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Instant reaction: Seahawks tie, go to 4-1-1

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

Well, have you ever seen anything like that?

On the one hand it’s a good result for Seattle because:

a.) Arizona had the ball at the one yard line and missed a chip shot field goal.

b.) David Johnson probably scored a touchdown just before it. The ball looked like it crossed the plane on replay but Bruce Arians had his offense rush to the line before a replay official could call in to take a look at it.

On the other hand, Steven/Stephen Hauschka had a chance to steal a win and take a commanding lead in the NFC West with his own chip shot and did his best impression of Blair Walsh.

And thus, the game gets the scoreline it deserves. 6-6. A tie.

Isn’t this a weird feeling? Denied the euphoria of the game-winning kick, it’s instead replaced with disappointment, relief and maybe a tiny pinch of happiness.

After all, Seattle is still in control of the NFC West and maybe the NFC. Minnesota (5-1) didn’t look quite as formidable in their loss to Philly, the Falcons have slumped to 4-3 and Dallas play in a NFC East that generally eats itself alive.

I’m not quite sure why Seattle didn’t run the clock down to about two seconds, call a time-out and kick as overtime expired. Hauschka almost appeared a little rushed in the end and the miss gave Arizona a chance to throw two more passes (including a hail mary).

Onto the defense. What a performance.

On a night where the offense had nine straight punts to start and needed a blocked punt to help end the run — this was an all-time great performance from an all-time great defense.

Cliff Avril’s sacks. Deshawn Shead’s coverage. The impact of the linebackers. Earl Thomas. They were just the highlights — truly this was a cumulative performance to banish the memory of last weeks nightmare third quarter against Atlanta.

To put in this level of performance with almost no rest for the best part of four hours isn’t just admirable — it’s miraculous. And for that reason they deserved to avoid being on the losing team.

The offense on the other hand was uglier than a bears backside until overtime.

Even a couple of decent drives would’ve been enough — but they had no answer in a performance reminiscent of the 2013 Rams game. The O-line couldn’t handle two excellent edge rushers (Quinn/Long — Golden/Jones) and a dominating interior presence (Donald — Campbell). For Paul McQuistan and Michael Bowie, see Bradley Sowell and Garry Gilliam.

Sadly there was no Golden Tate taunting his way to a big game-winning touchdown.

The good news is an offensive clunker like this hasn’t usually lingered into multiple weeks. After that Rams game in 2013 Seattle scored 27, 33, 41 and 34 in the following four weeks.

The offensive line will get a lot of focus, in particular the two tackle slots. Bradley Sowell left the game with a MCL injury and ended the night in tears. Sowell has thrown himself into being a Seahawk and it was a moment of raw emotion from a guy that hasn’t done too badly overall — he just ran into a buzzsaw tonight.

There will be clamour in Seattle all week for the Seahawks to trade for Joe Thomas before the deadline. PFT reported earlier that he could be available for a second round pick.

The Thomas topic probably warrants a post of its own but really it comes down to this:

— How prepared are you to spend a second rounder on a soon-to-be 32-year-old ahead of what looks like an absolutely loaded draft?

–As good as Thomas is, can he pick up the offense quickly mid-season? This offense isn’t like anything they’ve run in Cleveland, ever.

— As he nears the twilight of his career, how many years can he play in Seattle’s ultra-physical offense that has led to injuries aplenty on the O-line?

— How much faith do they have in George Fant? He struggled a bit today but they’ve talked very positively about his development so far.

— They will have cap room in 2017 but there’s hardly any remaining in 2016. This wouldn’t just take a lot of manoeuvring it might prevent you from rewarding the likes of Michael Bennett or Kam Chancellor next year.

I think the discussion — and boy is it coming, on social media and talk radio — might be a bit of a red herring. They would have to be so creative with the cap space and could risk more dysfunction with their existing stars who are looking to get a pay rise next year. Do they want that?

For what it’s worth, the 49ers are reportedly also willing to deal Joe Staley. Unfortunately his salary is similar to Thomas’ in 2016 and the 49ers want a first rounder. He is also 32.

Quick draft notes for Sunday

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

Just a few notes from the three games I watched on Saturday. Firstly though — if you’re in the UK I’ll be on national radio again tonight covering all of the early games and then commentary on San Diego @ Atlanta, check it out if you get a chance. Here’s the link to the show and you should be able to listen live online from 7:30pm UK time.

— Leonard Fournette showed this week why he needs to be legitimately considered as the #1 overall pick. Yes the RB position has weakened in value over the years. Yet any team that needs an identity — an offensive weapon that will DEMAND attention week after week — they have to consider Fournette. He benefitted from some excellent blocking vs Ole Miss but he ran away from the defense on three occasions for huge touchdowns. He had 284 yards on just 16 carries (!!!). I can’t recall a player with Fournette’s combination of burst, suddenness, power and size (235lbs). I’ve never wanted the Seahawks to trade multiple first round picks but you could probably twist my arm on the suggestion for Fournette. He is the Julio Jones of the running back position.

— It wasn’t a good day for Ole Miss but Marquis Haynes had a sack/fumble and looks like a legit candidate to play LB/EDGE. He is a very intriguing player and if the Seahawks want to add someone to compete for the Mike Morgan/KPL/Marsh position, Haynes would be a really solid bet. Plus he should be available in the middle rounds. He’s a playmaker.

— The Ole Miss offense had a horrible day. It’s shocking that anyone has ever mocked Chad Kelly in the first round. His second pick vs LSU looked like his first read was the DB. I guess he was wide open. He is a mistake-prone turnover machine.

— Evan Engram had his first quiet game of the season against a good opponent. LSU keyed in on him — on some occasions using three guys to cover him. He had a bad drop in the red zone but why Chad Kelly threw him the ball with three defenders around him only he knows. Even if he makes the catch he probably doesn’t get in. Statistically he only had 15 yards but the respect he commanded by LSU all night is indicative of his talent.

— Auburn’s Carl Lawson looked really good against Arkansas. He was blatantly held on numerous occasions (wasn’t called) had half a sack (looked like a full one) and an interception wiped off for an offside flag. He doesn’t have the sudden get-off you see from Myles Garrett, Tim Williams and Dawuane Smoot but his ability to avoid blocks and work into the backfield is impressive. He has 6.5 sacks this season and is a strong candidate to go in round one.

— The Alabama defense was incredible against Texas A&M. Where to start? Jonathan Allen had arguably his best game of the season with a flying ‘Superman’ sack, a fumble recovery for his second TD of the year and numerous pressures. He was a grown man out there competing against an overmatched A&M O-line. Tim Williams exploded for two huge sacks with fantastic athleticism and burst, Ryan Anderson is consistently very good without being flashy and Marlon Humphrey had a fantastic interception. Reuben Foster was also flying around to the tune of 12 tackles.

— It’s very possible that Allen, Williams, Foster and Humphrey all go in the top 10/12 picks. Seriously.

— One other quick note — we’ve talked about Joe Mixon before. Against Texas Tech’s weak defense he had 263 rushing yards, 114 receiving yards and FIVE total touchdowns.

Open thread Saturday

Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

Let me know who you’re watching today. I’m on Alabama vs Texas A&M where Tim Williams, Ryan Anderson, Marlon Humphrey, Reuben Foster and this man are having another big day:

Why the Seahawks might show interest in Nick Chubb

Friday, October 21st, 2016

By now you’ll be familiar with ‘SPARQ’. If not, here’s the info.

The Seahawks have a way of judging athletes and it’s probable they have their own version of SPARQ. Extreme athleticism is more important at certain positions than others — but running back appears to be an area where they value explosive traits.

That’s not to say it’s the be-all and end-all. Marshawn Lynch was characterised by his toughness and not his ability to run away from people. Spencer Ware had a similar running style and wasn’t known for great speed or lateral mobility.

Yet they’ve also been quite consistent with the running backs they’ve drafted.

Robert Turbin, Spencer Ware, Christine Michael and C.J. Prosise (all drafted between 2012-2016) are similar in size. Turbin, Ware and Michael are 5-10, Prosise is 6-0.

Prosise and Michael were listed at 220lbs at the combine. Turbin is 222lbs and Ware 228lbs.

Ware didn’t compete at the combine but the other three excelled in the following workouts:

Forty yard dash
Robert Turbin: 4.50
Christine Michael: 4.54
C.J. Prosise: 4.48

Broad jump
Robert Turbin: 122 inches
Christine Michael: 125 inches
C.J. Prosise: 121 inches

Vertical jump
Robert Turbin: 36 inches
Christine Michael: 43 inches
C.J. Prosise: 35.5 inches

Short shuttle
Robert Turbin: 4.31
Christine Michael: 4.02
C.J. Prosise: DNP

Bench press
Robert Turbin: 28 reps
Christine Michael: 27 reps
C.J. Prosise: DNP

As you can see all three players share a very similar physical profile. The chances are unless the Seahawks just find another incredible specimen (basically another Lynch) they’re going to stick to these ideals. The profile of a Seattle running back is about 5-10, 220lbs with a good forty, strength and is capable of jumping through the roof.

It is possible to predict how college prospects will perform at the combine courtesy of the Nike SPARQ Combines that take place nationwide every year. Some of the top prospects participate and they go through some of the combine drills (forty, vertical, shuttle etc).

For example, Derrick Henry when he attended Yulee High School took part in the 2012 Orlando Nike Combine. He ran a 4.58 at 240lbs and recorded a 40.3 inch vertical and a 4.15 in the short shuttle.

At the 2016 NFL Combine, Henry ran a 4.54 at 247lbs, had a 37 inch vertical and a 4.38 short shuttle. The faster sprint at a greater size is probably indicative of the training he did to run the headline-grabbing forty. The slightly poorer (but still exceptional) vertical and short shuttle is probably indicative of the extra bulk.

Essentially, Henry’s excellent combine wasn’t a surprise. We could’ve forecasted it based on what happened in 2012. Not all prospects will retain or improve their athletic profile as they mature and attend an elite college but at the very least we can use it as a benchmark.

Some of the 2017 class of running backs took part in the 2013 Nike Combine series. The results are fascinating.

Florida State’s Dalvin Cook looks like a supreme athlete on the field with a great burst and the ability to be a home run hitter. Leonard Fournette is a monster and looks like a generational talent. Neither lit up the Nike workouts:

Dalvin Cook
Height: 5-11
Weight: 196lbs
Forty: 4.46
Vertical: 30.9 inches
Short Shuttle: 4.18

Leonard Fournette
Height: 6-1
Weight: 226lbs
Forty: DNP
Vertical: 29.9 inches
Short Shuttle: 4.30

Cook’s forty time is good but at a light 196lbs (he’s listed by Florida State at 213lbs). If he’s now 17lbs heavier (debatable) how will that impact his time? A vertical of just under 31 inches is disappointing and while his short shuttle is good, will the extra size have an impact?

Fournette chose not to run a forty but only managed a vertical jump under 30 inches. His short shuttle of 4.30 is similar to Robert Turbin’s at his pro-combine and they’re a similar weight too. He’s a long way off Christine Michael’s sensational 4.02.

You can look for certain prospects using this link here. Interestingly LSU receiver Malachi Dupre had a 42.4 inch vertical (!!!). USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster on the other hand had a disappointing performance with a 4.71 forty and a 32.7 inch vertical.

Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon performed only OK. He had a 4.53 forty at 6-1 and 209lbs. His 31.3 inch vertical was disappointing but he did manage a 4.19 short shuttle. You’d expect better.

North Carolina RB Elijah Hood might be someone to monitor. He’s 6-0 and 221lbs which is right in Seattle’s ball park. He ran a 4.48 (same as Prosise) with a 4.20 short shuttle and a 36.3 inch vertical. Hood isn’t Christine Michael explosive but he has a skill set that could warrant a third or fourth round grade like Prosise.

Oregon’s Royce Freeman also did fairly well. At 5-11 and 227lbs he ran a 4.58 and managed a 33.6 inch vertical. They aren’t great numbers but his 4.07 in the short shuttle is exceptional.

I want to feature a different prospect today though.

At the 2013 Nike Combine, Georgia’s Nick Chubb put in a performance which blows away Cook and Fournette and even tops Elijah Hood’s impressive effort.

Nick Chubb
Height: 5-11
Weight: 217lbs
Forty: 4.47
Vertical: 40.8 inches
Short Shuttle: 4.12

Chubb’s SPARQ score is an incredible 143.91. Anything over 130 is considered exceptional. He was faster than Christine Michael at a similar height/weight, as explosive in the vertical jump and had a similar shuttle time.

This isn’t just a good performance. It’s a phenomenal performance.

Nick Chubb is a rare athletic freak.

He’s currently listed at 228lbs by Georgia so he’s added weight and for that reason his numbers might suffer. There is every chance he will slim down to 220lbs for the combine in order to max out his workout.

The injury factor has to be considered. Chubb suffered a horrific knee injury a year ago and it’s unclear how this has impacted him overall. He might be incapable of the numbers he posted three years ago. We’ll have to wait and see.

It’s pretty clear though that he’s a rare beast. His SEC production and athletic profile probably would’ve led to a top-20 grade without the injury. If it causes him to fall into round two or three that will only benefit a team like the Seahawks searching for value. He might still go in round one.

Chubb ticks every box based on what the Seahawks have looked for in the past:

— Tough running style
— Size ideals (height/weight)
— Athletic profile
— Overcame adversity (injury)

The Seahawks adding another running back in 2017 isn’t unlikely. It’s looking like a decent class and they’ve done a good job over the years identifying where the value is. Michael is a free agent in 2017 and Thomas Rawls has so far been unable to stay healthy. Alex Collins had two really nice plays against Atlanta but hasn’t had much of a role despite the injuries to Rawls and Prosise.

Even if it’s just a case of needing to replace Michael, they could be in the market for a new runner.

If there’s one back they might be more likely to target than the rest in this class, keep an eye on Nick Chubb. Health permitting of course.

Monday draft notes: EDGE rushers shine

Monday, October 17th, 2016

— Alabama’s Tim Williams had another big day vs Tennessee and is being seriously underrated in the media. He looks every bit a top-ten pick. I’m working my way through the TV tape now and in the first quarter already he has a sack and a half. On the full sack he fakes to the outside before darting into the B gap and exploding to the QB. His body control, change of direction and quickness are top-tier. On the second play he uses one arm to control the right tackle and walk him into the QB. The interior collapses thanks to a pressure by Jonathan Allen and both players hit the quarterback at the same time. If Myles Garrett is the top edge rusher eligible for the 2017 draft, Tim Williams is probably #2.

— I spent the last few days focusing on Dawuane Smoot (EDGE, Illinois). He’s had an underwhelming year statistically but it’s a red herring. Smoot is pretty much the complete package. He has the speed to win off the edge, a terrific first step and get-off, the power to win when engaging and great hands. There are no obvious issues vs the run despite his lighter frame (6-3, 255lbs) and he does a good job controlling the edge. When he has a lane to the QB he explodes like he’s shot out of a cannon — he is going to run a fantastic 10-yard split at the combine. He gives you energy and intensity and his best football is ahead of him. While Derek Barnett has the playmaking stats in a big conference — Smoot has the better physical profile and arguably a much higher ceiling. Based on potential he could be #3 EDGE behind Garrett and Williams.

— Demarcus Walker (DE, Florida State) continues to make plays. He has 8.5 sacks in six proper games (let’s not count minimal snaps vs Charleston Southern, a game where he still forced a fumble). It’s slightly frustrating that he lurches between major impact plays with great technique, grit and finishing ability and passive ineffectiveness. He took over the week one victory against Ole Miss in the second half, won FSU the Miami game with a blocked extra point and did as much as anyone to lead the Seminoles to a win over Wake Forest. His hand-use and ability to shed blocks, at his best, is unmatched in college football. Yet he also goes for long stretches in games where he doesn’t really feature and you barely notice he’s on the field. If he could be more consistent and play with a relentless motor he could be a really high pick. Only Ejuan Price has more sacks in the country.

— Georgia are a strange team to watch this year. Starting a freshman QB will do that to you but they also flit between effective and hopeless. For that reason it’s difficult to judge running back Nick Chubb. Teams are keying in on the running game and daring the young QB to beat them. The result is a game like Saturday vs Vanderbilt — Chubb had 40 yards on 16 carries for a 2.5 YPC. For the season he only has two catches so he’s a non-factor in the passing game. He’s had good days (222 yards vs North Carolina, 121 vs South Carolina) but Missouri, Ole Miss and now Vandy kept him in check. It’d be easy (and somewhat lazy) to just say he isn’t the same player after the knee injury. I’m not sure that’s the case. Georgia are transitioning with a new coach and setup this year. They have the freshman at quarterback. NFL teams will test Chubb’s knee but he’s out there competing. Frank Gore ended up being a third round steal after he had a bad knee injury in college. Chubb isn’t just a similar player — he could end up being a similar success story drafted in a similar range.

— I watched Clemson struggle to beat NC State on Saturday and it was another underwhelming display by DeShaun Watson. I’m surprised he hasn’t been able to reach his 2015 level yet. He is such a talented, creative player. That said, Deshone Kizer had an absolute stinker at the weekend in another Notre Dame loss (this time to a Stanford team missing Christian McCaffrey). He threw two picks, managed only 154 passing yards and ended up being spelled by Malik Zaire again. One of the picks was a horrendous mind-blowing bad decision thrown into a crowd of defenders. Kizer is physically very talented and he has an A+ character. He isn’t playing very good football though at the moment. It’s hard to imagine him going first overall playing this way with so few starts under his belt in college. The hype might be a little too rich.

— Another week, another big day for Evan Engram (TE, Ole Miss). This is is 2016 stat-line so far:

vs Florida State — 121 yards, one TD
vs Alabama — 138 yards, one TD
vs Georgia — 95 yards, one TD
vs Memphis — 82 yards, one TD
vs Arkansas — 111 yards, one TD

In these five games he’s averaging 109.4 YPG and 15.6 YPC.

Engram is an explosive X-factor weapon with fantastic football character, superb hands, a great vertical jump and the ability to dominate at multiple positions. He could be the perfect modern day target on the right offense.

Instant reaction: Seahawks win, somehow

Sunday, October 16th, 2016

Well, they’ve done it again.

Green Bay ‘Fail Mary’ game 14-12
New England home game 24-23
Chicago road game 23-17 (OT)

Houston road game 23-20 (OT)
St. Louis road game 14-9
Tampa Bay home game 27-24 (OT)
San Francisco playoff game 23-17

Green Bay playoff game 28-22 (OT)

Minnesota playoff game 10-9

Miami home game 12-10

Games that lurched between agony and ecstasy, best described as:


There could’ve been more. The Panthers comeback last season. That Super Bowl. The Falcons playoff game in 2012.

This was one of the strangest games in the Pete Carroll ‘it’s how you finish’ era of nerve-wracking, hair-pulling, nail-biting silliness.

It’s not often since 2010 that the Seahawks have been outplayed via half-time adjustments. That is what emphatically happened today.

The first half was a coast. A 17-3 lead, only 86-yards conceded on offense and the Falcons defense had little answer for Russell Wilson and Jimmy Graham. Matt Ryan was constantly under duress and he was hit several times. A sack fumble led to the opening score.

Then the second half. Ryan started to take deep drops giving himself time to throw. Atlanta’s offense turned into Oklahoma State’s. A deep drop and allowing the pocket to set back opens up a lot of space underneath and doubles the field. If your receivers can get open (they have Julio Jones) you have a chance to make considerable gains.

It wasn’t just the scheme. Ryan was right on it making several key completions. A number of receivers made crucial low grabs right off the turf. Atlanta bossed Seattle’s defense and made them play to their tune.

The 98.5 yard drive to make it 24-17 was a ‘wow’ moment.

The entire second half was a bit of a mess. The defense gave up three consecutive scoring drives without laying a finger on the offense. The Seahawks couldn’t muster a drive to land a counter-punch.

Giving up 21 points to start a half is unheard of in the Carroll era. They blew leads in the fourth quarter in 2015 but never have they played so poorly to begin a second half.

The communication on defense — usually such a strong point — was so lacking in that third quarter. Richard Sherman’s sideline rant was uncomfortable viewing.

The response came in the fourth quarter but even then it was messy. Two long offensive drives and a defensive stop thanks to a big sack from Cassius Marsh offered momentum. And just as the game was turning — the kicking game collapsed.

A bad snap led to a missed chip shot field goal. A blocked extra point after a late touchdown meant instead of a three-point lead the Seahawks trailed by one with just under five minutes to play.

They had an opportunity to make amends after Earl Thomas’ interception and thankfully Steven Hauschka made the game-winning kick (you probably watched it through your fingers or from behind the couch).

It took a favourable no-call on Richard Sherman covering Julio Jones to end the contest as Atlanta tried to get a winning kick themselves. The Falcons were strangely aggressive on that final drive. It would’ve paid off with a flag. Yet considering they’d moved the ball with ease in the second half — two deep shots was an odd tactic on 3rd & 4th and 10.

By the end the feeling was more relief than joy. Waiting for the flag, seeing it wasn’t there, watching Dan Quinn go wild, wondering whether they could take a knee or if they had to keep going.

This is a win that might feel better in the morning.

Either way don’t underestimate it. It’s a win against a tough NFC opponent and genuine contenders for a #1 or #2 seed in the NFC. They get to play six games in the NFC South. They’ll be up there in December.

The Seahawks stay in touch with Dallas and Minnesota. A Rams loss in Detroit means they’re down to 3-3. Arizona is still at 2-3 and the Niners are competing with Cleveland for the #1 pick.

The Packers losing was a nice bonus and they looked poor at home. They’re down to 3-2. Seattle was so close to joining them.

Here are some other quick notes:

— Jimmy Graham is a genuine contender for comeback player of the year. He is a vital part of the team.

— Christine Michael had good and bad moments. He scored two touchdowns and had a couple of really hard runs up the middle. He’s a useful player. There were frustrating moments though — including a missed opportunity to get a first down when he dipped out of bounds two yards short and failed to lunge and get a first down on 3rd and 1 in the third quarter (Seattle punted, leading to the 98.5 yard Atlanta scoring drive). He shouldn’t be criticised because he’s performing well and had two scores. It’d be nice to see him take over a game though and have the kind of big performance his talent suggests he’s capable of. At the moment would a healthy Thomas Rawls come back and start? Probably.

— Russell Wilson, despite two-weeks off, clearly still isn’t 100%. That wasn’t a surprise. The question is will he ever be even 85-90% this season?

— The pass rush was really good in the first half when Atlanta used an orthodox offensive plan. Cliff Avril had two big sacks, Jarran Reed got one too. Cassius Marsh had a crucial sack in the second half (one of the plays of the game). Marsh is quietly having a really strong year and he deserves praise for the way he played today with Frank Clark out and Michael Bennett injured in the second half. He stepped up.

— Earl Thomas gets the game ball on defense. He hit harder than he has in about two years and had the crucial interception in the fourth quarter. This was the elite, best safety in the game version.

— Alex Collins scored his first pro-touchdown but also made a hugely significant catch on third down before Hauschka’s game winner. Wilson was in trouble and scrambling to his right. He threw to Collins and it was an awkward one to grab — but he made it and held onto the ball for a big first down.

— It was uncomfortable watching Richard Sherman’s reaction on the sidelines after Atlanta’s first score. Yes it was a blown coverage and a bad defensive call. Sherman was brought to the sideline to cover the big TE Levine Toilolo. It left Julio Jones in the slot being covered by Kelcie McCray. Jones ran right by McCray and Thomas couldn’t get across quickly enough to get near him. A blown coverage but really — a bad play call from the off. It appeared to hamper Sherman for the rest of the game, impact the defense and he had one of his poorer outings.

Open thread Saturday

Saturday, October 15th, 2016

Let us know who you’re watching today. I’ve got NC State @ Clemson, Ohio State @ Wisconsin and Alabama @ Tennessee (won’t be on TV here until Sunday).

Friday draft notes: Team needs & draft depth

Friday, October 14th, 2016

I wanted to add a few draft notes before the weekend, so here we go…

Team needs

Here’s the list of players who are set to be free agents at the end of the season:

Unrestricted free agents

Luke Willson
Steven Hauschka
Bradley Sowell
Kelcie McCray
Christine Michael
Brandon Williams
Tony McDaniel
C.J. Spiller

Restricted free agents

Garry Gilliam
Deshawn Shead
Brock Coyle
Neiko Thorpe
Dewey McDonald
Steven Terrell

The Seahawks will likely keep Gilliam and Shead considering the low price for installing a tender. All of the unrestricted group are retainable depending on Seattle’s interest in keeping them around.

It puts the team in quite an attractive position next off-season. According to Spotrac they’ll have around $18.5m in free cap space. That can be used to reward existing players with a new contract (eg Michael Bennett and/or Kam Chancellor) or to make new additions via free agency or trade.

It also means they can be quite open in the draft. Unless a major glaring need emerges over the next few weeks, they can afford to make a ‘luxury’ pick (if you want to call it that). By that I mean an extra pass rusher to add to the rotation (not necessarily a starter), an extra weapon for the offense (WR, TE, RB) or a linebacker hybrid (won’t always be on the field and could be a LB/S or a LB/LEO).

A case can certainly be made for continuing to invest in the offensive line and nobody would argue if, like the Cowboys, they simply keep spending their high picks on the O-line. However, it’s worth noting:

a.) This is looking like a really weak class at offensive tackle

b.) The interior O-line looks set

c.) They just spent a third round pick on Rees Odhiambo who figures into their long term planning plus they appear to be enamoured with the potential of George Fant

None of this prevents them from spending a high pick on an offensive tackle — but look at the thin options. Cam Robinson has character red flags and Mike McGlinchey recently revealed he intends to stay at Notre Dame in 2017.

If you’re pinning your hopes on another high pick for the O-line next Spring, you might want to hope other players emerge in the second half of the college football season.

Strengths of the draft at the moment

This is potentially a tremendous class for defensive backs — a sublime class. The group of safety’s are headlined by the likes of Jabrill Peppers, Malik Hooker, Justin Evans, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye. All could end up with top-20 grades with Budda Baker also in the equation. My personal favourite is Ohio State’s Hooker. His range and playmaking ability is reminiscent of Earl Thomas at Texas. That’s no over-exaggeration.

In the modern NFL teams are desperately looking for deep cover safety’s that can do what Thomas does in Seattle and Hooker could easily land in the top-10 as a consequence. Teams are also looking for players that can operate in a similar role to Deone Bucannon and Peppers and Maye look like potential candidates for that. Adams and Evans (plus Washington’s Baker) look like more traditional safety’s.

At cornerback there’s also a cluster of potential first round picks. Tennessee’s Cam Sutton is a tremendous talent while Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey has everything — size, speed, length, physicality. The two Florida cornerbacks could go early (Tabor & Wilson) while Clemson’s Cordea Tankersley, Virginia Tech’s Brandon Facyson, LSU’s Tre’Davious White and Washington’s Sidney Jones are all really good prospects.

It’s also shaping up to be a very intriguing class for front seven players on defense. At the top end you’ve got the likes of Myles Garrett and Tim Williams. Carl Lawson and Derek Barnett are two other EDGE types who could go early while Illinois’ Dawuane Smoot plays like he’s shot out of a cannon and Michigan’s Taco Charlton doesn’t just have a great name — he also plays with great quickness at DE or OLB.

There are DE/DT types in Jonathan Allen, Malik McDowell, Demarcus Walker and Caleb Brantley. If you want a nose tackle, Greg Gaines at Washington is just explosive and might declare if his stock continues to rise as a redshirt sophomore and Lowell Lotulelei isn’t the same pass rusher as his brother Star but he’s tough to move and soaks up double teams.

Linebacker will also provide some options — including Alabama’s Reuben Foster, Florida duo Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis, Washington’s Akeem Victor and Iowa’s Josey Jewell.

These are just the names at the top of the board too. There’s likely to be depth deep down the line, including guys like Ole Miss LB/DE Marquis Haynes and Texas A&M DE/DT Daeshon Hall.

This would tend to suggest it’s a defensive draft — but aside from the lack of resources on the O-line there’s also some really nice depth at running back, receiver and tight end.

Thoughts on the running back position

If the team picking first overall selected Leonard Fournette — I don’t think anyone should complain. He is that good. In fact he’s been so good for so long it almost feels like people are trying to fight it now and find reasons to knock him (a slight ankle injury being the latest example).

Fournette is special. You just don’t see many human beings with his combination of size and explosive athleticism. He is virtually the perfect running back. Plus he has the character and maturity to be an instant face of the franchise and a leader. Teams will have nightmares game-planning to stop him. He is the Julio Jones or J.J. Watt of running backs.

I suspect, at the moment, that there are only two other backs with first round potential — Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey.

Cook’s burst is exceptional and he takes advantage of the smallest crease to make big gains. He won’t be a tone-setting, physical up-the-gut runner but he can be a chunk-play specialist similar to Jamaal Charles.

McCaffrey gives off the vibe of a football junky — a guy who just loves the game. He’s a sudden running back with great patience in the backfield. He will make people miss and does a good job turning probable short gains into big chunks of yardage. Both Cook and McCaffrey are a threat catching the ball but need to work on their pass protection to become complete RB’s.

Personally I think Oregon’s Royce Freeman is a little overrated. He has a nice collection of skills but I’m always slightly wary of finesse bigger backs. He’s 5-11 and 230lbs but he’s not a pounder and not always a great short-yardage back. He’s best working in space but at the next level does he have the speed and quickness to be as effective?

If we’re talking bigger backs I prefer Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine. He can be reckless with his body and he’s been banged up — but he shows tremendous power and balance with a 5-11 234lbs frame. He’s quick for that size too and can make big gains. He doesn’t shy away from contact would be a nice addition to a stable of backs lacking some genuine bulk.

We’ve talked about his team mate Joe Mixon — an exceptional athlete (possibly the most explosive back not called Leonard Fournette) but with major character flags.

Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara isn’t a big RB but he’s an absolute warrior — as we saw in the Texas A&M game last weekend. Whoever gets this guy is going to struggle to keep him off the field. NC State’s Matt Dayes is similarly underrated with a smaller, compact, squatty frame with a low centre of gravity and the ability to eat up space quickly and win 1v1 contests with leverage. He’ll fight for extra yards, makes really nice cuts at the second level and he could be a mid-round gem.

I spent some time watching BYU’s Jamaal Williams today. He’s a really busy running back — keeps his feet moving and finds improbable ways to escape from a packed box to break off runs. He’s a decent athlete but not an outstanding, sudden runner. He’s been at BYU since 2012 and has suffered some injuries. As a day three value pick he could be worth monitoring. Nice personality.

And then there’s Nick Chubb (the last I will talk about here, but not the last one in a deep class overall). He’s bounced back well from a horrific knee injury a year ago and he’s the heart and soul of the Georgia offense. He still plays with great physicality and while maybe the burst isn’t completely back to 100% — he looks like a Frank Gore type for the next level. Gore was a mid-round pick after also suffering a big injury in college. Chubb might have the same fate and ultimately the same success.

Tomorrows schedule

I only have access to three games over the weekend — NC State @ Clemson (watch Matt Dayes), Ohio State @ Wisconsin (watch Malik Hooker) and Alabama @ Tennessee (watch the long list of ‘Bama prospects and Alvin Kamara). For some reason they’re not showing the Alabama/Tennessee game until Sunday. There will be an open thread as usual to discuss what you’re watching.

2017 NFL mock draft: 11th October

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

I’ve never felt comfortable doing a mock draft this early before, not since 2008 when I started writing this blog. Of course it’s way too early to try and get any of this right — it’s just a chance to highlight the depth in this class and certain prospects who are worth watching during the college season. But this is possibly the most interesting group we’ve covered so far.

The 2017 draft has the potential to be one of the best in recent years. That’s not an overreaction.

(Team-record-strength of schedule-pick)

1. Browns 0-5 (.583) — Deshone Kizer (QB, Notre Dame)
2. Panthers 1-4 (.640) — Leonard Fournette (RB, LSU)
3. Jets 1-4 (.609) — Myles Garrett (EDGE, Texas A&M)
4. Bears 1-4 (.583) — Jabrill Peppers (S, Michigan)
5. 49ers 1-4 (.542) — Deshaun Watson (QB, Clemson)
6. Dolphins 1-4 (.458) — Tim Williams (EDGE, Alabama)
7. Chargers 1-4 (.455) — Malik Hooker (S, Ohio State)
8. Saints 1-3 (.550) — Malik McDowell (DE, Mighican State)
9. Jaguars 1-3 (.474) — Marlon Humphrey (CB, Alabama)
10. Giants 2-3 (.696) — Dalvin Cook (RB, Florida State)
11. Titans 2-3 (.600) — Reuben Foster (LB, Alabama)
T12. Bengals 2-3 (.560) — Jonathan Allen (DE, Alabama)
T12. Buccaneers 2-3 (.560) — Justin Evans (S, Texas A&M)
14. Cardinals 2-3 (.520) — Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU)
15. Lions 2-3 (.478) — Carl Lawson (EDGE, Auburn)
16. Colts 2-3 (.375) — O.J. Howard (TE, Alabama)
17. Chiefs 2-2 (.450) — Jarrad Davis (LB, Florida)
18. Texans 3-2 (.583) — Mitch Trubisky (QB, North Carolina)
T19. Bills 3-2 (.520) — Jamal Adams (S, LSU)
T19. Redskins 3-2 (.520) — Azeem Victor (LB, Washington)
21. Titans via trade with Rams 3-2 (.600) — Cam Sutton (CB, Tennessee)
22. Ravens 3-2 (.458) — Marcus Maye (S, Florida)
23. Packers 3-1 (.526) — Brandon Facyson (CB, Virginia Tech)
24. Browns via trade with Eagles 3-1 (.350) — Christian McCaffrey (RB, Stanford)
25. Seahawks 3-1 (.300) — Evan Engram (TE, Ole Miss)
26. Falcons 4-1 (.500) — Demarcus Walker (DE, Florida State)
27. Steelers 4-1 (.478) — Jake Butt (TE, Michigan)
28. Raiders 4-1 (.458) — Budda Baker (S, Washington)
29. Broncos 4-1 (.440) — Jalen Tabor (CB, Florida)
T30. Patriots 4-1 (.360) — Alex Anzalone (LB, Florida)
T30. Cowboys 4-1 (.360) — Cordea Tankersley (CB, Clemson)
32. Eagles via trade with Vikings 5-0 (.458) — Quincy Wilson (CB, Florida)


Greg Gaines (DT, Washington)
Dawuane Smoot (EDGE, Illinois)
Derek Barnett (EDGE, Tennessee)
Caleb Brantley (DT, Florida)
JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR, USC)
Malachi Dupre (WR, LSU)
Dan Feeney (G, Indiana)
Mike McGlinchey (T, Notre Dame) — has stated he wont declare
Jehu Chesson (WR, Michigan)
Lowell Lotulelei (DT, Utah)
Josey Jewell (LB, Iowa)
Cam Robinson (T, Alabama)
Sidney Jones (CB, Washington)
Mike Williams (WR, Clemson)
Zach Cunningham (LB, Vanderbilt)
Alvin Kamara (RB, Tennessee)
Damore’ea Stringfellow (WR, Ole Miss)

Thoughts on Seattle’s pick

Engram is having an incredible season and could move into top-20 contention by the end of the season. His combination of size, athleticism, incredible hands, the ability to high point and create mismatches and production deserves a lot more attention.

Rather than just repeat myself I’ll refer back to the piece on Engram from last week (click here).

Luke Willson is a free agent at the end of the season and Jimmy Graham’s contract only lasts until the end of 2017.

Check out these three plays in the video below:

3:05 — Chad Kelly throws into double coverage (almost triple coverage) and Engram makes the play. It’s a lofted pass, a jump ball. Placement is fairly good from Kelly (back shoulder) and Engram is able to locate the football and make a play. The coverage is pretty good but Engram’s body control, size and ability to locate the football makes him a really difficult matchup. Explosive pass completion for about 40-yards.

5:28 — Underthrown pass from Chad Kelly. Look how Engram adjusts and attacks the football, showing off a fantastic vertical jump and high-pointing the ball above the cornerback. A better throw (hitting Engram in stride) could’ve led to a massive gain — the safety has a bad angle and it legitimately could’ve been a touchdown with space along the sideline. Without Engram’s play it could’ve been a pick. This is just a fantastic catch. Go watch it. Now.

6:42 — Straight forward touchdown. The defense stands off Engram in the slot giving him way too much of a cushion. He settles down underneath and runs it in. I wanted to highlight it because it a.) it’s a score and b.) he makes a defender miss, albeit far too easily.

No offensive linemen?

This is not a good class if you want to improve your O-line in the early rounds. Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey says he won’t declare. He could change his mind (Will Fuller made a similar remark a year ago). Cam Robinson looks the part and is a good run blocker but carries serious character risks.

There’s a decent collection of guards but how often do you see the position drafted in round one?

This has been brewing for a while. The top High School recruits want to play defense. The colleges want the top recruits so accommodate their wishes. Some get moved to the O-line after a year or two (eg Cam Erving). The rest play defense. There’s a serious mismatch between the O-lines and D-lines in college and the dearth of talent is starting to translate to the NFL.

The top-100 lists compiled by the NFL Network usually only have 4-5 offensive linemen named. Most of the league is scrambling around to find an answer at left tackle. Teams like Seattle are taking on projects like ex-Basketball star George Fant because what’s the alternative? There isn’t one unless you’re picking in the top ten.

The league is littered with bad pass protection and the best teams are finding ways to manage the problem. Minnesota are a good example — they’re 5-0 and playing without their starting left and right tackles at the moment, yet Sam Bradford isn’t feeling the impact. You can game-plan around these issues — but the entire NFL would surely rather see more quality left tackles coming through the college ranks. The well is dry at the moment.

Emerging first round picks few people talk about

Monday, October 10th, 2016

Malik Hooker (S, Ohio State)
Sometimes you only need to see a few snaps of a prospect to notice they’re special. That’s what happens when you watch this guy. The entire NFL is looking for the next Earl Thomas and it could be Malik Hooker. I watched two Ohio State games today and he’s incredible. This draft class is loaded at safety and this guy has the potential to be the best of the lot. The Buckeye’s use him as a single high safety and his range is fantastic. Like Thomas he’s shot out of a cannon, covering ground rapidly and delivering well-timed hits. One interception he had against Bowling Green was stunning (see above). It’s a deep shot to the left sideline — Hooker sprints to the ball and makes a superb leap (amazing vertical) to tip the ball to himself for the pick. Instinct, skill, athleticism — it’s a sensational interception. He reads the play initially, covers about 30 yards in no time at all and his range puts him in position to make one of the picks of the year. He already has four picks this season (most in the country) and returned one for a touchdown. Hooker is special.

Greg Gaines (DT, Washington)
These days big defensive tackles generally don’t go early in the draft unless they offer pass rushing ability (see: Jarran Reed’s fall to round two) — but Gaines has the necessary explosive potential despite his size. On one sack against Stanford last week he showed incredible quickness and get-off combined with a terrific swim move to break into the backfield — despite looking every bit a nose tackle at 6-2 and around 320lbs. He added two more sacks against Oregon (he has 7.5 TFL’s for the season & 3.5 sacks) and people are starting to talk. Yes — he’s playing alongside two other excellent prospects in Vita Vea and Elijah Qualls. Yet Gaines has that X-factor that Danny Shelton had — and he’s a better pass rusher. Shelton was the #12 pick in 2015 and while Gaines might not get as high as that — he genuinely looks the part of an impact D-liner. He’s a redshirt sophomore so could easily choose not to declare — but as this Washington team becomes more nationally prominent, some of these defensive studs will start getting more attention. Gaines is very intriguing.

Azeem Victor (LB, Washington)
The Washington defense is loaded with talent — an exciting group with NFL players at every level. Budda Baker could be a #1, Sidney Jones could be a #1 — it’s not just Gaines on the D-line with high-pick potential and they have talent at EDGE and linebacker too. Usually the really great college defenses have a linebacker that just pulls everything together and that is the case here. Victor gets things organised and sets the tone but his range and versatility really sets up his draft stock. He can play up in the box and handle the run, he can play in space and read/react and he seems pretty adept in coverage. Linebackers need to be explosive to go early and Victor has that level of athleticism. He can handle sideline-to-sideline, recover and quickly change direction and he’s a sure tackler. It helps playing behind the three-headed monster on the D-line but it’s no different for the brilliant Reuben Foster at Alabama. Both players could go in the top-25.

Marcus Maye (S, Florida)
This time last year nobody was talking about Keanu Neal and he ended up being the #17 pick and with good reason. Explosive speed and hitting — the ability to play coverage and handle playing in the box. Neal was a warrior for Florida and was vastly underrated by the media going into the draft. Marcus Maye is a similar talent and he’s similarly underrated. He can line up in coverage vs tight ends and hold his own (see his matchup vs Jake Butt from the Citrus Bowl last season). He frequently lines up at the LOS and sets the edge. Maye has the same ability as Byron Maxwell for punching the ball out — it’s an instinctive talent. Pete Carroll once suggested you’ve either got it or you haven’t, that some players have an innate feel for dislodging the ball. Maye has a number of forced fumbles in his career. And while he might not hit quite as hard as Neal he’s arguably better and more fluid in coverage with great anticipation and feel for the flow of a play. He absolutely has every chance to go in the first frame.

Carl Lawson (DE, Auburn)
Lawson isn’t by any means an unknown and many have touted his potential to go in the first round. Yet a series of injuries have prevented him from building up a reputation as one of the truly great pass rushers in college football — and that’s exactly what he is. Lawson is a superior talent to Dee Ford (#23 overall pick in 2014) with a fantastic repertoire of pass-rush moves, great speed and hand use and the ability to finish. He already has six sacks this season including five in his last three games. It’s his ability to keep a lineman guessing that really stands out. He’s not a one-trick pony content to win with a predictable speed rush. He’ll stunt inside, he’ll use a spin move, he uses the club/rip. He’ll set up a lineman by rushing inside initially and then changing direction with great quickness and explosion. Lawson converts speed-to-power well, his first step is terrific. Despite a lack of great size or length (6-2, 258lbs) he is really good setting the edge against the run, he anchors with ease and has great upper body power. He’s a street fighter type who loves a battle — his effort is always 100% and he plays to the whistle. If the injury problems (ACL, hip) lead to a fall it’ll be a real shame. Lawson is otherwise a top-25 talent.

Mitch Trubisky (QB, North Carolina)
There’s usually one quarterback who emerges and ends up being a high draft pick. Last year it was Paxton Lynch and this year it could be Trubisky. He had a bit of a nightmare against Virginia Tech during the Hurricane/storm that battered the east coast over the weekend. In his previous outings against Florida State and Pittsburgh he was extremely impressive. He doesn’t have a cannon arm but it’s good enough, he manipulates coverage well with his eyes and throws to all areas of the field. He’s mobile enough to extend plays and scramble away from pressure. His footwork is very impressive when he’s moved off the spot and he has to reset and fire. He gets the ball out very quikcly. He hadn’t thrown an interception until the Virginia Tech game and in the Florida State & Pittsburgh games he never came close to a turnover — he was accurate and made great decisions. Plus in those two encounters he led game-winning drives with seconds remaining. He is extremely inexperienced (first year as a starter) and would benefit from more time in college (he’s a junior) but sometimes you have to take the chance when it’s there. And with other quarterbacks eligible for 2017 failing to impress, this could be his chance to be the #3 behind Deshone Kizer and Deshaun Watson.

Evan Engram (TE, Ole Miss)
We’ve talked a lot about Engram already but it’s really surprising that he doesn’t get as much buzz as Jake Butt and O.J. Howard. Engram is a terrific athlete with a great vertical and safe hands. He might have the best hands in college football — plus the ability to high point the ball in coverage. He’s finally moving out of the shadow of Laquan Treadwell and turning into Ole Miss’ number one target. He leads the team with 479 yards and four touchdowns in five games — and that includes half a game in a walkover against Wofford. In his four other games against Florida State, Alabama, Georgia and Memphis he has 436 receiving yards (an average per game of 109 yards), he’s averaging 16.25 YPC and he has four scores. He’s not only producing — he’s producing against some of the best teams in college football. He’s 6-3 and 227lbs so he’s not the biggest but he still gives plenty of effort as a blocker (and he’s somewhat effective) but his major strength at the next level will be working in the slot, detached from the line or as a H-back. He will create mismatches against linebackers and safety’s and would be the perfect addition for teams that like to run 2TE sets. He could be the next big thing at the position — a thoroughly modern day weapon. He deserves to be discussed as a first round possibility.

DeMarcus Walker (DE, Florida State)
If DeMarcus Walker was consistent he’d be a top-15 prospect. There are times on tape where he kind of just goes with the flow. He’s on the field but he’s not particularly disruptive. ‘Relentless’ isn’t necessarily a word you’d use to describe him and he doesn’t play with his hair on fire like Carl Lawson. Yet when he turns it on — he can be virtually unstoppable. He’s adept at getting off a block. The right coach or environment that gets him amped up could be the catalyst for a productive DT/DE at the next level. By now you’ll know about his 4.5 sack performance against Ole Miss where he flashed get-off, violent hands, technique, burst and the ability to finish. He helped change the game completely. It wasn’t a one-off this year. Florida State’s defense has been pretty miserable in 2016 but Walker was the only player who got close to limiting Lamar Jackson. He did a decent job on his side vs the read-option on a day Jackson helped Louisville to an improbable blow-out. On Sunday against Miami Walker won the game for FSU. In the second half he made a number of crucial plays — including helping DT Derrick Nnandi get a sack by forcing Brad Kaaya to step into the pocket with a great outside rush. And when Miami scored a late touchdown to seemingly tie the game — Walker blocked the extra point to secure a dramatic one-point victory. He’s an impact player who can work inside and out — and when guys make as many plays as Walker has in 2016 so far you can forgive a little inconsistency.

Alex Anzalone (LB, Florida)
Another player we’ve talked a lot about so far this year but surprisingly he still isn’t getting much attention. Anzalone is basically a Clay Matthews clone — and it’s not just the hair style. He plays virtually the same role as Matthews in college. Neither had major sack production but showed flashes of potential. Green Bay moved Matthews into more of an EDGE role in the 3-4 to start his career and he piled up the sacks. Anzalone has great get-off and pursuit and looks tailor made for a similar role either as a WILL or a 3-4 OLB. Florida challenged him to work predominantly in coverage vs Tennessee and he held his own — working well against tight ends and receivers over the middle. This is a loaded Gators defense with talent all over the field but the coaches consistently highlight the play of Anzalone and fellow linebacker Jarrad Davis. Like Matthews he’s unlikely to wow anyone with a great forty time and his combine might be so-so — but I’m willing to bet he also has a really good 10-yard split (also like Matthews) and it’s that ability to go from 0-60 in a flash that’ll intrigue teams enough to think he can have the same kind of impact in the pro’s.