Archive for the ‘Scouting Report’ Category

Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson is very impressive

Monday, November 13th, 2017

We’re focusing on running backs at the moment and with good reason. The Seahawks are going through a bit of a crisis with their running game. It doesn’t exist. They have two rushing touchdowns — both coming in the game against the Colts. This isn’t what they envisaged at the start of the year.

Even today’s news from Pete Carroll that Chris Carson could return in December has to be met with some caution. He suffered a broken leg and a high ankle sprain. It’s optimistic to think he’ll jump back into the lineup and provide the solution to this greatest of problems.

Change has to be expected in the off-season. We’ll see how generous the Seahawks want to be in giving C.J. Prosise and Thomas Rawls another opportunity. Eddie Lacy almost certainly will be a one-and-done. Whatever the situation with Carson’s health, they have to bring in another back. Possibly two. And because this is such a serious issue they probably have to do a little more than just look for value in day three.

This is a team known for aggressively addressing needs on the roster. That likely isn’t going to stop now. Running back could be the #1 target area in 2018 and they might go after it with some gusto.

Saturday was a good opportunity to watch some potential draft options. Auburn vs Georgia (see video above) featured Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Kerryon Johnson. There was a clear winner on the day.

Georgia came into the game as the #1 team in the country (the latest example of the playoff committee being as contrarian as possible to make headlines). They had a long touchdown drive to start the game — and were then completely dominated by Auburn’s impressive front seven for the rest of the day.

Watching Chubb and Michel try to run the ball in that environment brought back horrible memories of watching the Seahawks this year. Chubb managed 2.5 YPC on 11 carries. Michel managed 2.3 YPC on his nine totes.

It’s perhaps harsh to judge either running back on this evidence. Auburn got ahead and Georgia had to chase the game. Inevitably the run game was going to suffer and the Tigers were just too good up front.

That said — I suspect the Seahawks need more than just a decent back. As we’ve seen this year, the temptation to put the ball in the hands of Russell Wilson is too strong. He’s the best player on Seattle’s offense — joined by the likes of Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham and the receivers. They give the Seahawks the best chance to move the ball. And when things start slowly, as they’ve been known to do, the ball goes to Wilson.

That’s understandable.

Yet the Seahawks were at their best on offense when a 7-2 half-time deficit like they had against the Redskins recently would lead to a heavy dose of Marshawn Lynch. They felt a pressure to feature Lynch. And between that desire to run and the quality of the quarterback — the balance was always there. It created the perfect storm. Even when things started slowly.

Watching Georgia desert the run game and ask the freshman quarterback to throw more times than all but one of his games so far this season reminded me of the Seahawks. That might be a mistake on my behalf. It might not be indicative of Chubb or Michel. But I had nightmarish visions of either player in all-navy blue in 2018 watching Wilson doing his magician act while they run for 3 YPC on 10 carries before exiting stage left.

I think you have to be sceptical that Chubb is going to be the same athlete we saw at the 2013 Nike SPARQ combines too. He’s playing well this year. But he doesn’t seem like the player who shone so brightly when Todd Gurley got injured in 2014.

Then there was Kerryon Johnson.

There were two players who came to mind while watching him run for 167 yards on 32 carries. His patience and ability to wait for a play to develop was quite a lot like Le’Veon Bell. He isn’t Bell — for starters he’s about 12-15lbs lighter. Yet it’s the name that springs to mind watching the way he waited behind the LOS for the opportunity to emerge to make a big gain.

He also, funnily enough, looked a little bit like Chris Carson in his build. They’re both quite long-legged runners. Johnson is listed at 6-0 and 212lbs, Carson at 5-11 and 218lbs. They are both useful in the passing game.

I’ve watched Johnson a few times this season because we get a lot of the SEC games over here. With every performance you just get more and more excited. Physical, agile, a capable pass-catcher with some all-round ability. He is one of the best players to emerge in 2017 as a legit pro-prospect.

So let’s see what he does well:

Initially I don’t think he does the best job on this play. A reasonable hole emerges on the right hand side of the line and he manages to run into the back of his own center and almost into the arms of a defensive linemen. Having initiated that contact however he then somehow explodes to the second level, shows terrific balance to stay on his feet and then stiff-arms a defender to get the maximum out of this run.

That’s a tough guy to bring down right there.

Gary Danielson noticed the Le’Veon Bell stuff too (volume required):

I’m not sure a Bell-type is best suited to the Seahawks. A decisive, physical runner with either some suddenness or punishing physicality seems to be the order of the day. Pittsburgh’s blocking scheme is quite different to Seattle’s ZBS.

That’s the good thing about Johnson. He can be patient. He can also be very physical and aggressive to get the hard yards:

Does this look good to you?

During recruiting there was a feeling Johnson might end up as a safety. He was an ‘athlete’ prospect. With a run and a punishing hit like that, you can see why some people thought he’d end up being a strong safety.

He’s also decisive and willing to get up-field:

He likely won’t get a run as easy as this at the next level but here’s another example of his ability to take advantage of a hole and get upfield:

There’s something be said about a back that just consistently gets the most out of every run. That seemed to be what Carson was doing before his injury. Johnson doesn’t give up on any carry:

One of the slight issues with Damien Harris is his ability to get outside quickly when he needs to. He’s more of a north-south type runner. This is an area where Johnson has the edge:

For the season so far Johnson has 1035 rushing yards at 5.2 YPC and 17 total touchdowns. He should be in the Heisman discussion — and that campaign will grow if Auburn beats Alabama and makes it to the SEC Championship (setting up a rematch with Georgia who they just pummelled).

I haven’t been able to find any Nike SPARQ combine numbers for Johnson. He was listed as running a 4.50 according to this website — but that could’ve occurred at an all-star event. If anyone can find the numbers let me know.

While looking for Johnson’s SPARQ numbers I stumbled across a couple of interesting things. At the 2014 combine Saquon Barkley ran a 4.68 (!!!) at 5-11 and 208lbs. Don’t expect him to run at the NFL combine. He did perform well in the powerball and vertical jump though — so he’s likely more explosive than quick. Bryce Love ran a 4.47 but did so at 180lbs. Love was much better in the short shuttle, powerball and vertical — so he’s another who is probably more explosive than lightning quick.

A reminder that Alabama’s Damien Harris ran a 4.48 at the Nike combine — at 208lbs. He’s very underrated as an athlete. Here’s the difference in SPARQ score and forty times from the 2014 event:

Bryce Love — 129.75
Damien Harris — 126.93
Saquon Barkley — 116.79

Bryce Love (180lbs) — 4.47
Damien Harris (208lbs) — 4.48
Saquon Barkley (208lbs) — 4.68

If Johnson is in the 4.50 range it won’t really make much difference to the Seahawks as long as his size is as listed (around 6-0, 212lbs) and he can have an explosive workout. For a reminder of what Seattle seems to like in a running back prospect, check out Friday’s piece on Damien Harris here.

A quick final note on the Auburn vs Georgia game. Keep an eye on receiver Javon Wims at Georgia. Every time I’ve watched the Bulldogs this season he’s found a way to make an impact. He high-points the ball, makes competitive grabs and is the type of player you can imagine the Seahawks having a bit of interest in on day three. He’s 6-4 and 215lbs.

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Damien Harris fits Seattle’s running back profile

Saturday, November 11th, 2017

Damien Harris — possible future Seahawk?

Damien Harris has somehow avoided hype. It’s probably because he’s been living in the land of the giants at Alabama. First Derrick Henry, then Bo Scarborough.

Yet when you actually take the time to sit down and study his physical profile, he’s someone we need to keep in mind for the Seahawks.

You’re going to read this a lot over the coming months. Seattle likes explosive running backs of a certain height/size. If you run through their draft history under John Schneider and Pete Carroll, the trends are pretty clear.

It’s helped us refine the running back options over the last couple of years. In 2016 we were able to focus on C.J. Prosise merely by following the trends. This year we noted the following after the combine:

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.

Here are the running backs drafted by the Seahawks between 2012 and 2016:

Robert Turbin — 5-10, 222lbs
Spencer Ware — 5-10, 228lbs
Christine Michael — 5-10, 220lbs
C.J. Prosise — 6-0, 220lbs
Alex Collins — 5-10, 217lbs
Chris Carson — 6-0, 218lbs

Some of these players either didn’t test at the combine or had reasons for underperforming (injury, illness). We can make some physical comparisons though:

Forty yard dash

Robert Turbin: 4.50
Christine Michael: 4.54
C.J. Prosise: 4.48
Chris Carson: 4.58

Broad jump

Robert Turbin: 122 inches
Christine Michael: 125 inches
C.J. Prosise: 121 inches
Chris Carson: 130 inches

Vertical jump

Robert Turbin: 36 inches
Christine Michael: 43 inches
C.J. Prosise: 35.5 inches
Chris Carson: 37 inches

Short shuttle

Robert Turbin: 4.31
Christine Michael: 4.02
C.J. Prosise: DNP
Chris Carson: DNP

Bench press

Robert Turbin: 28 reps
Christine Michael: 27 reps
C.J. Prosise: DNP
Chris Carson: 23 reps

Look at the similarities here across the board. This surely isn’t a coincidence?

It doesn’t mean they’ll never sway from this profile. They did sign Eddie Lacy after all. It’s not completely down to physical profile either. Attitude, running style or versatility also seem to be important.

Yet when we’re running through possible targets, physical profile is something to consider. Are they likely, for example, to look seriously at 5-10 and 196lbs Bryce Love at Stanford? Maybe. He showed incredible form against Washington last night and is possibly too much of a playmaker to ignore. He would be quite a departure from their previous draft picks at RB though.

The evidence above shows the Seahawks are not too concerned with fantastic speed. They’ll take a back running in the 4.5’s. What they want is explosive power. The broad jump, vertical jump and bench press appear to be vital.

We’ll have to wait until the combine for a clearer picture on who may or may not be on their radar — but some information is already available to us thanks to the Nike SPARQ combines.

In 2013 Nick Chubb had a sensational workout and looks like the prototype Seattle draft target. He ran a 4.47 forty at 5-10 and 217lbs, jumped a 40-inch vertical and ran a 4.12 in the short shuttle. His SPARQ score of 143.91 is elite at any position.

Such a workout would put him in Christine Michael territory if repeated at the combine. For all of Michael’s flaws he was a sensational, other-worldly athlete.

Chubb of course suffered a serious knee injury at Georgia so we’ll have to see if he can repeat that workout performance at the combine in 2018.

So what about Damien Harris?

He too participated in the Nike SPARQ combines, working out at a regional Kentucky event in 2014.

While his performance doesn’t match Chubb’s incredible display, he still had a good showing:

Height: 5-10
Weight: 210lbs
40-yard: 4.48
Short shuttle: 4.00
Vertical: 38 inches
SPARQ: 126.93

That’s a really good score for Harris. For what it’s worth they don’t use the bench press in SPARQ — it’s a kneeling medicine ball throw instead. Chubb managed 43 inches, Harris 35.5. Both will be expected to match the bench marks set by the likes of Turbin and Carson when they test.

Harris’ profile matches up to a possible Seahawks target. He’s now listed at 5-11 and 221lbs. What you see on tape are flashes of suddenness. When he finds a crease he often explodes through the hole to break off big gains.

For example, look at the decisive nature of this run against USC last season:

Harris sees the hole, executes the play and then makes a great cut at the second level to maximise the run. He gets chased down but it’s Adoree’ Jackson — one of the best athletes in the NFL. It takes a complete effort by Jackson to make the stop too.

His cut-back ability is impressive and you see evidence of good vision and a desire to get north quickly without any wasted movement.

While his straight line speed and explosion is a big positive, where Harris struggles sometimes is when he tries to bounce plays outside. He’s an up-the-middle type of runner as we see here:

That’s not to say he won’t give absolutely everything to make it happen. Here’s another example where he bounces outside and should be stopped. Sheer effort (and some poor tackling) gets him into the end zone:

He’s a patient runner and as we’ve already seen — he can be a chunk play artist. This was the first snap of the game against Arkansas this season. He waits for the gap to develop and then hits a home run:

If you give him a crease, he’ll hurt you. Whether or not he’ll have such generous holes to work with at the next level will depend on the team he lands with. Alabama are, again, dominating every opponent they face. Yet Harris still has to make the plays. He is doing.

Look at the work he does here at the LOS. He cuts back to the right and finds the hole and then just explodes into the second level. Big play:

He puts his foot in the ground, makes the cut and breaks off a huge run.

He can also push the pile too:

Here are some general highlights:

An underrated positive with Harris is his lack of wear and tear. This year he’s sharing the load with Scarborough and even then it’s not a strenuous grind. Alabama has been so dominant at the LOS he has an incredible 8.1 YPC this season. So while he’s accumulated 730 yards and 10 touchdowns — he’s doing it averaging just 10 carries a game. The running backs eat, they get a big lead and then they get a rest.

Harris has only 90 carries for the season. He had 145 carries in 2016. Compare that to Derrick Henry and his time with the Crimson Tide. Despite sharing the load in 2014, Henry ran 172 times. As the feature back and Heisman winner in 2015 he carried the ball 395 times (!!!).

Harris isn’t going to get anywhere near that total in 2017.

Character wise he’s a very impressive talker in public. Personable, talkative and respectful. Teams will like him and the way he handles media interviews.

He’s only a junior and he could technically decide to return for another year at Alabama — especially if he has an opportunity to be the lead back and make a Heisman challenge in 2018.

If he does decide to turn pro, the combine will likely determine his draft range. If he gets close to his 2014 SPARQ performance — he could be a big riser.

Either way, he’s someone Seahawks fans need to monitor.

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Tim Settle is a fantastic prospect

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

In Tony Pauline’s latest ‘risers and sliders’ piece today, he highlighted Virginia Tech defensive tackle Tim Settle:

A redshirt sophomore graded by a number of scouts prior to the season, Settle is playing beyond expectations and has turned in some dominant performances this year. One of those performances occurred this weekend when he was a one-man show against North Carolina, posting five tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack. The big defensive tackle has recorded 9.5 tackles for loss in seven games this season. Tipping the scales around 325 pounds, Settle is more than a big man that takes up space in the middle of the line; he’s a playmaker who displays a great degree of athleticism and explosion in his game.

After reading the words ‘325 pounds’, ‘playmaker’ and ‘great degree of athleticism’ I wanted to check him out today. I managed to find the North Carolina game on Youtube (see above) and also watched his performance vs Clemson last season.

Tony wasn’t kidding — this guy can move. The 325lbs feels like a conservative estimate. Settle is enormous — and yet he moves with the quickness of a much lighter defensive tackle.

His swim move in particular is a thing of beauty. Take a look:

That’s Settle taking down Deshaun Watson. Look how quickly he’s on the right guard. He just brushes him aside with a perfect swim and he’s in the backfield. Watson tries to take off, sensing the pressure, but no dice. Settle brings him down by the ankles.

You don’t often see this level of athleticism combined with that size.

He’s a former four or five star recruit and he’s always been big (listed at 325lbs by Rivals during recruiting and in some places at 339lbs). He’s a local guy and committed to Virginia Tech but he was coveted by Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Ohio State and others. He took a visit to USC, Oklahoma State and, somewhat surprisingly, Washington State.

He’s only a redshirt sophomore so might not declare for the 2018 draft. Considering the way he’s playing this year, he’ll likely have a big decision to make.

In the North Carolina game he was terrific. Granted he was playing a weak opponent (UNC’s first two offensive snaps went for -20 yards and the game ended 59-7). Yet he kept jumping off the screen. You just don’t see big men move as fluidly as this:

On one play he lined up at DE and patiently just contained the edge. He then exploded through the B gap and chased the quarterback as he scrambled out of the pocket forcing an incompletion.

The first hit in the video above knocked the QB out of the game. The second hit had him carried off the field.

On the following drive, North Carolina started at their own one yard line. Virginia Tech spelled Settle here and took him off the field. UNC moved the ball well, converting a couple of third downs and getting up to the 25. Settle came back onto the field at this point and immediately bull rushed the right guard two yards into the backfield and dropped the running back for a loss.

Next play? Settle initially shapes as if he’s running a stunt before engaging the center. He shrugs him off with a superb pull/push move and shares a sack with a blitzing defensive back for a loss of 11 yards.

He was off the field and UNC moved the ball 24 yards. He comes back on to the field and immediately generates two huge TFL’s to kill the drive.

Just look at this against Boston College:

Be excited about this guy. He is special.

It’s always exciting to find a player like this. Tim Settle is a player to keep an eye on from now on. On this evidence he could be a very high pick one day.

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Memphis receiver Anthony Miller is really good

Friday, October 20th, 2017

On the recommendation of community member Volume 12, I spent tonight taking a look at Memphis receiver Anthony Miller.

He’s received a fair bit of buzz recently. One anonymous NFL executive said this about him:

“He’s a highly productive, competitive receiver who plays faster than he will test. He runs very good routes and has a large catching radius. All he does is make plays.”

Chad Reuter at NFL.com says:

“(Miller) will be one of those third-round receivers who contributes immediately for whatever NFL team drafts him.”

And Tony Pauline listed him as a week three draft riser:

“Miller gave serious consideration on entering last April’s draft but decided to return to Memphis for another season. It looks as though he made the correct choice.”

Tony also notes the importance of his combine workout. At 5-10 and 190lbs he’ll need to test well. The Seahawks drafted Tyler Lockett after the following workout:

Height: 5-10
Weight: 182lbs
Forty: 4.40
Vertical: 35.5
Short shuttle: 4.07

Lockett performed as well as any receiver before the 2015 draft. He also had a strong Senior Bowl. Hopefully Miller will compete in Mobile too.

So far in 2017 he’s put up major numbers, providing the Memphis offense with a dynamic X-factor. In the same way Paxton Lynch elevated the Tigers a couple of years ago, Miller seems to be having the same effect.

Today I watched his play against Houston, UCLA and Connecticut and he had a huge impact in all three games:

UCLA — 9/185 and two touchdowns
Connecticut — 15/224 and four touchdowns
Houston — 10/178

He combines crisp routes and excellent body control with fantastic speed. He’ll explode out of his routes to create separation, he’s a terrific deep threat and always competes for the ball.

Miller isn’t a flawless hands catcher but he has a tendency to make the occasional spectacular grab:

He also makes his fair share of contested catches:

Against UCLA he made a fantastic diving catch, laying out to collect a deep shot despite tight coverage. He runs by the defensive back on a post route and just extends to make a finger-tip grab. It’s a stunning play made with just a minute to go until half time. Shortly afterwards he beats man-to-man coverage to complete a 33-yard touchdown. Memphis went ahead 27-24 before the break and it’s all on Miller and the quarterback.

That drive was the perfect illustration of the way he can have a game-changing impact.

When you consider his athleticism, the chunk plays and the contested catch ability — Miller absolutely has to be on our radar moving forward.

In terms of his character, here’s his postgame interview last night:

Note the bit about him being a former walk-on (grit).

This isn’t a great class for wide receivers. Some of the bigger names have been a bit underwhelming so far and a prospect like Miller could rise up the boards considerably over the next few weeks. There’s always a team looking for an early round weapon on offense.

It’s hard to say whether the Seahawks will be in the market for another receiver next year. They have been willing to spend high picks on the position (Golden Tate, Percy Harvin, Paul Richardson, Tyler Lockett, Amara Darboh). They have a young group they clearly like. Richardson is out of contract though — and Miller is the kind of player you can imagine them liking even if they ultimately don’t draft him.

So far he has 55 catches for 784 yards and nine touchdowns in 2017. Last year he finished with a 95/1434/14 stat line.

Keep an eye on this guy.

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2018 draft October projection list (not a mock)

Monday, October 9th, 2017

I don’t want to call this a mock draft because it’s October 9th. There are teams paired with players but really it’s just an exercise to highlight a few names.

A glorified watch-list.

If there’s anyone you think should’ve been included, let me know in the comments section or on Twitter (@robstaton).

A quick note — USC quarterback Sam Darnold is not included. He hasn’t completed a full season as the starter in college. I suspect he will weigh up his options and feel another year starting at USC in 2018 will be the best plan. If he was included, he’d be right up there with Josh Rosen in the top two.

For the draft order I used this website, because it is brilliantly called ‘Tankathon’.

#1 New York Giants — Josh Rosen (QB, UCLA)
Rosen has really looked the part so far this season. Poised in the pocket, accurate, nice variety of throws and highly productive.

#2 Cleveland Browns — Josh Allen (QB, Wyoming)
Allen has the tools — good size, athleticism and a great arm. He needs time, more so than Rosen. Makes too many poor decisions at the moment.

#3 San Francisco 49ers — Saquon Barkley (RB, Penn State)
A highly dynamic playmaker with star quality. Barkley warrants going this early. He’s a complete player with freaky athleticism.

#4 Los Angeles Chargers — Lamar Jackson (QB, Louisville)
Incredible playmaker with a Michael Vick skill-set. Better than some will have you believe. Puts points on the board.

#5 Chicago Bears — Christian Wilkins (DT, Clemson)
All-action player, never stops moving. Capable of playing inside or out and highly athletic. A Sheldon Richardson type player.

#6 Indianapolis Colts — Bradley Chubb (DE, NC State)
Wonderful talent with the perfect blend of speed, mobility, size (6-4, 275lbs) and attitude. Big time player.

#7 Arizona Cardinals — Taven Bryan (DE, Florida)
Bryan is a wrecking ball on the D-line. He’s just as likely to beat you with a violent bull rush as he is to win with speed and quickness. Exceptional.

#8 Cincinnati Bengals — Quenton Nelson (G, Notre Dame)
Nelson brings the physicality every week. Dominating at the LOS, he also moves with ease to pull and reach the second level.

#9 Tennessee Titans — Minkah Fitzpatrick (S, Alabama)
Like James, Fitzpatrick is a match-up option for defenses. He could line up over the slot, start at free safety. Very athletic and tough.

#10 Dallas Cowboys — Derwin James (S, Florida State)
Playmaking safety who provides a match-up option. Instinctive with the size (6-3, 211lbs) to move around.

#11 Oakland Raiders — Trey Adams (T, Washington)
Adams is a very accomplished tackle with the ideal size and frame to make it work at the next level. Could go even higher after testing.

#12 Cleveland Browns (via HOU) — Harold Landry (EDGE, Boston College)
Landry is a bit one-dimensional as a speed rusher but he has exceptional quickness and works well in space.

#13 Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Clelin Ferrell (DE, Clemson)
Shaq Lawson type pass rusher with the size to set the edge and the athleticism to make plays in the backfield.

#14 Miami Dolphins — Vita Vea (DT, Washington)
A nose tackle who teams up with Greg Gaines to shut down the running game. Vea has the necessary athleticism to go very early.

#15 Minnesota Vikings — Billy Price (C/G, Ohio State)
Followed Tony Pauline’s advice and watched Price today. A very active, gritty lineman who locks on and finishes consistently well. Like Quenton Nelson he plays with an edge and moves well.

#16 New Orleans Saints — Mike McGlinchey (T, Notre Dame)
I think he can play left tackle at the next level but teams will be happy to try him on the right side too. He excelled vs Harold Landry.

Two players who deserve a mention

Nick Chubb (RB, Georgia)
Medical testing will likely determine Chubb’s stock in the 2018 draft — but he looks a lot sharper a year on from his rushed return from a knee injury. It’s worth highlighting again just how special an athlete Chubb is. He scored a 143.91 at the 2013 Nike SPARQ combine — topped only by 5-10, 180lbs Speedy Noil. Chubb’s mark included a +40 inch vertical and a 4.47 forty. If he gets close to those numbers at the combine — watch out. So far this year he has 618 yards at 6.8 YPC and eight touchdowns.

Luke Falk (QB, Washington State)
It won’t be a major shock if Falk goes a lot earlier than people are currently projecting. A safe estimate would be round two — but this has been a nice step forward in 2017. He looks healthy, his arm strength is improved and he’s making some really difficult throws look easy. His combination of accurate, catchable passes, size and excellent character will appeal to teams. He carries himself like a franchise quarterback. If a reasonable team like Washington loses Kirk Cousins, is it beyond the realms of possibility they would target someone like Falk as a replacement? They’re not going to get at the names at the top of round one after all.

Meanwhile, if you want a Seahawks topic to discuss today:

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Friday draft notes: McGlinchey, Chubb, Falk & more

Friday, October 6th, 2017

Mike McGlinchey makes his case

I watched Notre Dame’s win against Boston College this week, specifically to check out edge rusher Harold Landry vs left tackle Mike McGlinchey. Consider this one a victory for the O-liner.

Landry spent most of the game facing off against the right tackle and had some success. You can see why he’s highly rated. He has a really nice get off and some suddenness to his rush. He’s light and nimble and he’ll be expected to test well at the combine.

However, whenever he did switch over to the other side — he was manhandled by McGlinchey. Time and time again the left tackle just got his hands on him and it was over. At 6-3 and about 250lbs Landry was giving up a big size difference and he didn’t have the counter to win against McGlinchey. He’d dart for the outside and get run out of the play. When he engaged he was shut down. All in all he looked pretty one-dimensional coming up against a tackle with an NFL future. On this evidence he’s better off playing in space as a 3-4 OLB. He’ll need to improve his strength, hand technique and repertoire to play DE.

McGlinchey on the other hand looked in complete control. His set was very fluid, he knew what he wanted to do and against a player touted by many as a first round prospect he excelled. He looked the part here and with such a need for good tackle prospects in the NFL a performance like this could propel him into the top-20.

Needless to say Quenton Nelson the left guard at Notre Dame also stood out. Check out this double team here on Landry:

McGlinchey makes the initial contact then Nelson comes in to clean out Landry before delivering a ‘stay down’ at the end.

He’s just a terrific player — great pulling in space, combative at the LOS and plays with a great edge. Nelson could/should be a very early pick. If you’re looking for a ‘favourite 2018 prospect’ here’s your guy.

Bradley Chubb continues to impress

Chubb has been a blog favourite since the Hurricane game last year between Notre Dame and NC State. In horrible conditions akin to running through quicksand, Chubb just looked better than everyone else. He finished the year strongly and could’ve been a first round pick had he declared.

He returned to NC State and is putting forth a strong case to go very early in round one in 2018. So far he has 6.5 sacks in six games, collecting another against Louisville last night. Not many people can chase down Lamar Jackson from behind on a scramble drill — Chubb managed it.

He carries 6-4 and 275lbs perfectly, plays with fantastic athleticism and quickness and looks a little bit like Derrick Morgan during his Georgia Tech days. You always knew Morgan was going to find a way to impact a game in college — Chubb has that similar knack for big plays.

He’s the cousin of Georgia running back Nick Chubb — one of the best athletes to test at the Nike SPARQ combines in recent years. Bradley looks like a bigger version of Nick — with the freaky athleticism to match.

What will Lamar Jackson be thinking?

He didn’t have a terrible game in last nights loss to NC State. On an off-night for the whole team he dragged them back into it and his late interception was during a potential game-tying drive with a couple of minutes to go.

Even so, he wasn’t at his best. He was generally inaccurate and didn’t show some of the progress we saw as a passer in the first handful of games to start the season. He was much more effective as a runner.

Louisville are 4-2 currently and while Jackson is putting up the big numbers, it feels like he’s chasing the likes of Saquon Barkley in the Heisman race. NFL teams will also likely analyse his two toughest games in 2017 — Clemson and NC State — and see two middling performances to go with two defeats.

Jackson is a fantastic playmaker and a better passer than some will have you believe. He’s also still developing. And like Sam Darnold you wonder if he’ll benefit from another year in college next season.

Christian Wilkins looks tremendous (again)

He isn’t an Aaron Donald pocket-destroyer who creates relentless pressure and takes over games. Wilkins is, however, so incredibly athletic for a man his size.

In the win against Virginia Tech last Saturday he was doing a bit of everything. He had more success rushing from DE than inside — but Clemson were also asking him to drop into coverage at 6-4 and 300lbs. He did it well. He chased down the sideline. His motor never stopped. He’s just a ball of energy, constantly active and needing to be accounted for.

Clemson are looking increasingly like a National Championship contender again and it’s mainly due to a fantastic defense. Wilkins could be a top-10 pick. Dexter Lawrence will be a high pick in 2019. Dorian O’Daniel finds ways to make a big play pretty much every week (2.5 sacks and two pick sixes from linebacker already this season). Austin Bryant is really intriguing as a 6-4, 265lbs DE with five sacks and an interception. Clelin Ferrell looks like another Shaq Lawson.

This front seven is loaded with NFL talent. It’s fun to watch.

Luke Falk’s character will interest teams

After watching Falk’s performance against USC I did some studying this week. I don’t live in Washington so I’m not privy to some of the exposure the two teams receive in the state. I’m starting to realise why some people think Falk could go a lot earlier than he’s being projected.

It’s also pretty clear why the Seahawks might be showing interest in him.

I watched some interviews with Falk, read a couple of long articles and listened to Mike Leach on 710 ESPN yesterday. Here’s the rub — Falk is a former walk-on who took his opportunity when it was presented to him, studies relentlessly and just seems to have this calm demeanour that screams franchise quarterback. There’s an inner-confidence and grittiness you notice when he speaks.

Is he the most physically gifted player? No and nobody would ever accuse him of having a Patrick Mahomes rocket arm (although his arm strength looks noticeably better this year).

Character matters though and Falk is an A+ in that department. Some teams will give up a little bit in terms of arm strength to get an accurate passer with ideal size and the right approach.

If Falk continues to play at a high level and help extend Washington State’s unbeaten run, don’t be surprised if he’s one of the biggest draft risers this season.

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Quenton Nelson is tremendous & a very early 2018 pick

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson is an absolute stud

A number of guard prospects (or tackles projected to move inside) have gone in the first half of round one in recent years. Brandon Scherff was the #5 pick in 2015, Zack Martin was the #16 pick in 2014 and two players (Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack) were top-10 picks in 2013.

Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson is destined to follow suit.

I sat down yesterday to watch him for the first time and was incredibly impressed. He has the size (6-5, 330lbs) and subsequent power to work inside but he does the little things so well.

Nelson is incredibly subtle at turning defensive linemen to open up gaps. So often in big games against the likes of Stanford, he was able to cajole the defender out of the play. Hand placement, balance — it was all on show. The D-liner is consistently turned, they can’t square up to make a play against the RB and big running lanes are created.

He also does a good job throwing his hands and extending, creating leverage and from that position it’s incredibly difficult for a defender to recover. He seems to have better than usual length for an interior guy and the way he locks out and keeps opponents away from his frame generally eliminates counters and allows him to finish.

After watching three games there wasn’t a single occasion where I saw Nelson flustered and beaten by quickness off the snap or an effective swim move. He was in complete control. Even on the occasions where he was shoved back (Malik McDowell had one really good bull rush against him for Michigan State) he was able to stay with his man and contain — avoiding being sent to the turf, giving his quarterback enough time to realise the danger and adjust or throw the ball.

The pièce de résistance is the edge he plays with. He’s not Garret Bolles but he’s one notch down. Nelson plays to the whistle, frequently finishes blocks and there are several plays where he dumps the defensive lineman on his backside and makes sure he knows about it. On one play he pulled to the right and absolutely hammered a defensive back playing up at the LOS — and he enjoyed it.

So how is he athletically? It’s sometimes hard to tell with guards, considering they play inside. This GIF, however, is a big positive for two reasons. Firstly, it’s a great blitz pick-up. Secondly, look at the diagnosis, the quick reactions and the footwork and athleticism to actually get across and make the save. This is a ‘wow’ play:

Now look at him on this pull block, driving #14 downfield (he’s #56):

He’s pretty brilliant at pull blocking and getting to the second level:

In this era of struggling O-lines and everyone wanting to find a solution, Quenton Nelson is going to go very early in next years draft. The top ten isn’t improbable — in fact it might be likely.

It’s fairly well established the likes of Derwin James, Saquon Barkley, Christian Wilkins and the quarterbacks (Darnold, Jackson, Rosen, Allen, Fitzgerald) will go early. Quenton Nelson absolutely needs to be added to this list. He’s a stone cold stunner ready to answer the NFL’s call for linemen.

While we’re here, this is an early list of players who could land top-15/20 grades:

1. Sam Darnold (QB, USC)
2. Saquon Barkley (RB, Penn State)
3. Derwin James (S, Florida State)
4. Quenton Nelson (G, Notre Dame)
5. Christian Wilkins (DT, Clemson)
6. Lamar Jackson (QB, Louisville)
7. Josh Rosen (QB, UCLA)
8. Vita Vea (DT, Washington)
9. Trey Adams (T, Washington)
10. Bradley Chubb (DE, NC State)
11. Josh Allen (QB, Wyoming)
12. Nick Fitzgerald (QB, Mississippi State)
13. Connor Williams (T, Texas)
14. Derrius Guice (RB, LSU)
15. Clelin Ferrell (DE, Clemson)

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CFB week one notes: Vita Vea, Greg Gaines stand out

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017

Washington duo make a big impression

Yes, it was against a bad Rutgers team. Yes, there’ll be tougher challenges and better match-ups ahead. But the first performance of the season where two guys simply looked better than anyone else on the field came in Washington’s opening game on Friday night.

Defensive tackle duo Vita Vea and Greg Gaines controlled the LOS every time they were on the field. It was a perfect example of two future NFL players standing out and jumping off the screen.

Vea consistently showed the brute strength to manhandle lineman and shove the pocket from the interior. He flashed a terrific bull rush and he’s a natural nose tackle. The comparisons to Haloti Ngata are not unwarranted, it’s that similar combination of unnatural mobility for his size and simply being the strongest guy on the field.

Gaines is quicker and often he’ll work his way into the backfield and offer more pass rush. However, he’s still incredibly stout and when he needed to work vs the run there was very little mark down compared to Vea. He’s also really busy — the motor never switches off. He works to the ball, plays to the whistle and just keeps going.

On one 3rd down on the goal line the two absorbed the entire three man interior OL allowing Keishawn Bierria the room to explode into the backfield on a run stop.

At the end of the first half, Rutgers went into hurry-up mode and caught Vea/Gaines off the field. They ran the ball to the tune of +30 yards, upping the tempo and not allowing Washington the chance to make a substitution. The difference in run defense when they weren’t on the field was strikingly clear. Rutgers just ran it up the gut three teams with great success.

As soon as the Huskies were able to get Vea and Gaines back on the field just before the two minute warning, the drive stalled at midfield and Rutgers ended up missing a long field goal.

Vea easily has the potential to work his way into the top-15 if not the top-10 in next years draft. Gaines is highly underrated and while he won’t go as early as Vea — he certainly has a NFL future.

If there’s a reason why Washington can again compete at a high level this year, the ability of these two to consistently control the LOS is even more important than the explosive, athletic offense highlighted by Dante Pettis and Myles Gaskin.

Not getting the Josh Allen hype

All we’ve heard over the summer is how great the 2018 quarterback class will be. Never mind that Josh Rosen has serious shoulder concerns, Sam Darnold hasn’t even played a full season of college ball and Josh Allen is, well, overrated.

When you watch his play on tape you do see some real flashes of brilliance. He has the physical tools you’d expect in a first round prospect. You also see maddening inaccuracy, incredible decision making and a player that hasn’t performed well against decent opposition.

Yes, he plays for Wyoming and doesn’t have the best supporting cast. It didn’t stop Paxton Lynch leading Memphis to a victory over Ole Miss and making the Tigers a genuine contender before he turned pro. Allen hasn’t really been able to emulate that so far.

And Lynch really is a good example to mention here. He has the physical tools and arguably played better football in college (at least so far). He was a first round pick. Lynch is currently stuck as the #2 in Denver, benched for a seventh round pick. Why? Because physical tools aren’t enough.

Allen played against good-not-great Iowa today and finished with a stat line that read: 23/40 passing, 174 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions. He only mustered three points on offense (Wyoming lost 24-3).

Look at what happened on this screen pass he threw:

A lot of respectable people think Allen is a stone-cold lock for the top five, if not the #1 overall pick. I’m not buying it. Not at the moment.

Other highlights

— We talked about Clemson receiver Deon Cain a few weeks ago. He scored a 61-yard touchdown against Kent State on Saturday. Clemson is basically wide receiver U — the way they coach their WR’s is unmatched. Smart guys, highly athletic. Cain is the next one off the production line.

— Saquon Barkley is a superstar in the making. A freak of nature athlete with ideal size/height. He did it all against Akron in a big opening victory for Penn State, running for 172 yards on just 14 carries (two touchdowns) and adding 54 receiving yards on three carries. He’s a legit Heisman candidate and a top-10 pick in the making.

— Penn State’s senior tight end Mike Gesicki also scored two touchdowns and collected 58 yards on six catches. He’s another name to monitor.

— A year ago I thought Bradley Chubb was destined for the first round. He’s Nick Chubb’s cousin. He could be a big mover this year, potentially landing in the top-20. Here’s how he started the new college football season:

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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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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.