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Instant reaction: Seahawks beat Raiders, improve to 5-3

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

This was a relatively comfortable yet strangely unsatisfying 30-23 victory. Seattle sputtered on offense and had a day to forget on special teams. A banged up defense again generated some pass rush and flashed some 2013 form in the secondary — even it was far from a flawless display.

The injury situation is incredible right now. Kam Chancellor, Russell Okung, Max Unger, Byron Maxwell, Bobby Wagner, Zach Miller and Jeremy Lane are all missing. Seattle fielded its fourth choice center. Valuable backups like Jeron Johnson are also out. This team is decimated and any kind of win was going to be valuable today.

With no depth remaining its no surprise the special teams play is suffering. Seattle uncharacteristically gave up some big gains, they had a punt blocked for a touchdown and Steven Hauschka missed a field goal. They nearly gave up an onside kick at the end when Cooper Helfet let the ball slip through his grasp. Without the quick thinking of Jermaine Kearse the Raiders would’ve had the ball at midfield with a chance to drive for the win.

Seattle must get healthy to restore some order. They can ill afford special teams play like this and against St. Louis.

Offensively it was just a sluggish day from start to finish. Russell Wilson never got into a rhythm. For every good play he seemed to have 2-3 bad ones. He dodged two major bullets — a dropped interception by D.J. Hayden and a near pick-six by the same player. The Raiders did a great job containing the bootleg right with Khalil Mack. It’s no shock the pass protection suffered at times missing the starting left tackle and center. James Carpenter also left the game with a bad ankle.

The Seahawks can’t revert to a conventional passing offense for situations like this because everything about them is so unconventional. It’s a great dilemma. Wilson needs movement — he needs to get out of the pocket. It also puts a great strain on the offensive line — half the time they don’t know what he’s going to do. Sometimes he encourages pressure because he’s so mobile and quick to bolt. When he’s not having a great day the passing game just suffers. There’s not really a solution other than feeding Marshawn Lynch, which in fairness they did today.

Justin Britt is not playing well recently. Today he just looked lost. On one key pressure he allowed two rushers off the edge a free run to Wilson. Luke Willson chipped and went downfield, Britt clearly didn’t have a grasp on his assignment and it was costly. Just one example, there were several. They might need to consider adding extra protection to his side next week with the continued absence of Zach Miller.

Luke Willson, for all his great athleticism and ability to find the right spot, has hands of stone. I counted four catchable drops today. It’s hard to criticize him too much a week after he scored the game winning touchdown. But those big plays are too sporadic — his general play more hindrance than help. The Seahawks are crying out for a big target in the passing game and the player with the most potential to provide it can’t make consistent, basic grabs.

Whatever happens the rest of the way it’s stating the obvious to say Seattle absolutely must prioritize getting a tall receiver or tight end who can act as a go-to target. Attacking the perimeter all the time with shorter receivers isn’t always effective. Wilson needs an outlet he can deliberately over throw or challenge to high point a tough catch and work the middle.

This could be the most important addition next year. Seattle does not have enough difference making size at receiver. They have two big stars on offense — Lynch (who is reportedly on the way out) and Wilson. You cannot pay Wilson $100m and then expect miracles minus Beast Mode. Even if they draft Todd Gurley next April they need to make sure the investment at quarterback is not a total waste. Lynch was the best player on the field today and more specifically the best receiving target. If the focus is drifting towards the QB he’s going to need an equally effective running back and better weapons. I like Kearse but he had one catch on seven targets today for a grand total of four yards.

On a positive note I thought Alvin Bailey had a decent game at left tackle. If they weren’t so intent on pushing Britt at right tackle you could probably make a case for starting Okung and Bailey at the two spots.

On defense it was good to see Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett continue their recent upturn in form. Richard Sherman finally got a catchable ball for his first interception of the year and Bruce Irvin made an outstanding play on the pick six.

The Seahawks will get a tough game against the Giants next week. Eli Manning is running the type of offense that has started to hurt Seattle. They better hope for some good news on the injury front this week.

Thoughts on Georgia vs Florida (Dante Fowler, Leonard Floyd)

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

Dante Fowler Jr should be a first round pick next year

Dante Fowler Jr is a terrific player with great range. He had one big sack working against a tight end off the edge — flashing by with ease thanks to a great dip and lean. He matches athleticism with hustle — a couple of times he worked off blocks through sheer determination to get the quarterback out of the pocket. He was also dropping into coverage from the linebacker spot with relative ease. We didn’t see much of him lining up inside — but he’s shown he can do that too.

He pretty much fits every scheme. He can work the edge as a pure DE, he’s loose enough to feature as a 3-4 OLB. He could even feature at outside linebacker in a 4-3 and move to the edge in nickel like we’re seeing with Bruce Irvin at the moment.

This is a great year for defensive ends and outside linebackers. Fowler is right there with the best eligible for 2015 and a sure-fire first round pick.

On the other side Leonard Floyd had absolutely no impact for Georgia. I’m still trying to work out what all the fuss is about. Florida didn’t throw much so it’s not like he could get after the quarterback. But still. The Gators ran for over 400 yards overall — the most Georgia have conceded since 1978. He’s lean and skinny and just looked lost trying to stop the run. Floyd relies totally on a speed rush to be effective and a nice get off. But when he needs to set the edge against the run or get off a block — he struggles. Tight ends were giving him a hard time in this game.

He’s eligible to declare for the 2015 draft as a sophomore because of the Larry Fitzgerald rule. For me — and I’ve said this before — he needs to come back to Georgia next year, add strength (upper & lower body) and develop beyond being a one-dimensional prospect. There are too many other, superior, defensive ends ready to pack out round one. In the top-25 projection I made earlier in the week, there were seven DE/OLB players on the list. Hey — it’s just one man’s opinion. But for me Floyd will not be among the top 5-6 players at his position if he declares.

On a more positive note, Florida senior defensive tackle Darious Cummings had a decent game and recorded a sack late on rushing the interior. He’s 6-1 and 297lbs and a player I’ll have another look at down the line. Seattle needs interior pass rush help going forward. I also thought Damian Swann had another decent performance at cornerback for Georgia. He worked well defending the run and had another productive day on special teams (including a big block on a kick return). Get him a good DB coach and he has a future.

A way too early thought on what the top-25 could look like

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

I’m not labeling this a mock draft, even if it looks like one. I haven’t gone deep into positional need. It’s more an exercise in offering a take on the players I think have impressed this year, for those who give a crap.

The draft order used here is lifted from the current ‘league’ standings on NFL.com.

Yes, Seattle are pinned next to a running back. No, don’t read much into it. I will make this point though. Seattle has two offensive superstars — Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch. However much the pass rush looks like a huge need right now, if Lynch does indeed depart next off-season — they can’t pay Wilson $100m and expect miracles. He’s going to need help. They need an impact player to replace Lynch.

Robert Turbin has not done enough to suggest he’s the heir apparent to Lynch. We can say with some confidence he isn’t. I’m not convinced Seattle has ever trusted Christine Michael. Despite his clear potential, he’s constantly been kept at arm’s length. And then this yesterday:

The running backs coach is on the radio saying Michael isn’t “fundamentally sound”. For what it’s worth, I understand his pain. Watch any college football game this weekend. You’ll see running backs with no future at the next level switching the ball from right to left as they head to the sideline. It’s such a basic thing.

The idea that Michael suddenly becomes the feature back appears fanciful. A best case scenario is probably he’s part of a committee next year.

They’re going to bring in a running back if Lynch goes. And I’m not convinced in the slightest they’ll be satisfied going after a mid-to-late round plodder who just adds to the competition. Replacing Lynch will be the toughest thing Pete Carroll does post-Super Bowl. Seriously.

Does this mean they’ll draft a running back in round one? Not necessarily. But I think they’ll consider it for the right player. I bet they’d love to have Todd Gurley — one of the best players to turn pro in several years in my opinion (and I started the season as a skeptic). I can see some interest in Melvin Gordon too. I’m not arguing for this or anything — it’s a take. The defensive line remains the #1 off-season priority unless there’s a major improvement in the second half of the season. But we should at least discuss alternatives.

1 OAK — Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon)
2 NYJ — Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
3 JAC — Randy Gregory (LB, Nebraska)
4 TB — La’el Collins (T/G, LSU)
5 TEN — Shawn Oakman (DE, Baylor)
6 ATL — Alvin ‘Bud’ Dupree (DE, Kentucky)
7 STL — Jameis Winston (QB, Florida State)
8 WAS — Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson)
9 MIN — Andrus Peat (T, Stanford)
10 CHI — Shaq Thompson (LB, Washington)
11 NYG — Dante Fowler Jr (Florida)
12 NO — Leonard Williams (DE, USC)
13 CAR — Shane Ray (DE, Missouri)
14 HOU — Bendarick McKinney (LB, Mississippi State)
15 SEA — Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
16 SF — Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama)
17 MIA — Markus Golden (DE, Missouri)
18 KC — Brandon Scherff (T, Iowa)
20 CLE — Cedric Ogbuehi (T, Texas A&M)
21 SD — T.J. Clemmings (T, Pittsburgh)
22 PIT — Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB, Oregon)
23 IND — Corey Robinson (T, South Carolina)
24 GB — Cameron Erving (T, Florida State)
25 CLE — Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)

2015 NFL Draft status check: Thoughts on 32 eligible prospects

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

LSU’s La’el Collins is one of the best three players eligible for the 2015 draft

The big three…

The following three draft-eligible players are the best I’ve seen this year. A lot can (and will) change. But these three have played at a consistently high level and have every chance to work into the top range of prospects for 2015.

Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon)
Still the best candidate by far to go first overall. If Oakland ends up with the top pick they should start Derek Carr next year and let both players compete. Mariota can be as productive as Colin Kaepernick. He hasn’t quite got the same arm strength — but he might be more accurate. Cool, calm and collected — and a big time playmaker.

Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
Just a terrific player. There’s no point marking him down because of the failure of previous running backs drafted in the top five (eg Trent Richardson). Gurley is a massive running back but he plays with light feet. Very few runners with his size possess this kind of home-run hitting ability. He’s a rare talent and has really improved in 2014.

La’el Collins (T/G, LSU)
A dedicated leader and thoroughly mature individual. Collins is the captain of the LSU offense and deserves so much more attention. He could be a perennial Pro-Bowler at guard but has shone at tackle this year. He’s an accomplished run blocker who never gets flustered. The best 2015-eligible offensive lineman and for me — it aint that close.

And the rest…

I could’ve added more players, but these are the 32 I wanted to comment on today based on what I’ve seen during the 2014 season. This is not a big board. Some of the players listed here won’t get close to the first round.

Bud Dupree (DE, Kentucky)
Another big character guy with a ton of talent. I’ve spent the last three days watching his tape and it’s time to get on board. Dupree combines a relentless attitude with great speed off the edge. He can act as a LEO, work into the 3-4 or just play as an orthodox edge rusher — even at his size he sets the edge nicely. Explosive.

Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama)
He’s back to his best this year and the way he burned off those Tennessee defensive backs at the weekend showed a blast of speed that’ll really bolster his stock. He’s not a prototypical #1 receiver with great size, but he’s a natural receiver who shares some of A.J. Green’s innate ability to play the position. Could be the next Reggie Wayne.

Shawn Oakman (DE, Baylor)
Oakman has drifted in and out of Baylor’s key games this year and struggled to make an impact against TCU and West Virginia. And yet there simply aren’t that many human beings with his size and athleticism (6-8, 280lbs). He has to be a high pick based on the insane ceiling he possesses. He’s a better prospect than Ziggy Ansah.

Andrus Peat (T, Stanford)
He’s the next best offensive lineman after La’el Collins and the most natural left tackle. Unlike Cedric Ogbuehi and Brandon Scherff, Peat is actually a competent pass protector. He’s technically quite accomplished and just needs to avoid lunging. He has ideal size. He’s not a great run blocker like the others, but he’ll start at left tackle for several years.

Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson)
Great speed off the edge and production to die for (29 career sacks in as many games). Beasley’s been a terror for three seasons now. He doesn’t have great length and this will be a slight concern. He chose not to declare for the 2014 draft. His get-off, competitive edge and third-down capabilities will attract a lot of interest.

Shaq Thompson (LB, Washington)
How many defensive prospects get bumped to running back for a full game? That happened to Thompson at the weekend. He’s just a fantastic athlete and a thoroughly modern day first round pick. He has multiple defensive touchdowns this year and will be a high pick. The NFL draft seems to churn out super-athletic linebackers ever year these days. Thompson is the next in line.

Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
He glides as a runner with long graceful steps. He looks like a gazelle. He’s added good weight over the years without losing a step — but he’s still not a great between-the-tackles runner. The extra blocking duties this year will be a big help to his stock. He can be a real X-factor at the next level as a runner and receiver — but can he get the tough yards inside?

Shane Ray (DE, Missouri)
Part of a big-time tag-team with the next name on this list. Ray knows how to get to the quarterback — he can rush the edge, stunt inside and he plays with his hair on fire. He’s not the biggest and won’t be a measurable king — but he just has a knack for making plays. The question is — does his game translate to the next level? If it does, watch out.

Markus Golden (DE, Missouri)
He’s been slowed a little by a nagging hamstring strain — but that hasn’t stopped Golden sacking QB’s, scoring touchdowns and making plays. He’s a terrific athlete with great size and balance. He’s better than Melvin Ingram was at South Carolina. He’s the only player who gave first round pick Ja’Wuan James a problem in 2013.

Jameis Winston (QB, Florida State)
As much as you want to knock him (and I do) for all the off-field nonsense and controversy — he somehow manages to stay focused and perform. He’d be a better option for at least 10-12 NFL teams compared to their current starters. In a cultured, pass happy offense he will put up big stats. But can you trust him?

Benardrick McKinney (LB, Mississippi State)
If you want to know why Miss State is doing so well this year, here’s one key reason. McKinney could be the player Rolando McClain was expected to be at Alabama. He’s got the size to play inside linebacker in the 3-4. Hits like a sledgehammer and quickly closes any running lanes.

Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)
What’s not to like? He has the size and speed, he high points the football superbly. He’s had an impact in every WVU game this year — even in blanket coverage. What’s more he’s quickly becoming the heart and soul of the Mountaineers offense. Nobody has done more to improve their stock in 2014.

Josh Robinson (RB, Mississippi State)
‘The human cannonball’ — and he plays that way. Robinson is short and squat with tremendous lower body power and enough speed to keep a defense honest. He breaks tackles, fights for extra yardage and still makes big plays. He’s a bit like a more compact version of Michael Turner.

Hau’oli Kikaha (DE, Washington)
Nobody has more sacks in the NCAA (14.5 so far). He isn’t a special athlete and by the time the combine comes around, he might struggle to maintain the obvious momentum he currently has. And yet he just finds ways to sack the QB. His play this year demands respect.

Leonard Williams (DE, USC)
It’s not that I don’t rate Williams. He holds the edge well and does a good job swatting at the ball. He has some nice athletic qualities for his size and the way he played through the pain against Stanford was admirable. And yet he doesn’t live in the backfield, doesn’t look like a brilliant 4-3 DE or three technique. If he’s best at the five, what does that mean for his stock?

Randy Gregory (LB, Nebraska)
He’s not been at 100% all year and that’s perhaps limited his ability to make waves this year. He’s a brilliant looking prospect in pads — tall, lean without being skinny and he moves well for the size. The thing is, he’s a better blitzing linebacker than a pure pass rusher. For me he’s strictly a project if you’re thinking 4-3 DE.

Dante Fowler Jr (DE, Florida)
The Gators are a shambolic mess and it’s had an impact on Fowler’s performance. With a productive supporting cast he had a chance to compete for a top five spot. He can still regain momentum at the combine. Fowler is an active, versatile pass rusher who can line up inside or out.

Cedric Ogbuehi (T, Texas A&M)
Does anyone consider him a left tackle prospect any more? He’s struggled all year conceding nearly double digit sacks. A return to the right side could be inevitable. It’s hard to imagine he’ll go as early as some people are projecting. He needs a lot of work.

Brandon Scherff (T, Iowa)
Run blocking? Perfectly acceptable. Pass protection? Stiff, awkward and asking for trouble. He’ll punish you head on and he loves to drive people off the spot in the run game. But even at the college level he looks like a future liability in the passing game. He might be limited to a spot on the right or even at guard.

Danny Shelton (DT, Washington)
Big nose tackle prospect and you have to love the way he plays the game. Brings the attitude every week with a real mean streak. Pushes people around. Is he a good athlete for the size? That’s the key question. Big guys who aren’t special athletes don’t go much higher than the middle rounds, even if they’re good. If he turns a few heads at the combine — his stock will sky rocket.

Ameer Abdullah (RB, Nebraska)
You can’t argue with his production and ability to ‘wow’ with big plays. He’s a very patient runner. However, he just looks like a player with a limited role at the next level. He’s not an every down back at 5-9 and 190lbs. He’ll need to make the most of his snaps. Prediction? He’ll start as a 6-8 carry player with potential and eventually fade away.

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB, Oregon)
Not a good year so far — and he had a few tough days last season too. Can he really play outside? Or is he limited to working in the slot? Teams are willing to take slot corners early these days. He could still be a first round pick in that role, but he’s not lived up to the lofty expectations.

Jordan Phillips (DT, Oklahoma)
Another big nose tackle. He flashed rare athleticism on a big-time fumble return early in the year, sprinting the length of the field for a score (the play was called back on a lousy penalty call). He plays on a pro-ready D-line and that helps, but he’s made some key plays rushing the passer too. Phillips had injury problems last year (back).

Leonard Floyd (DE, Georgia)
Looks a bit like Aaron Maybin. Too lean and needs to add weight. Nobody doubts his potential but the best thing to do is return next year, add core strength and get another year in the SEC. He has a great get off but he can’t shake a block, he has no counter. At the next level he will be found out unless he improves.

Devin Funchess (WR, Michigan)
Ideal size to be a #1 (6-4, 235lbs) and he has experience at tight end and receiver. He does a good job working the seam, making the most of a physical mismatch and he provides a nice big target for the quarterback. However — he doesn’t really do anything well technically and he has too many mental errors. The potential’s off the charts, but he might look better than he is. You could argue it’s difficult to judge him in a miserable Michigan offense.

Marcus Peters (CB, Washington)
At times he looks physical and gritty — but he will give up plays too. He’s Marshawn Lynch’s cousin. He’s been involved in too much drama and he’s missed games as a consequence. There’s no doubting his potential and with the right coaching he could easily start in the NFL. But how concerning is the character stuff? And can he be more consistent?

Shilique Calhoun (DE, Michigan State)
I’ve watched several Michigan State games over the last two years — and at no point have I ever come away impressed with Calhoun. He just looks, well, a bit soft. He got pushed around in the Big Ten Championship last season and the same thing happened at Oregon this year. I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.

T.J. Yeldon (RB, Alabama)
Who expected DeMarco Murray to turn into a dominating power/speed back? At Oklahoma he was more of a receiving option out of the backfield. You could kind of see Yeldon developing into an effective runner over time. He’s a former 5-star recruit, there’s definitely something there. But it’s so much more fun watching Derrick Henry run the ball. Yeldon’s one to watch, but he might be a bit of a gamble.

Duke Johnson (RB, Miami)
He’s not an up-the-gut runner. It’s hard to imagine him carrying the rock with any authority at the next level. He’s more effective in space as a pass-catcher. His best role in the NFL might be as a return man or third down back. It’s hard to get too excited, even if you have to love a ball-carrier with the name ‘Duke’.

Why the idea of an early round RB isn’t so ridiculous

Monday, October 27th, 2014

Amid all the Marshawn Lynch speculation yesterday, the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport had a lot to say about Seattle’s plans at the running back position…

I find it hard to believe Seattle, somehow, is leaking information to the media on their plans for a draft that is five months away. The idea is quite ridiculous in fact. The scouts are out watching games every week, so is John Schneider. They’ll know players they like, sure. But it’s way too early to say with any certainty that a running back will be a first or second round target next April.

At yet I’ll concede it’s very easy to imagine John Schneider getting a Russell Wilson-level man-crush over Melvin Gordon and/or Todd Gurley.

Both players are very talented. Gordon runs like a gazelle, has great vision plus breakaway speed and he can be a home run hitter. With a greater role this year he’s been asked to do more blocking and he’s added good size too. He’s an athletic playmaker with a sturdy frame.

Gurley is a phenom. Yes he’s big and powerful — but he’s also a terrific athlete with incredible breakaway speed. People compare him to Lynch but it’s a poor comparison. Gurley is much more of a threat to take it the distance, he’s also bigger than Lynch. Yet he lacks that unique, unmatched quality to break tackles that will live and die with Beast Mode in this league.

Seattle’s running game would look very different subtracting Lynch and installing either of these two players. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Sometimes change can be a good thing, even if Lynch has been such a terrific acquisition for this team.

We have no idea where either player will fall in the draft — another reason why Rapoport’s speculation isn’t worth paying much attention to in late October. For me Gurley is possibly the first, second or third best player eligible for the 2015 draft along with Marcus Mariota and La’el Collins. I’m a convert after some skepticism entering the season. Trent Richardson went third overall. Will that scare teams off? Could Gurley provide a dynamic, instant playmaking quality to a team like Jacksonville, for example, that has recently spent first round picks at quarterback and left tackle?

It could happen. Or he could end up lasting a while — such is the feeling that you can find productive runners later on (DeMarco Murray, for example, is a third round pick).

We just don’t know.

However, I can see a scenario where the Seahawks do go early on a running back if one of these two dynamic players makes it to Seattle’s pick — and they fill some other needs in free agency.

The Seahawks have put a lot of emphasis on the running game. It’s part of the teams DNA. And it didn’t really get going until they put together a functional offensive line and traded for Lynch. Even with Pete Carroll highlighting the run and trying to make it the identity of the Seahawks — no team in 2010 were as poor as Seattle running the ball. Lynch was absolutely integral in establishing Carroll’s philosophy. The offense without him is still pretty unimaginable.

Moving on from Lynch will be the hardest thing this team has to do in terms of a pure football move. Forget all the other stuff — the apparent dysfunction with Carroll/Schneider and whatever else is being reported. Forget about it. From a pure talent perspective it will be a major turning point when the Seahawks say, “no more”. This will be, officially, the passing of the torch to Russell Wilson.

I think we know they’re comfortable with this. They’ll definitely pay Wilson a huge contract in 2015 and he’ll take on even more responsibility than before. He’s a successful, hard working individual and the type Carroll and co want at the forefront of this roster.

They’re also ready, it seems, to put young talent beneath him. Players who can follow Wilson. Players who walk into that locker room and admire him, respect him. Will work with him and for him. Will listen, learn and improve. Will be “all in”.

It seems clear that Percy Harvin and Lynch aren’t or weren’t willing to do that. Wilson’s coronation didn’t sit comfortably with the two other veteran stars on offense. One is gone, one is going.

Seattle will probably hope Paul Richardson can develop and be a young playmaker at receiver, learning with Wilson. Ditto Kevin Norwood. They already have two respectable veteran receivers in Doug Baldwin (paid this year) and Jermaine Kearse (paid next year?). They will probably identify a veteran to come in and help out (a big target at receiver or tight end) but that will probably be a carefully selected individual after the issues with Harvin.

And then there’s the running back position. The best way to soften the blow of Lynch’s departure would be to get a big time X-factor at the position. Go big. Potentially go get a Gurley or a Gordon. A young player who will know his place with the talent to be productive quickly. They could target later round RB’s but it becomes a bit of a crap shoot. If you believe Gurley or Gordon will be a star, why hesitate to keep the running game at the top?

They’ve shown they’re willing to draft runners early (see: Christine Michael). As for Michael and Robert Turbin — they’ll probably get an expanded role too. At USC Carroll loved to bring in 5-star recruits at running back and let them compete. An extra playmaker would be ideal — Turbin could end up being a Marcel Reece-style full back going forward (why not?) and there still appears to be some trust issues with Michael.

I get this is just some classic October spit-balling. I get that people won’t like it. Football fans constantly want to draft for the offensive or defensive line. Seattle has possible needs in both areas next year. And yet if they make some shrewd acquisitions in free agency you just never know. Maybe Rapoport’s hints at a big splash at running back could come true? I’m not saying it’d be right or that it’s what I want to happen. I’m just suggesting it could.

Tomorrow I’ll publish a ‘top-20′ prospects so far list. Expect a 1-2-3 of Mariota, Gurley and La’el Collins. Kentucky’s brilliant Bud Dupree will also be included.

Instant reaction: Seahawks beat Panthers 13-9, move to 4-3

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Wilson’s Seahawks beat Newton’s Panthers for the third straight season

Make no mistake, this was an absolutely crucial win.

The Seahawks head into back-to-back home games at 4-3. If they were 3-4, the noise could’ve been too loud for even Russell Wilson to ignore. The national media sees a story in Seattle. Whether it’s Wilson’s status in the locker room, the future of Marshawn Lynch or the aftermath of the Percy Harvin trade — there’s a pound of flesh for one and all. The defending champs losing three in a row would’ve been like throwing petrol on on a blossoming garbage fire.

This wasn’t a pretty victory, but it was pretty gutty. Seattle blew a host of missed opportunities to make this a fairly comfortable encounter and still managed to win thanks to Wilson’s late game winning drive.

If I missed anything in this little review, let me know:

— The Seahawks defense dropped two catch-able interceptions. Tharold Simon saw the first smack him in the chest, K.J. Wright failed to pull in a diving attempt at midfield.

— Marshawn Lynch let a Wilson pass zip through his fingers leading to a red zone interception. It should’ve been caught and took a minimum of three points off the board before half time.

— Wilson missed a wide open Cooper Helfet for a sure touchdown. He was close to crossing the original LOS, but the ugly pass that wobbled out of Wilson’s hands was bizarre and took an easy seven off the board.

— Backup center Stephen Schilling botched a snap leading to another red zone turnover. Again, points came off the board.

— Michael Bennett failed to complete a sack of Cam Newton in the end zone. Seattle lost a safety and moments later on 3rd and long Newton completed a 50-yard bomb to Kelvin Benjamin. Overall it created a 5-point swing and gave Carolina a 9-6 lead late in the fourth.

Usually when you have such a list of missed opportunities, you lose a football game. Seattle found a way to win — and that’s exactly what they needed to do to get this season back on track.

Wilson didn’t have his best game overall but when it mattered — he produced a huge drive. The winning touchdown to Luke Willson was inch perfect, the overall drive reminiscent of the one Aaron Rodgers produced recently to beat Miami. The top QB’s in the game, when given an opportunity to drive for the win, usually get it done. Wilson was robbed of the chance last week because of the fake punt in St. Louis. He made the Panthers pay this time.

The other big positive was a major improvement to the pass rush. Seattle had a lot of success pressing Newton — forcing an interception for Marcus Burley on one productive rush and ending the game with two Bruce Irvin sacks. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril had better games. Brandon Mebane also had a vital sack in the fourth quarter.

I’ll watch the game again in the week to study if there’s anything obvious Seattle did differently. They were playing a banged up line with four UDFA’s starting for Carolina. Left tackle Byron Bell was also in and out of the game with an injury. It’s still a positive sign — and Seattle aren’t facing elite offensive linemen in the next fortnight (vs Oakland, New York Giants).

An underrated aspect of the win? Greg Olsen was invisible. Whether it’s because he was asked to do more blocking with a dodgy line, who knows? Tight ends have had success against Seattle recently and he’s a dangerous weapon. Benjamin had a day against the LOB, but Olsen was a total non-factor.

Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood also had an impact, which was good to see. However, one lingering problem remains and could still be addressed before Tuesday’s trade deadline.

The Seahawks are not a good red zone offense, especially when time is tight. When they can’t run because of the clock, they don’t have a single red zone target who creates a distinct mismatch. Who can they throw a fade to? Who can they stick on a linebacker and deliberately overthrow to challenge the receiver? Kudos to Willson for making the big play late on — but so far he’s not provided a red zone threat. Neither has the injured Zach Miller.

Look at the way Newton could throw the ball to an area where only Benjamin could get it. He did this several times even with Sherman in coverage. Benjamin dropped a red zone target in the first half on one of those occasions.

The Seahawks need this type of receiver and that is why they’re reportedly looking at Vincent Jackson.

The dynamic of this offense will receive a huge boost if Wilson gets that red zone target. It’s not about getting a pure #1 who can put up 120 yards every week. It’s about finishing drives and turning 0-3 points into seven. They’d probably use Jackson more like a glorified joker tight end. I appreciate a lot of fans want to focus on both lines — I get it. But whatever happens, this is going to be a priority whether it’s before Tuesday or in the off-season. They are going to go after either a big-time tight end or a tall, physical wide out. Why else are they even considering Jackson? Why else did they ask about the top tight ends in the game when trying to deal Harvin?

Continuing issues in the red zone today plus Tampa Bay’s agonizing loss at home to Minnesota could be the catalyst to a deal. We’ll see. Despite all the reports nobody is saying it’s likely — plus other teams like Philadelphia and New England are also said to be interested. They might feel it’s their best bet to get a big target — who really believes Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron will hit the open market? And there aren’t many options in the draft.

If you missed the chatter on Marshawn Lynch earlier, check out this morning’s piece. Perhaps the most interesting thing about it all is Ian Rapoport hinting — on more than one occasion — that Seattle will draft a running back early in the 2015 draft.

Report: Seahawks have “grown tired” of Marshawn Lynch

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

All the talk of dysfunction will not go away.

Last week Seattle went to St. Louis with the Percy Harvin trade lingering like a bad smell. Now they head to Carolina with the future of Marshawn Lynch in apparent doubt.

Following the Harvin trade there was a report, since disputed, that Lynch nearly didn’t board the bus taking the team to the airport for the Rams game. He held out over the summer before returning with a re-tweaked deal. From the outside it appears Seattle has tolerated Lynch ever since his arrival because he was such a vital factor on offense. He had a little more rope than some of the other players. Those days are seemingly coming close to an end.

Mike Silver — a fellow Cal alumni and one of the few reporters close to Lynch — had an interesting report on the NFL Network today:

There’s also this:

If Lynch is more ‘complain mode’ than ‘beast mode’ these days — Seattle, and Pete Carroll specifically, have probably come to the end of their tether.

There appears to have been some shift towards Russell Wilson this year — not in terms of the philosophy (run heavy) but certainly in terms of responsibility and making him the identity of the team on offense (with Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor the key defensive pieces). Those roles previously rested with the likes of Lynch, Red Bryant and Chris Clemons. Wilson is going to receive a contract worth over $100m in 2015 and he will become the unquestioned ‘face of the franchise’ going forward. If Lynch’s attitude threatens to undermine that — it won’t be a surprise if he suffers the same fate as Harvin.

In the short term this cannot help the team. If there’s bad blood with Lynch — short of cutting him and hoping for a miracle — what chance has this team got of repeating? Almost none. Last year, even if there were differences we didn’t know about, it seemed like everyone was pulling in the same direction. Now the Seahawks look like a team in transition.

What’s most troubling is the inability to do anything now that won’t further rock the boat. Cutting or trading the popular Lynch could create a mutiny in what appears to be a locker room with some issues. Keeping hold of him, if he is becoming a growing problem behind the scenes, might have an equally negative impact. Can they manage the situation? Can Lynch get back to producing big performances on the field in this atmosphere?

When Lynch goes he’ll be impossible to replace, whenever it happens. He is totally unique. That’s not to say Seattle can’t succeed with a different type of runner, but that rare physical style will be missing. Todd Gurley is not Marshawn Lynch. Melvin Gordon isn’t Marshawn Lynch. There is no equal to Lynch.

But there are good (albeit different) players out there. Just yesterday we highlighted Miss State’s Josh Robinson — a stout, shorter runner who breaks tackles and has enough speed to be a threat. Given Seattle’s needs on the defensive line and, potentially, the offensive line, it’s unlikely they go big early at the running back position. But hey — you could equally see John Schneider and Pete Carroll becoming enamored with a runner like Gurley or Gordon — both terrific players. So you never know. Ian Rapoport is hinting at a high pick on the position:

Either way the Seahawks are facing a moment of real evolution — if not quite revolution. A Seattle without Lynch was unimaginable three weeks ago. Now it seems entirely possible.

But before you panic too much here’s some calming words from a former Seahawks favorite, Michael Robinson.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks are reportedly one of several teams monitoring a potential trade for Vincent Jackson:

Adam Schefter suggests Doug Martin is more likely to be traded by Tampa Bay:

***Update***

Chris Mortensen has now put this piece together, suggesting the following:

— The Seahawks would’ve possibly been open to trading Lynch before Tuesday’s deadline, but Derrick Coleman’s broken foot has limited their options. Mortensen has since Tweeted that Lynch is not on the trading block.

— Russell Wilson knew Harvin was on the way out for a month and actually argued the case for him remaining in Seattle, until he was told it was a “futile” attempt.

— Wilson has been asked to limit his endorsements.

Thoughts on Miss State @ Kentucky & Brandon Scherff

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Kentucky’s senior DE Bud Dupree could be a first round candidate

Thoughts on Miss State @ Kentucky

Josh Robinson (RB, Miss State) looks like a smaller version of Michael Turner and deserves a chance in the NFL. He has superb lower body power, enough speed and he can make the big play. He had a crucial 73-yard run for a touchdown in this one, dodging tackles and cutting his way to the end zone. All the attention goes to Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon and others — but do not sleep on Robinson. He’s not a flashy player who will go early — but I bet he’ll get a shot at the next level and has a chance to make it happen. On one play he broke six tackles, doubled back on a run up the middle and bounced outside to get a first down. He’s a powerful ‘cannonball’ style runner with a future.

Keep an eye on Patrick Towles (QB, Kentucky) going forward. He made some big time throws in this game into some tight windows. Admittedly he was fractionally off on some easier, shorter attempts to the outside. He can work on that. Some of the downfield stuff he showed today is just innate. He’s also a fantastic athlete for 6-5 and 238lbs — he had a 48 yard run and scored two rushing touchdowns. He ended with 390 yards passing against the #1 team in the country adding two more passing scores. He didn’t turn the ball over. He’s a talented sophomore who could eventually work his way into the early round conversation in 2016 or 2017.

Kentucky corner Blake McCain also impressed as a potential slot corner prospect. He’s 5-11 and around 195lbs. He was physical — competing well against the run and delivering one huge (clean) hit over the middle on a receiver. He also looked sharp in coverage, making one nice break-up in the corner of the end zone against a taller wide out. He’s also only a sophomore but again he’s another to monitor going forward.

After the game Kentucky Head Coach Mark Stoops touted senior pass rusher Alvin ‘Bud’ Dupree as a first round draft pick. He had at least two sacks in this game, showed a high motor throughout and had one big QB hurry. He looks like an impact player and better still, he used his hands well today to go along with the speed. He’s around 6-3/6-4 and 265lbs. He’s a definite LEO candidate. Very interesting prospect and reports suggest he’s also a big time character guy. Great get off, better than you’d expect against the run. He’s a playmaker and the first round talk is legit. In Kentucky’s upset win over South Carolina recently, Dupree scored a game-winning pick-six.

Miss State linebacker Benardrick McKinney is such an underrated player. He’s a beast at linebacker — constantly swallowing up running lanes and hitting with ferocity. He has perfect size for the inside linebacker role in a 3-4 at 6-5 and 245lbs. He’s a monster, an absolute beast and he’s destined to be an early pick if he declares for the 2015 draft. He also moves well for the size. He could end up being the player Rolando McClain could’ve been (and in a strange way kind of is right now for Dallas).

Thoughts on Iowa’s Brandon Scherff

I feel like the more you watch the group of potential 2015 offensive tackles, the less excited you become. Cedric Ogbuehi (T, Texas A&M) has had a torrid year conceding nearly double-digit sacks. Cameron Erving (T, Florida State) has been distinctly hit and miss. Brandon Scherff (T, Iowa) likewise is not having a fantastic season on the evidence I’ve seen over the last few days.

So far La’el Collins (T, LSU) is the only one making big steps forward and improving on last season. His best position at the next level could be guard — he’ll probably be a regular Pro Bowler if he moves inside. And yet after watching the three others — he’s outperforming them all at tackle.

Scherff, like Collins, excels in the running game. He’s at his best pushing people off the line, driving forward and blocking at the second level. He needs no invitation to burst through and take on a linebacker. He’s best suited on a run-heavy offense that values second level blocking — and will be prepared to accept his obvious flaws in pass protection.

It really starts with the footwork and foot speed. He’s just not very good at mirroring a pass rusher, to the point he’s getting beat by mediocre Maryland linebackers rushing a very basic curve off the edge. He’s no counter either — no strong jolt with the hands to disrupt the arc of the rush. You don’t see him get his hands on a DE early, planting and driving them out of the play. It doesn’t take much to beat him and you get a real sense he could be a liability at the next level protecting the edge against the speed rush.

Like Collins he might be better suited moving inside. He’s got a real mean streak in the run game and when he’s blocking head-on he’ll drive people off the ball. Angles are not his friend. When he has to move around or slide to make the block he has problems. When he can look another guy in the eyes and get at it — he has success.

In the last few years there’s been a tendency to go after big time athletic tackles who look good at the combine. The exception is Luke Joeckel — an excellent technician. The first tackle or two off the board next year could be based purely on who does the best at the combine. It’s funny it’s come to this — the combine never used to be a difference maker for this position. And yet watching all the top prospects on tape, none are making a case to be the clear #1.

If I needed an offensive lineman badly, as things stand I’d have La’el Collins at the top of my board. That way you know at least you’re getting a terrific guard if nothing else. It won’t be a total shock, however, if the likes of Scherff and Ogbuehi go a little lower than most currently project.

Kevin White (WR) & La’el Collins (G/T) continue to impress

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

LSU’s La’el Collins — one of the top 2015 prospects

I’ve included tape below of Kevin White’s (WR, West Virginia) latest performance against Baylor and La’el Collins (T/G, LSU) versus a rampant Auburn. These two players have done as much as anyone to boost their stock this year.

White is the leading receiver in college football with 1020 yards and seven touchdowns already. It’ll be a serious miscarriage of justice if Amari Cooper wins the Biletnikoff on reputation alone. Cooper’s even being touted as a Heisman candidate. He’s a technically gifted player, but White’s performing at an even higher level. As you can see below, Baylor had no answer for him. He had eight catches for 132 yards and two scores — but also drew multiple P.I. flags. They couldn’t cover him.

The way he’s playing right now — he deserves to be in the first round conversation. It’s not just the production either — he has good size. He’s high pointing the ball superbly. He’s edgy and competitive. And look at his run blocking — he’s willing to mix it up. He’s not afraid to get involved in the run game.

Ahead of his senior year he’d been accused of lacking confidence and failing to live up to his potential. No such issues this season. He’s the heart and soul of the West Virginia offense. He’s not a brilliant talker off the field, but on it he’s all action. He has the kind of ‘pissed off’ attitude you need to see in a receiver.

The more I watch of Collins, the more convinced I am his future is at guard. He can act as a cover tackle if required — but he’s strong at the point, he’s a road-grader in the run game who controls linemen and knows how to turn a DL to open up lanes. His kick slide isn’t that great and he could struggle against the speed rush. Eliminate the weakness by moving him inside and dominating in the run game. That’s not to say he’s done a poor job at tackle. Generally he looks a lot more comfortable this year. But he could be a regular Pro Bowler at guard.

He’s got a massive frame well suited to the interior (6-4, 324lbs) but holds the weight well. He’s strong and thick in the lower body but has a nice punch and jolt with his hands. See if you can find the play where he dumps a DE on his backside in the video below. Collins can drive people off the point and get to the second level. He has a mean streak but never loses control. Any team that values run blocking as a priority has to be interested in this guy.

Collins is the captain of the offensive line at LSU. He’s a big time character guy — very mature in the way he speaks, calm and authoritative. Hey — he could go in the top ten if teams believe in him at tackle. He’s having a much better year than Cedric Ogbuehi at Texas A&M and Cameron Erving at Florida State. Either way, and it’s still early, I’m not convinced he’ll get out of the top 15 — even if he’s taken as a guard. Ignore positional value and the top three players eligible for 2015 could be Marcus Mariota, Todd Gurley and La’el Collins.

Is Sunday’s game in Carolina the most significant of the season?

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

The Seahawks are 2-0 in Carolina over the last two years

Sunday is significant. This Seahawks team shouldn’t be losing three games in a row. They’re too good, even with the injuries. Yet they face a big challenge to right this ship and avoid what could end up being a wasted season.

Who would’ve forecast the forthcoming problems two weeks ago? The Seahawks were 3-1 having already handily beaten (despite a close finish) the Denver Broncos. Then two defeats and a Percy Harvin fiasco later — the season is on the line.

It’s not a ‘must win’. We’re not at that stage yet. Not with five NFC West games still to come. But avoiding a third straight loss will bring fresh belief and confidence to this team. It will show they can overcome adversity.

Carolina is far from an easy game, even if they too are facing a similar crossroads. They’re 3-3-1 in a wide open NFC South, despite emerging as a contender last season.

The difficulty is, the issues go far beyond bringing together what some argue is a fractured locker-room. That could be a separate challenge, depending on what you want to believe.

Kevin Clark at the Wall Street Journal points out the key ingredient to Seattle’s slump — and it’s nothing to do with Harvin or Russell Wilson:

Last season, the Seahawks sacked the quarterback 12 times in the fourth quarter. This season, they are on pace to do it twice. They have allowed 8 yards per passing attempt in the fourth quarter—up 40% from last season. Most astonishing is the difference in quarterback “hurries,” or rushed passing attempts, late in games: Last season, the Seahawks hurried the opposing quarterback 21 times in the fourth quarter. This season’s total: one.

Bennett, one of the linemen that the Seahawks did hold on to, has played over 70% of Seattle’s defensive snaps in all six games this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Last year, over the entire 16-game season, he played that much only four times. Cliff Avril has played over 60% in five of Seattle’s six games. Last year, all season, he did that twice.

Here’s another stat of note — they’re giving nine more points per game on defense. Nine.

Pete Carroll and John Schneider spent two seasons trying to get the pass rush right. In the third year they finally got there. And now it’s back to square one. Adding to the problem — injuries at linebacker, cornerback and safety. Opposing teams have found a formula to combat the cover 3 — San Diego mastered the plan, others are emulating it.

Even the St. Louis Rams, sporting an ultra conservative game plan to aid quaterback Austin Davis, managed to exploit Seattle’s feared defensive unit. The most alarming play of the season so far isn’t the 3rd and 20 conversion by Tony Romo or the fake punt on Sunday. It’s the sight of a totally un-flustered Davis having the time to make a 30-yard throw on third down to extend a vital drive for the Rams. A total gut-punch on the way to an 80-yard scoring drive.

Getting back on track isn’t so much about moving on from the Harvin trade or running Marshawn Lynch more. Or anything else. It’s repairing the defense. It’s about making it productive again. It’s about rushing the passer and staying disciplined.

Failure will prolong the struggles. You better believe Eli Manning and the Giants will do what Rivers and Romo did if he’s given time. Carson Palmer, Nick Foles, Alex Smith. They’ll all do it. It’ll put pressure on the offense to keep scoring. They’re capable, but it’s not the formula from last year. Not even close.

Look at this video from Mike Mayock. He highlights some alarming issues. Cliff Avril struggling to get off a tight end block. K.J. Wright missing a running lane while two players fill the same gap. People constantly talk about the lack of turnovers, but they’ll go in turn with pressure and discipline. Even in the games Seattle led in, they aren’t forcing mistakes. The most opportunistic secondary in football isn’t being given an opportunity to make a play.

Seattle doesn’t want to lose all that Championship momentum. The philosophy is ‘Win Forever’, not win off-and-on. It’s hard right now to see what they can do to improve this situation. Bruce Irvin was already playing more defensive end. Clinton McDonald simply hasn’t been replaced. Benson Mayowa is long gone, Cassius Marsh is on I.R. Jordan Hill won’t play this week it seems. What can they do?

I suppose they can take a page out of 2012’s book. Sure they had Bobby Wagner healthy, Kam Chancellor healthy. They had Red Bryant and Chris Clemons. Yet they didn’t have Michael Bennett or Cliff Avril. They were starting Jeremy Lane instead of a suspended Brandon Browner for a stretch — so the situation at corner (starting a raw, untested player) was similar. Mebane, Sherman and Thomas are still here. So is K.J. Wright.

They still found a way to do enough on defense to be very competitive. Remember how they destroyed the Bills in Toronto, Arizona in Seattle and the 49ers before Christmas? Remember the tighter yet no less vital wins against Chicago, St. Louis and then Washington in the playoffs? They even won on the road in Carolina — as they did last year.

Maybe they’ve lost some of the hunger and chirpiness that 2012 roster had, but now’s the time to get it back. Major repair work is needed to improve the pass rush but this can’t be done until the off-season. Nobody is trading Seattle a top pass rusher on the cheap before the deadline on October 28th. Maybe they have to review how they used Clemons in the LEO and install Avril in the same role? Perhaps Irvin has to be used as a mere specialist again, putting responsibility on Kevin Pierre-Louis or Brock Coyle? Can Bennett do more work inside to provide some interior rush?

Channeling that 2012 spirit can get the Seahawks into a winning habit. There’s a reason they’re still ranked at #4 by Football Outsiders’ DVOA — and it’s not because they’re incapable of solving this defensive slump.

Sunday could be a turning point, or it could be the sign of some further tough weeks ahead. Either way it could be the most important game of the season.