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Draft notes: Washington’s Elijah Molden is a first round talent

Sunday, November 29th, 2020

Elijah Molden looks like a star in the making

I spent a bit of time watching Elijah Molden a few days ago and last night I was able to focus on him during a live game for the first time.

In terms of pure talent, instinct and athletic ability — he’s a first rounder with rare skills.

Some players just have an innate ability to be around the ball. They are playmakers. Tyrann Mathieu had that at LSU. He wasn’t the biggest, the fastest or the strongest. Yet time and time again, he’d be making the play.

Molden has that same quality and offers a complete, rounded game with the versatility to fit into numerous roles at the second level.

Operating as a nickel corner he has the short area quickness teams crave. He ran a sensational 3.93 short shuttle at SPARQ and you see it in the tape. He has gliding, twitchy movement. There are no wasted steps and his body position and fluidity is elite. You see him turn and transition with ease.

Look at his interception against Utah. The quarterback holds onto the ball for four seconds before making his throw. That is a long time to cover across the middle. Yet there’s Molden — perfectly positioned to undercut the route and make the play. He made it look easy. I couldn’t help but imagine him running that coverage for the Seahawks against the Rams. Imagine him taking away all the crossers LA use?

He fights and battles in man coverage and he contests so many throws to the intermediate level. He has the valuable ability to take away quick options for the quarterback. He’s also adept at reading the play and has the suddenness to react.

You just don’t see many players with this X-factor quality.

He’s well sized with dynamite explosion in the lower body. You see it when he delivers jarring hits. You see it with the movement he makes to play the ball. He jumped a 37 inch vertical at SPARQ and he isn’t just a smaller, agile defensive back. He comes up to the line and plays well in run support. He hammers ball carriers.

His instinct and football intelligence is exceptional. Look at the interception he had against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. He reads the long-developing screen and has the speed and smarts to make the play. I can’t recall seeing this level of processing and physical quality.

He has great hands to play the ball and the ability to fight and compete when the ball’s in the air. He had 13 PBU’s in 2019 alone. He has five interceptions in 2019 and the three games of 2020. He has three forced fumbles and 5.5 TFL’s.

Molden is the definition of the modern day defensive back. He can be an exceptional nickel or he can be the next Mathieu or Budda Baker.

He was listed at 5-11 at SPARQ but at Washington he’s listed at 5-10 and 190lbs. To me it doesn’t matter. He’s not an outside cornerback anyway. He’s the ultimate playmaker at the second and third level — capable of playing either safety spot or nickel.

He can be a permanent snap taker on the defense, you never have to take him off the field. His tackling and run support is a major strong point. He seems to relish taking on blocks, shedding and working to the ball carrier. His physicality, to go with the skill and agility, is what makes Molden such an exciting prospect.

The icing on the cake is his maturity. He’s extremely well spoken and grounded in interviews. He appears determined and focused. Teams are going to love his tape and his personality.

Frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up being a top-20 pick. Molden is a special talent and it won’t be a surprise if he quickly develops into a NFL star.

Other notes

Regulars to the blog will know how highly I rate Vanderbilt’s Dayo Odeyingbo. Playing on a useless Vanderbilt team isn’t doing him any favours in terms of media coverage but the fact is he’s a great talent.

He had two sacks in Vandy’s latest blowout loss to Missouri. On the second he fought through a double team off the right edge and made it look easy, before throwing down the QB.

For me he warrants top-15 consideration. He’s a terror off the edge with an outstanding combination of length, power and athleticism. He converts speed to power with ease, knows how to win in numerous ways and at 6-6 and 276lbs he looks like a NFL stud.

He has 5.5 sacks for the season on a hopeless team. If he tests well at the combine, his stock will go through the roof.

Florida’s Kyle Pitts is an absolute lock to go very early. He was practically unstoppable against Kentucky — recording 99 yards on five catches with three touchdowns.

Pitts is the ultimate mismatch weapon. He’d be ideal for a young, blossoming quarterback (eg Justin Herbert) as a safety net, red zone target and chunk-play specialist. College football teams have no idea how to contain him. His ability to work openings at the second level is incredible. He’s a very natural athlete for his size. He either gets open or you can throw it to him and he’ll make it happen anyway. He has superb hands and can pluck the ball out of the air on difficult, contested catches — as he showed in this latest game on one of his TD’s.

Hopefully he lands on a team that appreciates what he is. It’d be a waste of time trying to convert Pitts into a traditional, all-round tight end. He’s basically a big slot receiver and mismatch weapon. In the right offense, he could be one of the leading receivers at the next level.

Blog regulars will know we’ve talked about Colorado linebacker Nate Landman for three years. He’s been consistently excellent. Against San Diego State he tallied 11 tackles, 3.5 TFLs and three sacks. Landman isn’t the fastest player but he had a 37.5 inch vertical at SPARQ.

He’s an absolute hammer hitter who brings toughness and physicality to the MIKE position. As you might expect from a three sack performance, he’s a useful blitzer. He might not go early in the draft but I wouldn’t bet against him making an impact in the NFL.

Finally, while Pittsburgh might’ve felt the full force of the return of ‘Big Trev’ for Clemson, Patrick Jones continues to have an exceptional season. He had a sack and two TFL’s. Jones now has nine sacks for the season — second most in the NCAA behind only Patrick Johnson of Tulane (10). Jones is a classic LEO/EDGE.

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New podcast: Seahawks @ Eagles MNF preview

Thursday, November 26th, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving to all, here’s a podcast looking ahead to Monday’s game…

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Draft notes on five 2021 prospects

Wednesday, November 25th, 2020

Jaycee Horn looks the part of a high pick

Today I wanted to share some thoughts on a handful of players I included in my recent two-round mock draft but haven’t really talked about on the blog yet.

Jaycee Horn (CB, South Carolina)
If you had to picture an ideal Seahawks corner, he might look a lot like Horn. He’s big, long and lean yet with great muscle definition and strength. He’s in fantastic shape. He’s also very quick and agile for his size (6-1, 205lbs) and showed, particularly against Auburn, an ability to stick tight in coverage and make plays on the ball.

You want to see top-level matchups between corners and wide receivers and that’s what we got in that game — Horn vs Seth Williams. It was a fantastic tussle with Horn living in Williams’ back-pocket. In particular there were several red-zone reps where he displayed the short area quickness to stick and the savvy awareness to consistently gain position and win with leverage. He broke up a fade, a slant and another fade. He made two interceptions — one opportunistic and the other under-cutting a route with great instinct. He looked every bit a first round corner.

Those were his only two career interceptions which is a concern. That said, when you look as good as he does and are expected to run in the 4.4’s — someone will take a chance on him early. He’s a highly talented player with outstanding physical traits and potential. If you want a big, physical, athletic corner to battle and fight, with the potential to develop into a plus tackler, he’s worth considering.

Nick Bolton (LB, Missouri)
Bolton is a classic, old-school hitter who is adept at taking it to the opponent. He does all of his best work around the LOS — knifing through gaps instinctively and with great quickness. Once he spots the ball carrier he usually finishes with aplomb.

He’s one of the toughest linebackers you’ll see in the much more diluted modern game. His hits are punishing and full force. He also doesn’t need a massive run-up to smack someone. There are several opportunistic hits where a running back reaches the second level and Bolton reads, sees the man and drops him. He’s a tone setter for the Mizzou defense.

The problem is he has a limited ceiling. He only ran a 4.80 at SPARQ at a similar weight to his current playing weight. He’s a little bit stiff in coverage and in the NFL today you’ve got to be able to get around the field. Early-round linebackers are expected to be great athletes these days. Furthermore, he’s undersized at about 6-0 and 240lbs. No doubt some teams will love the booming hits and Denzel Perryman — who ran a 4.78 at 236lbs — is testament to this type of player still having a home in the league. Yet like Perryman, I suspect he’s stock will be limited to the second half of round two at best.

Zaven Collins (LB, Tulsa)
Few players have had the impact Collins’ has had this year. He’s been a playmaking machine with four interceptions, 10.5 TFL’s, four sacks and a forced fumble. He made a game-winning interception against SMU one week then came back the next to deliver a 96-yard pick-six in overtime to defeat Tulane.

He has an unusual body-shape which teams will analyse to death over the coming months. He’s 6-4 and 260lbs and looks more like someone who might line up off the edge. He’s an unusual size for a linebacker and that often sends alarm bells ringing in scouting circles. It also needs to be noted that he ran a 5.03 forty at SPARQ, jumped a 29-inch vertical and ran a 4.62 short shuttle. He’s gained 50lbs since that test and plays a lot faster than he showed at SPARQ. Testing will be vital.

On tape he flies around the field, flows to the ball with ease and just has a knack for being a game-changer. He’s been talked up as a potential late-first round pick and if he tests well, that could easily be his range.

Kenny Yeboah (TE, Ole Miss)
Few players have elevated their stock like Yeboah in 2020. A transfer from Temple, he’s put everything together this year and is delivering major production within Lane Kiffin’s pass-happy scheme. He has 509 yards and six touchdowns in six games.

He’s very much a move-TE at 6-5 and 240lbs but he’s so fluid working in space and he’s a natural working downfield or attacking the seem. There’s very little wasted movement and he’s a matchup nightmare for linebackers or safeties. Even against Alabama’s loaded defense he managed seven catches for 181 yards and two scores and made it look easy in the process.

His mobility is incredible. He can make a defender miss to gain major YAC. He’s a chess piece you can move all over the field. Ole Miss line him up in the slot, they have him working across the formation, he’ll run sweeps, he’ll take a wheel-route or he can just run downfield or settle down the seem. He’s a major X-factor.

His ability to be a dynamic weapon at the next level is going to depend on his upside. Everyone is bigger and faster in the NFL and he won’t find it quite as easy. If he tests well at the combine, there’s no reason why he can’t land a spot in round two.

Davis Mills (QB, Stanford)
He’s flying under the radar at the moment — largely because the PAC-12 is all over the place due to coronavirus. Indeed Mills had to miss one of the few games that have actually taken place so far due to being forced to self-isolate.

However, there’s a lot of potential to work with here and while he has limited starts and might need considerable time before he realistically starts in the NFL — he could be a perfect target for a competitive team aiming to transition to a younger QB over the next 2-3 years.

Mills is ideally sized at 6-4 and 225lbs with the arm strength to drive the ball downfield and the necessary touch to make accurate, catchable passes at the intermediate level. He’s poised in the pocket and has shown evidence of being able to go through progressions.

Teams are always looking for mobility at the position these days and while you wouldn’t mistake him for even a Josh Allen or Justin Herbert, he’s very capable scrambling to avoid pressure, extending plays and making gains on the ground.

He doesn’t get talked about much but don’t be surprised if he goes earlier than expected.

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Why the Seahawks have to make a call on Jamal Adams

Monday, November 23rd, 2020

Like it or not, a decision on Jamal Adams’ is forthcoming

For the Seahawks and Jamal Adams, the next six games are crucial.

With a not overly daunting schedule, Seattle can still emerge as the team with the best record in an unpredictable NFC.

They also need to determine what the future holds for their big name safety.

The scheme fit. The future contract. The fact the Seahawks have three 2021 draft picks, $16-19m in projected cap space and only 34 contracted players.

There’s a call to make. A bigger one than most people realise.

Ideally you’d have more time. Seemingly nothing about 2020 is ideal, however.

By March, a decision is likely due.

Let’s start with the scheme.

By Adams’ own admisison, this is a relationship that is still trying to work things out:

“They’re still trying to figure out me just as much as I’m still trying to figure out the defense and everything.”

In the six games he’s played this year, Adams has 5.5 sacks. On paper that’s a big positive and actually puts him among the league leaders in the category.

However, he’s also blitzed 63 times in those six games. His average of 10.5 blitzes per game is by far the most in the league.

He has delivered 17 pressures — 2.8 per game. He also has seven hurries — 1.2 per game.

Therefore it’s fair to describe Adams as a very productive blitzer. If he is producing about three pressures, a hurry and a sack per game — that’s a positive tally.

Seattle’s isn’t traditionally a blitzing scheme though. His role as a heavy blitzer isn’t something we’ve seen this team do before.

Having an aggressive, freelancing player does come with a consequence and I think we saw that against Arizona.

Suddenly a scheme that has always preached ‘do your job’ is carrying a player who seems, mostly, to be playing with instinct. Take the Chase Edmunds touchdown last Thursday. He released out as a receiver and was alone in the end zone, with Adams standing in no-man’s land, arms aloft. It’s the kind of coverage bust you just don’t see that often.

Per PFF, Adams is currently carrying a fantastic pass rushing grade (79.8). However, his coverage grade (44.5) is extremely poor. His overall grade (57.0) is comparable to Quandre Diggs — who most people would accept has had a difficult second season.

Adams is giving up 12.8 yards per target — third most in the league. He’s giving up 16.3 yards per completion — 14th most in the league.

As a point of comparison, Bradley McDougald gave up 6.2 yards per target and 11.5 yards per completion in 2019. That’s a stark difference. When quarterbacks targeted McDougald last year, their rating was 58.8 — one of the best in the league and comparable to Tyrann Mathieu (57.8).

McDougald didn’t provide the sacks (he recorded only half a sack last season) but he only blitzed 21 times in 15 games. Adams has already tripled that number in nine fewer games.

McDougald’s PFF grade a year ago was 63.1 as a pass rusher and 64.5 in coverage. So while he clearly isn’t reaching Adams’ rating as a blitzer — he delivered an average performance level for the safety position.

You could speculate that McDougald’s role as a more traditional strong safety is one of the reasons why Quandre Diggs performed better in 2019. I haven’t studied Diggs enough to comment but it stands to reason that if his safety partner is blitzing at the rate Adams is — that’s putting a lot more strain on him as the free safety in coverage.

Again, this isn’t something we’ve seen from the Seahawks before. Kam Chancellor had two career sacks — one in 2010 and one in 2011. From the 2012 season through to 2017 — Chancellor didn’t record a single sack in 78 regular season games. He did have 12 career interceptions though. In Adams’ four year career so far, he has just two interceptions and 17.5 sacks.

It’s not just that Chancellor, McDougald and Adams have physical differences. Adams is being used in a totally different way than any other strong safety in the Carroll era.

Greg Cosell appeared on Colin Cowherd’s show on the day of the Arizona game. He was asked about Adams and the Seahawks defense and offered the following opinion:

“I think Jamal Adams is a linebacker. And I think at the end of the day in some ways, and maybe Seattle would tell me I’m crazy, but I think that limits some of the things you can do with him because he is really a linebacker not a safety. He’d almost fit perfectly to me in Bill Belichick’s defense with the way they use #21 Adrian Phillips who’s really a linebacker for them. So to me that’s what Jamal Adams is but when you use him as a safety I think it presents some limitations in coverage. He’s a linebacker, he’s a glorified linebacker.”

That review doesn’t exactly portray a precise fit for Adams within Seattle’s scheme.

Does he fit in? At the moment it’s hard to argue that he does — at least enough to justify the compensation of the trade and a big future contract. That perspective could change before the end of the season but ultimately time is running out.

He’s clearly a very talented individual. In the right situation he is an All-pro.

This is about the cost and fit. Does he suit the Seahawks? Even if the answer is yes — does he suit them enough to pay him a massive salary?

It’s assumed by some that there’s no real urgency regarding Adams’ future due to the security of the franchise tag. I’d argue a decision needs to be made at the end of the season — essentially giving the Seahawks six more regular season games and a playoff run to make a call.

The current highest paid safety in the league is Budda Baker ($14.75m a year). Adams will expect, not unfairly, to top that number.

The trade compensation that the Seahawks gave up creates a problem.

We saw with the Laremy Tunsil and Jalen Ramsey trades that if you spend multiple first round picks on a player and don’t have an oven-ready contract to sign, you cede all leverage in negotiations.

Tunsil agreed a deal worth $22m a year. That was $6m more expensive than the next highest paid left tackle on $16m. The Texans either had to cave to Tunsil’s demands or risk losing a player they’d spent a fortune on in draft picks.

Ramsey signed a record contract for a cornerback worth $20m a year in LA. The previous highest paid corner was Darius Slay on $16.8m a year in Philadelphia. Again, the Rams had little choice but to accept Ramsey’s demands.

It’s very difficult to drive a hard bargain with a player once you’ve traded multiple first round picks to acquire them.

It wouldn’t be unrealistic for Adams to ask for a significant increase on Baker’s top salary. A deal worth $18m a year is plausible. Maybe he feels generous and is willing to simply set a new record for a safety and go with about $16m a year? That would still be a princely sum.

And make no mistake, that’s the minimum you’ll end up paying.

If you’re going to commit that amount of money, you’ve got to be sure about the fit.

The Seahawks already know this. They chose not to pay Frank Clark $20.8m a year and traded him to the Chiefs. They chose not to pay Jadeveon Clowney. They did decide they wanted to break the bank for Bobby Wagner.

They’ve taken on difficult financial challenges before and been calculated and deliberate in their decision making — with mixed results.

They now face a big call with Adams. They can’t let pride get in the way. Yes — it would look somewhat embarrassing to trade a player months after acquiring him in a blockbuster deal.

However — the only thing worse than taking that on the chin will be absorbing the cost of an enormous contract for a player who doesn’t provide value for money.

Personally, I wouldn’t criticise the Seahawks at all if they decided to trade Adams in March and took a hit on the compensation. If they come to the conclusion he just isn’t the kind of fit that justifies a record-breaking salary, then the right thing to do is be proactive and move on.

It’s OK to take a chance and it not work out.

The entire NFL is facing a financial crunch due to coronavirus. The salary cap could drop to $175m in 2021 — putting severe pressure on most teams.

Every dollar is going to count. It’s not an overreaction to suggest smart cap management will decide the winners and losers over the next 3-5 years.

In an ideal world the Seahawks would have more time to assess Adams’ fit. However, the cap crunch is coming now. Not in 2-3 years. It’s on the horizon.

Adams has a cap hit of $9.8m in 2021. He could be franchised the following year for about $11-12m depending on the state of the league at the time.

I’m not sure you want to get into a scenario where you’re going year-to-year. It’s a situation few players take well to. They want long term security. Part of Adams’ issue with the Jets was their unwillingness to reward him financially. I’m not sure he’d be any more willing to entertain a similar reluctance from the Seahawks.

I think Seattle has two options. They need to be prepared to pay him this off-season and commit to him, or they need to move on.

I also can’t help but wonder if they’d be investing in the wrong position.

We’ve already seen how a great D-line can make Seattle’s defense tick. Remember the days of Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and one of Chris Clemons or Frank Clark? Remember the rotation they had in 2013?

Look at the impact Carlos Dunlap is having. For all the talk of building from back-to-front prior to the start of the season, I think we’ve all seen by now how important a pass rush is within this specific scheme, given it relies on a four-man rush.

Are the Seahawks better with Adams at say $18m a year — or would they be better off investing that money in the D-line to try and create a loaded front?

After all, aren’t we a year removed from the 49ers rolling to the Super Bowl with this exact defensive scheme while boasting a fantastic defensive line rotation? All while having a slightly suspect secondary?

It’s a worthwhile discussion to have — even if you’d prefer to keep Adams.

After all, look at the players who are scheduled to reach free agency or could be cut or traded for cap purposes:

Von Miller
Matt Judon
Leonard Williams
Fletcher Cox
Brandon Graham
Derek Barnett
Cam Jordan
Dante Fowler Jr
Grady Jarrett
Melvin Ingram
Shaquil Barrett
Bud Dupree
Jadeveon Clowney
Yannick Ngakoue
Ryan Kerrigan
Sheldon Rankins
Larry Ogunjobi

Remember, the likes of New Orleans, Philadelphia and Atlanta are tens of millions of dollars over the cap for 2021. They will have to act. In the case of the Saints, they might have to gut their roster and start again.

The thought of pairing Von Miller with Dunlap is very appealing. Combined with Seattle’s youth at defensive end — you could create a rotation that is a match for anyone in the NFC.

Could you go down that route and simply replace Adams with Marquise Blair (a player you spent a second round pick on to play safety) or could you potentially target someone like Keanu Neal (who is also scheduled to be a free agent)?

It’s also a good looking draft at the safety position with the likes of Andre Cisco, Paris Ford and Jevon Holland among a decent looking group.

Again — this isn’t a review of Adams’ talent or a witch-hunt against the player or the trade. It’s simply a team construction debate about what’s best for the future.

You might ask who would trade for Adams?

In the right scheme he is a fantastic talent. It’d be wrong to think there wouldn’t be suitors. You probably won’t get two first round picks but a deal similar to the Frank Clark trade isn’t out of the question.

He was born to play in the aggressive, attacking 3-4 schemes or, as Greg Cosell noted earlier, those from the Bill Belichick way of doing things featuring a lot of hybrid players.

Adams would be superb in Brian Flores’ scheme in Miami. The Dolphins were unrealistic trade partners when he played for the division rival Jets. Now? He’s a more realistic option.

Miami also has two first round picks in 2021. Would they be willing to part with their native selection (possibly in the 20’s) plus a 2022 pick? That could make a lot of sense.

They also have the cap space ($37m) to extend him and will feel the benefit of Tua Tagovailoa’s rookie deal for the next few years.

The Patriots have $64m to spend in 2021 even with the significantly lower cap. Adams would be a great fit for Belichick. However, they might be picking too early in round one to make a deal realistic.

The Ravens are very much in win-now mode. They have a heavy-blitzing scheme where Adams would thrive and an estimated $29m in cap space. They would be a strong option.

The Buccaneers are also very aggressive in terms of roster building. They are living in a small window with Tom Brady as quarterback. Adams would be an ideal fit in a Todd Bowles scheme he’s already familiar with. The Buccs will be picking later in round one and might be willing to make an aggressive move. They have $31m in available cap space for 2021.

It’s also not unprecedented for players to be traded multiple times for high picks. Brandin Cooks went from New Orleans to New England to LA and then Houston. Teams have spent three first round picks and a second rounder for his services. Sam Bradford was traded twice — once for a second round pick and Nick Foles, then for a first round pick.

Certain players seem to retain value.

It stands to reason that if the Seahawks are going to give Adams a whopping contract worth anywhere between $16-18m they should at least utilise a defensive scheme that plays to his strengths. That simply isn’t Carroll’s scheme. If they decide to go down that route they have a duty to consider major structural changes to the defense — with a new defensive coordinator, possibly from the Belichick tree, to come in and oversee things.

That sounds great on paper — yet look at the teething problems Dallas have experienced going from a 4-3 to a 3-4 this year, having spent years acquiring players for the 4-3.

The Seahawks aren’t going to be $96m over the cap like the Saints in 2021 but they have very little money to spend. Spotrac says around $16m, Over the Cap says $19m (with $8m in effective cap space). With only 34 players contracted, that money will evaporate quickly simply filling out the roster.

With only three draft picks in 2021 and no first rounder, it’s going to be extremely difficult to fill out the depth with cheap, young talent.

Something’s got to give. How can they fill out their roster with minimal cap space and draft stock?

Increasingly I think the Adams trade was a highly aggressive, win-now move. An opportunity to see if he could come in and deliver the kind of major impact they’d been unable to acquire in free agency or the draft. The main motivation was to win now — chase a title in 2020.

I suspect they knew they were investing in someone with retainable value and all options would remain on the table in the off-season.

When the season ends the Seahawks have to make a big decision.

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The first 2021 mock draft

Saturday, November 21st, 2020

Jaelen Phillips is enjoying an impressive season with Miami

Testing will be more important than ever this year. The highly disrupted college football season and number of opt-outs will make the combine a vital event.

It’s high time the NFL incentivised doing all the tests. The 2020 combine was a nonsense. Several big names didn’t perform. The shift to primetime led to many players skipping the agility testing because they’d have to do it at 9-10pm.

Schedule the on-field drills and agility/explosive testing for different days. Reward players financially for competing. If you want this to be a major television event, we need to see the big names in college football on the field.

There are stars available in the top-10 but then there’s a predictable drop-off. However, even at this early stage there appears to be some intriguing depth lasting into round two.

I’ve done a two-round mock draft so that the Seahawks are included.

First round

#1 New York Jets — Trevor Lawrence (QB, Clemson)
#2 Jacksonville — Justin Fields (QB, Ohio State)
#3 Washington — Penei Sewell (T, Oregon)
#4 Dallas — Shaun Wade (CB, Ohio State)
#5 LA Chargers — Ja’Marr Chase (WR, LSU)
#6 Miami (via HOU) — Micah Parsons (LB, Penn State)
#7 Cincinnati — Rasheed Walker (T, Penn State)
#8 New York Giants — Patrick Surtain II (CB, Alabama)
#9 Carolina — Zach Wilson (QB, BYU)
#10 Atlanta — Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (LB, Notre Dame)
#11 Denver — Walker Little (T, Stanford)
#12 San Francisco — Trey Lance (QB, North Dakota State)
#13 Detroit — Dayo Odeyingbo (DE, Vanderbilt)
#14 Minnesota — Gregory Rousseau (DE, Miami)
#15 New England — Kyle Pitts (TE, Florida)
#16 Chicago — Rondale Moore (WR, Purdue)
#17 Cleveland — Kwity Paye (DE, Michigan)
#18 Tennessee — Patrick Jones (DE, Pittsburgh)
#19 Philadelphia — DeVonta Smith (WR, Alabama)
#20 Arizona — Jaycee Horn (CB, South Carolina)
#21 Miami — Travis Etienne (RB, Clemson)
#22 Indianapolis — Davis Mills (QB, Stanford)
#23 Jacksonville (via LAR) — Pat Freiermuth (TE, Penn State)
#24 Baltimore — Josh Myers (C, Ohio State)
#25 Las Vegas — Zaven Collins (LB, Tulsa)
#26 New York Jets (v/SEA) — Jaylen Waddle (WR, Alabama)
#27 Tampa Bay — Rashawn Slater (G, Northwestern)
#28 Buffalo — Jalen Mayfield (T, Michigan)
#29 Green Bay — Caleb Farley (CB, Virginia Tech)
#30 Kansas City — Azeez Ojulari (DE, Georgia)
#31 New Orleans — Dylan Moses (LB, Alabama)
#32 Pittsburgh — Alex Leatherwood (T, Alabama)

Second round

#33 New York Jets — Najee Harris (RB, Alabama)
#34 Jacksonville — Christian Darrisaw (T, Virginia Tech)
#35 Dallas — Alim McNeill (DT, NC State)
#36 LA Chargers — Wyatt Davis (G, Ohio State)
#37 Miami (v/HOU) — Terrace Marshall Jr (WR, LSU)
#38 Washington — Andre Cisco (S, Syracuse)
#39 Cincinnati — Ronnie Perkins (DE, Oklahoma)
#40 Carolina — Obinna Eze (T, Memphis)
#41 New York Giants — Seth Williams (WR, Auburn)
#42 Denver — Jordan Davis (DT, Georgia)
#43 Atlanta — Carlos Basham (DE, Wake Forest)
#44 San Francisco — Jevon Holland (S, Oregon)
#45 Jacksonville (v/MIN) — Jaylen Twyman (DT, Pittsburgh)
#46 New England — Mac Jones (QB, Alabama)
#47 Detroit — Rashod Bateman (WR, Minnesota)
#48 Chicago — Carson Strong (QB, Nevada)
#49 Tennessee — Chris Olave (WR, Ohio State)
#50 Cleveland — Aaron Banks (G, Notre Dame)
#51 Philadelphia — Aidan Hutchinson (DE, Michigan)
#52 Arizona — Jayson Oweh (DE, Penn State)
#53 Indianapolis — Dillon Radunz (T, North Dakota State)
#54 LA Rams — Nate Landman (LB, Colorado)
#55 Baltimore — Paris Ford (S, Pittsburgh)
#56 Miami — Tylan Wallace (WR, Oklahoma State)
#57 Las Vegas — Jake Ferguson (TE, Wisconsin)
#58 Tampa Bay — Jackson Carman (T, Clemson)
#59 Buffalo — Nick Bolton (LB, Missouri)
#60 Seattle — Jaelen Phillips (DE, Miami)
#62 Kansas City — Kenny Yeboah (TE, Ole Miss)
#63 New Orleans — Nico Collins (WR, Michigan)
#64 Pittsburgh — Kellen Mond (QB, Texas A&M)

Notes on Seattle’s pick

There were some attractive options still on the board in the mid-to-late second round.

I’m a big fan of Notre Dame left guard Aaron Banks. He’s a people-mover with great size. He’d be an ideal fit at left guard yet the Seahawks could be inclined to let Jordan Simmons and Phil Haynes compete for that spot in 2021. They’ve also favoured experience on the O-line in recent years, with the exception of Damien Lewis. That said, Banks and Lewis would be a fantastic guard combo for the long term future.

USC defensive tackle Jay Tufele has his admirers but given he’s opted out, it’s difficult to judge exactly where his stock is. Marvin Wilson is extremely athletic but his play on an admittedly awful Florida State team has been concerning. Levi Onwuzurike has flashed for Washington but is another player who’s opted out and would’ve really benefitted from showing what he can do this year.

I suspect they won’t draft a tight end early but Jake Ferguson has everything you want physically in a top-TE prospect. He’s added production this year and is really starting to look the part. Miami’s Brevin Jordan has exciting physical tools but has missed time with injury recently. Kenny Yeboah is having a superb season for Ole Miss and will have many admirers. He has a great ability to climb to the second level and create mismatch opportunities. He’s a modern X-factor weapon and could be a discount alternative to Kyle Pitts.

Notre Dame left tackle Liam Eichenburg is talented but has limitations and might need to shift inside to guard. There are a number of big name receivers available in Seattle’s picking range (although I’m not convinced the likes of Collins, Olave and Wallace will run in the 4.4’s).

At #60 I gave Seattle Miami’s UCLA transfer Jaelen Phillips. He’s a former 5-star recruit who was once the #3 overall prospect in High School. So far this season, his first in Miami, he has an impressive 10.5 TFL’s, five sacks and an interception. He’s well sized at 6-5 and 266lbs. He caught my eye against Virginia Tech where he showed an exciting ability to win off the edge with quickness (2.5 sacks in the game) and I’ve since watched two further games. He is a hidden gem with the profile and talent to be a top pro.

He’s getting better every week with enough size to hold the POA and control the edge but the quickness and dip to win 1v1 and pressure the quarterback.

However, there’s a reason why he could last into the late second round.

His time at UCLA was marred by a series of concussions. In fact a spokesperson for UCLA reportedly said Phillips had opted to medically retire in December 2018 due to his concussion history.

Instead he entered the transfer portal. He had to sit out the 2019 season, which was perhaps helpful. So far he’s not suffered any health setbacks.

The Seahawks have taken chances to acquire extreme physical talent in the late second round before. Frank Clark had off-field concerns. We talked a lot about D.K. Metcalf’s situation during the 2018 college football season and that he almost had to retire due to a neck injury.

If you’re looking for major upside sometimes you have to roll the dice. Pass rush remains a big need for the Seahawks and adding options to create a better rotation has to be a consideration.

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Friday notes: Keep Carlos, TE thoughts & time to snarl

Friday, November 20th, 2020

The winning moment — Carlos Dunlap sacks Kyler Murray

Carlos Dunlap must be retained in 2021

It’s not an exaggeration to say he’s been a revelation so far. His 3.5 sacks in three games barely tells the full story. The Seahawks’ pass rush was inept until his arrival. They needed someone, anyone, to provide some pressure off the edge. Dunlap is delivering that and it’s validating the A+ grade many people awarded the trade when it was completed.

There’s always some caution in celebrating a victory too soon. Quandre Diggs looked like an inspired addition a year ago but his play in 2020 hasn’t followed up a strong start. The same could happen for Dunlap, especially as he turns 32 in February.

However, the Seahawks have seen Frank Clark and Jadeveon Clowney walk out the door in back-to-back seasons. Eventually — they need to keep somebody and build around them, rather than constantly be looking for the next replacement.

Dunlap’s cap hit of $14.25m is steep in 2021 but none of it is guaranteed. A short-term extension that includes new guarantees to lower the hit would be wise — securing the Seahawks with a capable edge rusher to lead their pass rush.

The Greg Olsen injury has a plus side

Will Dissly is in year three of his rookie deal and Jacob Hollister is playing on his second-round RFA tender.

The Seahawks have smartly preserved Dissly after two serious injuries in back-to-back years. However, now is the time to test whether he can stay on the field. His talent and consistency make him a candidate to be Seattle’s long term answer at tight end. Olsen’s injury gives them a reason to see if he can make it so.

It’s also important to see more of Hollister. Do you want to re-sign him in the off-season? If nothing else, he has the incentive of playing in a contract year. He’s also been somewhat underused so far as a receiving tight end who could offer a lot more in the passing game.

There’s also Colby Parkinson. It’s often forgotten but going into the 2019 season, Parkinson had some tentative first and second round grades attached to his name. His stock dropped dramatically after a difficult season for Stanford, mainly due to the horrible play of quarterback KJ Costello.

We’ve since seen Costello go and struggle for Mississippi State after transferring and Parkinson’s raw talent and potential was largely hidden within a stuttering offense.

It’s worth introducing him into the offense — even if it’s only for the sake of experience. He has a lot of potential and could develop into a useful player for the Seahawks. He has great size and like most of the top TE’s in the NFL, he performed well in the agility testing at the combine (three-cone, short shuttle).

Harnessing his talent and expanding the roles of Dissly and Hollister could add a lot to the offense — especially given Olsen’s underwhelming performances so far.

They have to bring the intensity

By week 11 in 2014, the Seahawks were facing a crossroads.

They’d endured a tough season so far — highlighted by the Percy Harvin fallout and persistent rumours that they’d had enough of Marshawn Lynch.

A 24-20 loss in Kansas City looked closer than it was. The Seahawks were poor and fell to 6-4. It looked like they were going to struggle to make the playoffs a year after winning the Super Bowl.

The key veterans circled the wagon and hosted Arizona the following week. The Cardinals were leading the division at 9-1. It was a must-win game to stand any chance of catching them.

The Seahawks were snarling, angry and brutal. They played a typically physical game. It wasn’t pretty but they won 19-3.

It launched a six game winning streak. They beat San Francisco by the same scoreline on Thanksgiving and then ran the table. They finished 12-4, won the NFC West and returned to the Super Bowl.

The current Seahawks have far more issues than the 2014 group. They also don’t have Lynch, the LOB, Bennett and Avril and many others.

That said, a similar opportunity is emerging.

As with 2014, there’s nothing particularly scary about Seattle’s remaining schedule. They had a get-right win at home to the Cardinals, who were again leading the NFC West, and now face a challenge of building on that.

Six years ago the key was to really embrace the building momentum and thrive in the opportunity to smack opponents around, show them who’s boss and get the season back on track.

This year there’s a lot more to it. They have to try and play with sound fundamentals on defense consistently. As highlighted alarmingly by Brett Kollmann and Chris Simms this week — they’ve been making some hideous mistakes.

They also need to stick to the formula that helped get things right yesterday (essentially not depend exclusively on the quarterback), play with intensity and attitude and try to launch another strong finishing run.

In recent years they haven’t ‘finished’ very well. They’re only 14-10 in the final six games over the last four seasons. That includes three years where they finished 3-3.

Philadelphia (A), New York Giants (H), New York Jets (H) and Washington (A) is a four-game run they need to attack — setting up decisive NFC West rematches with LA and San Francisco.

They need to prove they can stay on track, win the games they’re supposed to win and continue to show massive improvement on defense in order to reinvigorate faith that this won’t be another wasted season. Yesterday was a good start — but it’s only a start until they prove otherwise. Contrary to what some people might think — the issues raised in the aftermath of the Buffalo and LA losses aren’t simply brushed away after one win.

Even so, the NFC is still wide open and that’s unlikely to change between now and Christmas.

Arizona aren’t actually that good

I thought the Seahawks would win last night mainly because I don’t think the Cardinals are that good.

Kyler Murray is clearly superb — although I was a little surprised that Fox dedicated their entire pre-game show to him, rather than an even split in what looked like a fascinating contest between two exciting quarterbacks.

Here’s the reality with the Cardinals though. They are missing their best pass rusher and their top three defensive tackles. They also have a few niggles elsewhere, including the quarterback and running back.

If it wasn’t for a hail mary last Sunday, they’d be 5-5 for the season right now. Had the Seahawks not thrown away the game in Arizona, they’d be 4-5. They’ve lost to the Lions, Panthers and Dolphins.

They have some terrific individual stars and will probably win nine or ten games. Yet realistically they’re probably nearer 8-8 than 13-3.

I still think if the Seahawks are going to win the NFC West it’s the team in LA they need to be most wary of.

Mock draft on the way

I’ve written my first 2021 mock draft and it’s ready to roll. I was saving it for this mini-bye week and will post it over the weekend.

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Instant reaction: Seahawks claim must-win game

Thursday, November 19th, 2020

The Seahawks couldn’t afford to lose this game.

A loss would’ve effectively put them two games behind the Cardinals due to the tiebreaker. Even with the easiest remaining schedule in the league, it would’ve taken a big effort to overcome that deficit.

More importantly, it would’ve felt like a crisis. It would’ve meant four defeats in five and a season spinning out of control.

Crisis averted.

Overall it felt very much like an old-school Thursday night game. The quality has improved over the last couple of years but when the NFL introduced these mid-week games initially, they were littered with errors.

Both teams made a series of headache-inducing mistakes.

Quandre Diggs turned a three-and-out into an extended touchdown drive with a needless hit. Not to be outdone, Dre Kirkpatrick duly returned the favour with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on fourth down at midfield (leading to a Seattle touchdown).

D.K. Metcalf had two drops — including a football to the face right before half-time. Kyler Murray took an intentional grounding penalty on his own two-yard line, leading to a vital safety on the very next play.

Jason Myers missed an extra point which could’ve been important at the end and Patrick Peterson gave up a major pass interference call right before half-time, gifting the Seahawks three points.

The two teams combined for 18 total penalties.

The officials didn’t help matters with some glaring errors — adding to the overall sloppiness of the occasion.

Nevertheless, the Seahawks were victorious and showed some spirit and character to be the last man standing.

The Russell Wilson for MVP bus has been parked in favour of a more balanced attack and the benefits were clear for all to see tonight. Wilson is a sensational player very capable of winning games on his own. However, like practically every QB who has ever lived, he benefits from support in the form of a productive running game.

Seattle ran for 165 yards and felt in control for pretty much the whole game. The scoreboard was always relatively close and that’s the downside of this kind of game plan. Yet at the end of the day, this is only the second win of the season where things felt somewhat in hand. It’s not a coincidence that it worked alongside Carlos Hyde’s return and a much more complementary offense.

Defensively, some of the season-long issues remain. Tre Flowers is a big problem as a starter. Jamal Adams looks like he’s freelancing and doing whatever he wants and I’m not entirely sure it’s working the way Seattle hoped. There were a few too many long conversions too — with Seattle conceding 6-11 on third down.

Even so — there were also reasons to praise the defense for a change.

Carlos Dunlap had two sacks and a further impact play and looks every bit the defensive end Seattle badly needed to add in March. His presence on the defensive line is a major boost and that was an excellent trade prior to the deadline.

L.J. Collier also had a sack but a much more important act was his ability to draw the holding call in the end zone that led to a safety and two points.

K.J. Wright covering ground with supreme agility to deny Kyler Murray on a scramble before half-time stole an extra possession for Seattle, enabling them to claim three points.

And at the end, when they needed a stop, they found one. Not for the first time this season admittedly — but this one was a lot less stressful and desperate.

I said in our pre-game podcast on Tuesday that I thought Seattle would win this game. The key now is to try and keep growing while also winning. Nothing was solved tonight. All of the big problems discussed yesterday still exist. The defense, especially the way it is coached and has been taught, is probably going to be an issue for the rest of the season.

However, they have a mini-bye before playing the Eagles. They need to launch another winning run before a key week-16 rematch with the Rams. They needed this one and they got it.

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It’s time to be honest about the state of the Seahawks

Wednesday, November 18th, 2020

Go and listen to this weeks Brock and Salk podcast.

Here’s the link.

You will not hear better analysis on the Seahawks.

Every relevant topic is covered. No punches are pulled.

It’s exactly the type of conversation we need to be having.

Here’s an image that pretty much sums up the rest of the Seattle media currently:

They’re very prepared to get worked up about a decision to punt at midfield at the start of the second half in a four point game. In the grand scheme of things, that is a total irrelevance. It’s meaningless.

On a list of worthwhile topics to discuss, it’s about 79th in the pecking order.

Where was the serious analysis of Seattle’s hapless off-season (which some referred to as ‘fantastic’)? Where are the serious, probing questions about the fact this team has the worst defense in the NFL?

Why hasn’t anyone put to Carroll how they can be this bad on defense after spending $50m and using three first round picks, a second round pick and three third round picks?

Why hasn’t anyone asked about the 1-5 run in the NFC West? Or the 1-5 run against the Rams? Or the all too frequent out-coaching that has been extremely evident in the second half against Arizona and the full games in Buffalo and LA?

The defense is totally broken. The spirt and toughness that was so crucial in the early Carroll years seems to be completely gone. Jamal Adams tweeted, ‘we all we got, we all we need’ after the Buffalo game. It was insulting to use that term, made famous by Red Bryant and the band of brothers from 2010 onwards.

You don’t get to say ‘we all we got, we all we need’ after that disgraceful showing against the Bills.

This video published today highlighting Seattle’s issues on defense is an absolute horror show:

It’s stunning just how badly called, organised and executed the defense is. It’s hopeless. It’s absolutely hopeless.

There’s a lot wrong with the Seahawks and yet sometimes, you’d hardly notice.

Brock and Salk, thankfully, still do a weekly podcast. It’s manna from heaven. A proper, adult conversation covering the important topics involving this team.

No shirking. No hiding.

They compared the current defense to the Jim Mora 2009 season. It’s totally fair. In fact you could argue that if the 2009 team had Russell Wilson and D.K. Metcalf — they’d probably be 6-3 or somewhere close to it too. The quarterback, as badly as he’s played in the last month, masks many blemishes.

Here’s something else Brock Huard said that stands out:

“Pete, if I was sitting with you on a Monday, I’d say, ‘Pete, why and how has your team morphed into such a finesse football team that gets punched in the face consistently?'”

It’s a fair question. One that should be asked.

Ruffling a few feathers is what you’re supposed to do in the media. The industry isn’t there to accommodate you. It’s not an extended vacation, where you get to bask in the glory of doing a cool job.

You’re there to get answers. To push and probe. To point things out.

People won’t like it. You might put a few noses out of joint. That’s part of the business.

It’s not like the Seattle media are being fed a long list of breaking stories either and need to protect a source.

So far this year we’ve had multiple occasions where Carroll has received gushing, uncomfortable praise from a radio host. Bobby Wagner hasn’t had his performances challenged, rather he was asked whether he believes a handful of journalists could beat several highly athletic pro-athletes in a basketball game. Last week Brian Schottenheimer was asked what sauce he likes on a hotdog.

Today, Carroll was asked who picks the jersey colour for each game.

I appreciate not every question can be a gruelling, direct fastball. I’m also well aware how difficult this job can be. Finding the right balance between maintaining a relationship and being seen to hold people to account isn’t always easy.

Surely though we’re well past the point of a few more difficult questions needing to be asked? Again, watch the video above. How is anyone getting away with an easy ride for this?

Assuming Carroll or Wagner or Russell Wilson won’t answer in a satisfactory manner isn’t an excuse. You’ve still got to be seen to be asking the questions.

I suspect Carroll would be more than willing to be challenged. He’s worked in New York, Boston and LA. This isn’t his first rodeo.

Thankfully Brock and Salk were willing to have the kind of debate we need to be having.

I said in my own podcast yesterday that I think the Seahawks will beat the Cardinals on Thursday (the video is at the bottom of the article). I don’t think it’ll change anything though.

The state of the franchise is completely up in the air. The defense is a shambles. The identity of the team is kaput. Carroll reset in 2018 in an attempt to regain an identity. Three years on, this couldn’t look less like a Pete Carroll team.

They are finesse. They aren’t hitting anyone. There’s no attitude.

The way the team has been built has been poor. The scheme calls for pressure with four and yet despite insisting fixing the pass rush was a priority this year, the main moves were to swap Jadeveon Clowney for Benson Mayowa, re-sign an ageing Bruce Irvin and then trade up for a pass rusher who missed the Senior Bowl and combine with a serious injury (and he remains injured).

The way they’ve invested their money and used their picks is confusing and deserves to be questioned, challenged and analysed. It’s no longer good enough to point to the team building work between 2010 and 2013 and give this front office a pass.

Regardless of the result on Thursday night — the Seahawks do not look like a team primed for a long playoff run.

If they lose you could argue they’d be in a crisis — enduring a three-game losing streak and a 1-4 run, with a two-game gap between Seattle and Arizona for the NFC West lead. As noted many times, winning the division once in six years shouldn’t be acceptable with the quarterback advantage Seattle has.

Yet if they do win the game — there shouldn’t be any sugar coating this situation. Even if they finish 11-5 again, it’s abundantly clear that in the coming off-season major decisions need to be taken.

Nothing should be off the table. They need to be ruthless and pro-active.

Carroll isn’t going anywhere as we discussed on Monday. Therefore he should be open to major, significant changes to the coaching staff which include ceding control of the defense to a proper coordinator.

No longer can we see Tre Flowers sitting 15-yards off a receiver despite having safety help. No longer can young players come into the system, drift through their rookie contracts and then depart with minimal development. No longer can the terrible communication and blown assignments continue.

A new, expert staff is required who can teach and install a scheme that is executed with detail and precision.

In terms of personnel, some big calls are required. Is Bobby Wagner worth $18m a year? Be honest about that. You just spent a first round pick on a middle linebacker. Be prepared to move on if needs be. Is Jamal Adams a proper fit in this defense? Is he going to be worth the massive contract he will covet? If the answer is no, you have to be prepared to salvage what you can and trade him.

You’ve got to be realistic about your core. The only players you can say are part of it, with any seriousness, are Russell Wilson, D.K. Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Duane Brown and some of the younger guys like Damien Lewis and potentially Jordyn Brooks. Chris Carson would be on the list but you need to decide how much you’re willing to commit to him.

The rest? It’s all up for debate. Nobody on the defense is playing well enough to justify being safe.

Quandre Diggs needs to go. Quinton Dunbar needs to go. Shaquill Griffin? You can’t pay him big money. Every member of the defensive line should be on borrowed time with the exception of Poona Ford. Carlos Dunlap deserves an opportunity to prove his worth but the reality is he’s 32 in February and has a big cap hit in 2021.

You’re staring at a massive defensive rebuild — in terms of scheme, staff and personnel.

Let’s just be honest about that. It was good that Salk brought up Wagner’s future. The simple fact is, you might just have to move on. Ditto with Adams. If he was a safety you drafted playing this way as an effective blitzer but not a lot else, it would be fine. But you traded three good picks and a player for him. He needs to be a defining player on the defense. A total game-changer. I’m afraid, so far, he simply isn’t. The sacks are nice but the defense still looks appalling, you have to go against your scheme to be aggressive and blitz him and as a coverage man, he’s not an upgrade on Bradley McDougald.

He’s got seven more games to prove his worth or it’s time to bite the bullet and get what you can. You can’t compound the issue by paying him the $15-20m contract he will expect and that you’re duty bound to give him after trading away so much.

Going into the off-season and swapping Ken Norton for Gus Bradley or Dan Quinn, then papering over a few cracks with a few neat-and-tidy free agency moves and a limited draft class, before repeating the same season in 2021 that we’ve seen since 2015 shouldn’t be acceptable.

Short of a turnaround this season so unpredictable it would be staggering, this is the reality of where the Seahawks are. You don’t have to wait until January to have this conversation. We can have it right now.

Some people won’t like it. Avoiding difficult topics is a classic human trait. A lot of people don’t want to recognise issues because you have to confront them. It’s easier to sit back and hope things are actually OK. Or you can undermine those who do want to have the tough conversations. That’s easier than actually having to debate the valid talking points.

Really it comes down to this. If you want a serious football team who actually makes Super Bowls and wins things, we all need to be realistic and honest about where this team is. That includes the football operation, the media and the fans.

At the moment, the Seahawks are a long way away from the Super Bowl. Everything is on Russell Wilson and as we’re seeing, it’s not sustainable. You cannot build your team this way — with a horrific defense and a one-dimensional offense — and hope to succeed for more than the odd flourish here and there.

There are serious weaknesses littered throughout the roster. Many personnel mistakes have been made. The coaching staff needs to be better and fresh ideas are required.

Major surgery is needed. A few band-aids are not enough.

The sooner we all recognise that the better.

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The importance of Chris Carson & a lead runner in Seattle

Tuesday, November 17th, 2020

Several teams are getting getting a lot out of their running backs this year.

Arizona, Baltimore and New England lead the team rushing statistics in terms of YPG. However, their numbers are boosted by the impact of a running quarterback.

The next four teams on the list — Cleveland, Minnesota, Tennessee and Las Vegas — lean on star-studded running backs to provide a spark.

Where would the 6-3 Browns be without Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt? The entire offense is structured around the pair. Minnesota are experiencing a mid-season revival thanks to the brilliance of their skill position players — in particular Dalvin Cook. Ryan Tannehill has been terrific since taking over as the Titans quarterback but nobody can deny the importance of Derrick Henry in Tennessee. Meanwhile Derek Carr is having a strong season for the Raiders but we can clearly see how much he’s aided by Josh Jacobs.

Great players matter, even at running back.

Anyone who follows football closely would acknowledge there’s a hierarchy of positional importance. Quarterback, left tackle, pass rusher. We all know the most important positions when you’re building a team.

Those positions deserve to be prioritised early in the draft and when a less important position is taken instead — such as a running back — criticism is rarely unfair.

That said, when a GM such as Dave Gettleman takes Saquon Barkley with the #2 pick he does so because he believes, rightly or wrongly, he’s acquiring a special player. Someone who can elevate his team and be a figurehead, even at a position that is less important.

Nobody is taking Barkley in that spot because ‘we’ve got to get a runner’. You’re taking him because you believe the talent is special enough to warrant that decision — and presumably Gettleman wasn’t convinced by Sam Darnold, Josh Allen or Josh Rosen (with hindsight, that’s at least understandable). Gettleman gets his fair share of criticism — some of it justified — but it was long reported the player he badly wanted at quarterback was Justin Herbert (and that he was prepared to wait on drafting a QB as a consequence). Herbert’s decision not to declare in 2019 meant the Giants had to pivot and reach (arguably) for Daniel Jones. Again, we can debate the merits of the idea but Barkley + potentially Herbert wasn’t a bad plan.

While virtually everyone accepts the running back position isn’t of first-tier level importance — we’ve clearly seen teams feel it’s worth investing in. Look at all the big contracts dished out to Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Joe Mixon, Ezekiel Elliott, Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook. We also saw teams invest in the position early in the draft this year — including the Super Bowl champions Kansas City, the LA Rams, Detroit, Green Bay and Indianapolis.

You can always find runners later on, of course. James Robinson in Jacksonville, an UDFA rookie, is currently the fifth leading rusher in the NFL. The four players in front of him though include a first round pick and three second round picks.

Statistically the top five receivers currently are Stefon Diggs (fifth rounder), DeAndre Hopkins (first rounder), DK Metcalf (second rounder), Terry McLaurin (third rounder) and Robby Anderson (UDFA). Davante Adams was the #53 pick in 2014.

J.C. Jackson, an UDFA, leads the league in interceptions. Blake Martinez, a fourth rounder, leads the NFL in tackles. David Bakhtiari, another fourth rounder, just signed a deal to become the highest paid offensive tackle in history.

The top five quarterbacks in terms of yardage include a third rounder and a sixth rounder. I’ll let you guess their names.

Talent is acquired at all positions at every level. The key is to find it.

A special player, even at a lesser position, can still do so much for your team.

We should know better than any other fan base what is possible. Marshawn Lynch was irreplaceable in the formative years of the Pete Carroll era. There’s no way the Seahawks reach the pinnacle without Lynch. He dominated games on the field, dictated how opponents played the Seahawks, defined the culture and connected with the LOB defense.

He was the catalyst for the team coming together.

Go back and watch the Super Bowl victory against Denver and how the Broncos defense sold out trying to stop Marshawn. It’s immensely beneficial when you have a player who dictates game plans. If you have a running back and a quarterback you need to account for — you’ll win a lot of games.

In 2014 I wrote the following about Lynch:

Replacing Lynch will be the toughest thing this franchise has to do in the post-Super Bowl era. You could argue running backs are easy to plug into an offense. How else can you describe 29-year-old Justin Forsett posting 5.4 yards-per-carry in Baltimore as the fourth most productive runner in the NFL? I think for most teams it’s a valid point. But not for Seattle. Not with Lynch.

He is so integral to this teams identity. He is a phenom, a truly unique runner that deserves to be remembered as fondly as any other running back since the turn of the century. His physical style, ability to break tackles, his attitude on the field. These are not easily replaced by just plugging in another player. The moment Seattle loses ‘Beast Mode’ the team will also lose a part of its identity. There’s no getting away from that.

When Lynch departed, the Seahawks predictably suffered. They struggled to find a replacement. They tried plugging in Christine Michael, C.J. Prosise and Eddie Lacy. Thomas Rawls offered a fleeting flourish before disappearing.

By 2017 the running game had totally collapsed and it contributed towards the Seahawks missing the playoffs for the only time in Russell Wilson’s NFL career. Here’s what I wrote in reaction to a loss during that 2017 season:

Lynch and Wilson used to share responsibility for the offense. Now it’s all on the quarterback.

He was brought in to be the star point guard, not a one-man LeBron James show.

The idea of a Seattle running back getting over 100 yards in a game is currently unfathomable. It’d be a major surprise if it happened. A 100-yard rusher? What a luxury. We used to take something like that for granted.

It’s something they don’t have now and they miss the comfort and stability that Lynch brought to the offense. He grounded them. If he wasn’t getting the ball, it felt necessary to get him involved. What draws Seattle back to the running game now? The opportunity to see which of Lacy, Rawls or McKissic can struggle for a short gain? It’s too tempting to turn to Wilson instead.

Yesterday is a good example of the difference between the two versions of the Seahawks. In 2014 you imagine they would’ve come out in the second half featuring Lynch. In 2017 they practically abandoned the running backs and put the game on Russell Wilson, trying to chase the big play.

They badly need some balance and some help for the quarterback.

The situation isn’t quite as dramatic as that today. Russell Wilson has grown into an even better player than he was three years ago. He’s already shown he can carry this team to wins — even if he’s folded under that weight of expectation in the last two weeks. You would never actively desire to take the ball out of his hands — it’s more a case of further supporting him and providing Wilson with another dynamic skill player for the arsenal.

I think there’s something to be said for reading through those words from 2017 though.

“They practically abandoned the running backs and put the game on Russell Wilson, trying to chase the big play.”

That’s what we’re seeing now. The Seahawks don’t trust their cobbled together combo of Alex Collins, Deejay Dallas and Travis Homer to lead the rushing attack. There’s no pressure to focus the running game — either from the offensive coordinator or the quarterback. Both Brian Schottenheimer and Russell Wilson probably think, rightly, this is all on #3 — regardless of the situation the Seahawks find themselves in.

Paired with the ugly defensive performances, Wilson is chasing the big play far too often. He’s trying to make things happen that aren’t there. At his best, he protects the football better than any QB in the league. In the three losses this year, he’s looked like the worst version of Jay Cutler.

We’ve never seen Wilson like this. There are seven regular season games left and he’s already on the brink of setting a career record for interceptions.

So much of it is down to the rank bad defense piling pressure on the offense to score +30 a game. Even when they don’t need +30 — it’s difficult to shake the feeling when that’s what you’ve been seeing week after week.

It also feels, somewhat, like Wilson’s shaky form has coincided with the absence of Seattle’s top two running backs — including RB1.

Chris Carson is by far the best running back Seattle has had since Lynch. While he lacks the culture-building connecting qualities that were exclusive and unique to Marshawn, he carries some of the physicality and skill and he helps bring needed balance to the offense.

‘Balance’ sometimes gets construed as an ugly word by the anti-run crowd. I’d argue the Seahawks were well balanced early in the season when Wilson looked set to streak away with the MVP award. He was the focal point but the run complemented what he was doing. Carson is also suitably talented that he was an asset on hot routes and as a receiver in general.

Seattle’s offense just doesn’t look the same without Carson. We saw that at the end of last season too. The Seahawks — and Wilson — are simply better with a really good running back. That was the case with Lynch and now it’s the situation with Carson.

He’s as important as D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. They are a fantastic trio.

His inability to get back on the field, especially in a vital contract year, has to be concerning.

Carson’s inability to stay healthy isn’t just a short term concern either. We’ve seen, again, how the offense is impacted when he isn’t there. They can’t afford to pay him mega money with his injury record. Yet they can’t really afford to lose him either when his contract expires in a few months. They can’t bank on Rashaad Penny leading the way along with Dallas or Homer as a #2. That won’t cut it.

It creates a dilemma for the off-season. The Seahawks practically have to risk losing him to allow him to set his market. Then, due to the injuries, they might get him back at a reasonable price. Alternatively, they could lose him and find themselves in a bind.

The other option is to pay him early — but unless he’s feeling particularly reasonable, that will be tricky and/or expensive.

The situation could’ve been aided if they’d tapped into a strong running back class early in the draft this year. I understand why they didn’t — a section of the fan base would’ve gone apoplectic if they’d used a second high pick in three years on a runner. Yet the insurance a Clyde Edwards-Helaire or D’Andre Swift could’ve provided (the top two runners drafted) would’ve been valuable. Imagine either of those two starting right now, at a fraction of the salary Carlos Hyde is on. The Seahawks would also be in a much better position next year in terms of negotiating with Carson, knowing they had a talented fall back if he departs.

I’m not sure drafting another linebacker instead was better value. The Jordyn Brooks pick is just as much of a luxury. At the end of the day, making life as easy as possible for Russell Wilson is of vital importance. More so than setting the table for life beyond K.J. Wright.

The late first and second round has turned into a good draft range for running backs. With the positional value decreasing, good players tend to last into that range. Edwards-Helaire and Swift are perfect examples this year. In previous years we’ve seen Chubb, Henry, Cook, Ronald Jones and Miles Sanders go in that range too. For a team that does place value on the position, it’s frustrating that the one time they tapped into it in the top-50, they came away with Rashaad Penny (who has had injuries and only flashed in spurts).

Again, there would’ve been uproar had the Seahawks spent another high pick on a runner. I’m not sure many would be complaining if one of the names listed in the previous paragraph were filling the void left by Carson currently.

One way or another, they’re probably going to have to find a way to keep Carson. Otherwise they run the risk of trying to avoid a repeat of the Eddie Lacy fiasco.

If we didn’t appreciate it fully before — the 2020 season has shown this team needs a lead runner.

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Change is probably needed but it isn’t coming

Monday, November 16th, 2020

The expression on Pete Carroll’s face here speaks volumes

It feels like we’re witnessing the dying embers of a great era. The final few weeks of an exciting, legendary run that needs to come to an end for everyone’s sakes.

Except, at the same time, we aren’t.

The Seahawks under Pete Carroll have lost their way.

Their identity is shot. They want to play ‘complete circle’ football and yet they’ve stumbled into a one-man-quarterback-band.

The attitude is long gone. The Seahawks don’t play with a chip on their shoulder any more. Neither do they play with a physical edge to strike fear into opponents.

For the last three years they’ve tried to rebuild the team and frankly they’ve done a bad job. The roster construction has left them with a historically poor defense. They’ve squandered money and high picks, compromising their ability to make further improvements in the coming years.

The coaching staff isn’t inspiring any confidence. Carroll’s speciality is supposed to be defense but look at the results. Most of the young players aren’t being developed. The ideas and game planning leaves a lot to be desired. While other staff’s do less with more — the Seahawks are left surprised when opponents throw a lot against their league-worst passing defense.

On Sunday the players were flat and looked demoralised. Even Carroll’s body language told a story. He looked like a man struggling to comprehend what he was seeing — with no obvious solutions to fix the problems.

The game itself was a joyless experience. Suddenly the offense looks as broken as the defense. For those that are quick to say yesterday isn’t an example of the offense being impacted by the poor play of the defense — remember that they gave up 17 points and about 240 yards in the opening three drives. Right from the off the Seahawks were chasing the game. Sure, things tightened in the second half. Yet the offense is having to play with a mentality of keeping up at best and overcompensating at worst.

That’s not to absolve the offense of criticism. They need to be better. Russell Wilson cannot make the ridiculous, indefensible mistakes he is making. Nobody should wash away the turnovers and staggering errors he is forcing.

Yet it’s a further example of how everything is infected now. A different kind of circle is being created — with only special teams, so far, resisting the urge to join in. Clearly the ‘hope Wilson can cure a thousand ills’ approach was unsustainable. Thus, the walls are crumbling around the 2020 season.

No longer can the team clutch to a NFC West lead like a comfort blanket. Now they’re third in the division, clinging on to the seventh seed in the NFC.

They face a win-or-bust game against the Cardinals. Lose that one and their playoff hopes could begin to evaporate — even with the weakest schedule in the NFL.

Cast an eye towards the rest of the division. Kliff Kingsbury, Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan have picked up teams who, initially, were among the worst one or two in the sport.

McVay and Shanahan have built Super Bowl teams since, despite only being able to call upon Jared Goff and Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback. Kingsbury has turned the Cardinals from the team picking first overall to a NFC West contender in a season and a half.

Meanwhile the Seahawks flounder — stuck in an annual rut of being unable to win the division despite their clear quarterback advantage. They’ve won the NFC West once in five years and that run increasingly looks like it will extend to six.

That’s not good enough.

They are also 1-5 in their last six games against the Rams (and a missed field goal from 0-6) and 1-5 in their last six NFC West games.

All good things come to an end and sadly, it’s starting to look a lot like the Carroll era should come to an end. New blood, new ideas and a fresh start is attractive.

It was a wonderful run but as with anything, it can’t go on forever. The Bill Belichick’s and Mike Tomlin’s are the exception not the rule.

The inevitable response, especially from some sections of the media, will be to point to Carroll’s record and familiarity and question the sanity of anyone making such claims. A lot of people don’t want to consider this topic. It’s a step too far. Practically a form of blasphemy. Carroll is immensely popular and likeable and rightly so. The Seahawks without him? Unthinkable.

Yet former glories aren’t enough to justify continuing into the future.

Fear of change can’t compromise decision making. Moving on would be a risk, sure. Teams do it all the time though. The challenge is to get the replacement appointment right to make it the correct call — not avoid making the decision due to anxiety that the grass might not be greener on the other side.

A 6-3 record also shouldn’t hide the truth. Russell Wilson is sufficiently good enough to maintain a base level of wins every year. You could argue he’s good enough to secure a playoff spot most if not all years. You are not doing a good job by achieving the bare minimum with this quarterback.

All teams endure rough patches. The Seahawks are 1-3 in the first real test on their schedule. The thing is, everything that is unfolding has been predictable. The off-season fears are coming true. The problems experienced today are not solely down to game-planning mistakes, bad interceptions or a decision not to go for it on fourth and inches at midfield.

This is about the construction of the roster from 2018 onwards. This is the way they’ve used their picks and cap space. The players they’ve chosen to retain at great cost and the players they’ve moved on. The inability to address stated priorities. The trades they’ve made. The way certain players have failed to be developed. The inability to make the most of having the best quarterback in the division. The coaches they’ve appointed. The failure to install a vision and philosophy correctly. The way they’ve struggled to capture a physical edge despite craving it so much. The dejected, sad looking body language the players are starting to show. The continued focus on competition and competing — yet with protected individuals who, when they underachieve — are allowed to continue without consequence.

As Colin Cowherd noted today — without Wilson, are the Seahawks even capable of winning a game?

It’s starting to feel like it’s time. The current regime, which includes John Schneider, doesn’t seem capable of solving the riddles of roster construction and the current staff don’t seem capable of elevating what they’re left with.

Yet the reality is nothing is going to change.

Jody Allen isn’t firing Pete Carroll. She’s just given him a five-year extension. The Seahawks are in an ownership holding pattern and no major changes to the football infrastructure will occur until a buyer is found. Per reports, that could take at least three years.

So for at least the next three years, and it could easily be more, nothing is going to change.

That’s the most serious problem for this franchise. There’s no true leadership from the very top. Power and control appears to be ceded or passed on to Carroll and Schneider — the football people. There doesn’t appear to be any accountability.

That’s not a good place to be. Especially when things are not going right and you’re just carrying on until someone else takes over to make the big call you needed to make years earlier.

Previously I thought continuity during this period was necessary. Now my perspective has changed. The Seahawks can’t move on from Carroll but increasingly it looks like they need to. It’s becoming a marriage of ownership convenience rather the right thing for the product on the field.

It’s starting to feel like we’re all going to have to just get through this when really, we should be invigorated by the best years of Russell Wilson and should be dreaming of Championship opportunities.

So what’s the answer?

We can all debate the short term merits of firing the defensive coordinator (which isn’t going to happen on a short week) or begging Kris Richard to come back and help out. The reality is this season is being reduced to ‘hope for the best’. You’re going to hear the old adage that 20 years ago fans could only dream of the playoffs, so you should just be satisfied that you’ve got that morsel to digest. Frankly, that’s all you’re going to get.

Long term — as in the off-season — is where the serious decisions need to be made.

Carroll requires a specialist, experienced staff from now on. He needs to bring in a defensive coordinator to run the defense outright and he needs to empower that coordinator to bring in his own people to fill out the staff. Carroll should be prepared to take a backseat to focus on being the figurehead at the top of the table. The days of former USC colleagues and Carroll tree protégés need to be a thing of the past.

They also need to make difficult choices in terms of personnel. Your top earners need to be able to justify their contracts. Nothing should be off the table. The status quo can’t just continue year after year. Things need shaking up and they need to re-establish who are the players they can truly classify as the core.

They need to humble themselves and stop overthinking the draft and free agency. If you have a big glaring need for a pass rusher — go and get one. Don’t squander millions dishing out RFA contracts to Branden Jackson and Joey Hunt, spend $7m on a tight end who’s been actively contemplating retirement and then decide $3m on Benson Mayowa will do after all.

This front office gets a lot of praise. It’s time for that to stop and a sense of pressure and urgency needs to be applied instead. Sometimes it’s OK to be predictable — doing things like fixing your needs in free agency then making a draft pick that is recognised as logical.

They need to do a detailed and thorough review that looks at how they came to put together the D-line that they did for 2020, in part because they didn’t like the value, only to trade the house for a blitzing safety who has been hurt all year and is now making business decisions.

And if they were inclined to make a massive trade like this, why not do it for Jalen Ramsey instead — given the way his mere presence was enough to take out Seattle’s top skill player on Sunday? When will Jamal Adams ever do that to an opponent?

If asked, no doubt Carroll and Schneider will go to great lengths to say everything is discussed and analysed and reviewed. To what extent though? Do they have to go, cap in hand, to the current owner and explain their decision making process at the end of each season? Are they challenged from the top?

You can say this talk is premature but what’s the point in waiting to discuss what seems obvious? This needs to be embraced and something done about it. The change has to come from within, with the existing football structure, because Carroll isn’t going anywhere. We cannot be sat here in 12 months talking about the same things yet again.

For now we look ahead to Thursday and hope for a win. We hope things will flip and suddenly, from nowhere, this team will grow into something nobody can predict based on their last two performances.

I’m desperate to be proven wrong. I want to eat the words in this article. Unfortunately though, topics like this are going to need to be taken seriously from now on. We have to be prepared to have these uncomfortable discussions.

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