Archive for the ‘Front Page News’ Category

Seven prospects: four overrated, three underrated

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

A quick disclaimer for this piece. If I say a player is overrated, it just means I think they get too much attention either in the media or amongst fans. It’s the opposite for the underrated group.

For example — I have Jordan Matthews as overrated and Brandon Coleman as underrated. I think both players probably go in the second round. The difference is one players gets talked about an awful lot, the other gets almost no attention. That’s the gist of the piece.

Overrated

Dee Ford (DE, Auburn)
A player it’s tough to imagine going in round one, despite a lot of mocks suggesting it’ll happen. Ford can run. He has a nice get off and if he gets a route to the quarterback he can be successful. But here’s the thing — one dimensional pass rushers very rarely work out at the next level. When Ford is forced to use his hands, shed a block or make a counter move — he comes unstuck. He struggled badly against Cedric Ogbuehi (Texas A&M) and had a really quiet night against Alabama despite getting some favourable match-ups against their tight ends. He’ll need to play in an extreme wide-9 formation, rushing from a distinct angle straight to the quarterback. How many teams can really accommodate that? And for a 6-2, 244lbs rusher you’d expect better times than a 4.59 and a 4.54 at his pro-day. Speed-to-power is crucial for a defensive end. Watch Cliff Avril — he mixes it up. He can beat you off the edge, but he’s also willing to get stuck in with a bull rush. He counters, he sets up a lineman over 4-5 snaps. Ford is a million miles away from that and can only be projected as a specialist right now. He’s already 23 years old as a redshirt senior. If you’re taking a chance on a rotational pass rusher, target Marcus Smith or Demarcus Lawrence later in the draft.

David Yankey (G, Stanford)
In terms of pure size it’s hard to complain. Yankey’s 6-6 and 315lbs with 34 inch arms. He played some tackle at Stanford before kicking inside. He looks like a tackle. And he plays like a big lumbering guard. The combine backed that up — he ran a 5.48 with a 1.87 10-yard split. OK — guards don’t have to run fast. They don’t have to be great athletes. They need to be country strong and play with attitude. Well, Yankey’s 22 reps on the bench press ranked among the lowest for offensive linemen. So he’s not a great athlete, he’s not very strong. And on tape he spent most of his time doing what all Stanford guards do — pulling out of position and blocking from favourable angles. I hate the Cardinal blocking scheme — it’s backed up by multiple TE sets and technically so precise. It doesn’t translate to the next level. Yankey, quite frankly, fits only in a man-blocking scheme that values size — and yet he’s very likely to get shoved around by tougher, more athletic defensive linemen. He’s got John Moffitt written all over him and there are several better guards available in this draft. It’s hard to see him being much more than a third round pick, but he’s regularly touted as the best guard in the class or even a late first rounder.

Timmy Jernigan (DT, Florida State)
What is he? He lacks the size (6-1/6-2, 298lbs) to play nose tackle — and yet it’s probably his most natural fit for what he shows on tape. He has the size, however, of a three technique. And yet he has an average get off, he’s rarely in the backfield and he’s just not very good at rushing the passer. He had 4.5 sacks in 2013 — two of which came against Idaho. Stats aren’t everything, which is why you put on the tape. He just doesn’t have enough splash plays — and think about the talent he played with at FSU. It’s so hard to get excited about a player like this. He’s at his best taking up a couple of blockers and making life easier for others. But you can find players like that in the middle rounds. He’s strong — but still manages to be overpowered from time to time. You’ve also got to have serious question marks about his stamina. He was used as a rotational player at FSU and got tired way too easily. It was cringeworthy seeing him take himself out of the game right at the crucial moment of the BCS Championship. I don’t like his footwork either — too many wasted steps. For a guy who’s consistently mocked in the first round — there’s just something so underwhelming here. Aaron Donald is five times the player — constantly involved and a major impact prospect. Even in round two, Jernigan would be an underwhelming pick.

Jordan Matthews (WR, Vanderbilt)
If you just looked at stats and the combine, Matthews would be among the top players in the draft. He had a lot of production over multiple years at Vandy — and he showed off 4.46 speed, big hands and long arms in Indianapolis. He’s also a relative of Jerry Rice. Unfortunately the tape just isn’t that great. A lot of his production is generated by screen plays — and the success of these plays is totally reliant on whether the blocking’s good or not. Matthews isn’t elusive, he isn’t shifty in the open field. When he gets great blocking he’s got the speed to really exploit it. When he’s covered up, you’re in trouble — unlike, for example, a guy like Brandin Cooks. He drops more easy passes than people believe. Yes — he tries to catch the ball away from his body for the most part and he’s also capable of making some spectacular grabs. But he also has drops that’ll make Kelvin Benjamin blush and he lets the ball get into his pads too often. Despite the size (6-3, 212lbs) he’s not overly physical down the sideline and he has marginal impact in the red zone. He doesn’t win too many contested passes. He’s pretty ‘finesse’. He’s not a bad receiver by any means, but he’s not quite as good as some people will have you believe. A grade in the round 2/3 range seems fair.

Underrated

Jarvis Landry (WR, LSU)
Yeah, he had a combine to forget. He clearly wasn’t 100% and ran a shocking 4.77 as a consequence. He probably should’ve just waited until the LSU pro day which takes place on April 9th. Here’s the thing though — football is predominantly about guys you want to go to war with. You need to accumulate a bunch of players you know are going to turn up every day and work to improve. You need players who will lead by example, put the team first and be prepared to do the ugly things (blocking, special teams). Crucially at receiver, you also need a guy that on 3rd and 5 you can trust to make a play. Jarvis Landry ticks every one of those boxes. He’s a fierce competitor, a special teams demon, a clutch receiver on key downs and he’s also capable of making the ‘wow’ plays downfield. He high points the ball superby, he has huge 10 inch hands and doesn’t drop the ball. He has one of the best highlight reels in the 2014 draft (see above) with the #1 moment a tremendous one-handed touchdown grab against Arkansas that has to be seen to be believed. There are very few negative plays on tape — he’s a picture of consistency. The only issue really is the bad combine and the serious doubts now about whether he’s athletic enough to make it at the next level. I think we need to learn from players like Anquan Boldin — who also fell as a consequence of a 4.7 forty. Sometimes you just need to trust the tape and take a chance on a guy who deserves a shot. Whoever gets Landry next month won’t regret it. If I’m a good team needing a receiver, I’m not ruling out the late first.

Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers)
What’s the difference between Coleman and Kelvin Benjamin? Easy. Jameis Winston. Athletically there’s very little difference. Benjamin’s heavier (240lbs vs 225lbs), while Coleman ran a better forty (4.56 vs 4.61) and had more reps on the bench press (21 vs 13). But they had the same vertical (32.5 inches) and three cone (7.33). Benjamin has slightly longer arms (34 7/8 inches vs 34 inches). On tape you see similar positives and negatives. Neither player high points the football well enough and this’ll be a teaching point as a rookie. Both players have careless drops. And yet both players are just insane, incredible athletes with the potential to become dominating #1 receivers. One players is graded as a likely top-20 pick, the other is graded anywhere from rounds 2-4. And that brings me back to the main difference. Benjamin had a Heisman winning quarterback throwing darts against weak ACC defenses. Coleman had Gary Nova lobbing ducks in possibly the worst passing offense in the NCAA. Words cannot sufficiently describe how bad Rutgers were on offense last year. Here’s the bottom line — there just aren’t many humans like Brandon Coleman. He has devastating potential — how many 6-6, 225lbs receivers run away from secondary’s that include first round picks for an 80-yard touchdown scamper? If he lands on the right team — watch out. He could be another Josh Gordon.

Joel Bitonio (T, Nevada)
I’m not quite sure what Bitonio has to do to get a little love. Even Mike Mayock recently naming him as the #5 tackle on his board hasn’t led to any extra attention. It’s quite staggering really that players like Xavier Su’a-Filo get first round grades as frequently as they do — and yet Bitonio is a presumed second or third rounder at best. For me, there’s a significant talent gap between the two. For starters, the tape is excellent. Bitonio held his own against a Florida State defense that basically tee’d off after building a commanding advantage. You sit there waiting for the breaking point. When is he gonna cave? And it never happens, even in a blow out. He easily handled — and occasionally dominated — UCLA’s Anthony Barr. And against lesser opponents he’s also looked the part. I want to go back and review his performance against Demarcus Lawrence — because from memory he had a terrific game against Nevada (although from memory, he mostly rushed the right side). Athletically he’s almost identical to Logan Mankins entering the NFL, with an exact replica of a college career too. That gives you confidence he can develop into a top guard. But he tested so well at the combine — as well as any of the top left tackle prospects — so why wouldn’t you try him at tackle first? And then there’s his blue collar attitude and flawless character. Just draft the guy. He looks like an 8-10-year starter and a very safe pick for any team needing a stalwart on the offensive line.

Seahawks showing interest in Brandin Cooks

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

Kippy Brown, Seahawks receivers coach, speaking to Brandin Cooks at his pro day

According to the man himself, Brandin Cooks has a workout or visit scheduled with the Seattle Seahawks.

It certainly looks like more than a passing interest. Kippy Brown attended his pro day and spent some time chatting with Cooks (see above). I think most people would say it’d be an upset if he lasted until #32, but you never know.

One other angle worth considering is scouting-in-advance. New England are bringing Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel to their facility. They might be looking at potential replacements for Tom Brady (who turns 37 in August), but they’ve also been known to use these sessions to get a good look at a player they might be competing against in the future.

Several NFC foes pick in the 20′s — Arizona (#20), Philadelphia (#22), New Orleans (#27), Carolina (#28) and San Francisco (#30). You could make a case for all drafting Cooks if he’s available in their slot.

Are the Seahawks planning ahead? Maybe.

Yet at the same time they might have genuine interest themselves. Not everything has to be kept under wraps — it was common knowledge they went bowling with Russell Okung before the 2010 draft.

I mean, would anyone in the NFL be shocked that Seattle might take Brandin Cooks at #32? Most would be more shocked if he was actually available there in the first place.

I spent a bit of time looking through Oregon State tape tonight, sifting through Cooks vs Washington, Stanford, Boise State, Hawaii, Colorado and Utah.

The first thing that really stands out is he can fly. He’s a shade under 5-10 and just 189lbs — but he kind of looks bigger on tape. And he can move. The 4.33 speed at the combine wasn’t a fluke. He’s a naturally talented sprinter who moves up through the gears quickly.

His best quality without a doubt is YAC. Oregon State used a ton of fly sweeps, quick hitters, bubble screens, receiver screens, slants and reverses to get the ball in his hands.

There’s not too much evidence he can be a sideline hugging, ‘win the redline’ type. In fact after watching the first five games today — I counted just one contested 50/50 pass against Hawaii. It doesn’t mean he can’t do it. He was rarely asked.

Then I watched the Colorado game and he high pointed two downfield shots and caught both. He also spent more time as a conventional wide out and made several catches in traffic. So the potential is there.

I think the Beavers just wanted to get him in space — and rightly so. He’s not going to win too many deep shots at 5-9. Golden Tate was a rare smaller receiver who high pointed the football incredibly well. Odell Beckham Jr is another player who competes well for his size. But they aren’t common.

Cooks had a ton of success running underneath, getting a quick pass and just exploding into the second level. He’s shifty, he’s tough to bring down and he eats up yards.

He’s incredibly adept at exploiting zone coverage. He’ll settle down into space — he really knows how to sell a route. On one touchdown he made three deliberate changes of direction in the corner of the end zone. Even in such a tight spot he had the corner tripping over his feet. He got open and made an easy score.

On another deep route he nailed a double move to find space in behind a corner and just in front of the safety. If the key talent any receiver needs is the ability to get open, Cooks ticks that particular box.

‘Elusive’ is a good way to describe him. Any team that drafts him needs to be creative. He’s very similar to Tavon Austin. St. Louis tried to fit Austin into a structured offense and wasted a year of his explosive potential. Whoever gets Cooks needs to appreciate what he’s best at — he needs plays in the playbook designed solely to get him the ball.

Get him in space and let him make things happen. He’s got a great spin move, he has that ‘gliding’ effect as a runner, he changes direction effortlessly. He’ll be a YAC monster at the next level in the right offense and he’s tough to bring down.

The one game that concerned me a little was the Washington tape. Marcus Peters had him for lunch by being physical and refusing to let him get into a rhythm. Peters was sensational on the day. Cooks didn’t come up against many cornerbacks like that — but he will at the next level. If he’s going to be more than a slant, sweep and reverse guy — he’ll need to be ready for the physical corners in the NFL.

He returned some punts but didn’t have a huge impact. I suspect he can improve here because of the elusiveness he showed in open play. But right now it’s not a strength.

He doesn’t drop easy passes but there are occasions when he lets the ball slip through his hands. It’s not a major concern.

One final note — I’ve not listed it here, but I remember the Oregon vs Oregon State game from 2013 vividly. The Ducks put three men on Cooks — they triple covered him. It’s not often you see that. They sold out the entire defense to cover Cooks. And he still had 110 yards in the game.

You can never have enough of these players on your roster and I think the Seahawks would consider putting Cooks and Percy Harvin on the same field and saying, “Good luck defending that.” They could test him out on punts, work him in the slot and over time try to develop him into a more rounded threat out wide.

If he lasts until #32 — which, again, seems unlikely — he’d be one of the best players left on the board and the value might be too good to pass.

But’s it’s a major stretch to imagine he’d get past Carolina at #28 or San Francisco at #30. Almost impossible I’d say.

And if they are scouting Cooks in advance — maybe we should expect the 49ers to make a move up the board in round one to get him?

Pete Carroll agrees contract extension with Seahawks

Friday, April 4th, 2014

I remember the day the Seahawks fired Jim Mora.

Seattle had just finished the 2009 season with a 5-11 record. Among the eleven defeats were several blow outs — including games that were over long before half time.

The Seahawks had no real identity. For all of Mora’s enthusiasm, his brand of football was non-specific. The key component to the offense was ‘balance’. Defensively it was just a bland 4-3 at a time when the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens were dominating the AFC with aggressive and creative 3-4 schemes.

Players were going on radio shows mouthing off about the dynamic in the team. In Mora’s end of season press conference he refused to pinpoint any issues — simply repeating they’d assess everything.

When asked what positives he could build around — he name-checked the punter.

The Seahawks were irrelevant.

Forcing a new GM to inherit Mora as Head Coach felt like an exercise in futility. They had to break free, take the hit and find a fresh vision for this team.

On the 8th January 2010, “Jim Mora fired by the Seahawks” rolled across my Rotoworld timeline (in the days before Twitter, of course).

It was exciting because it showed mediocrity wasn’t acceptable to this franchise.

But not as exciting as the news that would break an hour or two later.

The Seahawks were going after Pete Carroll.

Forget the success at USC, the ‘big name’ hire and the end of the muddled Mora era (such as it was).

The best thing about Carroll was his strong vision. He knew what he wanted to do and how to implement his plan.

The Seahawks had direction again.

***********************

December 12th, 2010.

Debilitating. Hopeless. Gut wrenching.

A Seahawks team that had scratched its way to 6-6 were shredded by a 4-8 San Francisco outfit.

It was a game Fox Sports cared so little about, they were willing to experiment with a backing track during the broadcast. After every snap, a drum beat played over the announcers to try and force some excitement into what the rest of the country saw as a mediocre contest.

(Imagine if they tried that now for a Seahawks/49ers encounter?)

The game finished 40-21 to the Niners. The size of the task facing Pete Carroll was never more ominous.

A now 35-year-old Matt Hasselbeck threw four lousy interceptions and lost a fumble. Michael Robinson was Seattle’s most productive running back with 33 yards rushing.

Ruvell Martin was the teams leading receiver with 75 yards. Aaron Curry led the team in tackles.

The Seahawks didn’t force a single turnover in the game, with Alex Smith slicing and dicing his way to three touchdowns.

The score was 40-7 heading into the final quarter. A Leon Washington kick return and a late Deon Butler touchdown added some gloss to a miserable day.

Carroll had a turnover machine at quarterback, a festering stench of a running attack and an impotent defense.

It was a horror show — and the Seahawks were a million miles away from the Super Bowl.

The only building blocks they had were players drafted in Carroll and John Schneider’s first class. Russell Okung and Earl Thomas showed promise — while a young special teams stand-out called Kam Chancellor was creating a stir with his effort and application.

The new regime inherited a mess. I’m not sure non-Seahawks fans realise just how bad the situation was.

They were expansion-franchise ugly by the end of 2009. As Kenneth Arthur points out, Seattle were 29th for DVOA in 2009 and 30th in 2010.

In 2012 and 2013, they ranked #1 in DVOA.

If you’d have told me after that San Francisco game in 2010 that this team was three years away from getting to the Super Bowl — I wouldn’t have believed it. No way.

And that’s why Carroll’s work should be praised and celebrated among the greatest jobs ever by any coach, GM or owner.

***********************

It’s not just the way this team has been built, because a lot of the credit there must be shared with Schneider. No other team in the league has managed to discover the following within four drafts:

– A franchise quarterback in the third round

– A shutdown, elite corner in the 5th round

– The best strong safety in the NFL in the 5th round

– An elite running back and tone setter for a trade worth little more than a 4th rounder

They also crafted the deepest and classiest roster in the league, aided by multiple hits in the later rounds or undrafted free agency. How many other teams can win the Super Bowl when their two most explosive players (in Seattle’s case, Christine Michael and Percy Harvin) are sat on the bench or in the treatment room for most of the year?

Seattle really left no stone unturned in piecing this together. They rejected conventional wisdom. They did it their way.

It’s not just about acquiring talent and hitting on draft picks. It’s about developing talent. Carroll put together a staff who are adept at getting the best out of their young players.

While the rest of the league now scrambles to mimic the current World Champions — all will fail unless they re-create the systems in place to develop their talent. It’s not just about drafting tall, long athletes to play in the secondary. That’s the smallest part of the team building exercise.

The key is what you do with those players when they enter the building. And that’s where Carroll wins.

He is a fantastic coach. And while someone like Bill Belichick continues to receive most of the plaudits (and rightly so) — you also have to note the decline in New England’s defensive performance in recent years. Belichick, by nature, is a defensive coach.

I doubt you’ll ever see Carroll’s defensive backs or defense in general play lousy football. If there’s one guarantee you’ll get from this group, it’s fine secondary play. That’s Carroll’s forte.

It won’t matter if defensive coordinators move on, or other coaches. While ever Carroll is part of this franchise you should expect high standards on defense. It’s his project, he is pulling the strings.

Today’s announcement of a new contract isn’t necessarily a surprise, but it’s the best news anyone in Seattle could’ve asked for this off-season.

The Seahawks are fortunate to have Carroll. They’re fortunate to have the ‘Win Forever’ vision. And they’re fortunate that there’s going to be at least three more draft classes that benefit from his wisdom.

***********************

Why three years?

That was the question both Schneider and Carroll had to dodge in the press conference and then an appearance on Brock and Danny shortly after.

When news of an extension broke I think most people expected at least a five-year deal. Carroll’s a young 62 — and the Seahawks have an opportunity over the next decade to win multiple Championships.

Three years just seems a little… short.

I wouldn’t read too much into it though and I certainly wouldn’t fear it’ll be three and out by 2016.

This might just be an exercise in Carroll keeping his options open. He doesn’t need long term job security. And I doubt he has much interest in being tied down for the rest of his working life.

By the end of 2016 he might feel like he prefers another challenge in football. Or he might want to do something completely different.

Or he might just sign another three year extension. I don’t even think Carroll himself knows where his head will be in a few years time.

I’ve already seen people speculating on Twitter about what will or won’t happen. Why even have that debate? Pete Carroll will be the Seahawks coach for at least another three years — maybe longer.

Even when he leaves — almost certainly to return to L.A. or Southern Cal in some capacity or another — it doesn’t mean Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman also automatically move on.

Today is a day for celebration. Big Balls Pete is staying put. That’s all that matters.

***********************

Carroll isn’t just a Super Bowl winning coach. He’s an inspirational public speaker with a message that goes far beyond a football locker room.

A lot of what he teaches his players can be installed into everyday life. I suspect that’ll be his next challenge and project — installing Win Forever into a broader non-sporting universe, further growing projects like ‘A Better L.A.’ and inspiring a new generation of young people to achieve their potential.

He recently returned to USC to conduct a seminar at the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. There’s a few Seahawks-nuggets in this session, but more than anything it’s a great insight into Win Forever and how it can be used in a non-football environment.

I’d recommend watching all two hours if you have the time.

Updated mock draft (two rounds): 3rd April

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
#1 Blake Bortles (QB, UCF)
He’s elusive for a 4.93 runner. He extends plays. Bortles is a very creative quarterback. Houston’s offense is set up for a big rebound year if they find a solution here.
TRADE #2 Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)
Doesn’t it just seem inevitable? The Falcons move up for Clowney. The Rams are happy to deal down.
#3 Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M)
The ultra competitive Manziel fits Gus Bradley’s approach perfectly. The Jaguars need someone who can come in and elevate this team. Manziel can be that guy.
#4 Greg Robinson (T, Auburn)
Just take the best player on the board. Robinson would dominate at right tackle or guard. Make the offensive line your identity and run the ball.
#5 Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
The best receiver prospect to enter the league since A.J. Green and Julio Jones. You can build around a talent like this.
TRADE #6 Khalil Mack (OLB, Buffalo)
When’s the last time a Jeff Fisher team spent a high pick on the offensive line? Mack can play linebacker and create a terrifying triple-threat attack rushing the passer.
#7 Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M)
Josh McCown had Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey last year. If they’ve signed McCown to start, give him Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans this year.
#8 Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh)
He won countless awards in college, had major production and lit up the combine. Mike Zimmer might see Geno Atkins in Donald.
#9 Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
This would be good value for the Bills, who can start Matthews at right tackle.
#10 Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
Matt Stafford throwing to Megatron, Golden Tate and Marqise Lee. That’s how you kick start this team. Get a cornerback in round two.
#11 Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan)
Some believe he’s a bit of a phony tough guy. Others really like him. It’s worth a shot here.
#12 Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State)
Finding a big target for Eli Manning has to be a priority. Benjamin oozes potential, even with those inconsistent hands.
#13 Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama)
They need to keep adding talent to their secondary. This would make a lot of sense here.
#14 Calvin Pryor (S, Louisville)
They’ve added Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen up front, now they need to improve the secondary. A bit of a reach.
#15 Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
Receiver is now a big need for the Steelers. They need someone who can come in and have a quick impact. Out of all the WR’s in this class, Beckham Jr is best served to hit the ground running.
#16 Anthony Barr (DE, UCLA)
I wouldn’t draft Barr this early, but the Cowboys are stuck without moving up or down. After bringing in Henry Melton, they need an edge rusher. They have no alternative.
#17 Joel Bitonio (T, Nevada)
While the rest of the league sleeps on this guy, a smart team like Baltimore will add a legit top-20 prospect.
#18 Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina)
The Jets need to add a receiver or a tight end here. If Ebron lasts this long, he’s an option. They should keep adding weapons on offense.
#19 Zack Martin (G, Notre Dame)
An absolutely superb tackle in college, but expected to move to guard in the NFL. Could play left guard next to Brandon Albert.
#20 Ra’Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota)
They don’t have a lot of remaining needs — apart from finding a long term answer at quarterback. Even so, Hageman is a value pick at this point. They can add a developmental QB later.
#21 Ryan Shazier (LB Ohio State)
Green Bay’s defense is too slow, too sluggish and doesn’t have enough playmakers. A linebacker like Shazier can help take this unit away from total mediocrity.
#22 Darqueze Dennard (CB, Michigan State)
A physical corner who plays with an edge. Good blitzer. Philly wants tough football players on defense and this fills a big need.
#23 Donte Moncrief (WR, Ole Miss)
He’s a big time athlete with good size. Kansas City needs a sparky receiver like this. His best football will come in the NFL.
#24 C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama)
Linebacker and cornerback are the big needs here. Although they need to do their homework on Teddy Bridgewater. Do you really want to pay Andy Dalton?
#25 Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame)
They need to bring in a nose tackle. Nix isn’t Dontari Poe or B.J. Raji in terms of athleticism, but he can hold the point and absorb blockers.
#26 Brandin Cooks (WR, Oregon State)
I think they’ll be happy to wait until round two for a quarterback. They have the #35 pick. We always expect teams to move up for a QB and it never happens.
#27 Morgan Moses (T, Virginia)
New Orleans can’t afford to mess around at left tackle any more. Moses deserves a chance to start on the blind side.
#28 Brandon Thomas (T, Clemson)
I’m not sure how Carolina has allowed a situation to occur where they’re suddenly desperate at receiver and the offensive line.
#29 Martavis Bryant (WR, Clemson)
He has a little Randy Moss to his game. Bryant would provide an explosive X-factor to the Pats offense.
#30 Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State)
Nearly benched last season and overrated after a great combine. The Niners can afford to take a chance on this gambler with their dominant front seven.
#31 Chris Borland (LB, Wisconsin)
Denver needs a tone setter. A leader. A guy who flies around. This would be a smart move. You want this guy on your team.
#32 Cody Latimer (WR, Indiana)
Competes for the ball in the air, runs in the 4.4′s, possesses strong hands and run blocks superbly.

Round two

#33 Houston Texans — Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State)
#34 Washington Redskins — Jimmie Ward (S, Northern Illinois)
#35 Cleveland Browns — Derek Carr (QB, Fresno State)
#36 Oakland Raiders — Stephon Tuitt (DE, Notre Dame)
#37 Atlanta Falcons — Jace Amaro (TE, Texas Tech)
#38 Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Timmy Jernigan (DT, Florida State)
#39 Jacksonville Jaguars — Jarvis Landry (WR, LSU)
#40 Minnesota Vikings — Zach Mettenberger (QB, LSU)
#41 Buffalo Bills — Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers)
#42 Tennessee Titans — Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville)
#43 New York Giants — Kony Ealy (DE, Missouri)
#44 St. Louis Rams — Xavier Su’a-Filo (G, UCLA)
#45 Detroit Lions — Kyle Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)
#46 Pittsburgh Steelers — Jason Verrett (CB, TCU)
#47 Dallas Cowboys — Demarcus Lawrence (DE, Boise State)
#48 Baltimore Ravens — Marcus Smith (OLB, Louisville)
#49 New York Jets — Davante Adams (WR, Fresno State)
#50 Miami Dolphins — Ja’Wuan James (T, Tennessee)
#51 Chicago Bears — Stanley Jean-Baptiste (CB, Nebraska)
#52 Arizona Cardinals — Antonio Richardson (T, Tennessee)
#53 Green Bay Packers — Allen Robinson (WR, Penn State)
#54 Philadelphia Eagles — Dee Ford (DE, Auburn)
#55 Cincinnati Bengals — Marcus Roberson (CB, Florida)
#56 San Francisco 49ers — Bruce Ellington (WR, South Carolina)
#57 San Diego Chargers — Jeremiah Attaochu (OLB, Georgia Tech)
#58 New Orleans Saints — Jordan Matthews (WR, Vanderbilt)
#59 Indianapolis Colts — Deone Bucannon (S, Washington State)
#60 Carolina Panthers — Cyrus Kouandjio (T, Alabama)
#61 San Francisco 49ers — Marcus Martin (C, USC)
#62 New England Patriots — Troy Niklas (TE, Notre Dame)
#63 Denver Broncos — Gabe Jackson (G, Mississippi State)
#64 Seattle Seahawks — Brent Urban (DT, Virginia)

– I’ve included one trade this week. I think it’s almost inevitable we’ll see a deal between St. Louis and Atlanta. Thomas Dimitroff and Les Snead are close. Not just in a football sense — they both have ridiculous hair. The Falcons go up to add Clowney, the Rams fall back and play the percentages. One thing worth noting — Jeff Fisher never invested a great deal of draft stock in his offensive line during the Tennessee days. Don’t be shocked if he goes in a different direction here. They’re already paying big money to Jake Long and Roger Saffold.

– I have nine receivers going in the first round. Not a single one is a reach in my opinion. Nine offensive linemen went in the first round last year — this really isn’t any different. It’s a fantastic group of receivers. Simple as that.

– Cody Latimer is this weeks #32. He’s a freakish athlete with basketball skills, he’s a terrific run blocker and he competes for the ball in the air. If you want to take shots downfield he’s got the 4.4 speed to run by defensive backs and the strong hands to win contested passes.

– Any team that gets Brent Urban late in the second round needs to get the champagne out. If the injury issues this off-season lead to a fall, it’ll be a crying shame. A smart team will capitalise.

– Joel Bitonio goes at #17 to Baltimore. He’s a legit top-20 player for me and the Ravens always seem to draft the players I bang on about (Courtney Upshaw, Jimmy Smith, Arthur Brown). Joking aside,  check out this interview with Bitonio for an insight into the man. Athletic bloodlines, incredible combine, excellent tape, flawless character. He’s everything you want in a first round pick. It’ll be nice if he lasts until #32.

– I didn’t deliberately avoid the offensive line for Seattle. What we see here is a very real scenario — a handful of options leave the board before #32 (Bitonio, Moses, Thomas) and the same thing happens at #64 (James, Richardson). You can’t fight the board — and it could mean an OL-heavy end to the draft as Tom Cable goes through his late-round list.

Tom Cable works out Antonio Richardson & Ja’Wuan James

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

It’s not uncommon to see Seattle coaches attending a pro-day.

Today John Schneider, Pete Carroll, Darrell Bevell and Kippy Brown all attended the Washington event. As far as I’m aware, Carroll and Schneider have consistently attended the Huskies pro-day.

But Tom Cable was extremely active in Tennessee’s work out this afternoon, having a good long look at tackle duo Antonio Richardson and Ja’Wuan James.

There’s a difference between mere attendance and helping conduct the work out.

For all we know Cable was invited to run through a session because he’s a respected offensive line coach with a strong reputation. Likewise some people might speculate this is some kind of elaborate smokescreen.

I think the truth is he probably just went to have a closer look at both players. Nothing more, nothing less. No conspiracy theory needed.

Richardson is massive at 6-5 and 336lbs. He has 35 inch arms. At the combine he struggled badly during drills, particularly in the kick slide and mirror. He just looked incredibly sluggish all round and there were also reports of a lingering knee issue.

On the field at Tennessee he was a classic underachiever. Some people suggested he was holding back for the draft. You could definitely make that argument watching him play. His effort was up and down, he didn’t finish blocks and for all his mountainous size — he never made it count.

And yet a coach like Cable probably sees pure potential. If the Seahawks want to win getting off the bus — a lineman with Richardson’s size makes a statement.

He’ll want to know exactly what he can and can’t do. Is there enough evidence to feel like you can mould him into a productive starter? Can you get his fire burning? Or is it just too much work?

Cable, like the rest of Seattle’s staff, is all about development. Richardson has oozed upside throughout his college career — even if he never dominated in the SEC.

James also boasts intriguing size at 6-6, 311lbs and again 35 inch arms. He started at right tackle at Tennessee, with Richardson on the left.

In some ways he had the more impressive college career. He’s more polished and requires less technical improvement. While the upside isn’t anywhere near as high, James is more of a plug-in-and-play prospect. He carries less risk — he’s mature, composed and established. But he has a much lower ceiling overall.

He’s a little bit finesse at times. You’re not talking about a great run blocker — he’s better as a pass protector. He doesn’t bust a gut to get to the second level and his footwork can be sluggish at times.

I’ve seen both players graded anywhere from rounds 2-4. We should expect the Seahawks to take multiple offensive linemen in the draft — even if they go in a different direction at #32.

Here’s some tape vs Alabama from 2013:

Draft forecast: Six options for the Seahawks at #32

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

Ryan Shazier -- fits the bill as a developmental coaches dream

Having written a couple of mock drafts where a lot of potential Seahawks are off the board before #32, I wanted to highlight some of the players I think will be options with the last pick in round one.

Pete Carroll is on the record as referring to his coaching staff as “developmental coaches”. They look for unique qualities they can enhance and develop. While a lot of other teams think conventionally, the Seahawks are at least willing to consider high-ceiling, gritty prospects who are far from finished products.

It appears their goal is to look at what a player can become and then help him to get there. Obviously the opportunities are broader when you’ve got a prospect with a much higher upside. The names below aren’t being touted much by the media, but that’s OK.

Some national pundits wants to go with what they understand — because that’s how a lot of the teams operate. They want to be able to judge based on what they can see and assess with some degree of surety. They want to rely on what has worked in the past.

Anything foreign or unconventional sets off an alarm.

I don’t think Seattle looks at it that way. In fact I’m convinced they don’t. They’ll consider all of that. But I also think they look for rare qualities — usually a combination of athleticism, size, speed, explosiveness and competitiveness. At the end of the day, it’s easier to take an insane athlete, identify what his peak potential could be and strive to get there than it is to turn an average prospect into a great player.

The thing is — that average player might save another GM’s job. If he plays to a certain level you probably look OK. You didn’t draft a bust. You’re not being ridiculed for a titanic mistake. You got a fairly decent player. Congrats.

The Seahawks front office aren’t concerned by stuff like that. They’ve been trusted by the owner to shoot for the fences. Carroll repeatedly refers to this being the catalyst for his return to the NFL.

And they’re even less likely to be concerned with a Super Bowl trophy tucked away in the cupboard. You can’t even call this a gamble. A gamble would be drafting a raw prospect and hoping for the best.

That isn’t Seattle.

Seattle = development

I’m not trying to suggest I have all the answers. For all I know the names below aren’t on Seattle’s radar at all.

But I think these players are more likely than a lot of the names you’re seeing posted in the media, so here are six suggestions.

I could’ve listed more. I haven’t included the following players because I expect they’ll be off the board by #32: Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State), Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU), Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh), Marqise Lee (WR, USC), Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M).

Donte Moncrief (WR, Ole Miss)
He’s a supreme athlete with a big frame (6-2, 221lbs). There’s so much to work with and develop here. He’s not just a 4.40 runner with a 39.5 inch vertical — he chews up a cushion quickly, drives off the corner and consistently creates separation. He can get deep and challenge a secondary downfield. When he really wants to block — he’s nasty. The challenge will be to get that motor running consistently, because he can be Jermaine Kearse-good as a blocker when he’s at it. He could easily develop into a genuine #1 and he’s got the skills to work as a better YAC threat than we saw in college. The 2012 tape hints at a fantastic NFL receiver. The 2013 tape is frustrating enough that he could be available at #32. Some of it’s on him, most of it’s on Ole Miss’ bizarre offense.

Areas for concern
He needs to do a better job winning 50/50 throws. This is a big one, especially with Seattle’s penchant for taking shots and asking their receivers to high point the football to make contested catches. He’s more than capable of making the necessary improvements so it’s not like you take him off the board or anything. But there are other receivers who are better at this than Moncrief.

Game tape: Donte Moncrief vs LSU

Joel Bitonio (T, Nevada)
Totally underrated. Bitonio compares favourably to all of the top tackles in this class athletically. His 10-yard split of 1.68 is right up there with Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan. He had the third best short shuttle among offensive linemen. His broad and vertical jumps also rank right at the top of the class. His arms are exactly the same length as 6-7 Lewan’s. On tape he comfortably dealt with UCLA’s Anthony Barr, completely held his own against Florida State and demolished several lesser opponents. I agree with Mike Mayock — let him prove he can’t play left tackle. If teams are foolish enough to let him drop — a franchise that already has a proven blind-side blocker can slot him in at left guard. He’s almost identical to Logan Mankins entering the NFL. Blue-collar attitude, zero sense of entitlement.

Areas for concern
I dunno, maybe you don’t think much of his beard? As someone who’s currently in the process of sporting a beard myself (it’s very fashionable for 2014) I’m not even going to try and write something here for the sake of it. Bitonio is a top-20 talent in my book and would be a steal at #32.

Game tape: Joel Bitonio vs Florida State

Cody Latimer (WR, Indiana)
Not the same kind of fluid athlete as Moncrief, but Latimer’s a devilish competitor. The best run blocking receiver in the class without a doubt. He’ll drive defenders out of the way to create running lanes. When he latches out to a smaller corner, it’s over. It’s not just a nice positive to Latimer’s game, it’s a major plus point. You can rely on this guy to put his heart and soul into the ugly side of the game — and that could be huge for a team that loves to run the ball. He benched 23 reps — more than any other wide out at the combine. Then you throw in the way he contests the ball in the air, a 39 inch vertical, incredibly strong hands and 4.4 speed. He’s a wildcard to watch out for at #32. He’s a fighter who can handle physical corners and make explosive plays, plus a reliable target.

Areas for concern
He’s a straight-line runner. He doesn’t eliminate the cushion like Moncrief or Martavis Bryant and a lot of his catches are contested because he fails to create the same level of separation. Latimer can move, but he’s stiff. He’s probably going to be an up-and-down type and the dilemma will be if he can’t win the same 50/50 battles against pro-defensive backs, there’s not much more to his game. But he’s also a reliable and competitive target who makes more than enough ‘wow’ plays to make up for it.

Game tape: Cody Latimer vs Penn State

Ryan Shazier (LB, Ohio State)
Shazier didn’t run at the combine, but he clocked an unofficial 4.36 at his pro-day. Put that alongside a 42 inch vertical and a ridiculous 10.10 broad jump. That’s the definition of explosive. He needs protecting because he has a tendency to get caught in traffic and get washed out of plays. But as a possible WILL in Seattle’s scheme he could become an extreme playmaker — competing in space and just reacting to the football. He’s a four-down player who also carries special teams value and he’s considered by most observers to be a highly competitive player. You can see that in his tackling — he uncoils on contact and sets the tone. He has the range to work in coverage and the untapped potential to be an effective pass rusher.

Areas for concern
How badly does Seattle really need a first round linebacker? Yes, Malcolm Smith and K.J. Wright are free agents next year. But there’s every chance one or both players are re-signed and we’re talking about a seventh and fourth rounder here. What’s stopping Seattle finding mid-to-late round replacements (if necessary) in either the 2014 or 2015 draft? This might be a bit of a luxury pick all things considered, if indeed Shazier did manage to last until #32.

Game tape: Ryan Shazier vs Clemson

Martavis Bryant (WR, Clemson)
The best word to describe Bryant is ‘dynamic’. Speed kills with this guy — he consistently creates separation with solid technique. All Clemson receivers are well coached. Bryant’s head movement and body shape sells the deep route. When he gets the corner turned, he’ll stick his foot in the ground and break off to get open. Tajh Boyd’s inept accuracy wasted many of these moves in 2013, but the sky’s the limit for Bryant if he lands on a team with a good quarterback. He has the potential to glide past cornerbacks, compete for the ball in the air and do a decent job as a blocker. He’s an explosive athlete with major upside. There’s a little Randy Moss to his game.

Areas for concern
Bryant was left out of the 2012 Chick-Fil-A Bowl and told to stay at home by Dabo Sweeney. Faced with the prospect of wasting his career — and with a young child to provide for — the light finally switched on. He knuckled down, started to attend class and finally had an impact. If he continues to work at his craft and be dedicated to football, he can be a fantastic player. But you better do your homework to see if this was a one-year effort with so much on the line.

Game Tape: Martavis Bryant vs Georgia Tech

Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers)
It’s impossible to discuss Coleman without first highlighting how miserable the Rutgers passing game has been since Tom Savage opted to transfer. I’m not sure any receiver could sufficiently develop in that system. It’s not an excuse, but it goes some way to describing Coleman’s strangely inconsistent numbers in college. Really it comes down to this — if you’re willing to invest the time and effort to develop this guy, you could end up looking very smart down the line. There just aren’t many 6-6/225lbs humans on the planet who can do what Coleman does (eg run away from defenders for 80-yard touchdowns). Technically he needs work, but he’s big, strong (21 reps), fast (4.56) and possesses a massive catching radius (34 inch arms). He’s a big-time red zone threat who can make chunk plays. He had 10 touchdowns in 2012.

Areas for concern
Technically he requires a lot of work. He has shown the ability to high point the football and make difficult grabs, but he’s also got a lot of mistakes on film. How much of that is down to playing with Gary Nova — and how much is on Coleman? Patience will be key here. If you’re willing to accept you’re not going to get the finished product in year one, you could end up with a Josh Gordon style break out season in year two.

Game tape: Brandon Coleman vs Louisville, Virginia Tech & Cincinnati

Looking at the possibility of 8-9 first round receivers

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Donte Moncrief -- better than people think

You can’t often say with a high degree of surety that a minimum of five receivers will go in the first round of a draft.

This year it’s almost guaranteed.

Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Marqise Lee, Odell Beckham Jr, Kelvin Benjamin.

Not even the most sceptical of pundits is likely to deny this quintet a day one projection.

Even Benjamin’s critics will probably accept he’s unlikely to get past Seattle at #32 as a worst case scenario.

It’s likely he’ll be long gone before the Seahawks are on the clock.

The quality isn’t restricted to five players either.

The 6th-8th best receivers in this class are better (again in my opinion) than the #2 defensive tackle, the #2 defensive end, the #2 offensive guard, the #2 safety and all of the cornerbacks and running backs.

In several cases you’d have to really fight the board to go in a different direction.

There’s a strong chance eight or nine receivers will be drafted in the first round. I could be proven wrong on that. But I don’t think there’s a better way to begin making my case than stating the belief that the 2014 receivers are just better than most of the other players in this class.

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Detroit’s biggest needs are at cornerback and safety. Assuming they don’t trade the #10 pick, what are they likely to do?

Reach for a cornerback? Reach for a safety?

Or look into the possibility of adding another top receiver to create a formidable passing attack?

The signing of Golden Tate alone doesn’t address Detroit’s substantial need to provide better support to Calvin Johnson. Remember, this is a team making the passing game the focal point of everything they do. That’s why they appointed Jim Coldwell. They’re going to throw a ton of passes, so having multiple weapons at receiver will be crucial.

They need another receiver. One more. Imagine trying to stop Megatron, Tate and one of the top receivers in this draft? It’d be a match-up nightmare and that’s Detroit’s best way to become a forceful opponent.

Draft Tek uses a team of projectionists to judge needs for each franchise.

The site lists ‘speed receiver’ as a ‘P3′ need for Detroit. Here’s what P3 means in the Draft Tek system:

“In need of starting caliber talent, but will not reach for it. Some teams use a “best available player” draft discipline, this fits the P3 code well.”

So essentially they’re saying if BPA is a ‘speed receiver’ at #10, there’s every chance they’ll go in that direction.

I’ve been projecting Marqise Lee to the Lions. While he’s not a 4.3 type runner, he’s a brilliant and competitive athlete capable of creating separation downfield and winning with yards after the catch. A lot of people have soured on Lee after a difficult 2013 season, but I’d recommend watching his 2012 tape. Go and see what he’s capable of when teamed with a competent quarterback.

Imagine the 2012 version of Lee as part of a dynamic triple-threat Lions attack at receiver. It’s a staggering proposition.

And then consider the alternatives. Reaching for a good but not great Ha Ha Clinton Dix with the 10th pick in the draft. Going after Justin Gilbert — who ticks a lot of athletic boxes but was almost benched for bad play by Oklahoma State.

This would be the very definition of fighting the board. Unless Detroit can find a deal to move down, drafting Lee at #10 just provides better value and still addresses a position of need.

They could look at cornerbacks like Jason Verrett or Kyle Fuller in round two, while monitoring safety’s like Deone Bucannon, Jimmie Ward and Terrence Brooks.

I suspect the Lions will be a much better football team if they go Lee, Fuller and Bucannon (for example) instead of a cornerback at #10 and then hoping there’s no great rush on receivers before they pick in round two.

Detroit won’t be the only team faced with such a conundrum. Passing on a 2014 receiver in the first round will be the toughest decision many GM’s make this year.

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One other note from the Draft Tek projector — 14 teams have ‘featured wide receiver’ listed as a P2 or P3. Eight list ‘speed receiver’ with the same status.

P2 is stated as, “in great need of starting calliber talent and will reach to fill the need.”

Seven teams, according to Draft Tek, would be willing to reach for a featured receiver. Let’s look at each one and see what Draft Tek considers a comparable need:

Buffalo Bills
Draft Tek needs: WR, RT, TE
The Bills could legitimately go for Taylor Lewan or Eric Ebron at #9. However, both players made headlines for the wrong reasons recently (Lewan, Ebron). Even so, I think there’s as much chance Buffalo goes for a tackle as they do a receiver. Lewan has a desirable skill set. But you also have to consider the value of taking a right tackle in the top ten versus a game-changing receiver.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Draft Tek needs: WR, DE, QB
The age of Chris Clemons and Jason Babin plus the availability of Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack could make this a no brainer. Ditto if the Jaguars have fallen for a quarterback and want to take one at #3. But what if a team trades above them to get Clowney or their chosen QB? Is Mack a scheme fit? Sammy Watkins could become a legit option for the Jaguars, particularly if they plan to draft a quarterback later. But I’m still expecting to see Clowney or a QB in round one.

Kansas City Chiefs
Draft Tek needs: WR, FS, CB, G
The Chiefs lost Dexter McCluster and were publicly frustrated when Emmanuel Sanders snubbed them for the Broncos. Dwayne Bowe has been a big disappointment after signing his new contract. They’re thin at receiver and have a quarterback who relies on playmakers. While they have needs at safety and corner, they also have good starters in place already (Brandon Flowers, Eric Berry). It’d make a ton of sense to get a receiver at #23.

New York Jets
Draft Tek needs: WR, TE, OLB, FS, CB
For too long the Jets have been a mess on offense. They’ve lacked an identity, they’ve switched offensive coordinators regularly. Now they’re letting Geno Smith and Michael Vick battle for a starting job. Whoever wins that particular competition needs better weapons. Eric Decker alone is simply not enough. Rex Ryan’s defense was good enough last season to compete, and it’ll be no different this year. They must get either a dynamic tight end or a top receiver at #18.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Draft Tek needs: WR, CB, RB
In the last year they’ve lost Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders. The depth at cornerback in this draft means they can address that need in round two. They should also be able to find a running back later — although the recent addition of LeGarrette Blount takes the pressure off there. They’re perfectly placed to grab a receiver at #15 and will have some good options in that spot.

Seattle Seahawks
Draft Tek needs: WR, RT, DT
I think there’s every chance Seattle considers an offensive lineman early, but I also suspect Tom Cable’s list of late round options will be ready and waiting if the board goes in a different direction. They’ve lost Sidney Rice and Golden Tate, while Doug Baldwin is a free agent next year. Adding a receiver at #32 and getting them on a cheap deal for five years appears increasingly desirable. Much will depend on where the greatest value lies.

St. Louis Rams
Draft Tek needs: WR, OLB, FS, CB, G
Quotes from the Rams front office seemed to play down the likelihood of a receiver being drafted early. It’s only a year ago that they spent a top ten pick on Tavon Austin. They also invested a high second rounder in Brian Quick. It’d actually make a lot of sense for the Rams to add another receiver — it’s still a need and they’re well placed at #2 and #13 to get a really good one. And yet oddly they might bypass the position with both of their first round picks. Signing Kenny Britt today on a one-year deal decreases the chances they’ll take a receiver early.

When you break it down there are probably only two out of the seven with a very high probability of going receiver. Seattle’s decision will depend on what’s left with the final pick in round one. There’s a strong possibility Jacksonville and St. Louis don’t take a receiver in the first round.

However — for me it’s not a case of needing 7-8 teams who must get a receiver at all costs in order for that many to go in round one. This is about value.

I suspect it’s the teams without a defining need at the position that’ll push the first round quota beyond a normal rate. Simply because the players available are too good to pass.

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It’s kind of strange that while this receiver class is universally regarded as very deep, quite a few players (in my opinion) are still underrated.

I wrote a piece about Donte Moncrief last week. Here’s a section from the piece: “I suspect some teams are going to look at the 2012 tape and really buy into this guy. He could easily be the 3rd or 4th receiver on a few draft boards. The national pundits aren’t really discussing this, but for me he could easily be a first round pick. Easily.”

There really hasn’t been much national discussion about Moncrief at all. Or Martavis Bryant. Or Cody Latimer.

Compare this to some of the other players who are clinging to high grades.

Scouts Inc via ESPN still rank C.J. Mosley as a top-10 player in the draft. I like Mosley. But he’s a health risk, doesn’t play in a premium position and is he really one of the ten best available prospects in this great draft?

Dee Ford and Jeremiah Attaochu are also given first round grades. Ford looks like a one-dimensional speed rusher with limited upside. I’d second-guess taking him in round two. He struggled badly against Alabama in 2013 and against Texas A&M’s Cedric Ogbuehi. Attaochu was shut down by Morgan Moses — the best opponent he faced last season.

Timmy Jernigan is one of those players who’s been in the first round discussion since forever — but has anyone ever offered a convincing argument as to why? And what has Louis Nix done since the 2012 college season to justify a slot in the first frame?

Scouts Inc lists just five receivers in their top-32. I’m absolutely positive teams won’t view Ford and Attaochu higher than the likes of Kelvin Benjamin or Moncrief.

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One opinion I’ve seen is that a deep draft at receiver will allow teams to look at other options in round one.

I think it might be the other way around.

You can afford to get your receiver early, then go back and fill other needs later.

You’re not going to find many teams scrambling to draft an edge rusher once Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack are off the board. Anthony Barr has serious bust potential, while players such as Kony Ealy and Dee Ford, as discussed above, are simply overrated.

And yet there are several options later on that are enticing, such as Louisville’s brilliant Marcus Smith or Boise State’s Demarcus Lawrence.

We’ll see two or three cornerbacks go in round one, but there’s enough depth to see you through into round four.

There’s also depth on the offensive line, depth at quarterback, a lot of the running backs will last until the middle rounds.

Any team that really values the receivers in this draft won’t necessarily say, “It’s OK — we’ll get one later.” They might be saying instead, “Let’s get our receiver now from the elite group — because the value’s there and we know we can fill other needs later.”

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I sat down tonight and wrote down all of the players I felt deserved genuine first round grades.

Here’s a breakdown of the numbers per position:

QB — 1
RB — 0
WR — 7
OT — 5
OG — 1
C — 0

DT — 1
DE — 1
OLB — 2
MLB — 0
CB — 1
S — 1

I didn’t include any prospects I considered fringe first/second round players and seriously erred on the side of caution — including at receiver.

Now of course there are more than 20 players I’d consider drafting in the first round (and more than seven receivers). I was deliberately strict for the purpose of this article.

I wasn’t surprised, however, that the strength of the draft appeared to be at receiver and offensive tackle.

So while the likes of Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack are certain to go in round one, there’s every chance teams will have a similar looking tally themselves. And if the best players on the board are at receiver, why would you fight against it? Especially if you need a receiver?

There’s around 19 teams in the first round who are likely to consider drafting a receiver. Not all of them will, but there’s something of a perfect storm emerging where supply matches high demand.

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The Seahawks picking at #32 also adds a unique angle to this debate.

This is a team that has so far ignored conventional wisdom and media scrutiny to basically do as it pleases.

They were willing to take the next best offensive lineman on their board in 2011. They identified a specific scheme-fit pass rusher in 2012. They wanted a tackle and a safety in 2010.

They’re willing to aggressively address a need in the draft. They’ve targeted players or positions for specific rounds.

For example, it seems they knew they wanted to take Bruce Irvin, a linebacker and Russell Wilson with their first three picks before the 2012 draft even began.

They look for the best possible way to upgrade the roster based on what they already have at their disposal. They don’t just sit there with a list of names ranked accordingly. They appear to be very specific with the positions they target.

If they go into this draft thinking, “we want to get a receiver” — they’ll do it if the right fit is there. It doesn’t matter if five, six, seven or eight wide outs are off the board by #32. If there’s a player who fits what they’re looking for, they’ll take him.

I could just as easily see the Seahawks gratefully accepting Odell Beckham Jr or Kelvin Benjamin at #32 as I can see them getting panned for ‘reaching’ on a Cody Latimer or Brandon Coleman.

So even if a lot of receivers leave the board before Seattle’s pick, there’s always the chance one more will be taken to end day one.

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For whatever it’s worth, this is my top twelve at the position right now. There’s no particular order, even if Watkins, Evans and Lee are at the top.

Click on each players name for a highlight video.

1. Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
2. Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M)
3. Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
4. Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
5. Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State)
6. Donte Moncrief (WR, Ole Miss)
7. Martavis Bryant (WR, Clemson)
8. Brandin Cooks (WR, Oregon State)
9. Cody Latimer (WR, Indiana)
10. Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers)
11. Jarvis Landry (WR, LSU)
12. Bruce Ellington (WR, South Carolina)

Indiana’s Cody Latimer another receiver to watch out for

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Cody Latimer, just another quality receiver to add to the list

Yeah, this receiver class is as good as we thought it was.

With every week that goes by, the decision to let Golden Tate walk makes more and more sense.

For a fraction of the price, the Seahawks are going to land a very talented player at some point in this draft. If they take a receiver at #32, they’ll be paying around $1.25-2.5m for his services for the next FIVE years.

Or around $4-5m less than Tate’s getting in Detroit.

That’s business.

Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Marqise Lee, Odell Beckham Jr, Kelvin Benjamin, Donte Moncrief, Brandin Cooks, Martavis Bryant, Jarvis Landry, Brandon Coleman, Allen Robinson, Davante Adams.

And now you can add Cody Latimer to the list of prospective first or second round picks.

I keep seeing people refer to the depth of this class and that players will drop to the middle rounds as a consequence.

Not for me.

I think we’ll see a ton of receivers going off the board in round one. As many as seven or eight, if not more. There’s no doubt whatsoever that the strength of this class is at receiver. And with so many teams needing a wide out, they’d have to fight the board not to make an early splash.

Any team thinking of handing DeSean Jackson a big contract needs to consider the options available. The Redskins make a lot of sense because they don’t have a first round pick. Their first pick is at #34 overall.

There’s every chance most of the top receivers will be long gone by then. Seriously.

Grab one early or risk missing out. That’s how I see it.

I might be wrong. But the more I watch of these receivers, the more impressed I am by the sheer strength in top-tier depth.

So what about Latimer?

He’s 6-2 and 215lbs. He’s been bothered by a foot injury so didn’t do anything at the combine other than the bench press. His 23 reps were the highest among receivers.

He’s since run a 4.43 at his pro-day and recorded a 39 inch vertical. He’s still to do any drills and that’s probably why the Seahawks are bringing him in for a visit:

Latimer’s a former basketball star who chose to pursue football for a career in High School: “I was leaning more toward basketball at first… But I love the contact.”

He isn’t kidding. Latimer’s one of the best blocking receivers you’ll see in college football. He’ll lock onto a target and drive a defensive back out of the play. As I went through the tape this weekend, he was pushing people ten yards downfield, shoving them into the end zone to spring a running touchdown and taking any opportunity to get involved.

I’ve seen it suggested that football isn’t his first love. Based on his passion for blocking, I’d say that’s irrelevant. If he’s on the field, he’s getting involved. Nobody can question his heart or commitment in that sense.

And if Basketball was his key passion, you can kind of see why…

Either way, he’s a football player now. That kind of leaping ability at 6-2 can’t be ignored.

Throw in the upper body power (he’s ripped, as the 23 reps on the bench press indicate) and you’re looking at a terrific possession receiver who has all the tools to compete down the red line, win jump balls and provide some value in the running game.

Basically — the kind of things Seattle looks for. The fact he’s a 4.43 runner is just a bonus.

Fast forward to 1:38 in the video beow:

That’s Darqueze Dennard covering Latimer — perhaps the most physical cornerback in the 2014 class. I’ve not spent a ton of time on Dennard because I don’t expect the Seahawks to take a corner in round one — but I haven’t seen anyone shield the football like this against him, gain position and make it look this easy.

Dennard was flat out schooled there — Latimer’s power, control and strong hands were too good.

This is what you want to see from a prospective red zone threat, especially against a first round talent (Dennard could be the first cornerback off the board).

It’s not the only example of strong hands either. I’ve not seen any ugly drops in three games against Michigan State, Michigan or Bowling Green. He’s a sure handed, reliable catcher who can high point the football and make a difficult grab.

He can get downfield as you’d expect from a 4.43 runner — but he’s not a truly explosive athlete or a shifty runner. He’s a straight line guy who tries to out-sprint an opponent, he won’t make many people miss in the open field. But then you wouldn’t be drafting him to be a YAC threat — that’s why you’re paying Percy Harvin $13.4m in 2014.

Latimer’s a pure possession receiver with plus speed and ideal strength. ‘Possession receiver’ shouldn’t be a negative. That is what Seattle needs to compliment the current group.

He also suffered in college — as many of these 2014 receivers did — via bad quarterback play. He’s right there alongside Moncrief, Coleman and even Bryant/Watkins in that regard (the more you watch Tajh Boyd, the more inaccurate you realise he is).

I’ve seen it suggested that Latimer could be anything from a late first rounder to a 5th rounder. For me he’s a solid second round grade with the potential to get into the first round mix. He isn’t the same athlete as a Moncrief or Bryant, but there’s a lot to work with here.

Zach Kerr one to monitor

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

Zach Kerr is one of those players who started the post-season well, and just kept building momentum.

It started at the Shrine game where according to Tony Pauline, Kerr, “was explosive and showed a variety of skill.”

He tested well at the combine, running a 5.08 at 6-1 and 326lbs. Pauline again singled him out for praise, listing him among his top defensive risers in Indianapolis: “He moved well in position drills showing not just straight line speed, but lateral quickness and the ability to easily change direction.”

At his pro-day on March 18th, the Seahawks sent their defensive line coaches to get a closer look.

In the video above you see flashes of quality. He can collapse the pocket, work into the backfield and make splash plays. He’s got a relentless attitude, the motor keep running until the whistle. There’s enough burst there to think he can have an impact at the next level.

He also has fairly long arms for his height (nearly 33 inches).

I’m away with work until Sunday night so unfortunately I’ve had to keep this brief. The Seahawks are likely to be searching for depth on the defensive line and Kerr’s one to keep an eye on in the mid-to-late rounds.

SPARQ receivers, Manziel madness & DeSean Jackson

Friday, March 28th, 2014

I’d encourage everyone to check out this article by Cablinasian at Field Gulls.

The Seahawks take SPARQ seriously. It’s a calculation of different variables (40 time, three cone, vertical, broad jump, bench press, height, weight) to provide one overall score.

Until this year, Nike had an online calculator that worked out SPARQ scores with relative ease. It’s no longer available, so Cablinasian has put together his own formula (calling it rSPARQ) so we can review the 2014 receivers.

To see the grid listing all the players and their projected scores, click here.

Unsurprisingly, Jeff Janis is ranked at #1 and it aint close. If anyone ‘won’ the combine, it was Janis.

Height/weight: 6-3, 219lbs
40 yard dash: 4.42
Vertical: 37.5 inches
Broad jump: 10.3
Three cone: 6.64
Short shuttle: 3.98
Bench press: 20 reps

Janis’ rSPARQ score is 137.4 — 5.5 points higher than the second placed receiver (Brandin Cooks).

He’s an incredible athlete, certainly the type Seattle is unlikely to ignore.

But working out how he fits into the 2014 draft is incredibly difficult.

He played at Saginaw Valley State, so he’s a small school player. It’ll be a steep learning curve when he gets into training camp — and even with incredible athletic skills, you’re never really sure how a guy like this will adapt.

He could fit like a glove, thrive on the improved competition and work to develop as quickly as possible. Or he could just be completely out of his depth.

He’ll be a 23-year-old rookie in 2014.

If you’re so inclined you can watch over 45 minutes of coaches copy tape on Janis to get a feel for the type of player he is:

He has small hands (9 inches) and it tends to show up on tape with some clumsy drops. His catching technique could use some work — he doesn’t really attack the ball in the air and he’s not a reliable catcher in traffic.

Having said that, there are some eye-catching grabs too and he’s a legit deep threat.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all if someone like Seattle took a chance on him in the round five range with the idea of red shirting him for a year.

Looking at the rest of the rSPARQ scores, Brandin Cooks (131.9), Martavis Bryant (127.4), Donte Moncrief (122.0) and Odell Beckham Jr (120.1) all score highly. There’s a genuine chance all four could go in the first round — or at least the top forty.

I also find it interesting that Kelvin Benjamin and Brandon Coleman are right next to each other on the list (Coleman — 106.6, Benjamin — 104.1).

It really makes you wonder what Coleman’s stock would be like if he had Jameis Winston throwing the ball instead of Gary Nova.

Manziel madness

Here’s Ron Jaworski, praising Johnny Manziel’s pro-day…

For those who aren’t aware, Jaws previously stated he wouldn’t take Manziel in the first three rounds of the draft. A truly hyperbolic remark right up there with last year’s “Colin Kaepernick could be one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL”.

Merril Hoge — who spends his time watching tape with Jaws and Greg Cosell — offered a similar assessment, claiming Manziel had “bust written all over him” giving him a “zero or a one” out of ten in the following categories:

– Decision making
– Playing within the structure of an offense
– Throwing into “voids”

Here’s the video for the rest of Hoge’s critical review:

Again, the “zero or one” out of ten remark is pure hyperbole. But hey, it’s Hoge’s right to be critical. I’m not here to argue Manziel is Andrew Luck or even for that matter Russell Wilson.

But what does irk me slightly about the three musketeers — Jaws, Hoge and Cosell — is the fact they all seem to be living in 1974.

The NFL has changed. It’s different.

Yes, there’s always room for a 6-4 pocket passer. Those types of players still exist.

Yet we’re now in an era where mobility is crucial. The top college athletes are playing defense and the offensive line talent simply can’t match-up for the most part. That’s starting to filter into the NFL.

Being able to escape pressure, extend plays and improvise is vital in the modern game. It’s not just a case of being able to stand on the spot and make three or four precise reads any more. You might need to make two reads, get out of the pocket, keep your eyes downfield or just take what’s on offer and run for a few.

The read option hasn’t been found out as a passing fad. It’s here to stay as a valuable wrinkle for a specific game plan.

Manziel should be judged on how he works within the game today.

You can still make a case for needing better decision making or initial work within the pocket going through reads. But in context, he does most things perfectly well.

You can’t block J.J. Watt. When Seattle beat the Texans in 2013, Watt had their decimated offensive line for dinner. The Seahawks only won that game because Russell Wilson could escape the pocket, extend plays and create a little magic.

Most people remember Matt Schaub’s careless pick-six to Richard Sherman as the key moment. For me it’s the 90-yard drive from Wilson to make it a one-score game. He faced crucial third and fourth down calls. He was under constant duress. He dragged the offense kicking and screaming into the end zone with sheer escapability and inspiration.

Joe Flacco would’ve gone three and out on that drive — while eating a face full of turf courtesy of Watt and co.

Players like Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and even someone like Aaron Rodgers are having success because of their mobility — not just because they operate within the pocket standing tall chucking bullets around the field.

They’re built to deal with players like Watt and Robert Quinn.

All we’ve heard from the Jaws/Hoge/Cosell trio is Manziel isn’t a good enough pocket passer. He’s too frantic, leaving the pocket too soon and creating chaos for himself.

And yet here’s a guy who thrives amid chaos. I’m not suggesting he runs the football twenty times a game or remains quite as reckless with his body as we saw at Texas A&M. But Manziel’s ability to be creative, to buy time and to make plays downfield is everything you want to see.

Embrace him. Build your offense to enhance his strengths and limit or improve his weak spots. Acknowledge that he’s different to the Joe Flacco’s of this world and ‘different’ can still win a Super Bowl.

If your preference is a conventional system and quarterback, just say. But don’t make out a guy like Manziel can’t succeed unless he’s willing to conform to your conventional ways.

Seattle won a Super Bowl by being thoroughly unconventional.

Going back to the original video — which is essentially Jaws offering a gushing review of Manziel’s pro-day — I fully expected a much more positive impression going forward.

And then I read this quote, courtesy of PFT:

“I certainly would move him up a bit… I moved him from the fourth round to the third round.”

How generous.

He then revealed his top-five quarterbacks for 2014:

What a surprise — tall, immobile pocket passer Zach Mettenberger comes in at #2.

“When you watch him on tape, this guy has an NFL skill set.”

Of course he does. He’s tall and a pocket passer. Boxes, ticked.

I long for the day when the band of brothers — Jaws, Hoge and Cosell — are able to admit the game is changing. That we don’t have to build a football team based on age-old formula’s and specifics.

But let’s not hold out any hope. Fast forward to 28:30 in the podcast below:

When Cosell is asked — twice — to name a player he missed on in the draft, he refuses to answer the question. Even when pushed by Ross Tucker, he finds a way to avoid offering even one name.

I’ll give you two names, Greg.

Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick.

And they succeed not just because of the benefit of great defensive play either. This is the NFL in 2014. Unconventional quarterbacks like this can thrive.

Johnny Manziel won’t fail just because he’s not an orthodox passer. We shouldn’t be judging him like there’s only one way to succeed at the position.

DeSean Jackson cut by the Eagles

The Seahawks were linked to Jackson for a while, and then those rumours were denied.

Now that he’s a free agent, it wouldn’t be a huge shock if they looked into this — even if it’s an exercise in leaving no stone unturned.

Jason La Canfora seems to think there will be interest…

This article raises some off-field concerns and it could limit his potential to sign a new long term deal.

The Seahawks have an estimated $15.2m in remaining cap space. Much will depend on background checks not just relating to the gang-stuff, but also the questionable work ethic noted in the article.

Pete Carroll hasn’t shirked away from players with character flags — yet even he will be cautious on this one. Carroll has spent considerable time trying to end gang violence through ‘A Better LA’.

Albert Breer says the pair have some history:

He was recruited by USC, had an official visit and even attended a camp before committing to Cal. A week ago Jackson posted this picture on his Instagram account. It shows Carroll sat in his front room during a recruitment visit.

*** UPDATE ***

Jackson has released a statement in response to the claims made in the article above. Here’s an exert:

“I would like to make it very clear that I am not and never have been part of any gang. I am not a gang member and to speculate and assume that I am involved in such activity off the field is reckless and irresponsible.”