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O-line issues dogging NFL, not just Seahawks

Saturday, August 15th, 2015

Eric Fisher has struggled since entering the league

NFL teams are facing a crisis. A situation that could potentially challenge the game for a generation.

Offensive linemen are struggling in the modern era.

It’s no real surprise. We’ve talked for years on this blog about the top High School athletes choosing to play defense. The big schools are rich in defensive line talent. The O-line positions are being shunned as a consequence — and there’s a significant mismatch developing in college football.

This is starting to filter into the leagues and have an impact. College teams are adapting their offenses to counter the problem and it’s playing at least some part in the increase in high-octane spread schemes. The quicker you get the ball out the less reliance on your O-line to block that 5-star recruit. Offenses are being simplified to the Nth degree.

O-liners aren’t being coached to prepare for the NFL. They appear to be being coached to survive merely in college.

Mark Schlereth went on Brock and Salk last week and talked about the time he’s spent helping the Denver Broncos O-line during training camp. He spoke openly about the lack of technique Denver’s young O-line had shown and criticised the way young linemen are being prepared for the NFL.

I watched several NFL pre-season games over the last two days and it’ll be at least some comfort to Seahawks fans that their team isn’t the only one with issues. As the older generation of linemen move on — teams are trying to install younger players into their scheme with seriously mixed results.

The Dallas Cowboys have crafted the best line in football with sound judgement and big investment. Their left tackle, center and one of their guards were drafted in the first round. It also helps that Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin were all really good players in college. Smith was an incredible athlete playing right tackle at USC with limitless potential. Frederick was a technically gifted mauler at Wisconsin and Martin is good enough to play any position on a NFL line. Smart picks, big investment. They’re benefitting as a consequence.

Not every team can go in this direction of course (Smith and Martin were both top-16 picks) but it seems the league is very aware of the problem and clubs are trying to find ways around the issue of more athletic defensive lines. This is partly why we saw Eric Fisher’s dramatic rise to become the #1 overall pick in 2013. He was the best ‘athlete’ at offensive tackle that year. Fisher has generally struggled but you can see the thought process in Kansas City’s pick. Greg Robinson was another quick riser the following year for similar reasons.

In Seattle’s case they’ve collected a number of athletic linemen that fit a specific profile. They’re also quietly setting a new trend — the conversion of defensive linemen into O-liners. More teams are trying this now — even in college. Cam Erving, a recent first round pick by the Browns, originally played defense.

Expect to see more of this over the next few years in college and the NFL. With so many college recruits opting to play D it makes sense that several will be asked to convert like Erving.

Is it going to act as an equaliser though?

That’s the issue really. Can a rag tag bunch of former D-liners be brought together to challenge the best pass rushers (and athletes) in the NFL as they learn on the hop? Or are we destined to see a new era in the NFL where teams have to go the college route and find alternative schemes and systems to compensate for overmatched offenses?

The Seahawks are already kind of doing this by using a mobile quarterback and accepting that their scheme will involve a lot of scrambling, read-option and controlled chaos. Teams like New England and Indianapolis/Denver have been using variations of the spread for years to protect Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Now Chip Kelly’s offense is in the league.

The concept of time in the pocket could very soon be a thing of the past. Mobility, improvisation and composure might develop into the most important characteristics a quarterback can have. It’d be a generational change from the more orthodox pocket passer that has dominated the NFL for years.

Unless the league can find a way to sufficiently match-up against increasingly athletic defensive lines — they’re going to have to consider new schemes, styles and variations. Just like many college teams. That in turn could help the transition from college-to-NFL for offensive lineman. But otherwise it could be a real struggle for teams to protect up front.


In terms of Seattle’s O-line performance last night — it was scarily bad at times. I made a podcast appearance with Kenneth Arthur during the summer and suggested a raw, untested O-line could cost Seattle the first two games of the season (@ St. Louis, @ Green Bay). It wouldn’t be any reason to panic with a less formidable part of the schedule to follow — but 0-2 isn’t out of the question and the line could be the reason why.

It’s clear whoever eventually does start needs time — and that’s before we even question whether the talent is good enough. The Seahawks are hoping that later round picks and UDFA’s can fill the holes left by players drafted early (James Carpenter, Max Unger).

Facing a frightening Rams D-line on the opening weekend and needing to go to Green Bay to follow will be a serious test of what appears to be a weak or at least inexperienced group. The #1’s were manhandled in the Denver game.

The right side of Sweezy and Britt will always be better against the run than the pass. The revolving door at left guard and center during camp is yet to provide any clarity. At least Russell Okung is healthy and looks in good shape. At this stage, 16 games from Okung feels absolutely vital.

If they had any cap room we could take about Evan Mathis. He appears to be holding out for the kind of money Seattle simply cannot afford. An extra experienced, cool head on that O-line seems critical at the moment.

An underrated aspect of an O-line is familiarity. The best lines work as a group with genuine chemistry. It’s very hard for the Seahawks to develop that in pre-season when two spots are up for grabs — including the starting center.

We’ve often played down the O-line struggles in the past on this blog. Part of Seattle’s mantra is to invite pressure and get Wilson on the move. Yet things seem a little more serious this year and we need to see progress next week against the Chiefs. Tom Cable has a real test on his hands.

Pre-season week 1: Broncos open thread

Friday, August 14th, 2015

Write-up to come on Saturday. In the meantime use this thread to discuss the game.

Discussing the future of Russell Okung in Seattle

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

Russell Okung is entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2015

The Seahawks have several prospective free agents in 2016 including punter Jon Ryan, running back Robert Turbin and the current longest serving player on the roster Brandon Mebane. Three other starters are set to make the open market — Bruce Irvin, J.R. Sweezy and Russell Okung.

Today I want to focus on Okung.

Firstly, can he play a full 16 games in the regular season? His injury issues are slightly exaggerated — he hasn’t had a serious knee injury for example or missed considerable time like Ryan Clady. The most games he’s missed in a single season is eight in 2013. He’s consistently missed 1-5 games each year since arriving in Seattle. Not ideal, but far from a reason alone not to give him a new contract.

If he can feature in all 16 games for the first time in his career in 2015, he’ll really strengthen his hand going into free agency. The Seahawks will perhaps feel inclined to try and maintain some consistency on their offensive line (more on that in a moment) while other teams will be reassured to give him a good contract to tempt him away.

If he misses more time it strengthens Seattle’s position at the negotiating table and might weaken interest on the open market. For that reason the Seahawks are probably prepared to let this year play out rather than get into serious negotiations right now.

Aside from the health situation, how does Okung rate compared to his peers in the NFL? Joe Thomas (25), Tyron Smith (36), Jason Peters (40) and Trent Williams (47) were the only offensive tackles listed in the NFL’s recent top-100 list. We’re going through an era that lacks truly elite left tackles in the Walter Jones, Orlando Pace and Jonathan Ogden mould. The game has changed and for years the best athletes in college football have chosen to play defense not offense. It’s one of the reasons why the Seahawks are taking SPARQ-ed up D-liners and trying them at guard. Pure college guards are generally no longer athletic enough to transition to the pro’s where they face increasingly formidable athletes. Any left tackle that performs admirably at the combine is getting vaulted up the boards — it’s why Eric Fisher was the #1 overall pick in 2013.

The number of first round busts at the position also appears to be increasing. Fisher has been a big disappointment. Luke Joeckel — the #2 pick in 2013 — has struggled with injury and performance. 2014 top-ten picks Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews didn’t have great rookie seasons. What was once considered a ‘safe pick’ has become more of an unknown.

The league is craving for good offensive tackles. Teams are taking chances. It’s becoming a bit of a crapshoot considering the third tackle taken in 2013 — Lane Johnson — has enjoyed a good start to his career.

If Thomas, Smith, Peters and Williams really are the NFL’s current ‘elite’ at the position, Okung isn’t far away. Although he might be some way off the Hall-of-Fame tackle he replaced in Seattle, Okung is a relative safe pair of hands that might be difficult to replace with a cheaper, unknown commodity in the draft. In an era without many fantastic left tackles, having a good one might be more valuable than you’d imagine.

Okung is the only consistent member of Pete Carroll, John Schneider and Tom Cable’s offensive line. Left guard, center, right guard and right tackle — different players have taken turns to start for Seattle over the years. 2016 will provide the first opportunity to see how they approach the left tackle position and whether they see that as a movable cog too. Okung was the first draft pick this front office made when they arrived in 2010. He’s played out his rookie contract in full. Do they let him walk? Or do they see him as part of the growing core to receive a contract extension?

While teams like Dallas and Cleveland load their offensive lines with first round talent the Seahawks seem to be taking the opposite approach. They appear to be saving money on the O-line to use elsewhere. It’s a display of trust in Tom Cable’s methods that he can put a group of guys together on the cheap and create a functioning line. We’ve seen mixed results so far, but the constant change on a year-to-year basis is partly responsible there.

It makes you wonder if they believe they can succeed without top players on the O-line in a way others can’t. After all, they were winning games with Paul McQuistan and Michael Bowie playing tackle in 2013 — the season they won the Super Bowl. It made for ugly viewing at times with pass protection particularly suffering. The Seahawks might feel like they have enough weapons to compensate for any similar problems in 2015:

— Russell Wilson is the most elusive quarterback in the NFL

— The ground game continues to prosper

— Jimmy Graham’s presence will give Wilson an easy out and keep defenses honest when it comes to the blitz/pass rush

— The threat of the read option adds a dynamic to Seattle’s offense that also troubles opponents

Other teams don’t necessarily have this luxury. The Cowboys have Dez Bryant but also a 35-year-old quarterback with back issues who isn’t very mobile and needs protection. They are hoping their offensive line can be the key to a productive running game with either Joseph Randle or Darren McFadden benefitting from good blocking. They don’t have Marshawn Lynch and a good running quarterback so a really good offensive line is more important.

The Wilson-Lynch-Graham trifecta will create problems and will make plays irrespective of the performance of the offensive line. The downside is we’ll probably see more games next year where Wilson is having to move around a lot to avoid pressure.

Sometimes you have to pick your poison.

With the Seahawks paying nearly $100m to just ten players on their roster, they need to save money somewhere. It could be they’ve decided in Cable they have a coach that, like Alex Gibbs previously, can get the most out of a group of blockers. That in part helps you keep the LOB, Wilson, Lynch, Wagner etc.

That doesn’t mean they can’t pay any offensive linemen. We’ll see how far they want to take this possible plan when Okung and J.R. Sweezy head closer to free agency next year. Mark Glowinski in terms of athleticism and style looks like a Sweezy clone and he’s being worked at right guard in training camp. Danny O’Neil mentioned yesterday that the Seahawks have a lot of time for Gary Gilliam as a left tackle prospect and could see him as a possible replacement for Okung one day.

Some fans will cringe at the possibility of a 2016 starting offensive line that goes Gilliam-Bailey-Nowak-Glowinski-Britt. Yet the willingness to trade Max Unger this year shows they aren’t afraid to make an eyebrow-raising move or two on the O-line or go with a youth movement. They’re willing to take chances on young, cheap talent. They brought in a collection of young players in the draft to compete this year. And again, they need to save money somewhere.

Tom Cable might be viewed as the MVP of the offensive line, rather than any particular player.

They’ve also shown they’re still willing to draft O-liners early (see: Justin Britt, round two in 2014). In my final 2015 mock draft I had them taking Mitch Morse in round two. He was taken a few picks before Seattle’s choice by the Kansas City Chiefs. Who knows if he would’ve been the pick otherwise — but he certainly ticked a lot of boxes.

Laremy Tunsil (T, Ole Miss), Taylor Decker (T, Ohio State), Ronnie Stanley (T, Notre Dame) and Jack Conklin (T, Michigan State) are early favourites to go in the first round next year. Decker in particular has that nasty road-grading style that appears to suit Seattle’s offense. Tackles tend to go early, whether the Seahawks will have the chance to get anywhere near a top blocker in 2016 remains to be seen. They could have options though.

One dynamic that should also be considered is the competitive nature of Okung, the respect he commands in the locker room and his recent decision to go into free agency minus an agent. He completes a six-year, $48.5m contract in 2015 so he’s already earned the money a lot of his teammates are now collecting.

That’s not to say he’s going to accept a really cheap deal to stay in Seattle. Far from it. But he will be negotiating from a position of relative security. If he wants to stay a Seahawk and if the team wishes to retain his services — there’s probably a deal to be done there. We just don’t know how invested each party is in retaining this current working relationship.

Another thing O’Neil mentioned in the link above is the possibility Okung might be better suited to a more pass-friendly offense focused on protection. Seattle’s physical style and penchant for the run-game could be one of the reasons their left tackle (and other members of the O-line) frequently gets banged up. Will a different style of offense suit Okung? It might be something he’s considering.

Of Seattle’s three ‘big name’ 2016 free agents, it’ll possibly be easier to retain Okung and Sweezy over Bruce Irvin. There’s a statistical advantage that comes with playing defense (I got 6-7 sacks last year playing linebacker, look what I could do in your scheme). He’s versatile enough to work in the 4-3 or the 3-4 at end or linebacker. Aside from one four-game suspension he’s stayed clear of any off-field distractions that concerned some teams pre-draft. He’s still a terrific athlete. And there are two former Seahawks defensive coordinators now working as Head Coaches.

If Irvin departs it leaves even more room to consider signing up Okung and/or Sweezy. The cap likely increasing by another 7-8% also helps. Overall that looks like an attractive proposition — retain some consistency up front, keep your depth and free up the opportunity to consider other need areas in the draft (DT, CB, RB).

Bobby Wagner agrees new deal, Tony McDaniel cut

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

Despite a somewhat sulky tweet on Friday this seemed just as inevitable as Russell Wilson’s new contract. Luke Kuechly is a genuine NFL star. A generational talent who happens to play a position of moderate importance. The fact Bobby Wagner frequently gets compared to Kuechly (many consider them equals) is exactly why the Seahawks had to do this deal.

When Jamaal Charles ran all over the Seahawks in week 11 last season it was assumed the absence of Brandon Mebane was the key issue. Seattle’s defense had it’s poorest performance of the season immediately after he was put on injured reserve.

Wagner also didn’t play in the Chiefs game due to injury. He returned the following week against Arizona. Seattle won out to finish the regular season conceding just 39 points in 6 games (6.5 per game average). Mebane’s absence was unhelpful. Wagner’s absence and subsequent return was pivotal.

He’s not the most charismatic member of the team (as evidenced by a defensive press conference on Friday). I’m not sure he’s one of the big defensive voices in the locker room like a Sherman, Thomas, Bennett or Chancellor — but he is ideal for this team.

Pete Carroll said before the 2012 draft he wanted to add speed in the front seven as a priority. The first two picks that year were Bruce Irvin and Wagner. As Seattle moved away from the Leroy Hill/David Hawthorne profile, they needed a quicker inside presence who could still do all the basic duties of a MIKE. It’s testament to Wagner’s athletic profile that he could probably play the SAM or WILL equally well. He’s just an all-round terrific athlete and football player.

We talked about him as a late first-round talent that year and it came out after the draft that Dallas were going to draft him had they not moved up for Morris Claiborne. The Seahawks got a steal in round two. In fairness the draft not only offered Kuechly in the top-ten but also Wagner, Mychal Kendricks and Lavonte David in the second frame — ideal for any team looking to add speed at linebacker.

You don’t get many drafts like that — or many ultra-athletic middle linebackers. The Seahawks feel it when Wagner’s not there and he’d be difficult to replace. They couldn’t let him walk — especially given the relative value in terms of salary. Around $10m per year is high for a linebacker — but it’s not high compared to many other positions. Wagner is certainly one of Seattle’s better players and to keep him at that cost for the foreseeable future is, if anything, pretty good value.

Seattle now has most of its core signed up for at least the next three seasons: Wilson, Lynch, Graham, Bennett, Avril, Wright, Chancellor, Thomas, Sherman and Wagner. The structure they’ve used (plus the ever growing salary cap) will enable them to keep even more of their stars moving forward.

Davis Hsu told me today he expects the cap to increase by 7-8% next year at about $154m. It’s currently at $143.28m. That should leave enough room for a shot at keeping at least two of Russell Okung, J.R. Sweezy and Bruce Irvin.

The salary cap makes it hard to create a dynasty. The Seahawks are proving it isn’t impossible. The average age of the group listed above is 27. You’re looking at a Championship window of at least 3-4 more years with this crew, with two Super Bowl appearances already in the bag. However badly that last game stung, the Seahawks still have a chance to be known as the team of this decade.

I watched back a few 2014 games this week and one thing I noticed in some of the tougher wins late in the season was the performance of Tony McDaniel. Big, stout and difficult to move. He wasn’t a flashy player who made numerous splash players — but he was still a force.

The Seahawks had to create some room after signing Wilson and Wagner and McDaniel is the unfortunate sacrifice. He was taking up $3m in cap space with no dead money attached. Seattle has Mebane back and healthy, Jordan Hill who really stepped up in 2014 and now Ahtyba Rubin comes into the mix. There are several other rotational pieces working out in camp, including the returning Demarcus Dobbs.

This is the way it’s going to be for the Seahawks moving forward. Look back at 2012 and you’ll see how much this team has changed in just three years. Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Leon Washington, Golden Tate, Max Unger, Zach Miller, Michael Robinson, Brandon Browner, Sidney Rice. All crucial back in the day — now gone. The Seahawks have kept the core and been forced to move on elsewhere. They will continue to lose players they’d rather keep down the road. The key is to know when to move on. New England and Bill Belichick have mastered this over the years and it’s kept them competitive.

Who can you live without? That is the question.

Can they afford to lose a pretty good if not elite left tackle in Russell Okung? Can they replace him with a late first round pick? That’s not usually where you find starting left tackles. That reason, plus his obvious locker room respect and leadership qualities, might make him a priority. Playing all 16-games and a full post-season would aid his cause.

He seems to like it in Seattle. He joined the league before the new CBA so agreed a $48.5m contract as a rookie in 2010. He’s already earned the money several of his team mates are now chasing. Firing his agent to go alone this off-season is an interesting dynamic and suggests he might be prepared to do what feels right.

It also looks like a very promising offensive tackle class for 2016 — something to consider.

J.R. Sweezy continues to improve every year. He too would preferably be a sure-fire keep — and yet he’s a former defensive tackle and seventh round pick converted to guard. The Seahawks might feel they can replace him with a Mark Glowinski on the cheap to save cap space.

Then there’s Bruce Irvin — who developed into one of the more underrated defensive playmakers in the NFL last season. Pick-six’s, sacks, sideline-to-sideline coverage and better than expected work against the run — Irvin was generally fantastic in 2014. It’ll be hard to find a player with his unique athleticism in the draft or free agency. They chose not to take up his fifth year option though, leading to at least some angst and more than one reported quote about a desire to play in Atlanta. He’d have a market in free agency and might be too expensive to keep.

We should also talk about the future of Mebane. He’s the longest serving Seahawk on the roster for a reason. If he stays healthy and continues to perform — is he worth another deal? He turns 31 in January.

There are many things to consider and while this remains a loaded roster, the question marks over several players will give us plenty of scope to monitor different positions in preparation for the 2016 draft.

The Seahawks made a similar move for Marcus Burley last year. The depth at corner isn’t strong at the moment — with a lot of pressure on guys like Tye Smith to make the jump from Towson University to the NFL. With Jeremy Lane potentially missing the whole season at the very least Seattle needs more camp competition and Seisay provides that.

He managed a 39 inch vertical at his pro-day and an 11′ broad jump. He runs in the 4.50’s at 6-1 and +200lbs. He’s very Seahawky.

Russell Wilson agrees 4-year, $87.6m extension

Friday, July 31st, 2015

It took a while to get there, but all’s well that ends well.

While Kam Chancellor stays away (at great expense) and Bobby Wagner ponders his future in Seattle, this is the deal the Seahawks had to get done. And nothing can put a dampener on the significance of this move.

Only a month ago, Mike Florio Tweeted the following:

A future without Wilson simply wasn’t fathomable. There are so few good quarterbacks in the NFL. In May Tom Cable suggested college spread offenses were making it very difficult for quarterbacks to transition to the pro’s.

Training a new college quarterback (presumably without an early pick) is not an attractive proposition. Neither is a situation where you deal Wilson, he flourishes elsewhere and the replacement struggles.

Seattle was never going to be the team that messed this up. Not in this way. Not with this front office.

Look at the situations in Miami or Cincinnati. Two franchises challenged to pay average quarterbacks handsomely on long term deals — without really knowing if either Ryan Tannehill or Andy Dalton will take the next step. Both teams decided the alternative — trying to find a replacement — was a bigger gamble than sticking with what they had.

Wilson is far more talented than both players. The Seahawks weren’t going to let go.

He’s also the best quarterback in Seahawks history. A uniquely gifted franchise passer. The type people will compare other players to for a generation. It was supposed to be Michael Vick or Robert Griffin III. Instead it’ll be Wilson’s name mentioned every time we find a young, mobile, productive passer. “Can he be the next Russell Wilson?” is a phrase you will hear in the future time and time again.

The stalled negotiations and soap-opera feel to the media coverage painted a negative picture. Perhaps that should’ve been anticipated? We all assumed (or at least I did) a deal would come quite quickly. Wilson had gone well beyond expectations as a third round pick. He wanted to be compensated like the best — and it’s what he deserved.

Seattle equally showed incredible judgement in drafting Wilson — and earned the luck that came with it. A third round franchise quarterback at a dirt-cheap price. They had every right to benefit from the final year of his rookie deal — and had to find a way to keep the rest of their group together.

The impasse lasted right until the final hours before training camp began. Now? A collective sigh of relief — from the fans, front office and probably the Wilson camp too.

The cumulative Seahawks roster benefits from their quarterback just as much as he does from a league-leading defense or Marshawn Lynch. He compliments Lynch perfectly. He takes advantage of a stingy defense.

Look at the Bills. Destined again in 2015 to present a ferocious defense and, more than likely, a frustrating offense. They have offensive talent. Sammy Watkins, LeSean McCoy and Percy Harvin to name just three examples. Yet with Matt Cassel throwing the passes, they’ll do well to make 8-8.

That would be the Seahawks without Wilson. Good and very close to great — but missing the final piece.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Wilson’s success so far is the way he’s done it without a top-tier receiver or tight end. Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Golden Tate (and others) — all good at what they do but not the elite, rare talent that quarterbacks like Tony Romo and Peyton Manning currently benefit from. He has had Marshawn Lynch of course. But the amount we’ve talked about college receivers over the last two years shows the vacancy for a true #1. It’s why the Seahawks seemingly showed interest in Dorial Green-Beckham before he was drafted by the Titans. It’s why they’ve looked at a number of different receivers over the years — including Brandon Marshall, Vincent Jackson and eventually Percy Harvin.

Jimmy Graham will help here. Wilson has room for improvement going into year four. Having that dynamic target at tight end — a special talent — can aid that progress.

Even without Graham, Wilson has excelled whoever he’s been throwing to. From the days of Sidney Rice to the crucial 4th down score to Braylon Edwards against the Patriots in 2012. The link he formed with Chris Matthews in the latest Super Bowl or the connection he had to Zach Miller and then Luke Willson last season. He hasn’t needed a Dez Bryant, A.J. Green or Julio Jones to excite and produce.

You won’t see a better pass than this. Pressure right in his grill, unable to step into the throw. Wilson launches a perfect 47-yard bomb to Jermaine Kearse, hitting him in stride. And yes — he made the throw while remaining in the pocket.

Need further evidence of his quality? How about the overtime wins against Chicago, Denver and Green Bay? No fuss. In the most intense pressure, in the biggest games — Wilson calmly managed each occasion like a 2-minute drill in practise.

The Seahawks are right in the middle of a Championship window. It’s why they’ve been aggressive to land Graham (and previously to get Harvin). They know the time is now. Wilson is signed until 2019. Their core group of stars are mostly committed for the next three years at least. Barring unfortunate luck with injuries, they’ll compete for each of the next 3-5 years and possibly beyond.

Wilson will be right at the heart of that challenge.

Post draft Google Hang Out

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

I’m going to be taking a break after this post. It’s been a long draft process and I need to spend some quality time with my wife and son. If anything major breaks involving the Seahawks (eg a Russell Wilson contract extension) I’ll put up a blog. However, things are going to start winding down for the 2015 draft.

I want to thank everyone who continues to make this place more a community than a blog. I also want to remind everyone that we cover the draft (and the Seahawks in general) right through training camp and then into the college season. If you’ve enjoyed the last few weeks, come try the blog from August onwards when we really start to discuss players for the first time.

For now enjoy the podcast above and Go Hawks.

2016 NFL draft: The early watch list

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

Harold Brantley (DT, Missouri)
The next great pass rusher off the Mizzou production line. Brantley is an ideal three-technique who really started to shine at the end of the 2014 season. He’s 6-3 and 290lbs and has the ability to take over a game with a top-tier get-off, superb technique and the ability to finish. He’s no slouch in the run game either. Comparisons to Sheldon Richardson are not totally unfair. They impact games in the same way.

Joey Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
Clearly the most exciting talent in college football. Bosa posted 13.5 sacks last season as Ohio State won the National Championship. He’s the perfect compliment of size (6-5, 275lbs), speed and technique. His father John Bosa played in the NFL and his brother Nick is a top 2016 recruit. Teams are going to fall over themselves to get at Bosa. He’s well know for the Bosa ‘shrug’ — he celebrates every sack like he’s been there before. It’s hard to find any flaws.

Tyler Boyd (WR, Pittsburgh)
Gliding receiver who finds another gear and explodes. Great catching technique. Not the biggest but only needs a crease to take it the distance. Plus kick/punt returner with the ability to be used conventionally and on trick plays. Snags the ball at its highest point and loves to compete in traffic. Sprinter speed downfield and makes the spectacular catches too. So difficult to cover. Exciting.

Robert Nkemdiche (DE, Ole Miss)
So far he hasn’t lived up to the extreme hype. Back in the day Nkemdiche was being compared to Jadeveon Clowney as an unreal defensive lineman who can play across the line. He’s 6-4 and 280lbs but played mainly a supporting role in Ole Miss’ flirt with SEC glory in 2014. His ability to play inside and out, 5-star athleticism and a strong Rebels team can help him max-out his talent in what amounts to a contract year.

Laremy Tunsil (T, Ole Miss)
He’ll need to bounce back from a serious injury like his team mate Laquon Treadwell. Tunsil broke his ankle and fractured a fibula but there’s optimism he’ll be good to go in 2015. Ideal size (6-5, 305lbs), a solid kick-slide and ability in pass protection and the run game could push Tunsil into the top-ten — provided he can stay healthy.

Laquon Treadwell (WR, Ole Miss)
Just a fantastic, competitive, athletic, gritty talent that suffered one of the more unfortunate injuries you’ll ever see. In the process of trying to make a superb game-winning touchdown against Auburn he broke his leg when an opponent fell on top of him. Will he ever be the same again? Fingers crossed he can make a full recovery because he’s every bit a #1 receiver in the league at around 6-3 and 230lbs with speed to burn and great hands.

Vernon Hargreaves (CB, Florida)
A class act from the minute he arrived at Florida, it’s been a waiting game for Hargreaves to become eligible. Florida’s best product at any position since Joe Haden. He plays above his size, has a nose for the ball and is really competitive. He’s been a NFL corner playing in the SEC for two years.

Kendall Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)
Of all the Fuller clan, Kendall has flashed the most promise. In his first start in college football he looked like the best player on the field. He clearly has the NFL bloodlines and good enough size at 6-1 and 190lbs to register with teams wanting a presence at corner. He had two interceptions last season including a 47-yard touchdown return.

Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)
Two players stood out for Ohio State in the college football playoffs — quarterback Cardale Jones and this guy. He ran for 696 yards and scored eight touchdowns in the Big-10 Championship and two playoff games. He has everything you look for in a workhorse back — bulk, breakaway speed, the ability to break tackles and vision. He isn’t Todd Gurley but he could easily be a first round pick.

De’Runnya Wilson (WR, Mississippi State)
He was one of four people arrested in March for marijuana possession. On the field he was a basketball player at receiver last season — claiming nine touchdowns and providing a legit outside threat for Miss State. He was particularly effective against in-state rival Ole Miss. Providing he avoids any further issues off the field, he’s a first round level talent with plus size at 6-5 and 215lbs.

Shawn Oakman (DE, Baylor)
Coaches will love him. He’s the heart and soul of the Baylor football team. He also has freakish size (6-8, 280lbs). If Arik Armstead goes in the top-20, Oakman will do to. He doesn’t dominate enough for the size he possesses — but he makes enough plays to hint at extreme ability. Can he keep the motor running none-stop to truly max out his potential?

Taylor Decker (T, Ohio State)
Could’ve been a first round pick this year but chose to stay at Ohio State for another year. He’s around 6-6 and 315lbs, a tenacious blocker and a great team mate. Comes from a Military family. Former basketball player. Has a tattoo of a gorilla on his arm and plays with that level of intensity. Another prospect teams will love. He’ll be viewed as a safe pick at either tackle spot.

Duke Williams (WR, Auburn)
Another player who could’ve declared early. Former JUCO transfer and lined up to be the top receiver in the SEC in 2015. Had an immediate impact for the Tigers in 2014, usurping Sammie Coates as the top target. He’s Mr. Reliable with plus size. Providing they find a capable quarterback next season he has every chance to make major headlines and thrust his stock into the top-20. Williams was video’d delivering a stirring speech to his team mates in the JUCO’s. Similar body type to Dez Bryant.

Carson Wentz (QB, North Dakota State)
He’s 6-5 and 222lbs but he’s not a total statue. He ran for 642 yards and scored six touchdowns. He stands tall in the pocket and throws well. Doesn’t force things. Arm could be stronger but he can work on that. He has a frame that can take a bit of extra bulk. He’s not a big name like some of the others but he’s one to keep an eye on.

Ronnie Stanley (T, Notre Dame)
Continuing the theme of players who could’ve turned pro this year, Ronnie Stanley deliberated for ages over his decision. He was a bit hit and miss and a little overrated in my view. However, there’s a premium for this type of player and provided he avoids any Cedric Ogbuehi-style setbacks he could enhance his stock at a school that has churned out some decent O-liners recently.

DeForest Buckner (DT, Oregon)
Seen by many to be superior to Arik Armstead, he could be on the fast-track to the top-20. This class could be dominated by offensive linemen and big, hulking D-liners. Buckner is 6-7 and 290lbs. Unlike Armstead he’s playing his best football in college and lacks the next level upside to take his game a further notch. Yet he’ll also be considered a safer projection. He’s scheme diverse and a terrific prospect.

Cardale Jones (QB, Ohio State)
If he plays anything like the playoff games over the course of a full season, watch out. Of course he has to win the starting job first. Questions remain why he was #3 on the depth chart to begin with. Yet when given a chance he led his team to a National Championship. There are some character and work ethic questions but the talent was obvious at the end of last season.

Derrick Henry (RB, Alabama)
He resembles a mountain that has somehow grown legs and discovered how to run. He’s 6-3 and 242lbs and moves like a 220lbs back. What a fun player to watch. Henry was the best running back on Bama’s roster last year, not T.J. Yeldon. It’ll be interesting to see if he takes his game to another level as the feature runner in 2015.

Rashard Higgins (WR, Colorado State)
He led college football in receiving yards last season. Losing his Head Coach Jim McElwain to Florida and his quarterback Garret Grayson to the NFL could have a damaging impact in 2015. If he continues to perform despite the changes, it’ll really boost his stock. He’s not a big receiver but he’s shifty and dangerous in the open field. Competes for the ball.

Marquez North (WR, Tennessee)
Tennessee has been stuck in a rut for some time and constant question marks over the quarterback position has severely hampered Marquez North’s development. Talent wise there’s no doubting his pro-credentials. He’s 6-4 and 221lbs with the deep speed and penchant for the spectacular to be a top NFL receiver. And yet he’s coming off a 320-yard season. He needs to improve — but he also needs help.

Alex Collins (RB, Arkansas)
He caught my eye against Texas A&M last season with breakaway speed, the tough running style to get the hard yards and good hands. It helps that he’s playing behind Arkansas’ monster O-line but he’s a talent in his own right. He might not be an early pick next year — but he has pro-starter potential.

A’Shawn Robinson (DT, Alabama)
Big body, big talent. Robinson is 320lbs and 6-4 and anchors the Alabama run defense. Not only that he does enough in the passing game (pushes the pocket, gets his hands up to tip passes) to interest teams using both schemes. He’s not a fantastic athlete and that will limit his ability to go very early — but teams looking for a cornerstone DT will be interested in Robinson.

Corey Robinson (WR, Notre Dame)
Part of an intriguing double-threat with William Fuller, Robinson’s size (6-5, 215lbs) really stands out. His father is NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson. He’s still growing into his role with the Fighting Irish but took a step forward last year. If he can become more consistent and use his size/speed to dominate on a weekly basis he could be set for a Kelvin Benjamin style rise.

Scooby Wright III (LB, Arizona)
I’m not sure what he is at the next level or the kind of range he can realistically go. I’m not even sure he declares. But every time you watched Arizona last season this guy made big plays time and time again. He had 14 sacks, 163 tackles, 29 (!!!) TFL’s and six forced fumbles. They aren’t career stats. That’s in a single season. His motor never stops, although he is undersized.

Jacoby Brissett (QB, NC State)
Showed enough against Florida State to suggest he has potential and appears to be toolsy. Can he take the next step in 2015? If you’re looking for a come-from-nowhere quarterback prospect who goes higher than expected this could be your guy. Will the supporting cast at NC State be good enough to support him? Or is a wide open ACC there for the taking?

Cameron Sutton (CB, Tennessee)
Like Marquez North, he kind of got lost in the wash as Tennessee struggled for relevance. He too impressed in 2013 as one of a crop of young corners entering college football. He has similar size to Kendall Fuller and similar upside. He’ll be tested plenty again next season. He recorded two picks in 2014.

Other notables: Devontae Booker (RB, Utah), Jalen Ramsey (S, Florida State), Miles Jack (LB/RB, UCLA).

A few players who need to show more to live up to the hype: O.J. Howard (TE, Alabama), Christian Hackenberg (QB, Penn State), Connor Cook (QB, Michigan State), Leonard Floyd (DE, Georgia), Shilique Calhoun (DE, Michigan State).

Tomorrow I’m doing a post-draft Google Hang Out with Kenneth Arthur and Zach Whitman.

Breaking down Seattle’s picks in rounds 4-7

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

Terry Poole (T, San Diego State)
At the combine he looked like an ideal guard or center with his body shape. The Seahawks love tackle converts to move inside. Pure guards in college usually aren’t great athletes. The ones who are (eg Mark Glowinski) get a shot in Seattle. Otherwise they’ll look at the tackles and find a guy who can slot inside.

Poole can probably play at +310lbs comfortably. What always stood out was his body control. He keeps defenders in front and rarely loses position. First and foremost you have to be able to contain and counter. His hand technique is good and won’t need much work — that should mean he’s able to start quickly if required. He’d never make a tackle — his kick slide is almost as funky as Ereck Flowers’ but with none of the effect.

He can get stronger and if there’s one thing likely to hold him back in 2015 it’s that he could probably use a year in a pro-weight program. He’s a JUCO transfer from Monterrey Peninsula College and didn’t start playing football until his junior year at High School. Until that point he focused on basketball — and it was still his priority as a senior. Importantly he’s never suffered any injuries of note and he was a team captain in 2014.

He’s not a great second level blocker and that’s probably why he projects to the left side where Seattle has focused on size and power. They leave the pulling and progression to J.R. Sweezy on the right side. Poole always plays to the whistle and I suspect that’s one of the big plus points for Tom Cable. Not a SPARQ star (ranked as the 42nd most athletic O-lineman in the draft according to Zach Whitman).

The Seahawks do like to focus on size at left guard. He isn’t the longest either — +33 inch arms. It’ll be interesting to see if he can beat out Alvin Bailey to start. At the very least he’ll provide adequate camp competition and push Bailey.

Mark Glowinski (G, West Virginia)
A very different prospect to Terry Poole and immediately dubbed a right guard by Pete Carroll. Glowinski is ultra athletic with a reputation for being a gym rat. He’s another tackle convert (box ticked). It makes you wonder if he’s being groomed to replace 2016 free agent J.R. Sweezy. Carroll’s relentless praise for Sweezy last season hinted at a long term future in Seattle but can they afford to give their right guard big money? He’ll be 27 next year and hitting his prime. It’s hard to argue against trying to keep things cheap at right guard. Glowinski’s round four salary would enable them to do that for three more years if Sweezy departs.

If they weren’t looking for a replacement — why draft him? Especially with the hole at center. Unlike Poole he’s a SPARQ demon (ranked fourth among offensive lineman according to Zach Whitman). On tape he does a really good job at the second level. He’s very productive on screen plays and was asked to do a fair amount of pulling. He flashes tremendous footwork — looks like a tackle in that regard. Articulate and well spoken during interviews, tough as nails on tape. He’s a lot more polished than Sweezy was (obviously, given the defense-to-offense conversion).

If he’s given a year to red shirt he could make an immediate and telling impact in 2016. He’s been compared to Zane Beadles (who was also compared to Jordan Gross) — a former second round pick in 2010 who went on to sign a $30m contract in Jacksonville. Glowinski topped Brandon Scherff for overall athleticism — but Scherff is an absolute monster and a brutish run blocker. Glowinski is no slouch but Scherff will be an immediate impact player for Washington’s run game and a perennial Pro-Bowler.

He played well against Alabama. There are no obvious flaws on tape, just a few technical things that should be easy to fix (stance, winning with leverage). He’s better than a fair few interior linemen who went earlier in this draft class.

Tye Smith (CB, Towson)
He’s 6-0, 195lbs and has 32 inch arms. Seattle isn’t budging from what it looks for in a corner. There are no concessions here. They want a specific minimum length, minimum size. And they want toughness. He ran a 4.51 and a 4.61 at his pro-day. They’ll work with that. They aren’t necessarily looking for 4.3 runners.

As you can imagine it’s hard to judge Smith given he played for Towson and tape is limited online. He did compete against Kevin White and West Virginia and he struggled (no surprise) in a beat-down defeat. He appears to be a rangy press corner (shock horror). I’ve seen an interview with him where he describes his upbringing. His parents had to work late and he had to look after his sisters. The Seahawks look for prospects who’ve had to fight a little, had to do a lot of growing up early. He credits his parents for his work ethic, stating his father gets up for work every morning at 3am. “He’ll text me when he wakes up and I’ll text him back at 6-something and say ‘I’m up!'”

John Schneider said in his post-draft press conference that Smith reminded him of a superstar corner but wouldn’t share a name. In watching the highlight video below the one player I could only imagine is Richard Sherman. He’s not the most physically gifted corner — or the biggest — but in nearly all the plays he gained position, read the quarterback and played the ball. He was jumping routes and making himself the receiver. He also has a little bit of Sherman’s gangly running style. It might be a bit obvious to make that comparison — and he’s certainly not as tall as Sherman. But that’s the only name I could think of.

They were always likely to add another developmental corner in this range and there’s no pressure on Smith to start. The addition of Cary Williams will give him plenty of time to create an impression. ESPN says he could be “one of the bigger steals in this year’s cornerback class.” That’s exciting to consider given Seattle’s track record with defensive backs.

Obum Gwacham (DE, Oregon State)
In reading up on Gwacham two things are clear — he’s a fantastic, explosive athlete and a big-time character guy. What he isn’t is a particularly accomplished football player right now — and that’s why he’s a sixth round pick. In terms of measurables he’s 6-5 with 34.5 inch arms. That’s incredible length.

He did the high jump and triple jump at Oregon State. He only has a year’s experience on defense having previously acted as a receiver/tight end. He’s pretty much the next Jameson Konz project. What is he? Can he make it stick? Can the football qualities develop sufficiently so that he can find a defined role? Can he show enough in camp and pre-season to warrant an early role on special teams?

Like Konz he could be a slow burner — bouncing on and off the roster and spending time on the practise squad. To make the final roster he’s going to have to beat someone out and that won’t be easy. He moved to the United States when he was seven years old from Nigeria. He ran a 4.72 at the combine and managed a 36-inch vertical jump. As we discuss how athletic Gwacham is — remember that Frank Clark ran a 4.64 carrying nearly an extra 30lbs and jumped a 38.5 inch vertical. Doesn’t it just show off how rare Clark is?

On tape there’s very little evidence of hand use or any sense for counter-attacks. He looks like a guy making the switch from offense in his final year. He had four sacks in his first four games in 2014 but failed to register a single sack in the next eight games. He had a sack against Stanford where he just ran round the tackle and worked to the quarterback. It’s that kind of flash of talent that gets you excited about his long term potential. Yet he faces almost a similar learning curve to Kristjan Sokoli with greater competition to make the roster.

It’ll be fun to see how he operates in pre-season. He can also dunk a basketball as you’ll see in the video below. Even more impressive is Ryan Murphy’s effort to follow (Murphy was drafted in the seventh round by the Seahawks).

Kristjan Sokoli (C, Buffalo)
It’s impossible to project how he’ll transition to center and we can only comment on his skills as a defensive player. Buffalo had him play nose tackle — an ill fit at a lean-looking 6-5 and 300lbs. More often than not he just got drilled off the LOS. He had very little stoutness at the point and he struggled against power blocking. It’s not the most encouraging sign for this switch to offense. He’s still going to be lining up in the middle but he’s going to have to learn to hold position and not get shoved around.

In the very limited tape I’ve seen he showed no sign of the athletic freak he truly is. According to Zach Whitman he’s on a different level completely to pretty much every other player currently in the NFL. While he doesn’t have the pass rushing skills to have any shot on defense, they might be able to coach him up to hold position, snap a football and occasionally break to the second level. He ran a 4.84 forty, jumped a 38-inch vert and managed 31 reps on the bench press. He’s not a regular human being.

The greatest pitfall might be the necessity to learn the offense, make vital calls at the line and do all the little jobs a center has to do. It’s hard enough for a college center to make the transition — let alone a defensive player switching sides. Miraculous things have happened during the Pete Carroll era (Mike Williams making a comeback, J.R. Sweezy starting in week one of his rookie season) but Sokoli starting this year seems like a stretch too far. No doubt he’ll give it a go but he’ll need to prove he’s capable of taking the field even as a backup to warrant a roster spot ahead of Patrick Lewis and Lemuel Jeanpierre.

He might be a safe stash on the practise squad for a year if he can’t make what would be an unprecedented transition and Tom Cable’s greatest success story. If it works out at any point over the next few years the Seahawks would have a J.J. Watt-level athlete controlling the likes of Aaron Donald in the NFC West. That’ll help.

He was born in Albania and moved to the United States aged nine. His father applied for political asylum — a three-year process that eventually succeeded. A humble individual and clearly well respected at Buffalo — who also introduced Khalil Mack to the league a year ago. Sokoli says he wants to work on Wall Street when he finishes in the NFL.

Ryan Murphy (S, Oregon State)
He’s 6-1, 214lbs and runs a 4.45. That’s pretty much all you need to know. On tape there were some missed tackles — some sloppy ones too. However after the pick was made there was a lot of talk about how respected he was at Oregon State and he’s considered a heart-and-soul type player.

He was the second best SPARQ safety (in a mediocre class) according to Zach Whitman. They would’ve been looking for options to replace Jeron Johnson. Certainly some of the injuries on the back end exposed a lack of depth at the end of last season. They need guys who can fill in. You’re always going to suffer a major drop off if you try to replace an injured Kam Chancellor — but at least you’re limiting the damage if you’re putting another physical freak on the field.

Huge hitter in the open field. Big enough to play up at the LOS and have an impact. Had a kick return touchdown in 2014 and averaged over five tackles a game. Managed 6.5 TFL’s for the season plus a forced fumble and eight pass break-ups.

Murphy lost his best friend a few years ago and used it as motivation during his college career. He is also Marshawn Lynch’s cousin and stayed in his house as a 16-year-old. He has a decent shot at making the final roster given his added special teams value. He could be a gunner or a returner.

UDFA of note: Austin Hill (WR, Arizona)
It’s not that long ago that we were looking at Hill as a possible first round pick. He was a semi-finalist for the Biletnikoff in 2012 and destined for big things. Then in April 2013 he tore his ACL, missed the year and returned a different player in 2014. He lacked the same level of explosion, he was visibly slower and he faces a battle to deliver on his unquestionable potential.

It’s unclear whether he’ll ever be able to regain his 2012 form but he was an interesting UDFA pickup given some of the other options available. He’s 6-2 and 214lbs and incredibly strong. He plays even bigger than that size. If he can regain another gear and impress in camp he has every chance to be Seattle’s next rookie free agent find. He certainly has the character and attitude to make a good fist of it.

Why Tyler Lockett could be a “legitimate game breaker”

Monday, May 4th, 2015

In 2013 the Seahawks ranked #1 for defense, #7 for offense and #5 for special teams according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA system. Cumulatively it put them at #1 overall. The most complete team in the NFL.

Denver came in at #2. They had the #1 offense but only the #15 defense and the #21 special teams unit. Stop the 2013 Broncos offense and you’re facing a league average team. Seattle exploited that in the Super Bowl.

The Seahawks were perfectly balanced in comparison — capable of beating you in three different ways.

In 2014 Seattle again ranked #1 overall in FO’s final DVOA rankings. They had the #1 defense, the offense improved slightly to rank at #5 but the special teams slumped to #19 — a drop of fourteen spots.

While the offense and defense remained consistent and actually showed gradual improvement, Seattle’s special teams performance dropped off significantly last year. With fair catch specialist Bryan Walters manning the returns — there wasn’t any threat. They were totally ineffective the moment Percy Harvin was traded to the Jets.

The defense hasn’t lost any key personnel (they replaced Byron Maxwell with Cary Williams) and actually added talent through Ahtyba Rubin and Frank Clark. The offense gained Jimmy Graham. There’s every chance that both units will once again rank in the top five according to DVOA.

Improving the special teams ranking of #19 is distinctly achievable. If they can get back into the top ten the Seahawks could return to 2013 form overall. But it wasn’t going to just happen. They needed to do something about it.

Welcome, Tyler Lockett.

Back in March I asked Draft Insider Tony Pauline to give me a name to look out for as a specialist returner. If you fast forward to 7:20 below you can hear his response.

I’ll note it in word-form underneath:

“The top guy would be Tyler Lockett of Kansas State. He would add some speed at the receiver position… he’s a threat to score any time the ball is in his hands. He is a legitimate game breaker at receiver or as a return specialist. So if they’re going to take one or they’re looking at one in those first three rounds — Lockett might be the type of guy they have to take in the second round because he may not be on the board when they select in round three. But that is the guy if you’re looking for a return specialist.

He is head and shoulders above everyone else and what else he’s going to do is loosen up that interior of the defense because all of a sudden when he steps up to the line of scrimmage your safety can’t come up to the box and play Marshawn Lynch. He’s not going to be able to defend the run because he’s going to have to move five yards back to guard against the deep pass to Lockett so that’s a guy that if they’re looking for that type of player late in round two or if they trade back from two or trade up in round three — that’s somebody they would look to.”

Not only did Pauline correctly project the range where Lockett would go, he noted Seattle would have to trade up in round three to get him.

He also called him “head and shoulders” above any other return specialist in the draft and a “legitimate game breaker”.

Are you still wondering why Seattle traded up for this guy?

Included among Lockett’s many records at Kansas State is the tally for most kick return yards. In 2014 he led the nation in punt return average. He had six career touchdowns on returns.

He isn’t Cordarelle Patterson or Percy Harvin. Few players are. He is, however, an accomplished returner who will start immediately in 2015. There won’t be any debate over Earl Thomas fielding punts this summer. It’s Lockett’s job from this day forward.

Was it worth giving up a package of picks to get the best return specialist in the draft? Arguably yes. Again, this is the one area a loaded roster can realistically make a big jump in 2015. Lockett is more than just a returner and we’ll get onto his receiving skills shortly. But it should be no surprise Seattle prioritised this role. This is the team that made a move to acquire Leon Washington to be a specialist returner. Part of the motivation to add Harvin was his ability as a return man.

If they’d waited until pick #93, Lockett would’ve been gone. That’s why they moved up. Ty Montgomery — another appealing kick returner — was taken right ahead of Seattle’s original third round choice. If the intention was to add a dynamic return man, sitting and waiting until the third round wasn’t going to get it done.

You also have to match up value. If you want to argue that they could’ve taken an offensive lineman in round three and another kick returner in round four with the extra picks — that’s an argument. But it’s unlikely Seattle had a return man ranked as highly as Lockett and there’s every chance the O-line value wouldn’t have matched up in round three either.

So what makes him such an effective kick returner? Patience, setting up blocks and enough athleticism to exploit opportunities. He’s more of a Leon Washington than a Percy Harvin. He isn’t going to fly past everyone and attack holes with the same aggression as Harvin. That doesn’t make him any less effective.

See for yourself:

You see the patience to find the crease and then he’s gone. He’s going to need a little help at times to make the truly game-changing plays but he does have the talent to exploit an opportunity. He runs hard too and is surprisingly tough to bring down.

Personally I think Montgomery is a more creative returner in the Patterson style. Lockett is a little more opportunistic. The pressure is on Seattle’s entire special teams unit to take a step forward now. Their blocking has to return to 2013 form. If they achieve that, Lockett can be very successful.

As a receiver there’s no getting away from the fact he’s undersized. He’s 5-10 without any great length (30 inch arms). He has 8 3/8 inch hands and only weighed 182lbs at the combine. What he achieved in college despite the lack of size — and his performances on tape — is really the exciting part.

I was guilty of writing off Russell Wilson as a college prospect because I never thought a 5-10 quarterback could work. That’s what conventional wisdom told us. My perspective on smaller players totally changed after making such an ignorant mistake on Wilson. When I watched Lockett for the first time properly it was a game against Oklahoma in 2013. I didn’t know his measurements. I was surprised when I went online and read his size and height. He dominated with three touchdowns and 12 catches for 278 yards.

I remember thinking he had a little Golden Tate to his game. He isn’t Tate — and it’s by no means an exact comparison at all. Yet he has a little extra size in his lower body. It enables him — like Tate — to make the explosive high-point grabs. Lockett had a 35.5 inch vertical at the combine. Tate managed 35 inches. The Seahawks missed Tate’s ability to play beyond his height and size last season and Lockett has some of those traits.

At 1:11 in the video below, this play just felt so ‘Tate’ to me. Tough down the field grab in double coverage, playing beyond his size to make the key play:

He’s very capable of these kind of chunk plays downfield. It’s been said many times over the last 48 hours that he’s nearly always open. Technically he’s very assured. He sells routes perfectly before working over the middle. He’s got a terrific double-move. He varies his play-speed perfectly, lulling the DB forward before exploding into space. He’s a perfect combination of suddenness (Seattle LOVES sudden receivers), technique and intelligence.

It’s unclear whether Lockett will ever be a prolific outside threat due to his lack of size. That doesn’t mean he won’t make the occasional big play down the sideline or breaking over the middle. What he will provide is some of the shiftiness Tate provided on the screens and working underneath. Remember the touchdowns against Carolina and Chicago in 2012? Seattle pretty much lost that when Tate departed for Detroit. It’s back on the table with Lockett.

He’s not a ‘catch everything’ type of player. He’s certainly not unreliable — he’s just not automatic. He’ll let the occasional high throw slip through his grasp. He’ll fail to bring in a low grab. There aren’t any worrisome concentration drops. He’s not as frustrating as Breshad Perriman or even Amari Cooper at times. His catching technique is sound and he certainly knows how to high point. Playing with a more accurate quarterback will help — just don’t expect too much if he’s on the receiving end of one of Wilson’s notorious ‘safely too high’ passes. Leave those for Jimmy Graham.

One of the big plus points of Lockett’s pre-draft process was the Senior Bowl. He shone during work outs and eventually the game. In our live in-game thread I noted at the start of the third quarter: “Tyler Lockett — perhaps the most impressive player so far — makes another eye-catching play. Quinted Rollins (CB, Miami, OH) should get an interception here, but he loses concentration and tips the ball kindly towards Lockett — who taps his toes to make a big first down.”

You can see the play at 1:33 in the video here:

In my closing notes I added: “The most impressive player in the game outside of the running backs (Varga, Abdullah, Cobb, Johnson) was Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett. He looked smooth, crisp and made several impressive grabs.”

I think the touchdown at 4:21 below highlights exactly why he can be so effective, especially 20-30 yards from the end zone. There’s still enough room to work a conventional route. He knows how to win 1v1:

He uses a head fake to the outside before darting inside on the hard slant. He totally sells this at the top of the route. It’s a terrible throw, truly horrific. Even then he tracks back to the ball and makes a difficult grab. Any NFL quarterback worth his salt throws this in stride and it’s the easiest touchdown of the season. All because he wins with the route.

If you watch a lot of Lockett you notice he’s adept at working back to the quarterback. He eats up a cushion quickly before breaking back to the QB. He’s already doing this at a pro level. He’ll pick up the quick 6-7 yards and the occasional first down with a quick release. There are several examples of this in the Texas Tech tape above — including a touchdown at 5:49. This type of receiver play makes the back-shoulder throw so easy to execute. He just makes life easy on the quarterback.

Kyle Posey talked about how Lockett wins at the top of his route in a lot of detail in this article.

He’s compared himself to Antonio Brown. That’s the go-to comparison now for any undersized receiver. Brown is 5-10 and 186lbs and only ran a 4.48 forty. Lockett says his premium weight is in the 186lbs range and he too is 5-10. He ran a 4.40 at his combine.

The thing is — Brown is so rare. There aren’t many players like him. Pittsburgh’s tendency to lob the ball around under Todd Haley also helps. Lockett is never likely to get the same number of targets as Brown. Yet this is the first time John Schneider has made a really aggressive move in the draft to go get a specific player. He didn’t even do it for Russell Wilson. They’re not making that move for a pure kick returner only. They see something in Lockett. His ability to get open gives him a shot.

He certainly doesn’t lack confidence. When asked by Steve Mariucci who he’d like to score a touchdown against, of course his answer was Richard Sherman:

Note the “My dad taught me…” quote in that video. The references and respect to his father sounds extremely Russell Wilson-esque. Lockett in many ways resembles Wilson. He’s a highly productive, record breaking football player despite being undersized. He’s extremely positive, competitive and dedicated to the game of football. He has NFL bloodlines. He’s probably been written off a few times because of his size.

He’s considered a film rat. Is it any wonder this team coveted him?

His initial role will be to provide a special teams boost to a slumping unit. His long term role could be much greater. We talked about finding a receiver Wilson could grow with over the next 5-6 years. Don’t be shocked if it ends up being an undersized, highly competitive production machine. Just like the QB.

Seattle’s Frank Clark flashes first round talent, explosion

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

Frank Clark was taken by the Seahawks at pick #63

Frank Clark could’ve been a first round pick. The character flags and his dismissal from Michigan made him available to the Seahawks at the end of the second round.

Let’s look at how he compares to the first pass rusher taken in the draft — Dante Fowler Jr (#3 overall).

Clark’s a shade under 6-3, he’s 271lbs and ran a 4.64. Fowler Jr is 10lbs lighter and ran a 4.60 at the combine. Clark beat Fowler Jr in the vertical (38.5 vs 32.5 inches), broad (118 vs 112 inches), three cone (7.08 vs 7.40), short shuttle (4.05 vs 4.32) and the 60-yard shuttle (11.22 vs 11.89).

They’re virtually the same height but Clark’s arms are an inch longer at 34.5 inches.

The most important measurable might be the 10-yard split. Clark ran a 1.58 while Fowler Jr managed a 1.59. Anything under 1.60 is considered excellent.

Statistically Fowler Jr managed 15 TFL’s in 2014 compared to Clark’s 13.5 — although he played two more games due to Clark’s dismissal.

PFF ranked Clark as the third most productive pass rusher in college football last season and the sixth best versus the run. Fowler Jr came in at #8 in terms of pass rush and wasn’t in the top-20 for run defense.

Is it fair to contemplate how much better Dante Fowler Jr actually is — the #3 overall pick? It makes you wonder how high Clark would’ve been drafted without the red flags. That’s not to underplay Fowler Jr’s tape (which is excellent). He showed he could rush from any spot (D-end, inside, linebacker). He’s much more nimble working in space and there are times where he just sidesteps blockers and it’s over. Fowler Jr has cat-like agility and that is the one big separating factor.

The thing is, Clark’s tape isn’t half bad either.

Fowler Jr was the best defensive player in the draft (Leonard Williams was a little overrated, but that’s another story). Clark isn’t a million miles away. It sounds absurd because it hasn’t been talked about. With a clean off the field record it’s almost certain Clark would’ve been one of the biggest risers. He certainly wouldn’t have been available for the Seahawks.

Whether this team should’ve capitalised on that situation is a debate that will dominate Seattle sports media this week.

Cliff Avril ran a 1.50 split at 253lbs. Bruce Irvin ran a 1.55 split at 245lbs. Clark is nearly 20lbs heavier than Avril and 26lbs heavier than Irvin. He’s in the same ball-park for short-range quickness.

We’re talking about an exceptional physical specimen with a rare combination of length, speed and explosion.

So we’ve established he’s a spectacular athlete. What about his play?

Clark is a splash play specialist. A splash play is recorded any time a pass rusher negatively impacts a pass attempt. That could be a sack, knocking down the ball at the LOS, tipping a pass or hitting a QB while he’s throwing the ball.

Not all of these plays show up in the stat column. There’s a lot of focus on sacks in particular — as if it’s the greatest determining factor in how effective a player is.

In many cases it’s a red herring.

Let’s say a defensive end explodes off the snap and gets into the backfield, forcing the quarterback to move off the spot. He tries to scramble and runs straight into the arms of a defensive tackle who records the sack. The D-end makes the play but gets none of the credit.

Clark only recorded 4.5 sacks in ten games for Michigan in 2014. That doesn’t even begin to tell the story of his production. He added 13.5 TFL’s, broke up two passes, averaged 4.2 tackles a game and impacted many more snaps.

His pursuit is phenomenal and virtually unmatched in the 2015 draft class. He works down the line better than any other pass rusher, stringing out run plays and often making tackles by the sideline. He doesn’t give up, the motor never stops. If he doesn’t win initially in a 1v1 battle he keeps going, works off the block and largely holds position at the very least. These are all valuable traits when it comes to run defense. Even if he doesn’t end up being a sack artist — he’ll always hold major value for his range and pursuit against the run. He’s a tough guy to move around.

In a play against Akron he’s double teamed off the edge giving the defensive tackle a 1v1 situation up the middle. It allowed the DT to get the QB off his spot and scramble to his left. Clark disengages and chases the QB down for no gain by the far sideline.

In the same game he stunts inside and explodes through the middle to absolutely hammer the quarterback as he throws (forcing an incompletion). The quarterback limped off to the sideline.

You see everything you look for in an accomplished pass rusher too. Too many college players rely on speed to dominate overmatched offensive linemen. When they get to the next level and they take on superior blockers they are one-dimensional and become ineffective or resort to specialist roles. Clark is capable of taking on a blocker, disengaging with heavy hands and exploding into the backfield. He’s willing to mix things up — stunting inside, using the spin move. He’ll draw you in from different angles. He’s adept at converting speed to power and yet you still see the two fundamental plays — the speed rush to the edge and the bull rush.

Look at the video below and fast forward to 0:28:

Clark engages the tackle and drives him into the backfield. At that point he’s won the battle, it’s all about how quick he can get to the QB. He eventually disengages to make the sack. This is the type of play you see in the NFL all the time. At the next level you rarely beat a tackle with pure speed the same way you do against the college tackles. You have to battle, you have to work. Clark is pro-ready in that regard.

Fast forward to 1:37 in the same video. Clark uses one arm to keep the tackle off his frame (length crucial here) and just rides him into the quarterback. It takes a little while to get the QB down but the end result is a 12-13 yard loss. Speed, power, finish.

Frank Clark’s been outstanding tonight” yells the commentator after the play.

If you need evidence he can be a quick-twitch speed rusher, take a look at 0:52 below:

He glides beyond the right tackle, bending the arc and exploding. The quarterback does well to make a quick throw — but this doesn’t take anything away from Clark’s play.

Look at the same video at 1:35. Clark makes a fantastic break off the snap — he’s a split-second ahead of every other lineman. He’s straight into the backfield leaving the right tackle in his stance. If you freeze the frame at 1:38 you see a quarterback about to be slammed for a big sack. He senses the pressure and tries to escape. On another day he runs straight into a crowded LOS and probably straight into a defensive tackle. A nice double team on the DT means he can scramble up the middle for a short gain before Clark brings him down.

This is a splash play. The quarterback is trying to throw the ball downfield but can’t because Clark’s in the backfield. Just because he avoids a big loss and makes a couple of yards on the play — it’s still a win for Clark.

Look at 1:58. He engages the left tackle four yards behind the LOS. Why? The tackle knows he has to set a deep base against this guy. Clark shrugs him off and tackles the running back for a one-yard gain. It’s a brilliant play.

And that brings us to the Northwestern game. I broke it down in March so rather than repeat myself you can check it out here. Here’s one noticeable line though:

He looks like a second round talent with an UDFA character flag. If you trust him — or if you can make yourself believe you can trust him — you’re going to get a guy who can play quickly, will excel against the run and make plays even as a rookie.

He shoots gaps better than possibly any other defensive end in this class. He’s certainly among the top group. This kind of play flashes up quite a lot:

Lower body explosion and speed isn’t defined solely by a 40-yard run in a straight line. Here’s the 1.58 split and the 38.5 inch vertical showing up on tape.

Without the character concerns, there’s every chance Clark would’ve built momentum at the combine and ended up going in the first round.

Michael Bennett played 763 snaps in the 2014 season. He was always going to have a bigger role in his second season since returning to Seattle, but it’s still too many. Clark can realistically spell both Bennett and Avril. He’s somewhere between the two players in terms of speed, power and the ability to work along the line. There’s even some evidence he can play in space — he dropped on the odd occasion for Michigan and didn’t look out of place.

Seattle retained most of a defense that remained #1 in the NFL for points and yardage last season. The one player of significance they lost — Byron Maxwell — they replaced with their most expensive veteran acquisition in the open market (Cary Williams). Now they’ve acquired an explosive pass rusher to replace two-sack O’Brien Schofield.

If Jordan Hill makes a full recovery, if Cassius Marsh can force his way into the rotation, if Brandon Mebane can reach his 2014 form and if Ahtyba Rubin helps solidify the middle — you could be looking at comparable depth to the 2013 line.

Tomorrow — a look at Tyler Lockett.