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Instant reaction: Seahawks win close battle with Packers

Thursday, November 15th, 2018

The Seahawks vs the Packers. An underrated rivalry.

Tonight, it provided another chapter.

The game ebbed and flowed throughout. Seattle started poorly, fumbling on the first offensive snap to set the tone for a sloppy opening quarter. Russell Wilson was off, Aaron Rodgers was on. Green Bay raced to a 14-3 lead.

The Seahawks roared back, scoring two touchdowns to take the lead before half time — only for Rodgers to again majestically lead Green Bay to a quick-fire score.

21-17 at half time.

Seattle needed some resistance on defense. They haven’t turned the ball over for three games. They weren’t getting close tonight.

Pressure and stops were needed to compensate. Wilson had to play better.

Both happened.

The Seahawks conceded only three points in the second half. Three — courtesy of a sublime Rodgers downfield bomb to Davante Adams for 57-yards on third down (the longest play Seattle has conceded all season). Green Bay still had to settle for a field goal.

This young defense gives up some plays. Yet despite major turnover in the off-season and the loss of several key players to injury (Earl Thomas, K.J. Wright, Dion Jordan) or suspension (Mychal Kendricks) — they continue to play their hearts out. Just as they did against the Rams and Chargers, they hung on just enough to give the offense a shot.

This time, they took it.

The Seahawks were 1-5 in one-score games going into tonight. Wilson and the offense stalled in the final quarter against Denver, Chicago, the Rams (twice) and the Chargers. Tonight, they had two vital drives to win the game.

Firstly — the long scoring drive ending in an Ed Dickson touchdown. Wilson detected the blitz, called for the snap early and executed. Seattle takes the lead 27-24 with four minutes to go.

Then the defense needed a stop. They forced a three-and-out (with a bit of help from Rodgers who picked a bad time for a sulk — at least that’s what his body language suggested).

Now it was time for the Seahawks to finish. Run to win. They did.

Run, run, run, run, run.

Two first downs, no resistance.

Game over.

The Seahawks ended the game with 225 passing yards and 173 rushing yards. Green Bay had 332 passing yards and 48 rushing.

Seattle won featuring the run against a one-dimensional passing opponent.

Not every team can play this way. The Seahawks can. It’s their style. It suits them.

And it doesn’t half help mask some lingering issues.

Wilson hasn’t looked anywhere close to his best in the last three games. Yet statistically he has sensational numbers. Tonight he finished with a 110.3 passer rating. He scored twice and didn’t turn the ball over.

For me, this is the impact of the run. For the last couple of years Seattle’s offense was Russell Wilson. It was all on him. Now, they can live through some iffy stretches because they can always rely on the run.

The three-pronged attack of Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny and Mike Davis is perfectly enjoyable. Who cares about who was picked where? Let’s embrace the success they’re having. Seattle has the best running game in the league. Celebrate it. Enjoy it.

On defense, players continue to emerge and develop even if there are kinks to iron out. Frank Clark now has 10 sacks. Jarran Reed has 5.5. Both are due contract extensions in the off-season (possibly sooner in Clark’s case).

The rookie class continues to contribute — especially Jacob Martin, Rasheem Green and Michael Dickson this evening.

And overall this team is just becoming more enjoyable to watch. There are going to be some frustrating moments like the Chargers loss. It’s a reset year. But this 2018 campaign is a lot more palatable than last years. Or the year before.

They’re not the finished article. They need another off-season to reach an attainable higher level.

Despite all of this — they’re 5-5 and facing a stretch of games they can win.

Next stop, Carolina.

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The Seahawks just need to keep adding defenders

Monday, November 12th, 2018

Upgrading the defense is the priority going forward

The Seahawks have things to work on with the offense. They’re too inconsistent on third down. They’re 1-5 in one-score games despite chances to win all six in the fourth quarter. They’ve had big turnovers at key moments — the pick-sixes against the Bears and Chargers, plus the fumble yesterday against the Rams.

Really though, these all correctable issues. We’ve seen a Russell Wilson-led Seahawks offense avoid key turnovers, he’s won more games in the fourth quarter than every quarterback other than Matt Stafford and he’s been efficient on third downs.

They can improve. Easily.

We often overlook the positives. Here’s three big ones so far…

1. The Seahawks lead the NFL for rushing yards per game (152.2)
This is a major achievement considering where the running game has been for the last couple of years. Their stated priority of fixing the run has been accomplished.

2. Russell Wilson is on course to throw 37 touchdowns and he has a 110.2 passer rating
Both would be career highs. His current 66% completion percentage would be the second best mark in his career — after his tremendous 2015 season.

3. The offensive line is now a team strength after years of toil and struggle
It’s shaping the identity of the team. The attitude of the five guys up front is setting the tone. They’re thriving in this offense, they love running the ball. They’re producing and they’re punishing opponents.

Imagine how you would’ve reacted in the summer if you knew those three things were going to happen?

These are all big steps forward. As we’ve already acknowledged, there are things to work on. But this is an offense heading in the right direction. However much we want to quibble about 2-minute drills, empty sets and avoidable sacks — Seattle’s offense is producing results.

When they last made the Super Bowl in 2014, they were averaging 24.6 points per game on offense. They’re currently at 24.3.

Here’s the big difference between the two years statistically. Seattle’s defense gave up a league leading 15.9 PPG in 2014. This year they’re giving up 21.3.

It’s worth noting the offensive explosion that we’re witnessing in the NFL currently. The Saints, Rams, Chiefs and Steelers all average over 30 points a game. Most defenses are conceding more points.

However, it’s still a not insignificant jump.

Seattle’s defense has played valiantly this season. Let’s not forget, they’ve gone through major changes. There’s no more Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril, Sheldon Richardson or Michael Bennett. All five players were on the roster last year but are now long gone. They also lost Earl Thomas to injury and K.J. Wright has been missing most of the season (and clearly still isn’t 100%). Dion Jordan has missed time, Mychal Kendricks has been suspended. Even Bradley McDougald’s hurt.

This is a tsunami of change. Most teams couldn’t handle it.

What Pete Carroll has garnered from his new-look group is highly impressive. They’re not a team of stars any more. Some of the current starters would’ve struggled to make the cut in 2013 and 2014. Players are raising their game, giving absolutely everything. It’s impressive and encouraging.

But they’re still giving up points. They’re still struggling to sustain consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They’re making mistakes in the secondary.

It’s all to be expected.

As frustrating as some of the offensive errors have been recently, the path to a better Seahawks clearly runs through a bolstered defense. They just need more bodies and talent.

They don’t have Bennett, Avril and Frank Clark as a trio any more. Can they find a couple of new guys to compliment Clark, either via the draft or free agency? Can they get some more depth and talent (and competition) for the secondary? Are they going to be able to re-sign Mychael Kendricks, get K.J. Wright back on a team-friendly deal or find a new WILL to provide the kind of speed needed to combat this exciting and prolific Rams offense?

They’ll struggle to match the LOB years and we shouldn’t expect to see a defense consistently leading the league year after year in PPG. However, it’s not unreasonable to think they can match Baltimore’s current rate of 17.8 PPG or Dallas’ 19.0 PPG.

Yes — the offense has had some frustrating moments. Yet imagine this running game, this quarterback and the level of production we’re seeing from the unit partnered with a defense that has a bit more talent and better depth. That would be a formula for a much more competitive 2019 season.

Something to remember about quarterbacks

We often see discussions about the future of Russell Wilson on Seahawks twitter. I tend to think all the flirting John Schneider does with quarterbacks in the draft (plus the leak about interest in Patrick Mahomes) is a combination of two things:

1. The Seahawks doing due diligence and simply liking some players

2. The Seahawks trying to gain leverage when they next talk contract with Wilson

After all, they never had a hope of landing Mahomes. He was the #10 pick in 2017. Seattle picked at #26. Them liking him is actually encouraging because Mahomes is an exceptional talent. There was never any realistic prospect of them actually being able to draft him though. It’s easy to say you might’ve drafted a player… ‘if only he hadn’t gone 16 picks too early’.

So while Seahawks twitter contemplates the possibility of Carroll and Schneider making the unprecedented move of getting rid of a franchise quarterback to save a few bucks, here’s something else to consider:

1. So you want a cheap quarterback? Who exactly?

2019 will be a shocking class for quarterbacks. It’s not a patch on the last 2-3 years. There simply isn’t an attractive early round option. So unless you’re willing to gamble on a mid-round quarterback being more Wilson than Nathan Peterman, what exactly is the plan here? Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence isn’t eligible until 2021. Tua Tagovailoa can’t turn pro until 2020. Both could be the #1 pick and therefore practically unattainable. What exactly is the proposal here?

2. What about a different veteran?

There’s no such thing as a cheap veteran quarterback. If the Seahawks wanted to find a game manager type, how much will it cost? 34-year-old Alex Smith just signed a contract worth $23.5m a year. Sam Bradford signed a two-year deal worth $20m a year. Are you willing to pay that much for a Bradford type just to avoid paying Russell Wilson $30m a year? I like Alex Smith a lot but he’s not on the market anymore. Who else is there? Teddy Bridgewater? Are you willing to give him $20-25m a year?

The Seahawks are always looking for a competitive edge. They wouldn’t be doing that if they weren’t at least contemplating the alternatives at a very expensive position.

But the reality of them actually pulling the trigger, especially in the current environment, appears to be practically zero. A bad quarterback draft, average quarterbacks getting paid millions.

I’m pretty sure they’re not ready for the Mike Glennon era just yet.

Where are the Seahawks currently slated to pick?

According to the brilliantly named ‘Tankathon’ website, they currently own the #14 overall pick. That would be their highest pick since 2012, when they owned the #12 pick after a 7-9 season before trading down to #15 and selecting Bruce Irvin.

There are going to be a lot of quality pass rushers available in the teens in 2019.

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Instant reaction: Seahawks compete but beaten by Rams

Sunday, November 11th, 2018

For the second time this season, the Seahawks and Rams served up a heck of a game. Back and forth, highly competitive.

The Seahawks lost both but at least the memory of 2017’s 42-7 embarrassment is in the rear view mirror.

This was a free hit. Very little was expected of the Seahawks, especially missing several key players. It was a pleasant surprise that it proved to be as competitive as it was.

The Rams are better than Seattle. They’re better than most teams in the league. There’s no easy way to remedy this. Los Angeles are going to have a spell where they’ll be the team to beat in the NFC West.

The Seahawks have got to keep closing the gap, inch by inch.

So what worked today and what didn’t?

Defensively they were valiant. There were times where it was too easy for LA but that was mixed in with some sacks and some solid third down stops. The stop at the end of the game to give the offense one more chance was a big plus.

Dion Jordan and Frank Clark shared a sack. Quinton Jefferson also got a sack on a twist.

It feels like they need to keep adding speed to this group. The Rams are so creative and vary their play calling. You need to cover every blade of grass, be able to shed blocks and react. You also need to take advantage when they have Jared Goff drop back and try to create pressure.

Pass rush and speed still feels like a probable priority in the off-season. Especially if you want to compete with the dynamic offense in LA.

Offensively, there were some positives. They’ve clearly regained their running game and if nothing else that’s going to be a positive going forward. Not just for 2018. It was the off-season priority and they’ve finally achieved it. Even without Chris Carson they were a force today.

For weeks people have been criticising Rashaad Penny — unfairly. Carson and Mike Davis have been superb for this team. Penny was injured in camp. Pair the two things together and it’s no surprise he ended up #3 on the depth chart.

Then take into account Carson’s injury history (college & NFL), the way Seattle has struggled to run the ball and the clear strength of the draft in the #25-45 range being the running back position — the pick did make sense. You might not like it but it was at the very least logical.

Penny’s had to be patient. When he’s had playing time he’s shown flashes of quality. Here he showed why they took him in round one. It’s great for Penny and hopefully the increasingly critical fan base will give him and the Seahawks a break.

The offense started with vigour and scored yet again on their first possession. That had been an issue for far too long. Not any more.

Tyler Lockett looks like a star. He’s become a touchdown machine. The Seahawks get a lot of criticism for their whiffs in free agency and the draft. They don’t get enough praise when they succeed. Signing Lockett to an extension in pre-season was a masterstroke.

There were also some big negatives.

Despite all the success running the ball, the passing game didn’t function for long stretches. Russell Wilson again looked uncomfortable at times and relied on a late charge to get above 100 passing yards.

The biggest issue by far, however, was third down.

There were four poor third down attempts where a combination of bad pass-pro and Wilson holding onto the ball too long led to sacks. In a game where every drive and every point mattered — these were all crucial. Two led to three-and-outs, one prevented the Seahawks from re-taking the lead with 9:52 remaining (settling for a field goal) and the final one was a sack/fumble leading to the only turnover.

The Rams quickly turned it into a touchdown — the winning points.

The Seahawks were 2-9 officially on third down. Even a couple of extra conversions could’ve been the difference. Seattle has veered between exceptional and hopeless on third down this season. Today, they were terrible.

I’m not sure what the solution is. We’ve seen Wilson be efficient and dynamic in this offense. He was practically perfect against the Lions and his touchdown and passer rating numbers are very high this year.

But there are games like this too where he shoulders a fair portion of the blame. The Seahawks had the ball and an opportunity to win against Denver, Chicago, the Rams (twice) and the Chargers. The only win they’ve closed? Arizona.

It’s possible to critique Wilson without a.) discussing whether he should be traded or b.) not signed to a big extension. Simply put, he needs to do better in close games between now and the end of the season.

One turnover to the Rams (the sack/fumble), zero for the Seahawks. LA were 5-10 on third down. The Seahawks were 2-9.

There’s your ball game.

Pete Carroll talks about finishing. The Seahawks are now 1-5 this season in one-score games. The days when they’re off on third downs and lose the turnover battle? That’s your difference.

The margin between a winning record and 4-5 is paper thin. I’m not sure if that’s a good sign for the future or a frustrating thing for the present.

Either way, they need a win on Thursday against the Packers if they’re going to make a late playoff push.

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CFB week 11: Elgton Jenkins struggles vs Williams, Davis

Saturday, November 10th, 2018

Alabama dominates sloppy Mississippi State

Mississippi State center Elgton Jenkins has been touted as a possible top-50 pick. This is not a tape for the NFL scouts to enjoy. He was nervous and edgy all night, consistently mistiming the snaps and had two ugly reps against Quinnen Williams.

With 2:06 left in the first quarter, Williams swam by Jenkins for a big sack. He made it look easy. Williams used a similar swim move to explode into the backfield for a TFL vs the run later on. Jenkins had no counter, no answer. He was struggling to focus on snapping the ball. Williams was in his head.

He also had a bad rep against Raekwon Davis in the fourth quarter. Davis easily bench-pressed him at the LOS to create separation then sprinted into the backfield to tackle quarterback Nick Fitzgerald for a TFL (the call was a QB run).

It goes without saying these days but Quinnen Williams is destined for the top-10 if he declares. Davis may join him. Jenkins will have to convince teams he won’t be a liability at the next level. It wasn’t a good look against his toughest opponent.

Isaiah Buggs had a big TFL on a shotgun run play on 3rd and 1. Buggs exploded off the snap and hammered the running back in the backfield. He took some snaps inside too — a gift from Nick Saban considering Buggs might have to kick inside at the next level. He also recorded a sack to take his tally to 9.5 for the season.

Mississippi State lacked any kind of composure. They constantly made mistakes and failed to execute. A special teams fumble, two flags taking a pair of touchdowns off the board, a missed field goal, botched fourth down attempts. This had the potential to be an interesting game but it ended up being a saunter for Alabama. They never had to get out of second gear.

Alabama left tackle Jonah Williams consistently appears in the top-10 of mock drafts. I don’t get it. On the final play of the first quarter he was jolted off balance by a one-handed punch to the chest and didn’t have the balance or agility to recover. Chauncey Rivers worked by him and got to the quarterback for a sack. It wasn’t good from Williams. He shouldn’t be jolted off balance like that, allowing a player like Rivers to win inside. I’m concerned by the way he handles the inside counter and he doesn’t seem to have the length to play inside-out. On another play, Montez Sweat just shook Williams off with a straight forward disengage using his superior length to keep him off his frame, separate and then chase down the ball carrier.

Williams has always looked like a guard to me, not a top-10 left tackle. He just doesn’t have the frame, length or the look of a NFL left tackle. I wouldn’t trust any projection that places him in the early first round. The league seems to agree that his best position is guard.

Montez Sweat had an easy route to the QB on a third down play. He just ran by the right tackle in the B-gap. I’ve no idea what the tackle was doing. It was a gift for Sweat, who wasn’t credited with a shared sack but he hit the QB at the same time as his team mate. He at least showed good quickness off the snap. Jeffrey Simmons did a good job working down the line to record a TFL vs the run with four minutes left in the first half. Neither player particularly shone or elevated their stock against a top opponent.

Alabama safety Deionte Thompson is a good player. I suspect he’s getting placed in the first round of a lot of mock drafts due to name recognition and the fact he plays for Alabama. For me he looks like a day two type. He dropped an interception in the end zone just before half time and had a quiet game overall.

Christian Miller shared a sack. He might not be an early pick but as an impact rusher he has some value. He’s a terrific athlete. He should test well. Keep Miller on your radar.

Clemson D-line & Zach Allen impress yet again

One of the consistent positives this season has been the play of Clemson’s brilliant front four and Boston College pass rusher Zach Allen. The two teams met on Saturday and once again, these five put on a show.

Christian Wilkins is going to go very early. His combination of speed and agility plus an ideal frame to play inside will please teams enough. An expected combine freak show and his great personality should secure a high grade. On BC’s first drive he stunted to force a pressure and throw-away. The Eagles quarterback was injured on the play. On the first drive after half time, Wilkins exploded into the backfield and stretched a run to the sideline before making the tackle. It was another example of Wilkins’ incredible mobility.

He ended the night with a solitary TFL but this was another bullying, physical performance from a player who could easily land in the top-10 in 2019.

Zach Allen is equally making a case to go very early. On Clemson’s second drive, Allen had a sack/fumble called back due to an offside flag. Shortly after he was held on third down, preventing an opportunity to make a sack. Trevor Lawrence was flushed from the pocket and ran out of bounds short of a first down. Clemson punted and BC scored on the return. That third down play by Allen was big. One note — the guy chasing down the returner and almost saving the TD? Christian Wilkins. Somehow. What an athlete.

With 14:17 left in the second quarter, Allen used his hands to work off two blocks and work into the backfield. With 2:24 left in the half he beat the Clemson right tackle with a speed rush, keeping his frame clean and winning with leverage to the outside. It forced a wayward downfield throw by Lawrence. He similarly won with great hand technique with 13:10 left in the game to burst into the backfield and beat the right tackle before tipping a Lawrence pass for an incompletion on third down.

With 9:30 left in the third quarter, Allen read the quarterback and leapt into the air to block Lawrence’s pass. He tipped the ball, the QB caught it on the rebound and then Allen threw him to the ground for a big TFL.

Allen has every chance to land in the top-15.

Dexter Lawrence had an incredibly athletic play on 3rd and 1 on BC’s second offensive drive to force a punt. He side-stepped his blocker and launched into the backfield to stop the running back. He also controlled the LOS and helped Clemson take away BC’s running game. He registered a TFL.

Austin Bryant drew a holding penalty on a running down. He did an excellent job setting the edge and stretching the play wide. The right tackle grabbed his jersey leading to the flag. Two plays later, Bryant beat the right tackle with a speed rush to force a pressure and throw away. Bryant is often the forgotten man of this group but he has a shot to go in round one. He lived in the backfield in this game, ending the night with 1.5 sacks and a pair of TFL’s.

Clelin Ferrell had a sack on a move we see Clemson use a lot. They have Dexter Lawrence work to the outside and then stunt Ferrell inside. He was too quick and too powerful and fought to the quarterback to bring him down.

Five studs. Five potential first round picks.

Elsewhere…

— Florida’s pass rush duo Jachai Polite and Jabari Zuniga both had an impact in a 35-31 win against South Carolina. Polite had half a sack and two TFL’s. Zuniga had a sack and a TFL. Both players are talented with a pro future.

— Ohio State defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones scored a touchdown on a botched Michigan State jet-sweep. The center snapped the ball as the receiver was running his sweep. It hit him and just rolled into the end zone. Jones reacted quickest to fall on the football. It was a gift but it’s something else for Jones to add to his résumé this season. He didn’t have a sack or a TFL in the game but did record two QB hurries.

— Kentucky were well beaten by Tennessee (24-7) and their season is threatening to fizzle out. Josh Allen, however, continues to make plays. He had another sack to take his total to 11 for the year. There will be concerns about his ability to play the run as a 4-3 EDGE but he has talent as a pass rusher.

— LSU’s Grant Delpit continues to make his case to be a high pick in 2020. Against Arkansas he had a sack and two pass deflections, plus he recovered a fumble. He already has five picks this year. There likely won’t be a high pick at safety in 2019 but Delpit has a chance to go very early in the following draft.

— Houston’s Ed Oliver didn’t play against Temple due to a bruised knee. We’ll see if he returns before the end of the season, having already declared for the 2019 draft.

— In the Auburn vs Georgia game, D’Andre Walker registered a TFL and Derrick Brown shared a TFL. Brown in particular looks like a genuine top-15 pick. His TFL came when he blew up the LOS on a penetrating inside rush vs the run. It was Georgia’s opening drive and a goal-to-go situation. Brown hammered the running back in the backfield, forcing a field goal attempt.

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First 2019 NFL mock draft

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

The purpose of this mock was to highlight a few names, reflect on where I think certain players will land and create a discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of the draft.

It seems very clear, even at this early stage, that the following is true:

— There is not a clear-cut top-10 quarterback this year and any QB taken in the first frame will likely be a hail mary on physical talent/potential

— There is a distinct lack of first round options at the skill positions and O-line

— There is a lot of depth in the defensive front seven, particularly the defensive line

— You will struggle to find value in the top 10

This isn’t necessarily a good year to pick early. The likes of Nick Bosa warrant a top five pick in any draft. Yet the dearth of talent at certain premium positions (namely QB and OT) will make this an unappealing class for rebuilding (or bad) teams.

I don’t think it looks like a particularly deep draft at the moment. We’re a long way away from the Senior Bowl and combine. Opinions can change after those two events. I’ve said it before — it might not be the worst year for the Seahawks to only own four picks. I suspect they will find a way to acquire more.

I also believe the substantial group of potential first round defensive linemen in 2019 is further evidence of the top High School athletes electing to play defense. It’s hard to identify draftable offensive linemen in college. It’s extremely difficult. And yet look at the cluster of prospective first round defensive linemen. It’s a problem for the league. It has been for a while. And it’s why it’s vital the Seahawks keep their current O-line together.

This is a top-25 mock for now…

#1 New York Giants — Nick Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
For me Bosa’s the clear choice at #1 even with New York’s need for a quarterback. There just isn’t a QB worth taking at #1 — even if the bigger names like Justin Herbert declare. Bosa’s a complete pass rusher and has shown even more potential than his brother.

#2 Oakland Raiders — Clelin Ferrell (DE, Clemson)
Exactly what you look for in a 4-3 base end. He has the length, the ideal size and the ability to win with his hands, the bull rush or a speed rush to the outside. Ferrell can kick inside, he can play in space. He already has 12.5 TFL’s and 7.5 sacks this season.

#3 San Francisco 49ers — Devin White (LB, LSU)
This is early for a linebacker but White will start in the NFL for over a decade and instantly become a household name. He’s a tone-setter, he’s extremely quick and consistent. He was recruited as an athlete in High School and scored 122.19 at the SPARQ testing. He’ll blow up the combine.

#4 Buffalo Bills — Quinnen Williams (DT, Alabama)
Williams had a legendary performance against LSU, recording 2.5 sacks and 3.5 TFL’s. He was unblockable and took over the game and was clearly the best player on the field. Every NFL team will salivate over the tape of that game. If he declares, he goes very early.

#5 Arizona Cardinals — Ed Oliver (DT, Houston)
Oliver is a fantastic athlete but teams will have to determine where he fits at the next level. He’s not Aaron Donald. He’s a 275lbs defensive tackle with great quickness but can you really trust him to play inside full time? He doesn’t have the frame to play defensive end.

#6 Cleveland Browns — Christian Wilkins (DT, Clemson)
Teams are going to love Wilkins. His personality, his production, his frame, his combine testing. To me he ticks every box for a high pick and there aren’t many prototype three-techniques like this. He’s being knocked, unfairly, in the same way Deshaun Watson was knocked. Familiarity breeds contempt.

#7 New York Jets — Brian Burns (EDGE, Florida State)
Burns has played with his hair on fire all season, despite FSU having a miserable year. He’s long and very lean and there might be concerns about his weight. He’ll need to bulk up. Even so, he’s extremely quick and aggressive and has 13.5 TFL’s and nine sacks in 2018.

#8 Denver Broncos — Drew Lock (QB, Missouri)
Lock has a rocket arm and was touted as a potential first round pick this year before he opted to stay at Mizzou. Desperate teams searching for a first round QB might decide he’s their best bet. And they’ll use his ‘signature’ win against Florida to reassure themselves.

#9 Indianapolis Colts — Raekwon Davis (DT, Alabama)
He’s not getting the same numbers as Quinnen Williams but there just aren’t many human beings on the planet with his size (6-7, 316lbs) and quickness. He can control the LOS and work against the run but he has the ability to break into the backfield and make plays.

#10 Oakland Raiders (via Dallas) — David Edwards (T, Wisconsin)
Teams are always looking for good offensive tackles. There aren’t going to be many available in 2019. Edwards will end up being considered the best of the bunch. He’s a pure right tackle but he’s aggressive and consistent. Teams will like his attitude.

#11 Detroit Lions — Derrick Brown (DT, Auburn)
Brown was absolutely outstanding against Texas A&M last weekend. He’s a complete defensive tackle — with the size to hold his own in the running game and a fantastic get-off, swim/rip combo and bull rush to be an effective pass rusher. Underrated.

#12 Jacksonville Jaguars — Jachai Polite (EDGE, Florida)
Polite often gets double-teamed as opponents key in on Florida’s best defensive player. There might be concerns about his size and length but a good combine should allay those fears. He has a ton of potential, should record a fast 10-yard split and plays with ferocious effort.

#13 Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Greedy Williams (CB, LSU)
Williams isn’t targeted often which is to his credit in college but it also makes it hard to judge his development. Going into the season he looked like a raw player with great potential. Has he taken the next step? It’s hard to say. But he plays a premium position and looks the part.

#14 Green Bay Packers — Rashan Gary (DE, Michigan)
A big-time recruit back in the day, Gary looks like Jadeveon Clowney in terms of his frame. Unfortunately, he doesn’t play much like Clowney. He’s underwhelmed a bit and has been hurt in recent weeks. Still, he has major upside potential and fits any scheme.

#15 Baltimore Ravens — Zach Allen (DE, Boston College)
Allen has been a revelation this season. He’s big and stout but also has great quickness and the ability to win with his hands, speed or power. He looks like a stud. A good combine will secure a high grade. Watch him against Clemson this weekend.

#16 Tennessee Titans — Dexter Lawrence (DT, Clemson)
Big, athletic nose tackle who ran a 5.03 forty at 335lbs in High School. Players with this level of size and athleticism always go early. Like Wilkins, he gets marked down because people are just so familiar with him. Lawrence is a tremendous talent and could go earlier than this.

#17 Seattle Seahawks — D’Andre Walker (DE/LB, Georgia)
Explosive and quick, Walker is highly underrated. He has five sacks this season, plays with great aggression and speed. He’s 6-3 and 245lbs but does an incredible job setting the edge vs the run. He ran a 4.16 short shuttle at SPARQ testing (similar to Leighton Vander Esch).

#18 Philadelphia Eagles — Greg Little (T, Ole Miss)
I think Little’s best position will be guard. That said, someone might be willing to give him a shot at left tackle. It’s the position he plays in college. He was highly recruited in High School. He doesn’t particularly jump off the screen but he’s probably the next best after David Edwards.

#19 Atlanta Falcons — Dre’Mont Jones (DT, Ohio State)
Jones has issues defending the run. He might even be a liability there at the next level. Yet as a pass rusher he’s excelled this season. He’s taken a big step forward. This year he has 6.5 sacks. In 2017 he had just one sack. He just looks better.

#20 Miami Dolphins — Steven Montez (QB, Colorado)
Colorado’s season is starting to fall apart but not much blame can be apportioned to Montez. He has great size and mobility, tremendous deep accuracy and if you’re going to take a shot on a quarterback in this kind of range, he’s worth it.

#21 Minnesota Vikings — Byron Murphy (CB, Washington)
Gritty defensive back with great suddenness and an ability to fly to the ball. Could be tried at corner or safety at the next level. A lack of size will put off some teams but he’s a very talented defender with a bright future.

#22 Washington Redskins — Josh Allen (EDGE, Kentucky)
Allen’s having a huge season with 14.5 TFL’s and 10 sacks. He also has five forced fumbles and four pass break-ups. Georgia seemed to target him in the running game though. Can he set the edge in the way D’Andre Walker can? Not sure. He might have to be a pure 3-4 OLB.

#23 Cincinnati Bengals — Jeffrey Simmons (DT, Mississippi State)
For a long time I didn’t think Simmons would be drafted early. Google his name and you’ll find out why. Then I remembered the Bengals exist. And if there’s one team that will probably be more than happy to draft Simmons, it’ll be Cincy.

#24 Houston Texans — Kaden Smith (TE, Stanford)
Smith is the player that has stood out to me when watching Stanford this year. He’s athletic and mobile at the second level and a true mismatch. He’s a solid blocker too. If he tests well at the combine he can secure a high grade.

#25 Oakland Raiders (from Chicago) — Damien Harris (RB, Alabama)
In terms of talent, Harris deserves to go earlier than this. He’s a complete running back. Ideal size, explosive traits, shiftiness, breakaway speed, toughness, home-run ability. He’s a total stud and Alabama should use him more.

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It’s time for some perspective

Monday, November 5th, 2018

Yesterday’s loss to the Chargers was deflating. Something was building in Seattle. They looked great in Detroit. They were 4-1 in their last five games.

This game provided a reality check. This is still a reset year.

Judging by some of the reactions, however, you’d think the Seahawks were a prime contender plummeting to 4-4.

You expect an overreaction with Seahawks twitter. It’s not as funny as it thinks it is during the week. But that’s still preferable compared to the miserable form it takes after a loss.

Anti-run. Trade Russell. Pete’s outdated. Why did they draft Penny?

Pick a negative and hammer it home.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with a strong opinion — especially after a disappointing performance. Yet all too frequently these days, the twitterati are quick to indulge in their favourite narrative.

There was a time once when people could just enjoy the ride. Sample the highs and lows of following a football team. Those were great days. Now everyone’s an expert.

It’s spreading too. I’ve seen it in the comments section here. People who should know better because they were alive in 2008 and 2009 — reacting to a loss against one of the NFL’s elite like this isn’t a reset year.

Who among us carried high expectations into this season? If you did, more fool you. The Seahawks bludgeoned their roster. They needed to. Major changes were necessary. It was time for a refresh, time to move on from certain individuals.

We’ve seen the benefit. Remember how you felt in the build up to the Chargers game? This team had you believing again. Yesterday doesn’t change that. It was just a reminder that this is a team in transition. It’s a roster that needs further work — and will receive further work — over the coming months.

Seattle’s biggest need is the pass rush. The draft is loaded with pass rushers. They have cap room to spend. They will have options.

If they finish 8-8 this year, it’ll be par for the course. Anything better will be an achievement. The playoffs are not out of the question. Let’s celebrate that it’s even a possibility.

Can the trade and philosophy talk for now. Let’s remember that Rashaad Penny is eight games into his rookie season and that’s it’s slightly ridiculous to write-off a player this early in his career.

Let’s not over-analyse a run on third and forever or suggest Seattle are one-dimensional. Let’s not hammer Tedric Thompson because he isn’t Earl Thomas or switch opinion on Brian Schottenheimer on a week-to-week basis.

Yesterday was an off-day against a very good Chargers team. Wilson played poorly. The offense struggled after Carson’s injury. They couldn’t find a rhythm or create any explosive plays. The defense couldn’t defend the run and didn’t do enough to pressure Philip Rivers in the first half.

It was a step back.

They also didn’t have any luck, the refs were poor (for both teams) and despite everything — they were two dropped passes at the end from having a two-point conversion attempt for overtime.

There will be more days like this in 2018. It’s going to be that type of season. Some great wins, some tough losses. Get ready for that. Be prepared.

Complaining about a loss is part of sports. But act like we’ve been here before — because we have. In 2011 and 2012 when this team rose into contention. They have an opportunity to do that again in the future. Hopefully it can still happen this year. If not, 2019 should be interesting.

Try to enjoy the ride because one day, Carroll won’t be here. Neither will Wilson. And you’ll look back on these days with great fondness.

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Instant reaction: Seahawks humbled by Chargers

Sunday, November 4th, 2018

This was a reality check.

The excitement of the last few weeks, tempered.

Typically, the Pete Carroll Seahawks gave themselves a chance to tie the game on the very last play. Did you expect anything else? But the reality is the score flattered Seattle.

The Chargers ran the ball better, were more physical and had control. They made the explosive plays. They won the turnover battle.

It was a repeat of last weeks game in Detroit. Only this time, the Seahawks were on the receiving end.

The run defense gave up 160 yards at 7.3 YPC. The pass rush struggled to lay a glove on Philip Rivers in the first half and sacks from Frank Clark and Jarran Reed shouldn’t mask the lack of consistent pressure.

The offense lost all rhythm as soon as Chris Carson left the game and struggled to stay on track. It clearly impacted Russell Wilson who had his worst game since week two.

This was a day to forget and a reminder of where this team is.

Welcome to a reset season.

Next on the schedule: Rams (A), Packers (H), Panthers (A).

What a stretch. Get ready — because this might not be a one-off.

Even with the backdrop of a reset year, this is still a deflating loss. It was starting to feel like something special was building. Could this be 2012 instead of 2011? On this evidence it seems not. The 2011 season had some dynamic wins but also some tough losses against good teams. At 4-4, the likelihood of a run to 7-9 or 8-8 seems more likely than a run to 11-5.

The defense deserves some credit for sticking in. LA’s only second half points were a pick-six from Wilson. They gave Seattle’s offense multiple chances to get on track. It didn’t happen until it was too late.

Chris Carson’s injury seemed to impact everything. This has been Carson’s career to date — college and the NFL. He’s never been a consistent bell-cow and it remains to be seen if he ever will be. He’s such an important player but he’s also going to miss games.

Russell Wilson had to make up the difference with the run stymied. Instead he struggled and his second half performance was particularly bad:

— The needless sacks
— Missing a wide open Jaron Brown
— The pick six

Wilson, as he’s known to do, almost made amends at the end. It wasn’t to be.

The Chargers were setting the tone. They were the alpha’s this week. In Detroit and London, Seattle were the bullies. Here, it was LA. Led by the brilliant Rivers.

The Seahawks were battered, hurt and humbled before a late flourish.

So what can we take away from this game?

Firstly, fingers crossed for good injury news. Carson, Bradley McDougald and D.J. Fluker all left the game. They can ill-afford to lose all three heading to the Rams next week.

Secondly, the Seahawks looked ready to compete. If the last three games were a step forward, this was a big step back. Reality bites sometimes. They will give some teams problems this year. But they’ll also have some losses where they look like this. It was starting to look like they were ready to content. The truth is, there’s still work to do.

Here’s a stat to leave you on — Seattle is 5-7 in their last 12 home games. That’s interesting.

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CFB week 10: Day of the defensive tackle

Sunday, November 4th, 2018

If you like quality defensive tackle play, Saturday was a treat.

Alabama’s Quinnen Williams put on a performance as good as you’ll ever see from a college DT. Auburn’s Derrick Brown dominated against Texas A&M. Clemson’s Christian Wilkins also put on a tremendous show — aided by his team mate Dexter Lawrence.

Let’s start with Williams.

Alabama beats LSU 29-0

There’s only one team capable of stopping Alabama this year. It’s Clemson. Just put them both in the playoff final now.

Quinnen Williams is a redshirt sophomore and not many Alabama players declare after a single season as a starter. It’ll be interesting to see which way Williams is leaning because against LSU, he was unblockable.

In the first half he took on a double team, disengaged and then sacked the quarterback for a six yard loss. On the second play of the second half he shook off the center with ease and sprinted into the backfield before dumping the QB on his backside.

In possibly the worst play call of the night, LSU had their quarterback run a QB draw up the gut. It was never on. Williams disengaged his blocker with a fantastic pull/push move and hammered the quarterback for a TFL. The same drive was ended when Williams stunted to the right, shoved off the running back’s attempted block and dumped the QB (who had to try and scramble) at the LOS for no gain.

With 1:34 left in the third quarter, Williams worked along the LOS to pursue the running back and hit him out of bounds. It’s an underrated play that teams will love. Having the athleticism and will to get on the move and stretch out running plays (and make the tackle) is a huge plus.

He had his third sack with 14:14 left in the game. Williams swims to get free of the right guard. The center notices the trouble and steps across to help. So Williams swims him too. He gets into the backfield and throws the QB to the ground. The assist goes to Isaiah Buggs for driving a double team into the quarterback from the edge, forcing him up and into the pocket where Williams was waiting.

I’m still not sure Williams will declare. Not many redshirt sophomores leave Alabama. Yet he’s played well enough this year for it to be a consideration. If he does turn pro, he has every chance of being a very early pick on this evidence.

Buggs and Raekwon Davis also played very well. Buggs had numerous pressures off the edge and also worked well on his snaps kicking inside. Davis, in the fourth quarter, drew a holding call and also shook off a block with a great swim move to force a pressure. Davis’ combination of size and athleticism will secure a place in the top half of round one. Buggs looks like a top-50 type.

Last week we highlighted how well Christian Miller is playing. Here he had one terrific rush against the left tackle to force a punt on third down. He exploded off the snap and ran by the LT before he’d even set his feet properly. He had no chance to halt his path to the QB. Miller also had a nice rush right at the end of the game — beating the tackle and hitting the QB from behind to force an incompletion.

Miller is a fantastic athlete with great quickness. He’s someone to keep in your mind. This isn’t a particularly deep draft class and as long as the health checks are right at the combine — Miller could go earlier than many are projecting.

Mack Wilson, the middle linebacker, benefits from Alabama’s talented D-line. He’s always kept clean. It enables him to roam around and make plays. He ended LSU’s final chance of points with a leaping interception in the end zone. It was a remarkable grab. This might be Alabama’s most talented defensive group, even with all the first round picks from previous years.

LSU played the first half against Alabama without Devin White. A dubious targeting call in LSU’s last game ruled him out for the first two quarters. It got worse. Ten minutes into the game, their second best defender — safety Grant Delpit — was flagged for targeting. And yet on review they overturned the call. It felt like a ‘make up’ call for a fortnight ago. Delpit’s hit was worse than White’s. There was absolutely zero reason to overturn it. I don’t want to see Delpit out of the game bu it very much felt like they didn’t want White and Delpit out at the same time. Not that it would’ve made much difference. LSU’s defense is very good but once again they were let down by an impotent offense.

Derrick Brown is legit

In a year dominated by talented defensive linemen, Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown is near the top of the list. He was absolutely fantastic against Texas A&M, ending the game with with a sack and 2.5 TFL’s. That barely tells the story of his great day.

In the first quarter he put two offensive linemen on the turf D.J. Fluker style. He consistently controlled the LOS and carried two blockers. When he left the field for the first time as part of the rotation, Texas A&M immediately had a big gain in the running game.

On one play he drove his blocker deep into the backfield then shook him off with an inside spin move to pressure the quarterback. With 10:32 left in the game, Brown shot the A-gap and was far too quick for the guard who was desperately trying not to hold. He flew into the backfield, forced a bad throw and the subsequent field goal was missed (proving crucial in the end).

With 4:35 left he took on a guard and the full back at the same time and drove both into the running back to make a stop for no gain.

None of this compares to what should’ve been the play of the day. With 2:31 left, Auburn trailed 24-21. They needed a stop to extend the game. Brown engaged the center at the LOS and bull-rushed him seven yards into the backfield. He drove him straight into the QB’s lap. With his left arm he disengages and hits the QB, forcing a fumble. The ball fell right to a team mate on the D-line and somehow (I’m still not sure how) he didn’t manage to fall on the ball allowing a Texas A&M lineman to recover. Auburn still got the ball back and drove downfield to win the game — but this should’ve been the play. It was a major highlight reel moment for Brown and a play NFL teams will salivate over.

After Auburn took the lead 28-24 with seconds to go, Brown stunted to the outside then leapt into the air to tip a swing pass to the sideline for an incompletion.

This was a masterclass. Brown was aggressive, strong and set the tone. He’s quick and mobile for his great size. He can do it all — absorb blocks, line-up at the one, three or five, shoot gaps with quickness and get-off and drive blockers with a terrific bull rush.

He’s a cast-iron high first round pick and thoroughly deserves a home in the top-20.

Clemson quartet continue to wow

Let’s call it the Deshaun Watson effect. A couple of years ago everyone went cold on Watson. People started to knock him and nitpick. He went from possible #1 overall pick to late first rounder (if not worse). The group think was tiresome. Familiarity was breeding contempt.

It happens every year.

Highly touted prospects who return to school create ridiculous expectations. People expect the world. They’ve heard so much about these players, they expect outstanding performances every week. Maybe even every snap.

We’re now seeing the same thing with Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence. Fantastic prospects who are having great seasons. Yet if you look at the various mock drafts online, you’d think they’d been struggling.

Nonsense.

Today Clemson’s D-line flat out embarrassed Louisville.

Top-45 prospect Austin Bryant started things off with a sack by dominating a tight end. You can’t block Bryant with a TE. For some reason Louisville did it twice early in the game and he won both battles with ease.

Dexter Lawrence quickly followed with a fantastic bull rush, driving the guard into the backfield. Lawrence regularly occupied two blocks to make life easier for his team mates.

On one play with 9:28 left in the first quarter, Clelin Ferrell flew by the left tackle who barely got a finger on him. It was a perfect display of quickness, explosive athleticism and suddenness. Austin Bryant met Ferrell in the backfield after being given the TE as a blocker again. The QB was lucky to dodge both players before being hammered by a linebacker for a two yard loss.

On the next play Christian Wilkins shot through the A gap to make a TFL on the running back. On the same drive, Wilkins shot the B gap and wasn’t fooled by a play-action fake. He used a great rip move to get off his blocker and met the quarterback 10 yards deep in the backfield — forcing a throw away. Clelin Ferrell then blew up a running play, forcing the running back to cut back inside where Christian Wilkins was waiting for another TFL.

With 13:27 left in the second quarter, Wilkins stunted to the outside, got around the right tackle and hit the quarterback forcing a fumble (recovered by Louisville). Wilkins had another TFL when both he and Austin Bryant side-stepped blocks and met the running back in the backfield.

Finally with 13:32 left in the third quarter, Wilkins used a swim move to beat the centre and hit the RB in the backfield for yet another TFL. Two plays later, Wilkins and Ferrell shared a sack. It was a well designed play. Dexter Lawrence worked to the outside from defensive tackle allowing Ferrell to stunt inside. He exploded through the gap created by Lawrence’s unexpected outside move. Wilkins just flat out beat his blocker with speed and a swim move.

If you don’t think these four are playing well and worthy of a high grade, I don’t really know what to say. Ferrell is destined for the top-five. Wilkins is destined for the top-20. Lawrence should be a high pick. Bryant could go in the 25-50 range. Today was a masterclass.

For the second week in a row, Clemson put Wilkins at running back and Lawrence at full back in the red zone. Wilkins scored a touchdown last week. On Saturday it was the turn of Lawrence. He barrelled in for a two-yard score.

Elsewhere…

— Dre’Mont Jones collected another sack in Ohio State’s narrow victory over Nebraska. He’s up to 6.5 for the season — a major improvement on last year.

— Georgia linebacker D’Andre Walker limped out of the Kentucky game early with an ankle injury but thankfully returned to the game. Kentucky’s Josh Allen recovered a fumble following a high snap from the center. He barely had an impact apart from that and on multiple occasions Georgia had success running right at his side of the line (they ended the night with 331 rushing yards). One of the big differences between Walker and Allen is run defense. Walker controls his side of the line, uses his arms well and sets the edge. Allen isn’t as strong vs the run. Georgia DE Jonathan Ledbetter hasn’t had the production this year but he’s a name to keep on your radar. He had his first sack of the season and two TFL’s against Kentucky.

— Drew Lock led Missouri to a big upset win against Florida. He played well. Get ready for the Lock hype. In a year without a clear #1 quarterback, Lock could easily fill the void. Florida’s pass rush was surprisingly stymied by Mizzou, with Jachai Polite recording one TFL and no sacks while Jabari Zuniga didn’t make any plays in the backfield. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson — a safety converted to nickel this year — had seven tackles, a sack and two TFL’s.

— Rashan Gary has missed some time with an injury but he returned against Penn State, recording a couple of tackles. Chase Winovich added to his productive year with another sack, beating the right tackle with a nice B gap pressure. He also recovered a fumble in a blowout win. The combine is vital for Winovich but he looked very quick in this game — quicker than the other times I’ve watched him.

— Zach Allen failed to record a sack or TFL during Boston College’s latest win (vs Virginia Tech) but he did deflect two passes and have two quarterback hurries.

— Florida State lost again but the one consistent performer this year has been Brian Burns. He didn’t record any sacks against NC State but he did manage two TFL’s.

— For the first time this season, Washington State were broadcast on British TV. A lot of people have been asking for a thought on Gardner Minshew recently. It’s my first opportunity to watch him and it’d be unfair to judge solely on one game. There are some things to like. He looks off defenders, makes use of the pocket and seems relatively accurate (although there were some misses too). Yet physically he’s a long way off the ideal, the offense is a whole lot of checkdowns, passes into the flat and bubble screens. You can’t watch this tape and find evidence of 5-7 NFL throws. Minshew appears to have been having a great year and has elevated Washington State and created a high level of excitement in the process. But I’m not sure I just watched a pro quarterback. That said, you’ve got to love his character and energy.

— Washington cornerback Byron Murphy had his first interception of the season against Stanford. Murphy is undersized at CB but he’s sudden, quick to the ball and extremely physical. I’d love to see if he can convert to free safety.

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The 2019 draft class doesn’t look great

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

We’re well into the college season now so what can we say about the prospective 2019 draft class?

Not a lot, unfortunately.

It’s clear where the strength is — defensive front seven. That’s not such a bad thing for the Seahawks. It’s likely to be their focus in round one.

Apart from that? Here’s the early outlook:

— It’s very possible there won’t be a quarterback worth drafting in round one, let alone in the top-10.

— The top offensive lineman, Wisconsin’s David Edwards, is a right tackle. There isn’t a top-tier left tackle prospect destined for the top-10 and the depth is mediocre.

— LSU cornerback Greedy Williams could go early and Washington’s Byron Murphy looks the part. Neither player is a sure-fire top-10 prospect though. They might go early by default.

— The skill positions look particularly weak in terms of the first round. There’s no Saquon Barkley or Leonard Fournette destined for the top-five and there’s no receiver worthy of a high grade either.

There will be good players available. Nick Bosa and Clelin Ferrell are high picks in any draft. It’s not often you have such a wealth of talent on the defensive line and the depth is terrific. LSU’s Devin White is a fantastic inside linebacker prospect and Christian Wilkins is going to go very early as a highly athletic, ideal interior defender. Everyone knows about Ed Oliver, Brian Burns and Jachai Polite by now. Zach Allen, Raekwon Davis, Dexter Lawrence, Rashan Gary and Derrick Brown could all find a home in the top-15. Georgia’s D’Andre Walker is underrated and Kentucky’s Josh Allen is having a big season.

But here’s the issue. Without a cluster of options at different ‘premium’ positions, teams at the top are going to struggle to find value. A team in desperate need of a franchise quarterback likely won’t find a solution early in this draft. If you want a blind-side protecter at left tackle, good luck. If you want a dynamic corner or a #1 receiver — where are the options?

So we’ll likely see a number of defensive linemen and linebackers touted for the first round.

When the national focus turns towards the draft in January, I suspect we’ll hear a lot about this being a bad draft. Usually a good class includes at least a few QB’s, some skill position players and at least one good left tackle. The cupboard is bare.

It’s not a good year to pick in the top-10 either. The value at #5-10 might be similar to the value in the teens or 20’s.

And for anyone questioning Nick Bosa’s decision to sit the rest of the season out after surgery. Let’s be right here. There’s practically nobody competing to be the #1 pick right now. The only thing stopping him is another injury or another surgery. Question his decision if you want but realise the stakes. He’s virtually a lock to be the top choice in 2019.

Here’s a (very early) possible top-15:

1 New York Giants — Nick Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
2 San Francisco — Clelin Ferrell (DE, Clemson)
3 Oakland — Ed Oliver (DT, Houston)
4 Buffalo — Christian Wilkins (DT, Clemson)
5 Arizona — Devin White (LB, LSU)
6 Cleveland — Brian Burns (DE, Florida State)
7 Indianapolis — Raekwon Davis (DT, Alabama)
8 New York Jets — David Edwards (T, Wisconsin)
9 Jacksonville — Jachai Polite (DE, Florida)
10 Denver — Greedy Williams (CB, LSU)
11 Tennessee — Zach Allen (DE, Boston College)
12 Oakland — Rashan Gary (DE, Michigan)
13 Detroit — Derrick Brown (DT, Auburn)
14 Tampa Bay — D’Andre Walker (LB, Georgia)
15 Atlanta — Dexter Lawrence (DT, Clemson)

You might argue it’s unrealistic to see a top-15 so dominated by the defensive front seven. What’s the alternative though? Is a team going to make Missouri’s Drew Lock a top-10 quarterback? Is Ole Miss’ Greg Little really a left tackle or does he have to kick inside?

The Seahawks currently only have four picks in the 2019 draft. They’re unlikely to get much, if anything, in terms of comp picks. They don’t really have the trade options to generate more picks in the off-season.

It might not be the worst draft to have minimal stock. It’s just not particularly exciting. We’ll see if the combine throws up some intriguing athletes with upside. We’ll see if the Senior Bowl can shine a light on some under the radar prospects.

Increasingly it appears the Seahawks (and their estimated $60m in cap space for 2019) are best served re-signing their cluster of free agents. Frank Clark, D.J. Fluker, J.R. Sweezy, Justin Coleman and K.J. Wright (and/or Mychal Kendricks). They’re unlikely to have the spending power to be major players in free agency. They should have enough to make a few choice additions — similar to what we witnessed in 2018.

And then you make the most of your minimal draft stock with the priority likely to be another pass rusher, interior of EDGE.

It probably won’t be an exciting off-season. It doesn’t necessarily need to be. It seems like a lot of the hard work was done this year in changing the culture and reclaiming Seattle’s identity. They’re on the right track.

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2018 is Salvaging Carroll and Schneider’s Personnel Reputation: Part 1, Drafts

Monday, October 29th, 2018

Right up until five weeks ago, the drafting reputation of Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider had faded from Midas’ touch to fools’ gold.

Rewind to the end of last season and it’s easy to see why. As of that moment, of the entire previous two drafts, only a single Seahawks draftee – Shaquill Griffin – had cemented himself as an undisputed starter.

The rest was a mess. First pick Malik McDowell was sidelined…permanently, as it turned out. Jarran Reed, Nazair Jones, and Quinton Jefferson looked like decent rotational pieces on the defensive line, with Reed perhaps trending upwards the most, but that was it. Nick Vannett wasn’t doing much. Ethan Pocic was starting by default but the consensus was “Bulk up, sir”. C.J. Prosise was over in the blue tent doing his best Humpty-Dumpty impersonation. Chris Carson, despite an exciting September, had yet to prove doubters wrong about his durability (he had major injuries in high school and college – a large part of why he fell in the draft). The rest of the 2017 draft haul, aside from a few stray Amara Darboh receptions, was buried on the depth chart, while Alex Collins had escaped the quagmire to a stellar season in Baltimore.

And Germain Ifedi – well, we knew about him. Or thought we did.

One undisputed starter out of two drafts. That’s simply not a viable rate of return.

How quickly the tide can turn. The 2018 season hasn’t just turned around the Seahawks’ drafting fortunes with the best first-year returns far and away since 2012, it’s vindicating past drafts as well. Or it should be.

Two things are hard to beat: a narrative, and being spoiled. Seahawks fans are saddled with both. Changing the perception that Seattle’s drafting sucked wastewater for five years straight is like tacking an ocean liner, and it’s not helped by the fact that Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider began their tenure here by knocking three straight drafts absolutely out of the park. The expectation is that they should be doing it repeatedly. Whether that’s possible, or fair to expect, is another discussion. But we’re definitely having to adjust to a “new normal”.

Well, nothing cures like winning. Seattle has won four of their last five in decidedly dominant fashion. That puts us on fertile ground for growing new narratives.

Visual aids are nice when it comes to getting the full picture of something. I wanted to take a shot at quantifying Carroll and Schneider’s drafting work by color-coding. Here’s their resume, broken down by year (sorry if it looks weird, just click on it – I’m bad at this).

We can see the hole right away. Pretending that Pete and John’s draft room work has been one long, unbroken streak of success is just that, pretending.

Yet I think I can argue that it’s not as bad as it was made out to be.

First is the 2013 draft. Seattle found three starters there, two of which promptly ended up on other teams. Luke Willson will forever hold a place in the twelves’ hearts for his knack for clutch plays in big games, but let’s not pretend this was a good draft.

However, 2013 was bad for everyone. It’s easily labeled the most talent-deprived year in recently NFL history. So…maybe a little slack for Pete and John there?

That brings us to 2014 and 2015. I can’t argue that it was good. But where it really hurt was depth. You need to be finding, if not starters, then some valuable backups and bit players in the late rounds, and while Seattle fans felt that guys like Richardson, Lockett, Britt, and Clark were middle-of-the-road starters at least, nobody after pick #2 in those years was with the team for very long. Pete and John did not replicate their usual magic of finding gold in the later rounds.

Now, there is the argument that it’s difficult to break onto a roster like the Seahawks’, which remained one of the NFL’s most indisputably talented rosters up through 2015. But countering that argument is the fact that none of these guys fought their way into the backup list either, or latched on anywhere else in the league. You’re always drafting for the future. You draft a Kevin Norwood hoping he can replace the void left by Golden Tate. You draft a Winston Guy hoping he can become another Kam Chancellor so that the team needn’t hand a crippling contract extension to an aging player out of lack of choice. You want the draft to be a steady conveyor belt of talent that ideally…ideally…gives the team constant flexibility in their negotiations with incumbent players.

Obviously, that didn’t happen.

Again…it is somewhat rich to expect Seattle to pull off 2010-2012 every year. That three-year span wasn’t normal. It was arguably one of the greatest drafting spans in NFL history. Three Pro Bowlers per year (if you include the undrafted Doug Baldwin) and seven viable starters to boot? Even the Patriots don’t do that.

But…they needed to be better than 2013-2017, too. Or at least that’s where opinion stood after the Bears game.

Enter the Cowboys.

Intelligence operatives are still working to discover exactly what got into the Seahawks as they played the ailing team from Texas, but it has jump-started an astonishing turnaround that is redeeming a lot of Pete and John’s drafting work.

All of a sudden, Clark, Britt, and Lockett aren’t just Pro Bowl subs and rumors – they’re worthy of prime position in the discussion (or would be, if 4-3 defensive ends ever were). Lockett got paid and got better; he’s having a career year. Clark you know about. Britt is part of an offensive line that is mauling the league’s premiere defensive linemen into the turf (check out this hilariously verbose praise-piling by Brian Baldinger – as obnoxiously obsessed as he was over our OL suck last year, his obsession is a good thing this year). Remember when we thought Britt was a man without a position and we never thought he’d amount to anything?

Vannett is a reliable catcher and has made noticeable improvements in his blocking. Jefferson is putting on the pressure. Hunt turned heads with his short spell of Britt. None of these guys are Pro Bowlers, but then again, they have only mid-round draft stock to live up to. For where they were picked, these are satisfactory returns.

Jarran Reed needs to start getting more credit. He already had an excellent report card for a second-rounder just for replacing Brandon Mebane’s run-stuffing ability from day one. But now he’s following Mebane’s trajectory in picking up pass rush moves. He had a big play to cause (or help induce) a Matthew Stafford fumble yesterday. These are game-changing – season-changing moments.

Moving further forward, 2017 seventh-rounders Chris Carson and David Moore have leaped onto the national stage. Carson would be getting more accolades if he had touchdowns to go with his frankly Lynchian production, but he’s healthy, and he’s the core of Seattle’s renewed identity. I was a believer in Carson last year. I don’t blame Seattle for paying out the nose for insurance in the form of Rashaad Penny, but Carson doesn’t just look good – he looks All-Pro worthy. Any moment now, you’re going to see things get even easier for him, as defenders start making “business decisions” when confronted with tackling him. Moore, for his part – four touchdowns in seven games goes a nice way towards replacing Jimmy Graham’s production. A tall order, satisfied.

Elsewhere in the draft, Shaquill Griffin still has the #1 corner position locked down. He’s had a handful of rough plays since his two picks of Mitch Trubisky in Week 2, but let’s also remember that every time you see a quarterback hesitate and not throw the ball after three seconds (and there was plenty of that yesterday), that’s Griffin and Tedric Thompson doing their jobs in coverage. Bad defensive backs get thrown at without hesitation (as Russell Wilson did yesterday). Thompson is still swinging off receivers’ hips like hula hoops a little more often than I’d like – though so did Earl Thomas – but he makes up for it with bruising hits and big plays. He’s got mental resilience. That’s a mark of a lasting contributor.

And…Ifedi.

Perhaps no Seahawks player exemplifies the sharp 180-degree turn of this team than much-maligned Germain Ifedi. The man is having fun out there, steamrolling Pro Bowlers and gashing lanes for his running backs. Playing next to a frothing grizzly like D.J. Fluker can’t hurt, nor can getting paired with tight-end-convert sensation George Fant (watch him seal his edge on Chris Carson’s TD yesterday like Michaelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel). And you have to acknowledge the contribution of Mike Solari. But it took perseverance from Ifedi to stick with it, and persevere he did. It’s amazing what some confidence can do for a guy.

This is to say nothing of the 2018 draft, which from Week 1 has produced three undisputed starters, two legitimate depth guys from the late rounds (Jamarco Jones being one of them – watch for him next year), and three others who still have oodles of promise and plenty of development time before they should be getting any rightful criticism.

So we come to the question…just how badly did Seattle’s draft room really stumble in the Carroll era?

Not nearly that badly, for not nearly that long.

It was rough for a while. Recent years are not without their warts. Ethan Pocic and Nazair Jones have been played off the field, albeit by other guys that Pete and John acquired. C.J. Prosise’ injury doom was a gamble Pete and John lost. McDowell was a questionable pick for reasons that had little to do with his eventual injury (though, again, it’s an understandable selection when you remember that his upside was Calais Campbell).

But the value of better coaching and simple time is invaluable. We had some late bloomers and some head cases, yes. They’re playing well now. If a stumble invalidates genius, then even Bill Belichick sucks. And the spreadsheet that I showed above still has room for blue on the right side as time passes.

Guys, I have a sneaking suspicion that Pete and John are still pros at this drafting thing. And they’re reaping the rewards now. It’s time the narrative ship finished its tack.