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Kentucky guard Logan Stenberg is really good

Friday, January 10th, 2020

Logan Stenberg is a monster in the run game

Every now and again a player jumps off the screen. Kentucky guard Logan Stenberg is one of those players.

I watched two games today and will seek to watch more. However, he’s a pancake machine who dominates and controls with extreme strength and power.

It was incredible to watch at times. I’ve not seen a guard manhandle blockers like Stenberg in a long time. He connects, locks-on and drives defender’s off the ball. He’s a punishing finisher and will hammer opponents to the turf, judo-toss them to the ground or plough them off the LOS.

On a 4th and 1 quarterback sneak against Tennessee he smashed the defensive lineman three yards beyond the line to make. Time and time again you see ‘wow’ physical moments.

He’s particularly useful in the running game. Defender’s are often simply trying to cling on. I think it surprises them early in games and it gets in their heads. They’re driven off the ball by his strength and there’s barely any time for a counter. At the next level of course he’s going to come up against twitchy interior pass-rushers who might be able to dodge his initial contact and then we’ll see if he can recover. At this level though, he locks on consistently and wins time and time again with the most impressive showing of power you could imagine from a guard.

The fact he finishes blocks is just the pièce de résistance. If you like physical, aggressive run-blocking then this is the guy for you. He hammers people.

He also makes subtle moves too. On one snap he handled a counter when the defender shifted to the left and tried to avoid contact. Stenberg simply turned him using the defender’s own momentum to open up a B-gap running lane. He’s also adept at the turns and twists and good hand-placement needed to achieve easy wins where he doesn’t have to flat-out dominate with power.

I’ve seen some people mention a lack of mobility and athletic limitations but there was nothing glaring. There was evidence of him pulling to the right side of the line, locating the man he needed to block and finishing. He looked very comfortable. He showed a willingness to reach up to the second level too.

He ran a 5.25 (!!!) short shuttle and jumped a 22.5-inch vertical (!!!) at SPARQ which, if repeated, would make him one of the worst testers at the combine in recent memory. Determining his ceiling will have some impact on his stock.

As a pure, nasty blocker though he’s an incredibly attractive proposition. According to PFF, Kentucky had the seventh highest run-blocking O-line grade in the whole of college football in 2019.

The Seahawks have increasingly sought size at both guard spots. This year they started Mike Iupati (6-5, 331lbs) and D.J. Fluker (6-5, 342lbs). They also drafted Phil Haynes (6-4, 322lbs) in the fourth round.

Stenberg is listed at 6-6 and 327lbs. While they’ve clearly over the years valued explosive traits on the O-line (and that was re-emphasised by the drafting of the highly explosive Haynes) it’s also worth noting the athletic limitations of Iupati and Fluker. Iupati ran a 5.26 forty, a 4.93 short shuttle and jumped a 27.5 inch vertical. Fluker ran a 5.31 forty, a 5.00 short shuttle and jumped a 27.5 inch vertical.

This has been a key shift from the Seahawks. They’re willing to embrace size and power, it seems, and have switched to a bigger and more powerful O-line.

Given the desire to run the ball and be physical up front, it won’t be a surprise at all if they really like Stenberg. He’s exactly what you’d expect them to target to play left guard.

It’s also going to a position they have to look at. They did draft Haynes a year ago and it could be that they either re-sign Iupati or add another veteran and have a competition that may also include Ethan Pocic and Jamarco Jones. However, Stenberg stands out so much — especially considering the way Seattle wants to play.

If you type his name into a Twitter search you’ll see that the Kentucky fans have an issue with holding penalties. This didn’t show up in the two games I watched but it’s interesting to see the fans focusing on it. Teams will be wary of this. It’s fine to be powerful and smash opponents at the LOS but if he has technical issues that could become even greater against next-level athletes, he’ll be a liability if he’s giving up 10 free yards all the time. That’s something to consider.

In October Jim Nagy suggested he could be a third round pick. Nagy also touted Michigan’s Ben Brederson in a similar range — another player we’ve recently talked up as a possible Seahawks target. They’re currently projected to have two late second round picks plus a third round comp pick.

In South Carolina’s Bryan Edwards (who we talked about a few days ago) and Stenberg (or Brederson) — it goes to show the appealing options the Seahawks could have with their day two picks.

Meanwhile there were a few notable headlines in terms of the 2020 draft today…

— Stanford cornerback Paulson Adebo is not turning pro. It’s incredible how he was still being projected in the first round of some mock drafts. He struggled in 2019 and has likely made the right call to return.

— Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey is also not turning pro. I waited on studying him with the uncertainty over his decision, so can’t offer much on him as a prospect. The top center for me is Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz.

— Running back Najee Harris is returning to Alabama. He had a terrific 2019 season and this is a little bit surprising. Nick Saban does a good job recruiting his underclassmen and this is a coup.

Lance Zierlein has tweeted that he’s hearing a high-level prospect might reverse their decision to declare for the draft. This could be another Alabama prospect (see above re:Nick Saban).

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Previewing the playoffs: Seahawks in Green Bay

Thursday, January 9th, 2020

The Seahawks have to find a way to limit Aaron Jones

This is a difficult game to predict. Neither fan base is particularly confident, apart from the people who naturally are eternal optimists.

Both teams won a bunch of close games in 2019. Both teams had a bunch of unconvincing performances, too.

Green Bay tends to start fast and peter out. The Seahawks do the opposite.

The Packers scraped to wins against Minnesota (21-16), Detroit (23-22), Kansas City without Patrick Mahomes (31-24), Carolina (24-16), Washington (20-15), Chicago (21-13) and Detroit again (23-20).

The Seahawks toiled against Cincinnati (21-20), Pittsburgh without Ben Roethlisberger for a half (28-26), Cleveland (32-28), Atlanta without Matt Ryan (27-20), Tampa Bay (40-34) and Carolina (30-24).

The Packers were hammered in San Francisco, surprisingly clobbered by the Chargers and lost at home to the Eagles.

The Seahawks lost their last two games, both at home, including an embarrassing loss to Arizona. They were battered by the Rams in LA and lost a home game to the Saints without Drew Brees.

Both teams have superb Super Bowl winning quarterbacks and weaknesses on defense.

They’re very similar. Not in terms of style, personnel, scheme or approach. There are so many comparisons though. So you’d lean towards a close game, decided by a big moment or two.

Yet for some reason it feels like either team could win relatively convincingly, too.

The Packers have played so poorly in certain games. The Lions match in week 17 was stunning. They needed to win to secure a playoff bye. Matt Stafford was out, the Lions were stumbling into the off-season. Detroit led for most of it and should’ve won.

They looked soft in Santa Clara. They looked rubbish against the Chargers.

Yet they run the ball well, use an offensive scheme that has given Seattle fits already this season and they have Aaron Rodgers. They’re at home, the Seahawks usually don’t play well at Lambeau and it won’t be a surprise if the Packers — fresh off a bye week — simply saunter to a comfortable win.

There’s maybe a lesson to be learnt from Green Bay’s aggressive free-agency splurge a year ago that was pass-rush centric.

The Seahawks equally have shown they can go toe-to-toe with the best when they, unlike Green Bay, beat the Niners. It’s that statement win that offers hope. That and the fact Russell Wilson is, seemingly, returning to his best form at the right time.

Seattle beat the Packers a year ago, albeit in Seattle. The Packers are 26th in the league for yards-per-carry and 24th for yards-per-game in the running game. They also don’t defend the deep-ball very well — although they rush the passer well and defend the short/medium passing game with a degree of success.

Considering the Seahawks are built to run the ball and make explosive plays downfield in the passing game, those numbers are encouraging.

Yet, again, they are the road team, they haven’t enjoyed the benefit of a bye week and they haven’t played well at Lambeau. The Packers could win comfortably here led by the two Aaron’s and go to San Francisco in the NFC Championship and suffer another chastening defeat. It wouldn’t be a bad wager.

Last week the blueprint to a Seahawks win felt obvious. Attack Philadelphia’s secondary because they struggle defending deep passes. Wilson, Metcalf and Moore looked like the key and so it proved. The defense also needed to make plays which they struggled to do — but to their credit they limited the Eagles to nine points.

The blueprint this week is different. For starters, the Seahawks need to stay in the game early. The Packers are fast starters. Keeping it tight or gaining an early lead is a good platform. Don’t let the Packers get on top and play with a lead. They’ll be able to attack Seattle’s passing game with pressure. All five of Seattle’s losses in the regular season came after they got stuck chasing the game. They can’t afford to be trailing and chasing on Sunday.

In the 2018 game Seattle trailed 14-3 in the first quarter and answered with a touchdown. It was a vital moment, creating a back-and-forth contest when at the time it was threatening to drift. It won’t be a surprise if there’s a similar moment on Sunday with the Packers scoring points quickly. Will the Seahawks be able to counter and keep up, or will it become one-sided?

The defense is going to have to do whatever it can to limit Aaron Jones. Just assume Aaron Rodgers is going to make some plays. He’s Aaron Rodgers. The key to winning is to not let Jones control the game with the kind of massive day he’s capable of. Seattle will have to do a far better job defending the run than they have done recently.

The Packers will have seen Seattle’s running game against San Francisco and Philadelphia and, presumably, will be giving it zero respect. They know the key for Seattle is Russell Wilson. Therefore they’ll probably drop bodies into coverage and will try to contain Wilson in the pocket with discipline off the edge. They’ll dare Seattle to run by offering it as a tempting option.

They also might not attack and blitz with the pass rush early. Their plan is probably to contain and flood coverage.

This will make things difficult for Wilson. He will not see a lot open at the second level. He will naturally look to escape, extend and create. If Green Bay is properly disciplined, he could simply scramble into pressure.

Play-action can take the edge off this and it’d be wise to use a lot of it in this game — if for no other reason than to get Wilson into a deep drop, extend the field and create more open space underneath. Plus there’s more time for someone to uncover. One thing’s pretty certain — Green Bay isn’t going to let D.K. Metcalf run downfield and beat them after last week. Metcalf is Seattle’s best weapon on slants and crossers and might need to be used slightly differently in this game.

To Seahawks twitter’s angst, they also probably need to take the invitation to attack the running game. If Green Bay is going to set out to take away the explosive pass plays and contain, it does create big opportunities in the running game. The Packers statistically are also not a good run-defense unit. If it’s a weakness you have to try and exploit it.

As mentioned, the Packers will probably dare the Seahawks to run. The Seahawks will have to prove they can, at least to a certain extent. Anyone who doesn’t like this needs to realise one point. A year ago some of you complained Seattle played into Dallas’ hands by running into a defensive wall determined to take away the running game. If the Packers are determined to take away the deep pass and contain Wilson’s scrambling in this game, wouldn’t aiming to throw into thick coverage over and over again be making the same mistake?

Yes — Wilson is the key. It’s not as simple as writing ‘let Russ cook’ on twitter though. Green Bay has spent the last seven days specifically preparing a plan to limit Wilson. Heck, they probably spent two weeks doing it knowing they could end up facing Seattle. You don’t think Matt LaFleur rang his buddy Sean McVay for a few tips on how to contain Wilson and hammer the Seahawks the way the Rams did recently?

As much as they needed to attack Dallas in the right areas a year ago, the same will be the case against Green Bay. To some extent, that will mean attacking a usually porous run defense that is inviting itself to be exploited.

If you can run productively and force Green Bay to adjust — that simply opens up fantastic opportunities downfield for Wilson if they switch their coverage away from whatever they spent the week planning. There is absolutely no way they’ll do what the Eagles did and leave the downfield passing game open and play lights out to stop the run and attack the O-line. That would be nuts.

In 2018 the Seahawks beat Green Bay on a night where Russell Wilson was efficiently 21/31 for 225 yards and they ran for 173 yards at 4.9 YPC. Aaron Jones finished with 11 carries for 40 yards. Green Bay ran for 48 yards in total.

So overall if they can avoid an early deficit, if they can limit Aaron Jones, if they can exploit the areas where Green Bay are likely to be weaker on defense — they have a shot. Admittedly there’s a lot of ‘if’s’ there but that’s why the Seahawks are currently a four-point underdog.

If Minnesota finds a way to beat San Francisco on Saturday, it’ll be a game contested for the right to host the NFC Championship game. That’d be something.

Seahawks fans haven’t had to endure annually crushing playoff defeats like Saints fans over the last few years. However, we’ve suffered the single most devastating Super Bowl defeat in history. It’d be nice to extend this season beyond the weekend. Maybe, you could even argue, we deserve a break.

Yet it’s also at this time that you remember the following…

Drew Brees isn’t winning a Super Bowl this year. He’s only won one.

Aaron Rodgers is chasing the Super Bowl. He’s only won one so far.

The Seahawks have no divine right to win more than one. Hopefully they will. But sometimes you simply have to cherish the fact that we lived through the first and have watched playoff football in eight of the last ten years.

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Tuesday notes: More declarations, Bryan Edwards one to watch

Tuesday, January 7th, 2020

Solomon Kindley is the latest member of Georgia’s O-line to turn pro

Solomon Kindley turns pro

Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson had already declared. Now a third member of Georgia’s excellent offensive line is heading for the NFL.

Massive guard Solomon Kindley is 6-4 and 330lbs. He was the only starter on Georgia’s line who wasn’t a four or five star recruit (he was a three star). We know the Seahawks like size at guard (Iupati, Fluker, Haynes) and he could be an option in the mid-round range.

I’ve watched nearly all of Georgia’s 2019 games and have an angle on what he offers. Kindley does a good job blocking straight-up and can drive defenders off the line with power. He has light feet which is a surprise given he appears to be carrying some bad weight. His frame is sloppy around the midriff but, well, he’s a guard.

Nevertheless, there are examples where he reached up to the second level and he’s good on screens. His mobility is better than expected. He’s on his back a little too often at the end of plays and you want to see him finish blocks. He does a good job twisting defenders to create running lanes. Unsurprisingly he’s a force in short yardage situations.

There are things to like. The Seahawks have been signing veterans to start and drafting development prospects in the mid/late rounds. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they had a look at someone like Kindley as a potential backup behind D.J. Fluker. Although the drafting of Phil Haynes a year ago suggested they’re still somewhat focused on explosive traits (Haynes was a top TEF tester) so let’s see how he tests.

Thomas is a top-10 lock while Wilson is vastly underrated by the media and could easily be a top-15 pick too. It’s impossible to overstate how good Georgia’s O-line was in 2019. In pass protection, Jake Fromm often had all day to throw. They ran the ball superbly. This was a first rate unit.

The Seahawks are likely to address their biggest off-season need (D-line) in free agency. There will be options on the open market and it’s not a good draft for pass rushers. It is a good class for receivers though and there are also some intriguing offensive linemen. That could be the plan — DL in free agency and offense in the draft.

Meanwhile, D’Andre Swift today also announced he is turning pro.

Bryan Edwards is one to watch

When we interviewed Jim Nagy last week, he highlighted South Carolina’s all-time leading receiver as a player to watch. I spent a bit of time looking at him today and I can see why.

He’s a former four-star recruit and you see that athleticism on tape. He can separate with ease despite a bigger frame (6-3, 215lbs). He looks like a very solid 4.4 runner. That wouldn’t be a surprise because he ran a 4.53 at SPARQ and with combine training he can shave a few tenths off that.

Remember — the Seahawks tend to only draft receivers in the earlier rounds who run a 4.4 or faster.

On top of his straight-line speed he also jumped a 38-inch vertical and ran a 4.31 short shuttle. His overall SPARQ score was a 111.96.

He broke records at South Carolina with 234 career receptions, 3045 yards and 22 touchdowns. He’s not the most physical receiver when a defender gets his hands on him but he can work on that. It’s a lot harder to develop foot-speed and a good release which he has. He’s a YAC threat with the ball in his hands, he’s good on screens. He can get downfield with his quickness to deliver the big play. He can win contested catches and had a good win in tight coverage vs Florida’s C.J. Henderson.

His interviews are also very impressive. He’s mature, determined and he’d fit the culture in Seattle.

We’ve been saying for a while that some of the 2020 receivers are going to go earlier than the media are projecting. Jalen Reagor is a fantastic talent — incredibly fast, insanely explosive and just a high-end talent. Henry Ruggs is projected to run a 4.2. John Ross went in the top-10 after running a 4.2. K.J. Hamler is ultra-dynamic and will also run well and go earlier than people think.

If/when these names start to rise, everyone will get a little bump. Nagy told us Brandon Aiyuk is getting higher grades than N’Keal Harry and there’s a very good chance he will go in the first round. Justin Jefferson is another name to watch and we’ll see how Tee Higgins and Laviska Shenault test too.

It’s a loaded class and will be very tempting for the Seahawks to tap into the talent pool early. If they need to wait until rounds two or three though, Edwards could be an alternative. If they needed to go O-line first (or if an appealing defensive player emerges), he could be on their radar with one of their subsequent picks. He’s certainly someone to watch at the Senior Bowl later this month.

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Monday notes: Tua declares & a name for free agency

Monday, January 6th, 2020

Tua Tagovailoa is turning pro

According to reports he had a big medical check recently. Now it’s been revealed it was good news. Thus, he’s opted to head for the NFL.

It still doesn’t clear up how teams will view his situation. Just because he’s turning pro doesn’t mean he’s a shoe-in for the top-five. If the medical checks show a significant risk, he could last.

Equally there are three teams in the top-10 who will seriously consider drafting him. Miami, the Chargers and Carolina all need a long-term plan at quarterback.

This could also be good news for Detroit and the New York Giants. If either team wants to move down, they’d be well placed ahead of the Miami/LA/Carolina cluster. Not only could teams seek to jump ahead of the trio, there could be a healthy battle between the teams to get up to #3 (or even #2) to secure their guy.

Other Alabama players make their call

DeVonta Smith has opted to stay in school. He’s an electric, superb talent and could be a top prospect in the 2021 draft. Henry Ruggs and Jedrick Wills are heading for the NFL but Alex Leatherwood is staying at Alabama. Xavier McKinney is turning pro.

If Ruggs runs a 4.2 as some have suggested he will be a high pick. He’s too talented and productive to not be a high pick if he has that kind of speed. A lot of people really like Wills. McKinney to me is as overrated as Deionte Thompson was a year ago. Read most of the January mock drafts from 2019 and Thompson was being touted as a first round pick. He was a mile off that and ended up in the fifth round.

Mississippi State linebacker is one to watch

During the 2018 season we talked a lot about Willie Gay Jr. Every week he seemed to be making big plays.

His 2019 season was a bit of a write-off. He was hurt and had to endure a suspension for breaking team rules. The Bulldogs had a mess of a year and fired their coach.

However, this is a player with a real knack for forcing turnovers and impacting games. He ran a 4.53 at SPARQ and a superb 4.26 short shuttle. We know the Seahawks like linebackers who run well in the short shuttle. He also managed a highly explosive 39 inch vertical and an overall SPARQ score of 128.22.

He might repair his stock at the combine. Either way, he has the talent and would be a good investment for someone. He has a lot of potential.

A quick thought on free agency

Something dawned on me over the weekend. It’s not an exact science but you can tell a lot from the way fans react to a players’ departure.

For example, the Lions fans were incandescent when Quandre Diggs was traded. He’s had a massive impact in Seattle and already looks like a cornerstone defender for the next few years.

Texans fans equally were stunned by the Jadeveon Clowney trade. There weren’t too many tears shed when Ziggy Ansah left Detroit, or when Cary Williams left Philadelphia, or when Eddie Lacy left Green Bay (you get the picture).

That’s not to say you can’t turn water into wine with certain players. The league has always had players who didn’t fit in one team/scheme but flourished elsewhere.

Yet if Seahawks followers want to learn about prospective targets, it might be worth taking notice of what other fans say.

For example, I had a look at what Bills fans were saying after their loss in Houston. They were listing their key free agents. Top of the list was defensive tackle Jordan Phillips.

I didn’t even realise Phillips was a free agent in waiting. I wrote about him a lot ahead of the 2015 draft, suggesting he could/should be a first rounder.

Here’s a section of a piece I wrote five years ago:

People love to talk about the ‘rare nose tackle’ — well here he is. Like most big guys he isn’t impacting every play, but all of the 3-4 teams are going to show interest. They have to. He’s capable of drawing a double team, he flashes a nice swim move and he can work through traffic to get into the backfield. He makes splash plays and can impact the quarterback. You just don’t see many players with this combination of length, agility and bulk. Phillips is an exciting player who could easily be a combine star who ends up flying up the boards.

He lasted deep into round two before being drafted by Miami. It didn’t work out with the Dolphins, he was cut, and was claimed on waivers by the Bills in 2018.

Since then he’s been terrific.

Here’s what Kyle Silagyi at the Bills Wire had to say about his future:

Phillips was near-dominant in his first full season in Buffalo, notching a career-high 9.5 sacks while also setting a career-high in tackles (31). Despite playing on a defensive line that features heavy rotation, he took over as the team’s starting three-technique in Week 9, a testament to the progress he made throughout his fifth professional season.

Given his production, Phillips is likely in for a payday this offseason, whether that be from the Bills or another franchise. An annual salary of roughly $10 million is the number that’s being thrown around for the 27-year-old, and while it’s possible that he won’t ever match his 2019 production again, he’s also not a player whose impact could be replicated with a random free agent signing.

Phillips is a disruptive pass rusher and is reliable against the run. He also brings energy to Buffalo’s front-seven, and though he accomplishes the role in a different way, one could argue that he’s replaced Kyle Williams as the heart and soul of the Bills’ defensive line.

Buffalo would be wise to retain Phillips’ services, with a three- or four-year, front-loaded contract appearing to be its best option. By giving Phillips significant money when they have significant cap space, the Bills would retain a key contributor while also keeping some money available for a few years down the road, when players like Edmunds, Allen, and Dion Dawkins will need new contracts.

The Seahawks need someone who can make plays consistently from the interior. If he’s truly in the $10m range, that’s a price worth considering. He’s 6-6 and 340lbs with 34.5 inch arms. That’s the kind of size and length Seattle likes.

He’s only 27 so there’s time on his side. The market for defensive tackles is hard to read. Some get paid big money, others struggle. Who knows how much Phillips and Jarran Reed will command? If they were somehow able to sign Phillips and re-sign Reed and Jadeveon Clowney, wouldn’t that be a good investment? They’d still need a speed rusher but this isn’t going to be a one-man fix. The line needs rebuilding with proven talent wherever possible. Yes — there might need to be one or two prove-it type deals thrown in too. They might need to find someone in the draft. First and foremost though this line needs an injection of talent.

Phillips is a name to watch if he reaches free agency.

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Instant reaction: Seahawks beat the Eagles, go to Green Bay

Sunday, January 5th, 2020

If you were asked to sarcastically script a Seahawks game that defined their entire 2019 season, it would look exactly like this.

They played down to an opponent that had a ridiculous number of injuries. They couldn’t pull away to deliver a comfortable win. The defense struggled to create pressure aside from Jadeveon Clowney. They had a near-fatal fumble.

And they won. Which was also the case more often than not during the 2019 season.

This isn’t the type of performance that will have Seahawks fans giddy at the prospect of a deep playoff run. The reality is they beat an Eagles team who lost their quarterback early on and had to roll with a 40-year-old backup. Aside from that, nearly the entire Eagles offense was out or playing hurt.

They toiled. Again, in typical Seahawks 2019 style, there were moments of absolute frustration and bewilderment. Why couldn’t they assert themselves on a hurting opponent? Why did it have to be so close?

Yet off-setting it all were moments of sheer brilliance.

The quality of Russell Wilson shone through, leading a team that is missing so many key players. He threw for 325 yards and ran for 45 more. The Seahawks probably aren’t going to be able to run the ball for the rest of the season. They’re missing offensive linemen and their three starting running backs are gone.

Travis Homer had 12 yards on 11 carries. Marshawn Lynch had a sensational Beast Mode touchdown but finished with seven yards on six carries.

Wilson had to make it happen and he did.

Many teams will go into the off-season — maybe even including the Patriots — looking for a player who is even half of what Wilson is to lead their franchise.

He was well supported by his receivers. D.K. Metcalf had a performance where, if it could be replicated next week, the Seahawks might have some semblance of a shot. His brilliant grab at full-stretch and recovery to make it into the end zone was the winning moment ultimately. He iced the game by torching the Eagles downfield and making another stunning catch on third down.

The Seahawks got a steal when they traded up for him at the back end of round two. He was one pick away from being a third rounder. Which is ridiculous.

David Moore had two long receptions and Tyler Lockett looked closer to his best with a wonderful catch by the sideline. The receivers stepped up on a day to throw.

On the other side of the ball, you could be tempted to call it the ultimate showing of bend-but-don’t-break. They had two fourth down stops at the end. They had seven sacks, somehow. Yet in reality all this game did was highlight the major surgery this defense requires in the off-season.

The run defense is poor. They gave up 4.6 YPC and 120 yards despite the quarterback situation. They couldn’t even play the run well to put it on Josh McCown. Instead, the Eagles didn’t really miss a beat as they marched up and down the field consistently. Their flaw was in the red zone where they strangely looked devoid of creativity. Maybe that was the QB situation catching up with them.

Yet had Miles Sanders not kindly dropped a straight forward pass on fourth down in the final quarter, the Eagles could’ve been right in with a chance to win. It was also a bit of a gift that McCown held on so long on Philly’s final drive — absorbing a sack on another fourth down.

It wasn’t all bad. They did, eventually, get the sack numbers. Jadeveon Clowney made enough splash plays to remind everyone he needs to be kept. K.J. Wright was terrific. The unit will need to play better next week, however.

They move on to Lambeau Field to face a Packers team that has shown flashes of quality and moments of weakness. They destroyed the Vikings in their own stadium to win the NFC North. They also nearly blew a playoff bye against the hapless Lions in week 17 and the 49ers took them to the cleaners in Santa Clara.

At home they should’ve lost to Detroit (only to be helped by the ref’s and win 23-22). They only won 20-15 against the Redskins, 24-16 against the Panthers and it was close against the Bears. They were well beaten in LA by the Chargers.

They’re similar to Seattle. A bit crap some of the time but capable of brilliance too. They’re not missing several key players though.

The Seahawks haven’t even looked like beating the Packers in Green Bay during the Carroll era. They’ve been uncompetitive for the most part, frustrating for the rest.

You can get after Green Bay. Whether this banged up Seahawks team is capable of doing it remains to be seen.

At least they get the opportunity to find out if they can reach the NFC Championship game. They’ve gone a stage further than the Saints, even though it was probably a blessing not to face Minnesota in Seattle today as the #3 seed. They also went a stage further than a year ago by reaching the divisional round and they’ve finally won another road playoff game — albeit against a Philadelphia team with such incredible misfortune due to injuries.

The Packers will be rested. The Seahawks will need to hope Duane Brown and Mike Iupati return. They’ll need to be cleaner (11 penalties today for 114 yards) and they’ll need to match Aaron Rodgers score-for-score. Thus, they’ll need more Wilson magic.

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Playoff Sunday open thread & thoughts

Sunday, January 5th, 2020

Here’s an open thread for the Eagles, plus some pre-game thoughts.

I think this might be the least optimistic Seahawks fans have felt going into a post-season in the Carroll era. In 2012 there was euphoria and excitement. In 2013 and 2014 there was genuine belief and expectation. After that, hope that a legendary team could make amends for that playoff loss.

Even last year they rolled into the post-season on a 6-1 run that included impressive wins against Green Bay, Carolina, Minnesota and Kansas City.

This year the Seahawks are battered, injured and lost two home games to end the season. The defense appears incapable of stopping anyone and the offense is now totally reliant on the quarterback.

A deep playoff run isn’t improbable — it’d be miraculous.

The thought of this team winning in Philadelphia, San Francisco and New Orleans to make the Super Bowl is fanciful — even if they’ve already won on the road against the Eagles and Niners. This doesn’t feel like Seattle’s year. Too many injuries, not enough quality and a seriously flawed defensive line and pass rush.

To some extent it almost feels like we might as well get on with talking about the next step. Who should they retain? Who should they sign in free agency? Who should they draft? The Seahawks need to take a step in 2020 to get back to the NFC’s top table. They’re not miles away. They have the coach and quarterback combo needed to compete. They have some complimentary pieces. They just need more — and to fix the pass rush.

That said, we should never take these days for granted. The Seahawks in the playoffs is something we should cherish and enjoy for as long as it lasts. If they win today the chances are they’ll get another tilt at the Niners. Who wouldn’t want that?

It might not be Seattle’s year but until that is confirmed, you have to go with it.

Today specifically it’ll be interesting to see if this is similar to the regular season meeting. Seattle dominated that day and should’ve won by a lot more than the 17-9 scoreline. They forced five turnovers, blew two easy scoring opportunities and turned the ball over twice themselves.

They’re going to need to find a way to move the ball with a severely banged up O-line and backup running backs. A lot of people on Twitter will call for them to throw the ball but perhaps need to remember the last Philly game. It was windy and that had an impact (it’s said be even windier today). However, they were very aggressive and tried to take advantage of Philadelphia’s weakness covering the deep ball. Wilson was only 13/25 passing, he was sacked six times and his QBR was a paltry 16.4.

Inviting the Eagles’ best unit — their D-line — to have a major impact on the game might not be the wisest move.

There needs to be some healthy balance here. The speed of Rashaad Penny was a big threat in the last meeting. Getting the ball to Travis Homer on a pitch, a toss and letting him get to the perimeter is probably going to have a place today. Let’s see some sweeps and misdirection.

D.K. Metcalf is going to need to play well. They’ll likely need a big catch from David Moore. Jacob Hollister is going to have to step up again.

And more than anything, they’ll need the defense to play a LOT better than it has been recently. They smothered the Eagles last time even without Jadeveon Clowney. Can they repeat this, with Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks both absent? If they can, they’ll have a shot.

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Friday draft notes: Cesar Ruiz declares for the draft

Friday, January 3rd, 2020

This was one of the big dominos to fall in January. While a lot of the focus is currently on Tua Tagovailoa (and with Chase Young also predictably declaring today), this could get lost in the wash.

However, Ruiz is a player to monitor. For me he’s a top-25 talent. Michigan didn’t have a great start to the 2019 season and a big part of their turnaround was the performance of Ruiz next to Ben Bredeson anchoring the O-line. They provided the platform to smash Notre Dame, win against Iowa and hammer Michigan State.

Watch the way he handled Alabama’s Raekwon Davis in the Citrus Bowl. Davis hasn’t received as much publicity during the last two seasons because his sack numbers dropped off a cliff. He’s still a 6-7, 315lbs behemoth who can hold the point and clog lanes, provide some quick pressure and work down the line. Ruiz bullied him at times.

He was the best SPARQ tester at center in 2017 with an overall score of 97.92. He’s 6-4 and 319lbs. As we noted yesterday, PFF crowned him the best pass-blocking center in college football in 2019 and he allowed just eight pressures in 447 snaps.

Ruiz is the complete package at center. He has the size, the physicality, the athleticism and the production. He’s shown grit in his life — coping with losing his father at the age of eight. He’s a good talker with a good personality. Teams will enjoy meeting with him during the draft process.

I don’t think he will be available to the Seahawks. Similar quality center’s have been off the board before they’re likely to pick — which will be no earlier than #21 overall. However, he might be a consideration if he did last.

The Seahawks have a call to make on Justin Britt’s contract. This is no review of Britt’s performance. He’s been a highly consistent and valued starter. I don’t think people realise how difficult it is to find a center who you never really talk about. It’s to Britt’s credit that he simply held down his job for multiple seasons — leading an O-line that has improved (even if people aren’t willing to recognise it).

That said, he is currently recovering from an ACL injury. Seattle is facing a big off-season where they need to rebuild their pass rush and defensive line. They have cap space to spend but might need even more. Cutting Britt would save a considerable $9m. They could re-sign him, of course, at a cheaper price.

It may be that Britt, due to his recovery, could remain available after the draft. If the Seahawks were open to drafting someone like Ruiz, they could set up a hedge (Ethan Pocic or re-signing Joey Hunt). Then if the draft plan didn’t come to fruition, Britt could still be an option.

We have to consider a lot of different things when the off-season eventually begins. There will be moving parts.

The absolute #1 priority will be to fix the pass rush. I noticed people questioning why, in the recent stats piece, we didn’t talk about ‘nickel’ and ‘base’ defense. I’ll get hammered for this — but it feels like a fan creation, simply because the Seahawks are not acting conventionally in this instance.

Nobody has any stats to represent why it can be blamed — it’s simply blamed. Yet K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks actually have very reasonable performance stats in coverage. Kendricks gave up 7.9 yards per completion — the 18th best mark in the league among all defenders and was higher than any nickel cornerback. Kendricks also gave up 6.7 yards per target — the same number as Devin McCourty and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. Wright was even better with 6.3 yards per target — marginally weaker than Malcom Jenkins’ 6.1.

There’s a laundry list of stats when it comes to why the pass rush was a major problem. The Seahawks were among the worst teams in the league for sacks and pressures, their run defense was poor and they missed far too many tackles. While Kendricks was the chief culprit in the missed tackle stakes — he started poorly and improved as the season went on (perhaps indicating a greater comfort level in his new role). The defensive line, as a group, were among the worst offenders for missed tackles too.

Are people willing to consider that a much improved D-line that actually creates consistent pressure could make the whole ‘base defense’ issue a moot point? And what numbers are there to indicate that Kendricks being on the field instead of Akeem King was responsible for Seattle’s defensive regression?

Fixing the D-line will be the #1 off-season priority. So having the optimal amount of cap space to make this happen will be important. If you can make a saving without reducing your performance, it’s something to consider. And that might be why the Seahawks consider swapping out an $11.4m center for a player on a rookie contract.

They’ll also be wary of suffering the growing pains they endured in the past when going young on the O-line. The fact they might also need to replace Germain Ifedi and Mike Iupati could be enough to dissuade them from making more changes than necessary. It’s something to consider during the process though — especially given Ruiz’s supreme talent.

If they get the defense sorted in free agency, it does open up draft options on offense (receiver, tight end, O-line) with some of their early picks.

If they need Ruiz and are lucky enough to land him, it’ll be a fine choice. Ruiz, Georgia tackle Isaiah Wilson and TCU receiver Jalen Reagor should be higher in the mock drafts you’re reading (if they’re even included at all). K.J. Hamler, Shaun Wade and Brandon Aiyuk also deserve more attention.

Tight ends turning pro

It’s interesting that Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet and Stanford’s Colby Parkinson have both opted to turn pro. In what is widely considered to be a down year at the tight end position, they might be trying to capitalise.

Parkinson was, surprisingly, used mostly as a ‘big receiver’ at Stanford. They love to run the ball so it was frustrating watching Parkinson during the season. There was very little to get into in terms of blocking.

I’ve watched two Notre Dame games today. Kmet has some ability to get to the second level and find nice areas in coverage to be a factor. As a blocker he was so-so — there was nothing particularly spectacular. It’ll be an area he needs to work on. Reportedly he was given a second round grade by the committee.

I kind of feel the same way about Parkinson, Kmet and Florida Atlantic’s Harrison Bryant. They all more or less do the same job as a big receiving target and all need to develop their blocking virtually from scratch. For that reason, testing is going to be important for all of them. We need to see them at the combine to get a proper angle on their true potential.

The Seahawks need to add a tight end at some point during the off-season but they also need an X-factor. Someone who can provide a safety valve but also with the dynamism and athleticism to create mismatches and take the pressure off Russell Wilson. They could do with their answer to George Kittle and Tyler Higbee. Will Dissly could be the man, of course, but after two serious injuries in little over a year they could do with reinforced depth at the position.

We know they value the short shuttle and three cone drills at tight end. I still think Hunter Bryant (who ran a 4.35 short shuttle at SPARQ) could be the best bet. He has the agility and quickness they need to be a receiving threat. He can make the big play and settle down in zone to provide an easy target. He’s also shown more as a blocker than the other three names mentioned above. He could be a plus version of Jacob Hollister.

The Seahawks could also review the trade market — with David Njoku (4.34 short shuttle, 6.97 three cone) seemingly on the way out in Cleveland and O.J. Howard (4.16 short shuttle, 6.85 three cone) long being linked with a move out of Tampa Bay. Both players, as former first round picks, might be expensive though.

Thoughts on an intriguing cornerback

With the news that he was turning pro, I decided to check out LA Tech’s star cornerback Amik Robertson. PFF gave him the best coverage mark (91.3) in college football. His 14 interceptions and three career pick-sixes is the most for active college football players and his 48 passes defended is tied for second-most among active players.

In 2019 alone he had 60 tackles, five interceptions and 16 pass break-ups. He has special teams value too.

When you watch him play he’s incredibly physical and gritty. He makes great reads, understands the game and has the athleticism to break on the ball. His tackling is excellent when he needs to get up near the line and make a hit. He looks quick and there are no apparent issues with recovery speed.

In watching interviews with him he’s a very confident player but not in an arrogant way. He’s likeable.

The issue is size. He’s 5-9 and 183lbs. The Seahawks haven’t taken a cornerback earlier than the late third round and they love length. Are they going to be interested in someone with Robertson’s profile? It seems unlikely unless he lasts into day three — even though he’ll be projected solely as nickel in the NFL.

Seahawks fans might not like it but they haven’t placed a lot of value on the nickel position. They got Justin Coleman in a value trade and spent a sixth rounder on Jeremy Lane. They’ve always shopped in the bargain bin here and I’m not sure that’ll change for Robertson — even if there are things to like about his game.

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PFF highlights possible targets for the Seahawks

Thursday, January 2nd, 2020

Cesar Ruiz led Michigan’s offense to a mid-season improvement

Each year PFF produces a useful ‘best at everything’ team for offensive and defensive college football players.

It can provide some insight into the players the Seahawks might consider in the draft.

They’ve also posted some info in a separate piece that is also of interest.

Here’s a collection that stand out…

Best RB through contact: A.J. Dillon, Boston College
Dillon led the nation with 79 missed tackles forced and gained a whopping 1,104 yards after contact. He was dominant when tasked to run the ball, even though the defense knew the Boston College offense ran through him as he toted the rock 317 times this year.

The Seahawks love physical, explosive running backs who break tackles and set a tone. Dillon’s 1104 yards after contact in 2019 is impressive. It’s also worth noting his physical profile. He’s bigger than the type of runner they usually target (they prefer players in the 5-11, 220lbs range and Dillon is listed at 6-0 and 250lbs). However, they really like explosive testing numbers at the position. Dillon jumped a 39 inch vertical at SPARQ and managed a very impressive 135.39 overall score. He also has quick feet — running a 4.18 short shuttle and a 4.54 forty. These are really good numbers and he might be someone to keep an eye on for day three.

Best post route runner: Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State
Hauling in all seven of his post-route targets, Aiyuk was the country’s best when breaking toward the goalpost from an outside receiver alignment. He ripped off 357 yards on those seven catches, gained 176 yards after the catch and broke 120 yards after contact, all of which lead the nation by a comfortable margin.

I mocked Aiyuk to the Seahawks recently. Jim Nagy also told us on the podcast that he’s receiving higher grades than N’Keal Harry — a late first round pick a year ago. Seattle loves to get the ball downfield and Aiyuk’s impressive ability to run the post will be attractive along with his speed, playmaking ability and special teams value.

Best run-blocking TE: Harrison Bryant, FAU
Bryant finishes as arguably the most well-rounded tight end at the FBS level, as he also led in receiving grade and overall grade. FAU running backs averaged more than 2.0 yards before contact when rushing around the tight end spot this season.

The Seahawks will undoubtedly add a tight end in the off-season. They might prefer a compliment to Will Dissly and therefore target more of a pass-catching type such as Hunter Bryant. However, we also know they really value blocking. I’m going to spend a bit more time studying Harrison Bryant based on this review, especially his description as the most well-rounded tight end in the FBS.

Best pass-blocking OG: Ben Brederson, Michigan
The nation’s best pass-protecting guard put forth some dominant outings and kept a clean sheet against some top-notch defensive lines. Bredeson spent 451 snaps in pass protection and allowed just seven hurries with no QB hit or sack allowed. He didn’t allow a single pressure against Iowa, Notre Dame or Michigan State and allowed just two pressures against Ohio State.

Best pass-blocking C: Cesar Ruiz, Michigan
If you ever wondered why the Michigan offense got rolling late, look no further than the interior of that offensive line, which sports two guys on our list for best pass protectors at their respective position. Ruiz spent 447 snaps in pass protection and allowed just seven total pressures, including eight games without a pressure allowed. He hasn’t allowed a single pressure since Week 7 against Illinois.

I’ve grouped these two together because they really were the bedrock of Michigan’s improved form over the second half of the season. Ruiz in particular jumped off the screen. He’s a terrific prospect and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was taken in the top-25 picks. The Seahawks place a strong value on size, physicality and run-blocking and both are big dudes — Brederson is listed at 6-5 and 325lbs while Ruiz is 6-4 and 319lbs. It’ll be interesting to see how they test. Ruiz was sensational against Alabama this week.

Best run-blocking C: Matt Hennessy, Temple
Finishing as the nation’s highest-graded center, Hennessy used his strength in the run game to bolster his overall grade. He was by far the highest-graded center in the run game and finished as the only center with an elite grade above 85.0 when blocking for the run.

The Seahawks have a call to make with Justin Britt considering his contract and now significant knee injury. They could be in the market for a center. Hennessy is light (6-4, 295lbs) but good run-blocking will get you on Seattle’s radar. He also gave up only 14 pressures in three years as a starter.

Edge Terrell Lewis, Alabama
After multiple injury-shortened seasons, Lewis put together an 85.8 pass-rushing grade this year with 48 pressures.

The medical checks are big for Lewis and it could mean he sticks on the board longer than he otherwise would. We also know the Seahawks are placing a big focus on availability. They’re unlikely to take any big injury risks with their high picks. The Ziggy Ansah experiment isn’t a ringing endorsement to take a chance on health either. If it’s good news on the medical front for Lewis, 48 pressures is a decent tally for the season given he’s spelled as a rusher.

DI Leki Fotu, Utah
The 335-pound Fotu has the chance to be a real playmaker at the position after earning an 83.8 run-defense grade this past season.

Any player with a really positive run-defense grade needs to be monitored. Seattle’s run-defense was poor again in 2019. Fotu is considered a highly athletic and powerful lineman. However, Tony Pauline has also reported teams are scared of his inconsistent play and willingness to turn it on and off ‘when he wants’.

OT Lucas Niang, TCU
While he’s got a ways to go from a technical standpoint, it’s encouraging that he earned pass-blocking grades of 84.8 and 86.3, respectively, in the past two seasons.

I quite liked what I saw from Niang before injury ended his season prematurely. That could work in the favour of teams hoping a tackle prospect lasts a bit longer in the class. The Seahawks will probably draft a tackle at some point this year it’s just a question of how early based on what else happens in free agency. Niang’s SPARQ testing was not good. Hopefully he can recover from injury to perform at the combine and put in a better showing.

IOL Logan Stenberg Kentucky
Stenberg can step in at guard where he allowed all of one pressure in 2019.

Another massive guard (just how Seattle likes them). Stenberg is 6-6 and 322lbs and did a terrific job creating lanes for Benny Snell a year ago. We know the Seahawks like explosive linemen so again, it’ll be interesting to see how he tests.

Don’t forget to check out yesterday’s stats piece if you missed it. It’s worth noting that Jadeveon Clowney’s production came despite being double teamed at the third highest rate in 2019. There’s also our podcast interview with Jim Nagy here.

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Final Seahawks stats review — defense is a big problem

Wednesday, January 1st, 2020

Seattle has a big problem on its hands.

A problem that has to be solved this off-season.

The defense struggled mightily. It couldn’t rush the passer, stop the run and the numbers are quite startling. The Seahawks allowed 6106 yards and allowed 6.0 yards per play. Both marks are second worst in franchise history behind Mike Holmgren’s 2000 team (6-10).

However, history tells us that the Seahawks will aggressively work to fix this issue after the playoffs.

After the 2017 season they knew they had to fix the completely broken running game. They changed the offensive coordinator, offensive line coach and decided to go with a more experienced front five. They spent a first round pick on a running back and drafted a tight end well known for his blocking ability.

The plan worked. A year ago the running game was among the most productive in the NFL and that continued in 2019. Per DVOA, the Seahawks had the #5 ranked offense overall in 2019 and the #9 ranked offense in 2018.

According to Sharp Football Stats, the Seahawks had 62 explosive running plays in 2019 (fourth most in the league). Their average explosive run percentage was 13% — also fourth best. The three teams in front were Baltimore (Lamar Jackson), Arizona (Kyler Murray) and Tennessee (Derrick Henry).

They also had 55 explosive passing plays, 11th most in the NFL. Combined they had the fifth most explosive offense behind only Baltimore, Tennessee and San Francisco.

Overall these are good results. They’re not unexpected when you have a star quarterback and talent at the skill positions. Yet the Seahawks offense has taken a big step forward in 2018 and 2019 after a troublesome 2017 season.

The Seahawks saw a glaring problem and aggressively fixed it.

In 2020 they’ll need to take on a similar task to repair the pass rush, defensive line and their tackling.

There is absolutely no doubt that the unit is holding the Seahawks back. They can’t create consistent pressure, they don’t get enough sacks and the run defense is poor. It’s a minor miracle that they ended up near the top of the takeaway charts.

The Seahawks finished the 2019 season with 28 sacks, second fewest in the league behind only Miami (23). Their sack percentage was 4.5% — third worst overall.

They had only 126 pressures, sixth fewest in the league behind Detroit (125), Oakland (117), Houston (117), Atlanta (115) and Miami (96). Seattle’s pressure percentage was the fourth worst in the league (19.3%) behind Detroit (18.9%), Houston (18.1%) and Miami (16.7%).

Seattle hit the quarterback 68 times — fourth fewest. They had 52 TFL’s — again, fourth fewest.

They gave up 55 explosive running plays on defense, seventh most in the NFL. Yet their explosive run play percentage (14%) was the third worst overall behind only Carolina (16%) and Cleveland (15%).

In the passing game they conceded 54 explosive plays — the 14th most.

I haven’t got access to the 2013 stats to check on the peak LOB years. The earliest I can go back to is 2016. That year they conceded only 39 explosive running plays — the fewest in the NFL. They gave up 58 explosive passing plays. The big difference this season is the run game, highlighting this isn’t only a pass rush issue.

They also gave up 4.9 YPC — fourth most overall.

The other startling statistic is the sheer number of missed tackles. They had 131 during the regular season — the fourth most.

It’s not a completely negative picture. They had 16 interceptions — fifth most in the NFL. They had the 10th most pass deflections (74) and the quarterback rating against Seattle’s defense was 85.6 (ninth lowest).

They had the third best turnover differential (+12) with 16 fumbles to go with the 16 interceptions.

The Seahawks have looked poor in multiple games and there were several head scratching ones where you wondered how they’d won. Sunday night was nearly another one of those. Their ability to turn the ball over and play well on offense was clearly a massive equaliser, diluting the wretched defensive statistics listed above. The counterbalance created an 11-5 team, capable of earning the #5 seed.

In order to take the next step and be a division winner, a conference winner and a Super Bowl winner they will need to dramatically improve the pass rush, the defensive line performance overall and reduce the missed tackles.

As mentioned, the reassuring thing for fans is when there’s a clear, glaring problem with the roster — this front office and staff act very aggressively to fix it. This will be addressed, probably emphatically.

It’ll also likely be addressed long before the draft. Whether it’s moving to re-sign Jadeveon Clowney and/or Jarran Reed, adding other outside free agents or making a significant trade — this will get sorted.

Individual stats

A few weeks ago Bradley McDougald was ranked among the leaders for passer rating against. Unfortunately he has dropped to 16th since, with a 58.8 rating. It’s still a decent mark but perhaps highlights how much the defense has struggled in December. At the start of the month his rating was 29.4.

It could also be indicative of Quandre Diggs’ importance and absence. As Jim Moore notes:

In Quandre Diggs’ five games with the Seahawks this year, Seattle’s defense has produced 16 take-aways, including three INTs by Diggs, and a 4-1 record. Without him in the last two games, 0 take-aways and an 0-2 record.

Tre Flowers ended with a passer rating against of 70.9 (70th best). In comparison, Marcus Peters’ rating was 71.4. He wasn’t too far behind Marlon Humphrey either (67.9). Flowers has shown genuine development in 2019 and that is encouraging.

It’s not such good news for Shaquill Griffin. The general consensus is that he’s had a terrific year three. However, his passer rating against was 96.7 (#155 overall). He’s in the same ballpark as Pierre Desir (96.4) and Desmond Trufant (97.3). He also finished the season without an interception.

Stats like this aren’t the be-all and end-all of course. It’s worth noting, however, that the top-ranked safety in passer rating is Earl Thomas and the top-ranked cornerback is Stephon Gilmore. Harrison Smith is the #2 safety and Tre’Davious White is the #2 cornerback. Richard Sherman is the #4 corner. The top players are ranked where you’d expect.

This is something to consider when contemplating whether Griffin is worth a big contract extension, now that he’s eligible to sign his second deal.

Predictably Jadeveon Clowney led the team in pressures (31). Despite missing games this is still a strong performance. In comparison, DeMarcus Lawrence had 29 pressures, Matt Judon had 32 pressures and Clowney was just behind Calais Campbell (33), Danielle Hunter (35) and Von Miller (37).

Clowney (10) also had one more QB knockdown than Aaron Donald and Von Miller and two fewer than Nick Bosa and J.J. Watt. He also had 17 hurries, putting him at #11 in the NFL.

Considering how poor Seattle was at creating pressure — and the likelihood that Clowney often faced double teams — this is an impressive season. They have to build around and support Clowney, not face the prospect of having to replace him.

If you want to compare Clowney’s performance to the rest of the line, Quinton Jefferson was second on the team with 16 pressures (#92 overall). Rasheem Green had 15. Jarran Reed, despite missing several games, recorded 13 pressures.

Ziggy Ansah finished with 10. He also had only three hurries and five QB knockdowns to go with 2.5 sacks. The Seahawks were desperate after trading Frank Clark and took a chance on Ansah. Expect them to target healthier players when the new league year begins.

Mychal Kendricks missed a number of tackles early in the season and finished with a missed tackle percentage of 21.1%. In fairness, he led the league with 25% early on and showed consistent improvement (eventually ranking with the 15th highest percentage). Quinton Jefferson missed 16.1% of his tackles, second most on the team and #57 overall. Al Woods was third with 15.8% and Jarran Reed fourth with 15.6%. You can make out a picture on why the run defense struggled.

Tre Flowers missed 15.5% of his tackles, Bradley McDougald 14.6%, Marquise Blair 13.8%, Poona Ford 13.5% and Shaquill Griffin 13.3%.

All of this is simply too high. Names of Seahawks pop up on the list far too frequently. At the other end of the scale, Bobby Wagner only missed 5.9% of his tackles (despite leading the entire NFL for tackles made) and K.J. Wright missed only 7.7% of his. Seattle’s two experienced linebackers were the only two players to come out of this well.

Kendricks led the team in TFL’s with eight. Clowney and Wagner were tied second with seven.

Possible targets in free agency

Who might they target to fix this problem? What do the stats tell us about potential targets?

It’s always hard to know what is possible. In 2013 it would’ve felt like a pipe dream to sign both Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril to cheap the deals. The ever expanding salary cap and the propensity for teams to dish out huge contracts has changed the dynamic since. You can still get bargains (Clowney for a third rounder, even as a one-year rental, is a good example). Yet the reality is even decent players are likely to be retained at all costs or they’ll be paid significantly on the open market.

The Seahawks are projected to have about $73m in available cap for 2020 — currently the seventh most in the league. That number could increase depending on what they decide to do with players like Justin Britt. Ed Dickson is a certain cut, that will save a further $3m. They can be spenders in free agency — although the available money will come down quickly if they retain Clowney and Reed.

Dante Fowler is a tough one to project. He was a free agent a year ago, didn’t get a great market and ended up signing a one-year deal worth $12m. He’s only 25 and he has the type of quickness Seattle badly needs (1.59 10-yard split).

His production in 2019 could warrant a big contract. He ranked fifth in the NFL with 16 TFL’s — the same number as Nick Bosa and Cam Jordan. He also ranked highly with 11.5 sacks and 36 pressures.

The Rams are tight against the cap and need to pay Jalen Ramsey. Fowler will likely reach the market. At a good age and with proven production and a recent track record of availability, he would seem to be a possible free agency target.

Shaq Lawson has quietly had a decent season for the Bills. He ranked among the NFL leaders for TFL’s (13), had 6.5 sacks and 28 pressures. He’s also 25 and a former top-20 pick from 2016. He ran a 1.63 10-yard split at 269lbs although he lacks great length (6-2, 32 3/4 inch arms). The size might be off-putting but Lawson could be the type of player you bring in on a short-term deal with an incentive based contract. Remember, the Seahawks need several additions not just one big signing.

Yannick Ngakoue has spent the last few days making it clear on social media he wants to leave Jacksonville. Unfortunately for him, the Jaguars have the power to use the franchise tag. They’re unlikely to let a 24-year-old pass rusher slip through the cracks having already dealt Jalen Ramsey, although the drafting of Josh Allen a year ago gives them some flexibility. They’re also tight against the cap but can make some moves to rectify that (cutting Marcell Dareus alone saves $20m).

Ngakoue had 13 TFL’s in 2019, eight sacks and 27 pressures. Like Lawson he lacks length (6-2, 32.5 inch arms) and he only ran a 1.64 10-yard split and a 4.75 forty despite weighing a light 252lbs. Even so, he has 37.5 career sacks in four years. Even if he’s tagged, he could be a trade option much in the way Frank Clark was a year ago. I’m just not sure he has the length and twitch they look for to warrant a major trade-and-pay deal.

Kansas City only has $21m in available cap space and needs money to pay Patrick Mahomes in the future. Can they commit a massive salary to Chris Jones a year after paying Frank Clark mega money? They might be inclined to do a tag-and-trade or let him test the market. Jones had a fairly modest 2019 season given his reputation with only eight TFL’s, nine sacks and 27 pressures.

If they wanted to take on a reclamation project — and they often have in the past — Vic Beasley has the athleticism, quickness and length they like. His career in Atlanta stalled badly after a fast start. However, he still recorded eight sacks in 2019, eight TFL’s and 19 pressures. Beasley won’t be the answer on his own but he could be part of a multi-faceted solution.

If they want to go with experience, Everson Griffen is a likely cap casualty in Minnesota. They might re-structure his deal to keep him, or cut and re-sign him. If he reaches the market though the Seahawks would likely show some interest. He had 11 TFL’s, eight sacks and 34 pressures in 2019.

Robert Quinn has had a nomadic existence over the last few years. He had 13 TFL’s, 11.5 sacks and 35 pressures this season and is, surprisingly, still only 29.

Denver recently announced they’re going to be picking up the option on Von Miller’s contract. They have money to spare and can tolerate the $25.6m cap hit. However, at that price they might also see what kind of trade offers are on the table. It’s hard to imagine the Seahawks inheriting a deal like that, although they could lessen the hit by extending his contract. He turns 31 in March. He had 10 TFL’s in 2019, eight sacks and 37 pressures.

If you missed yesterday’s podcast with Jim Nagy don’t forget to check it out:

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Podcast: An interview with Jim Nagy

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019

This week I had the pleasure of joining Brandan Schulze to interview Jim Nagy, the Executive Director of the Senior Bowl and former Seahawks scout.

We talked about the loss to San Francisco, the Seahawks organisation, the Senior Bowl and some of the draft prospects involved. You can hear our conversation with Jim below and I’d highly recommend checking it out.

Also, it’s exactly 11 years to the day that I started writing Seahawks Draft Blog. So underneath the podcast embed I’ve added a mock and some thoughts on the draft with a number of interesting reports surfacing in the last 24 hours.

Draft notes & a new mock draft

Dylan Moses has announced he’s returning to Alabama next season. He was projected to be a top-10 pick before suffering an ACL injury in pre-season.

Recently Tony Pauline reported that Nick Saban was pushing for several Alabama prospects to return in 2020 as most hadn’t received high grades from the draft committee:

“Nick Saban is really pushing hard and re-recruiting these guys to come back for another year with the Crimson Tide… This shouldn’t be a surprise but part of the reason is this… I’m told the information getting back to these Alabama players – Jerry Jeudy aside and Tua Tagovalioa depending on his injury status – most of these Alabama underclassmen are not being graded as highly as a lot of people think.”

Yesterday Saban revealed that only Tagovalioa had received a top-15 grade from the committee. It’s not unusual for players to receive conservative grades. Saban is also known for encouraging his players to turn pro if they’re expected to be high picks.

Moses opting to return to college despite his injury could be the start of a series of similar announcements. For example, it’s fair to assume that Tagovalioa is hearing some concern from teams about his hip injury. Clearly he will be highly valued as a prospect. The injury, however, creates an unknown. And it’s unlikely he’ll receive any ‘off the record’ assurances behind the scenes that he’ll go as high as he hoped pre-injury.

If he decides to return to Alabama it’ll be a gamble. He’s had injuries in his career and any more will only create further doubt. He’d also be entering a 2021 draft that is likely to include Trevor Lawrence.

But we’ve seen players make pacts together in the past. Remember when Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell all committed to return to Clemson to win a National Championship? It worked out for them. They all went in the top-20 and Clemson won their title.

Could something similar happen at Alabama? Could we see Moses, Tagovalioa, the receivers (Henry Ruggs, DeVonta Smith) and the two offensive tackles (Alex Leatherwood, Jedrick Wills) all return in 2020? What about Trevon Diggs? That would work alongside Pauline’s report. I suspect Jeudy will still turn pro.

Here’s another dynamic to consider. Miami today brought Chan Gailey out of retirement to be their new offensive coordinator. Gailey has a strong history with Ryan Fitzpatrick, stretching back to when both were in Buffalo.

It’s likely only a short term arrangement. Are the Dolphins seeing the writing on the wall with this draft class and positioning themselves to spend another year with Fitzpatrick as the starter, before using the 2021 draft to fill their QB need? Remember, they have two 2021 first round picks thanks to the Laremy Tunsil trade. Tagovalioa or Lawrence in 2021 could be more appealing than settling for Justin Herbert or Jordan Love this year.

This move could be indicative that the feeling is Tagovalioa will return to Alabama and that Miami is best served building other areas of their roster with their collection of high picks in 2020.

If this proves true, it’ll dramatically change the look of mock drafts. The first round was set to be dominated by Alabama prospects.

We’ve already seen a number of players opt not to declare. Marvin Wilson (DT, Florida State) and Walker Little (T, Stanford) will join Dylan Moses and not turn pro. Tony Pauline has reported that Tristan Wirfs and A.J. Epenesa were leaning towards returning to Iowa.

I’ve put together a mock draft based on the kind of impact the above could have on the first round…

#1 Cincinnati — Joe Burrow (QB, LSU)
#2 Washington — Chase Young (EDGE, Ohio State)
#3 Detroit — Jeff Okudah (CB, Ohio State)
#4 New York Giants — Jerry Jeudy (WR, Alabama)
#5 Miami — Andrew Thomas (T, Georgia)
#6 LA Chargers — Derrick Brown (DT, Alabama)
#7 Carolina — Grant Delpit (S, LSU)
#8 Arizona — Isaiah Wilson (T, Georgia)
#9 Jacksonville — Isaiah Simmons (S, Clemson)
#10 Cleveland — Javon Kinlaw (DT, South Carolina)
#11 New York Jets — Trevon Diggs (CB, Alabama)
#12 Oakland — Shaun Wade (CB, Ohio State)
#13 Indianapolis — CeeDee Lamb (WR, Oklahoma)
#14 Tampa Bay — Kristian Fulton (CB, LSU)
#15 Denver — Jalen Reagor (WR, TCU)
#16 Atlanta — D’Andre Swift (RB, Georgia)
#17 Dallas — Raekwon Davis (DT, Alabama)
#18 Miami (v/PIT) — Kenneth Murray (LB, Oklahoma)
#19 Oakland — Jordan Love (QB, Utah State)
#20 Jacksonville (v/LAR) — Cesar Ruiz (C, Michigan)
#21 Philadelphia — KJ Hamler (WR, Penn State)
#22 Tennessee — Prince Tega Wanogho (T, Auburn)
#23 Buffalo — Laviska Shenault (WR, Colorado)
#24 Minnesota — Justin Jefferson (WR, LSU)
#25 Miami (v/HOU) — Curtis Weaver (DE, Boise State)
#26 Seattle — Brandon Aiyuk (WR, Arizona State)
#27 New England — Hunter Bryant (TE, Washington)
#28 Green Bay — Tee Higgins (WR, Clemson)
#29 Kansas City — J.K. Dobbins (RB, Ohio State)
#30 New York Jets (v/NO) — Tyler Biadasz (C, Wisconsin)
#31 LA Chargers (v/SF) — Justin Herbert (QB, Oregon)
#32 Indianapolis (v/BAL) — Jacob Eason (QB, Washington)

Players not included (returning to CFB or projected to return)

Henry Ruggs (WR, Alabama)
DeVonta Smith (WR, Alabama)
Alex Leatherwood (T, Alabama)
Jedrick Wills (T, Alabama)
Tua Tagovailoa (QB, Alabama)
Dylan Moses (LB, Alabama)
Tristen Wirfs (T, Iowa)
A.J. Epenesa (T, Iowa)

The trades explained

New York Jets trade #48 to New Orleans for #30
The Jets need to improve their O-line in a big way. In this mock draft they make a big move into the back-end of the first round to get Wisconsin center Tyler Biadasz.

LA Chargers trade #37 to San Francisco for #31
Whether the Chargers move on from Philip Rivers and trade for someone like Cam Newton, or keep Rivers for another year, they need to draft someone in this class. Here I have them moving back into the late first round for Justin Herbert.

Indianapolis trades #34 to Baltimore for #32
The Colts need to keep their options open at quarterback after a so-so season from Jacoby Brissett. I’m not sold on Eason because he struggles to play off script and improvise — such an important aspect of the modern NFL. However, he has incredible arm talent and it’s possible someone will take the time to try and harness his potential. They move up here merely to secure the fifth year option.

The Seahawks pick explained

Improving the pass rush will be the #1 priority in the upcoming off-season. However, this is not a great class for pass rushers. There’s a distinct lack of twitchy, sudden LEO types with the length and burst Seattle badly needs.

It feels like a problem they’re going to have to solve in free agency or via the trade market. It’s pretty clear the Seahawks will be very aggressive to solve this glaring need. It’s unlikely it’ll be unresolved going into the draft. Therefore, they’ll have an opportunity to focus on other needs in rounds one and two.

Assuming in this scenario the Seahawks have already reshaped their defensive line, they decide to add another weapon for Russell Wilson. In this projection they take Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk. He’s a terrific prospect with great speed and suddenness to create downfield separation and detach from coverage working across the middle. He has genuine star potential and could be a big riser as the process continues — especially if some of the other big names receivers don’t enter the draft.

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