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Danny Shelton could be 2015’s most overrated prospect

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

Danny Shelton is considered by many to be a likely first round pick

If Danny Shelton is going to be a first round pick this year — and I’m not convinced — he’ll need to prove he’s more than just a run stuffer.

Remember Louis Nix? About this time last year he was being touted as a likely first round choice. The usual things were said, “there aren’t many people who can do what he can at his size.” In reality, that wasn’t really true. He was pretty average at the combine, carried too much bad weight, had some character concerns and flopped into round three.

There’s a reason the word ‘rare’ is place before the words ‘nose tackle’ when trying to describe the type of player who does go early in the first round. Dontari Poe was the #11 overall pick in 2012. He was 345lbs, 6-3 and looked in terrific shape. He ran a blistering 4.97 at the combine. He really was a freak of nature. That’s your rare nose tackle right there. Not just any type of big guy with production. Recent history shows (more on that later) that there just aren’t that many nose tackles going in the first round.

Shelton is not Poe. Far from it, in fact. He’s 339lbs but looks fatter. Poe is as chiseled as a 345lbs defensive tackle can be. Shelton has a flabby midriff and doesn’t have the same foot-speed or general athleticism. Would anyone be shocked if Shelton’s forty time is nearer to Nix’s 5.42 than Poe’s 4.97?

Of course it’s not just about athleticism. The tape and what you’ve done on the field matters too. He had nine sacks in 2014 and 16.5 TFL’s, which is impressive. But stats can be manipulated any way you want. You can make the case that his production is a major positive. Or you can point out seven of the nine sacks came in the first four weeks against Hawaii, Eastern Washington and Georgia State. In the same three games he had 9.5 of the 16.5 TFL’s. In the PAC-12 he had half a sack against Oregon, half a sack against Washington State and a sack against Arizona. That’s it.

I’ve kept going back to Shelton because it’s almost assumed he’ll be a first round pick. I keep thinking I must be missing something. So I keep looking. After last night’s Citrus Bowl, I think I’m done with my conclusion. I just think he’s overrated.

Oklahoma State didn’t run the ball particularly efficiently last night — they managed less than 4 YPA even if they churned out +160 yards. But every time they ran at Shelton I kept seeing a similar trait. He was being turned, time and time again. It’s subtle. The O-line didn’t use a double team against him, but they found a way to manipulate his body to create space up the middle. Rinse and repeat.

Given his size the very least you want to see from a first round pick at this size is great run defense. He can’t be moved that easily with blocking technique. If he’s going to get moved off the spot, it needs to be because the opponent has keyed in. Double teams, schemes, running away from the inside. Not in the Citrus Bowl. ASU ran up the middle. They ran at Shelton. No answer.

I’ve seen games (eg Hawaii) where he does play with a solid anchor and you see plenty of upper/lower body power. He can play with heavy hands and he can work through traffic to get into the backfield and create a splash. But there are other games where he just looks average or slightly above average. I could live with that if he was an explosive pass rusher, but he isn’t. He just isn’t.

For me he’d be best served losing weight. Get down to 320lbs and play lighter. Gain more mobility. There’s bad weight on that frame that he can shift and not suffer any loss of power. At the moment he looks sloppy (was he asked to gain weight quickly this year?) and wherever he gets drafted — and by whoever — he’s going to go straight on a conditioning program.

Teams can find big-bodied DT’s later on. The pressure to go big early just isn’t there. Look at the first round defensive tackles taken in the last five drafts:

2014 — Aaron Donald, Dominique Easley
2013 — Sheldon Richardson, Star Lotulelei, Shariff Floyd, Sylvester Williams
2012 — Dontari Poe, Fletcher Cox, Michael Brockers
2011 — Nick Fairley, Corey Liuget, Phil Taylor
2010 — Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Tyson Alualu, Dan Williams

Of the 16 players listed above, Poe, Dan Williams and Phil Taylor are the closest to Shelton in terms of style. We’ve discussed Poe. Williams played lighter and looked better in terms of body shape — he was 6-2 and 327lbs at the combine and ran a 5.19. He was the #26 overall pick in 2010. Taylor was 339lbs but in a different league in terms of athleticism and mobility. He carried the weight superbly and flew around the field — even chasing runners and receivers to the sideline at Baylor. He ran a 5.14 and had length — 34 inch arms and 6-3 in height.

All of the other 13 defensive tackles above were pass rushers or three-techniques. There really isn’t a deep history of big nose tackles going early unless they flash the kind of rare athletic qualities I don’t think we see with Shelton. If he’s going to convince a team to spend a high pick, I think he has to show he is athletic. That he is more than a space-filler. And I’m just not convinced.

You can find two-down tackles and run stoppers later. If you’re going to draft a run-stuffer in round one you pretty much accept you’re taking a player who faces limited snaps every week. What’s more, they don’t necessarily play the money downs. What team in the league is saying today, “if only we had a big fat run stuffer in there?” Very few — and the ones thinking it probably aren’t looking at round one. There are just better ways to spend a first round pick.

For me he’s more likely to follow the path of Notre Dame’s Nix — especially if these quotes, credited to a NFC West scout and reported on NFL.com, have any legitimacy:

“He really scares me because he has major talent, but I also wonder if he’s on his best behavior because it’s a contract year for him. What happens when he signs his contract? Scouts are concerned with Shelton’s personality and work ethic. More than one scout has said the previous coaching staff at Washington had issues with Shelton’s surliness and selfishness. Shelton’s weight has to be monitored in the pros, and he could stand to play with more consistent power, but big nose tackles who can cave pockets and pursue running backs from sideline to sideline are rare. Shelton’s tape will ultimately tell the tale, but if there are worries about his character or work ethic, it could cost him spots in the draft.”

The scout is much higher on Shelton’s potential than I am, but the possible character concerns add a dynamic to this debate. A selfish, surly defensive tackle who needs to monitor his weight isn’t a great combination — and it’s part of what hurt Nix.

Personally I thought Washington’s defensive line appeared more threatening last night when freshman Elijah Qualls spelled Shelton. I’ll just call this as I see it. For me, Shelton is getting pumped up too much by the media. We’ll see how he performs at the combine. We’ll see how the off-season unfolds. It wouldn’t surprise me if, by April, he’s seen as a second or third round option rather than the celebrated first rounder many believe at the moment.

A more likely first round nose tackle for me would be Oklahoma’s Jordan Phillips. He’s leaner, more athletic and has major upside. Expect an excellent work out in Indianapolis. The main concern is an injury history to look into — but he flashed several times during the Sooners’ fast start to 2014.

On the other hand — how good was Dante Fowler Jr today in the Birmingham Bowl? He had three sacks against East Carolina, a couple of QB hits and lined up all over the place. He’s athletic enough to drop into coverage, he can rush the edge and he even has snaps on tape rushing from the inside. He’s a complete defensive player and should be a top-10 pick.

Maxx Williams, Markus Golden & Melvin Gordon impress

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

A few days ago we pondered the stock of Minnesota’s Maxx Williams. He announced his decision to declare as a redshirt sophomore — perhaps taking advantage of a paper-thin tight end class. Featuring in a run-heavy offense and used as an H-back/lead blocker on a lot of snaps, it was hard to judge his stock. How athletic is he? What is he capable of in the passing game?

Today answered a few questions. Or more specifically, the play above did. Wow.

That’s just beautifully improvised. As the quarterback extended the play he found the soft spot in behind the defense, caught the ball and turned a big play into a scoring play by hurdling two defenders. It’s one of the plays of the season for sure and hints at some sneaky athleticism and big play potential in the passing game.

I’ve watched three Minnesota games this year and haven’t seen a single bad snap out of Williams. No ugly drops (in fact, no drops period). No lack of effort. He’s a reliable target in the red zone and he’s capable of the spectacular catch. He might not be a Gronk or a Jimmy Graham in terms of size/speed — but he’s a freaking football player. He’s going to get out there and do a job every week. Not always flashy, but you know it’s there. The play in the Vine above isn’t the only example of his playmaking quality. It’s not the first time he’s hurdled a defender either:

He’s such a fascinating case. His combine will be interesting. The modest passing game in Minnesota explains the lack of targets and stats. He makes the most of what he gets — and the Seahawks love that. It’s one of the reasons they loved Kevin Norwood and why he screamed ‘Seattle’ pre-2014 draft. This isn’t an offense where you’ll get ten opportunities to make a play as a tight end or receiver. You might get three targets — so fill your boots when the time comes. That appears to be Williams’ forté.

The Seahawks have gone after production, difference making athleticism and/or size early in the draft. Williams doesn’t have great size and neither does he have the production. He might not be a difference making athlete. These are all things that could limit Seattle’s interest in the first/second round range. But you never know. He gives off a bit of a Seahawky vibe. And he could be a long term replacement for Zach Miller.

In the same Minnesota/Missouri Citrus Bowl game, Markus Golden was named MVP. He had 10 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery. The guy is a flat out beast. He was a demon off the edge all day — he can play the run too. He has a terrific frame for the next level. Whether he has the length Seattle loves — that’s debatable. But you could just see him playing for the Baltimore Ravens or Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s that type. He was barking at the Minnesota players all day too — “this isn’t the Big Ten”. If he isn’t a top-40 pick this game isn’t fair.

Melvin Gordon also put an exclamation point on his college career, leading Wisconsin to a big win against Auburn in the Outback Bowl. He ran for a game-record 251-yards and scored three touchdowns. The first was a wonderful weaving scamper, cutting back and forth through traffic (see it here). He was gliding the whole way — it was such a perfect, patient, fluid run. The second (see it here) was pure effort — out-running the secondary and fighting off a DB to make it across the line.

He actually came agonizingly close to breaking the NCAA record for rushing yards in a season. For those who say he was only productive in a piece of cake Big Ten — this performance should answer some of the doubters. This wasn’t Auburn at its best — far from it. But 251-yards against a top SEC outfit is intriguing — especially after a similar display against LSU in week one.

Gordon is going to be a top-20 pick. Maybe top-15. He’s that good. He will destroy the combine with an electric forty, a brilliant bench press and excellent broad/vertical jumps. He’s a gym rat — he lives in the gym. He has a tremendous frame to go with that fluid running style. In the right offense he could be a superstar. He’s not going to grind down a team with physical inside running. But if you give him a lane, he’s a threat to take it to the house. He will be a chunk-play artist and a threat to find the edge and explode. He has some of the creativity of Jamaal Charles with the sturdier frame of Demarco Murray.

It was frustrating to see Sammie Coates underused in his final game for Auburn. He was barely on the field. Was he healthy? Was he in the doghouse for choosing to declare? Who knows.

Meanwhile some interesting players declared for the draft this week — Oklahoma’s massive, athletic nose tackle Jordan Phillips could easily be a high pick. He’s much more agile than guys like Danny Shelton and the type of interior space-eater that goes early. Mississippi State running back Josh Robinson also declared. He’s a little bowling ball of power, similar to Michael Turner in his better years. He’ll be great value for someone.

There could be bad news for Tevin Coleman. Tony Pauline is reporting the Indiana running back has a foot injury and might not work out at the combine.

Ohio State’s impressive receiver Devin Smith has received an invite to the Shrine Game:

You can see Smith in tonight’s Sugar Bowl vs Alabama.

Finally — a quick thought on the Rose Bowl playoff game between Florida State and Oregon. Neither of the star quarterbacks played well. Marcus Mariota had an ugly interception before half time and looked antsy early on. He settled into a rhythm in the second half. But Jameis Winston showed why I didn’t put him in the first round of my first 2015 mock a few weeks ago.

After a bad fumble returned for a score virtually ended the game in the third quarter, Winston was pictured arguing with Head Coach Jimbo Fisher. You didn’t have to be a lip reader to notice Fisher state, “Jameis, if you don’t calm the (expletive) down, you’re going to the bench” (see for yourself). For all the talent. For all the potential. He is just immature. Off the field and on the field, the way he conducts himself is not how a franchise quarterback should act. It doesn’t matter how talented you are — he doesn’t look like a guy you want to go to war with. Don’t underestimate that, especially with Johnny Manziel’s shocking rookie season and all the off-field drama dominating NFL headlines this year.

Some players you just take the stance — “let someone else draft him”. Winston is a classic case there. If I was a Head Coach I wouldn’t want to deal with him. If I was a GM, I wouldn’t want my franchise depending on him. On the field he’s been a turnover machine in 2014/2015 to compound matters — and that’s before you get into all the nonsense off the field. It’ll take a brave team to invest a high pick here.

Shawn Oakman, Duke Williams won’t enter 2015 draft

Monday, December 29th, 2014

Scratch off two names on our pre-Christmas first round watch-list. Shawn Oakman and D’haquille ‘Duke’ Williams won’t be part of the 2015 draft.

Both players had an opportunity to go early. Both players also have a lot to gain by returning.

Oakman took a big step forward in 2014 after a quiet first year at Baylor (he transferred from Penn State). He recorded ten sacks and 18.5 TFL’s. He’s built like a Greek God and could’ve been a very high pick with a good combine. He can also make clear improvements — he often struggles to disengage and get off a block. He can get even stronger and his goal should be to emulate Calais Campbell. He can be a more athletic version if he can keep getting stronger. It’s achievable.

This is a loaded defensive line class and while there’s nobody quite like Oakman — he’s likely to be a slow burner in the NFL instead of an impact player. He would’ve had a hard time getting ahead of more rounded prospects like Dante Fowler, Randy Gregory, Bud Dupree and Leonard Williams. In 2016 he could be one of the first defensive linemen off the board if he continues to develop.

Williams only moved to Auburn last year after switching from the JUCO ranks. He had an immediate impact and quickly became the go-to receiver for the Tigers, despite the presence of Sammie Coates. With only one year of experience in the SEC, he’ll get a chance to improve his technique and just get more quality snaps. He could be special. He has everything — size, length, hands and attitude. He was unlikely to walk into the NFL two years removed from the JUCO’s and suddenly explode onto the scene. Now he has a chance to work on his craft and potentially be the top 2016 receiver.

Elsewhere, Indiana’s superb running back Tevin Coleman is heading for the NFL after making an announcement today. According to Tony Pauline, Texas’ brilliant defensive tackle could play his final college game tonight too:

You can watch Brown in the Texas Bowl later — it’s a good match-up against the biggest offensive line in college football (Arkansas).

I still believe the Seahawks are destined for an offense-focused early portion of the 2015 draft, barring some surprising free agency moves. They’re keeping the defensive core together and know what they have on that side of the ball. The offense needs work and an injection of talent at key positions. Marshawn Lynch continues to be spelled early in games — hinting at more serious health concerns than perhaps we appreciate (and potentially an increased likelihood that he retires in the off-season). If that’s the case, Seattle could easily be in the market for one of the top running backs.

Receiver obviously remains an option too. Kevin White today scored a 49-yard touchdown for West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl against Texas A&M… provoking this Tweet…

We can but dream.

Meanwhile Dan Kadar at Mocking the Draft has published a new mock draft today. He has the Seahawks picking at #32 — selecting Maxx Williams (TE, Minnesota), a player we discussed recently. Draft Breakdown published Williams’ tape against Michigan this afternoon:

Instant reaction: Seahawks win, clinch NFC’s #1 seed

Sunday, December 28th, 2014

Seattle scored 20 unanswered points in the second half

This was a typical Seahawks hosting the Rams type of day. St. Louis played hard. They hit Russell Wilson. They stuck around when nobody gave them a shot. And entering the fourth quarter they had a genuine chance to win.

Seattle simply finished stronger to get a crucial win. This is what it means:

— The Seahawks are NFC West Champions for the third time in the Pete Carroll era.

— Seattle is the first team to repeat as the #1 seed in the NFC since the 2003 Philadelphia Eagles.

— It’s home-field advantage again. The Seahawks won’t need to go on the road to get to another Super Bowl. On the two previous occasions Seattle had the #1 seed, they made the big game. They will face Detroit, Arizona or Carolina in the Divisional round.

— They get a much needed bye-week next weekend. Jordan Hill (more on him later) and K.J. Wright both picked up late injuries. Max Unger again didn’t feature. Marshawn Lynch continues to be spelled early. Their last weekend off was back in week four. They need a break.

In terms of the performance, bad execution in the first half undermined what was actually a pretty good display. In the second half they scored 20 unanswered points to clinch a 20-6 victory.

St. Louis always creates pressure with the most complete front four in football. Just a reminder here — every one of their starting defensive linemen is a top-15 pick. Chris Long (#2 overall, 2008), Robert Quinn (#14 overall, 2011), Michael Brockers (#14 overall, 2012) and Aaron Donald (#13 overall, 2014). The Rams hit on every pick. Considering the high number of D-line busts in the last decade, it’s some record. The end product is a sensational pass rush.

This isn’t excuse making for Seattle’s offensive line, but just consider that fact before you jump to the conclusion that this was a horrific performance up front. The Seahawks will not face a pass rush of this quality in the playoffs. Not even close. Seattle is comfortable fielding an offensive line that is below average in pass protection and brilliant in the running game. They had 132 rushing yards today without the usual boost from Russell Wilson scrambling. These were hard earned yards. This is Seahawks football.

The key touchdown from Marshawn Lynch was created by a brilliant effort by the line, in particular the second-level blocking of Justin Britt and J.R. Sweezy. If you don’t like the way this O-line is set up, you simply don’t like the way Seattle plays offensive football. It’s been good enough to win home-field advantage in back-to-back years. Wilson is creative and difficult to protect in equal measure. This is the way this team is set up — it’s all part of the blueprint.

Jordan Hill, Bruce Irvin and Michael Bennett again stood out on defense. Bennett once again showed he’s playing as well as any defensive player in the league not named J.J. Watt. His ability to soak up double teams created a sack for Cliff Avril and Kevin Williams. This was another masterclass. Bobby Wagner has been described as underrated so much recently it’s almost a contradiction. Wagner’s return certainly helped shore up the run defense, but Bennett’s re-emergence as a pass-rushing force has been key.

Hill had an acrobatic interception to add to his growing collection of stats — 5.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries and a pick. Clinton McDonald? An afterthought.

And then there’s Bruce Irvin — one of the best defensive playmakers in the country who, like Bennett, simply isn’t getting enough props. Today he had a pick-six (his second of the season), a pass-deflection, a TFL and a sack. In year three he has arrived. Irvin is one of the best defensive players in the league. Believe it. Embrace it. He does the little things well and still makes the game-tilting plays too. How many other linebackers can cover with his speed, go sideline-to-sideline and still act as a Julian Peterson-esque pass rusher off the edge? He is the real deal.

Earl Thomas’ forced fumble into the endzone for a touchback is one of the best plays of the 2014 season.

Seattle has now led the NFL in scoring defense for three consecutive years — the first team to achieve that since the 1969-71 Vikings. Pete Carroll has created a unit for the ages.

It wasn’t a classic day for the offense but Wilson did enough after a tough interception and Paul Richardon’s highlight reel catch provides a talking point. It was a tremendous grab — high pointing the ball above the defender after a great leap.

Credit also has to go to Darrell Bevell for making the necessary second half adjustments to get the ball moving on offense. They found a few wrinkles to exploit as Seattle dragged their way back into the game before the defense finished things off.

A week after we saw the very best of Luke Willson, today we saw the bad version. Two big drops and a sloppy route to miss out on a key fourth down conversion. He’s a classic tease — so much potential and still so inconsistent. Perhaps year three will be his year — ala Bruce Irvin?

Arizona’s defeat in San Francisco means ten consecutive opponents lost their next game after facing the Seahawks.

Seattle will face Detroit in the Divisional round if they win in Dallas next weekend. If the Cowboys are victorious, the Seahawks meet the winner of the Arizona/Carolina game. They cannot be paired with Green Bay or Dallas in the Divisional round.

The top picks in the draft have also been confirmed. Here’s the top-14:

#1 Tampa Bay
#2 Tennessee
#3 Jacksonville
#4 Oakland
#5 Washington
#6 New York Jets
#7 Chicago
#8 Atlanta
#9 New York Giants
#10 St. Louis
#11 Minnesota
#12 Cleveland
#13 New Orleans
#14 Miami

We could easily see Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston go in the top two — although teams will have to dig deep to get a read on Winston’s character. After that there could be a rush on the top defensive prospects.

Having secured a first round bye in the NFC, Seattle cannot pick any lower than #25 overall.

NFL Draft: Potential first round targets for the Seahawks

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

Gym-rat Melvin Gordon will almost certainly interest the Seahawks

What I considered making this list:

1. It’s about more than SPARQ
The Seahawks love difference-making athleticism, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. Bruce Irvin is a stunning athlete but he was also the best pass rusher in college football in 2010 (he had a good season in 2011 too). Bobby Wagner was productive and so was Russell Wilson. Earl Thomas had eight interceptions in 2009 for Texas. More recently, Paul Richardson had a 1343-yard season for Colorado — including ten touchdowns. Yes — they want the best athletes. But there needs to be a level of production to back up the potential.

2. They need to fit in
Before the last draft Pete Carroll and John Schneider talked about finding players that can survive in Seattle’s ultra-competitive locker room. A potential defensive prospect has to mesh with the big personalities on this team. A receiver has to be comfortable competing against the LOB every day. Character, self-confidence and competitiveness has to be part of the make-up here. Shy and retiring won’t cut it.

Running backs
Whether it’s retirement or just time to move on, Marshawn Lynch’s days in Seattle (sadly) appear numbered. This will leave a big hole in the running game. Unlike a lot of other teams that treat the position as an afterthought, the Seahawks want to dominate in the run game. They’ve had a superstar playing the position during Pete Carroll’s first five seasons in Seattle — they’d probably like another X-Factor player to lead the rushing attack going forward. It’s a good class for running backs with three stand-outs.

Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
There’s every chance he’s a top-15 pick and therefore out of reach for the Seahawks. If he lasts, it could be a no-brainer. He’s a totally different player to Lynch but ticks all the required boxes: he’s a fantastic athlete and gym rat, he has major production (Heisman finalist) and a competitive, team-friendly personality. You can imagine him shadowing Russell Wilson, working identical hours. A lot of teams will grade Gordon in the top 15-20 but need and positional value could keep him on the board. It’s a long-shot to think he’d be there for the Seahawks but he’s also the type of player you can build around. You can imagine John Schneider really liking him. Enough to move up? Maybe.

Production: 2336 rushing yards in 2014, 29 total touchdowns

Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
In terms of pure talent Gurley would be among the top five players in the draft. He won’t go that early because of a nasty ACL injury towards the end of the college season. He probably won’t work out pre-draft and the fierce nature of the position plus an injury history might put some teams off. One of two things will happen in April: a team in the teens will take a punt on his obvious potential or a really good team in the 20’s or 30’s is going to get a rehab project for the ages. If the Seahawks were willing to play the long-game with Gurley they could end up with another superstar to replace Lynch. He’s a 230lbs home-run hitter who returns kick-offs for TD’s, explodes through running lanes, knows how to break a tackle and work into the passing game. You might not get an immediate return due to the injury, but when he’s healthy — Gurley’s a beast. He commands respect from his team mates. Business like personality, speaks with ingrained self-belief.

Production: 911 rushing yards in just six games, 10 total touchdowns

Tevin Coleman (RB, Indiana)
Coleman deserves as much attention as the other two, especially after a fanastic season for the Hoosiers. Everything you read about him is positive — he’s loved by the Indiana coaches. He had a close family upbringing and stayed in contact with his Pee-Wee coaches. He was born three months premature and given a 20% chance of living. He’s a humble, respectable individual. On the field he’s electric — a terrific one cut and go runner. He has the size to work up the middle but he’s at his best finding a crease and exploding. Intense competitor on the field and throws his body around in pass protection. Always seems to fall forward. He should go in the top-40 and whoever gets him will land a productive runner for the next few years. It’ll be interesting to see how he does at the combine but he looks athletic and he ticks all the boxes in terms of competitiveness and character.

Production: 2036 rushing yards in 2014, 15 total touchdowns

Wide receivers
Even after drafting Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood in 2014, the Seahawks stand to add another option to their passing game in the off-season. They’ve lost Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice in the last few months. They have a lot of similar receivers in terms of size, frame and speed. They don’t have a player with Harvin’s explosive ability or Rice’s size. For that reason there’s every chance they’ll consider another early pick here. Ideally they’d grab a big target — but the options are limited. Michigan’s Devin Funchess looks the part but he’s not a self motivator and needs to be pushed. He’s also inconsistent catching the ball and never lived up to expectations.

Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)
He ticks all the boxes with his on-field play. White high points the football naturally with terrific catching technique. He’s a physical receiver who competes for the ball in the air. He’s shown he can be a red zone threat and a reliable third-down target. He’s not a burner but he can run away from speedy cornerbacks on shorter routes exploiting YAC. His team mates really respect him at WVU and have taken on his “Easy” catchphrase after making a big play. Turned his career around after a tough start in the JUCO’s. Has a little Larry Fitzgerald to his game even if he doesn’t look as imposing physically. Could easily go in the top-20 but he’s also a one-year wonder and there’s some depth at receiver again this year.

Production: 1318 receiving yards in 2014, nine touchdowns

Sammie Coates (WR, Auburn)
A candidate to be the best athlete at the combine, Coates is just a rare combination of muscle and speed. He made #1 in Bruce Feldman’s annual ‘freaks’ list for 2015. He’s also a humble individual who befriended a young cancer sufferer and spends a considerable amount of his free time with her. On the field he’s inconsistent — he drops too many passes and doesn’t have major production in a run-heavy scheme. I suspect Seattle is willing to look beyond production if you make the most of your limited chances — that’s why they drafted Kevin Norwood. Coates isn’t anywhere near as efficient as Norwood but he did make some key plays in big games against Alabama and LSU. Essentially he’s a big-time threat downfield and has the size to play the Sidney Rice role. Major SPARQ candidate.

Production: 23.90 YPC, three of his four big-play touchdowns occurred when Auburn trailed

D’haquille ‘Duke’ Williams (WR, Auburn)
Coates’ team mate at Auburn is a very different player — perhaps the type Seattle has lacked. He just looks like a #1 receiver with similar size to Dez Bryant. Big hands, long arms, great size. Williams has only played one season with the Tigers and already looks like a stud. He’s just a very naturally gifted player who will, one day, be a very effective NFL receiver. He was the unquestioned leader at his old JUCO team and he plays with an edge. He wouldn’t have any trouble surviving Seattle’s fierce locker room. He’d provide a red zone threat and another option over the middle/working the seam. He might need some seasoning — it’s tough to go from the JUCO’s to the NFL after just one year in the SEC. But he’s such a natural pass-catcher you wouldn’t bet against an early impact. The sky’s the limit for Williams.

Production: 730 yards and five touchdowns in ten games on a run-heavy offense

Pass rushers
After extending Cliff Avril’s contract they might steer clear of a high pick at defensive end. Depth is the key really and there’s enough talent to wait until the middle rounds. They could even bring in a Brian Orakpo or Jabaal Sheard in free agency, depending on how much cap room is left. Even so — this is a terrific class for pass rushers. Not all fit Seattle’s penchant for length, explosive speed (eg 1.50 ten yard split) and production. The ones that do could be on the radar.

Eli Harold (DE, Virginia)
He’s a project with major upside. When you watch Harold on tape there’s a lot to work on. He has a ton of snaps where he struggles to have an impact. But then he’ll fly around the edge at warp-speed to make a splash play. His get off is potentially elite. He looks like he’ll run an outstanding ten yard split and he appears to have enough length to interest Seattle. Hand placement can be improved and you wonder if he’ll be able to win using just speed but the upside is clear to see. What I like most about Harold, aside from the athleticism, is his personality. He’s incredibly mature. Lost his mother at a young age and made Virginia coach Mike London a father-figure. Speaks with tremendous passion and heart. You want to root for him.

Production: 14.5 TFL’s in 2014 plus seven sacks

Shawn Oakman (DE, Baylor)
What isn’t Seahawky about a 6-8, 285lbs defensive linemen who is the heart and soul of his team and plays loose and ferocious at the same time? Oakman has battled adversity, poverty and disappointment to become the leader of the Baylor Bears. His back-story is fascinating and his athletic potential is outstanding. If he declares he too could be one of the stars of the combine. He carries minimal body fat — he’s 6-8 and pure muscle. He plays with great upper body strength. He’s not the most agile as you’d expect but his straight-line speed is fine. He’s different in a good way. He could be special. The Seahawks like ‘special’ difference makers. There aren’t many human beings like this. He does struggle to get off blocks but you see his power and length every snap. He could develop into a more athletic Calais Campbell.

Production: 18.5 TFL’s in 2014 plus 10 sacks

Bud Dupree (DE, Kentucky)
I think Dupree could be a top-15 pick but others have him in the late first. He doesn’t have great length and that could be an issue. Everything else about his game is so ‘Seattle’. He’s a big time leader, a disruptive pass rusher with tremendous athleticism. He could play defensive end and outside linebacker. He flies to the ball and constantly makes plays. You have to account for his presence every snap. Technically he’s assured and he’s primed to make a quick impact at the next level. It’s impossible not to admire Dupree and he’ll have a long and successful NFL career wherever he ends up. His coaches love him and he’s dragged a struggling program towards relevance in the SEC this season. Very mature and accomplished.

Production: One pick-six, 12.5 TFL’s, 7.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, five QB hurries and a blocked kick in 2014

Other positions
I’ve listed three possible needs above but there’s every chance they just take one of the better players on their board. This is a good enough team to not have to go after specific needs, especially when you have 10-11 picks and a track record of finding starters in the later rounds.

Shaq Thompson (LB, Washington)
Incredible range. It’d be fun to consider how the Seahawks would use him in their defense. He could do some rushing off the edge, he could line up in any of the linebacker spots. They could use him as a roaming safety similar to Deone Bucannon. Could they use him to cover a specific target? He could even take some snaps at running back and be a special teams demon. He’s a playmaker and a great athlete — the type creative coaches (like Pete Carroll) love to get their hands on. In many ways it’d be interesting to see Thompson game-planned into different roles instead of being used as an orthodox outsider linebacker.

Production: 456 rushing yards (two TD’s), three fumble returns for touchdowns, a pick-six, two TFL’s and a sack

T.J. Clemmings (T, Pittsburgh)
A converted defensive linemen with plenty of upside. He admits he had a rough first year after the switch but settled into the right tackle spot in 2014. Honest, talented and room to develop. A lack of experience will concern some in a relatively good tackle class — especially considering he didn’t cover the blind side. I’m not convinced Seattle will spend yet another high pick on the offensive line but with Russell Okung’s contract nearing it’s conclusion and Justin Britt struggling a bit they could consider it. I think an extension for Okung and patience with Britt is more likely, but we’ll see. After Stanford’s Andrus Peat, Clemmings is the most intriguing tackle in the class for me.

Production: Pitt ranked 16th nationally for rushing yards, with Clemmings leading the way

Eddie Goldman (DT, Florida State) & Malcom Brown (DT, Texas)
I think the Seahawks are happy to use the second-wave free agent market and middle rounds to go after interior defensive linemen. I think it’d take a really special talent (such as Aaron Donald) to force their hand. I’m not convinced we’ll see them take a first round defensive tackle in 2015. The two players that might fit are former 5-star recruits Goldman and Brown. Goldman in particular is a tremendous athlete with genuine power in the running game. He could rise into the top-ten with a good off-season. Brown is no less impressive and also excels against both the run and pass. I’d expect both to be off the board before Seattle’s pick.

Production: Goldman — eight TFL’s and four sacks, Brown — 12.5 TFL’s and 6.5 sacks

Instant reaction: Seahawks thump Cardinals, move to 11-4

Sunday, December 21st, 2014

In what was dubbed the biggest regular season game in Cardinals history, they were given a spanking. An absolute spanking.

We have seen magic tonight by the Seattle Seahawks” — Cris Collinsworth

Penalties kept it close for a while — and several uncharacteristic misses by Steven Hauschka. In fact that’s pretty much the only negative tonight. How will Hauschka respond? Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby had a night like this once and it spiraled out of control. Is he the type to put it behind him quickly? Who knows. We’ve never needed to ask that question before given his success-rate in Seattle.

Apart from the missed field goals it was just a magnificent display from the NFL’s true top dogs. They’ve fought through the drama. They’re united. And they’re ready for January.

Final score: 35-6

— Russell Wilson was the ultimate playmaker on just an incredible night. He will be a $100m quarterback in the off-season and Seattle can celebrate that fact with gusto.

— Let’s all plead with the Seahawks front office — don’t cut Marshawn Lynch. Keep him. Pay him. Enjoy him. Enough said.

— The offensive line — minus Russell Okung and Max Unger — was superb. For the most part they kept Wilson clean (one sack conceded) and pushed around a formidable Cardinals D-line in the run game. Justin Britt had a much improved performance which is encouraging. In fact he was excellent on first viewing. Alvin Bailey just looked so comfortable on the left side in relief of Okung. They took Lemuel Jeanpierre out as a backup to the injured J.R. Sweezy but he wasn’t needed. Patrick Lewis who did start at center was unnoticeable — which means he played well. Anyone who doubts Tom Cable should always come back to this game to see what a brilliant coach he is. Remember, this is a Cardinals defense that has destroyed so many teams this year.

— You could list the penalty issue as a negative. But this is Seattle under Pete Carroll. They’ve always been penalized. The best teams just get more penalties for some reason. There were some real bonehead flags today (Michael Bennett’s back-to-back offsides) but it didn’t impact the game with the Seahawks dominating so much.

— Luke Willson has everything you want from a playmaking tight end — apart from consistent hands. Today he schooled Larry Foote. If the Seahawks can get him in mismatch situations like this he’ll make more plays. He’s a potential X-factor and a big play artist even if he isn’t Mr. Reliable and the orthodox reliable possession receiver with size they need (and want).

— We’ve talked about Michael Bennett a lot over the last few games. He is legitimately playing as well as any defensive lineman in the league not named J.J. Watt. Tonight he chewed up double teams to allow other linemen to run free. Arizona picked their poison and chose to try and stop Bennett but they couldn’t stop the Seahawks as a unit. He got a sack with three minutes to go and it was thoroughly deserved.

— Jordan Hill has five sacks in his last five games.

— The Seahawks had 596 total yards (a franchise record) compared to Arizona’s 216. The defense now leads the league in yardage and scoring. Only three teams have done that back-to-back in NFL history, including the ’85 Bears. This is a defense for the ages.

— Pete Carroll has lot one game in prime time since arriving in Seattle. One game in five seasons.

A victory against Shaun Hill and the Rams next week will secure the NFC West title and homefield advantage (unless Green Bay and Detroit tie). The Pete Carroll Seahawks are playing as well as they ever have. What a scary thought for the rest of the league.

Nate Orchard is underrated, could be a mid-round pick

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

Utah’s Nate Orchard could be a nice option

When I watched Utah beat UCLA, one player stood out. Nate Orchard had four sacks in the game. He dominated from start to finish. But it wasn’t a surprise.

Brett Hundley has been sacked over 100 times at UCLA in just three years. The Bruins offensive line is a shambles. It’s any wonder Jim Mora hasn’t made a few ‘dirt bag’ references since moving to L.A. So watching a guy like Orchard fly around the field and make plays wasn’t a shock. I kind of chalked it down to a ‘right time, right place’ type of situation.

And then I watched the Oregon State game. It was no fluke. The guy can play.

He has 17.5 sacks on the season so far with a Bowl game to come. He’s about 6-2 and 250lbs — so he doesn’t have great length. And that’s going to be a problem for a lot of teams. He doesn’t have the size to be an every-down pure end in the 4-3. He might be pigeon-holed as an outside backer in the 3-4. But if he’s quick enough he might find a role in Seattle’s rotation.

It’ll be interesting to see what his wingspan is. You wouldn’t expect long arms at 6-2. He consistently flashes a nice get off and the ability to get off blocks. The way he disengages is top notch. While a guy like Shawn Oakman will linger on a block far too long, Orchard has a real ‘get off me’ mentality. That’s encouraging, particularly if the arm length is at least average. It’s more likely to translate.

His pad level is always spot on and he understands leverage and hand placement. Despite a lack of great size he’ll offer a real jolt to the body to stun a tackle. You can have all the speed in the world but when a pass rusher is converting to the pro’s he HAS to show this kind of ability. Defensive end is one of the toughest positions to project for the next level. Think of all the high-profile busts in recent years. Just because you’re a great athlete who wins with speed in college doesn’t mean it’ll translate when you take on better, tougher offensive linemen. You simply have to show you can get off a block with hand placement. It’s a necessity.

You also need to show you can convert speed to power. Orchard does that too. He’ll feign the outside rush and deliver a fantastic bull rush right into the body of an unbalanced tackle. There are times when he gets engulfed but that shouldn’t be a surprise at 250lbs. You’ll take that. He isn’t going to win every play, nobody should expect him to.

I’m not convinced he’ll be an explosive runner at the combine and that could hurt his chances of landing in Seattle. They are big on the 10-yard split. Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin both ran explosive splits. But Orchard’s first step quickness is good enough to be a threat and he does round the edge nicely. In one rush against Oregon State he left the tackle for dead to fly around the edge and get to the QB. He can get stronger — add some muscle tone to his upper half and really improve his lower body power. I think that’d be the way to go given he probably isn’t going to be a 1.50 runner over ten yards.

For me he’d be a very solid mid-round selection. You have to temper expectations because of the size and the lack of brilliant athletic qualities. He doesn’t have the same athleticism as some of the other prospects who will go in the first — or necessarily the upside. But he’s technically superior and has the production. If he performed above expectations at the combine his stock could go through the roof, much like Marcus Smith this year. Don’t rule that out. If Seattle did want to add a little more depth to the edge rush, this is definitely a guy to monitor.

In the aftermath of the Avril extension, Seattle is possibly less likely to go DE early. The offense needs work — particularly if they lose Marshawn Lynch. But they’re likely to add a pass rusher at some stage. Orchard is an option. He’s also a team captain at Utah and he’s already married with a child. He’s a mature guy who will impress teams with his character.

Cliff Avril signs 4-year extension with Seahawks

Friday, December 19th, 2014

Seattle had two significant defensive free agents ready to hit the market in 2015. In the space of 24-hours, both were re-signed to long-term extensions.

Just a day after K.J. Wright committed his future to the Seahawks, Cliff Avril followed suit.

According to Ian Rapoport it’s a four-year deal worth $28m ($16m guaranteed). He’ll get around $7m per year. As Seahawks fans discussed how a possible $34m in cap space next year could keep the team together, John Schneider didn’t waste any time making sure that is the case.

It hasn’t been a great year statistically for Avril. He has 4.5 sacks. If he doesn’t get any more in the last two games it’ll be the worst total in his career. But here’s the thing — Seattle would need to replace him if he left. And that could be more costly than the $28m they just spent. DeMarcus Ware’s cap hit in Denver is nearly $10m this year. It simply wasn’t worth letting Avril join another team on a fair deal, just to overspend to keep him.

Avril was possibly the true Super Bowl MVP last season — harassing Peyton Manning constantly. His bull rush forced Colin Kaepernick into ‘the pick’. His pressure in the playoffs drove Seattle to the title game. He is a key player.

It’s likely they’ll try and add another pass rusher at some stage, possibly via the draft. It’s a deep class of pass rushers. They’ll have some options.

But the last thing they wanted was to go into 2015 with Michael Bennett as their only proven quality defensive end. Losing Avril was a total non-starter. And now they’ll keep him without any drama.

We said it yesterday and it’s still true today. The Seahawks don’t need to splurge in free agency. They were 13-3 last year and 10-4 so far this term. Seattle isn’t used to this kind of success. Keeping this group together and drafting well is the key. Not losing players like Golden Tate chasing a Percy Harvin.

It’ll be interesting to see if any other moves are close. Byron Maxwell for example?

Seahawks sign K.J. Wright to a four-year extension

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

K.J. Wright deserves a new contract. A fourth round pick in 2011, he’s one of Pete Carroll and John Schneider’s greatest decisions. Very few players in this league can fly around the field at 246lbs like Wright. He’s a vital piece in what is becoming the best trio of linebackers in the NFL.

Find me another group that compares. Bobby Wagner gets a lot of plaudits — and rightly so. As Carroll said recently, he’s a 4.4 runner with cornerback speed playing middle linebacker. He’s a terrific blitzer and he dominates in the run game. Seattle needs Wagner — and he’ll almost certainly get a new contract too in the near future.

But don’t underestimate Wright and Bruce Irvin. It’s gone more or less unnoticed, but Irvin in particular has grown into one of the best defensive playmakers in the league. He has 5.5 sacks, a pick-six, multiple TFL’s and he sets the edge against the run. He’s quick enough to handle scrambling quarterbacks, he’s a pass rush threat and he can cover from time to time. He offers all the upside of Julian Peterson but he’s a lot more rounded for the position.

And then there’s Wright. The guy who shuts down athletic tight ends in the passing game. The man who destroyed New Orleans’ screen game in two meetings last season. Mr. Consistent ever since he entered the league. A player versatile enough to play all three linebacker spots — and play them well too. He’s intelligent on the field. A winner. All-in.

No team in the league carries this much speed and power at linebacker. Nobody.

The thing is, you sense they can get even better. The light has switched on for Irvin this year. Wright’s level of performance has never dipped. This is just Wagner’s third season in the league. They had to keep this trio together. Had to. Wright’s extension is just the start.

There’s a reason teams are 0-8 after playing the Seahawks since October. It’s not because of the size up front. There’s no Vince Wilfork in there blowing up the run. There’s no J.J. Watt sapping the energy of the two starting tackles.

The sheer quickness and physicality of the linebackers, backed up nicely by Kam Chancellor at strong safety, is what teams fear the most. It has to be. It’s why opponents get beat up playing the Seahawks.

Whatever the details of this contract extension, it’ll be money well spent. Wagner and Russell Wilson will get their turn. Hopefully Byron Maxwell, J.R. Sweezy, Irvin and others will follow suit.

Within seconds of Tweeting about this news, a Jacksonville Jaguars fan responded to express his disappointment. Gus Bradley and the Jags wouldn’t have been the only suitor. This was a vital move to keep him off the market.

The Seahawks don’t need to splurge on outsiders with their cap space. The Percy Harvin trade showed that. They just need to keep the band together and draft well.

Seahawks with $33.8m cap room in 2015? Plus McShay’s mock

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

It’s been announced that free agency will begin at 4pm on March 10th. According to Overthecap.com the Seahawks could have a veritable bounty to spend.

A projection published today suggests Seattle could have as much as $33.8m in cap space for 2015. Only four teams — Oakland, Jacksonville, the Jets and Cleveland — have more available. In comparison, San Francisco are currently scheduled to be $10m OVER the cap. Ditto the Cardinals. St. Louis could have as little as $5m available.

Of course, teams will find ways to create space. The Rams could make a major saving by cutting injury prone Sam Bradford (or at least re-working his deal).

Likewise the Seahawks could create even more room if, as speculated, Marshawn Lynch leaves in the off-season. That would create another $7m.

It’s unlikely Seattle would use this money to go on a major splurge. The priority will be to re-sign Russell Wilson to a deal worth over $100m. Bobby Wagner stands to get a new contract. There’s probably enough room to keep K.J. Wright and potentially Byron Maxwell. J.R. Sweezy is also a candidate to receive a contract extension. Bruce Irvin, quietly, is having a sensational season. He played every defensive snap against San Francisco and has developed into an important playmaker. He too may require an extension soon. What about Cliff Avril?

It’s easy to neglect that the Seahawks have had three double-digit win seasons for the first time in franchise history. Even if they fail in their quest to repeat this year, Pete Carroll has created a juggernaut. Expensive outsider additions are not entirely necessary. This isn’t a closing window, set to slam shut in the next year or two. The Denver Broncos know Peyton Manning won’t last forever. Seattle has a young, talented core. Keeping the band together and rewarding your own is most important. The Percy Harvin trade is a valuable reminder.

There should still be enough room to make some choice additions. Whether it’s a much needed big target, an extra pass rusher or something else.

It’s worth pointing out the Broncos are scheduled to have $31m free themselves — so forget about Demaryius or Julius Thomas hitting the market. They have the cash to keep both and extend Von Miller’s contract. Tampa Bay’s possible $31m could make it harder to do a deal for Vincent Jackson at a fair price — especially if they pick first and select Marcus Mariota. The New York Jets having as much as $41.4m available could put them at the top of the Ndamukong Suh sweepstakes.

Before it gets brought up — it’s incredibly unlikely Seattle will get anywhere near Suh. Gerald McCoy’s $95.2m deal with the Buccs is a classic benchmark. He’ll probably get more. And the Seahawks are only likely to spend that kind of money on Wilson.

With a bevvy of draft picks likely (multiple compensatory picks), they can fill in the gaps if they keep the roster together. It appears they’ll have the cap space to do it.

And on that note…

Todd McShay’s first mock draft

One of the great talking points over the next couple of months is going to be the stock of Todd Gurley. How is he recovering from knee surgery and a torn ACL? How will teams weigh up talent versus a serious injury and having to estimate whether he can play in 2015? Will there be any long term impact on his performance?

Gurley looked every bit a top-ten prospect during the season. On talent alone he’ll still go early. But if you’re a bad team with a losing record — or even an 8-8 team looking for an impact player — can you justify drafting a first round running back who might need to be redshirted in year one? Or at least managed carefully?

In McShay’s first mock he has Gurley dropping to the Seahawks at pick #29…

“The Seahawks need help along the offensive and defensive lines, and could also look to upgrade at the tight end position. But at this spot, Gurley (assuming Seattle’s doctors were comfortable with his recovery from his torn ACL) would provide high upside as a value pick. Scouts I’ve spoken to considered Gurley a potential top 10-to-20 pick prior to his injury, because of his combination of tremendous power and breakaway speed. Marshawn Lynch has only one year left on his contract after this season, and isn’t a lock to be on the roster for 2015. The closest NFL comparison I can come up with for Gurley is Lynch.”

I’m not totally sold on the Lynch comparison. Gurley is 230lbs. Lynch is 215lbs but plays like a 230lbs running back. That’s the difference. He has unnatural strength, a unique running style and an ability to break tackles that we just won’t see for a generation. He is a genuine freak of nature — a true beast. Gurley runs with power and authority — but you’d expect that for his size.

That’s not to say he isn’t unique in his own way. Lynch’s greatest talent is to play way above his size. Gurley is a true home-run hitter despite being so big. He can avoid tackles and pound it up the middle. He can also take it to the house any time he has the ball. In the season opener against Clemson he had a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown. He had another called back against Auburn. Speed, agility, shiftiness, acceleration — Gurley’s different because he moves so well at 230lbs.

Will the injury compromise that talent? It’s a question that’ll be asked by every front office when they check out Gurley’s medical pre-draft.

The Seahawks wouldn’t have any chance to get Gurley without this issue. They’re good enough to redshirt him — with or without Lynch — or wait to use him midway through his rookie year. It’d be a stroke of luck to find another generational talent as one in Lynch comes close to the end. Even if it comes with an element of risk.