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An early projection on legit first round grades

Monday, January 14th, 2019

Thirty-two players will be drafted in round one. The number of players receiving ‘legit’ first round grades will be a much smaller number.

Teams don’t grade 32 players in round one, 32 in round two and so on. They might have a very small number of players they’re willing to grade in round one.

On average you might get 12-18 players in the first frame. Last year I thought there might be between 10-15. I thought there might be approximately 14 in 2016.

It’s still too early to say for sure. The Senior Bowl and Combine always impact the list. My projection today would be at least 14-18. It would’ve been higher had Derrick Brown and Raekwon Davis not opted to stay at Auburn and Alabama respectively.

Kyler Murray today declared and as I’ve been saying for a while, I think he’s the most talented player in the draft. I wrote about him being the best draft eligible quarterback, built an argument for the Seahawks drafting him, put him at the top of my tiered rankings with Nick Bosa and argued the Cardinals should think about taking him with the #1 pick.

I don’t think there’s any doubt he’ll be a first round selection. The question is — how early does he go? Will he be the first pick taken by either the Cardinals or a team trading up? Does he get out of the top-10?

For me, any player who can do this…

…goes very, very early.

John Schneider attended the West Virginia vs Oklahoma game. I’d imagine one of the reasons would’ve been to see Murray in person. Why wouldn’t you? He’s a phenomenal talent.

Here’s what Bob McGinn’s scouting sources had to say about him:

“I don’t know what you do with a guy that’s 5-9 but he is something special… He would be a shorter version of Patrick Mahomes. He can be that special. He’d probably run like a 4.4 something. He’s a better football player than Baker Mayfield because he runs so well.

“He can be going full speed left or right and throw the ball the length of the field. I haven’t really broken him down yet because I figure he’s going to play baseball. But you go ‘wow, wow, wow!’ when you watch him. I wouldn’t want to defend him.

“The amazing thing is his arm strength. He’s accurate, too. He’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Mahomes.”

The Mahomes comparison, for me, is profound. They’re cut from the same cloth. Different body types. Not identical playing styles. But they have that same ability to throw with power and accuracy all over the field, make the improbable happen and be a complete playmaker.

I wouldn’t have any issue with the Seahawks drafting Murray as insurance to Russell Wilson. If they can’t extend Wilson and need to franchise him twice (in 2020 and 2021) or even if they extend him for four more years — have the heir apparent ready and waiting. Give yourself a bargaining chip in negotiations with Mark Rodgers. There’s nothing wrong with having a quality backup. You can always trade him (see: Jimmy Garoppolo) and the Packers spent two high picks preparing for life after Brett Favre (Aaron Rodgers, Brian Brohm).

It’s highly unlikely Murray lasts into range for the Seahawks but I’d have absolutely no issue with them taking him. Even if Wilson enjoys many more successful years as the starting QB. You just can’t pass on a talent like this.

So what about the rest of the draft and possible ‘legit’ round one prospects?

The top three in the class are probably Murray (QB, Oklahoma), Nick Bosa (DE, Ohio State) and Quinnen Williams (DT, Alabama). Clelin Ferrell (DE, Clemson) isn’t too far behind and neither are his Clemson team mates Dexter Lawrence (DT) and Christian Wilkins (DT).

The NFL is dominated by big, athletic pass rushers. Plenty of teams will be prepared to draft Rashan Gary (DE, Michigan) in the top-10 despite a slightly disappointing college career. His upside as a former #1 recruit is unquestionable.

Devin White (LB, LSU) can feel very secure about his place in round one and if Devin Bush (LB, Michigan) has a big performance at the combine, he’ll claim a first round home.

There are fair concerns about Ed Oliver (DT, Houston) and his next-level role. He’s undersized to play defensive tackle but lacks the length or frame to play defensive end. Even so, his athletic profile and talent likely secures a top-15 range.

Jachai Polite (EDGE, Florida) and Josh Allen (LB, Kentucky) will also hear their names called in the top-20.

That’s 12 on my list so far. Jeffery Simmons (DT, Mississippi State) undoubtedly deserves to be given a first round grade based on his play and incredible upside. We’ll have to wait and see how teams view his stock following a serious incident in High School that will leave many uncomfortable selecting him early (or at all).

Oklahoma tackle Cody Ford also deserves a mention. He has a massive frame but moves with excellent agility and has a terrific kick-slide. At the very least he could be a fantastic guard at the next level.

I personally wouldn’t include Dwayne Haskins (QB, Ohio State) but many teams will. Quarterback-needy teams could also consider Daniel Jones (QB, Duke) and Drew Lock (QB, Missouri) in round one.

Greedy Williams (CB, LSU) could end up being a consensus first rounder but not for me. I’m equally unconvinced Jonah Williams (T, Alabama) warrants such a grade.

You could certainly make a case for Marquise Brown (WR, Oklahoma) but he’s probably more of a R2 grade who still goes in the first frame. Byron Murphy (CB, Washington), Zach Allen (DE, Boston College), Jawaan Taylor (T, Florida) and Dre’Mont Jones (DT, Ohio State) are in a similar position.

I suspect there’ll be mixed grades on Greg Little (T, Ole Miss) and Jaylon Ferguson (EDGE, Louisiana Tech). This is why the combine is such a vital event — how much athletic potential do these players have? Especially those needing to work on technique.

Mack Wilson (LB, Alabama) has first round potential after opting to turn pro. Alabama often left him as the deepest player on the field on key passing downs. His coverage ability is a big plus and he hits like a hammer.

The combine will be big for the receivers and tight ends. Both positions have depth without an obvious order of talent or a clear prospect who goes early. Win at the combine and we could see some big risers. The worst case scenario is we see a lot of WR’s and TE’s leaving the board in round two.

Wisconsin’s Michael Deiter is a player who intrigues me a lot. He’s about 6-5 and 320lbs. He switched from left tackle to guard and he looks at home in the role. He previously had limitations against speed and the top athletes working the edge. Now he excels as a terrific interior mauler. He gets into blocks quickly and is very capable of locking on at the second level. He plays with a nasty edge and will often play to the whistle (and beyond) and bury defenders into the ground. He anchors well and you rarely see him jolted off the LOS allowing penetration into the backfield. There’s evidence of him pulling to the right and sealing blocks in the run game.

I don’t know how early Deiter will go but he looks like an early starter and a player with the potential to start for a number of years at left guard. Keep an eye on him at the Senior Bowl. I’d give him a second round grade at the moment. He could easily land in the top-45. I had him at #39 in our first two-round mock.

So how does the class look in terms of legit first round grades? Not bad at all with room for more after the Senior Bowl & combine. What makes this draft class so unique is the way it’s weighted to the defensive line. Other traditional ‘cornerstone’ positions like left tackle, cornerback and receiver are weak at the top of round one. Linebacker will also be seen as a first-day strength. But there are just so many talented D-liners. We could see ten (or more) go in the first round.

Don’t forget to check out our other recent articles:

Prediction: A modest off-season and lots of trading down

Roster predictions, Devin Bush & more

Podcast: Dallas aftermath, the 2018 season and looking ahead

The start of the Seahawks off-season article

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Prediction: A modest off-season and lots of trading down

Sunday, January 13th, 2019

I think I made a mistake a week ago.

Pete Carroll held his usual end of season press conference. It’s often quite revealing. Carroll provides a steer for the off-season, even if he’s not giving away any state secrets.

Initially it appeared Carroll was being quite vague when asked about off-season priorities:

“We’re pleased with the progress that we’ve made with the guys we have. We don’t think there are big voids or big holes.”

In an interview with 950 KJR after his press conference, Carroll was asked what the needs on the roster are:

“Across the board we need to develop our competitiveness. We need to get the young guys who missed out on this season… to come forth and challenge the spots and make everybody better.”

He goes on to reference the returning players — Will Dissly and Jamarco Jones — plus other younger guys like Rasheem Green. Carroll also talked up Delano Hill’s emergence.

At first this appeared to be a fantastic way of avoiding answering the question. I think there’s more to it now.

It speaks to Seattle’s need for depth, although Carroll believes he has a developing core. It’s also hard to say what areas they’ll be able to address.

Let’s take every point in turn.

1. It speaks to Seattle’s lack of depth

Between 2011 and 2014, a second-string Seahawks team could’ve won games in the regular season. Opponents were destroyed in pre-season. It was the deepest, most competitive roster in the league.

That wasn’t the case in 2018. They lost all four pre-season games. The depth was exposed a little. That happened in the regular season too.

Part of this will be solved by players gaining experience, playing time and information. Part of this will be new additions. It is a big priority this off-season though. They need to be deeper and more competitive across the board.

2. Carroll believes a core is there

We’ll spend an off-season debating and discussing Seattle’s greatest needs. It’s worth remembering they have the following:

— A franchise QB
— A legit starting LT
— Two really good receivers
— The most productive running game in the NFL
— Two defensive linemen combining for 24.5 sacks in 2018
— The NFL’s best linebacker

That’s a lot of pieces there. Enough to be among the contenders. Improving the depth and experience around this core group will enable the Seahawks to take the next step and compete for the NFC West (and at least one home playoff game).

3. It’s hard to say what areas they’ll be able to address

They have a lot of work to do this off-season. It starts with franchising or re-signing Frank Clark. It develops into a decision on players like J.R. Sweezy, D.J. Fluker, K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks. You’ve got a whole bunch of RFA’s and ERFA’s. You need to fill out the roster similar to last year with some calculated moves in free agency. You also need to think about the future — with Jarran Reed, Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson all out of contract after 2019.

When you think about it like that, it’s a stack of issues to address. Few teams have this much work to do. If your intention is to extend Wilson, Wagner and Reed — you need two out of three extended before the season ends. Otherwise, you’re going to lose one. You only get one franchise tag.

It’s unclear how much cap room they’ll have to spend but the chances are it’ll be severely limited after all the new deals are handed out. It’s very possible they won’t have the flexibility — in terms of cap room or draft picks — to make major additions.

Carroll’s understated words on priorities and needs might actually be quite revealing if you interpret them as I’m considering now. I think he expects quite a modest off-season. One that does focus on re-signing and developing the existing group.

So here are a couple of predictions on reflection…

1. Free agency will be like a year ago

For all the speculation about Ndamukong Suh and other possible additions, the Seahawks stayed well clear of any big moves in free agency. They targeted players like Ed Dickson, Barkevious Mingo, Tom Johnson, Shamar Stephen and eventually — D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy.

Their biggest priority was re-signing and keeping Bradley McDougald.

There’s always a chance an opportunity arises. If there’s a 2019 version of the Michael Bennett/Cliff Avril deals from six years ago, the Seahawks may well go after it. If that doesn’t happen, selective and cost-effective additions in the second and third wave of free agency seem more likely. They have to prioritise keeping their own (in 2019 and 2020) and will not be left with millions to spend, even if $60-70m in available cap room seems appealing at the moment. It will evaporate quickly.

Again, adding more competition and depth could be the key.

2. The draft will involve a lot of trading back

This would be different if they had all seven draft picks and some comp picks were due. Instead they have just four picks. That’s what happens when you’re caught between an aggressive ‘got for it’ approach one year (2017) and then face an immediate reset operation (2018) and aren’t able to trade away players before they reach free agency (Earl Thomas).

While a lot of fans will spend an off-season pitching ‘just take a blue chip guy’ at #21, the Seahawks have to weigh up the options.

I’m going to publish a post this week discussing how many ‘legit’ first round grades will be offered in this draft class. I think it could be around 14-18. So at #21, the options might be pretty similar to the options at #35 or later.

Even if a player drops unexpectedly, trading down might still be inevitable. I know a lot of people like to reference Derwin James ‘being one pick away’ a year ago. I’m 100% convinced they would’ve traded down had James lasted to #18. They had a first round pick then nothing until round four. They had minimal stock. It wasn’t unfair for them, in any scenario at #18, to try and create more and fix other needs (namely what they judged to be their top need — fixing the run — and getting a pass rusher).

I’d expect something similar this year too. I suspect they’ll want to have 7-8 selections. That could mean trading down from #21 two or three times (as they’ve done in the past).

I think it’s highly possible we’ll see a repeat of a year ago (and some longer Seahawks draft trends) of identifying ‘their guys’ in the range they know they can get them. They knew in round three in 2018 they could get a pass rusher with a terrific short shuttle and low and behold — Rasheem Green and Sam Hubbard were available in their range. They took Will Dissly in a place where they could guarantee getting him. They traded up for Michael Dickson, secured Tre Flowers in their typical range for a cornerback (fifth round).

Assess the board after the Senior Bowl, combine and pro-days. Find the guys who ‘fit’. Manipulate the board to get as many of those guys as possible.

I could be totally wrong here. They might be more aggressive than ever. We’ll see. They’re always looking for an opportunity. On reflection though, I think there’s more to Carroll’s words than I first thought. The last time he spoke in this way — 2014 — they had a very quiet free agency period highlighted only by re-signing Michael Bennett. They then traded down twice from #32 and #40 before taking their guy (Paul Richardson) at pick #45. They passed on several of the ‘bigger names’ by moving down.

The big difference is, of course, the Seahawks were coming off a Super Bowl. But Carroll’s words — “(We) don’t see anything we need to add… We just have to get better” — are almost identical to what he said last week.

This is my off-season prediction for Seattle:

— A fairly modest and quiet free agency period similar to last year with a focus on keeping the core together.

— A draft that involves a lot of trading down and a focus on acquiring positional preferences in terms of physical profile and character to add further competition and depth to a 10-win roster.

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Friday notes: Roster predictions, Devin Bush & more

Friday, January 11th, 2019

Firstly, if you missed the UK Seahawkers podcast yesterday don’t forget to check it out below. I was invited on and we get into some big topics — the Dallas game, the 2018 season and the future of the Seahawks. Have a listen…

Predicting the future

The Seahawks have big calls to make on several members of the roster. Here are some early predictions on how some of these situations will play out…

Frank Clark
Pete Carroll has made it very clear Clark will stay with the team. The key is whether there’s any chance of a long-term extension or will he receive the franchise tag? I suspect Clark will ask for top money. The Seahawks won’t want him to reach the market. The franchise tag will be used and that’ll be the starting point for a long term deal that could be completed at some point over the spring or summer.

Jarran Reed
Reed timed it perfectly to have a career-best season, putting up gaudy sack numbers. Has he potentially priced himself out of getting a deal done this off-season? Maybe. After all, he can ask for big money now. The Seahawks would no doubt love to get him tied down as part of a new young core. It’ll require some give and take. Perhaps they’ll wait to make a deal during the 2019 season?

K.J. Wright
Wright is clearly loved by the players and staff. The Seahawks undoubtedly want to keep him. The problem is, Wright is a good enough player for someone to pay reasonably big bucks for. Just look how well he played against Dallas. If you’ve got a lot of cap room, you might take a chance on his knee to get his talent and leadership. The Colts and 49ers, for example, could be teams that show a lot of interest. They can afford to take a chance on his health. He’ll likely reach the market and the Seahawks will have a number in mind. If it gets blown out of the water, what can they do? I suspect this probably happens and, sadly, Wright moves on.

Mychal Kendricks
Carroll has already referenced bringing Kendricks back. It makes sense anyway but it’ll be a priority if K.J. Wright departs. Kendricks likely respects the opportunity Seattle gave him in 2018 and the Seahawks clearly benefited from his play. A deal, probably for one or two seasons, seems inevitable.

Justin Coleman
Coleman is the type of player you ideally keep but probably don’t overpay for. The Seahawks plucked him from New England in the Cassius Marsh trade and might prefer to go hunting for another bargain. It seems likely Coleman reaches the market, just as Jeremy Lane did back in the day, and the Seahawks assess their options. They might make a generous offer (as they did for Lane) if other moves don’t come off and they have some money to spend. They might get him back on a very reasonable contract if his market is lukewarm. Or he could get paid elsewhere. It seems like the most fluid and open-ended situation and could go either way.

Earl Thomas
Earl is moving on to a new team. There’s no doubt here. The Seahawks clearly made a decision not to pay him a third contract. A year ago they were willing to trade him. They were equally prepared to lose him as a free agent in 2019. And that’s what is going to happen. Some fans might want to cling to the hope he will return but we know it isn’t realistic.

J.R. Sweezy & D.J. Fluker
I’ve clubbed these two players together because I think it’s inevitable both will remain. In London I asked Pete Carroll if he wanted to keep both. He didn’t just say ‘yes’, he suggested they were part of the new core. And it’s no surprise. The O-line helped set the tone and did more than anyone to regain the physical style Carroll and John Schneider are looking for. Plus Sweezy and Fluker have both expressed interest bordering on excitement about staying in Seattle.

Still trying to figure out Michigan’s Devin Bush

There are a lot of impressive parts to his game. His quickness to go sideline-to-sideline and run in pursuit is top level. He reads plays very quickly and has outstanding athleticism to react and get to the ball carrier. On one red zone snap against Ohio State he was lined up at weakside backer, detected early that it was going to be a swing pass to the running back and made a break to the ball carrier. He covered a lot of ground in no time at all, dodged a blocking receiver and made the tackle. It’s this type of exceptional quickness and understanding that puts him in the round one conversation. He’s also a terrific blitzer, he hits like a sledgehammer and rarely misses tackles. He’s strong, powerful, tough and fast. When he correctly reads an inside run he’ll be patient and deliver a jarring blow at the LOS.

However, he was also used predominantly as an attacker. He would be encouraged, pretty much on all of his snaps, to attack the LOS and be aggressive. It occasionally meant he would be too aggressive — taking bad angles, running under blocks or failing to contain the edge. There were times where he conceded some decent gains in the running game. Was it the scheme? The role? Quite possibly. He has the athleticism and toughness to be a very effective starter in the NFL. But it’s out there on tape. And at 5-11 and 232lbs he doesn’t have the length to stay clean like a K.J. Wright and keep blockers off his frame.

He’d be an exciting addition to any defense. Whether he can limit some of the flaws vs the run to become a fantastic run-and-hit tone-setter is the key question.

Latest news on declarations

Alabama’s Raekwon Davis is staying in school. It’s another surprise after Derrick Brown and Jabari Zuniga both chose not to declare. It’s still a very deep D-line class but it won’t be quite as deep with this trio opting not to turn pro.

Irv Smith Jr and Josh Jacobs are heading for the NFL (both Alabama). Smith Jr has NFL bloodlines (his father was a former #20 overall pick as a tight end). He had a productive 2018 season essentially in the role of a big slot receiver. He wasn’t asked to do much blocking. There’s a feeling he won’t run a great forty yard dash. He could be the first tight end taken. My prediction at the moment is for a run on the position in round two. Jacobs had a really strong end to the season but seems like a bit of a ‘flavour of the month’ candidate. Rodney Anderson, Damien Harris and Benny Snell Jr all played well enough to warrant higher grades. That doesn’t mean Jacobs is a poor player. He has excellent physical skills and could be a good pro.

Jonah Williams the Alabama left tackle has declared for the draft. He’s one of the more overrated 2019 prospects and struggled badly against Clemson in the National Championship. He lacks top level strength and power to make up for below average length and footwork/agility. A lot of people project him as a top-15 pick but not for me. I wouldn’t take him in round one.

Quinnen Williams is also turning pro. He’s a nailed-on top five pick.

And then there’s Kyler Murray. For me, the top draft eligible player. The prospect who should go #1 overall — taken by either the Cardinals or a team trading up. Murray is the real deal with superstar potential. Reportedly he is leaning towards picking football instead of baseball.

Murray is a special talent with an opportunity to come into the league and have a Patrick Mahomes type of impact. I’ve put him at #1 in my last few mocks and that won’t change any time soon if he declares. What a talent.

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Mock draft: Two rounds, multiple trades

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

Time for a two-round mock draft that includes the Raiders trading for Antonio Brown, the Seahawks moving down twice to accumulate picks and the Broncos moving up to the #1 pick to get a quarterback…

First round

#1 Denver trades with Arizona to select Kyler Murray (QB, Oklahoma)
Murray is the most talented player eligible for the draft. The Broncos make a huge trade to get a potential superstar (if he chooses football…).

#2 San Francisco — Nick Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
The Niners get lucky and land the best defensive player and a complete pass rusher.

#3 New York Jets — Clelin Ferrell (DE, Clemson)
The Jets need an edge rusher not an interior rusher, so they go with Ferrell.

#4 Oakland — Quinnen Williams (DT, Alabama)
The Raiders snap up a player who could remind Jon Gruden of Warren Sapp.

#5 Tampa Bay — Rashan Gary (DE, Michigan)
A former #1 national recruit — teams will love Gary’s upside and he’ll go very early.

#6 New York Giants — Dwayne Haskins (QB, Ohio State)
Haskins is a bit overrated but the Giants are a good fit.

#7 Jacksonville — Dexter Lawrence (DT, Clemson)
The Jags sign a veteran QB (Joe Flacco?) and then draft a replacement for Marcell Dareus.

#8 Detroit — Jachai Polite (EDGE, Florida)
Polite plays with a relentless effort and regularly battled double teams at Florida.

#9 Buffalo — Christian Wilkins (DT, Clemson)
Wilkins will have an outstanding combine, teams will love his interviews and he’ll go early.

#10 Arizona trades with Denver and selects Devin White (LB, LSU)
Having moved down from #1 overall and acquired a bevy of picks, the Cardinals draft a rock-solid LB.

#11 Cincinnati — Jeffery Simmons (DT, Mississippi State)
If there’s one team that won’t have any issue drafting Simmons, it’s the team that selected Joe Mixon.

#12 Green Bay — Josh Allen (LB, Kentucky)
The top-five talk is a bit rich for a player who needs to be stronger. He suits a 3-4.

#13 Miami — Daniel Jones (QB, Duke)
It seems inevitable Miami will make a change at QB. The Senior Bowl is huge for Jones.

#14 Atlanta — Ed Oliver (DT, Houston)
Ed Oliver is a wonderful talent. But what’s his fit at the next level?

#15 Washington — Drew Lock (QB, Missouri)
Alex Smith’s future is uncertain but his contract is locked in. They need a cheap alternative.

#16 Houston trades up with Carolina for Greedy Williams (CB, LSU)
The Texans make a big move to solve a huge need.

#17 Philadelphia trades up with Cleveland for Raekwon Davis (DT, Alabama)
The Eagles like to be aggressive and target talented linemen.

#18 Minnesota — Cody Ford (T, Oklahoma)
He has great feet for his size. If he doesn’t work out at tackle, he’ll be a top guard.

#19 Tennessee — Jaylon Ferguson (EDGE, Louisiana Tech)
Major production, big talent — very raw.

#20 Pittsburgh — Byron Murphy (CB, Washington)
Highly competitive and gritty. Gets after the ball and hits like a rhino.

#21 Green Bay trades with Seattle to select David Edwards (T, Wisconsin)
The Seahawks traded with the Packers a year ago and history repeats here. Green Bay needs some new blood on the O-line.

#22 Baltimore — Greg Little (T, Ole Miss)
I think Little will kick inside to guard. He’s suited to the move.

#23 Carolina trades down with Houston for Taylor Rapp (S, Washington)
The Panthers reportedly want to target the safety position this year.

#24 Pittsburgh trades with Oakland for Dre’Mont Jones (DT, Ohio State)
The Raiders make a big splash and trade a first rounder plus for Antonio Brown.

#25 Cleveland trades down with Philadelphia and selects Marquise Brown (WR, Oklahoma)
The Browns select Antonio’s cousin to take his place in the AFC North and give Baker Mayfield another weapon.

#26 Indianapolis — Devin Bush (LB, Michigan)
The Colts get a speedy partner for Darius Leonard.

#27 Oakland — Zach Allen (DE, Boston College)
The Raiders get a steal to go with Quinnen Williams and Antonio Brown from the first frame.

#28 Los Angeles Chargers — Jawaan Taylor (T, Florida)
The Chargers don’t have many holes and have regularly invested in their O-line.

#29 New England — Parris Campbell (WR, Ohio State)
He’s fast and explosive and might just be the kind of weapon they like in New England.

#30 Los Angeles Rams — D’Andre Walker (EDGE, Georgia)
If they don’t re-sign Dante Fowler, Walker could be a cheaper alternative.

#31 Kansas City — Jerry Tillery (DT, Notre Dame)
They need to do something to improve the defense.

#32 The New York Giants trade with Seattle to select Jonah Williams (T, Alabama)
The Giants leapfrog the Cardinals to add an (overrated) offensive lineman.

Second round

#33 Arizona — Max Scharping (T, Northern Illinois)
Some think Scharping is better than Eric Fisher was entering the league.

#34 Indianapolis — A.J. Brown (WR, Ole Miss)
The Colts see an opportunity to get value in Brown.

#35 Oakland — Albert Okwuegbunam (TE, Missouri)
It’s believed Okwuegbunam will have an outstanding combine performance.

#36 San Francisco — Johnathan Abram (S, Mississippi State)
A tone setting safety with a great attitude and leadership qualities.

#37 Seattle trades down with the Giants and selects Montez Sweat (EDGE, Mississippi State)
After trading down from #21 to #32, then from #32 to #37, the Seahawks add some picks and then some speed, length and pass rush to the front seven.

#38 Jacksonville — T.J Hockenson (TE, Iowa)
The Jags attacked the TE position a year ago and might go back for more this year.

#39 Tampa Bay — Michael Deiter (G, Wisconsin)
There’s a feeling Deiter might be the best pure guard in the draft class.

#40 Buffalo — Irv Smith Jr (TE, Alabama)
He’s basically a big slot receiver. I’m not sure he’ll be a great tester at the combine.

#41 Arizona trades with Denver and selects Noah Fant (TE, Iowa)
The run on tight ends continues. This is part of Denver’s package to move up to #1 overall.

#42 Cincinnati — Kaden Smith (TE, Stanford)
Don’t be surprised if we see a lot of TE’s go in this range. Smith might be the best.

#43 Detroit — DeAndre Baker (CB, Georgia)
He has talent but he’s small and struggles to track the ball in the air. He might last.

#44 Green Bay — Deebo Samuel (WR, South Carolina)
Looks stocky but has surprising quickness and he’s a great returner.

#45 Atlanta — Brian Burns (EDGE, Florida)
Burns is immensely talented but if he weighs 225lbs how can he go in round one?

#46 Washington — Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (CB, Florida)
Great competitor, great personality. Boom or bust as a playmaker.

#47 Carolina — Damien Harris (RB, Alabama)
Why not have a fantastic compliment to Christian McCaffrey?

#48 Miami — Gerald Willis III (DT, Miami)
Had an outstanding 2018 with major TFL production. He’ll excel in the short shuttle.

#49 Cleveland — Andre Dillard (T, Washington State)
Some scouts reportedly see Dillard as the best pass-blocker in a weak tackle class.

#50 Minnesota — Christian Miller (LB, Alabama)
If they lose Anthony Barr in free agency, Miller could be a replacement.

#51 Tennessee — Trayvon Mullen (CB, Clemson)
It is not a good corner class. Mullen has the potential to go in this range or earlier.

#52 Pittsburgh — Rodney Anderson (RB, Oklahoma)
A first round talent who lasts because he’s recovering from injury.

#53 Philadelphia — Benny Snell Jr (RB, Kentucky)
A really physical runner who has enjoyed a couple of great years in the SEC.

#54 Houston — Kris Boyd (CB, Texas)
The Texans double-dip at corner after a nightmare 2018 season at the position.

#55 Houston — Colton McKivitz (T, West Virginia)
He’s not as athletic as team mate Yodney Cajuste but he’s more consistent.

#56 New England — Jordan Kunaszyk (LB, California)
A good combine could launch the physical Kunaszyk up the boards. He ran a 4.29 short shuttle at SPARQ.

#57 Philadelphia — Kelvin Harmon (WR, NC State)
The Eagles might lose two receivers in free agency (Jordan Matthews & Golden Tate).

#58 Dallas — Deionte Thompson (S, Alabama)
I’m not sure why Thompson is considered a first round prospect. There’s no evidence for it. He looks like a Seahawks corner convert.

#59 Indianapolis — Austin Bryant (EDGE, Clemson)
Situational rusher but he often finds a way to make a sack or TFL.

#60 Los Angeles Chargers — Jaquan Johnson (S, Miami)
A safety partner for Derwin James. Small but physical.

#61 New England — Chase Winovich (EDGE, Michigan)
He just seems destined for the Patriots, doesn’t he?

#62 Kansas City — Elgton Jenkins (C, Mississippi State)
He had a rough outing against Quinnen Williams but who didn’t?

#63 Kansas City — Te’von Coney (LB, Notre Dame)
Not that exciting to study but a good combine would help Coney.

#64 New Orleans — N’Keal Harry (WR, Arizona State)
Looks the part but can you trust him to separate and make plays?

The trades in review

1. Denver trading up for Kyler Murray
There’s no doubt in my mind that Murray is the special talent eligible for this draft and a potential superstar. The Broncos need some magic at the QB position and make a bold move involving multiple high picks to grab Murray (assuming he chooses football over baseball).

2. Houston trading up for Greedy Williams
I think Williams is a bit overrated as a top-10 lock but he is the best corner eligible in this class. The Texans need major help at the position so make a big move up the board when Williams lasts into the teens. The Panthers are willing to strike a deal because they want to move down and get better value at the safety position.

3. Philadelphia trading up for Raekwon Davis
The Eagles usually focus on the trenches and are always willing to make a big move. Davis is extremely talented with Calais Campbell-type size. Philly sees an opportunity to go up and get him.

4. Green Bay trading up for David Edwards
The Wisconsin tackle has the kind of attitude you expect from Green Bay’s O-line and could be coveted as a long term replacement for Bryan Bulaga. The two teams made a deal a year ago and the Packers might be aggressive considering they own two first round picks. Here they give Seattle their third round pick and a little more on the side.

5. Oakland trades for Antonio Brown
If it wasn’t obvious by now, the Raiders are all-in on making headlines ahead of the move to Las Vegas. What could be more headline grabbing than a big trade for Antonio Brown? They have the draft stock to make it happen. Here they give up pick #24 plus change.

6. The New York Giants trading up for Jonah Williams
If the Seahawks can get to pick #32 some teams might be keen to jump ahead of Arizona to get at what’s left of the O-line class. The Seahawks get a day three pick in the deal to help fill out their board.

What it means for the Seahawks

They trade down twice and accumulate three picks in the process (let’s say Green Bay’s third and sixth rounder, plus New York’s fifth rounder). That gives them seven picks instead of four.

With their first selection at #37 they take Montez Sweat. As noted earlier in the week, I’m still trying to work out where Sweat fits into this draft. Will teams fall for his 35.5-inch arms and dynamic speed off the edge? Or will they have concerns about his ability to defend the run and weird spell at Michigan State?

In this mock I’m pairing him with the Seahawks — a team that has always been willing to roll the dice on a certain type of player with major upside. Sweat has the length and the twitchy quickness they love. He could be a complimentary pass-rusher for Frank Clark and improve the speed up front. Clark is one of, if not the most explosive edge rushers in the league. Pairing him with Sweat’s speed could be a nice combo.

Instead of picks in rounds one, three, four and five — these trades would give the Seahawks picks in rounds two, three (x2), four, five (x2) and six. The third frame could be a good area to look at the wide receiver or defensive tackle position. They’d have three picks to target defensive backs at the start of day three (their usual range for the secondary). They’d also have a sixth rounder.

It’s still incredibly early to project what they might do on draft day — but this kind of plan makes some degree of sense. They’re not going to spend just four picks in the 2019 draft — and the only way they’ll accumulate more is by trading down from #21.

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Monday notes: Pete Carroll press conference edition

Monday, January 7th, 2019

Carroll: there are no ‘big voids’

At the end of every season Pete Carroll conducts a press conference. And every year, Carroll is candid about how his team can take the next step.

In previous years he’s noted they need to fix the run, add more speed in the front seven and enhance the pass rush. It’s usually somewhat revealing.

Today was the first time since 2014 that this wasn’t the case.

When asked specifically about needs, Carroll mentioned a conversation with John Schneider before announcing:

“We’re pleased with the progress that we’ve made with the guys we have. We don’t think there are big voids or big holes.”

Sound familiar?

This is what Carroll said after the Super Bowl parade five years ago:

“(We) don’t see anything we need to add. We just have to get better.”

“It’s not going to be something from outside of us. We have what we need.”

The message on both occasions was similar. Just get a bit better. No glaring needs.

Of course, this is a very different roster these days. ‘Just get better’ in 2014 meant adding to the best team in the league. In 2019 they’re looking to improve depth and find more key players to help regain the NFC West and secure at least one home playoff game.

It’s worth considering how they approached the 2014 off-season though to see if there are any clues to be had.

The draft that year was absolutely loaded at receiver. Three went in the top-12 (Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and Odell Beckham Jr) with a further nine (Brandin Cooks, Kelvin Benjamin, Marqise Lee, Jordan Matthews, Paul Richardson, Davante Adams, Cody Latimer, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry) coming off the board before the end of round two.

It was the clear and established draft strength going in. It’s no surprise either. Among that list are some of the NFL’s best current playmakers. What a group it proved to be.

The 2019 draft also has a very clear draft strength on the defensive line.

Five of the 2014 receivers were taken in the first round. Per Bob McGinn’s scouting sources, we could see at least 10 D-liners in the first frame this year:

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said the scout, a veteran with more than 30 drafts under his belt. “Call off the names.

“Most NFL teams don’t have defensive lines as good as Clemson’s. Then they have three backups that are just as good.”

If we’re making comparisons to Carroll’s words in 2014 — and if the Seahawks have a similar feeling about progressing the roster — it’s possible they will again look to tap into the draft strength once again after trading down. Five years ago they moved from #32 to #45 and selected Paul Richardson — their preferred receiver. Moving down from #21 to a range where they can get their preferred defensive linemen is a fair prediction entering the off-season.

Meanwhile, Carroll again reiterated his desire to re-sign Frank Clark: “I’m counting on it. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

On the approach since losing in Dallas: “John (Schneider) has a master plan of carrying this out… we’re already well into it.”

Is there a chance K.J. Wright returns? Carroll certainly made it very clear he’d like to see it happen: “We’d love to have K.J. back with us. That’s one of the many issues… Everything he stands for is what we love about him and we’d love him to be here throughout.”

On whether D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy will return: “We’d love to keep those guys together.”

Carroll is very confident the roster is in good shape following a 10-6 season: “You can tell the nucleus, the core, of a championship team is here.”

It was also noted that Naz Jones has officially moved to play the five-technique and David Moore was identified as a player who could potentially improve the most from year two to three.

The history of the #21 overall pick

With Philadelphia beating Chicago in the playoffs, the Seahawks are locked into the #21 spot in this years draft. Here are the last 10 picks at #21:

2018 — Billy Price (C, Ohio State) — Cincinnati
2017 — Jarrad Davis (LB, Florida) — Detroit
2016 — Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame) — Houston
2015 — Cedric Ogbuehi (T, Texas A&M) — Cincinnati
2014 — Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama) — Green Bay
2013 — Tyler Eifert (TE, Notre Dame) — Cincinnati
2012 — Chandler Jones (DE, Syracuse) — New England
2011 — Phillip Taylor (DT, Baylor) — Cleveland
2010 — Jermaine Gresham (TE, Oklahoma) — Cincinnati
2009 — Alex Mack (C, California) — Cleveland

It’s a great example of Cincinnati’s playoff misery under Marvin Lewis (the #21 pick is awarded to the lowest seed beaten in the wildcard round).

Two key defensive linemen won’t enter the draft

It’s going to be an exceptional D-line class but two names won’t be part of it. Auburn’s brilliant defensive tackle Derrick Brown is returning to college football. So is Florida pass rusher Jabari Zuniga.

Brown, a former 5-star recruit, had the potential to land in the top-15. He’s a complete defensive tackle who plays with attitude.

Zuniga put together an excellent 2018 season playing across from Jachai Polite. He could’ve sneaked into round one with a good combine.

A thin-looking safety class also took a hit with the news Georgia’s J.R. Reed will return as a redshirt senior in 2019.

Montez Sweat will be a difficult one to project

I’ve watched practically all of Mississippi State’s 2018 games. There’s a lot of talent on their defense. We’ve talked about Jeffery Simmons and Johnathan Abram. Willie Gay Jr is an unbelievable linebacker who isn’t eligible for the 2019 draft but he was a constant playmaker this season (he also ran a 4.53 at SPARQ and jumped a near 40-inch vertical).

Pass rusher Montez Sweat is the one I’m still having a hard time projecting.

He has great length and speed off the edge. He’s a more filled-out version of Brian Burns at Florida State.

He’s been decently productive with 14 TFL’s and 11.5 sacks in 2018 and 15.5 TFL’s plus 10.5 sacks in 2017.

Sweat looks like a LEO. If the Seahawks wanted to add a speed rusher to compliment Frank Clark, he could be an option. I think he’s unlikely to go in round one because there will be concerns about his run defense at his size. His scheme fit will be a question too. He’s best playing up at the line and doesn’t seem like a great fit for the 3-4. Traditional 4-3 teams might find an issue with his strength but in a 4-3 under he’s potentially well suited.

According to Bob McGinn, Sweat has 35.5-inch arms. That’s the kind of length they love. Can he produce a 1.5 10-yard split and show some explosive qualities at the combine?

He’s attending the Senior Bowl in Mobile and he’ll be one to keep an eye on. We do see athletic speed rushers last sometimes. Justin Houston is a good example (round three). Jordan Willis had a great combine in 2017 and also lasted deep into round three. Teams legitimately do have concern about college speed rushers. They’re often one-dimensional and poorly prepared to adjust to the pro’s. What worked in college often doesn’t translate. They have the speed but can they win with power, keep their frame clean and play the run?

These are questions to ask about Sweat. He could end up in round two or round four. He is a name to keep on the radar though.

National Championship game tonight

By now you’re very familiar with the draft prospects featured in tonight’s game. It’s a shame Christian Miller got hurt against Oklahoma and may not play (he’ll at least be extremely limited). Miller is a name to watch as a highly athletic, blossoming pass rusher. Clemson will be without Dexter Lawrence again but their D-line is loaded. Tony Pauline has a list of the names to look out for.

Finally, this is our third article on the off-season already. If you missed the reaction piece to the Dallas loss or the article assessing the direction of the team, don’t forget to check them out.

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The start of the Seahawks off-season article

Sunday, January 6th, 2019

What happens next? How much cap room have they got? What is the strength of the draft? And why is perspective needed on the Dallas loss?

Time to get into it. Here are some of the key points going into the off-season…

1. They have limited cap room

The Seahawks are currently projected to have $60m in cap space in 2019. That’s seventh most in the NFL. And it’s a red herring.

Seattle has only 34 contracted players for 2019, the lowest number in the league. The Colts, with a league-high $122m to spend, have 41 contracted players. It means that while the Seahawks have some money to spend, a fair portion of it will need to be spent filling out the roster.

They can create cap space by parting with Kam Chancellor. There was no financial gain to be had here in 2018. It would’ve actually cost them an extra $5m. In 2019 the situation is different. They’ll save $2.8m ($13m cap hit and $10.2m in dead money).

They’ll also save $2.75m if they cut Jaron Brown. Barkevious Mingo would save $3.3m (they might prefer to spend that on K.J. Wright and/or Mychal Kendricks).

The $60m quickly shrinks when you consider they’ll pay to keep Frank Clark. The franchise tag cost $17.143m for a defensive end in 2018. They may decide to use the transition tag ($14.2m cost in 2018) which would give the Seahawks an opportunity to match any offer made to Clark.

The Seahawks don’t have a good history with transition tags, however.

Such a move would allow Clark to set his own market though. It’d be a calculated gamble. The Chicago Bears used the transition tag on Kyle Fuller this year. It paid off as a tactic — he agreed a four-year, $56m extension two months later. He was able to set his market and then come to an agreement with the Bears.

For the purpose of this piece, let’s use the most expensive scenario — an $18m franchise tag. So wipe away $18m from the $60m projected cap space for 2019. You always need to save about $7-10m for the draft and injured reserve.

This leaves approximately $30-35m for any further moves.

I asked Pete Carroll in London whether he intends to keep J.R. Sweezy and D.J. Fluker. His answer was a resounding ‘yes’. They also have big calls to make on K.J. Wright, Mychal Kendricks and Justin Coleman.

Jordan Simmons, David Moore and Austin Calitro are ERFA’s and will likely be kept. They’ll have a decision to make on Malik Turner and Akeem King (also both ERFA’s).

George Fant is a restricted free agent and seems almost certain to be retained. Joey Hunt, Quinton Jefferson, J.D McKissic, Branden Jackson and Tyler Ott are also RFA’s. Do the Seahawks tag them or try to negotiate separate, cheaper deals?

Shamar Stephen, Dion Jordan, Mike Davis and Brett Hundley are free agents you’ll either need to retain or replace.

Take all this into account and it won’t leave much money to spend.

A realistic expectation is a repeat of a year ago. Calculated moves in the second and third wave of free agency. A big splurge, however, does not seem likely.

2. They only have four draft picks

The Duane Brown trade (second rounder), Brett Hundley trade (sixth rounder) and Shalom Luani trade (7th rounder) has left the Seahawks with a league-low four draft picks. They are not expected to gain any further comp picks either.

What does this likely mean? Trading down again.

The Seahawks will own either the 21st or 22nd overall pick depending on the result of the Eagles vs Bears game. A year ago they traded down from #18 to #27, collecting a third and sixth round pick in the process. It’s fair to imagine they’ll work on trying to find a similar deal this year.

3. What are the strengths of the draft?

It’s an incredible year for defensive linemen. One of Bob McGinn’s scouting sources is quoted as saying, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Nick Bosa, Quinnen Williams, Clelin Ferrell, Rashan Gary, Dexter Lawrence, Ed Oliver and Christian Wilkins will likely go early. It’s possible Derrick Brown, Jachai Polite, Raekwon Davis, Josh Allen, Zach Allen and Jaylon Ferguson go early too. That’s how good this class is for defensive linemen.

The list doesn’t stop there.

Jeffery Simmons has top-15 talent but could last due to an off-field incident dating back to High School. Brian Burns and Montez Sweat are long and quick but there are concerns about their ability to play early downs vs the run. D’Andre Walker is underrated while Dre’Mont Jones, Jabari Zuniga and Jerry Tillery are names to monitor.

The depth will easily stretch into the late first or early second round.

4. Could this impact free agency?

Possibly. With the price of defensive linemen growing year after year, we could see a regression in 2019. Teams might be prepared to play the draft class against the veteran free agents. The top players (Lawrence, Clowney, Clark) will still get paid. The next tier of players might be left frustrated.

The Seahawks need a player or two to buy into the Michael Bennett/Cliff Avril approach from 2013. Short term prove-it deals. Seattle has an advantage here. Although they’ll have to pay Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner top money, Seattle’s only other pending 2020 free agents are players like Nick Vannett and Barkevious Mingo (assuming they extend Frank Clark and Jarran Reed).

If a player like Anthony Barr, for example, ends up with a cold market — he might opt for a prove-it deal. And the Seahawks can say to any player in that situation — we’ll have the 2020 money to pay and keep you if you perform. They kept both Bennett and Avril in a similar situation.

Another option for the Seahawks could be to try and sign an ageing veteran. Cameron Wake, Brandon Graham, Clay Matthews and Terrell Suggs are all free agents in the off-season. All could be available at a reasonable price on a short-term basis.

5. Is it a good draft class for defensive backs?

It’s an uninspiring cornerback class and the safety group is even worse. Bob McGinn’s sources note: “This class of safeties lacks quality and quantity.”

Johnathan Abram — a hard hitting former Georgia DB who transferred to Mississippi State — is considered the best safety prospect and only a second round prospect. Alabama’s Deionte Thompson gets a lot of hype but he has limitations. One of McGinn’s sources says: “I’ve watched all the Alabama tapes and I can’t grade him… I don’t see the guy doing things.”

A high pick at safety seems highly unlikely given the class. Tony Pauline has reported strong interest from the Seahawks in tall, physical cornerback Jamal Peters of Mississippi State. He looks like a prototype for Pete Carroll’s defense and could be a target in rounds 3-4.

6. What are the keys to the off-season?

Here are five potential priorities:

1. More pass rush
2. More speed
3. Keep building the culture
4. Improve the depth
5. Build on the experience of 2018

In terms of improving the roster, the main priority could be finding more playmakers on defense.

Here’s why:

Seattle’s defense is a well organised, properly coached unit with togetherness and spirit. They will need more than just Frank Clark, Jarran Reed, Bobby Wagner and Bradley McDougald to become a top-tier unit.

The encouraging thing is how well Jacob Martin played in his handful of snaps. It hints towards a bright future. It also might be that he works best in a limited role. We’ll find out over the next year or two.

The graph also highlights how well Quinton Jefferson contributed and it’s a shame Dion Jordan couldn’t have a greater impact.

They still need more. Whether it’s on the D-line or among the defensive backs, they need 3-4 more names to get among the group of four in the top right corner of the graph.

7. Please, let’s not do this for eight months

A lot of Seahawks fans have decided the loss yesterday was down to an unwillingness to adjust. The Cowboys did an excellent job shutting down the run, so why didn’t the Seahawks just cut Russell Wilson loose? Perhaps, as some believe, like they did in Carolina against the Panthers?

A few quick points here…

The Seahawks struggled to run the ball in Carolina and trailed by three points at half time. The deficit was four points against the Cowboys. To start the second half against the Panthers, Seattle ran the ball three straight times. Then they hit a 54-yard deep pass on 3rd and 12. They followed up with two more runs before scoring on a red zone throw to Tyler Lockett.

On the following drive, they started by running the ball three out of five times.

They only really turned to Wilson when they trailed by seven points with less than seven minutes left in the game.

It’s not true that a major adjustment occurred early in the second half against Carolina. They continued to run and play for manageable third downs.

They turned to the pass right at the end of the game when they needed to press. They still required a low percentage deep-shot on fourth down to result in a touchdown, a missed field goal by Graham Gano and some Wilson-to-Lockett magic to win the game.

The approach in Carolina was actually very similar to the approach in Dallas. Keep it tight, try and take it down to the final possession. The Seahawks would’ve been in the same position had they managed to stop Dallas on their final scoring drive to give Wilson the ball back. Instead, they had back-breaking pass interference penalties on third down and gave up a 3rd and 14 run by Dak Prescott.

Pete Carroll’s approach — and it is his approach despite all the grief directed at his offensive coordinator — helped get this team to the playoffs against the odds. It helped regain a productive running game and helped Russell Wilson put up career-best numbers. It helped win in Carolina and at home against the Packers, Chiefs and Vikings. It helped this team compete against the Rams — twice.

Here’s the perspective for Carroll’s philosophy. There’s a reason very few people predicted the Seahawks would go to the playoffs. The roster, really, isn’t as good as some have maybe started to believe. Not yet, anyway. It’s young and growing.

The Seahawks spent a season playing a style that would help them be competitive. It enabled them to stick in games where, arguably, they otherwise would’ve struggled. And with a quarterback very capable of finding a way to win at the end — taking it down to a final possession worked on multiple occasions in the regular season.

If Wilson had the football in the fourth quarter with two minutes on the clock and a six-point deficit, there’s a decent chance they would’ve beaten the Cowboys.

Seattle’s defense is 3-4 quality players short and was exposed in some games. The protection was extremely suspect when they focused on the pass in weeks one and two.

The style, the approach — it’s probably designed on purpose to suit the players on the roster and cover up weaknesses.

In Dallas, they played their way. Just as they have all season.

They came up short. That’s football.

8. No, they don’t need to fire anybody

Sports fans always need someone to be accountable when things don’t work out. The strange thing is, things did work out for the Seahawks this year.

They got to the playoffs in a year with modest external expectations. That’s a success. They were energised, entertaining and had some good wins mixed in with some frustrating losses.

In a reset year, this was a strong showing.

The key now is to add more talent, add more depth and get better. Not start overhauling the staff and roster again.

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Instant reaction: Seattle’s season ends in Dallas

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

The Seahawks travelled to Dallas with belief, hope and an ambition to make an entertaining season, improbably, a Championship one.

Sadly, they didn’t play anywhere near well enough to win a playoff game on the road.

The Cowboys were more physical, dominated the line of scrimmage and thoroughly deserved to win.

Their defense played with the same intensity that shut down Drew Brees and the Saints. They took away the run, made the Seahawks play to their tune and Dallas were the ones dictating the tempo of the game.

Every time the Seahawks tried to establish momentum, the Cowboys took it away:

1. Seattle kicks a field goal for a 6-3 lead before half time. Moments later, Dallas races downfield to lead 10-6.

2. Seattle scores a touchdown and converts a two-pointer for a 14-10 lead. Dallas races downfield to lead 17-14 at the start of the fourth quarter.

3. K.J. Wright intercepts a pass in the end zone. Seattle followed with two offensive penalties, went three-and-out and kicked back to Dallas. A long drive ensued, with Dak Prescott’s 16-yard run on 3rd and 14 essentially the game-winner.

Before the game if you’d said the Seahawks would win the turnover battle and make several explosive plays to Tyler Lockett — it’d sound like a winning formula.

They didn’t win because unlike most of the season — Seattle was dominated physically at the LOS. Dallas ran for 164 yards and completely shut down Seattle’s running game (73 yards). The Seahawks were made to earn everything. Even their big plays — the shots to Tyler Lockett, the fourth down to Doug Baldwin, the K.J. Wright interception — all required a supreme level of talent to get the better of an inspired Dallas team.

On the other hand, Seattle had errors and will rue missed opportunities.

They kept it close because they nearly always do. Yet the Cowboys played better and deserved to win.

It was a disappointing end to a season that still achieved two things:

1. Everyone moved on. Any ill-feeling or concern about big names departing was all but extinguished. The Seahawks needed a fresh start.

2. People can genuinely look forward to what’s next. I’m not sure that was possible the last two years. The end felt like it was coming. Then it came, at least for some popular players.

The Seahawks now embark on a post-season looking for ways to take the next step. In 2013 it meant trading for Percy Harvin and signing Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Whether the Seahawks can be that bold remains to be seen. They’ll have limited cap space and only four draft picks.

So what is next?

For starters they have to keep the new core together. Frank Clark will either receive a contract extension or the franchise tag. Jarran Reed has earned an extension. Re-signing J.R. Sweezy and D.J. Fluker will be a priority. There are big calls to make on K.J. Wright (who played brilliantly), Justin Coleman and Mychal Kendricks (depending on his legal situation).

They’ll need to find some value in free agency. They won’t have the big dollars to spend. It’ll mean more calculated moves, akin to 12 months ago. The second and third wave of free agency will likely be their target area.

They will own the 21st overall pick if the Eagles beat the Bears tomorrow. Otherwise, they own the 22nd overall pick. It’s an exceptional draft class for defensive linemen. It’s nowhere near as strong at safety and cornerback.

They need to add more key players to the young defense. Are there veterans who can come in and compliment Clark, Reed, Bobby Wagner and Bradley McDougald? Can they find one or two more dynamic pass rushers? Can they find someone to make some plays in the secondary?

Can they acquire more speed? The league is getting quicker and more explosive every year. It’s not an amazing class for receivers in round one but there will be options from day two onwards that include fast, explosive pass-catchers. Can they get quicker in the front seven on defense or in the secondary?

Here are five potential priorities:

1. More pass rush
2. More speed
3. Keep building the culture
4. Improve the depth
5. Build on the experience of 2018

That’s how I see it. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section.

We’ll start looking ahead to the draft and free agency options immediately this week.

The 2012 season showed that a fun season can lead to a Championship season. That’s the hope Seahawks fans can carry into the off-season. This roster clearly isn’t as loaded as it was in 2012 and there’s a lot more work to do than there was six years ago. It does feel, however, that the team is connected again and heading in the right direction. Even if tonight was a bitter ending to a promising season.

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Arizona should take Kyler Murray with the top pick

Thursday, January 3rd, 2019

If I were the Cardinals, I’d be letting Kyler Murray’s people know we’d consider taking him with the #1 overall pick.

Yes, Arizona drafted Josh Rosen a year ago. Yes, it’s too early to make an accurate judgement on his ability to develop into a franchise quarterback.

However, the Cardinals job doesn’t appear to be particularly appealing. They struggled to replace Bruce Arians last year and were the last team to fill their coaching vacancy.

Is it any more attractive 12 months on?

Mike McCarthy turned down an interview. So did Eric Bieniemy.

There are lots of things to consider. Are you going to get time? Steve Wilks didn’t. It’s not a franchise known for big spending or high ambition to win. Is there some potential on the roster or are they justified in earning the #1 pick?

You’re also hanging your future on the development (and success) of Rosen.

Let’s not forget, he was the fourth quarterback selected in 2018 (after Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and Josh Allen). There were mixed feelings about him going into the 2018 draft. He had his suitors, of course. But a lot of decision makers were lukewarm to him.

It’s very possible coaches like McCarthy and Bieniemy don’t want to put their reputations in the hands of a quarterback they don’t believe in.

Murray, for me, is the real deal. I’ve written a lot about him over the last few weeks. I’ve mocked him multiple times in round one, including with the top pick.

I think he’s similar to Patrick Mahomes. That’s not a view taken simply because Mahomes is flavour of the month and possibly the NFL MVP. Murray, legitimately, shares some of the same traits. That same ability to be running at full speed out of pressure and improbably throwing a dart downfield on a dime for a huge, game-changing completion. His arm strength, accuracy, elusiveness, creativity.

He is special.

He’s not as big as Mahomes but he’s much faster. He’s a mix of Mahomes and Michael Vick or Lamar Jackson.

Not convinced? This one throw against Alabama recently says it all:

That’s as good as it gets. Sprinting away from the pressure, probably in two minds whether to scramble and get what he can on the ground. Then instinctively he sees a small opening downfield. He launches the ball on the run without needing to reset his feet. Despite throwing off his back-foot, Murray gets it 50-yards downfield.

It’s an inch-perfect pass. The receiver has two defenders with him. If Murray under-throws that ball at all it’s picked off. It has to be on the money. And he manages to put it in the one area where the defenders have zero chance to play the ball. It hits the receiver in stride. It’s the most perfect downfield bomb you’ll ever see.

Murray might be the most exciting player I’ve written about on this blog. Seriously. We’ve been going since 2008 and I haven’t seen anyone quite like this. His range of throws, accuracy at every level, sprinters speed to be an X-factor as a runner and his elusiveness are unmatched. I think in the right scheme, he could be even better than Mahomes. His 5-9 and 190lbs frame will be a concern to some. I’m taking the chance.

Would the Arizona job be more attractive if there was an opportunity to work with a talent like this? I think so. And while admittedly it’d take Murray opting to play football instead of baseball — it’s clearly a decision he’s giving a lot of thought. I hope he chooses football. He’s too good, too exciting. I want to see if his game translates — even if he ends up competing in the NFC West against the Seahawks.

This is the first time Arizona has had the first overall pick in a generation. If Murray is available, don’t let the decision to draft Josh Rosen influence your choice. Shoot for greatness. Let them compete. More often than not you need to get the QB position right to win a Super Bowl. To be consistently great you certainly need a winner at QB.

Keep searching until you find the guy.

If the Cardinals aren’t interested — the Giants, Broncos, Dolphins and any other team without a quarterback solution should be picking up the phone about a trade if Murray declares.

He’s the best draft eligible player for 2019.

He’s by far the best draft eligible quarterback.

He’s a potential superstar in the making if he chooses football over baseball.

Playoff predictions

I don’t usually do predictions but thought I would this year ahead of the post-season. We’ll see how many are accurate…

Wildcard round

Indianapolis @ Houston

This will come down to Indy’s blossoming O-line versus the Texans’ fierce pass rush. Andrew Luck is comeback player of the year without any doubt but he’s also prone to a bad turnover (or two). Can Houston impact his play? I think they will.

Winner: Texans

Los Angeles Chargers @ Baltimore

Losing to the Ravens at home during the regular season will be a useful lesson for the Chargers. They can learn from their mistakes and make amends. I think LA’s defense might end up winning this more than the play of Philip Rivers.

Winner: Chargers

Seattle @ Dallas

This is the type of game where I think homefield is the difference maker. The Seahawks have the better coach and better quarterback. But the Cowboys have been on a roll at home. So in a coin-toss type of game, I’ll side with the home team.

Winner: Cowboys

Philadelphia @ Chicago

The Nick Foles story is extremely fun and charming. But the Chicago defense is playing lights out. I think this will be a crushing, physical and comfortable Bears win.

Winner: Bears

Divisional round

Houston @ New England

Another year, another Patriots home game in the playoffs. They’ve beaten Houston already and Tom Brady makes enough plays here to send New England to another AFC Championship game.

Winner: Patriots

Los Angeles Chargers @ Kansas City

The Chargers stunned the Chiefs during the regular season with a win in Kansas City. This will likely be another highly entertaining, well-contested game. This time, the Chiefs edge it.

Winner: Chiefs

Chicago @ Los Angeles Rams

Great defense vs great offense. Usually in the playoffs the great defense wins through. I just think Aaron Donald will create too many problems for Mitchell Trubisky and the Rams will make enough offensive plays to win.

Winner: Rams

Dallas @ New Orleans

The Saints will be highly motivated to get revenge for their loss in Dallas. They get an emphatic, comfortable win here to progress to the NFC Championship game.

Winner: Saints

Championship games

New England @ Kansas City

Patrick Mahomes puts on a show and the Patriots struggle to keep up. Despite their defensive issues, Kansas City rides homefield advantage and an explosive offense to the Super Bowl.

Winner: Chiefs

Los Angeles Rams @ New Orleans

The last meeting ebbed and flowed throughout and this would likely be another high scoring contest. The Saints are the more complete team with a superior defense. That, plus homefield advantage, proves to be the difference.

Winner: Saints

Super Bowl

Kansas City vs New Orleans

A dream for the NFL as they get a battle between two highly productive and popular quarterbacks, both at opposite ends of their careers. Patrick Mahomes impresses to make it a competitive game for three quarters. Then, at the end, the Saints’ superior defense proves to be the difference.

Winner: Saints

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Notes on Mississippi State’s defense in the Outback Bowl

Tuesday, January 1st, 2019

Tony Pauline is reporting interest from the Seahawks in cornerback Jamal Lewis. He’s not the only player they might have their eye on from the Mississippi State defense.

This is an interesting group. It starts with Jeffery Simmons at defensive tackle, who we discussed last week. Simmons had the best three plays to start a game I think I’ve ever seen from a defensive tackle in the Outback Bowl.

On the first defensive snap of the game, he was far too quick for the right guard and just exploded through the A-gap to drop the running back for a four-yard loss. On the next play he controlled the right guard at the LOS and the running back, opting to run right at Simmons, sprinted straight into an area with no lane. Then, on third down, Simmons used a swim move to beat the center with ease and hammer the quarterback for a sack.

This game was a collectors item. For most of the year, Simmons had to handle double teams. It limited his ability to make plays as a pass rusher but he still recorded 14.5 TFL’s (and added 2.5 more in this game). It gave us an insight into what he’s capable of facing a consistent 1v1 opportunity.

With 8:53 left in the third quarter, Simmons drove the center into the backfield with a fantastic bull-rush before disengaging and sacking the quarterback. At the start of the fourth quarter he ploughed his way into the backfield and hit the quarterback (at the same time as Montez Sweat, who had a nice rush off the edge too).

Simmons is the real deal. He has a frame comparable to Ndamukong Suh. He has minimal body fat at 6-4 and 300lbs. He’s big, powerful and highly athletic. He controls the LOS as a run defender and has the quickness and explosion to be a playmaker. Issues off the field dating back to High School might put off some teams. If he can convince people he’s a changed man, he’ll likely be a very high pick in the draft.

Safety Johnathan Abram might be the best in a very average looking year for the position. He’s tough, physical and lays a hit. There are some concerns about his athletic limitations and a big combine will be necessary to max out his stock. He had a mixed day in this game.

Early on he had a big tackle for a loss, reading a WR screen and making a nice break on the ball to force a six-yard loss. There were several well timed hits and he helps set the tone on the back-end of the defense.

He also gave up a 75-yard touchdown. Lined up in the slot, Abram was caught staring at the quarterback allowing a receiver to run straight by him. It was a huge, back-breaking blown coverage. As the safety, he must’ve known he didn’t have deep help? What was he doing focusing on the QB and allowing that receiver to get downfield uncovered?

Abram often lines up in this position with the option to blitz. With 13:29 left in the third quarter he was quick enough to get to the quarterback. He met in the backfield with Montez Sweat, who was given the gift of a blocking tight end to beat.

There were other iffy moments. He was flagged on a pass interference call on a deep shot to the left sideline and was beat in a mismatch against tight end T.J. Hockenson, giving up a big 22-yard reception. He made amends with a decent stop on third down on the following drive, to give Mississippi State a shot to win.

Overall he’s a good player but I get the sense Seahawks fans, spoilt by Earl Thomas, want elite play at the position. There’s nobody in this class capable of quenching that desire.

Jamal Peters wasn’t targeted until there was 1:09 left in the first half. On a deep shot to the left, Peters did an excellent job squeezing his receiver to the sideline to take away any opportunity to make a catch in bounds. Great technique. He also made a big special teams stop to start the second half on a kick-off return. Peters limped off the field with 3:39 left in the third quarter but it didn’t look too serious.

Montez Sweat is long, lean and quick. You can imagine the Seahawks liking his frame and style as a potential LEO rusher. He was pretty quiet apart from the plays already mentioned above. It’s difficult to determine his stock. I’ve watched a lot of Mississippi State’s games from 2018. There weren’t any horrible games where he was hammered in the running game. Josh Allen at Kentucky had some of those. You wouldn’t say run defense is a strength for Sweat but he didn’t look like a liability either.

That said, we’re projecting to the NFL here. He looks about 240lbs with a very lean frame. If he’s going to play early downs, he’ll need to convince teams he can be explosive and strong at the point and help set the edge. That’s a big ask at his size. If he gets to the combine having added a few pounds of muscle and tests well in the 10-yard split, vertical and broad jump — it’ll help. At the moment it’s fair to wonder if teams will merely see him as a situational rusher capable of making an impact albeit in limited snaps. The combine is big for him. To his credit, he knows how to use his length and keep his frame clean and he’s a long-strider with great initial quickness.

Whenever you watch Mississippi State, sophomore Willie Gay Jr. makes a big play. He’s one to watch for the future. He had a huge, game-changing interception at 17-6 to Iowa. They quickly scored twice to lead 19-17 (aided by a special teams fumble by Iowa after the first score).

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Instant reaction: Seahawks win, finish 10-6

Sunday, December 30th, 2018

Perspective is important. This was an ugly game but let’s just remember a few things, now that the Seahawks have beaten the Cardinals 27-24:

1. When the Seahawks beat the Cardinals in Arizona in week four, Pete Carroll played that game exactly the same as this one. They were facing a rookie quarterback playing behind a bad offensive line. Trust the defense and running game to win it for you. Accept a close game and trust in the process. Seattle did win both games in almost identical fashion. Job done.

2. The Seahawks play a tough, physical brand of offense. It’s very difficult to play at maximum intensity when you know, consciously or sub-consciously, the most important thing today was to avoid injuries.

3. It’s even tougher to play your tough, physical style of offense missing your starting left guard, your starting right guard and your backup right guard. It’s even worse when you have to kick your right tackle, who is returning from injury, into the right guard slot and start a guy who’s been playing tight end at right tackle. That’s a lot to take. So yes, the offensive line was bad today. It’s hardly a surprise.

4. The Cardinals have given Seattle fits for years with creative blitz packages. Throw that into the mix too. But here’s the thing — the Seahawks also recorded six sacks in this game. Both D-lines dominated overmatched O-lines missing key players.

5. It’s better to have a special teams nightmare today than next week. Two blocked punts (one returned for a touchdown) and too many returns. That can’t happen in Dallas. The Seahawks need a clean game in all three phases to beat a Cowboys team that has won a lot of games in the second half of the season and been consistent winners at home.

6. Instead of focusing on the negatives, embrace how well Frank Clark, Jarran Reed and Chris Carson continue to play. Clark is destined for the franchise tag. Reed will almost certainly get a contract extension in the off-season. The new core is emerging to go with the starting O-line, Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner.

7. No major injuries occurred in this game.

8. Give the Cardinals some credit. They didn’t mail it in like a lot of other teams in week 17. Win one for Larry Fitzgerald? For Steve Wilks? For pride? Whatever it was, they came to play on defense. Sometimes it’s easy to forget there’s actually another team playing the game. So while Seahawks Twitter provided the usual in-game running commentary, overreacting to every single negative, maybe just take the win and congratulate the Cardinals for making it a game?

This is a Seattle team that won 10 games and made the post-season against the odds. The offense was highly productive. The defense has been fun. The whole team has entertained us a lot more than they did a year ago. The Seahawks aren’t flawless and they can improve. We’ll have plenty of time to discuss that in the off-season.

For now, it’s onto the playoffs.

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