essentially, its tougher to defend two things than one.   That said, shooting is always the 2nd option, unless the point guard really is the best player on the team (as it was for Payton and Nash for parts of their careers).  A point guard quarterback is the same.  A 5 yard run is better than throwing the ball out of bounds, and if a defense gives it to you, you slide and take it.

So to clear up misconception #1, a point guard quarterback is not a run first position, as the ability to run the football is important, but far less important than the ability to pass the ball.  A lot of people assumed that Jake Locker would be a Seahawk had he reached the 25th pick, since he averaged over 100 carries at year at Washington.  As it turns out, Jake Locker was much lower on Seattle’s draft board than many thought (through an inside source, Rob revealed Seattle’s quarterback draft board earlier this year and Locker was quite low on it).  Further, the Seahawks war room actually erupted into smiles and applause the moment that Locker went well ahead of them, just as they did when the Rams selected Robert Quinn.   Does that sound like the reaction of a disappointed group?  Jake Locker could run, but he tended to have tunnel vision with his receivers, as attested by Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar having several monster games, but almost never at the same time.  He was also a big play quarterback with a 54% completion rate and below average pocket presence.  If just being a mobile quarterback was enough, then Locker was that in spades.  But clearly it was not.

So if the position is not run first, why is mobility emphasized?  There are two reasons.  The first is that a viable threat to run is yet another way to stress out a defense, and while the point guard position was designed to make a quarterback’s life easy, it ironically (or fittingly?) makes defending it a total headache.  If a point guard type checks all the boxes, he can make a defense worry about defending both sides of the field, defend every running back, tight end, and receiver near equally, and have to cover short, intermediate, and deep in near equal parts, plus defending against a quarterback running himself, and also defending against effective play action fakes and non-fakes (the running game is a crucial part of a team that runs this type of offense).  Like the boxer analogy, the ability to run is like adding an extra body area to hit.  The 2nd and perhaps more important reason for the mobility requirement is elusiveness.  The point guard role is not structured but fluid and instinctive; improvisation is required on many plays.  Great pocket presence might be the biggest asset of all to a point guard type.  He must feel pressure and use his mobility to buy extra time both outside the pocket and within it.  Jeff Garcia, when playing in his natural point guard role, was a pretty effective quarterback and huge reason for that was his penchant for completing passes at the very last instant after buying time with his feet.  An elusive quarterback can turn sacks into completions, which is why the good ones excel so much at building long drives.

Another misconception is that point guard quarterbacks are game managers.  This is almost true but not quite.  They are similar in that both types of quarterbacks strongly emphasize possession plays over big plays.  Point guard quarterbacks are known for long drives as are game managers.  Both game managers and point guard quarterbacks stress having few interceptions.  The difference is that point guard quarterbacks actually have balls about it.  A game manager type rarely throws the ball more than 10 yards down the field and typically features a below average yards per attempt.  A point guard type will pass short, intermediate, and deep, all to keep the defense as honest as possible.  Andrew Luck is an effective point guard type.  His YPA is 9.50, one of the best in college football.  Michael Vick (under Andy Reid) is an NFL contemporary of the role.  He had a 8.1 YPA last year (7.9 so far in 2011), which was good for 4th best in the NFL.  A game manager role is given to quarterbacks with limited ability.  A point guard role is similar, but given to players with a lot of natural ability.

For this reason, high accuracy has added importance for a point guard quarterback.  Incompletions and sacks lead to unfavorable down and distance, and the point guard system is built to reduce both.  This is critical, because a point guard offense is built around maintaining drives more than big plays.  Due to the instinctive, less structured nature of the role, and its high emphasis on spreading the ball, comfort checking multiple reads is also further emphasized.  Though the point guard role is designed to make a quarterback’s life easier, it is actually quite demanding in terms of having skills.  Having elite measurables is optional, but having poor innate talent with the fundamentals is not.

Finally, I mentioned before that some of the best point guards in the NBA have been much shorter than the average NBA height.  Similarly, many notable point guard quarterbacks have below average height as well.   A typical NFL quarterback is 6’4″.  The prototypical Steve Young is 6’2″.  Michael Vick is 6’1″.  Jeff Garcia is 6’1″.  I think the reason for this is that in the NBA, point guards typically play far away from the basket, so height is less of an issue.  In the NFL, height is less of an issue since point guard quarterbacks move so much in the pocket that they can usually find windows to look through, even if their lineman stand a few inches taller.  By no means do I think the role cancels out the need for certain height requirements, I don’t think a 5’8″ quarterback would succeed even as a point guard type.  But I do think that mobility behind the line helps cancel out the extra couple inches of height.  And of course, there is nothing wrong with having a tall point guard type.  Josh Freeman is 6’6″.  Its just that for whatever reason, most point guard types tend to be shorter.  Perhaps its because their height is what put them in that system to begin with.  Or because physical elusiveness in taller people is uncommon.

Regarding Keith Price:

Some of these concepts I knew from the research I did earlier this year, but it was when I watched Keith Price take over for Jake Locker about a month ago that the concept fully came into focus.  In almost every way, he is the perfect example of what a point guard quarterback is.

First, let me be clear about something.   This essay is not about discussing Keith Price:  NFL draft prospect.  Its merely to highlight Price as an example of what a true point guard quarterback looks like, without having to venture any further than Lake Washington for evidence.  So with that in mind, consider this comparison between two pro-style college quarterbacks:

Quarterback A:  69.4% completion rate, 8.62 YPA, 21 TD, 4 INT, 177.9 rating (sacked 11 times in 6 games)

Quarterback B:  71.3% completion rate, 9.50 YPA, 18 TD, 3 INT, 180.5 rating (sacked 2 times in 6 games)

Pretty close huh?  The first quarterback is Keith Price, and the second is Andrew Luck.  Both quarterback’s play the point guard role in a similar offense, in the same conference, in the same sub-division of that conference.  In fact, they actually play against each other on national television this weekend.  There are issues comparing the performances of college quarterbacks in many cases, but as both Stanford and Washington play very similar schedules and basically run the same kind of offenses, it makes a comparison worth making.  I’m hardly the only one to notice the similarities, today’s copy of USA Today made a similar statistical comparison between the two.

Luck has a small edge in completion rate, YPA, and interceptions, but Price has a small edge in touchdown passes and has been sacked five and a half times as often.  Eleven sacks allowed in six games is actually not that bad, and its more of a testament to Price’s elusive nature than his unimposing line.  By contrast, Andrew Luck throws behind perhaps the best line in all college football, with two members currently being projected in the mid to high first round of the 2012 draft.  Its just silly that Andrew Luck has one of the best interception per pass rates in football, yet has more interceptions than sacks taken.  Luck is having his best year yet: one of the very best pro-style system seasons in college football history.  And yet the unheralded redshirt sophomore Keith Price is right there with him in his first six games since being named the starter- by far the best 6 game stretch by any Husky quarterback or any Husky offense in its history.  In half a season, he’s already 5th all time for TDs in Huskies history for a single season.  The record is 28, and he’s on pace for 45 or 46.

That’s not to say that Price can hold water to Luck as an NFL prospect.  Please do not interpret this analogy as such.  If anything, the wide gap in physical attributes only furthers a point I wish to make, that a great point guard quarterback can put up elite production without all the elite measurables.

And besides, I didn’t really make this post to talk about production, though its certainly been outstanding out Price’s part.  I made this post to illustrate what a real point guard quarterback looks like.  And Keith Price is just that.  Moreso than even Andrew Luck.  More than just about any quarterback I’ve seen.  So lets get to it:

For starters, Keith Price is 6’1″ with a weight listed at 200 pounds (listed at 195 some places).  Height is not a real concern, since as stated before many successful NFL point guard types were around that height.  Price is outstanding at maneuvering behind his line, and he seems to see his targets just fine because of it.  His line may not be very good, but they are NFL sized.  Height will not be an issue for Price in the NFL.  His weight though… its a major concern.  Most NFL quarterbacks sit around 225 pounds, and 220 is considered to be somewhat fringe, although point guard types are typically lighter weight.  Michael Vick is 215, as was Steve Young, and Jeff Garcia was only 205.

Those players were effective in the role, but they were also no stranger to injuries.  This is true for Price as well.  He’s played hurt in all six games to date, namely with two bad knees and recently a tweaked ankle.  I’d be exaggerating if I said Price comes up limping after every hit he’s taken, but not by much.

That he’s put up the numbers he has in the context of his injury bug is astonishing, and also evidence that mobility is not the end all of a true point guard quarterback.  Price has got decent wheels when healthy, but he’s only had 15 net rushing yards so far in six games.  That’s fewer rush yards than passing touchdowns.  Despite this, Price’s ability to be elusive in the pocket has remained mostly intact, which shows how much more valuable elusiveness is than running ability as a point guard quarterback.

Bottom line though, Price needs to add a more weight to his frame, and cut it out with the constant injuries.  His frame is far from maxed out, and i think he could probably get all the way to 220 if he really wanted to.  I’d say he needs to at least reach 215 if he wants to be a first round pick some day.

Price’s arm strength seemed suspect early in the year against Eastern Washington.  Like Tarvaris Jackson, Price was more of a “tosser” than a “thrower,” emphasizing accuracy and catchability over speed of arrival.  That changed as the season progressed, and after the learning experience that was the Nebraska shootout, Price seemed to perfect this pass throwing:  arriving with decent zip but while maintaining accuracy and a soft catch.  That progress crested in last weeks game against Colorado, when Price had four touchdown passes (to four different targets) in just the first half, and was pulled shortly after due to the blowout score. Price has developed an impressive deep ball, which rivals Jake Locker’s despite the gap in arm strength.  This was evidenced by a 70 yard touchdown pass to beat Cal in the 4th quarter (50 in the air) to Chris Polk (!).

Price’s body language is a little tentative; he’s not as hesitant as Tarvaris Jackson, but I’d say he’s on that side of the spectrum.  Still, almost every throw he’s made has been money, and he’s only thrown 4 interceptions in 170 attempts (1 per 42.5).  Recently against Colorado, he ran full no huddle to devastating effect.  Price is an instinctive quarterback and really shines even more in a fast paced offense.  Its hard to criticize Price for not looking aggressive when the results suggest the opposite.

His throwing mechanics are pretty good.  He has a high release point, a quick arm motion, and a very nice compact tuck move that makes his pump fakes deadly effective.  His footwork needs work, and often I’ll catch him making throws flat footed with his feet spread out pretty far.  Its actually not very different from Jake Locker’s footwork in the pocket, which a lot of scouts believed was the source of his inaccuracy.  Well, accuracy hasn’t been a problem for Price.  I wonder if that speaks well of Price or poorly of his predecessor?

Price is generally outstanding on his execution, with a very convincing play action and good deal of comfort throwing on the move.  I haven’t charted left vs. right yet, but given how ridiculously good he’s been, I’m not expecting much of a split.

Price is a highly accurate quarterback, perhaps even more so than his 69% season rate indicates.  For example, against Utah he completed 73% of his passes, and of the eight total incompletions he had, four of those were drops (three by Devin Aguilar alone).   His completion rates since opening Pac-12 play: 76%, 73%, 75%.  His passes are generally either in the middle of the receivers body or leading them perfectly if its a vertical route.  I think its worth emphasizing how much the soft touch on his passes helps him, other than the mini-drop fest at Utah.  He’s suffered fewer drops than Jake Locker, who threw the ball with about as much subtlety as a bazooka.

Price has excellent pocket presence, feeling pressure without having to see it, and doing more than simply stepping up in the pocket, but moving just inches out of harms way constantly to buy time.  I wouldn’t say his elusiveness is at an elite level, but its probably on par with Andrew Luck’s.

Price regularly checks through multiple reads with ease, which is a fairly rare attribute in a college quarterback.  During the Colorado game, Price even used his eyes to deceive defenders on two of his touchdown passes.  The first was when he appeared to stare down a target on his left, freezing the safeties, then immediately turned and hit Jermaine Kearse for a wide open touchdown up the middle, almost without looking first.   Later, he would sell a stare-down in the middle of the field, then attempt to quick hit Polk on the left.  Polk wasn’t wide open, so Price added a great pump fake for good measure, before throwing a perfect pass that only Polk could catch.

I want to give a big shout-out to qbsacker5394, who posted each of Washington’s three Pac-12 games on Youtube (he also has the other three games if you check his channel).  His videos show every notable play from the broadcast, compressed into 13 to 14 minutes.  Not every play unfortunately, but still good for getting an idea.  I’ve already seen the games live, but for anyone that wants to get a better look at Keith Price (or RB Chris Polk, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, or DT Alameda Ta’amu) themselves, they should definitely check his videos out.

This has become one of the longer posts I’ve ever done, and I still have things to say about Price.  But I’ll sum it up as such, Keith Price is playing at a high level, and in every way that is essential to the point guard quarterback, he’s excelled.  I’d consider him a somewhat polished quarterback that has a few things to work on, and I think its encouraging that he’s gotten better with each game as the seasons gone on.  Keith Price is a somewhat unlikely option for the Seahawks, as will probably declare in 2013 or 2014, and for the love of God I hope this front office has their quarterback by then.

But I must say, watching Keith Price’s first six games has been instructional- witnessing a point guard quarterback play almost the same exact offense as Seattle’s, from a Pete Carroll disciple no less.  And he’s done it so damn well, despite having what looks to be on the surface just average talents.  We may not get Price, but Price’s success shows that if a quarterback fits his role well enough, he can put up amazing production in a pro-style system without playing in a first round body.  If Seattle can somehow acquire Andrew Luck or Matt Barkley, then awesome.  Please do.  But in the likely event that doesn’t happen, Seattle could still find its salvation through their own version of Keith Price.  Maybe Tarvaris Jackson could be that guy.  Or Josh Portis.  Or Ryan Tannehill.  Or Robert Griffin.  Or maybe even Keith Price himself.

2012 draft status check: October 17th

Monday, October 17th, 2011

UNC receiver Dwight Jones deserves a high grade

The early stages of a NFL draft usually features a good balance of offensive and defensive talent. In the last seven years, 50 offensive players have been drafted within the top fifteen picks compared to 55 players on defense. In five of the last seven years, there’s been an 8-7 split in favor of one side of the ball with just two drafts edging towards the defense (nine defensive players to six offensive players in 2010 and 2006). In 2008 eight of the first eleven picks were defensive players.

The last draft that weighed heavily in favor of the offense came in 2004 when ten of the first fifteen picks were offensive players – a class that included Eli Manning, Larry Fitzgerald, Philip Rivers, Robert Gallery and Ben Roethlisberger among others.

Aside from that, there’s a balance between the two with a slight edge going to the defense. The last few years have contained some ‘obvious’ stock talent on the defensive side of the ball – players that were projected to go early pretty much from day one. Think Ndamukong Suh, Eric Berry, Patrick Peterson, Gerald McCoy Marcell Dareus and Chris Long. This year I’m struggling to find a single player worthy of an absolute top-ten projection, a striking review of the defensive talent that could be available next April.

Perhaps it’ll simply be a year similar to 2004, with the early picks being dominated by offense? Andrew Luck will be the #1 overall pick and it appears likely at least one more quarterback will be drafted early. Offensive tackles such as Matt Kalil, Jonathan Martin and Riley Reiff could become high picks and with a degree of depth at receiver there’s every chance we could see an early run on wide outs too.

Even so, there’s an uncomfortable feel to a class that lacks quality defensive talent.

Many have projected Quinton Coples as a top-ten player, something I’ve argued against on the evidence we’ve seen so far. When you see the lack of alternatives on defense, perhaps it’s worth considering that someone will tap into the physical potential of Coples even if he’ll be entering the NFL with a lot to prove? Kansas City found themselves in a similar situation in 2009, choosing to reach for Tyson Jackson due to the unappealing alternatives on the board with the #3 overall pick. Coples is far from a lost cause but his physical potential and appearance on the field at the moment far outweighs his perfomance and production.

Cornerback Morris Claiborne has enjoyed a strong start to the 2011 season with three interceptions to go with the five he collected last year. Could he rise to the top of someone’s board? What about a playmaking cornerback like Jayron Hosley at Virginia Tech who lacks ideal size at 5-10 and 171lbs and will give up some plays – but is the definition of a playmaker with 12 interceptions in less than one and a half seasons? Dre Kirkpatrick gets a good review due to his height and background working under Nick Saban at Alabama, but I’ve not been impressed with his tape so far.

Janoris Jenkins is the forgotten man of the 2012 draft, but he flashed top-ten abilities at Florida. He may have transferred to North Alabama after a series of problems off the field, but let’s not ignore that Julio Jones, AJ Green and Alshon Jeffery had their worst games against Jenkins last year. If you feel confident he’s a reformed character with greater responsibility and maturity then he maintains a high grade.

I’m not a huge fan of a slightly over rated group of linebackers, but you can foresee a situation where a player like Vontaze Burfict goes earlier than perhaps he should. The same could be said for Boston College linebacker Luke Kuelchy or Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o. Personally I see North Carolina’s Zach Brown as the superior linebacker prospect so far.

The nose tackle position has taken on an increased level of importance and Alameda Ta’amu may not be an obvious choice early in round one but he has the size, mobility and potential to be a very effective player at the next level. Memphis tackle Dontari Poe is in a similar situation – having the frame and potential but offering teams more physical potential and scheme fit than proven production.

Several defensive ends are starting to draw attention – Marshall’s Vinny Curry is a battering ram of a defensive end with 9.5 sacks already in 2011. Andre Branch at Clemson is starting to become a consistent performer with seven sacks this season and Oklahoma’s Frank Alexander has 6.5. The most impressive defensive lineman I’ve watched this year – Florida State’s Bjoern Werner – will not be eligible until 2013.

Curry looks like a first round level talent so far, but he’s not an explosive player off the snap and he lacks game changing speed off the edge. You can’t fault his effort, size, mobility and effective hand-use, but teams may be put off by average straight line speed. Branch is lighter on his feet and has a greater initial burst – he’s one to keep monitoring as Clemson keeps winning. Tigers teammate Brandon Thompson impresses on tape but has an alarming lack of end product in the stats column over a four year career. Jared Crick has been patchy and inconsistent at Nebraska, but offered a skill-set similar to JJ Watt. He will miss the rest of the 2011 season with a torn pectoral muscle and could drop slightly if it impacts his ability to be 100% for draft work outs.

Mot of these suggestions wouldn’t enter the early first round discussion in previous years, but such is the class of 2012 some of these players may end up being high picks. It’s possibly less of a concern for teams in the era of the rookie wage cap, but the stigma attached to missing on draft picks can be costly for reputations and continued employment.

The question I get asked the most – and I wish I could answer it in a more satisfactory way – is what defensive talent will be available as a consolation prize if the Seahawks miss out on a quarterback? The honest answer is there will be a shortage of big name college defensive players for people to invest their hopes into. I’m yet to find someone like Colorado’s Jimmy Smith who lit up the screen and flashed under rated elite skills and unmatched potential. Last April San Francisco and St. Louis both drafted defensive ends in Aldon Smith and Robert Quinn, yet no player of that quality is making themselves known for 2012.

Perhaps of more concern for the Seahawks – a lack of great defensive talent may push teams towards one of their other great passions, the quarterback position. We saw a run on quarterbacks last year with four being drafted in the first twelve picks. Could the same happen again next April, with players being over drafted like Christian Ponder? It could happen, even if I’ve offered a less than favorable review of Landry Jones and am yet to be convinced by Ryan Tannehill. Seattle will have to be on it’s toes if the intention is to select a specific quarterback in round one.

So what can we project so far? If I was compiling a top-prospects list today I suspect it could be completely different in a months time. This group continues to ask an awful lot questions and the answers are taking a little longer to work out. This is potentially how I see the top seven players so far:

#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
#2 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
#3 Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
#4 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
#5 Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
#6 Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
#7 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)

If I was putting together a bigger board I wouldn’t necessarily be able to make a logical case to separate the player at #8 and the player at #22. For example, I like Zach Brown enough to put him at #8 but is he any more likely to have an impact at the next level than Justin Blackmon? At his best Blackmon has a little Roddy White to his game and maybe a little Greg Jennings. He has the ‘alpha male’ streak that could take him to the top on a good offense. He also suffers from basic mental errors that will frustrate you, he’s not a consistent hands catcher, he’s not got incredible size and he won’t run a brilliant forty time.

In terms of importance to a team, the nose tackles and defensive lineman could crack the top ten and so could the cornerbacks such as Morris Claiborne and Jayron Hosley. You come back to Quinton Coples and just wonder what he could be like if he had a consistent motor or was a little quicker off the edge?

So what am I sure about? Trent Richardson is playing at a different level this season and with the rookie pay scale making the running back position a more enticing early pick, there’s every chance he could go in the top five.

Let’s say Indianapolis has the second overall pick next April, with Miami winning the race to draft Andrew Luck. The Colts may not automatically move on to the next best quarterback as a long term replacement for Peyton Manning. They drafted a finesse left tackle in Anthony Castonzo last year and I feel uncomfortable projecting him to the right hand side given his frame and skill set. Von Miller – last year’s #2 overall pick – signed a fully guaranteed four-year $21m contract. Assuming Manning can recover from his current injury, $21m for a player who will be a day one starter and offer an immediate explosion of talent doesn’t seem like a stretch. Without the rookie pay scale you’re looking at a deal similar to Ndamukong Suh’s $68m contract with $40m in guarantees. The difference is quite incredible and it’s why running backs will be back on the agenda at the top of round one.

The 2012 draft will be the first time we see the true impact of the rookie cap, with positions like receiver and running back perhaps getting more of an opportunity as they did before the big boom in contracts. Dwight Jones has been a revelation this season for North Carolina and is the complete package at receiver. He could really help a team breaking in a young quarterback. One of Jones’ greatest qualities besides hands, speed and size is his ability to adjust to the football and make difficult catches from imperfect throws. He could be a dream pick for a player like Sam Bradford, Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton with St. Louis, Jacksonville and Carolina set to pick early again in 2012.

The end of loaded contracts could also see teams rolling the dice more often on quarterbacks in the hope of finding ‘the guy’ for a league dominated by elite signal callers. This won’t avoid reputations being tarnished by bad decisions, but it will allow teams to move on if a player doesn’t work out as hoped. We could see a continuation of last year’s boom in quarterbacks going early despite my own projection of just two players with first round grades at the position.

Quinton Coples is over rated

Monday, October 10th, 2011

Quinton Coples: Unimpressive pass rusher and painful looking tattoo's

I’ve just finished watching the Louisville vs North Carolina game from Saturday, focusing on UNC defensive lineman Quinton Coples. I’ve never been that impressed when I’ve watched him in the past, but this was a game I thought he had a chance to dominate. Louisville are struggling a bit – losing at home to Marshall the previous week and starting a freshman left guard who had only recently converted from defense.

However, much to my disappointment, Coples was again largely ineffective. This is a player everyone is touting as the best defensive prospect for 2012 – without fail. A lot of high profile pundits have Coples ranked very highly – he’s #2 on Mel Kiper’s big board and several others have him in the top five of their mock drafts. Sorry, but I don’t see a top five pick when I watch Quinton Coples. I’m not even convinced I see a player with first round potential period.

One of the biggest problems I have with him is figuring out what kind of player he’ll be at the next level. He’s not a great speed rusher or a player who creates consistent pressure with technique, power or by mastering one particular move. That says to me you’re fighting a losing battle trying to force him into a right end role in the 4-3 (the position he mostly plays for North Carolina). He’s about 275-280lbs which isn’t ideal size to kick inside and play three technique where I think he’d really struggle against the run and would have major problems against interior blocking. I end up looking at the five technique position, but even then I’m not completely convinced because he doesn’t do a great job shedding blocks after engaging an offensive lineman. He can hold the point of attack to free up room for on-rushing linebackers, which is probably why I settle for the orthodox 3-4 five-tech with some remaining suspicion.

Whatever position you think he fits, you’ll have a hard time convincing me that this guy is worth the hype. He might be the most over rated 2012 draft eligible player – which says a lot given who he’s competing with for that honor.

Case in point… it’s third down on Louisville’s 5 yard line in the first quarter and Coples is playing right end. There’s no explosion off the snap and he engages the left tackle but can’t beat him round the edge. He tries a move to pull inside, but the tackle just passes him off to the freshman guard who just completely stones him still with a two hand punch to the chest. It was such a laboured move that didn’t threaten either offensive lineman – initial burst lacking, not enough speed and he’s beaten for power by a guard who’s learning the position on the run.

Coples doesn’t play with any real urgency or fire. He could make up for a lack of edge speed by just competing at 100% and flashing the kind of power you expect from someone at 280lbs and 6-6, but it’s never there. He hasn’t got a bull rush. He hasn’t got a spin move. He hasn’t got a good club or swim. What does he bring to the table other than a big frame and above average athleticism for that size? His hand usage needs to be much better, too often he gets tied up with a lineman when a sudden jolt or a club would free him up to get that extra space needed to work into the backfield. I don’t see a guy who finishes plays – the one time he did have an effective splash it was only to jolt the running back backwards for another defender to complete the move. Coples beat a converted wide out playing tight end who was hopelessly misplaced in that situation, hardly a moment worthy of great praise.

Another big problem I have is how often Coples is subbed out of the game. I didn’t keep an official count but he seems to be in on around 60% of the defensive snaps, switching with Donte Paige-Moss. Really?A top five pick who plays right end but you’re subbing him out for four consecutive plays when Louisville have moved from their own 35 to inside UNC territory? It would’ve been five plays but for a time out. I think back to defensive lineman I’ve watched in recent years and rated highly and how ridiculous it would be to think of those guys stood watching from the sidelines on key first downs. That’s Coples for you. Why? Does he get tired easily? Are the coaches not telling us about an injury? Is it a conditioning issue?

I’ve been critical of other players in the past for relying on speed and not mastering a technical move or owning a strong repertoire (eg another former Tar Heel – Robert Quinn). Coples doesn’t have the speed or the moves. He looks so laboured as a pass rusher, without lacking the obivous qualities to move inside. To some degree he reminds me of a poor man’s Carlos Dunlap – who has almost identical size at 6-6, 277lbs. During his time at Florida, Dunlap was pretty frustrating because he had excellent physical qualities but coasted through games. Every now and again though he’d turn it on for a series and look like an elite prospect. He went from a potential top-10 pick to a late second rounder, taken by Cincinnati, mainly due to attitude and inconsistency.

It was a bit of a wake up call for Dunlap, who registered 9.5 sacks in an impressive rookie season for the Bengals. Coples’ all round play reminds me of the worst of Dunlap, just without the ability to really turn it on every now and again. If the elite potential is there, then maybe I could buy into a little of the hype. Sometimes a guy’s best football really is in the pro’s. With Coples, I just can’t see it. He looks like a player I’d possibly take the chance on in round two (like Dunlap) but wouldn’t invest much more based on his body of work so far.

With regards to the Seahawks, I don’t see how he fits into the scheme and projecting him to Seattle would be a misguided projection in my mind. He isn’t a LEO candidate or a player who could spell the Red Bryant position. I don’t see him moving inside to the three technique.

I’m surprised so many people are willing to throw Coples into the top five of a mock draft or big board. The only thing more confusing to me is how established draft pundits actually give his time-share buddy Donte Paige-Moss a first round grade – a player who at no point during his career has flashed anything but average pass rushing ability and mid-to-late round qualities. Is it the real lack of elite defensive talent and people need someone to invest their faith in? I’m not sure, but I’d keep looking for a defensive player worthy of the grade.

The real stars on UNC’s defense come at linebacker and Zach Brown is a proper first round prospect (see video below, courtesy of JMPasq). In this game he was again all over the field, showing great recognition skills and the physical qualities to react and make an impact as the play develops. He had an interception reading the QB like a book and showed surprising strength when engaging lineman as a pass rusher.

Alongside receiver Dwight Jones, Brown is the Tar Heel who excites me the most in terms of the draft. Certainly I don’t see Coples being an early pick as the foregone conclusion many appear to have drawn. There’s still plenty of time for this assesment to change and certainly he has time to add to the 2.5 sacks he has this year (2.0 came against James Madison in week one). A major improvement is needed however to come anywhere near to justifying the lofty expectations.

Dwight Jones is a first round pick

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

I’ve been promoting Dwight Jones a lot and so far in 2011, he’s justified the attention. This is a player that has battled issues off the field, a lack of consistency and a general difficult situation at North Carolina with suspensions galore and mayhem behind the scenes. All the while Jones has been this raw talent, ready to excel and stamp his authority on the ACC and maybe one day the NFL.

It’s finally happening.

He could very well be the best senior prospect in his class. He may well be the best overall receiver too – ahead of Alshon Jeffery, Justin Blackmon, Jeff Fulller, Michael Floyd, Mohamed Sanu and any other name you want to throw out there. Jones has the complete physical package you want in a NFL receiver – size, hands, speed. He consistently finds ways to get open, something you just can’t teach and his ability to create separation against good corners in the ACC is a major plus point. He’s a deep threat but also has the acceleration from a standing start to punish teams on shorter routes.

Yet the thing that really stands out for me is the way Jones reacts and adjusts to the football so naturally. He’ll bail out your quarterback if he’s a fraction off target, he’ll make difficult catches look easy. His route running could use some polish, but we can’t expect a plethora of receiver prospects to be AJ Green in that department – it’s just part of the learning process.

Taking everything into consideration I truly believe he best fits the pure #1 WR role you want from a first round pick better than anyone else eligible for 2012. Consistency has been an issue in the past as we’ve mentioned, but not this season. In five games he has 514 yards and six touchdowns from 33 receptions. That’s more than Justin Blackmon (38 catches, 450 yards, four touchdowns) – the consensus pre-season favorite to once again win the Biletnikoff this year.

The tape above – courtesy of JMPasq – shows his performance against UNC  this year and although it’s only a teaser, I’d highlight the play he makes at the 0:35 mark. Pure speed, ability to accelerate quickly with YAC to boot. Look how quickly he gets up field after beating the first linebacker, that’s incredible pace for a man listed at 6-4 and 225lbs. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that he deserves a high first round grade and has the potential to become a real force in the NFL. Forget Jeffery and Blackmon, this is a guy to watch with real ability to be an early pick. His stock will grow if he continues to play at a high level.

If you want to see evidence of downfield seperation and to further understand why I’m spending so much time pushing this guy, check out the video below of his performance against Florida State last season – courtesy of Aaron Aloysius:

First round projections: October 2nd

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

UNC receiver Dwight Jones is a first round talent and may be the #1 receiver for 2012

We’re at week five of the college football season and I wanted to note the players I’ve seen that I feel are deserving of first round grades. It’s not a big list and it’s why I won’t compile a mock draft until closer to the new year. So far there are twelve players on the list. The first four guys (Luck, Barkley, Kalil and Richardson) are the only players I believe are worthy of top-five grades at this point.

*Note* – please remember that it’s still early. I’ll never make definite judgements based on 1-2 games and in some cases I just haven’t had the opportunity to watch certain teams/prospects. I’ll come back to this list in a month to see how things have changed.

The twelve prospects with first round grades as of October 2nd

Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
Decorated first round prospect who will be the #1 overall pick next April.

Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
The only other 2012 eligible quarterback who warrants a first round grade.

Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Hugely talented in pass protection and that will secure a top grade, but needs to improve his run blocking.

Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
Now a potential top-five pick considering the new rookie pay scale. Richardson is just brilliant.

Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
The complete package at wide receiver, Jones is now showing consistency and production.

Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
Always involved and jumps off the screen, the defensive MVP at UNC.

Peter Konz (C, Wisconsin)
Excellent interior line prospect who should be able to start quickly. Will he declare? Debatable.

Vontaze Burfict (LB, Arizona State)
Will bring attitude, talent and playmaking qualities to the NFL.

Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
An athletic lineman that teams will covet due to the importance of blind-side blocking.

Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
Sanu’s catching, running and blocking are all excellent – a unique physical talent.

Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina)
Big possession receiver who will make a very good #2 at the next level.

Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
At his best comparable to Greg Jennings & Roddy White, but there are too many little mistakes.

There are also several prospects I’ve watched either in 2010 or 2011 that have created some impression. I want to note those players here as having the potential to be among the first round group by next month. Again, these are just a selection of names and are not all-inclusive or definitive. Indeed these players may never reach first round consideration, but they’re some of the players I wanted to highlight.

Players who have created an impression without solidifying first round grades

TJ McDonald (S, USC)
Good against the run but also above average in coverage – the best safety prospect for 2012.

Nick Perry (DE, USC)
Perry is now playing at 100% and he’s getting to the quarterback. Technique matches speed.

Kheeston Randall (DT, Texas)
He moves well and he’s tough to shift. Randall gets into the backfield but needs to learn to finish.

Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina)
Initially a rotational cog, but has worked into a greater role. I started the year thinking he’d be a mid/late rounder, but he just keeps making huge plays.

Greg Reid (CB, Florida State)
Reid is physical despite a lack of ideal size and he has a future at the next level.

Brandon Thompson (DT, Clemson)
Production not good enough so far considering the supporting cast and a year with Da’Quan Bowers, but there is something there.

Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
Top-10 elite potential held back by off-field issues. AJ Green, Julio Jones and Alshon Jeffery had their worst games against Jenkins in 2010.

Marquis Spruill (OLB, Syracuse)
Electric linebacker prospect who will play three downs in the NFL.

Jayron Hosley (CB, Virginia Tech)
Hosley gets burned from time to time for being too aggressive, but he’s also a huge playmaker with 12 picks in the last year.

Jared Crick (DE, Nebraska)
At times Crick looks like a top-15 pick, but he also looks irrelevant at times too.

Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
Wright has enjoyed an explosive start to the season and despite lacking great size he’s becoming hard to ignore.

Logan Harrell (DT, Fresno State)
Under rated three-technique prospect who gets to the quarterback. I really like this guy.

Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
Pure physical potential but doesn’t make the most of it.

Austin Davis (QB, Southern Miss)
Davis is an under rated quarterback prospect who deserves greater attention.

Stephen Lee (WR, Georgia Tech)
Lee is a big and fast receiver who flashes moments of quality.

Jeff Fuller (WR, Texas A&M)
The only player who gave Patrick Peterson a hard time last year, but Fuller hasn’t exploded in 2011.

Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)
Curry is a consistent pass rusher who could lead the nation in sacks this year. LEO potential.

Alameda Ta’amu (DT, Washington)
Nose tackle prospect who is not in Phil Taylor’s class but he still has high first round potential.

Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
Reiff looked good blocking against Brandon Lindsey and Pittsburgh.

Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
So far it’s hard to ignore the terrific performances of this talented LSU corner in 2011.

Finally I wanted to note the five players who are generally given very high grades but I feel are over rated. That’s not to say that players like Quinton Coples and Landry Jones won’t be first round picks – maybe even early picks – but personally I wouldn’t advocate taking them as high as some have projected.

The top-five over rated prospects

Landry Jones (QB, Oklahoma)
A product of the Oklahoma offensive scheme, Jones hasn’t flashed top-end pro-potential in my view.

Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
Tall but should be much more physical than he is. A bit static, lacks fluidity and generally I haven’t been that impressed with Kirkpatrick.

Donte Paige-Moss (DE, North Carolina)
How is this guy graded in the first round by people who should know better? For the record, it’s one sack this year. One.

Jerel Worthy (DT, Michigan State)
Not great as a pass rusher or run stuffer and Worthy is often taken out for third downs.

Quinton Coples (North Carolina)
Coples is all about physical potential, but too often he’s annonymous.

Special mention: Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M) and Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)- two project quarterbacks at the next level that people appear desperate to promote above their means seemingly to justify premature and inaccurate claims that 2012 presents a rare class of QB’s. Tannehill is much more polished than Griffin III, but he’s still relatively inexperienced and learning the position. He stares down receivers and he’s not used to going through progressions. There’s a high degree of athletic potential and his technique is better than you’d expect, but he’s strictly a project in my mind. Griffin’s numbers are sensational this season, but he’s not a polished passer and his footwork needs a complete re-work. Team’s will show interest earlier than they should based on athleticism and leadership, but he’s a long term developmental project and I struggle to imagine Griffin III playing in the NFL.