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Chris Carson is making a name for himself

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

When Pete Carroll was asked about Chris Carson early in the week, he gave that look that said, ‘I’m excited but I’m saying nothing‘.

Carroll grinned and uttered a few positive words before allowing the press conference to move swiftly on.

By the end of the week, he wasn’t holding back:

“I’m really excited about this guy. Really have high hopes for him. We’ll see how he does. We’re just getting started. He’s a very physical runner in the style that we like. You can’t tell all of that here because we’re not finishing the runs with tackling but I know it’s in his background and we keep chirping at him and we’ll see it happen when the time comes. We might have a really competitive guy at that spot.”

Carson has been one of the big talking points of training camp so far. In fairness, aside from Frank Clark and Germain Ifedi doing their best impression of Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather, there hasn’t been too much to discuss. Seattle’s starters appear to be relatively set in place and a lot of the camp battles are about making up the 53.

The fight to collect the 15-20% of snaps at the SAM linebacker spot hasn’t captured the imagination of most fans just yet.

The praise for Carson hasn’t just come from Carroll. Speaking today, Doug Baldwin stated he was the most polished rookie he’d ever been around and that he has “all the tools”.

Baldwin isn’t one for offering effusive praise about rookies unless it’s warranted. Combined with the positive words and the excitable body language from Carroll, Carson is certainly creating an impression.

Sheil Kapadia’s ESPN report on Friday highlights why he’s had such a productive start to camp:

“Blitz pickup is something that rookies typically struggle with. But that was not the case with Carson.

During one drill early in practice, he got matched up with veteran linebacker Michael Wilhoite on multiple occasions and stoned him.”

Pass-pro is the thing that consistently prevents a talented rookie running back taking the field. It’s why Ezekiel Elliott was considered such a sure thing a year ago — his pass-pro and pass-catching ability were as dynamic as his running.

It’s promising to read Carson is doing well with the fundamentals.

It’s also not a big surprise the Seahawks ended up bringing him in as a seventh rounder.

Seattle has a type at running back in terms of body size and general athleticism — at least in terms of the players they’ve drafted (Eddie Lacy for example is not the body type they’ve selected so far). After the combine this year we noted the minimal number of running backs in the 2017 draft that fit this apparent preferred profile:

The Seahawks have a type (explosive tester, around 5-11 and 220lbs) and the ones best matching it are Alvin Kamara, Aaron Jones, Brian Hill and Chris Carson. Kamara might be a top-45 pick and out of contention but Jones, Hill and Carson could provide day three value and extra competition.

He’s 6-0 and 218lbs, jumped a 37 inch vertical and a 10-10 broad.

What he hasn’t had in his college career are breakaway runs for big yardage. Carson never managed a run of more than 26 yards during his 212 carries at Oklahoma State.

And that’s OK.

Marshawn Lynch, aside from two miraculous, career defining runs, wasn’t a breakaway runner either. It’s the physical punishment over four quarters, the tone-setting mentality and attitude that the Seahawks probably like about Carson (and it’s a trait we’ve seen with Alex Collins in college and Thomas Rawls in the NFL too).

This is the type of run that helps establish a tone:

He’s not the quickest (4.58 runner at the combine) but he’s tough and explosive. That’s a Seahawks running back.

He also never gave up a fumble at Oklahoma State. Another plus.

Carson will likely get plenty of opportunities to impress in the four pre-season games — but a note of caution. Thomas Rawls didn’t set the world alight in his rookie pre-season. He had nine carries for 31 yards against Denver, four carries for 20 yards against Kansas City and six carries for 20 yards against San Diego before a breakout performance in the final game against Oakland (11 carries, 87 yards). Rawls did receive rave reviews for his camp work and attitude. So even if Carson doesn’t get the big pre-season yardage, he might win a roster spot anyway.

The other thing to consider is the free stash Seattle has had on the 53-man roster over the years. They’ve red-shirted guys like Benson Mayowa, Kristjan Sokoli and DeAndre Elliott in the past. So even if Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, C.J. Prosise and Alex Collins get ahead for the 2017 season — there might still be room to keep hold of Carson if they like him.

And let’s be right — Seattle running backs always get picked up by other teams when they’re cut. So trying to squeeze him onto the practise squad might be ambitious.

Better health, depth and quality at the running back position is vital for the Seahawks in 2017 as they look to regain their identity as a physical running offense. Carson seems to be right in the thick of the competition so far.

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Some early thoughts on 2018 draft prospects

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

At the end of the 2017 draft I listed 10 draft eligible names to watch for next year. You can see the original list here.

This could be a really good draft for running backs
Penn State’s Saquon Barkley and LSU’s Derrius Guice are the two biggest names for good reason. Barkley is a gym-rat workaholic with great character, explosive athleticism, size and playmaking ability. Guice has a little bit of Thomas Rawls in him with that smaller frame but great tenacity. He’s also explosive with the ability to shift through the gears quickly. Some thought LSU played better when he replaced an injured Leonard Fournette last year.

According to Bruce Feldman, Guice can squat 650lbs, power clean 374lbs and he ran a 4.49 recently at 5-11 and 212lbs. Barkley was listed as Feldman’s celebrated #1 freak of nature for 2017, reportedly running a 4.33 at 228lbs (which seems a tad unrealistic) and defeating linemen Anthony Zettel’s school record in the power clean with a 405lbs effort.

Both players could mount Heisman campaigns depending on how their respective teams perform overall. The promising thing for this class is the other names that could also develop into high draft picks.

The player I’m most keen to see more of in 2017 is Auburn’s Kamryn Pettway. He was the first player in this draft cycle that made me sit up. He’s 6-0 and 235lbs and had some monster games against Ole Miss, Arkansas and Mississippi State.

So what stands out?

For a guy at his size he can really move. He has a gliding running style that eats up ground very quickly. His acceleration is highly impressive. When he hits the hole he isn’t always building up speed slowly, needing a running start. He hits it with authority and gets to top speed quickly. Once he’s moving he’s difficult to stop.

While he’s deceptively shifty with the ability to side-step defenders and stretch plays out, he’s also what you’d expect from a bigger back. He’ll get the extra yard or two on contact. He’ll avoid tackles or run through a defender. Arm tackles frequently don’t cut it and once he breaks into the open field, watch out.

He missed a few games last year so a full, durable 2017 season is critical for his stock. That said — he’s an exciting player with a lot of potential.

The two other names I wanted to mention are reasonably well known but didn’t quite live up to expectations in 2016. See the video at the top of the blog post if you want to take a look at him.

Arizona State’s Kalen Ballage is a fantastic athlete with great size (listed at 6-3 and 230lbs). He’s a possible freaky performer at the combine. Feldman has him jumping 37 inches in the vertical and running a 4.03 short shuttle (0.15 seconds faster than any RB at this years combine). Last year Ballage was let down by a weak supporting cast that crumbled down the stretch. He has tremendous personality and character and he’s not just a running back — he can score in many different ways.

Alabama’s Bo Scarborough will be well known to CFB fans after a strong end to the 2016 season. However, it took him a little while to earn Nick Saban’s trust. Billed as the heir apparent to Derrick Henry, Scarborough was a bit of a let down at the start of the season. His challenge now is to launch yet another Alabama RB Heisman campaign and become the focal point of a strong running offense. He has the size, speed, physicality and talent to be a next-level stud. Let’s hope for a consistent season in college to prove he can live up to expectations.

This is just five names to start with. Players like Oregon’s Royce Freeman, Alabama’s Damien Harris, Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and Washington duo Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman are others who could turn the 2018 draft into a big year for running backs.

Clemson has even more talent coming through
They lost DeShaun Watson and Mike Williams but the production line at Clemson keeps churning out talent. Their D-line in particular is littered with studs, containing three possible future first round picks.

Dexter Lawrence could be a top-10 pick in the 2019 draft. Clelin Ferrell could go in the top-20 in 2018 and Christian Wilkins could certainly make a case for the first round too. Three big, angry, versatile defensive linemen with round one talent.

Ferrell as a draft eligible prospect for next year is really interesting. He’s listed at about 6-5 and 265lbs but he looks bigger. He has that Shaq Lawson type of frame and he’s capable of rushing inside/out, winning with technique/hands but also showing enough speed to rush the edge. He doesn’t quite have Harold Landry’s superb get-off but he’s a longer, more rounded NFL prospect. You can imagine him playing in the AFC North or NFC West. He had six sacks and 12.5 TFL’s last year and could easily double those numbers in 2017. I’m a big fan of Bradley Chubb’s at NC State — he and Ferrell could go in the same kind of range.

The big question is how much do the three help each other out? Working out who is the best of the trio is difficult. I suspect Lawrence has the greatest potential but Ferrell and Wilkins are very good. Clemson will again be a fun team to watch this year.

On offense the potential breakout star is receiver Deon Cain. He’s 6-1 and 210lbs. He high-points the ball nicely making a number of improbable grabs. He has the short area quickness and ability to separate. He’ll go long for a big gain from time-to-time and he’s proven to be a red zone threat. Cain had nine touchdowns last year.

More than anything he’s already tremendously polished. Clemson seem to do a better job than anyone coaching receivers. No, Sammy Watkins hasn’t delivered on the hype so far (how much of that is due to location?). Look at the success stories though, such as DeAndre Hopkins. Clemson receivers understand the game, usually can break down coverages during interviews and discuss how they exploit schemes to get open. They’re also highly competitive and athletic. Receivers and D-liners come out of Clemson regularly and enter the league. Keep an eye on Cain this year.

Who else stood out on early viewing?
Speaking of production lines, there’s another really cool linebacker at Ohio State. Jerome Baker flies around the field with terrific quickness. He makes plays in the backfield and working sideline-to-sideline. He’s more of a playmaker than Darron Lee who went in round one. There’s some Ryan Shazier to his game. He’s only 223lbs but reportedly ran a 4.37 this year. Baker just looks like a top-40 type of player already.

Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne is a massive mountain of a man who moves well for his size. He has shown he’s capable of a nice swim move (not often you see it from ‘Bama interior guys) and he can drop the anchor and carry two blockers before disengaging and making the stop vs the run. It’s unclear how good he is as an athlete and his stock might not be early pick. He’s a bad ass on that Alabama D-line though. I noticed him while trying to watch other Alabama D-liners and he was the one who stood out.

A lot of people know about Florida State’s Derwin James already. He was injured for most of last year but many praised his freshman season. I watched some of it to see what the fuss was about and was blown away by his speed, size, willingness to deliver a hammer blow and versatility to line-up in different defensive looks. He needs a healthy 2017 season but he’s as good as advertised and (health-permitting) will be an early pick.

Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki had a pretty consistent 2016 season. He’s a long strider with good size (6-6, 252lbs). He’s a modern day type of TE — better at working into space and finding a coverage mismatch than necessarily grinding it out in the run game. He’s capable of explosive plays downfield though and he gets into the open pretty quickly off the snap. His only catch in the Rose Bowl was a fantastic red zone touchdown against USC. Reportedly Gesicki manages 37.5 inches in the vertical and has jumped a 10-11 broad.

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Kam Chancellor has agreed a new contract

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

This is the most important news the Seahawks could deliver at the start of training camp.

Kam Chancellor isn’t just a key part of the defense, a dominating strong safety and a physical tone-setter. He’s the nearest thing this league has to a Ray Lewis figure. A player who commands respect, can inspire a team by his mere presence on the field or in the locker room and personify the identity of an entire roster.

Don’t take my word for it.

“They (Patriots) think Michael Bennett is their best defensive player. I tend to think Kam Chancellor is the difference maker on that defense.”

Matt Hasselbeck on ESPN 710 before Seattle’s win in New england (listen here)

Keeping him happy, keeping him under contract — this was absolutely crucial.

There’s a reason why people like Matt Hasselbeck view him as the defensive MVP on the team. His ability to organise, be an intimidating force over the middle and contribute vs the run is unmatched in the NFL. There is only one player like Kam Chancellor. There’s unlikely to be another any time soon — he is unique.

He’s also a highly underrated playmaker. Just think of the many vital, critical plays he’s made in the last two and a bit years alone:

— Punching the ball out at the one-yard line vs Detroit in 2015, turning a probable loss into a win in a split second

— Forcing Adrian Peterson to fumble in the 2015 playoff game vs Minnesota — the subsequent drive led to a touchdown and a lead Seattle never surrendered

— Defending Rob Gronkowski on the final play in New England, matching up 1v1 in coverage against one of the best in the league and defending the pass

— Forcing Julian Edelman to fumble the ball at midfield and giving Seattle’s offense a chance to claim a winning seven point advantage on the next possession

— The pick-six against Carolina in the 2014 playoffs, sealing a vital victory in a game also known for Chancellor leaping over the LOS to try and block a field goal

This doesn’t account for all the other plays he made earlier in his career, such as the unforgettable hits of Vernon Davis or his inspired Super Bowl performance against Denver.

Here’s his influence summed up in one short video:

Team mates and fans alike will rejoice at today’s news.

The deal appears comparable to Reshad Jones’ in Miami. An average of $12m a year. At a time when Brandon Linder is earning $10m in Jacksonville, this seems perfectly fair.

The 2017 season starts in the best possible way.

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Malik McDowell hurt in vehicular accident, not at camp

Sunday, July 30th, 2017

If you were hoping the first day of training camp would pass by with relative insignificance, think again.

Malik McDowell hurt himself in a reported ATV accident two weeks ago. The suitably vague statement issued by the team adds a layer of intrigue and concern. What exactly happened here? Why are there no details about the severity or location of the injury? Why is there language like ‘we consider this a long term relationship’ included?

Pete Carroll couldn’t answer whether he’ll play this season. This report adds a little more detail:

A concussion and ‘facial injuries’ doesn’t seem to be anything too out of the ordinary and yet the talk has been suitably vague so far to hint at a very serious problem.

McDowell tweeted this a fortnight ago, presumably after the accident:

If McDowell can’t play in 2017 it’ll be a blow for the injury-hit Seahawks. They had more players on injured reserve than any other team last year and they start camp with this setback. They haven’t had a dynamic interior rusher for quite some time. That might be the case again this year.

That said, Seattle’s 2017 season was never going to be defined by a rookie. This is about a healthy Russell Wilson, a re-established running game, improvements on the O-line and finding a competent starter across from Richard Sherman.

It also hasn’t been confirmed that he will definitely miss the season. The vagueness surrounding the issue merely indicates that is a likely scenario. He hasn’t been placed on injured reserve yet, only the reserve/did not report list. That might be a good thing. We’ll see.

The news today is a disappointment but hardly cause for any hysteria.

UPDATE — this is from McDowell’s twitter account:

On the plus side Carroll was very positive about a new contract for Kam Chancellor, saying there were only a few things to conclude before a deal would be finalised. If Seahawks fans need a lift after the McDowell news, this should provide it. As we touched on in the week, Chancellor is Seattle’s answer to Ray Lewis. A contract extension would be welcomed by fans and teammates alike.

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Pre-training camp Seahawks mailbag

Saturday, July 29th, 2017

We got through some of these questions on the podcast (see above) but not all of them, so I wanted to do a mailbag piece covering the lot.

There were so many things going on last year that I’m inclined to praise Carroll. In week one Ndamukong Suh trod on Russell Wilson’s ankle and from that moment it was one thing after another. The injuries at running back, Tyler Lockett being banged up and then breaking his leg, Earl Thomas breaking his leg, Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett missing time, Richard Sherman having a couple of meltdowns. The Seahawks had more people on injured reserve in 2016 than any other team. Despite this, they were a win against Arizona in week 16 away from a playoff bye, they won the NFC West and a wildcard game. Many other teams would’ve folded.

Wade Phillips will probably do a great job in LA because he has a proven track record. Assuming Aaron Donald doesn’t hold out for the year, his presence alone will make the Rams a tough opponent.

It’s hard to know what the 49ers will provide on defense. They look like a team that is at least a couple of years from being competent. They have high first round picks on the D-line but DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead haven’t shown to be impact linemen that take over a game and Solomon Thomas hasn’t played a snap in the league. There’s also a big question mark over how the Niners will utilise all three in a 4-3 under.

The Cardinals will surely feel the loss of Calais Campbell to the Jags. There’s a reason he’s earning $15m a year. He doesn’t have a peer. There isn’t another 6-8, 300lbs monster in the NFL.

That said, they do still have some talented defensive linemen and edge rushers. The creative blitz packages they use have given Seattle constant problems for years. As Bruce Arians so eloquently put it during the week 16 game last year, ‘we’ve dominated their offensive line for three years’. Sadly, he isn’t wrong.

All three teams have good players. Two will be well coached and the third is a mystery. On paper though, the Seahawks have enough talent on offense to offer a counter-punch. And despite some of the struggles against the Rams and Cardinals in recent years, they’ve also had some emphatic, comfortable victories.

As for Chris Carson, he’s one of the more interesting names to watch in training camp. He stood out at Oklahoma State last year. He was challenged to run with more authority and toughness and he answered the call. He fits Seattle’s size/physical profile to a tee. The running back battle in camp is going to be highly competitive. It’ll be so good in fact, hopefully they’ll be able to leave Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise on the sidelines for the majority of the pre-season snaps.

Carson the running back is a ‘sleeper’ to monitor, so is guard Justin Roos. Mike Davis is another to watch among the running backs.

As for the former picks returning to glory — the three on the roster that qualify are Luke Joeckel, Dion Jordan and Marcus Smith. Joeckel has the best chance — he’s a presumed starter at left guard or left tackle and he’s a former #2 overall pick. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility he develops into at least a serviceable starter.

Jordan needs to get healthy and take motivation from what is possibly his last chance to have a NFL career. They scraped a season out of Big Mike Williams in 2010 so maybe they can get into Jordan. Smith has to get stronger and refine his technique. It’s hard to do in one training camp — he might get a chance to compete at the SAM spot and he’ll need to show some special teams value.

I just want to hear the coaches talk positively about him. The big concern (and the reason he dropped in the draft) was due to attitude and effort concerns. If he has a rocky start to camp does he fight back? Can he get out there and show he’s ready to be an impact pro? He has the physical talent. Hearing the coaches speak well of his attitude will be reassuring.

Roos certainly appears ready to compete with the rest of the linemen. We know that’s a wide open race, it might not be a quick process to find the five starting O-liners.

Swoopes is intriguing as a converted quarterback/gimmick player at Texas. He has the size and athleticism. He’s worth a look. Yet with Jimmy Graham, Luke Willson and Nick Vannett seemingly assured of roster spots, he’ll have to stand out fairly substantially to warrant being stashed on the 53-man roster.

There are some nice battles across the board. Who wins the backup QB job? What happens at running back and receiver? Who wins the job across from Richard Sherman? Who’s the starting SAM and which linebackers make the cut? It should be a fun camp — but I suspect my personal favourite battle to follow is going to be at running back.

Morgan has been a great servant for this team and a Pete Carroll favourite but clearly they felt it was time to move on. It’s telling that nobody else has moved to sign him. He might still return if some of the guys they’ve brought in don’t shine.

The kicker situation is a curious one. When Blair Walsh signed I think most people assumed he would be part of a competition in pre-season. Instead as time has gone on, he now looks like the undisputed starter. He still needs to win the job. If he misses kicks in the pre-season games they’ll cut him and sign someone else. But he’s essentially only competing with himself right now.

I think the slot situation could end up being Jeremy Lane’s role again but with more variation. They might use that extra DB to get Bradley McDougald or Delano Hill on the field. They seem really high on McDougald so depending on the opponent, he could end up taking snaps away as a ‘Buffalo’. It’s hard to predict right now. Lane could start outside and kick inside. Shaquill Griffin, DeAndre Elliott, Pierre Desire or Neiko Thorpe might win a job at corner or in the slot. Mike Tyson might get into the mix. It’ll be fun to watch.

Michael Wilhoite maybe has an advantage given his snaps in San Francisco but Terence Garvin and D.J. Alexander are good special teamers and that is likely to be a big factor in the final decision. Arthur Brown was a big time college recruit but his NFL career never took off in Baltimore. I think it’s likely Cassius Marsh will be on the roster in 2017. It won’t be a major shock if someone like Kache Palacio wins a job.

1. Paul Richardson
2. Germain Ifedi
3. Pierre Desir

Richardson ended the 2016 season healthy and making big plays. With Tyler Lockett possibly facing an easing-in period following his broken leg, there could be an opportunity for Richardson to continue his good form. He’s also in a contract year.

Ifedi had moments of real quality as a rookie but also many moments where you didn’t want to look. That said, he might be more at home at right tackle where his athleticism and length can be put to good use.

I went with Desir here purely as a wild-card and to make the answer a bit more interesting. There are a handful of cornerbacks all vying for a start and really any could win the job across from Sherman. Desir, however, has an interesting backstory. He joined the Seahawks practise squad last November. During the season he was offered the chance to sign with the Detroit Lions as part of their 53-man roster. He turned it down, preferring to learn Seattle’s technique and take his chance at winning a job this year with the Seahawks.

That willingness to take a chance on himself could pay off. He’s essentially been waiting since November for this opportunity, with a lot more time spent trying to master Seattle’s technique than the rookies drafted in late April. We’ll see if that gives him an edge.

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Seahawks sign Marcus Smith, trade KPL for D.J. Alexander

Friday, July 28th, 2017

Here’s what I wrote about Smith just before the 2014 draft:

The other two options and wildcards for #32 are Marcus Smith and Demarcus Lawrence. Smith might be the more intriguing option — he ran a 4.6 at the combine with a 1.57 ten yard split. He’s a former quarterback and needs time — his arms lack muscle definition and he can get stronger. Yet the potential is there.

The nagging doubt I’d carry would be the unpredictable nature of edge rushers transferring to the next level. For all the scaremongering about taking receivers early — pass rushers are the ones to worry about. Look how many surprising busts there have been over the years. The speed isn’t quite as effective at the next level and you have to be able to battle — hand use, strength, counter moves and speed-to-power are crucial. Smith’s a nice athlete, but he’s not a rare player. As good as he looked in college, he’d be a risky pick at #32.

That second paragraph ultimately sums up his time in Philadelphia. He was the #26 pick, taken because of his athletic potential. He ran a 1.5 split at 251lbs and had 34 inch arms. He was worth a flier in the first or second round. He’s not the same kind of athlete as Bruce Irvin or Vic Beasley but he’s that type of modern day EDGE/LEO/SAM.

When he got to the NFL and he couldn’t rely purely on speed, he was found wanting. That said, he’s a nice reclamation project. Much in the way Dion Jordan and Luke Joeckel are. It’s possible he’ll never develop and will always be more athlete than pass rusher. It’s still worth a look to find out.

It wasn’t the only move today…

This came out of nowhere, although Kevin Pierre-Louis’ career in Seattle has been underwhelming despite his obvious physical talent.

Alexander is a former fifth round pick from Oregon State (2015). He was a special teams Pro-Bowler last season.

He ran a 4.56 at his pro-day and a 1.56 split. He also jumped a 34.5 inch vertical and a 10-3 broad. His 4.24 short shuttle would’ve been fifth fastest among linebackers at this years combine. We highlighted before the draft the apparent importance of the short shuttle in Seattle’s linebacker assessments.

He’s their type of LB — excellent short shuttle, special teams demon.

Here’s some tape from his Oregon State days…

Finally, according to NFL Insider Guy Fieri (ahem), full back Marcel Reece will be reporting for training camp in Seattle. He ended last season strongly and this can only be considered good news.

If you missed yesterday’s piece on Seattle going into training camp, click here.

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Some random thoughts going into training camp & Patreon

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

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Are you having a good summer?

Before I get into this piece, a small announcement. I’ve started a Patreon account. During the 2017 draft coverage a few people requested a ‘donate’ button on the site. I’m not going to hide any content behind a paywall, I’m not going to do anything differently. Every podcast, every article, every thought will be free and available on the blog. This exists purely for the people who wish to contribute. If you’re interested, click the orange tab at the top of the article or the top of the sidebar.

Now let’s get into the 2017 season.

Tomorrow Kenneth and I will be recording a new podcast. I’m preparing an article looking at some draft prospects that caught my eye during a recent tape review.

Today I want to run through some random thoughts…

1. Wilson’s health & running game the key — not the O-line

A lot of people are going to be talking about the O-line in camp. Fans, the media. It’ll probably get discussed ad nauseam and described as the key to Seattle’s season.

Admittedly the offensive line has to get better. Many will argue it couldn’t get much worse. Yet it’s arguably even more important that Seattle gets a healthy Russell Wilson and re-establishes it’s physical running game.

Wilson’s ability to extend plays, make gains with his legs, master the read-option and scramble out of danger is a highly critical part of Seattle’s offense. Pete Carroll once declared he wanted to be the ‘best scrambling team in the league’. The offense is set up to play to Wilson’s strengths. When he’s nursing ankle and knee injuries (neither of which were the fault of the O-line a year ago) it impacts the running game, the O-line and the DNA of the offense.

And then there’s Marshawn Lynch. You don’t need me to detail how he set the tone for the entire team (both sides of the ball). The term ‘generational talent’ is overused. It fits the bill for Lynch.

The combination of physically dominating ground game and mobile/elusive/miraculous quarterback allowed the Seahawks to thrive and win games in 2013 even with Paul McQuistan and Michael Bowie starting at tackle.

Russell Okung missed eight regular season games during the Super Bowl run, with McQuistan forced to fill in at left tackle. Breno Giacomini missed seven games with seventh round rookie Bowie starting at right tackle.

Max Unger also missed three games in 2013.

Aside from a typically brutal experience in St. Louis on Monday Night Football (a game Seattle still won), the O-line injuries didn’t derail Seattle’s Championship season even though they easily could have. That was largely due to the quality of the running game and the skill-set of the quarterback.

So while it’s important the likes of George Fant and Germaine Ifedi take a step forward, that Justin Britt continues to excel and newcomers like Luke Joeckel, Ethan Pocic and Oday Aboushi have an impact — the overall fate of the offense likely rests with the QB and running backs.

Wilson being his mobile best and Eddie Lacy and/or Thomas Rawls being physical and tough to bring down likely equals a return to form on offense in 2017.

2. All signs point to waiting it out with Justin Britt

Jacksonville center Brandon Linder agreed a $51.7m contract extension with the Jaguars this week, worth over $10m a year on average.

Any hopes of an imminent agreement with Just Britt suddenly seem highly unrealistic.

Even before Linder’s deal it might’ve been a stretch.

The O-line market exploded in free agency and teams are throwing money at second and third tier talent, not just the big names. Britt emerged as one of the best young center’s in the league in 2016. Aged 26, he’s hitting the prime of his career.

Britt surely has to test the market in a years time. There’s never been a more financially rewarding time to be a good, healthy, durable offensive linemen.

Alternatively the Seahawks need to see if he can build on a strong first year at center before they consider making him potentially a top-five earner on the roster.

If Britt was to sign a deal equal to Linder’s ($10.34m APY) he’d be the fifth best paid Seahawk on the roster behind only Russell Wilson ($21.9m), Richard Sherman ($14m), Doug Baldwin ($11.5m) and Bobby Wagner ($10.75m). While the likes of Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Jimmy Graham might expect to earn more than $10.34m a year if and when they sign contract extensions, this would still be a bold move by Seattle based on a solitary season at center.

The drafting of Ethan Pocic felt like a hedge at the time and that seems even more likely now. The coaches have done a good job talking up his flexibility and credentials to compete at guard and tackle — but Pocic was a center at LSU and could easily slot into that position from 2018 if needed.

Britt might be so good at center in 2017 that they ultimately decide to pay the going rate. It’s nice to have a sensible backup plan though — something they clearly didn’t have when they traded Max Unger to New Orleans and ended up starting the season with Drew Nowak at the heart of the O-line.

Many fans will cringe at the thought of letting the only solid O-line performer from 2016 walk as a free agent. There are things to consider though:

— Is the drop-off in performance between Britt and Pocic at center going to be that significant?

— The difference in average salary could be $10.5m vs $1.1m, allowing them to potentially use the money to keep Kam Chancellor and Jimmy Graham or one of their ‘prove-it’ players in 2017 (Eddie Lacy, Luke Joeckel, Bradley McDougald).

— Will it be harder to replace Chancellor or Graham compared to swapping Pocic in for Britt?

— Letting Britt walk to get a +$10m a year deal likely nets you a third round comp pick for a player who cost you a late second round pick in 2014.

Whatever ultimately happens, it feels like a situation that possibly won’t come to a conclusion until the early days of free agency. It makes sense for Britt to test the market. The Seahawks can then make an educated decision on their next move — knowing if they have to move on, they’re sufficiently insured with Pocic on the roster.

3. It feels like a different situation with Frank Clark

The D-line market is also booming at the moment. Calais Campbell agreed a contract in Jacksonville worth $15m a year. Olivier Vernon gets $17m a year with the Giants. This week Everson Griffen signed a four-year contract with the Vikings worth $14.5m a year. And it’s a move that will hopefully inspire the Seahawks.

Griffen had two years left on his contract in Minnesota. The Vikings, likely seeing the way the market was going, got him to agree an extension that will look like a bargain by 2019 (when his original deal was set to expire).

Seattle’s best way to keep Frank Clark long term, if his career trajectory continues, is probably to try and get him to agree a contract at the end of the 2017 season (the first time he’ll be eligible to talk about an extension per the CBA).

His cap hit in 2018 is only $1.187m. It’d be a shame to lose that great value, especially when there are other players to consider (Chancellor, Graham). Yet Clark’s price will only keep rising if he continues to perform. Minnesota took a hit now with Griffen to see value down the line. The Seahawks might have to do the same with Clark.

Remember, he had 10 sacks in 2016 despite working in a rotation. As his role expands and if he stays healthy and productive — he will look very attractive to teams with an ever increasing pot of money to spend.

If he reaches free agency his price could be in the Vernon bracket. There might be a way to reward him a year early, take a hit in 2018 and still find value over the long term of the contract.

Of course, he still needs to go out and perform in 2017. He clearly has the talent, however, to work his way into at least the price range of Everson Griffen.

4. It’d be cool if the Seahawks could extend Chancellor’s contract ASAP

Kam Chancellor is the heart and soul of this team. Seattle’s answer to Ray Lewis. Even when Lewis began to age and his play regressed, his value to the Ravens was palpable. Chancellor has the same kind of aura.

A breaking news story that Chancellor has signed an extension would be celebrated by fans and team mates alike. A chance to establish early momentum and avoid any distractions.

It’s likely a complex situation though.

Reshad Jones is a month older than Chancellor and signed a new contract in Miami worth $12m a year with $35m in guarantees over five years.

Chancellor isn’t just a better player than Jones, he’s a greater locker room presence. He’s well within his rights to ask for a similar deal, if not a better deal.

Equally the Seahawks have to plan with their heads and not their hearts. Chancellor missed nine games in 2015 and 2016. He’ll be 30 next year. It’s a given they’d like to reward Kam but does it make financial sense to do a long term deal?

The franchise tag for a safety in 2017 was $10.896m. Assuming it stays at around that level, you could pay Chancellor $8m in 2017 and approximately $11m in 2018. By 2019 Chancellor would be 31 and Seattle could franchise him again or look to do an extension from a superior bargaining position with an older player.

It could also be a risky strategy if they were perceived to be playing moneyball with such an important figure in the locker room — a player who’s already held out once and might be obliged to do so again if he’s forced to play on the franchise tag.

Tagging Chancellor would also remove an option to keep Jimmy Graham for another year on a similar cap hit ($10m) to his current contract.

It’s a perfect illustration of the dilemma teams face at times. On the one hand you want to reward a highly respected, highly talented player. Precedent has been set with another similarly aged player. And yet from a business perspective, it makes more sense to manage the situation year-to-year.

Nevertheless, a Kam Chancellor contract announcement over the next few weeks would be the best possible start to the 2017 season.

5. Hope for an easier path to the playoffs

The Patriots have benefitted for years playing in a weak, mostly uncompetitive AFC East. If you can rely on 5-6 wins in your division, you’re half way to getting a #1 or #2 seed in the playoffs.

Here’s Seattle’s record in the NFC West over the last five years:

2012 — 4-2
2013 — 4-2
2014 — 5-1
2015 — 3-3
2016 — 3-2-1

Total — 19-10-1

A strong showing in 2014 pretty much secured the #1 seed, making up for losses against San Diego, Dallas and Kansas City. Last year the divisional record directly cost Seattle a bye in the playoffs.

The Seahawks are too good to be going 6-5-1 over the last two years even in a competitive NFC West. If the standard of the division was to drop, however, it’d make things easier.

It really is this simple. When the Seahawks only have to win two home games to make a Super Bowl — they have a great chance of making it happen against any opponent. See: 2005, 2013, 2014.

With San Francisco going through a major rebuild, the Rams trying to establish a new identity with a rookie Head Coach and the Cardinals ageing, minus Calais Campbell and seemingly focusing on one final tilt (at least in the eyes of Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald it seems) — this could be the year where the quality does drop after years of intense competition. Wether this occurs or not, the Seahawks have to go better than 3-2-1 or 3-3.

6. Who are the most interesting additions?

Going into camp, for me it’s Eddie Lacy and Malik McDowell.

Lacy appears to be benefitting from his fresh start and a re-commitment to a better diet. And while his size has become something of a running joke among pundits and fans — it’s easy to forget just how good he can be when healthy and in shape:

He’s not Marshawn. Nobody is. Yet he might be the nearest thing they were ever going to get for the type of back they needed to acquire. Big, tough to bring down, capable of getting the tough yards.

If the Panthers or Giants were fielding a healthy looking Lacy in week one, you’d be envious. If there were a few smirks when he joined the Seahawks as an unheralded free agent — he could end up being one of the steals of the off-season and a possible ‘comeback player of the year’ candidate. Especially for a team determined to run the ball.

Lacy also takes some of the pressure off Thomas Rawls — a fine player in his own right who might be at his best working in a one-two punch rather than needing to carry the load on his own.

McDowell meanwhile gives the Seahawks something they’ve lacked for a while — a dynamic interior rusher. With size, length, strength and the ability to make plays as an inside/out rusher — he’s the weapon they didn’t have in previous years. Hopefully they find a way to maximise his talent as a rookie without the need for a Frank Clark ‘learning year’ — and hopefully he can answer the call.

Carroll and Schneider casually name-dropped Calais Campbell when they reviewed the McDowell pick during the draft. You don’t do that on a whim. He has a long way to go to find that level of play (and Campbell took a few years to become a dominant force) but if he has even a solid rookie season — it could take the D-line and pass rush to a new level.

Breaking down the draft class: Amara Darboh & Shaquill Griffin

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

A Seattle-type of receiver

It’s very easy to see why the Seahawks liked Amara Darboh.

“He was one of those guys that we were laying in the weeds on him a little bit… They give you so much information on him and he checks so many boxes that he was one of those guys that you didn’t really have to spend a ton of extra time on.”

Those were the words of John Schneider shortly after the third round concluded.

When you run through ways to define a Seahawks receiver, Darboh ticks all the boxes:

— Gritty backstory
— Battled adversity
— Good route runner
— Willing blocker
— Good awareness when working back to the QB
— Ample size

He’s also clearly the best overall athlete they’ve drafted at receiver. His SPARQ score was a 127. PauL Richardson was previously the best athlete they’d drafted with a 118. All of Seattle’s drafted receivers apart from Kenny Lawler have been in the 111-118 range for SPARQ. That translates to the 50-60th percentile range in terms of NFL athleticism.

Darboh is in the 84th percentile.

According to SPARQ he’s the most athletic receiver they’ve had since Ricardo Lockette. Not the quickest or the most sudden — but the most athletic overall. Will he be tasked to fill Lockette’s shoes? Someone who can make the occasional big play on offense but more importantly provide an immediate intensity on special teams?

There are similarities between the two. Lockette is 6-2 and 211lbs compared to Darboh’s 6-2 and 214lbs. Lockette’s forty time (4.41) is marginally quicker than Darboh’s (4.45). There’s a three inch difference between their broad and vertical jumps.

The Seahawks spread their targets around but everyone knows Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham are going to get the lions share. Jermaine Kearse, Paul Richardson and Tyler Lockett are going to eat up most of the rest (health permitting). Darboh’s primary focus in 2017 could be special teams and trying to recreate everything Lockette brought to the roster despite his minimal role on offense.

So what do you see on the field?

On occasions he was let down by an inaccurate quarterback at Michigan. The Ohio State game was a classic example of this. It felt like he was constantly having to adjust to catch the football. Throws behind, throws too high or low. Initially he showed great concentration to haul in a couple of circus catches on poorly thrown balls but eventually his luck ran out.

On one route he perfectly dissected the Ohio State secondary to find a soft spot in the zone. He was wide open — but the throw was high and wide to his left. He tried to adjust and got both hands on the ball but it fell incomplete. On the next drive Wilton Speight tossed an ugly interception with a minute to go in the third quarterback. Ohio State rapidly turned the pick into seven points on offense and a straight forward 17-7 lead suddenly turned to 17-14 in a flash.

How would they respond? A quick three-and-out after the Speight threw an easy slant on third down behind Darboh for an incompletion.

The good news is Darboh was clearly the go-to receiver for most of the game. He had a handful of vital third down conversions and the play of the game from a Michigan perspective.

Ohio State had a seven point lead in overtime and it was fourth down for Michigan. Fail to score a touchdown here and it’s game over. Darboh was being covered by this years #11 overall pick Marshon Lattimore. He absolute destroys him with a clever side-step to the outside before firing inside on a slant. He creates immediate separation and gets open for the touchdown. It’s not a great throw (low and awkward) but he brings it in with two hands.

If he can make it look that easy against Lattimore — Darboh has a shot in the NFL. Any scout who was banging the table for Darboh over the last few months probably went to that tape over and over again.

What else did he show in the three Michigan games I watched for this piece?

Concentration is the thing that stands out — catching the awkward throws and the savviness he shows in running routes. He isn’t particularly sudden and he won’t create separation sprinting downfield on a go-route. He wins with instinct and technique and his route transition is very good.

Working back to the quarterback is so important in Seattle’s offense, especially on the scramble drills. Darboh gets nice depth on his routes and reads the situation before reacting to provide his QB with a target when the play breaks down. This is a big plus for the Seahawks.

He had a fantastic route working the seem vs Illinois. On this occasion the throw by Speight was perfect, dissecting three defensive backs. Darboh lined up in the slot, sprinted to the gap in the zone coverage and made a difficult catch in traffic while anticipating a big shot.

He sells the deep route well before breaking it off to work inside. Nice depth on his routes allows him to assess the best way to get open.

For Seattle’s offense it was also good to see him motion across the line (ala Doug Baldwin) on the option pass (although he was levelled by a defender on one of these vs Northwestern).

He also had some spectacular grabs at the sideline, showing off excellent body control to torque and make the completion while getting both feet in bounds.

There are some weaker areas too. There was very little evidence of any YAC potential. He’s not a sudden athlete and he’ll need to battle and be physical to get open at the next level as a consequence. His best routes were down the seem and the inside slant — he’ll need to find a way to be more effective down the field and perhaps try and become a bit quicker to nail the intermediate routes.

What does the future hold for him? The Seahawks can save $5m by cutting Jermaine Kearse in 2018 and they might feel that’s a necessary move to save money. If that happens — he has a year to show he can take on Kearse’s semi under-appreciated role. He’s a valuable blocker in the run game and while 2016 was a down season for Kearse — he’s had some of the biggest catches in franchise history.

It’s easy to look at Darboh’s size and physical profile and imagine this is a case of planning ahead. For now, he needs to show he can be something akin to Ricardo Lockette and help Seattle’s special teams take a step forward in 2017.

Shaquill Griffin — lot’s of potential but lot’s to learn

Seattle’s turnover numbers are shrinking. In 2016 they had 19 takeaways, one less than bottom dweller San Francisco and good for 22nd in the NFL overall. Let’s compare that to previous years:

2012 — 31 takeaways (#5)
2013 — 39 takeaways (#1)
2014 — 24 takeaways (#20)
2015 — 23 takeaways (#16)
2016 — 19 takeaways (#22)

It’s not a surprise that the numbers have fallen. The peak occurred when Seattle was on the rise and teams didn’t really have an answer for their defense. By week two of the 2014 season, Philip Rivers drew up the blueprint to slow down and limit the unit with a highly conservative, short passing, zone-busting antidote.

We may never see 39 takeaways again in a season with this group because teams just don’t test them in the same way anymore. And in fairness, they don’t need 35-40 turnovers. They do need more than 19, however, if they want to be better in 2017.

This draft class seems to be something of an attempt to rectify the situation.

For starters, the best way to create more opportunities for the secondary is to improve the four-man rush. Malik McDowell should provide some help in that regard and the upgraded D-line rotation should keep Seattle’s pass rush fresh and relatively consistent.

The second plan at a revival seems to be better depth in the secondary and adding playmakers.

Here’s the top-four defensive backs in college football last season in terms of passes defended:

#1 Tedric Thompson — 23
#2 Ahkello Witherspoon — 22
#3 Rashard Fant — 20
#4 Shaq Griffin — 19

Seattle drafted #1 and #4 on the list.

Thompson and Griffin shared 11 interceptions in 2016 and 31 PBU’s.

It’s probably not a coincidence they’re now both in Seattle.

There’s not a ton of Griffin tape available on Youtube. You can see him against Arkansas State and Michigan and quite frankly, watching either game is a bit of a waste of time. The UCF defensive scheme, if you can call it that, is one of the worst you’ll ever see. I can’t work out what they were trying to do. It’s maddening.

Hugh Millen did a good job summing up the problem on 950 KJR:

“I watched this kid. Good body, good frame, runs well. I think he’s been coached poorly.

He gives up the inside too much. The way he plays press, he has his hands-up at the line of scrimmage. Well, the Seahawks teach ‘hands-down’. He’s head-up or outside, why is he doing that? Seahawks teach ‘inside-eye’. There are a lot of things they’re going to do with him from a techniques standpoint.

He doesn’t process route concepts in front of him, he gets beat where he is stuttering his feet, and you ask ‘why is he doing that?’ He doesn’t understand how the slot receiver is impacting him even though he is covering the outside receiver. So there are a lot of signs to me that he doesn’t have the polish mentally about playing corner.

I think what Seattle feels like is ‘we’ll teach him the Seahawks way’. There are a lot of things he’ll do [differently] in their channeled outside coverage, like, he’s going to turn his ass to the QB, and he’s going to be playing inside-out, trying to stay on top, and he’ll never have to worry about deciphering those concepts.

So there are a lot of reasons for them to feel that this guy can play their brand of cornerback.”

Here’s what I saw watching the two UCF games. Time and time again Griffin would line up way-off in coverage, offering this enormous cushion to the receiver. He’d consistently give up a free release then show the receiver inside inviting him to attack this huge zone of open space. It made the safety isolated and asked so much of the cornerback to recover and play the ball.

The best way to describe it is it’s the polar opposite of the way Colorado’s much more effective defense plays. Colorado challenges the cornerback to win at the red-line narrowing the strike zone for the receiver and putting the advantage on the playmaking free safety (Tedric Thompson) to play the ball.

UCF’s safety had no chance. They were caught in no-man’s land. And it’s virtually impossible to judge Griffin based on this tape because of the way he’s asked to play.

Furthermore — you see blown coverages, DB’s running into each other, bad angles from the safety. The secondary is a mess.

In the Arkansas State game Griffin gives up one of the worst touchdowns you’ll ever see. He offers a free release on an inside slant. The receiver just runs into the space between the safety and cornerback, it’s an easy pitch-and-catch and the WR just saunters in for the score. They never even give themselves a chance.

There are a couple of occasions where he really flashes as an athlete. On one free-release over the middle he makes up so much ground to undercut the route and the play the ball. On a deep ball he ‘ran the route’ as you often see with Richard Sherman and made a nice PBU. He can hit and his frame is quite stout for a taller, longer cornerback.

It’ll be really interesting to read the first few reports from training camp on how’s he picking up the technique because this will probably be a complete ‘start from scratch’ situation. It’s hard to be optimistic about his chances of starting as a rookie but he is a 4.38 runner at 6-0 and 194lbs with an 11-0 broad and a 38.5 inch vertical. He’s a special athlete. Hopefully that will give him a leg-up in the pro’s.

Looking at their previous draft picks at cornerback — Griffin is by far the most athletic they’ve added. It’s no coincidence he’s also their earliest pick at cornerback too. The potential is enormous in terms of physical profile. This coaching staff has worked its magic on DB’s in the past. It might take a little time for Griffin to be in a position to start but when he gets there, he has the upside to be a very interesting player.

Breaking down the draft class: Delano Hill & Tedric Thompson

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

Delano Hill loves to tackle

If you want to know what Delano Hill is all about, watch the video above. It’s his performance against Ohio State at the end of last season.

One thing stands out — he’s a tackling machine.

Hill wore a number of hats at Michigan, lining up as a single high safety and in a two-deep zone, handling the LOS and covering the slot.

Tackling and versatility are his calling cards.

That’s not such a bad thing because in 2017 he’s going to provide competition and security. He’s not going to unseat Kam Chancellor or Earl Thomas and the Seahawks seem to really like Bradley McDougald as a ‘big nickel’.

Hill is one for the future. Chancellor didn’t start as a rookie either. They needed options and depth.

Let’s start with what he does well.

He’s an adept tackler. In the Michigan games I revisited for this piece I didn’t notice a single missed tackle. PFF ranked him tenth for tackling efficiency in 2016. It’s a surprise he’s only tenth.

Frequently he was the last line of defense as a deep safety needing to make a crucial stop. There were plenty of times, strangely considering Michigan’s talent on defense, where a QB, RB or WR managed to break into the open field for a big gain. On every occasion Hill eventually made the tackle.

Whether it’s close-range or in space, Hill squares up nicely and hits the mark consistently.

There weren’t any crunching hits of note but that’s probably in part due to his measured tackling form. He’s not a heat-seeking missile but he’s technically very assured. Don’t mistake that for a lack of physicality. He isn’t Kam but who is?

His speed shows on the rare occasions that he blitzes. Against Michigan State he levelled the quarterback on a blitz from deep safety, forcing an incompletion. When he can put his head down and go from 0-60 that’s when you see the 4.47 speed he had at the combine.

It also shows when he’s covering the flat. Several Michigan opponents tried to clear out the outside zone with an inside route isolating the safety against a quicker receiver. On each occasion, without fail, Hill read the play quickly, sprinted to the ball carrier and delivered a big tackle.

There are instances too where he showed well covering the slot. He surprisingly handled Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel on the two occasions they went 1v1. The first play was a hitch route from Samuel — Hill was touch-tight and even though the pass was errant, had it been on target Hill was in position to make a play. Here’s the coverage on the second play. It’s flagged but it’s an example of how well he stayed with Samuel (who ran a 4.31 at the combine):

He doesn’t make a lot of plays lined up at the LOS but there was one really good play against the read-option vs Michigan State. He had the awareness and speed to take away the option to the running back, forcing the QB to hesitate. He then levelled the QB for a TFL.

He also did a good job covering tight ends from the slot, was never boxed out and had no issue mirroring crossing routes against a bigger target.

Hill’s size is also a big positive. He’s 6-1 and 216lbs with 32 1/8 inch arms. His wingspan is even more impressive at 77 1/2 inches.

How good is that? See how some of the longer cornerbacks in the 2017 class compare:

Kevin King — 77 7/8
Gareon Conley — 76
Quincy Wilson — 75 7/8

Richard Sherman’s wingspan is half an inch longer than Hill’s.

Essentially, he has ideal Seahawks length.

Now onto some of his limitations.

We’ll come on to Tedric Thompson in a moment and really the two players are polar opposites. Hill has 4.47 speed but looks stiff when he lines up at free safety and needs to cover a large area of the field. Thompson ran a 4.60 but is rangy and quick.

Teams didn’t test Michigan deep all that often and it’s possible he was told to hold position and play quite a restrained role (like Jabrill Peppers at LB). Still, you’d like to at least see a handful of plays where he’s matching-up in space and making a break on the ball. On the few occasions when he was asked to handle the deep pass, he was a little bit stiff.

The stats lend weight to this argument:

Tedric Thompson PBU’s in 2016: 16
Delano Hill PBU’s in 2016: 3

He’s also not a physical tone setter when he lines up in the box and there were instances where he got blocked out of plays relatively comfortably by TE’s. He occasionally takes poor angles to the ball carrier when playing deep. He seems to be better working through traffic from the slot and he did a decent job containing the outside when he lined up at nickel.

Essentially he does most things very well but he’s more solid than spectacular. He’s a tackling machine who doesn’t miss — but he might not provide many big plays or turnovers.

Even so, there’s plenty for the Seahawks to work with here. Chancellor wasn’t the finished product as a fifth round pick in 2010 and Hill likely wasn’t drafted to start straight away. He has the straight-line speed and length they like, the character and attitude and he’s versatile. His highlight reel won’t be as interesting as Justin Evans or Budda Baker — but he might be the more rounded football player.

Tedric Thompson is faster than he tests

There’s one area where Thompson and Hill are very similar — and that’s their ability to cover the flat. They were uncannily similar when opponents tried to clear out the outside zone.

Apart from that, they are quite different players.

Sometimes a player plays faster than he tests. Thompson never looks like a 4.4 runner (he ran a 4.60 at the combine) but somehow, he still manages to fly around the field and make plays. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. He isn’t a twitched up dynamic athlete. Yet there he is, time and time again, playing the ball.

In fairness part of it is down to Colorado’s well coached secondary. The cornerbacks consistently win at the red line, narrowing the strike zone for quarterbacks and opening up major opportunities for the safety’s. If the receiver is getting caught up against the sideline, it just increases the space for Thompson to read, react and play the ball. Two of his picks from last year were 50% on his range and ability and 50% on the job of the cornerback.

Seattle also preaches red-line defense so hopefully he’ll get the same kind of advantage if he ever starts for the Seahawks.

Teams were reluctant to throw the ball downfield against Colorado. Stanford only attempted a handful of downfield passes with disastrous consequences:

1st deep shot — incomplete, tight coverage with safety help

2nd deep shot — Thompson interception by the left sideline, ball slightly overthrown and Thompson lays out to make a spectacular diving catch.

3rd deep shot — Thompson’s second interception. He’s playing centerfield in a three-deep zone, he makes himself small in coverage to deceive the quarterback and sits on a seem pass. Textbook safety play.

One of the big advantages Seattle has is the unwillingness of most opponents to challenge Earl Thomas. Colorado benefitted in a similar fashion with Thompson. Those who tried it on were generally punished.

Overall his performance against Stanford was very good. On one play he lined up at the LOS and took on the tight end, fighting off the block and drawing a holding call before dumping Christian McCaffrey on a stretch-run for a TFL.

He’s not the most explosive player but he’s tough. His tackling technique isn’t Delano Hill-good but I didn’t see him miss a tackle in the four games I watched for this piece. He’s not a big hitter but he seems to get the job done.

Against Utah he flashed exceptional red-zone cover skills working against the tight end. Utah schemed a clever route for the TE to block down and then sit behind the D-line uncovered. Thompson saw the play developing and broke on the ball, tipping it into the air and almost forcing a turnover on third down. The TE just stood in stunned contemplation, wondering how he hadn’t scored.

In the fourth quarter of the same game he covered the tight on an inside slant, again making a great break on the ball after gaining position early in the route.

And, unsurprisingly, he had his customary rangy interception with 10 minutes left in the game — running from centerfield to the right sideline to pick off a deep shot (think Earl Thomas vs Atlanta, 2012). He also picked off a hail mary against the Utes.

Thompson might not be the same type of athlete as Earl Thomas — but you’re going to think twice about taking him on.

Production wise, there wasn’t a better defensive back in college football in 2016. He led the nation in defended passes with 23, averaging 1.64 a game. That average is significantly better than his peers — Tre’Davious White for example at LSU only managed 1.33 defended passes a game.

Thompson’s seven interceptions trailed only Rasul Douglas and Tavarus McFadden (eight) and he ranked fourth in the nation for pass break-ups (16).

The Seahawks struggled to make big plays and force turnovers in the secondary in 2016. It’s probably not a coincidence they drafted not only Thompson but also Shaquill Griffin (four picks, 15 PBU’s, 19 passes defended — #4 in the NCAA).

Thompson’s best fit is at free safety and while he might be simply a reserve option to Earl Thomas — the Seahawks can at least feel better about the depth they have behind their all-pro. Nobody will ever fully be able to replace Earl if he gets injured again — Thompson at least gives them a better opportunity to avoid a complete collapse in a worst case scenario.

Breaking down the draft class: Malik McDowell & Nazair Jones

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

A lot of the reaction to the Seahawks draft class has been based around one question:

This was a great draft for cornerbacks. Why did they wait until pick #90 to take one?

The answer lies in the first sentence. It was a really deep, solid group of cornerbacks. This was a year where you could find one in round three. It wasn’t a draft littered with interior defensive linemen. If you wanted one, you had to get in there early.

Let’s use the NFL.com gradings (compiled by Lance Zierlein) as an example:

Interior D-line grades for players available in the #26-35 range:

Malik McDowell — 6.2
Chris Wormley — 5.8
Demarcus Walker — 5.6

Interior D-line grades from pick #90:

Montravius Adams — 5.6
Nazair Jones — 5.5
Jaleel Johnson — 5.6

Cornerback grades for players available in the #26-35 range

Kevin King — 5.8
Quincy Wilson — 5.7
Ahkello Witherspoon — 5.7
Fabian Moreau — 5.7

Cornerback grades from pick #90:

Shaquill Griffin — 5.6
Cordrea Tankersley — 5.7
Cam Sutton — 5.6

If they’d drafted Kevin King (5.8) and Montravius Adams (5.6) the total grade value is 0.4 weaker than Malik McDowell (6.2) and Shaquill Griffin (5.6).

That’s not insignificant.

The aim had to be to come out of this deep class with more than one potential defensive starter. By drafting the D-liner first and using the depth at cornerback to your advantage — the Seahawks addressed two positions in a satisfactory way.

Furthermore, they weren’t the only team to use this approach. The Dallas Cowboys, despite an extreme need in the secondary, took Taco Charlton with their first pick despite admitting they had a second round grade on him. The reason? They knew they could get cornerbacks later. They couldn’t get a pass rusher they liked later.

I mentioned this in our draft review on Saturday — but it feels like we all got caught up in the ‘cornerback depth hype’. When you’re constantly told by the pundits that it’s a great cornerback class, there’s a tendency to let it re-shape your opinion on what the Seahawks should or shouldn’t do.

Following the defeat to Atlanta in the playoffs a lot of people were talking about improving the O-line as a priority and possibly targeting Calais Campbell in free agency. Cornerback was seen as a need because of the Deshawn Shead injury — but we also knew how the Seahawks operated. Wait until the mid or later rounds and draft to develop.

Somewhere between January and April, a lot of people (myself included) determined cornerback (slot or outside) was the main need.

It absolutely was one of the needs — but not any more or less important than interior pass rush of the offensive line.

If you could go back in time and tell yourself the Seahawks would draft a player the coach and GM specifically compared to Calais Campbell and a technically gifted offensive lineman from the SEC — the January version of you would probably be doing cartwheels.

Furthermore, Shaquill Griffin isn’t just a guy they found among the scraps of a good cornerback class. In 2016 he ranked fourth for passes defended in the NCAA:

#1 Tedric Thompson — 23
#2 Ahkello Witherspoon — 22
#3 Rashard Fant — 20
#4 Shaq Griffin — 19

Notice Seattle drafted #1 and #4 in passes defended. Griffin also ranked sixth in the nation for pass break-ups (15) and he had four picks.

So while we can quibble about McDowell’s perceived effort problems in 2016 or the boom-or-bust nature of this pick — let’s also realise there’s a very clear method behind what the Seahawks did on Friday.

Ten days before the draft I wrote a piece about McDowell visiting Seattle, noting I didn’t think he would be picked by the Seahawks because of his personality and nature. A typical Seahawk is Nazair Jones (who we’ll come onto in a minute) — all fire and brimstone. McDowell didn’t really fit the bill.

Ultimately I called that one very wrong. McDowell’s potential and upside, plus Seattle’s relentless search for a dynamic inside/out rusher, was much more important than the personality he expressed to the media.

In fairness we did acknowledge that he could be a target if they traded down:

If they do ultimately draft him, they’ll believe in the size and quickness — they’ll think he’s possibly worth the risk because his talent is extreme. If they did select him you’d give them the benefit of the doubt because of his extreme ceiling. D-liners don’t have to be press conference stars but they do need to be ready to go to war every week. We saw Nkemdiche in Arizona in 2016 with his great physical profile basically be a total non-factor as a rookie. The fear has to be that McDowell could be similar.

That said — there aren’t many players with the ability to anchor and bull rush inside combined with the quickness to play the edge and get to the QB. He could be really good. Can you trust him to be great though? And if he falls to #26 with this physical profile, isn’t that in itself a warning sign?

It might be that they’re willing to trade down, possibly into early round two, and that could be the type of range where they feel comfortable taking a chance on McDowell.

It’s time to put those words into practise and give the Seahawks the benefit of the doubt. You’d never question his potential — it was always about his character fit in Seattle. Now that they’ve actually drafted him, it’s time to focus on what he brings to the team.

For starters, he’s always had a very natural and rare athleticism for his size. Here’s a recruitment video from Rivals before he committed to Michigan State. Immediately you can see why he’s different:

McDowell makes it look so easy. He was already listed at 6-6 and 292lbs when he entered college. He was a legit 5-star recruit, garnering offers from Alabama, Florida State, Florida, Oregon, Notre Dame, USC and UCLA. When you see all of the big names on the list — you know he’s special.

Really that’s what you see in his MSU tape too. When McDowell’s playing at his best, he makes it look ridiculously easy. Teams will throw a double team at him and he has the foot speed and quickness to just side-step both blocks and break into the backfield. On other occasions he’ll drive the double team into the backfield. He bends the arc as an EDGE rusher better than most 260lbs rushers and there’s evidence of him one-arm bull-rushing a guard into the quarterback’s lap.

In one play against Purdue in 2015 he lines up opposite the left guard and has the foot-speed to stunt to the outside, round the left tackle, draw a holding penalty and destroy a pulling tight end who came in to support the tackle. He made the sack. It’s an incredible play for a player with his size.

In a 2015 play against Oregon, McDowell drove the center three yards deep his own backfield on fourth and goal leading to a turnover on downs. The rest of the LOS remained stationery.

When pundits say he can be absolutely dominant at the next level and one of the top players in the NFL — they aren’t exaggerating. That’s his ceiling.

So why did he last to pick #35?

You don’t really need me to point it out by now. He slouched through the back-end of a bad season for MSU in 2016. The sight of him walking around in the backfield as heated rival Michigan scored a touchdown was the straw that broke the camels back. He started the year being touted as a top-10 lock. By December nobody was talking about him.

Still, he had a chance to regain some momentum during the off-season. Yet the reports from the combine were not positive:

“Worst interview we did,” said one team. Added another: “Awful interview. Awful.”

“Does he love football? Is he going to work? I can’t figure out what makes this kid tick. He might be the type who, maybe he falls and it lights a fire under him. I don’t know. But I need that light on more often, and he didn’t like it when we asked him about that. McDowell might never fully show his full skill, but passing on him also means you’re missing out on a potentially rare talent.”

This is maybe where the Seahawks have an advantage in their approach. Some teams will pair his introverted personality with a questionable love for the game. Carroll and co. likely just see another opportunity to develop a unique talent.

‘Learn the learner’ as Carroll said in one of the press conferences during the draft.

After all — there aren’t any reports of any off-field incidents. He’s never been arrested. He’s never been kicked off the practise field, fought with a teammate or failed a drugs test. There are just some sloppy games at the end of a bad season.

There are some technical flaws that are well advertised. His pass rush repertoire is quite basic. He generally plays out of control, going all-out to get into the backfield while often ceding a running lane or failing to handle his assigned gap. His over-exuberance was well highlighted in a rush against Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramcyzk when he put his head down and charged at Ramcyzk, who just nudged him to the ground using his momentum against him. The running back piled on top and took him out of the play. It was too easy.

There are possibly justifiable reasons why McDowell struggled with technique. His stance isn’t particularly good when lining up inside — but then he was asked to play nose tackle for MSU. It’s an ill-fit for a 6-6, 295lbs lineman and likely only came about because he was the only player on the roster capable of absorbing double teams. It’s not unfair to suggest he compensated on technique just to survive — because despite his unique size and talent, he’s not a nose tackle.

Because he’s shown evidence of a productive bull-rush, extreme power and fantastic heavy hands — it’d be nice to see him first and foremost develop a consistent power move. This could help him create more splash plays and play within himself more. You don’t always have to have a clean run to the QB if you can shove the guard or center into the quarterback. You’re also better placed to keep your eyes up and read what the running back is doing.

These are fairly minor things overall and you’d expect a 20-year-old to need some guidance. Coming to work every day with Michael Bennett could be the best thing that ever happens to McDowell. It should also help him come out of his shell a little bit as a character too.

He’s one of the most natural, rare athletes at 6-6 and 295lbs. Considering there aren’t many really good interior rushers in the NFL — you can certainly argue this was a shot worth taking. Especially given Seattle’s desperate need for an interior rusher stretching back many years.

The Seahawks ranked third in sacks last season with 42. The team in first place, Arizona, had 48. They blitz a ton so it’s understandable — but they also had Calais Campbell anchoring the line and controlling the offense. It’ll take time for McDowell to get anywhere near that level — but if he can disrupt the interior, command extra blockers and make life easier for the edge rushers — watch out.

Seattle wants to use a four man rush to make plays in the secondary. When they put McDowell, Bennett, Clark and Avril on the field — they might have the most dangerous four-man rush in football.

Notes on Nazair Jones

For this study I watched two games — Duke and Stanford.

The first thing to notice about Jones is his personality. It seems Red Bryant-esque. It’s hard to know for sure but watching the North Carolina games he looked like the emotional leader. High intensity, big personality. The type of BAMF a lot of us wanted to see drafted this year.

It’s fun to think about Jarran Reed playing next to Naz Jones in base. That’s a couple of dog’s right there. It’s even more fun to think about Malik McDowell and Quinton Jefferson rotating in for passing downs. The future of Seattle’s D-line appears to be in good shape.

Jones’ length really stands out on tape. Like McDowell he has nearly 35 inch arms. He can press a blocker and keep his frame clean. He’s got a really nice initial punch to jolt O-liners off balance. It helps him control his gap and make plays in the run game — plus quite often he disengages to make plays in the backfield. He had 9.5 TFL’s in 2016 and broke up three passes.

He’s tailor made to play inside. He’s strong in the lower body with minimal bad weight. He carries 304lbs very well on a 6-5 frame. He’s not too heavy and that helps when he occasionally has to work down the line and chase down a running back.

We highlighted after the draft that short-area quickness appears to be important for Seattle’s D-liners. Jones ran a 4.63 short shuttle and Malik McDowell a 4.53. Jordan Hill ran a 4.51 in 2013 and Jaye Howard a 4.47 in 2012. Quinton Jefferson ran a superb 4.37.

While Jones is the slowest of the group in this area, he still flashes that sudden change of direction and ability to exploit gaps when he wins with initial contact. There was one play against Duke where he just won with get-off to break into the backfield and before the quarterback had time to think, Jones was hitting him for the sack.

It was assumed he might just be a Tony McDaniel replacement — someone who can be stout and anchor the LOS on first and second down. There’s at least some potential for Jones to be more than that. If nothing else, he’ll likely be more of a threat on those early downs to create some pressure.

He can also compete. In the Bowl game against Stanford (the one where Solomon Thomas dominated) Jones had a really strong performance. On one sack he fights through traffic, ploughing through the center and one of the guards to get to the QB.

His get off can be really good. You see examples where he times the snap count to perfection and just wins because he’s the first man off the ball.

Jones is also patient and importantly for this scheme — his gap control is good. He allows plays to develop before reading the running back and making the stop.

It’s possible I just watched Jones’ best two games of the season. I’ve seen it suggested he needs to be more consistent, that he doesn’t have effective counters and he isn’t much of a pass rusher. I didn’t see much evidence of that and I think playing within a loaded D-line rotation will mean he can be a better pass rusher than people realise.

I feel a little bit guilty for not spending more time on him during the draft season because his play and intensity is a good fit for the personality of this defense. I’ll admit I was put off by his lack of explosive traits (8-5 broad, 24.5 inch vertical). With a stream of brilliant, explosive D-line athletes entering the league — Jones tested very poorly. We missed out on discussing a really fun player due to a red herring on athleticism, so that’s on me.

That’s possibly one of the reasons he was available in the late third round.

Jones has the attitude and skills to be a valuable addition. He appears to have the character to develop into a strong voice in the locker room over time.

When Seattle won the Super Bowl in 2013 they had a loaded D-line rotation. For the first time since 2013, they seem to have the same kind of depth following this draft.