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McGinn’s scouts share insider info on the WR’s and OT’s

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

Ja'Wuan James is going to go in the first round

Bob McGinn at the Journal Sentinel is one of best connected journalists in the business — and a great follow if you love the draft. If anonymous scouting quotes are your thing, McGinn’s articles on the draft will feel like nirvana.

If you need any more proof his sources are legit — McGinn ranks #2 overall in the Huddle Report’s mock draft rankings over the last five years.

He recently asked his insider sources for opinions on the 2014 receivers and offensive tackles. I’ve picked out quotes on specific prospects we’ve considered for Seattle at #32:

Cody Latimer (WR, Indiana)

“He’s big and he can get behind guys… He’s competitive. Really good hands. He’s a bigger guy so he’s not a sudden guy who will gain a lot of separation against man coverage. He’s going to beat you vertically and he’s a big guy. He’ll win by getting body position on guys. He’s not a No. 1, not a special guy like that. He’s a No. 2.”

“People will say he can’t run and played at Indiana… But he’s big. He’s in the top group.”

This is consistent with what we’ve been hearing on Latimer over the last few weeks. Some people are concerned that he isn’t able to create major separation. Any team that values timing and precise routes will probably prefer other players in this class. But the point I’d make to counter that is — some teams (like Seattle and Philadelphia) aren’t asking for consistent separation. They’re actively challenging their receivers to win 1v1 battles instead — high pointing the football and dominating the redline.

Neither the Seahawks or the Eagles are likely to be too concerned by Latimer’s ability to separate. They’ll be much more focused on his strong hands, ability to compete for the ball in the air, freaky athleticism and excellent run blocking.

That final quote sums it up. “He’s in the top group.”

He sure is — and that’s why I think the Seahawks will be lucky if he’s there at #32.

Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State)

“Really like his up side… He’s actually a little more fluid for a big guy getting in and out of his breaks but he’s not as fast and certainly not near as smart as Evans. He’s going to be a project. Good kid. He could have really used another year in school.”

“Boom or bust… You can see some flashes. Little bit inconsistent, there’s lack of speed and some stiffness.”

“I should like him more… I just thought he was a prima donna. That was his personality on tape.”

He’s a acquired taste. Some teams will be scared off by a 240lbs receiver because there just aren’t many in the league. If you want excuses to dislike him you can find them — the ridiculous drops, the sloppy routes, the lethargy in his play at times.

Then there’s the other side to it. Some teams will love his incredible size and flashes of brilliance. He has plays where he leaps way above helpless defensive backs to high point a difficult grab. He’ll break tackles in the open field. He’ll lay the wood on a key block. He could be a monster at the next level and perhaps there aren’t many 240lbs receivers because Benjamin is a special case? A rare talent?

Personally I think a lot of teams won’t be willing to offer a first round grade. But it only takes two or three to like the guy and he’ll go in the 12-22 range. What’s the saying we’ve heard a few times this off-season? “You can’t teach 6-5″?

Donte Moncrief (WR, Ole Miss)

“He’s a vertical receiver… He’s a big guy with straight-line speed. He drops balls. He’s got some tightness to him and he’s not real quick, but he’s powerful. He may be the best blocker of all the receivers. He actually goes after people.”

“Really soft… “He doesn’t want anything to do with it.”

Talk about a contradiction between two scouts. One says he’s the best blocker in the class and really goes after people. The other says he’s soft.

Moncrief’s one of the more difficult players to project in this draft. He could easily be a first round pick with a combination of supreme athletic quality and potential. But you’d be banking on upside. There’s some poor 2013 tape out there. Part of it’s on the schizophrenic Ole Miss offense. Part of it’s on Moncrief.

Perhaps crucially for the Seahawks he doesn’t have the strongest hands or the best ability to high point or compete for the football. I wouldn’t rule him out because of that — because he’s also a SPARQ demon. And Seattle loves a development project. It’s still worth noting, however.

Martavis Bryant (WR, Clemson)

“He’s a vertical guy… Clemson said he was the fastest guy on their team. I said, ‘No way he’s as fast as Watkins.’ They said yes. This guy separates from them all. He’s 6-4 and can run. If Al Davis was still alive he’d be all excited over him.”

“He has a Randy Moss-type build… “Doesn’t run as fast as Randy but a notch below. There’s some immaturity. He scored a touchdown and threw the ball in the stands and did the throat-slash gesture. He does some idiotic stuff. But as far as natural ability he’s up there.”

The Moss comparison is an easy one to make. At times when you watch Bryant on tape you just get blown away by his potential. He’s a big play waiting to happen and any quarterback with a big arm is going to love his ability to stretch the field.

He’s well coached too as all Clemson receivers are. He sells the deep route perfectly and often creates good separation over the middle driving forward then exploding into a crossing route.

Bryant’s problems are all character based. He nearly destroyed his own career through sheer laziness and complacency. He was told not to travel with the team to the Chic-Fil-A Bowl after the 2012 season following his latest act of immaturity. That acted as a wake-up call and he knuckled down in 2013 right when he needed a big year.

The question is though — what happens when he gets paid? He has a young child and maybe that Bowl game was an epiphany moment. “How am I going to provide for my kid?” Will it be mission accomplished with the first contract, or will he continue to work on his craft and remain motivated? In the right environment he could be a star. But it’s a titanic sized ‘if’.

Ja’Wuan James (T, Tennessee)

“Athletic enough to play either side but more suited to the right… He can walk in and start for you right off the bat. Solid, not spectacular. Has a lot of talent. One of those eight- to 12-year guys as a starter if he can stay healthy.”

“Very intelligent (Wonderlic of 25), great kid, solid player… Great family. Just draft him because you’ll never have a problem with this kid.”

“He’s kind of like (Alabama’s D.J.) Fluker from last year… Just a big, powerful guy with long arms.”

James is going to go in the first round, probably the top-20. As the first scout notes — he’s a plug-in-and-play starter who will do a job for you. He’s probably not going to make it to multiple Pro-Bowls or get a ton of attention, but you’ll never complain about him. For five years on that first contract you’ll get a really solid offensive tackle.

I wasn’t a big fan of Fluker at Alabama and actually prefer James. But if that’s the comparison NFL scouts are making you wonder how early he could go. Fluker went #11 overall despite being the sixth offensive lineman to leave the board. Don’t be shocked at all if James goes a lot earlier than people think.

Call it a hunch, but I think as teams have done their homework on him he’s shot up boards. It happens. When Tom Cable went to work him out at Tennessee I wonder if the Seahawks were zoning in on him and thought there was a very real chance he’d be there at #32? Now it’s probably a long shot I’d say. He will need to improve his core strength though — he doesn’t drive many people off the ball in the run game and he only had 22 reps on the bench press at the combine.

Morgan Moses (T, Virginia)

“I was disappointed in him, I really was… He looks like Tarzan but kind of plays like Jane.”

“In September, I’d have said forget this guy, he’s overrated… But the guy had a really good year doing what he does best, and that’s outside pass pro. Not a good play-strength guy. Not a good run blocker. Has never really embraced the whole process as far as passion and work ethic.”

“He’s got some fatal flaws in terms of stiffness… I could see him being a starter but not a very good starter.”

“He may sneak into the bottom of the first. He’s a better player than (Seantrel) Henderson and (Antonio) Richardson and a 1,000 times better kid and teammate.”

“Those Virginia offensive linemen scare the heck out of me… They’re always athletic as heck but they’re soft. There’s something about Virginia. Maybe it’s too academic or something.”

When I watched Moses against Vic Beasley and Clemson I was incredibly disappointed. He looked gassed and out of shape. But then you watch him shut down Jeremiah Attaochu and you see the potential. As a pass protector he’s pretty good, but you just can’t get excited about the idea of drafting him early.

If the Carolina Panthers are making a left tackle the priority they need to consider this because after he goes, they’ll struggle to get a rookie starter at the position. He has the length Seattle looks for and they might go for it — but it’d be a little underwhelming.

Joel Bitonio (T, Nevada)

“He’s pretty efficient as a left tackle but best suited as a guard… He doesn’t have elite feet or length (337/8 arms). He’s a tough (expletive). He’s not a road-grader. He needs to get stronger but he tries to finish your (expletive) and he’s smart (Wonderlic of 29). He’s really grooved.”

“He can play tackle, guard or center… All he does is block his guy. Tough, smart. Second round.”

This is all fair. Bitonio does have to get stronger (24 reps on the bench at the combine). But his attitude and technique more than make up for it and if you can combine the two you’ll be looking at a very good player. There won’t be any sense of entitlement with Bitonio if he does go early.

I think he can play tackle and sure — he might be a better guard. He reminds me a ton of Logan Mankins. They’re almost identical players entering the league — in terms of athleticism, college career etc. The Seahawks could plug him in at left guard with the option to move him to tackle if they get any injuries. Or they could just throw him in there at right tackle. He won’t struggle.

As much as they love length, we also know they love competitors. They’re willing to go away from size ideals if the player makes up for it in other areas. And there aren’t many more determined individuals in this class at any position.

And one final reminder — if you’re going to focus on arm length, remember his arms are just as long as Taylor Lewan’s and are actually longer than Jake Matthews.

Kevin Norwood could be a consolation prize for Seattle

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Kevin Norwood could be a target on day three

I still believe seven receivers will go in the first round:

Sammy Watkins
Mike Evans
Odell Beckham Jr
Marqise Lee
Cody Latimer
Brandin Cooks
Kelvin Benjamin

In that situation it might be hard to justify taking a wide out at #32. It’s possible, I suppose, that they could look at the supreme athletic potential of a Martavis Bryant or Donte Moncrief, the size of a Brandon Coleman or the ‘go up and get it’ ability of Davante Adams. But there might just be better options elsewhere at that point.

There will be some nice options at #64 and beyond. The re-signing of Sidney Rice takes away some of the immediate pressure to add a receiver, but they’ll almost certainly look to add one at some point. Coleman’s freaky size and potential continues to be intriguing and if he makes it to #64 he’s one to watch. There are others too.

But if they wait even further — Alabama’s Kevin Norwood could be a consolation prize.

He was thoroughly dependable for the Crimson Tide but never really developed into a dynamic playmaker. He has modest size (6-2, 198lbs) and decent speed (4.48). There’s nothing particularly exciting about him athletically and with so many good receivers in this class he might struggle to crack day two.

Having said that, he does seem to fit the kind of receiver the Seahawks look for later on.

Alabama are a run first team obviously and even when they had Julio Jones a few years back — they stuck with their identity. They challenge their receivers to make big plays and be consistent. It’s very similar to Seattle’s philosophy. Norwood wasn’t a big-time production guy and in some games only received one or two targets. But when the ball was coming his way — he needed to make the most of it. And usually, he did.

That’s pretty much Seattle’s way of doing things too.

Look at the way Jermaine Kearse has been utilised. Last season he had eight games with 0-2 targets. The Seahawks aren’t throwing a bunch and Kearse as the #3 or #4 receiver isn’t going to get a ton of looks. Yet when it comes his way — they challenge him to make a big play. It’s about maximising opportunities.

That’s why they want players with strong, reliable hands who can win at the red line and high point the football. Amid all the talk this week about whether Cody Latimer can separate — that might bother some teams, but probably not Seattle. They’ll throw the ball to tight coverage because they expect their WR’s to win 1v1 battles. This isn’t a precise, timing offense. This is a smack you in the face with the run game then beat you with play action offense.

Kearse isn’t driving off cornerbacks, getting wide open and making nice easy catches. He’s high pointing the football for a touchdown in Carolina, winning that flea flicker in Atlanta, making a difficult grab in the end zone in the NFC Championship game and catching the ball in traffic versus the Broncos in the Super Bowl.

Norwood can come in and be a role player for Seattle. And he might only get 1-2 targets in a game at best. But he’ll get you 17 yards on that catch or make a tough sideline grab under pressure. He’ll move the chains once or twice a game or get a drive rolling with a difficult catch.

So while his value is limited to a lot of teams in the league and he’s not blowing anyone away physically — as a third day pick for the Seahawks he could have some appeal and make his way into the rotation fairly quickly.

Fast forward to 1:41 in the video below:

This was a frustrating game for Alabama. They were toiling against an over-matched Kentucky team. They turned the ball over (T.J. Yeldon fumble) in the red zone. Another drive stalled a few yards out and they had to settle for a field goal. They were making mistakes.

A.J. McCarron — emphasising the frustration of the first quarter — just throws one up for grabs downfield as he tries to make any kind of play. Norwood is in double coverage and after play action, McCarron really shouldn’t be throwing this pass. Norwood bails him out by high pointing the football between the two defenders and making a huge gain.

After this play Alabama coasted along to a big win. That catch changed the game. It was Norwood’s first meaningful contribution too — and the most important by any player on the day.

He’s also pretty good in the scramble drill (and remember, the Seahawks want to be the best scrambling team in the NFL according to Pete Carroll). McCarron isn’t Russell Wilson but he did have a few moments running around trying to extend plays in 2013. More often than not he looked for Norwood in these situations.

Fast forward to 2:48 in the video below:

McCarron buys himself some time and directs traffic — telling Norwood to sprint downfield to the left sideline. He throws a nice pass into an area where only the receiver can make a play — and Norwood obliges with a terrific diving catch.

Doug Baldwin’s party piece is the improbable grab. How many times does Wilson lob one up only for Baldwin to make a highlight reel play down the sideline? While ever Seattle has Wilson, they need receivers who can do this. They need players who just know where to be — have a natural feel for finding the right spot. Being on the same wave length as the quarterback.

Norwood ticks two big boxes for the Seahawks.

Even so, I thought it was a little rich for Mel Kiper to project him at #64 in yesterday’s bizarre combined mock draft with Todd McShay. He has limited upside and he’s not an explosive athlete. He has short 32 inch arms and a smaller catching radius. A dependable scheme fit is nice — but you don’t reach for those types of players, especially when they might be impacting only one or two snaps a game.

Seattle loved Wilson in 2012 but were prepared to risk losing him to stick with their board and grades.

Kearse and Baldwin both went undrafted in a weaker class for receivers. Even if they really like Norwood, I bet they’d be willing to miss out altogether rather than feel the need to make a big reach. I suspect he’ll be available much later than the second round.

If they don’t get a receiver nice and early, keep an eye on this guy.

Kiper & McShay’s latest mocks — who’s there for Seattle?

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Has anyone explained why they need to be in a lab to talk about the draft?

ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay published new mocks this week, and both had the same player at #32 to Seattle.

I can see why they think Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt is a good fit. Unlike other analysts, they’ve retained a degree of belief in him throughout this process. He didn’t have a great 2013 and we’ve all heard the excuses as to why — weight gain after an injury, not being 100% healthy. I think they’re legit excuses, but the fact he’s been unable to properly work-out for teams during the off-season will be a concern.

Essentially he’s still injured and still not 100%. He didn’t do anything at the combine except the bench press. It just feels like there’s so much we don’t know. How good is he? Do teams have all the answers they need?

If they were looking to replace Red Bryant with a similar player — Tuitt has the size to do the job. I suspect Kiper and McShay are making the pick with that thought in mind. However, Pete Carroll has already discussed his preference to adapt the defense and not necessarily rely on a two-down big body against the run.

It’s also worth noting that Bryant was more than just a big guy. He was the heartbeat of the defense until Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman wrestled that away. Keeping him in the line-up could’ve been as much about keeping Bryant the man out there as it was having a big five technique on the field.

The Seahawks have looked for unnatural size, length or speed on the defensive line. Tuitt has the size that’s for sure — and the length (nearly 35 inch arms). But I’m not convinced his 2012 pass rush production is going to translate to the next level and if it doesn’t — what are you truly getting? A more athletic version of Bryant who still only plays two downs?

I just have a feeling Seattle will end up looking for more than that. Having lost Chris Clemons and Clinton McDonald (and with Cliff Avril a free agent next year) a pass rusher seems more likely at #32 than a big body. I’ve no doubt they have faith in the players already on the roster (Jordan Hill, Kenneth Boatwright, Benson Mayowa, Greg Scruggs) but a collection of unproven, low cost individuals probably won’t prevent them from adding another interior or edge rusher.

I’m going to run through some of the players off the board in the Kiper and McShay mocks and look at the options at #32.

Both projections are hidden behind a pay wall. If you have an ESPN Insider account you can see Kiper’s mock in full here and McShay’s here.

Players off the board in both mocks:

Cody Latimer (WR, Indiana)
Morgan Moses (T, Virginia)
Ryan Shazier (LB, Ohio State)
Anthony Barr (DE, UCLA)
Ra’Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota)
Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State)

Kiper has eight receivers taken in round one, while McShay has seven gone before #32. That sounds about right to me — I think we’ll see seven. That includes Cody Latimer who doesn’t get past #26 in either mock.

Morgan Moses is a real head scratcher. He was superb against Jeremiah Attaochu and Georgia Tech, extremely competent against Virginia Tech and their collection of pass rushers. Yet against Vic Beasley and Clemson he looked tired, slow and cumbersome. McShay says “it’s a $10 dollar cab ride” to get around Moses — and he’s kind of right. He’s tough to pass — but it’s exhausting watching him play. Against a top speed rusher like Beasley, he didn’t look comfortable.

In fact he looked like he was running the Boston Marathon wearing a sumo suite. If you value length and massive size at tackle you’ll probably really like Moses. The Seahawks DO value length and size as we’ve seen with Russell Okung and James Carpenter. So he has to be considered an option at #32. But you’ll have to keep an eye on his conditioning and stamina. It could be a battle — he’s a big guy.

I think he’s unlikely to make it to Seattle — as McShay and Kiper suggest in their mocks.

And here’s why:

That’s a quote from Carolina’s GM Dave Gettleman, openly admitting he’d like a left tackle. The depth at receiver and corner is better than the depth at tackle this year if you want/need a potential blindside blocker. Moses can play on the left — so he’s unlikely to get past #28 if he even falls that far. Tony Pauline also reported earlier this month: “I’m told the Carolina Panthers could grab Moses late in round one.”

Both Kiper and McShay have Ryan Shazier going to Green Bay at #21 — an excellent fit because they need more speed and grit at linebacker. The Packers run a 3-4 but throw in a lot of different looks. They didn’t sign Julius Peppers to be dropping back in coverage as a pure outside linebacker. They’re still struggling against the read option a year after that playoff game in San Francisco. Shazier would help in a big way, although Dom Capers…

In McShay’s previous mock he had Shazier falling into the middle of round two. This to me is a sign of sourced information. Nobody else makes this kind of jump in either of the two mocks. Mike Mayock yesterday also referred to Shazier as a “first round lock”.

Another player McShay had available at #32 last time was Anthony Barr. Both analysts have him going to San Diego at #25 which looks like an excellent fit for team and player. Barr’s length, 10-yard split and potential would make him a very intriguing option for Seattle. He’s too much of a project for a team picking in the top-10 needing an impact player — but for a good team using a rotation on the defensive line, Barr makes a great deal of sense.

Ra’Shede Hageman goes to New England at #29 in both mocks. He’s another player who might interest Seattle. Although some reports have suggested he’s difficult to coach and on tape he’s boom or bust — when he dominates he really dominates. Unfortunately it happens too infrequently. As Bob McGinn’s anonymous scout source put it: “For the one or two plays a game he plays good, he’s a first-rounder… For the other 30 when he’s out of the game, or the other 20 when he doesn’t do anything, then he’s a free agent.”

I think Kelvin Benjamin’s going to go in the 12-22 range. Yes — there are some lousy drops on tape. But there’s also a lot of potential, a heck of a lot in fact. Kiper has him going at #22 to Philadelphia which makes a lot of sense. They could use a big receiver to work in the red zone and compliment what they already have on offense. Nick Foles had a good year last season, but he needs receivers who can compete in the air and win contested passes. Benjamin has the size and reach to flourish in that system.

McShay thinks he’ll fall to #30 and the Niners.

Players available in Kiper’s mock:

Joel Bitonio (T, Nevada)
Ja’Wuan James (T, Tennessee)
Dominique Easley (DT, Florida)
Donte Moncrief (WR, Ole Miss)

Players available in McShay’s mock:

Ja’Wuan James (T, Tennessee)
Dominique Easley
Donte Moncrief (WR, Ole Miss)

I’m not sure anyone has a perfect smokescreen detector, but I think there are ways to help determine fact or fiction. When a team like St. Louis suddenly reveals it’s making a dramatic last minute trip to Texas A&M to work out Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans — it’s fair to question their motive.

When Mark Dominik comes out and names a list of first round locks – I think we can take that on face value. And when a newspaper like the Miami Herald backs that information up in relation to the Dolphins’ grades — again, I think it’s safe to take it on face value.

Ja’Wuan James is probably going to go in the first round — as Dominik and the Herald projected last week. The tackles go early and often every year — and it’ll be exactly the same in 2014. If Zack Martin is gone within the first 10-12 picks, there are enough needy teams for James to find a home in the late teens if not earlier.

If you think that’s too high, you’re probably right. But tackles get over-drafted every year because it’s such a vital position. If James really is a plug-in-and-play type of player (and I believe he is) then there’s every chance he’ll go earlier than most people think. Especially given he’s pretty much a prototype in terms of physical appearance.

In these two mocks he’s available to Seattle at #32 and would probably be the pick all things considered. He has the length (35 inch arms) and size (6-6, 311lbs) they like. He needs to get stronger as the 22 reps on the bench at the combine suggests. He isn’t driving people off the ball in the run game on tape. Joel Bitonio was a much better run blocker at Nevada but if I’m prepared to say it’s inevitable he’ll improve his core strength at the next level (he managed 24 reps in Indianapolis) — I need to offer the same pass to James. What he lacks in power he makes up with technique.

You’d be getting a really solid player with a ton of experience (nearly 50 games) at right tackle in the SEC. I suspect he was the main focus when Tom Cable attended the Tennessee pro day. At one point in 2010 they thought they could get Trent Williams at #14 before he shot up draft boards. He ended up being a top-5 lock. Perhaps Cable made that visit thinking James would likely be there at #32 — and he’s since enjoyed a similar late rise?

Kiper has Bitonio available for Seattle, but McShay has him going to Carolina at #28. He also has Morgan Moses going at #19. If Moses lasts to the Panthers, there’s every chance Bitonio makes it to the Seahawks. I wouldn’t be surprised if he too goes earlier than people think — much in the way Kyle Long became a popular pick a year ago.

People complain about Bitonio’s arm length but often fail to realise he has longer arms than Jake Matthews and identical arm length to Taylor Lewan. If Seattle is unwilling to draft Bitonio in the late first on that issue, would they also pass on Matthews and Lewan given the opportunity? I’d say that’s unlikely. And I’m not convinced there’s a huge drop off in talent between the three.

I suspect ideally they’d like length at tackle, but they’ve never picked this late in round one before. If a player scores highly in other categories — technique, tenacity, desire to finish blocks, nasty attitude on the field — they might be willing to re-consider the penchant for length. When you watch Bitonio frustrate the living daylights out of Anthony Barr and really get under his skin — I think that’s what they want. He’s proven he can perform against the best college football has to offer — not just Barr, but also the Florida State defensive line teeing off with a big lead. He never backed down.

Versatility is key too. Bitonio can play right tackle, guard and yes — he can fill at left tackle just like Paul McQuistan. Except he’ll do a lot better than McQuistan.

If James and Moses are off the board — Bitonio might be the best or even only option to address right tackle. They may decide to pass and go down the later round route. They’ve visited with multiple tackles and continue to dig around for gems. There’s some depth out there and rounds 4-6 could be the area where they take two or maybe even three offensive linemen if they don’t address the need early.

Donte Moncrief is available in both mocks. Trying to work out how much interest Seattle would have in Moncrief is a toughie. On the one hand he’s an incredible athlete with terrific size, speed and leaping ability (6-2/220lbs, 4.40 forty, 39.5 inch veritcal, 11 foot broad jump). He’s a very balanced individual with a high ceiling.

Here’s the catch though — the one thing he can really work on is one of the things Seattle treasures. The ability to win contested passes and dominate the red line.

Moncrief isn’t hopeless in this category, but he could be a lot better. He doesn’t have Cody Latimer’s strong hands or ability to snatch the ball away from an opponent. He’s not overly physical when jumping for the ball. Run blocking is also a point of contention. When he’s in the mood, he can be a ferocious blocker. Yet too often he doesn’t make the extra effort to get involved. Once again this is another area Latimer is superior.

The Seahawks take pride in developing players so they could look at Moncrief’s upside and salivate over the challenge. Or they could assume he’s not what they’re looking for and grade him accordingly. Bob McGinn posted a new article last night sourcing league info on the receivers and tight ends. This is one GM or scouts take on Moncrief: “Really soft… He doesn’t want anything to do with it.”

John Schneider made a very interesting remark in a pre-draft press conference yesterday:

“There are certain guys you spend a lot of time with because you’re trying to figure out the man. What’s in his heart, what’s his personality like, would he fit in the locker room? And there are certain guys we haven’t done a very good job with in my opinion, and that’s something we’ve really focused on this year. Just getting to know the person. How would he compete in this locker room? That’s something we’ve really focused on because this is such a young, competitive group. You guys saw Earl yesterday. He’s 24 years old. I mean, he’s a fairly intense guy. These guys have to have a certain quality about them that’s going to enable them to come in and compete with guys — with and/or against guys like that.”

If the Seahawks also see Moncrief as “really soft” — he isn’t going to be the pick at #32. The gritty attitude Schneider refers to would fit a player like Bitonio — and the next man on the list.

Dominique Easley.

We talked about this more here — but Easley is pretty much the epitome of what this team will be looking for if you take’s Schneider’s quote on face value. He was a team captain at Florida. He’s shown tremendous character and determination to fight back successfully from two serious knee injuries — a mental challenge as much as a physical battle. He’s dancing on the field between snaps (sound familiar?), he plays with all-out effort. He looks like a Seahawks defensive linemen.

On tape he’s an explosive, sensational player — a true top-20 talent. The only issue is the big one — injuries. But all the noise is positive right now and talk around the league is he could find a home in the back end of round one. Do not rule this out.

Other possible options available in both mocks: Demarcus Lawrence, Marcus Smith, Martavis Bryant

Dominique Easley going in round one? Plus a new mock draft

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

We’ve talked enough about Dominique Easley over the last two weeks to not be surprised by the Tweet above. This has been coming.

For anyone who missed it here’s yesterday’s piece on why Easley could be an option for the Seahawks. We also talked about him on April 18th for more on his fit in Seattle (plus tape vs Miami).

To follow up yesterday’s article I’d compiled a mock with Easley going to the Seahawks at #32. It almost seems quite predictable now to make that move in light of Rapoport’s Tweet. But here it is anyway. I’ve included four trades that are detailed below.

Trades

Atlanta (#6) trades with St. Louis (#2) for Khalil Mack
I can see a scenario where the Texans want too much for the #1 pick and are prepared to take Jadeveon Clowney if they don’t get what they want. If that’s the case, I still think the Falcons will consider moving up to add a defensive playmaker. I’m not a huge Khalil Mack fan, but the league seems to think differently. The Rams are likely to be a very willing trade partner and the relationship between Les Snead and Thomas Dimitroff gets the deal done for a modest price.

Detroit (#10) trades with Jacksonville (#3) for Sammy Watkins
The Lions have visited with all the top players in the draft and appear determined to make a splash. They’ll probably have to battle Buffalo to make this move (the Bills have also expressed an interest in trading up) but the Lions are determined to get over the hump and may go that extra mile to land a player like Watkins. I think the Jaguars will target a small move down the board before taking either Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles.

New Orleans (#27) trades with Chicago (#14) for Odell Beckham Jr
I really believe the Saints are going to be very aggressive in this draft. It’s in the nature of their front office, they rarely sit still. Odell Beckham Jr is a local favourite from LSU and would give Drew Brees a needed weapon on the outside. If Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is drafted by the Rams at #13 the Bears could target a trade down. There’s no other safety worth the #14 pick, but at #27 it’s much more palatable.

San Francisco (#30) trades with Baltimore (#17) for Brandin Cooks
The 49ers have big, physical receivers. What they don’t have is an X-factor. Cooks would add another dimension to their offense. If they’re going to package picks to move up the board, this seems like a decent shout. In this projection the Ravens have seen the top five tackles leave the board. Ozzie Newsome always seems to pick the guys I bang on about on here (Courtney Upshaw, Jimmy Smith, Arthur Brown, John Simon, Matt Elam). So how about this — they trade down to #30 and take Joel Bitonio. In a press conference today Newsome suggested the #17 pick is open for business.

Options for the Seahawks

In this projection eight receivers are off the board and seven offensive tackles. They have to look elsewhere.

I don’t think they’ll take a pure guard in round one, so really it comes down to the defense. They aren’t drafting a corner in the first round (I doubt Pete Carroll ever will). Guys like Ryan Shazier and Anthony Barr are off the board too.

The two best options here might be Ra’Shede Hageman and Dominique Easley.

Given Rapoport’s report at the top of the piece, I wouldn’t rule out the Patriots rolling the dice on Easley. They like versatile, explosive defensive linemen. It’s a need for the Pats. It makes a ton of sense. They’ve drafted plenty of players from Florida in the past — and Belichick frequently goes back to the well (particularly the ‘Rutgers’ well).

If I’d gone in that direction at #29 obviously Hageman would’ve been available for the Seahawks at #32. It’ll be a pick-your-poison type of situation. Easley is a more consistent, explosive player but he carries an injury red flag. Hageman is extremely inconsistent — but he’s healthy, has better size and the upside to be an excellent pro.

It goes to show that even in a scenario where 15 players are off the board at the two positions of highest need (RT, WR) — there are still nice options available at #32.

Even with eight receivers off the board in round one — I think there’ll be some nice wide out options at #64 (potentially Brandon Coleman). If this many tackles leave the board in the first frame, it might be down to Tom Cable to dig out some later round gems again.

Next week’s mock will be my final projection and the one I send to the Huddle Report. Tomorrow we’ll look at Mel Kiper and Todd McShay’s latest mocks and the options available at #32 in each of their latest projections.

The case for the Seahawks considering Dominique Easley at #32

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Dominique Easley -- leader, pass rusher, explosive

Dominique Easley at #32 to Seattle. Is it unrealistic? Maybe. Is it totally out of the question? Perhaps not.

You can’t get away from the two serious ACL injuries and the flags attached to that situation. If the medical checks say he has a high risk of further setbacks or he’ll lose some of his elite quickness and get off — he won’t be considered by anyone in round one.

Yet over the last couple of weeks I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the debate of Seattle considering him at #32. I’m not saying it will happen, but here’s the reasons why it possibly could:

– Other players have recovered from two major knee injuries in college to forge successful pro careers. Frank Gore had exactly the same experience — suffering ACL injuries to both knees in separate seasons before entering the draft. He’s been one of the most durable players in the NFL since 2005 — despite playing the position that takes the biggest beating. If Gore can make it work, why not Easley?

– Unlike Cyrus Kouandjio, all the current talk about Easley’s health is positive. He had a good work out in Florida in front of a number of scouts and coaches (see video below). There’s been no negative reports or leaks regarding his status. He’s writing a draft diary for Fox Sports and in this weeks edition he mentioned he will return to Indianapolis for a fresh medical check — a process all injured prospects go through. If it’s positive news — and with Easley already seven months into rehab — he’ll be gaining a lot of momentum.

– Make no mistake, Easley is a high pick without the injuries. You’re talking about an explosive difference maker who can line up anywhere on the defensive line. He’ll consistently collapse the pocket, impacting the run and the pass. Even if he’s not recording the sack, see how often the quarterback has to escape the pocket because he’s quickly into the backfield with an incredible burst. Despite lacking ideal size or arm length — he holds the point against the run and has the lateral agility to move down the line and stretch out running plays. He has a relentless sparky motor, a tone setter on defense and an incredible competitor. Don’t underestimate the character he’s shown trying to fight through two serious injuries. You’ll see a tape breakdown vs Toldeo (2013) at the bottom of this article.

Tony Pauline recently tweeted he’d go in the second round with the Seahawks showing a lot of interest. Seattle owns the final pick before round two. If all of the top tackles and receivers are drafted before #32, could he be a wild card alternative?

– The Seahawks have an insider when it comes to Easley. Dan Quinn spent two years as Florida’s defensive coordinator before rejoining the Seahawks. He’ll know all about the pro’s and con’s. Sometimes familiarity means you judge with a more critical eye. There’s no guarantee Quinn is banging the table for Easley — for all we know the opposite is true. But what if he is in there, fighting his corner despite the injuries? After all — the coaches in Florida made him a team captain.

– Matt Elam, last years #32 pick, has a cap hit peak of $2.15m on his rookie contract. It builds up to that number in year four from a starting point of $1.2m. The Ravens have a fifth year option on the deal. There’s no financial risk in taking Easley with the final pick in round one. If you grade him in the top-20 and you get positive news on his recovery, it’s not even that much of a gamble.

– Some people might argue taking Easley would be a luxury given the needs on the roster. However, could they target a receiver at #64 (eg, Brandon Coleman) and load up on offensive linemen using Cable’s later-round list? You could still fill your needs, while also getting a major impact player for your defensive line.

– The 49ers drafted Tank Carradine with the #40 pick last year — a player in a similar situation. Unlike Carradine, however, Easley is much further along in his rehab and shouldn’t need to be redshirted during the first year of his contract. For me, Easley’s also a better prospect.

– A reader named Thorson posted this a couple of days ago in relation to Easley’s injury issues. It’s worth a read:

As an orthopedic surgeon, I can perhaps add some insight into Easley’s knee. Typically, when fixing an ACL, we use a graft to replace the torn ligament. Sometimes we use a patient’s own tissue. Often, however, when dealing with an elite athlete, we use cadaver graft. That way we don’t compromise any function a patient might lose by taking a tendon from them. Also, recovery is quicker with banked, cadaver tissue since we don’t have to damage a patient’s leg harvesting the graft. So, assuming the tunnels we use to pass the graft were placed correctly, the hardware we use to fix the graft is easy to remove and probably most important that there is no underlying arthritis or significant damage to the meniscal cartilages, then there isn’t that much difference between recovery after ACL #1 or #2 (or #3 for that matter.) Again, the wild card is the status of the meniscal and joint cartilage. With each subsequent injury, there is more risk to these underlying structures.

This is a somewhat simplified look at things, but if his meniscal cartilages are OK and if he doesn’t have a great deal of arthritis, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose him if available.

I’m still sceptical the Seahawks would draft a player with two serious knee injuries in round one. He may just be one of many options at #64 or he might be off their board completely.

It’s not just the injuries either — they do prefer length on both sides of the line. Easley’s arms a shade under 33 inches (32 7/8 inches to be precise). Even Jordan Hill — drafted in round three last year — had 33 1/2 inch arms.

There’s a counter though. You know whose arms are even shorter than Easley’s?

Aaron Donald — 32 5/8 inches in length.

If you’re telling me the Seahawks wouldn’t draft Donald at #32 because of arm length, I’m here to tell you you’re probably wrong. Sometimes just being an explosive, gritty, determined individual who makes plays is enough to see beyond size.

Ask Russell Wilson.

It’s not often you get a chance to draft such an explosive player at the end of round one. A player who, if healthy, might not get past the likes of Chicago at #14 or Dallas at #16.

If the Seahawks are planning another surprise on draft day — maybe, just maybe, this could be it.

Take a look at the tape below vs Toldeo from 2013. There’s no volume until around the 1:45 mark:

0:20 — If you want to see how he wins against the run despite a lack of great size, this is a good example. He cuts to the left, shoots the gap and then locates the ball carrier. One area he can work on at the next level is finding the man with the ball and completing the play. On this occasion — no problem.

0:28 — Engages the center, gets off the block (shoving him to the ground in the process) and loops around to the right to force the quarterback to pull the ball down and run. The edge rushers were contained for the most part and only came into play once Easley had forced the QB to tuck and run. This is the kind of splash play that doesn’t show up in the stat column.

0:53 — Here he lines up as the nose tackle on 1st and 10 and dominates the center. He wins with leverage and strength. If you pause it at 0:58 — look at the penetration he’s created while still engaged with the center. Rushing from the interior isn’t just about a swim move, speed, shooting the gap and forcing a sack/TFL. A tackle can collapse the pocket by shoving the guard or center into the backfield to impact the play. This is a run and the RB does well to make the most out of the play. Against the pass, this kind of bull rush forces the quarterback to throw quickly or move from his spot.

1:45 — Easley blows this up before the center’s even snapped the ball fully to the quarterback. On fourth and inches they line him up against the center. At 288lbs. That says everything about how highly Florida valued his ability against the run in crucial short-yardage situations.

1:59 — On this play he’s well blocked on a double team. Yet after the QB completes a pass to the RB — look at the effort to race after the ball carrier as he runs downfield. Even if the cornerback wasn’t there to make the tackle, Easley would’ve made the play down the sideline. How many defensive tackles can do this?

2:50 — More dominance of the center, lined up as the nose on 2nd and 2.

4:32 — Another example of a splash play that doesn’t go down in the stat column. Easley explodes off the snap and shoots the gap between the center and right guard. The quarterback has no time to react and throws an inaccurate pass to thin air in the red zone — forcing a field goal on third down.

4:56 — Back to back plays in this segment of the tape where he bursts into the backfield forcing the quarterback into a quick throw. Watch and enjoy.

5:29 — Easley adjusts his position and lines up between the guard and center. He’s into the backfield before the guard’s even out of his stance — that’s elite get off. With the guard desperately trying to hold him, he drags down the running back with one hand for a TFL. It’s an incredible play.

6:01 — In this play by my watch the quarterback has 1.03 seconds before Easley is in his line of vision. He’s still getting into his drop, so he can’t step into the throw (notice the placement of his back foot). If Easley is blocked well, the quarterback can step up into the pocket and avoid the two closing edge rushers. Instead he’s held in position like a sitting duck. It all starts with the interior rush.

6:25 — Easley forces the guard into the pocket, is clearly held as he tries to disengage and forces the QB (no edge pressure this time) to scramble as he’s going through his progressions. He doesn’t get a sack, but if the left end contains his edge it’s a big win for the defense.

8:09 — I guess if you’re getting your ass kicked, you can just trip him up — right?

There are plays where he’s well covered by a double team. I counted two occasions where he was blocked 1v1 and gave up a decent run as a consequence. I think you can live with that given the number of snaps he faced and the overall impact he had on the game.

Very few players truly deserve to be referred to as ‘living in the backfield’. For Easley, it’s the best way to describe him.

Forget about the draft pick for a second. If I offered you the chance to sign an explosive player coming off an ACL injury on a contract worth $1.2-2.1m per year. Would you be interested?

So much depends on the medical reports on the most recent knee injury. Even then you’re putting faith in his ability to stay healthy. If you take the chance and that faith is rewarded, you could be left with a top-tier interior pass rusher. And those types of players aren’t usually available in the late first round.

*** Update ***

Seahawks agree 4-year contract extension with Earl Thomas

Monday, April 28th, 2014

The Seahawks came into the off-season with three key priorities:

1. Keep Michael Bennett

2. Extend Earl Thomas’ contract

3. Extend Richard Sherman’s contract

Two down, one to go.

Several reports suggest a deal with Sherman could be done before the draft. Ian Rapoport, who broke the Thomas story, claims “Sherman is next”.

It’s a nice reminder that as this team moves forward, they’re not going to be able to keep every asset. In an ideal world you retain Golden Tate and Breno Giacomini. Instead the Seahawks enter the draft probably looking to add a receiver and a right tackle. That won’t change moving forward. Other players will have to be sacrificed — in the same way Red Bryant and Chris Clemons were cut to save money.

The crucial thing is keeping the core together. The elite few.

Who are the players you’ll struggle to replace?

Thomas and Sherman fall into that category.

Let’s start with Thomas. If Russell Wilson is the driving force on offense, Thomas is the defensive equivalent. We’ve seen him develop from a talented, albeit slightly reckless rookie to a cornerstone elite defensive player. He’s the Ed Reed of his generation — except he’s even better. Reed had a knack for making big plays. Thomas might not stack up interceptions in the same way — but his range, ability to cover ground in a split second and discipline make him even more effective.

The Seahawks can’t play their version of defense without Thomas. It really is as simple as that.

I’m not sure there’s another team in the league that can use a single-high safety like the Seahawks use Thomas. His presence on the field enriches everybody — Kam Chancellor, the pass rush, the cornerbacks. Even during that famous goal-line stand against the Rams on Monday Night Football — who’s making the crunching hit to prevent a touchdown?

#29

And he’s not getting by on just natural ability. He had to develop and grow. By Pete Carroll’s own admission, he took too many chances as a rookie. He had to learn the defense, understand why he needed to be in a certain place at a certain time. Once it clicked — he became what we see today. But it took a lot of hard work.

The scary thing is — I’m not sure we’ve seen the best of Earl Thomas. There are still plays or instances where you think — he can still improve. He has an opportunity over the next four years to establish a Hall of Fame career by continuing to develop. That’s the reality.

People question whether Sherman has that same ‘cannot be replaced’ ability. I’d say — sure he does.

You can talk about scheme all you want. The fact is Sherman was the least targeted cornerback in the NFL in 2013 and still led the league in interceptions. Think about that for a second. Teams were avoiding his side of the field — the very definition of a shutdown corner. And he still had more picks than any other player in the NFL.

That’s not scheme. That’s not play calling. That’s elite performance.

For all of Sherman’s outspoken views and headline-grabbing statements — he more than anyone has helped establish Seattle’s attitude. The defense you saw in the Super Bowl — confident, prepared, tough, brash and full of self belief. Sherman helped deliver that with the rest of the young leaders on this team.

His work ethic, obsessive approach to studying an opponent and spirit is worth a few million alone. He leads by example. And he’s a walking advert for hard work and dedication to your craft.

“Look what you can achieve if you do things the right way.”

He makes life easy for people like Pete Carroll. Every late round pick drafted by this team only needs to share a locker room with Sherman to feel inspired. That is priceless.

The Seahawks are very good at finding cornerbacks who fit their system in the later rounds. Nobody would deny that. But Sherman isn’t comparable to Byron Maxwell, Walter Thurmond, Jeremy Lane, Tharold Simon or the others. Put Brandon Browner’s name on that list too.

He really is the best cornerback in the league. And you don’t let the best cornerback in the league walk away to sign for someone else.

What kind of a message would that send anyway? Come to the Seahawks as a late round pick, work your tail off to become the best player at your position and then we won’t reward you — in fact we’re going to save money so we can spend a bit more in free agency?

That’s not ‘always compete’. That’s being a jerk.

Sherman has earned a big contract, the Seahawks need the best corner in the NFL on their roster and they don’t need to try and save money. They’re cap healthy. And they’ll make further savings down the line.

They’ll be under pressure to continue to draft well — but that pressure would’ve existed anyway. Let’s face it — if you’re not going out there to add multiple potential starters to your franchise in every draft you might as well not bother turning up.

If the Seahawks wanted to have another Championship off-season, they’re going about it the right way.

Sunday draft notes on James, Manziel & Easley

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

Ja'Wuan James appears destined to be a first round pick

When you get this close, you learn one or two nuggets about the way the league is viewing the draft. We get a good idea who’s going to go in the top five. We know who’s likely to fall.

And we get the occasional surprise consensus first round pick.

In 2012 about a week or two before the draft it emerged that Chandler Jones was a round one lock. The media had him tagged not unfairly as a second or third round pick, but the NFL felt differently. There was talk he could be the first pass rusher off the board — but either way he wasn’t going to get out of the first round.

A handful of pass rushers went before Jones in the end but he was drafted by New England with the 21st overall pick.

This year’s version is Tennessee tackle Ja’Wuan James. Most people expected him to be a second round pick — so it was interesting to see Mark Dominik refer to him as a first round lock a few days ago. Now Adam Beasley from the Miami Herald is reporting the Dolphins have five first round grades on five offensive tackles — including James.

The other four players are, predictably — Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan and Zack Martin.

This quote from Beasley’s piece is also interesting:

In their eyes, there’s a drop-off to the next level, which includes Virginia’s Morgan Moses.

The Dolphins will not spend a first-round pick on Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio, whose injury red flags have the team concerned.

It certainly sounds like Zack Martin is going to leave the board early — it’s hard to see him getting past St. Louis at #13 and he could go earlier than that. If he’s gone by the middle of the first round, James could easily be taken by Baltimore at #17, Miami at #19 or Arizona at #20.

It shouldn’t be a major shock that he’s getting a high grade from teams. He’s fundamentally sound. He’s got 35 inch arms and as a pass protector he’s certainly competent. In terms of footwork, balance and body control he’s excellent. James isn’t a great athlete or even particularly strong (only 22 reps on the bench, doesn’t drive people off the ball in the run game) but he’s a plug-in-and-play tackle. He started 49 games in college and managed a high level of consistency.

A reader recommended I watch the Tennessee @ Missouri game because he had some struggles against one of the better pass rush teams in the SEC. You can see the game below for yourself:

I think James generally does pretty well. It’s not his best tape — But I thought he handled Michael Sam for the most part. He had an issue against former JUCO star Marcus Golden — who looks a really good prospect for the 2015 draft. Golden’s burst off the edge gave him fits and there were a couple of occasions where he got into his pads and drove him back into the quarterback. It was a very impressive display from Golden who needs to be watched next season.

If the Miami Herald report is accurate (and there’s no reason to believe it isn’t) and teams see a drop off between the first five tackles and the rest, we could see a situation where the likes of Morgan Moses and Joel Bitonio are available in the late first. I’ve soured somewhat on Moses with the more tape I’ve watched — but if you’re in desperate need of a left tackle (eg Carolina) he’s probably your best bet.

If the Seahawks want to go tackle early, Bitonio might be the best or even only hope. Right tackle could end up being a difficult spot to fill in round one. And if they don’t take Bitonio, Tom Cable could be tasked with finding at least two linemen who can contribute in the mid/late rounds — because the second round options aren’t great either. We might see an early run on OT’s because if you miss out early, you probably miss out altogether. The Seahawks have faith in Cable to find later round gems — but there aren’t many teams with that level of trust in their offensive line staff.

Clowney or Manziel at #1 for Houston?

You can make a strong case for taking Johnny Manziel. The Texans have a good defense. They have solid receiving options, a good running back and a franchise left tackle.

The one thing Houston really lacks is a dynamic playmaker at quarterback — and Manziel can be that man.

It’d also be fun to see the Jaws, Cosell and Hoge trio react to the quarterback they wouldn’t touch in the first three rounds go with the top pick.

If you’re willing to embrace Manziel for what he is, he can succeed. You’d need to set up an offense similar to Seattle’s. Make the run your focus, use a lot of play action, sprinkle some read option into the playbook and challenge your receivers to win 1v1 battles. Emphasise the importance of explosive plays, try to limit the mistakes while appreciating you need to accept Manziel’s going to scramble a lot and get out of the pocket frequently.

He is the ultimate competitor. And despite all of the off-field drama at Texas A&M Manziel’s performance on the field was never affected. People like Jaws/Cosell/Hoge just want big quarterbacks who stand tall and throw bullets in an orthodox system. The game has developed beyond that being the only way to succeed.

Improvisation is crucial these days. You need to be able to manage chaos. The defensive players entering the league are the best athletes in college football. If you can’t extend plays, throw on the run and be creative — you’re going to struggle. And before anyone quotes Manning or Brady — we’re talking about two established Hall of Fame veterans who get the ball out quicker than anyone in history. How many rookies enter the league with that level of ability, composure or command of their offense? Zero.

Manziel would go into Houston and instantly elevate that franchise. With the supporting cast they already have in place he’ll be a production machine — stacking up yards on the ground and through the air just like Cam Newton as a rookie.

Here’s Manziel’s appearance on Jon Gruden’s QB camp:

And here’s Manziel’s classic performance against Duke, where he put the team on his back and dragged them to victory:

Dominique Easley remains a wildcard

If there was one document I’d love to read going into this draft, it’s a medical report on Dominique Easley’s knees.

How is the most recent ACL injury healing? What condition is his other knee in? What are the chances he will re-injure either knee and how long could you realistically expect to get out of him?

When you watch the tape he just explodes off the screen. He constantly impacts the quarterback by pushing the interior line into the pocket, he shoots gaps better than even Sheldon Richardson and he has that sparky attitude you want to see from a three technique. He plays amped, he plays with an edge.

He’s a fantastic player. A really terrific interior pass rusher who wouldn’t have ANY chance of making it to the late first round with a clean bill of health.

Tank Carradine — who’d also suffered an ACL injury albeit later in the season than Easley — was the 40th pick in 2013 and essentially red shirted by San Francisco. I’m not sure you’d need to redshirt Easley given the extended recovery time he’s had. I also think he’s a better player than Carradine. So how early could he be drafted?

Everything comes down to the medical check.

If it’s positive, he isn’t lasting until #64 and you’ll get one shot at drafting a fantastic player with some risk. If it’s negative, you probably don’t even consider him with the last pick in round two.

He’s impossible to project without seeing the report. And yet it’s hard not to root for good news — because if he can recover and stay healthy, you’re talking about a major impact pass rusher available in an unlikely range.

It’s a big ‘if’ though.

Seahawks hire Jeff Ireland & thoughts on Bridgewater

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

Jeff Ireland... now of the Seattle Seahawks...

In terms of surprising news, Jeff Ireland joining Seattle’s front office is a top ten pick.

The much maligned former GM of the Miami Dolphins is said to be a friend of John Schneider. There’s also an opening after Scot McCloughan resigned as the team’s senior personnel executive earlier in the week.

Officially Ireland has been hired as a consultant for the 2014 draft — although it’d be slightly odd if this was merely a two-week gig. Alex Marvez, who broke the story, says a full time role will be discussed after the draft.

Ireland was a scout in Dallas for six years before becoming Miami’s GM. His tenure with the Dolphins had it’s fair share of controversy. In 2010 he was forced to apologise to Dez Bryant for asking during a pre-draft visit whether his mother was a prostitute. He issued a further apology in 2012 after calling a fan an “asshole” during a game.

He oversaw a regime that allowed the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito situation to develop. Former player Joey Porter went public in blaming Miami’s 2012 struggles on Ireland — an unusual move. Porter went as far to say: “I think he’s a guy that’s not trustworthy.” Even more unusual was safety Ryan Clark — at the time with Pittsburgh — tweeting “No one” wants to sign with Miami, insinuating Ireland was the reason.

In terms of team building — there were several gaffe’s. The Dolphins traded for Brandon Marshall but didn’t give him a quarterback to work with. And when they finally drafted a QB in Ryan Tannehill — they traded Marshall to the Bears where he immediately returned to Pro-Bowl form.

They traded Vontae Davis to the Colts, leaving the team weak at corner and needing to spend big in free agency to fill a new hole. They spent a kings ransom on mediocre linebackers last off-season, not to mention the incredible $60m contract they gave Mike Wallace.

They failed to adequately protect their investment in Tannehill — the most sacked quarterback in the league over the last two seasons. They traded up in the 2013 draft to grab Dion Jordan — a player who contributed nothing in his rookie year and is rumoured to be available for trade after just one season.

And in his first draft in charge of the Dolphins he selected Jake Long instead of Matt Ryan. Long had a decent spell before leaving for St. Louis, but Ryan has blossomed into a franchise quarterback for the Falcons. Miami has been desperately crying out for a QB since the Dan Marino days. Ryan could and probably should’ve been the answer.

But these negatives perhaps overshadow what he’s good at — identifying value in the later rounds. He found several late round or UDFA contributors for the Dolphins — such as Davone Bess, Kendall Langford and Brian Hartline. He was the man who gave a chance to Cameron Wake in the NFL. That’s what he’s good at.

In a role as a pure scout for the Seahawks it could end up being a good fit and a huge benefit for this front office. So while it’s easy to focus on the mess in Miami — Ireland could be an inspired appointment for the long term if he identifies a few late round gems.

Thoughts on Teddy Bridgewater

We’ve not spent much time on the quarterbacks this year — and with good reason. The Seahawks don’t need a quarterback. They’re not likely to draft one even in the later rounds following the addition of Terrelle Pryor.

But with less than two weeks to go, I need to put some thoughts down on Teddy Bridgewater.

If the Seahawks were in Jacksonville’s position (picking at #3 and #39) and without a franchise quarterback — I wouldn’t take Bridgewater with either pick.

He’s a neat and tidy quarterback. There are flashes of technical quality where he looks off a safety and throws down the seam. He isn’t a bad decision maker. He’s not a statue in the pocket and he can move around. He’s a thoroughly decent player.

Is he special? Not at all.

The Rutgers game in 2013 is a good example as to why. There are some throws where he hangs tough in the pocket and delivers a strike under pressure. But for every one of those throws, there’s a really inaccurate, simple miss. His accuracy is so up and down. Considering he doesn’t wow you in any way physically (not a great arm, not terribly elusive or good throwing on the run, smallish stature) — he needs to be flawless with the accuracy. Worst of all he doesn’t often improvise — the single most underrated aspect of any quarterback.

He just screams average. There’s absolutely no way I’d stake my job or reputation on him in the top ten. I’d struggle to justify it in round one and at the top of round two I could make a case for two or three other quarterbacks first.

He’s a Twitter favourite and it’s almost sacrilege to criticise Bridgewater on social media. But there’s just nothing exciting about his game. If the NFL is rating him outside of the first round, as appears to be the case, that is totally justifiable to me. He deserves to go in the range Geno Smith and Jimmy Clausen went. I don’t think he’s any more or less likely to succeed than those two.

The pro-day merely confirmed some of the issues you see on tape. Even in shorts and a T-shirt throwing against thin air his accuracy was all over the place. It’s not a case of overreacting to one event and letting it dominate the tape. How can you watch that pro-day and go home thinking, “Yep — that’s my first round pick”. You can’t. The fact is he just didn’t look the part. Not even close.

But the thing that really stuck with me was his reaction to the work out. Mike Mayock on the NFL Network — not one to go over the top on the criticism — made it abundantly clear he wasn’t impressed. And this led to one of the most awkward exchanges we’ve seen leading up to this years draft.

Moments after Mayock’s negative review, Bridgewater took a seat next to him for an interview. Mayock’s body language was a picture as Bridgewater uttered his opening gambit: “I think it went pretty well today, the guys came out and competed and…. (I) just did a great job connecting with the guys on those routes.”

You could almost hear Mayock’s famous ‘Beast Quake’ commentary…

“Are you kidding me?”

The whole interview from that point felt weird. When quizzed what he thought he did well — he answered two of the things Mayock and fellow analyst Kurt Warner had just criticised (footwork, timing).

He sounded like a player who wasn’t aware of what just happened and didn’t really understand what he needed to work on.

Then there’s the glove issue. Bridgewater wore gloves throughout his time at Louisville, but then chose not to for the disappointing pro-day. Does he need the gloves to perform at his best? And if so, what happens if he’s drafted by a warm-weather franchise? Was he under pressure from teams not to throw with the gloves, inspiring his pro-day decision? It’s just another set of questions you’d rather not have to deal with.

There are other concerns. During his appearance on Jon Gruden’s QB Camp he was quizzed on his decision to commit to home-state Miami and then depart for Louisville. He answered by saying he felt uncomfortable joining the Hurricanes after Randy Shannon was fired and didn’t want to play for a coach that hadn’t recruited him. He then admitted he “wanted to give up football” when he didn’t start as a freshman at Louisville — before becoming homesick and almost quitting the Cardinals.

Sometimes you can overreact to these things, but that just set off a major alarm bell to me. How is he going to handle the difficult challenge of the NFL? How will he react if he doesn’t start immediately? What if he’s drafted in round two and asked to sit for a year or two?

Maybe he’s matured and a different person these days — but could you imagine Russell Wilson walking into a room and saying the words, “I nearly gave up”?

Bridgewater for me is one of the more overrated prospects in this class. I agree with Mayock — I wouldn’t spend a first round pick on him. And it wouldn’t surprise me if he drifted into the mid-second where a team can draft him with limited consequences if he fails.

Friday draft notes: Latimer, 49ers, Roby & James

Friday, April 25th, 2014

Cody Latimer here, making two middle aged Bears scouts feel inadequate

Cody Latimer is going to be an early pick in this draft.

I don’t say that with any authority of course. It’s just my opinion. But he looks better than most of the receivers in this already loaded class. Some team is going to get a terrific football player. The Seahawks will be lucky if he lasts until pick #32.

Today he held another pro-day of sorts — running routes and catching balls for 16 minutes in front of 25 teams. Chip Kelly was present from the Eagles — while according to Tony Pauline the 49ers spent “extensive time” with Latimer. Those words were tough to write after seeing the Indiana receiver proudly sporting a Seahawks cap ten days ago.

We may not see a more Seahawky receiver for a while — his combination of strong hands, run blocking and ability to compete for the ball in the air (not to mention speed and leaping ability) make him a very appealing option. And yet here’s the reality…

These receivers are going to go early.

Latimer, Odell Beckham Jr, Brandin Cooks. They’re probably going to be long gone. And that’s after the likes of Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and Marqise Lee get snapped up.

Maybe Seattle pre-empted this with the Sidney Rice re-signing? Despite the depth in quality, perhaps they just won’t be able to get one of top wide outs? And maybe the value will be pushed into another position of need like right tackle or the defensive line?

If I had to name three players who just look like great fits for this team it’d be Latimer, Joel Bitonio and Ryan Shazier — with their combination of competitive spirit, athleticism and scheme fit. They’re not the only appealing prospects — but they’ll do for me.

Let’s hope they aren’t all off the board by #32.

49ers trading up?

It’s kind of a funny thing to say — but the 49ers almost have too many picks in this draft.

They have 11 in total — a solitary first rounder, two second rounders and three third rounders.

They have holes to fill, but are 11 rookies going to make the roster? Are they going to find six starters by the end of day two?

Probably not.

They also have the ammunition to be aggressive and target a top player to boost their squad. Mike Evans — if that’s who they want — could be scary on that offense.

I will add though — he’s a fiery character and he does allow opponents into his head. We saw that in the Duke Bowl game at the end of last season. While Johnny Manziel was doing a magic show, Evans was mostly anonymous. He let the guy covering him get to him. He couldn’t control his emotions. Manziel at one point got into his face — barking at him to get in the game.

In Seattle I think Evans would be fine. He’d be part of the aggressor — the team with the swagger and confidence. But coming up against Richard Sherman and co would be a challenge if he can’t keep things in check.

San Francisco moving up should be a formality — jut as they did last year to get Eric Reid. They can afford to do it. The only question is — how high do they jump?

Bradley Roby makes his case

Yesterday reports surfaced that the Ohio State cornerback had been charged with OVI (aka DUI).

It’s the kind of news that destroys a players draft stock. He’d have almost no time to recover from a story like this — just as people were starting to project him back inside the top-20.

Roby took to Twitter today to deny he’d been drinking. And to be fair, he makes a solid case:

We’ll see what impact this has on May 8th. For me, he’s still the best corner in the draft.

More Ja’Wuan James tape study

After Mark Dominik suggested Ja’Wuan James was a first round “lock” — I felt obliged to spend more time watching his tape last night.

The South Carolina game seemed like a good place to start. You can watch it for yourself in the video above.

I’m starting to see why Dominik would make that projection. James is just a really solid tackle. He doesn’t make too many errors, he has heavy hands and the footwork to excel quickly at the next level. He has long arms and an ideal frame. He might not be a special player — but he’s a plug-in-and-play tackle who can start as a rookie.

James always looked in control against the Gamecocks — flashing great footwork and body control. He consistently connected with blocks and while he doesn’t drive people off the ball — when he locks on he’s tough to negotiate. He very rarely over-extends or gets into an awkward position. He’s just a really consistent, solid offensive tackle.

Despite Gil Brandt’s suggestion James played well against Jadeveon Clowney — South Carolina didn’t pit Clowney against him once in the entire game. Which is telling. I would’ve thought they’d mix him around, but they kept him going 1v1 against Antonio Richardson (who struggled badly).

Richardson’s a man mountain but he lacks a lot of the technique and composure of James. He’s much more of a project and could require a year of top-level coaching before he’s ready to start. James on the other hand is ready to go.

This game shows how good Clowney is — he dominates throughout and is constantly around the ball. Tennessee true freshman Marquez North is also one to watch for the future (6-4, 215lbs).

But I can see why James could go in round one based on this tape. There’s nothing flashy about his play, but he gets the job done. Which, essentially, is what you want. I think he could play left or right tackle at the next level. He won’t be a brilliant, athletic future Hall of Famer — but over the 4-5 years of that first contract you’re going to get a really solid tackle.

I also watched some more Morgan Moses last night (vs Vic Beasley of Clemson) to compare him against James. Putting two players together like that really highlights the differences. Moses looked lethargic and clumsy. He didn’t give up any major plays against Beasley — but he just made everything look so difficult. I felt tired watching the tape as he laboured around the field.

This game was the week after he shut down Jeremiah Attaochu — and it bothered me. How can he look so dominant one week, and so shattered the next? I just get the sense you’ll get the same level of performance from Ja’Wuan James on a weekly basis. With Moses, he’s going to be up and down a lot. And you’ll have to permanently monitor his conditioning I fear.

If the idea is to get a nice, solid tackle who can start quickly and play at a certain level — for me James and Bitonio deserve higher grades than Moses. But I suspect all three will go in round one.

Thursday draft notes: Ja’Wuan James in round one?

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Could Tennessee's Ja'Wuan James land in round one?

Mark Dominik is the former GM of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was fired at the end of last season, so he went through the usual process of plotting for the upcoming 2014 draft.

He’s now working for ESPN as an analyst and shared a couple of interesting Tweets last night:

There’s nothing revelatory in suggesting Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews will be first round ‘locks’. But it’s the name on the end of the list that is really fascinating.

“James”.

As in Tennessee offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James.

I don’t get the sense Dominik’s Tweets were just one man’s opinion — they were more a consensus view among league personnel. We’ll probably see more receivers and tackles drafted in round one than just the names listed above. But this is the first suggestion James is in any way a ‘lock’ to go in round one.

The position has become so key in the NFL. That was never more evident than last year when three of the first four picks were spent on offensive tackles. I’m not sure any of the trio are superior to Robinson or Matthews this year — but in a draft without obvious top-end talent, teams loaded up on the best tackles.

Overall nine offensive linemen were drafted in the first frame. We might not reach that number in 2014, but it’ll be close.

Not many people expect the top three (Robinson, Matthews & Lewan) to get out of the top ten. And yet there’s still multiple teams who won’t allow themselves to end day one without a new tackle.

Could James be the next man up? It appears that could be the case.

Tony Pauline noted today that first round buzz on Cyrus Kouandjio — which always appeared to be a bit of a damage limitation stunt — is inaccurate. If teams were failing him on his medical at the combine, he’s going to fall. Perhaps in a big way.

Pauline mentioned Joel Bitonio as a possibility for the Dolphins which shows how far he’s rising up the board (and rightly so). The options in rounds 2-3 aren’t great so any team without a Tom Cable will feel some pressure to find a blocker in round one.

James, Bitonio and Morgan Moses could all be first round picks.

And a reminder — Cable worked out James and team mate Antonio Richardson at Tennessee’s facility at the start of April.

Falcons trading up to #1?

Jadeveon Clowney is reportedly travelling to Atlanta for a short work out. His agent previously suggested he’d only do one single work out — presumably for the team that’ll end up drafting him with the top pick.

Of course there’s every chance Houston does something else at #1 and the Falcons grab him at #2 after trading with St. Louis. Yet if the Texans are serious about moving down surely they’ll simply agree to any offer the Rams are prepared to accept to move down?

On the Falcons — last year had been brewing for a while. To some extent it’s similar to Seattle’s sudden and dramatic collapse at the end of the Holmgren era. And while Matt Ryan is younger than Matt Hasselbeck and injury free — the rest of the roster is beaten up, ineffective and filled with holes.

Clowney would provide some edge pressure but the main issue is an overall lack of talent and depth. If anything they’d be better off trying to move back from #6. The NFC has become a brutal endurance test — and the Falcons are as finesse as they come. Clowney is an exciting talent, but he’s not going to bring a hard edge to a pretty soft looking unit.

If the Falcons did move up to #1 we could see something like this in the top ten (I still believe Detroit will trade up too):

#1 Atlanta — Jadeveon Clowney
#2 St. Louis — Khalil Mack
#3 Detroit — Sammy Watkins
#4 Cleveland — Greg Robinson
#5 Oakland — Jake Matthews
#6 Houston — Blake Bortles
#7 Tampa Bay — Mike Evans
#8 Minnesota — Aaron Donald
#9 Buffalo — Taylor Lewan
#10 Jacksonville — Johnny Manziel

This would actually be a good thing for the Seahawks. They want the QB’s to come off the board early.

I’ve played around with a number of scenarios from 11-32 with this top ten and in every single one there’s an appealing option with the last pick in round one. Whether it’s Joel Bitonio, Morgan Moses or one of the top receivers (Latimer, Benjamin or Moncrief) — Seattle aren’t without options. And there’s always a chance they’re the team highest on Ja’Wuan James.

Latimer with another pro day

According to Tony Pauline, Cody Latimer will work out for at least 23 teams tomorrow at Indiana. He only did certain drills in a previous work out due to a foot injury. He’s since visited with several teams including the Seahawks.

Without doubt for me Latimer is one of the most exciting players in the draft — and also one of the most underrated along with Bitonio. This quote from Pauline sums up why he’ll be very appealing to many teams:

“There are a number of reasons for his ascent but the two things I continue to hear as the biggest factors are 1) his 4.43s forty time at pro-day and 2) the way Latimer consistently wins out for contested passes.”

A 4.4 forty and winning contested passes — words to light up Seattle’s war room.

It’s not just that though — his run blocking is superb, he doesn’t drop passes and he’s one of those ‘basketball’ athletes who comes into the league and just takes off.

He’s a special talent and the Seahawks will be fortunate if he’s available at the end of round one. He’s one of 30 players who will attend the draft in New York.