Archive for the ‘Front Page News’ Category

Damian Swann could be a future Seahawks CB & Friday notes

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Damian Swann has regained some momentum after a tough 2013 season

We’ve been talking about Damian Swann for two years. He’s an enigma — experiencing various highs and lows during a four-year stint at Georgia. But there were plenty more highs than lows in 2014 — and he’s recaptured some of the momentum that had him touted as a possible early pick two years ago.

In 2012 he showed flashes of genuine talent. An ability to make the eye-catching play. I remember one interception in particular — a tipped pass by Alec Ogletree that looped into the secondary. There was Swann, one-handed, leaping highest to make the pick. He just had a knack of making big, game-changing plays.

Then the 2013 season happened.

Georgia were a disorganized mess on defense all year. On several occasions they struggled to get lined up properly — leading to numerous blown assignments. Swann in particular had a hard time and chose not to declare after a wretched year. It was a tough watch. The Bulldogs switched defensive coordinators in 2014 — bringing in Jeremy Pruitt from Florida State — and it led to a total revamp the following season.

In a structured defense Swann stood out again as a ball-hawking defensive playmaker. He finished the season with four interceptions, a 99-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown, 4.5 TFL’s and a couple of sacks. He broke up eight passes and forced four fumbles. One of the picks stands out — blanket coverage on Devante Parker where he gained position on a shot to the sideline and essentially became the receiver (remind you of anyone?). He knew where the ball was going, read the play and put himself in position to get the interception.

On September 28th I wrote a piece discussing his performance against Tennessee:

Against the Vols he played well in run support and had a sack on a corner blitz. In coverage he was extremely competent. It took a superb route by Marquez North to beat him in the red zone late on. He also had a big time impact on special teams. On a punt he made an incredible play on the ball to down it on the one-yard line. Two plays later Tennessee fumbled the ball in their own endzone for a defensive touchdown. Some players have what it takes they just need the appropriate pro-coaching. Richard Sherman was one of those players. Swann could be a steal if he lands on a team that knows how to develop defensive backs.

Note the special teams value in the middle of that quote.

He’s 6-0 with a nice 180lbs frame. He’s got a natural instinct to play the ball. Throughout his time at Georgia he’s looked like a corner who could really excel with the right guidance and coaching. Seattle would be a great landing spot for Swann.

There just aren’t many corners in college football with his level of flair. He’s a walking highlight reel. He’s also no slouch in run support and he’s an effective blitzer. I’m surprised he hasn’t received more attention this season — although a good Shrine Game performance has put him back on the map.

The Seahawks took a chance on developing Tharold Simon’s raw skill set even after he was called out by LSU coaches for a lack of dedication and a rough final season in college. Swann shares some of Byron Maxwell’s ball skills and ability to just make a play for his team.

If you’re looking for a mid-to-late round corner who can come in and be developed into an effective starter down the line, don’t sleep on Damian Swann.

Here are some other later round options who stood out during the season:

Rob Crisp (T, NC State)
His college career was hampered by injuries, but there’s no doubting Crisp’s potential. He did a great job blocking Vic Beasley during the season and has excellent size (6-7, 300lbs). He has enough athleticism to play the blind side. He can handle speed. If you’re looking to bring in a developmental project for the offensive line with some genuine upside, Crisp is one to monitor.

Josh Robinson (RB, Mississippi State)
Just a cannon ball runner who plays a bit like Michael Turner during his peak years in San Diego/Atlanta. Engaging personality and bubbly character. Incredible back story. Loves the big occasion and can be a dynamic pass catcher out of the backfield. 5-9 and 215lbs — a powerful runner who breaks tackles but has enough speed to find the edge and break off big plays.

Issac Blakeney (WR, Duke)
He’s 6-6 and 220lbs with room to add even more muscle. He’s a project with major upside. Will body catch and hasn’t shown consistency high pointing the football. Needs to do a better job setting up his routes. He does have an excellent catching radius plus speed to burn. Former defensive end. Promising player with excellent size.

Lucas Vincent (DT, Missouri)
Mizzou is loaded on the D-line. They’ve created quite the production line in recent years. Vincent isn’t a flashy player and certainly won’t expect to go early — but he’s worth a camp as a penetrating three technique who holds up against the run. Ideal size at 6-2 and 305lbs. Could be a bargain for someone.

Elsewhere… It might be time to look at Clemson interior pass rusher Grady Jarrett:

Joe Goodberry’s a great Twitter follow, I’m going to keep mentioning that. And he also highlighted something we’ve discussed regarding promising UCLA defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa:

I really like Odighizuwa as a prospect. Ideal size and power. Built like a Greek God. Works inside superbly with explosion and a great punch. But as we’ve noted a few times, as an edge rusher he’s surprisingly lacking. If he’s going to keep pushing himself into the first round talk — he needs to a.) be cleared medically after previous hip trouble and b.) prove he can be an effective edge rusher.

And finally…

Tony Pauline posts a final ‘risers and sliders’ list from the Senior Bowl workouts this week. He says Alabama guard Arie Kouandjio stood out: “Kouandjio battled hard during Thursday’s practice and won out on just about every snap he took. He blocked with great fundamentals, showed a lot of strength in his game and controlled opponents on the line of scrimmage. Scouts praised Kouandjio after practice as many feel he’s solidified his status as a middle-round choice.”

Kevin Wiedl at ESPN praised Duke’s Jamison Crowder for his performance. Arizona State DT Marcus Hardison also received a good review. It wasn’t such a good week for T.J. Clemmings or Tony Lippett, according to Wiedl. On Clemmings: “I think if a team is drafting him it has to be thinking of him as a right tackle, and the value of right tackles as compared to left tackles isn’t as great.” On Lippett: “He didn’t show good body control as a route-runner and struggled to separate. We think he could be a No. 4 WR in the NFL, but he should be a Day 3 pick, not the second- or third-round pick he has been mentioned as.”

Shop for Seahawks NFC Conference Champs Gear at NFLShop.com

Senior Bowl day three notes

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

One thing you learn about the Senior Bowl every year — there are so many different opinions floating around. In the past 24 hours I’ve seen glowing reviews and negative remarks about the same prospects. For example:

Several observes have noted that Devin Smith has been hit and miss catching the ball. Optimum Scouting’s Alex Brown suggests he struggled getting off press coverage and hasn’t shown he’s a well rounded receiver. Tony Pauline, on the other hand, called him one of the star performers of the week:

“Smith, who thrived as a vertical receiver during his time at Ohio State, effectively ran underneath patterns during the second day of Senior Bowl practice. He ran crisp routes and quickly came back to the ball exiting breaks, then extended to pluck the pass from the air. Smith, 6-0, 190, made a number of impressive catches in the short field when battling defenders to come away with the ball.”

We’ve seen similar opposing views on other prospects too. While the media has been caught up in Danny Shelton mania — with a lot of talk of the top ten — there’s been quite a different take from other observers. According to this piece on NFL.com, an unnamed NFC Scout is quoted as saying, “I don’t think Danny Shelton is a top-10 pick” with the report going on to add:

Despite the glowing reports media pundits have put on Shelton, there are some NFL executives worried about his impact potential at the next level as a nose tackle. While the scout is impressed with Shelton’s ability to control the point of attack as a classic nose tackle, he doesn’t see the position flexibility or pass-rush skills that would make the Washington star a dynamic playmaker as a pro. He compares Shelton to former Pro Bowl NT Casey Hampton — a spectacular run-stopper but not a guy that you envision being a dominant pass rusher in the middle of the line. Given the premium evaluators place on players capable of impacting the passing game, Shelton’s value could dip a bit as the draft nears.

I wrote a piece a few weeks ago arguing Shelton was one of the more overrated players in the draft. Not because I think he’s a bad player or will be a total flop at the next level. It’s just the top-10 talk I can’t buy into. He visibly tires in games and had his biggest impact as a pass rusher against Hawaii, Eatern Washington and Georgia State. There’s no doubting his strong lower base, disruptive upper body power, ability to gain leverage and hold his point against the run. But there’s also a lot of ineffective tape. Conditioning will always be a slight concern with a classic nose tackle — but Shelton has a flabby midriff, especially in comparison to Jordan Phillips who carries his weight superbly.

Casey Hampton is a reasonable comparison. He went in the first (#19 overall) in 2001. I think if Shelton can get anywhere near Hampton’s playing weight of 325lbs he’d be better for it. That’s some challenge though given he rocked up in Mobile at 343lbs and celebrated that fact at the weigh-in. If he’s pleased to be at 343lbs and wearing down during practice for the Senior Bowl, it’s pretty telling. No matter how much potential he has, teams have to feel confident that he’s going to work to stay in shape and will be able to play more than a handful of snaps before needing a long rest. He’ll have his snaps managed as a nose tackle (early downs, short yardage), but the team will want to dictate that. They won’t want to be told he can’t stay on the field for 3rd and 1 because he’s gassed.

I still believe Jordan Phillips offers more athleticism and spark, has a better control over his weight and conditioning and has more of that Dontari Poe feel to him. He’s also a better pass rusher. The one big concern is a history of back injuries. I’m willing to be proven wrong, but for me Phillips is more likely to come off the board first and the top-10 talk on Shelton is premature.

While Shelton has received mixed reviews, another big defensive lineman continues to be raved about:

It’s also good news for another blog favorite:

We’ve said it a few times, but Odighizuwa is a terrific prospect. If the hip checks out — watch out. He has a frame to die for — genuine Ziggy Ansah style potential. He’s not a natural edge rusher but he shows so much power dipping inside. If he’s cleared medically, he could be a top-25 pick.

The buzz on Miami receiver Phillip Dorsett continues to grow — and it makes you wonder how early he could go in the draft. A NFC personnel director is quoted as saying about Dorsett: “I really liked what I saw. Some guys can run fast, but they have to work hard to do it, which limits what they can do out of their breaks. Dorsett is more natural with his speed and movement.”

He came into the Senior Bowl one of the more underrated players in this years class. When you look at his size it can put you off — 5-9 and a half, 183lbs. He has nine inch hands and a wingspan of 74 inches. But on tape he is such a fluid, technically gifted receiver. He’s savvy. He sets defenders up to get open, he seems to catch everything. He’s a decent bet to record the fastest forty yard dash at the combine (competing with Devin Smith) but really the fantastic athleticism is just a bonus. He’s a really polished wide out who could make a quick impact.

For me he’s firmly a second round pick. Possibly early second round. It all depends on whether a team feels he can be another T.Y. Hilton or Antonio Brown instead of just another short pass-catcher who struggles to find a role at the next level. He’s received universal praise for his performances so far in Mobile.

It never occurred to me before, but I like the comparison an unnamed AFC offensive line coach made between Maurkice Pouncey and La’el Collins. It’s obvious now it’s been pointed out. And like Pouncey, Collins has a chance to jump straight into the interior O-line of a team and dominate from day one. Here’s more analysis from the same NFL.com piece:

“Collins played left tackle at LSU but projects to right tackle or inside to guard in the NFL. He was listed at 321 pounds at LSU but weighed in Tuesday morning at an athletic 308 pounds. Collins is known for his physicality and aggressiveness, and it was on display at the South practice throughout the day. While he had some hits and misses during his one-on-one sessions, the consensus was generally very positive about his performance with the idea that he very well could end up inside at guard.”

I’ve seen Collins touted as a second rounder by Daniel Jeremiah and a much higher pick by others. I still think he’d be a great fit for a team like New Orleans who put particular value into their guards. Considering the Saints are in cap hell going into the off-season, they have to find a way to make cutbacks. The two expensive guards they currently have could be sacrificed, opening room for a cheaper player like Collins. I’m not a big advocate of Seattle taking a guard in the first and there’s still every chance James Carpenter is re-signed. But if he isn’t and Collins is there, I’d consider running to the podium. He’s just too good.

Bengals draft analyst Joe Goodberry is a recommended follow on Twitter. You’ll have noticed I’ve dropped a few of his Vine’s onto the blog in the last couple of days. He seems to be a fan of Washington pass rusher Hau’oli Kikaha:

Kikaha’s a tough one to work out. He’s a real warrior who takes on linemen, finds a way to get off a block and the production he had in 2013 and 2014 is fantastic. Yet he lacks the necessary length or size to play D-end in a 4-3 and you wonder how fast (or slow) he’ll run at the combine. How much faith do you have he can take the next step and continue to make plays with sheer technique and effort?

Speaking of effort — few players can match up to Missouri’s Markus Golden. But if you want to know why long arms matter — here’s a good example:

People have been asking where you can watch the Senior Bowl with footage limited on the NFL Network and not much access elsewhere. PhiladelphiaEagles.com do an outstanding job with their coverage — including employing Tony Pauline as an analyst throughout the week. If you want to watch some of the drills with his commentary included, here you go:

Finally a quick note on Auburn receiver Sammie Coates — who continues to play with a frustrating level of inconsistency:

It makes you wonder what round he could be available. It’s going to be a hard sell to take such a poor hands-catcher early in the draft just because he’s a spectacular athlete. Eventually though, you just have to back yourself to coach him up. It wouldn’t be a total shock if he lasts until the third round or beyond.

Senior Bowl day two notes

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

Let’s start with a recap of day one. You can see a ten minute clip (North OL vs DL) above. Tony Pauline gave a breakdown to PhiladelphiaEagles.com that’s worth a viewing. He says La’el Collins (T, LSU) and T.J. Clemmings (T, Pittsburgh) were both disappointing. Collins was reportedly pushed back into the pocket on several occasions, while Clemmings looked raw and struggled with hand placement and technique. Both players have undoubted physical talent but have seemingly endured a rough start here.

It’s a surprise to hear Collins struggled, although I’ve seen other reviews praising his day one performance. In an interview with New Orleans media last night he seemed disappointed — referencing his need to improve on day two. We didn’t see him pushed around at LSU — in fact one of his big positives was upper body power and leverage. He’s top heavy.

It’s been a great start for Carl Davis (DT, Iowa) and Owamagbe Odighizuwa (DE, UCLA) according to Pauline. Davis has turned up to play this week. In the video above he was dipping and swimming inside, complimenting flair and power to break into the backfield. He’s a massive human being and potentially a late first round pick if this continues. On tape he doesn’t seem to ‘wow’ that much, but he’s shown technical refinement and hand use to go with length and upper body strength. He’s hard to move off the ball.

Odighizuwa is becoming increasingly interesting as this process goes along. Built like a Greek God, he received a glowing report from Pauline. He was one of the players giving La’el Collins a hard time. While he doesn’t always win with speed off the edge, he’s adept at dipping inside and driving to the quarterback. He’s explosive off the snap, he can shove blockers into the backfield with a real jolt. We put him in round one in last weeks mock draft and that’s where he’s heading at this rate. The only concern will be previous injury history (hip). If he checks out medically, he’s an exciting talent who could be another Ziggy Ansah.

So, on to today…

It sounded like T.J. Clemmings was enduring another rough day, before perhaps repairing things later on…

Usually the big, athletic tackles go to Mobile to put themselves in the top ten. For Clemmings, this is perhaps the best review of where he’s at. He only started playing offense at the back end of his college career. Physically he looks the part — a true prototype for a left tackle. But he needs time and refinement. Greg Robinson was one of the best physical talents to enter the NFL in recent years when he went #2 overall last year. He struggled early on. Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson also needed time. While it’s easy to fall into the ‘safe pick’ rhetoric when it comes to offensive linemen — that isn’t the case anymore. Teams are taking a punt because the top athletes in college are nearly all playing defense these days. You need guys who can match up.

It won’t be a shock if Clemmings goes in the top-15 despite his early struggles at the Senior Bowl. Such is the premium on the position. If you can coach him up he has a shot to be great. But this is a nice reality check. He just might not be ready to start immediately as a rookie.

Most of the buzz yesterday centered around Danny Shelton (DT, Washington). Yet when you watch the video above, it was clear in one drill he was gassed after two snaps. Granted, in the two early snaps he shows a great blend of power, quick feet and mobility. Conditioning is obviously an issue for any player with Shelton’s size, but it’s something teams have to look into. How prepared will he be to control his weight? He was too flabby in 2014. If you can manage this situation, great. If not, it’s something to consider. Looking at his midriff I think you’d need to do more checks here compared to Jordan Phillips.

Shelton continues to be talked about as a top ten prospect (I don’t agree, I think that’s too high). Maybe today offered some perspective?

Mixed reviews for some other prospects too…

Shop for Seahawks NFC Conference Champs Gear at NFLShop.com

Senior Bowl weigh-in notes & day one

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

For a full list of measurements for both the North and South squads click here.

— Nate Orchard (DE, Utah) is one of the day’s winners so far. He measured at 6-3, 251lbs and has 33 inch arms — with a wingspan just shy of 80 inches. That’s some nice length — even if he’s shorter than Utah’s listed 6-4. Compare that to another productive PAC-12 pass rusher. Hau’oli Kikaha (DE, Washington) is just over 6-2, 246lbs and has 31 and a half inch arms. To compare, Bruce Irvin has 33 and a half inch arms. It’s hard to imagine the Seahawks going after Kikaha early. Orchard? Maybe he is a candidate. He needs to run a good 10-yard split at the combine but could have a Marcus Smith style rise over the next few weeks.

— Owamagbe Odigihizuwa (DE, UCLA) looks superb as expected. He has the physique of a top-ten pick. He’s 6-3 and a half, 266lbs, has enormous 11 inch hands and 33 inch arms. He has a wingspan that nearly reaches 82 inches. He’s one of the more interesting prospects at the Senior Bowl and could be a big riser if teams trust he can stay healthy. He’s adept at dipping inside and powering through the interior. He needs to prove he can also be an effective edge rusher.

— Sammie Coates (WR, Auburn) has some nice length. At 6-1 and 6/8th’s he has 33 and a half inch arms. That’s pretty special. His wingspan is 78 and a half inches. He has nine and a half inch hands. We already knew he’s a tremendous athlete and he weighs a solid 213lbs. He needs to prove he can be more consistent, but physically he’s an exciting talent. If he had even a decent level of consistency, he could develop into a real threat.

— Markus Golden (DE, Missouri) might be off the radar after today’s not totally surprising measurements. He’ll make a team happy, it just probably won’t be Seattle. He has 31 inch arms and Seattle loves length. It’s kind of strange that he has short arms and nearly 11 inch hands. His wingspan is just under 77 inches and he’s just over 6-2. Despite a lack of length, reports say he dominated the South practice with a fantastic display.

— La’el Collins (T/G, LSU) looks like a stud. 6-4 and a half inches, 308lbs, over 33 inch arms and a wingspan at around 82 inches. The arm length will intrigue teams still planning on using him at tackle. You look at the size and the combination of upper body power and footwork and you can’t rule it out. For me he’d still make a terrific guard and should go easily in the top-20 wherever you want to line him up.

— T.J. Clemmings (T, Pittsburgh) is as advertised. He’s 6-4 and 5/8th’s, 307lbs and has the second best wingspan on the north squad (85 and a quarter inches). That kind of length and size is attractive. The big question is whether he can show enough polish after making a late switch to offense during his college career. Tony Pauline says he struggled a bit during practice today.

— Preston Smith (DT, Mississippi State) confirmed his size could be a difference maker in terms of where he lands. He’s just under 6-5, 270lbs with 34 inch arms and a wingspan at just over 82 inches. Datone Jones went in the first round with just under 33 inch arms at 283lbs. The challenge for Smith is to prove he’s as athletic as Jones.

— Danny Shelton (DT, Washington) will dominate this week because the north’s interior O-line talent is badly lacking. He’s 6-1 and 6/8th’s, 343lbs with arms listed at 31 and 6/8th’s. He has a wingspan of 77 and 6/8th’s. The arm length isn’t such a big deal for a power guy like Shelton. Dontari Poe’s arms are only 32 inches long.

— Ty Sambrailo (T, Colorado State) is 6-5 and 6/8th’s not the listed 6-7. Ty Montgomery (WR Stanford) came in at 5-11 and 6/8th’s despite being listed by Stanford at 6-2. Happens every year, still not sure why.

— Devin Smith (WR, Ohio State) is 6-0, 190lbs with nine inch hands and 31 inch arms. He has a wingspan of 73 and 3/4 inches. In comparison, Paul Richardson was 175lbs at last years combine, had just under nine inch hands and 32 inch arms. Physically they are similar. Smith is a dynamic athlete with genuine suddenness (an aspect Seattle loves), the ability to compete for the ball and special teams value. Keep your eyes on this guy.

— Phillip Dorsett (WR, Miami) is 5-9 and a half, 183lbs, has nine inch hands and a 74 inch wingspan (31 inch arms). He’s another dynamic athlete although at his size, he might have to be worked into a gameplan. He’s more polished than you’d expect when you watch the Miami tape.

— Bryce Petty (QB, Baylor) is the best quarterback in Mobile — and he has ten inch hands which is a major plus point. Let’s see how he performs in drills. In a weak class for QB’s, there’s a battle to be had for the #3 spot behind Mariota and Winston.

— Carl Davis (DT, Iowa) is massive and warrants a good look over the next couple of weeks. He’s also 6-4 and 5/8th’s, 321lbs, with an 84 and a half inch wingspan. He has eleven inch hands and 34 and a half inch arms. They just don’t make many dudes like this.

— Vince Mayle (WR, Washington State) is 6-2 and 219lbs but only has nine inch hands and under 32 inch arms.

NFL.com has put 10 minutes of OL vs DL practice up for viewing. Danny Shelton starts well but gets gassed very quickly. The last couple of rushes he had were the complete opposite of the first two where he dominated. Conditioning could be an issue here. Carl Davis impressed in this segment.

By the way, if you want to celebrate Seattle becoming NFC Champions by buying ‘stuff’, use the banner below or the sidebar on the blog.

Shop for Seahawks NFC Conference Champs Gear at NFLShop.com

Senior Bowl underway in Mobile — who I’ll be watching

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Today players are checking in for the Senior Bowl, with practices, weigh-ins and measurements taking place tomorrow. Here’s some of the other players I’ll be keeping an eye on this week:

South team

Sammie Coates (WR, Auburn)
There’s no doubting his athletic potential, deep speed and chunk play ability. The main issue is consistency and technique. This is a big opportunity for Coates to impress. Auburn’s run-focused scheme isn’t conducive to big production. He’s competing with a good group of receivers in the South squad. Can he show he’s more than a dynamic athlete playing football? Route running, hands and catching technique are the keys to impress.

Phillip Dorsett (WR, Miami)
The more I watch Dorsett, the more I like. He’s not a big guy at 5-10 and 195lbs. Yet on film he looks quite polished and it compliments the speed and suddenness you want to see. He can take the top off a defense and get downfield, he’s a threat with YAC on short passes, he appears to run good routes. He’s a track and field star to go with his football skills. He’s also competitive and doesn’t show any obvious flaws. I like him.

La’el Collins (G, LSU)
Collins’ task is to prove he has a future at tackle. For me he’s best suited to moving inside at guard where his frame, upper body power and run blocking qualities will be best served. Teams will love his attitude and approach. He’s a tough guy on the field — physically brilliant. Can he kick slide with ease, can he mirror? Is he athletic enough to handle the speed rush? He’ll be battling Markus Golden, Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Preston Smith during practice. Even if he ends up resigned to a future at guard, he should still be a top-25 pick for me.

Ty Sambrailo (T, Colorado State)
I wasn’t blown away with Sambrailo’s tape. He’s long and looks the part of a tackle. But he’s quite stiff. Can he show some mobility here and mirror with the talented pass rushers he’s going to face? Is he resigned to a future at right tackle? He comes from a family of athletes and might surprise a few people here. But I think he’s overrated as a potential first rounder. I’m willing to be proven wrong if his footwork and speed is better than expected.

Daryl Williams (T, Oklahoma)
A hulking offensive tackle who appears to have long arms. More of a run blocker than a pass protector. Bit of a waist bender and ultimately could be set for a move inside. People will make comparisons to a guy like James Carpenter — but it’s easy to forget how excellent Carpenter was at left tackle for Alabama before he turned pro. He plays with an edge lacking in his Oklahoma team mate Tyrus Thompson. As a potential O-line depth pick for Seattle, this guy could be in play.

Markus Golden (DE, Missouri)
Measurement’s are key here. He looks quite squatty on tape. How tall is he? Does he have long enough arms? At Missouri he flat out dominated at times with a combination of power and speed. Can he match that level of intensity in Mobile? Pass rushers, like O-liners, always have a chance to flash here. The 1v1 practices are well suited to matching up the trench players. Golden has a real chance to impress.

Owamagbe Odighizuwa (DE, UCLA)
Love this guys effort. When he loops inside and attacks the interior he’s relentless and often effective. Can he show more of an edge rush here and flash some speed to round the arc and get to the QB without needing to work through traffic? He has ideal size — the physique of a high first round pick. Injuries haven’t helped. A good week here and he could be one of the biggest risers at the Senior Bowl.

Preston Smith (DE, Mississippi State)
He showed a great motor in 2014, he can line up inside or out and he can play in the 4-3 or 3-4. Has a little Datone Jones to his game, but is he the same kind of athlete? You can see why some people consider him a late first or early second rounder. For me he’s more like a second or third — but a good week here could leave an impression. Teams love a guy with length and size like this who gets after the QB. Had a great season.

North team

Devin Smith (WR, Ohio State)
Sudden athlete who can break downfield and competes better than any other receiver you’ll see here. He gets knocked for his role at Ohio State — and yet all he did was make endless plays. 21 receptions of +40 yards in his career is more than anyone else in college football. He high points the ball, he understands positioning and how to create openings for the quarterback. He’s not Odell Beckham Jr but you see similar traits. There’s some DeSean Jackson in there too. This is his opportunity to show he’s more than just a deep runner.

T.J. Clemmings (T, Pittsburgh)
A fascinating case and a candidate to be the big winner here. After converting from defense Clemmings oozes potential. He’s quick, strong and loves to get to the second level. He could easily push himself towards the top-15 with a good performance here. Alternatively his lack of experience at the position and rawness could offer some perspective on what he’s capable of. Does he need time to establish a true position at the next level? Is he a tackle (right or left) or guard? Can he dominate this Senior Bowl?

Danny Shelton (DT, Washington)
I’ve been critical of Shelton not because I think he’s a bad player, I just think he’s a little overrated as a suggested top-10 or 15 pick. He’s going to be practicing against a really average group of offensive linemen so this is a fantastic chance to show the kind of form we saw early in 2014. He dominated weaker opponents to really launch his stock — and while he didn’t always translate that kind of form into the PAC-12 — he could easily recreate those blistering displays in Mobile.

Hau’oli Kikaha (DE, Washington)
Is there a tougher player to work out in this draft? He’s been incredibly productive for two straight seasons. When you watch the tape he frequently just finds a way to get off a block, work his way to the QB. He’s instinctive, prepared — just a really intelligent football player who’s shown he has good hand technique and effort. The thing is, he looks like a marginal athlete and he isn’t big. Will he still be productive at the next level? It’s really hard to say. It’ll be good to see him in this type of environment.

Nate Orchard (DE, Utah)
Speaking of productive pass rushers. Orchard is undersized but plays with a competitive streak. He gets swallowed up too often to believe he could be anything like an every down edge rusher in the 4-3. He looks like a pass rush specialist. Measurements are key again. Can he show a really explosive burst in drills? He gets a chance to work alongside some other impressive DL’s. Has a surprising amount of power for his size when he gets into the chest of an O-liner.

Vince Mayle (WR, Washington State)
I’ve seen two games and was left thoroughly underwhelmed each time. There’s no doubting Mayle’s physical presence but I just feel like there are better players out there (Issac Blakeney, Darren Waller) who could be available in the same range. I’m willing to be converted, however, so let’s see a good week here.

Tony Lippett (WR, Michigan State)
He’s really skinny on tape and that’s a concern. He also had a knack for making plays at MSU. He’s a realiable playmaker — and provided he can add good weight to his frame, he’s worth considering. Has he been able to bulk up a bit for the Senior Bowl? If so, will it impact his play? Can he flash legit 4.45 speed at 6-3? He’s a very intriguing talent.

Michael Bennett (DT, Ohio State)
I’ve never been that impressed with Bennett — but maybe it’s just because your eyes get constantly drawn to the play of Joey Bosa. Bennett underwhelms more often than he stands out. Yet this is a perfect setting for him. It looks like a thoroughly average group of O-liners on the North squad, especially inside. For a player who kind of took a back seat in Ohio State’s improbable title run, this is his chance to show what he’s all about.

Instant reaction: Seahawks stun Packers, reach Super Bowl

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

Michael Bennett is awesome

Russell Wilson threw his fourth interception of the day with five minutes to go. Seattle trailed by twelve. Morgan Burnett could’ve had a long return, but sank to the turf believing this was the deciding moment in the game.

Forget running it back or trying to score. This was over.

Except it wasn’t.

Never will we see a greater challenge to one of Pete Carroll’s favorite mantra’s.

“It’s not how you start it’s how you finish”.

For three long hours it appeared a nightmarish start would cost Seattle a return ticket to the Super Bowl. Wilson chucked three interceptions in the first half and Doug Baldwin fumbled on a kick return. The defense couldn’t get to Aaron Rodgers or stop Eddie Lacy. Field position, time of possession — all one-sided in favor of the Pack.

Green Bay’s defensive game plan worked from the opening kick. They matched up 1v1 in the secondary and went after Seattle’s two playmakers — Wilson and Marshawn Lynch. This was an all-out assault on the offensive line, leaving Wilson a lot of favorable looks. The Seahawks anticipated it and threw early — and were simply outplayed. Under pressure, Wilson couldn’t exploit the kind of coverage Peyton Manning used to eat for dinner.

You could argue — why not run the ball or go to the read-option? Imagine a goalkeeper preparing to face a penalty kick. He’s standing to the extreme right side of the goal. Where are you going to shoot? To the empty space surely? There’s still a chance you’ll miss, but the odds are good. Seattle did what they had to and failed. Two drives stalled because they couldn’t exploit the coverage and force Green Bay to adapt. Mix in the turnovers, and the offense couldn’t stay on the field.

If the Seahawks establish the passing game early and force a re-think, this could’ve been a comfortable victory. You saw the way a more conservative Packers defense performed late in the game. Seattle’s approach was understandable, they just didn’t get it done.

On defense it didn’t get much better. Aaron Rodgers had all the time in the world as he built a 16-0 advantage. Seattle panicked. Wilson threw into triple coverage for his second pick. His third was another forced throw into the end zone with Kearse failing to box off the defender, losing position and ending up playing defense.

The inevitable second half rally came — but even a John Ryan touchdown to Gary Gilliam couldn’t provide the ultimate spark. At 19-7 with minutes remaining, this felt over. Just ask Morgan Burnett.

And then it happened. A moment to eclipse even ‘the tip’. A set of events so perfectly embodying Pete Carroll’s Seahawks.

Mission #1 — get a stop
Green Bay, predictably, went conservative on offense and handed the ball off to Eddie Lacy. They were in clock-eating mode. Seattle were never really challenged — even with a first down effectively ending the game. They wisely used two timeouts and got the ball back with around three minutes to go.

Mission #2 — get a touchdown
Wilson, four interceptions in the bag and seemingly facing an off-season of doubters, rallied the troops. Marshawn Lynch got things going before a jinking Wilson scamper got it back to 19-14. Game on? Maybe so…

Mission #3 — recover an onside kick
Green Bay set it up perfectly. They put Jordy Nelson on the left side behind a wall of blockers. The idea was to create enough room for their best receiver to go and get the football. Brandon Bostick’s job was to block for Nelson. The rest of the unit executed perfectly — except Bostick. For some reason at the decisive moment, he went for glory. Instead of blocking his guy, he leaps for the ball — blocking Nelson’s route to the ball A titanic sized error. It hits him in the facemask and deflects straight to Chris Matthews.

Mission #4 — score again and get the two point conversion
Green Bay are on the ropes. The momentum’s with Seattle as Lynch romps into the end zone untouched. It’s 20-19. Seattle leads after the craziest two minutes of the season. But there’s Aaron Rodgers waiting on the sideline. League MVP to be. They need the two point conversion to stand any chance of winning. Wilson takes the snap, he’s struggling. He’s under pressure. With more than a hint of ‘Hail Mary’ he lofts one hopefully into the end zone. And ‘good’ Luke Willson goes up and makes a play as important as any in this game. 22-19.

With the three point cushion, Seattle could afford to play a conservative game knowing overtime was a worst case scenario. Mason Crosby’s pressure kick to make it 22-22 felt like a mere delaying tactic. This was going one way.

Seattle won the overtime toss. As soon as they took the field, it felt right for the first time. The Seahawks were going to win.

Wilson, knowing better than anyone this was the worst day of his pro-career, made amends. Four throws to Kearse had been intercepted. A fifth pass to the same target sent Seattle back to the Super Bowl. Wilson broke into tears. Kearse broke into tears. And Michael Bennett found a bicycle.

The media will focus on the choking Packers — not unfairly. Imagine losing a game in this fashion? Last night I was killing time on Youtube and watched back the Music City Miracle. I thought about the look on Wade Phillips’ face as his Buffalo team discovered their fate. Losers. This defeat is even more agonizing for Packers fans, players and coaches. It’s not just one freaky play or a blown assignment. It’s a series of avoidable events. Burnett pulling up after the fourth pick. The onside kick. The inability to stop Seattle on three scoring drives. It’s a wound that will never heal in the history of a fantastic franchise.

The Seahawks must get credit, however, for another performance rich in character. They were fighting for their lives. Not accepting defeat. Playing like winners. In some cases (Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas) playing with one arm. For all the opportunities afforded to the Seahawks, they still had to finish. They still had to have three scoring drives. They still had to score 21 points in a matter of minutes with the season on the line.

And there’s Carroll’s mantra again.

“It’s not how you start it’s how you finish”.

They did it the hard way, but the Seahawks are going back to the Super Bowl.

Breaking down Daniel Jeremiah’s first mock draft

Friday, January 16th, 2015

Daniel Jeremiah, seen here explaining how tall Russell Wilson is

Yesterday we had a look at Mel Kiper’s first mock draft. Today it’s the turn of former scout and NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah.

The Seahawks are again picking at #32, but this time they’re taking a defensive lineman — Mississippi State’s Preston Smith. I like Smith, but I think the jury’s out as to whether he warrants a place in round one. He has nice length (6-6, 270lbs) but the Seahawks love quick-twitch pass rushers. Would they spend a first round pick on a player to essentially play a similar role to Tony McDaniel?

Here’s Jeremiah’s take:

Smith is a versatile defensive lineman and plays with great effort, leverage and quickness.

Here’s NFL.com’s blurb on Smith, courtesy of Lance Zierlein:

Smith has been a solid, rotational defensive end for Mississippi State, but nothing too special. When studying tape long enough, you see traits and potential. With his long arms, plus hands and ability to play the run, Smith could be an interesting prospect inside or in a hybrid 3-4 front. As a 4-3 defensive end, he lacks the twitch to be an impact player.

Zierlein also compares Smith to Antonio Smith, currently with the Raiders.

In a year where the Mississippi State defense just went to another level, Smith was one of the key players to stand out. He looked really good at times. Senior Bowl chief Phil Savage put together this video reviewing his tape:

The length, the hands, the occasional flashes of brilliance. There’s a lot to like. In round one though? To the Seahawks? Again, I’m not overly sold. They’ve had so much success finding guys to play inside at low cost. They could buck that trend this year and go with a high pick — or they could continue to go with a plan that has worked. If they go for a defensive lineman in round one, an additional LEO/edge rusher would appear to make more sense.

Compared to Kiper’s mock, Devin Smith, Todd Gurley, La’el Collins and Eli Harold are all off the board. Let’s look at some of the players I had off the board in my projection, that would be available for Seattle according to Jeremiah:

Ereck Flowers (T, Miami)
I had Flowers going to St. Louis at #10. I think the Seahawks are pretty set at tackle. I don’t expect they’ll part ways with Russell Okung — I think eventually there’s a deal to be done there. Good left tackles are hard to find and vital for a teams success. You rarely let one walk and Okung is only 28 in October. Will they give up on Justin Britt at right tackle after one year, shifting him to guard? Again, I have my doubts. Having said that, I think Flowers is a strong player with a bright future. If they don’t re-sign James Carpenter it’s at least a move we should consider. And Flowers would afford some flexibility when it’s time to talk contract with Okung.

Jordan Phillips (DT, Oklahoma)
In my projection Phillips was the #12 pick to Cleveland. I think he’ll shoot up many boards when the combine comes around. He’s enormous, carries a lot of weight well and has incredible mobility and speed. He’s a Dontari Poe-type athlete. We’ll have to see if there’s any medical concerns — he missed time at Oklahoma. If he gets the all-clear he could easily go in the top-15. The Seahawks love size and length and it’d be intriguing to see Phillips at the heart of the defensive line. I’m just not sure Seattle feels they need to spend a first round pick on a big defensive tackle. Look what the defense has achieved these last few weeks without Brandon Mebane — a player some critics suggested was crucial to the run defense.

Cameron Erving (C, Florida State)
Erving was off the board at #23 in my projection to Detroit. He played well at left tackle, and even better at center. Erving is mature, flashes rare mobility for his size (he’s a converted D-lineman) and flexibility. He could start at guard, be the backup center and even be a swing tackle. He fills every spot on the O-line. A team like Seattle, that has struggled with injuries up front, could consider a guy like this. I just think they’ll be more inclined to target other areas and continue to let Tom Cable find ‘his guys’.

Shaq Thompson (LB, Washington)
I had Thompson at #25 to Carolina, purely as a BPA pick. There’s no denying his athletic potential. Jeremiah argues he doesn’t necessarily make the most of it — or have a definite position. He arrived at Washington as a safety prospect, ended up at linebacker before playing some running back. Some people believe he’ll end up at RB for the long haul. I like his skill set and think a creative defense can move him around to have an impact as a playmaker. Can he be another Deone Bucannon for a team? It’s hard to fit him into Seattle’s deep second-level roster.

Interestingly, Melvin Gordon drops to #27 (Dallas) and Gurley lasts until #31 (New England). The Seahawks would have the opportunity to make a small, cost-effective move up the board to target one of the top two running backs. This kind of trade could be of interest if Marshawn Lynch departs in the off-season. No skill players or Seahawky edge rushers made it to the pick. Kiper gave the team a chance to go after a Smith (who’s long gone in Jeremiah’s projection), a Harold or a Gurley. In this mock — moving up a few spots with potentially 10-11 picks to play with could be a wise move.

Jeremiah doesn’t have an offensive tackle leaving the board until pick #12 (T.J. Clemmings to Cleveland). I think this is unlikely given the premium value placed on athletic linemen these days. Just look at the 2013 draft and the way Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson jumped into the top ten mainly based on athleticism. Clemmings in particular has a chance to similarly enhance his stock at the Senior Bowl and then the combine. Also of note in Jeremiah’s mock — Trae Waynes is in the top ten, Arik Armstead the top-15 and Kevin White is in the top five.

The NFL.com blurbs by Zierlien offer some interesting comparisons and detail too. Devin Smith is compared to DeSean Jackson:

Smith isn’t just combine-fast, he’s game-fast and he would have had more than 12 touchdown catches during the 2014 season if he didn’t have to slow down and wait on throws so often. Smith has the feet and hips to become much more than a deep-ball specialist and should be able to step right into a gunner spot on special teams. He still needs to learn his craft and improve his hands, but he has rare speed to score from anywhere on the field.

No arguments there from me.

There’s also this on Maxx Williams:

Williams led all college tight ends with 9 explosive catches (25-plus yards) in 2014 and should be an early target for teams looking for pass-catching weapons.

You’ve got to love those explosive plays.

Some other notes today:

The Senior Bowl rosters are slowly developing. The door is being left open for Marcus Mariota, who is yet to make a firm decision on his attendance. West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White and Kentucky pass rusher Bud Dupree will not take part, which is a shame.

Bob McGinn put together a nice breakdown of the Seahawks for the Journal Sentinel (he’s a Packers writer). McGinn spoke to several execs and coaches in the league to write his piece and I found this quote most striking: “Several people indicated the Seahawks’ collection of wide receivers and tight ends was about as ordinary as ordinary can be.”

Breaking down Mel Kiper’s first mock draft

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Mel Kiper has the Seahawks taking Ohio State receiver Devin Smith

I have a lot of time for ESPN analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay. Without them the draft just wouldn’t be the same. I also don’t think they get the respect they deserve for identifying talent and being ahead of the curve. Off the top of my head, Kiper was all over Jason Pierre-Paul before many others. Ditto Greg Robinson a year ago.

Today he published his first mock draft and has the Seahawks taking Devin Smith (I knew I liked his style…). Here’s what he said about the pick:

I was between two players here — Smith and cornerback Jalen Collins of LSU. The injury to Seahawks receiver Paul Richardson has me leaning toward Smith, a good size/speed combination at wide receiver and one of the better deep threats in college football, a guy fully capable of making contested catches down the field (as anybody who saw him against either Alabama or Oregon can attest to). It’s likely that Richardsonâ??s recovery from ACL surgery could him out well into the 2015 season, and Seattle is going to need to add pass-catching talent either through free agency (they do have to pay the quarterback, remember) or the draft that can play, and Smith is a guy who would fit.

On the point of choosing between a corner and a receiver — I can see why Kiper came to this conclusion. There aren’t many holes in Seattle’s roster. They could use a receiver. Byron Maxwell is a pending free agent. The thing is, the Seahawks clearly back themselves to find cornerbacks later on. Look how often they’ve hit — Brandon Browner from the CFL, Richard Sherman in round five, Maxwell in round six. Previously they drafted Walter Thurmond in round four, now it’s Tharold Simon in round five and Jeremy Lane in round six.

Whether it’s a random free agent or another mid-to-late round pick, I think the Seahawks will continue down that same path if they need to replace Maxwell. It’ll probably take a really spectacular cornerback to change their mind. I think they might’ve considered Bradley Roby last year. He had the spectacular athleticism, some length. He just needed guidance and better coaching. Is Jalen Collins a similar type of prospect? I’m not sure. Roby was considered a potential top-15 pick before he chose not to declare for the 2013 draft. Then he had an inconsistent and poor season at Ohio State — terminally impacting his stock.

I like the Smith pick for the reasons noted in yesterday’s piece. There’s also this:

I think we see that in Smith. Unique production in terms of chunk plays and touchdowns. Top-tier athleticism. Will he battle? You bet. Watch him go up and high point the football, compete at the red line.

Kiper has the Seahawks picking at #32. Let’s run through some of the players that were off the board in my mock, that would be available in Kiper’s projection:

Eli Harold (DE, Virginia)
I had Harold going #8 overall — and I suspect he’ll be a fast riser after the combine. His combination of speed, power and grit is unmatched even in a talented class of pass rushers. They sky is the limit here. If he’s available at #32, I’d be tempted to suggest the Seahawks should run to the podium. There’s so much potential here. If you haven’t already, go and watch the Louisville game from 2014. And get excited.

La’el Collins (G, LSU)
Collins was the #13 pick in my projection to New Orleans. I’m not crazy about taking a guard in the first round, but for Collins I’d make an exception. For me he can become a perennial Pro-Bowler working inside. He can be a decent or average tackle at the next level, or a terrific guard. I think you move him inside and feel satisfied for ten years. He’s still one of my favorite players in this draft. He’s a team captain, he’s a plus-run blocker and he has the mobility to pull and get to the second level.

Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
Arizona took him at #24 in my projection. Even with the knee injury, getting a shot at Gurley could be a dream scenario. Marshawn Lynch, even if he plays for Seattle in 2015, is coming closer to the end it seems. His contract expires after next season. Seattle could red-shirt Gurley or at least give him sufficient time to make a full and proper recovery from his ACL injury. If the Seahawks win back-to-back Super Bowls (they’re picking at #32 here) they’ll prove they’re good enough to pull a move like this. It could set them up for years at the running back position and ensure no drop-off when Lynch calls it quits.

Cameron Erving (C, Florida State)
Erving was off the board at #23 in my projection to Detroit. He played well at left tackle, and even better at center. Erving is mature, flashes rare mobility for his size (he’s a converted D-lineman) and flexibility. He could start at guard, be the backup center and even be a swing tackle. He fills every spot on the O-line. A team like Seattle, that has struggled with injuries up front, could consider a guy like this. I just think they’ll be more inclined to target other areas and continue to let Tom Cable find ‘his guys’.

When I write a new mock, I tend to pump up the guys I like and take them out of contention for Seattle. In my two mocks so far, Harold, Collins and Gurley were all off the board. It’s good to look at another projection and consider who might be there. Imagine having the chance to draft one of Harold, Collins or Gurley? It’s an enticing prospect. Collins would provide an instant starter at guard, Harold would be an explosive project and Gurley a possible leading running back to replace a legend. And there’s Devin Smith too.

Kiper’s projection is an attractive one for Seahawks fans.

Updated mock draft: 14th January

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

#1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon)
Nothing’s changed for me. Mariota has all the tools to become a dynamic NFL quarterback. There are zero concerns about his character. Put him on an offense that already includes Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson and he can be productive very quickly.

#2 Tennessee Titans — Randy Gregory (DE, Nebraska)
I think Dante Fowler Jr is a better player, but Gregory is a better fit for Ray Horton’s defense as a pure 3-4 outside rusher. He’s got the length and size but needs refinement. At the moment he’s most effective blitzing from deep, he needs to become a more rounded threat.

#3 Jacksonville Jaguars — Andrus Peat (T, Stanford)
Peat is a natural pass protector perfectly suited to the left tackle position. After spending the #3 pick on Blake Bortles, they have to build around him. Drafting two receivers early last year was a start, now it’s about better line play up front.

#4 Oakland Raiders — Dante Fowler Jr (DE, Florida)
This would be a steal. Fowler Jr could be the best overall defensive talent in the draft. You can line him up anywhere — D-end, inside, linebacker. He just makes plays. Throw in a terrific motor, great attitude and plus athleticism and you have the makings of a perennial Pro Bowler.

#5 Washington Redskins — Landon Collins (S, Alabama)
The combine will be the making of Collins. He’s a SPARQ success story waiting to happen. Scott McClaughlin has first hand experience of what a rangy, physical safety can provide to a team. Washington’s secondary is a mess and needs a tone setter.

#6 New York Jets — Shane Ray (DE, Missouri)
Here’s another player who should really help himself in Indianapolis. Todd Bowles doesn’t inherit a natural edge rusher for his scheme. It’d be easy to slot Jameis Winston here — a player who fits Bruce Arians’ offense perfectly. But the appointment of Chan Gailey is fascinating. Winston isn’t quite the same fit for Gailey’s spread attack.

#7 Chicago Bears — Leonard Williams (DE, USC)
I’m not quite as sold on Williams as a lot of other people, but the Bears will likely focus on defense this off-season. They need to repair the whole unit and a pick like this makes a lot of sense.

#8 Atlanta Falcons — Eli Harold (DE, Virginia)
Expect a huge rise for Harold. He’s a former 5-star recruit with insane athletic qualities, length and grit. He knows how to convert speed-to-power. He could go even earlier than this. There’s some Barkevious Mingo to his game, some Brian Orakpo. With the right guidance he could be a top player at the next level.

#9 New York Giants — Eddie Goldman (DT, Florida State)
Goldman is another former 5-star recruit. He can hold the point as a run stopper but flashed genuine playmaking quality in 2014 as a pass rusher. He’s a tremendous talent and acted as the anchor to FSU’s defense.

#10 St. Louis Rams — Ereck Flowers (T, Miami)
After Peat, he’s the best pass-protector in this class. They’re similar prospects — both combine great length and foot-speed with ample power and hand use. They need to avoid lunging as much but it’s workable. Flowers would further bolster the Rams O-line.

#11 Minnesota Vikings — Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama)
He’s shown he has the deep speed this year to make up for a lack of elite size. He’s the most naturally gifted receiver to enter the draft since A.J. Green. Very focused individual and not a diva. Pairing Cooper with Teddy Bridgewater seems like a smart move.

#12 Cleveland Browns — Jordan Phillips (DT, Oklahoma)
When Phillips rocks up at the combine and runs a 4.8-4.9 he’ll start to fly up the boards. He has better tape than Dontari Poe but has the same kind of rare size and speed. He’s had some injury history and that’ll need to be checked out. If he’s cleared — watch out for Phillips. He declared for a reason.

#13 New Orleans — La’el Collins (G, LSU)
The Saints rely so much on their guards to protect Drew Brees. It’s the way it’s always been in New Orleans with that quarterback. They’re likely to make some cost savings with the current starters and Collins is an absolute beast.

#14 Miami Dolphins — Malcolm Brown (DT, Texas)
A stud. Anyone who needed convincing just has to look at the way he took on Arkansas’ massive offensive line. He kept making plays. Another former 5-star recruit who appears destined for stardom. Like Goldman he should impress at the combine.

#15 San Francisco 49ers — Devante Parker (WR, Louisville)
I think he’ll measure out at 6-2/6-3 and around 205lbs which isn’t huge — but he plays big. The Niners should move on from Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin won’t last forever. They need more talent on offense, especially with the Frank Gore era drawing to a close.

#16 Houston Texans — Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
It’s not their biggest need of course but Gordon isn’t going to last long in round one. Plenty of teams are going to fall for his combination of suddenness, a fluid running style and gym-rat mentality. It’s just a matter of how early he’ll go.

#17 San Diego Chargers — T.J. Clemmings (T, Pittsburgh)
Having revealed D.J. Fluker will be switching to guard, San Diego desperately needs to add a quality tackle. Clemmings has major upside potential but limited experience. He manned the right side for Pitt. Has an attitude and approach teams will love.

#18 Kansas City Chiefs — Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)
No touchdowns for a receiver all year only tells half the story. Look who they’re starting. It’s hardly a shock. Alex Smith is such a limited passing quarterback you need to put weapons around him. White will compete in the air, run after the catch and make plays downfield.

#19 Cleveland Browns — Bud Dupree (DE, Kentuck)
I like everything about Dupree’s game — except how he rushes the edge. Too often he’s guided away from the QB. The tenacity, athleticism, playmaking — it’s all there. But he’s like a more athletic Courtney Upshaw — or a less explosive Bruce Irvin. He might be best at outside linebacker with some rushing duties.

#20 Philadelphia Eagles — Jameis Winston (QB, Florida State)
Eventually someone will pull the trigger — and it’s likely to be an offensive mind that DNGAF. Chip Kelly clearly backs himself to fit any kind of quarterback into his scheme. The Eagles can afford to roll the dice — Kelly and not Winston would remain the focal identity. They also won 10 games with Foles/Sanchez, they wouldn’t be giving Winston the keys. This is the franchise that gave Michael Vick his second chance.

#21 Cincinnati Bengals — Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson)
A lack of size might be a hindrance although he should run a good forty time and ten yard split. Beasley has been ultra-productive at Clemson and the Bengals need someone who can get to the quarterback.

#22 Pittsburgh Steelers — Brandon Scherff (T, Iowa)
The guy just looks like a Steeler — and it’s more than just the Iowa uniforms. Lunch-pail worker who drives people off the ball in the running game. Right tackle is a huge need for Pittsburgh and Scherff would be a day one starter.

#23 Detroit Lions — Cameron Erving (C, Florida State)
He looked good at tackle last season — and looked even better at center in 2014. The Lions would get a player who can start immediately at center and back up every other position on the O-line. He’s a defensive line convert with massive potential.

#24 Arizona Cardinals — Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
A likely top ten pick without his ACL injury setback, Gurley could still be a top-20 selection. If he falls, a good team will get lucky. The Cardinals need a feature runner with size and are good enough to let Gurley take his time, fully recover and explode in the NFL.

#25 Carolina Panthers — Shaq Thompson (LB, Washington)
The Panthers rallied enough to feel comfortable taking the best player here. They have some cap freedom to improve the offense in free agency. Putting Thompson in that linebacker group is scary — so much speed and athleticism. Combined with a terrific defensive line it’d be a fun defense to watch.

#26 Baltimore Ravens — Trae Waynes (CB, Michigan State)
It’s a bad class of corners but even so — it’d be a shock to see none selected in the first round. Waynes is being touted to have a terrific combine performance and at 6-1/182lbs he could be the one and only cornerback taken in the first frame.

#27 Dallas Cowboys — Markus Golden (DE, Missouri)
The Cowboys have to keep adding pieces to their defense. They lack a threat off the edge. Golden is a beast — a ferocious, passionate football player who can provide leadership to a group of journeymen.

#28 Denver Broncos — Danny Shelton (DT, Washington)
I’m not a big fan of Shelton’s but others love him. I can’t be led just by my own opinions. Terrance ‘Pot Roast’ Knighton is a free agent and will be tough to keep if they re-sign Demaryius and Julius Thomas.

#29 Indianapolis Colts — Bendarick McKinney (LB, Mississippi State)
Big, physical 3-4 inside linebacker who made Miss State’s defense tick. Could be the player Rolando McClain should’ve been. Very solid prospect for any club looking for a presence on defense. He’ll move around at his size.

#30 Green Bay Packers — Owamagbe Odighizuwa (DE, UCLA)
I really, really like Odighizuwa. He’s not much of an edge rusher but the way he dips inside and uses brute force to decimate the interior is a sight to behold. For that reason he might be best acting as a 3-4 end with some outside rush duties thrown in.

#31 Seattle Seahawks — Devin Smith (WR, Ohio State)
I go into more detail below.

#32 New England Patriots — Tevin Coleman (RB, Indiana)
Coleman might not work out at the combine due to injury, but he’s shown enough on tape to warrant a top-40 grade. It’s pretty hard to work out the Pats — a team without a ton of needs. I like Coleman enough to put him in the late first.

Noticeable absentees

Dorial Green-Beckham (WR, Oklahoma) — a superb physical talent who could easily go very early. But there’s so much baggage. Teams will have to do their homework and until I hear positive news on that front, I have a hard time putting him in round one.

Maxx Williams (TE, Minnesota) — love his effort and ability to ‘maxx’ out his targets. He makes athletic plays despite looking fairly modest athletically. I think he’ll prove to a solid second rounder unless he excels at the combine.

Arik Armstead (DE, Oregon) — great run stopper but gets banged up too much and can he develop into more of a pass rusher? Why didn’t he ever entertain the idea of playing left tackle at Oregon?

Jaelen Strong (WR, Arizona State) — he just doesn’t wow me that much. I think he’s destined to be a second rounder.

So what about the Seahawks pick?

The options from about pick #26 aren’t that much better compared to the first 10-15 picks of the second round. For that reason, I think there’s every chance the Seahawks will look to move down (again) if they feel confident they can get ‘their guy’. Last year it worked for Paul Richardson. This is going to be a really nice first round with value all the way through the top-25. But the drop off after that is noticeable. Of course, the combine and Senior Bowl will have an impact on that perception.

Why Devin Smith? Let’s start with a few stats:

— Smith’s 30 career touchdown receptions have an average of 37.9 YPC. Think about that. He averages nearly forty yards per score.

— He had 17 catches worth +20 yards this season and ten touchdowns worth +20 yards. Both stats rank #1 among receivers in the power-five conferences.

— In 2014 he had a YPC average of 28.21 yards — good for #1 in the country among receivers with at least 20 receptions.

— He had 33 catches in 2014. 12 went for +40 yards — second only to Rashard Higgins at Colorado State.

— Smith is #2 all-time for touchdown receptions at Ohio State (30) — topping Cris Carter, Santonio Holmes and Joey Galloway.

In terms of explosive play-artists, nobody is better than Devin Smith in college football.

Then you move on to athleticism. He’s part of Ohio State’s track and field team and finished second in the high jump at the Big-10 Indoor Championships. He jumped 7-0.25. He was also part of the sprint relay team in the 4x100m. He was also Ohio state long jump champion at Washington High School in Massillon.

It would be a shock if he ran slower than a 4.45 at the combine. Odell Beckham Jr ran a 4.43. Smith and Miami’s Phillip Dorsett could end up competing for the fastest time. He could top Beckham’s 38.5-inch vertical.

Perhaps the most important factor is he’s made big plays despite limited targets. When we highlighted Kevin Norwood as a potential-Seahawk last year, one of the key aspects was his ability to max out his production. When A.J. McCarron threw his way, he usually made it count. Whether it was a scramble drill, coming back to the QB or a crucial third down. Norwood didn’t need multiple targets to make an impact. And that’s how Seattle’s passing game works.

A lot of critics are questioning whether Smith runs a full route tree or whether he’s much more than a simple downfield threat. I think he’s perfectly suited to Seattle’s offense. You can challenge him to win 1v1 — whether it’s throwing downfield or not. He’d provide a genuine deep threat — legit speed. He can eat up a cushion quickly and snap out of a break to force separation. He’s an chunk play specialist — a touchdown maker.

He’s also a productive special teamer — acting as a gunner for the Buckeye’s and earning particular praise from Urban Meyer for that aspect of his game. Can he return kicks? Possibly.

It’s a mistake to think all he does is run in a straight line and win with speed. He high points the ball superbly and takes it away from the defender. He has excellent body control. Seattle loves these types of athletes. Doug Baldwin keeps reminding us — it’s not just about size. And while they clearly could do with a seam-busting big target who can operate in the red zone, they also need to keep stockpiling talent around a quarterback soon to be worth $120 million.

By the time the Senior Bowl and combine are over, Smith could be being talked about as a top-20 prospect. I like the fit with the Seahawks right now — particularly with Paul Richardson facing a long recovery. Seattle faces the possibility of starting the season with Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Kevin Norwood at receiver. Consider they could also lose Marshawn Lynch. If you don’t think the skill positions will be a priority this off-season, I don’t know what to say to you.

Ogbuehi suffers torn ACL, Stanley staying & random thoughts

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

Cedric Ogbuehi faces a challenging comeback from injury — how much will this impact his draft stock?

It’s been revealed Texas A&M left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi suffered a torn ACL in the Liberty Bowl. Ogbuehi had a rough season. He struggled to adjust to the blindside after a good year at right tackle in 2013. Unlike Jake Matthews (who made a similar switch the year before) he just looked flat out bad at times — giving up nearly double digit sacks. Bob McGinn recently quoted an unnamed scout suggesting he was “soft” and “never practices”.

I wouldn’t want to draft Ogbuehi in round one — even before the injury. Not even to play right tackle. But the physical upside is so high (as evidenced in 2013, when he handled Dee Ford among others) — someone would’ve done. There are better options out there, more reliable options — even if nobody touches on the extreme value Joel Bitonio provided last year.

Would I redshirt him as a later draft pick? Possibly. It depends how legit the “soft” and “never practices” concern is. If you can trust the guy to do what it takes to get back — then you consider it. Personally I’d rather look elsewhere for O-line depth.

Meanwhile, Ronnie Stanley has opted to stay at Notre Dame for 2015. Andrus Peat (T, Stanford) & Ereck Flowers (T, Miami) are the top-two blindside blockers in this class for me. They share similar traits — solid in pass protection, capable of a little technical enhancement. They both lunge occasionally and get intro trouble. But they’re both long with a great punch, they’re both light on their feet. They should both go very early. T.J. Clemmings (T, Pittsburgh) flashes greater upside but has such limited experience at tackle and you never know how that’ll translate. He could be a long-term fit at guard.

Here are some quick-hitting thoughts. I’m contemplating doing another mock draft tomorrow:

— The more I watch Eli Harold (DE, Virginia), the more I think he could end up in the top ten. He’s long, he’s lightning fast. He converts speed to power better than I first considered. He’s got a repertoire. He’s going to tear up the combine as a former 5-star recruit. He’s not the finished article, but he really is about as good as it gets in terms of a D-end you bring in to develop.

— On the other hand, I think Bud Dupree (DE, Kentucky) might last a little longer than I first imagined. He’s an excellent player, don’t get me wrong. But he’s not the best rounding the edge as a pure rusher. He frequently struggles to turn the corner, being guided away from the QB by the tackle. Is he a natural edge rusher? He’s at his best working in space, fighting to the ball carrier. He has a knack of being in the right place to make a play. But he’s not a sack artist and probably won’t be at the next level. He might be best working as a linebacker hybrid. He’s athletic enough. He should still go in the top-25 and will be enticing to 3-4 teams.

— Dante Fowler Jr (DE, Florida) is the best all-round defensive player in the class. What a playmaker.

— Jordan Phillips (DT, Oklahoma) is a monster in terms of size and athleticism — but he can do a better job absorbing double teams and taking advantage when he’s blocked 1v1. His hand-technique can be better to disengage. He can be coached. A ton of teams are going to love the opportunity to get this guy right. Size, speed, power, playmaking qualities. He has every chance to go in the top-15. Phillips, Eddie Goldman (DT, Florida State) and Malcom Brown (DT, Texas) should go quickly.

— The more I watch Jaelen Strong (WR, Arizona State), the less I understand the first round hype. He doesn’t look particularly sudden or athletic. He can jump — you can see the family ties to basketball. But he’s not particularly big or fast. He knows how to box off defenders but 1v1 he doesn’t always win — he doesn’t eat up a cushion, turn the defender or create separation with an explosive break. He admitted when he arrived at Arizona State that he’d never lifted before and was working on core strength. I think we’ll see a decent vertical at the combine, but not a great forty or bench. I think round two seems reasonable, especially with 3-4 other receivers likely to find a home in round one.

— Danielle Hunter (DE, LSU) is pretty overrated. Great athlete, yes. Great football player? Not at all. He shows absolutely nothing in terms of technique as a pass rusher. He’s just a bull in a china shop. More often than not he ends up easily blocked and jumping to try and deflect the pass. I don’t think I’ve seen him produce one good edge rush in three games. He has no sense for the ball carrier. He has great length — he has a ridiculously low body fat percentage despite weighing 240lbs. He’ll no doubt perform well at the combine but he’ll need a ton of work.

— On the whole Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon) debate, I think it comes down to this. Are you a creative-minded coaching staff, willing to accentuate his skill-set and work towards a system that emphasizes scrambling, ball control and some read-option elements? Or are you stuck within conventional wisdom — determined to force a quarterback to sit in the pocket and throw +30 times? Mariota needs to be a point-guard. We aren’t talking about a conventional pocket passer. Tampa Bay needs to work out what kind of team it wants. And if they just want a big and strong quarterback chucking bombs — they aren’t going to get it with Mariota.