Archive for the ‘Scouting Report’ Category

2015 NFL Draft status check: Thoughts on 32 eligible prospects

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

LSU’s La’el Collins is one of the best three players eligible for the 2015 draft

The big three…

The following three draft-eligible players are the best I’ve seen this year. A lot can (and will) change. But these three have played at a consistently high level and have every chance to work into the top range of prospects for 2015.

Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon)
Still the best candidate by far to go first overall. If Oakland ends up with the top pick they should start Derek Carr next year and let both players compete. Mariota can be as productive as Colin Kaepernick. He hasn’t quite got the same arm strength — but he might be more accurate. Cool, calm and collected — and a big time playmaker.

Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
Just a terrific player. There’s no point marking him down because of the failure of previous running backs drafted in the top five (eg Trent Richardson). Gurley is a massive running back but he plays with light feet. Very few runners with his size possess this kind of home-run hitting ability. He’s a rare talent and has really improved in 2014.

La’el Collins (T/G, LSU)
A dedicated leader and thoroughly mature individual. Collins is the captain of the LSU offense and deserves so much more attention. He could be a perennial Pro-Bowler at guard but has shone at tackle this year. He’s an accomplished run blocker who never gets flustered. The best 2015-eligible offensive lineman and for me — it aint that close.

And the rest…

I could’ve added more players, but these are the 32 I wanted to comment on today based on what I’ve seen during the 2014 season. This is not a big board. Some of the players listed here won’t get close to the first round.

Bud Dupree (DE, Kentucky)
Another big character guy with a ton of talent. I’ve spent the last three days watching his tape and it’s time to get on board. Dupree combines a relentless attitude with great speed off the edge. He can act as a LEO, work into the 3-4 or just play as an orthodox edge rusher — even at his size he sets the edge nicely. Explosive.

Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama)
He’s back to his best this year and the way he burned off those Tennessee defensive backs at the weekend showed a blast of speed that’ll really bolster his stock. He’s not a prototypical #1 receiver with great size, but he’s a natural receiver who shares some of A.J. Green’s innate ability to play the position. Could be the next Reggie Wayne.

Shawn Oakman (DE, Baylor)
Oakman has drifted in and out of Baylor’s key games this year and struggled to make an impact against TCU and West Virginia. And yet there simply aren’t that many human beings with his size and athleticism (6-8, 280lbs). He has to be a high pick based on the insane ceiling he possesses. He’s a better prospect than Ziggy Ansah.

Andrus Peat (T, Stanford)
He’s the next best offensive lineman after La’el Collins and the most natural left tackle. Unlike Cedric Ogbuehi and Brandon Scherff, Peat is actually a competent pass protector. He’s technically quite accomplished and just needs to avoid lunging. He has ideal size. He’s not a great run blocker like the others, but he’ll start at left tackle for several years.

Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson)
Great speed off the edge and production to die for (29 career sacks in as many games). Beasley’s been a terror for three seasons now. He doesn’t have great length and this will be a slight concern. He chose not to declare for the 2014 draft. His get-off, competitive edge and third-down capabilities will attract a lot of interest.

Shaq Thompson (LB, Washington)
How many defensive prospects get bumped to running back for a full game? That happened to Thompson at the weekend. He’s just a fantastic athlete and a thoroughly modern day first round pick. He has multiple defensive touchdowns this year and will be a high pick. The NFL draft seems to churn out super-athletic linebackers ever year these days. Thompson is the next in line.

Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
He glides as a runner with long graceful steps. He looks like a gazelle. He’s added good weight over the years without losing a step — but he’s still not a great between-the-tackles runner. The extra blocking duties this year will be a big help to his stock. He can be a real X-factor at the next level as a runner and receiver — but can he get the tough yards inside?

Shane Ray (DE, Missouri)
Part of a big-time tag-team with the next name on this list. Ray knows how to get to the quarterback — he can rush the edge, stunt inside and he plays with his hair on fire. He’s not the biggest and won’t be a measurable king — but he just has a knack for making plays. The question is — does his game translate to the next level? If it does, watch out.

Markus Golden (DE, Missouri)
He’s been slowed a little by a nagging hamstring strain — but that hasn’t stopped Golden sacking QB’s, scoring touchdowns and making plays. He’s a terrific athlete with great size and balance. He’s better than Melvin Ingram was at South Carolina. He’s the only player who gave first round pick Ja’Wuan James a problem in 2013.

Jameis Winston (QB, Florida State)
As much as you want to knock him (and I do) for all the off-field nonsense and controversy — he somehow manages to stay focused and perform. He’d be a better option for at least 10-12 NFL teams compared to their current starters. In a cultured, pass happy offense he will put up big stats. But can you trust him?

Benardrick McKinney (LB, Mississippi State)
If you want to know why Miss State is doing so well this year, here’s one key reason. McKinney could be the player Rolando McClain was expected to be at Alabama. He’s got the size to play inside linebacker in the 3-4. Hits like a sledgehammer and quickly closes any running lanes.

Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)
What’s not to like? He has the size and speed, he high points the football superbly. He’s had an impact in every WVU game this year — even in blanket coverage. What’s more he’s quickly becoming the heart and soul of the Mountaineers offense. Nobody has done more to improve their stock in 2014.

Josh Robinson (RB, Mississippi State)
‘The human cannonball’ — and he plays that way. Robinson is short and squat with tremendous lower body power and enough speed to keep a defense honest. He breaks tackles, fights for extra yardage and still makes big plays. He’s a bit like a more compact version of Michael Turner.

Hau’oli Kikaha (DE, Washington)
Nobody has more sacks in the NCAA (14.5 so far). He isn’t a special athlete and by the time the combine comes around, he might struggle to maintain the obvious momentum he currently has. And yet he just finds ways to sack the QB. His play this year demands respect.

Leonard Williams (DE, USC)
It’s not that I don’t rate Williams. He holds the edge well and does a good job swatting at the ball. He has some nice athletic qualities for his size and the way he played through the pain against Stanford was admirable. And yet he doesn’t live in the backfield, doesn’t look like a brilliant 4-3 DE or three technique. If he’s best at the five, what does that mean for his stock?

Randy Gregory (LB, Nebraska)
He’s not been at 100% all year and that’s perhaps limited his ability to make waves this year. He’s a brilliant looking prospect in pads — tall, lean without being skinny and he moves well for the size. The thing is, he’s a better blitzing linebacker than a pure pass rusher. For me he’s strictly a project if you’re thinking 4-3 DE.

Dante Fowler Jr (DE, Florida)
The Gators are a shambolic mess and it’s had an impact on Fowler’s performance. With a productive supporting cast he had a chance to compete for a top five spot. He can still regain momentum at the combine. Fowler is an active, versatile pass rusher who can line up inside or out.

Cedric Ogbuehi (T, Texas A&M)
Does anyone consider him a left tackle prospect any more? He’s struggled all year conceding nearly double digit sacks. A return to the right side could be inevitable. It’s hard to imagine he’ll go as early as some people are projecting. He needs a lot of work.

Brandon Scherff (T, Iowa)
Run blocking? Perfectly acceptable. Pass protection? Stiff, awkward and asking for trouble. He’ll punish you head on and he loves to drive people off the spot in the run game. But even at the college level he looks like a future liability in the passing game. He might be limited to a spot on the right or even at guard.

Danny Shelton (DT, Washington)
Big nose tackle prospect and you have to love the way he plays the game. Brings the attitude every week with a real mean streak. Pushes people around. Is he a good athlete for the size? That’s the key question. Big guys who aren’t special athletes don’t go much higher than the middle rounds, even if they’re good. If he turns a few heads at the combine — his stock will sky rocket.

Ameer Abdullah (RB, Nebraska)
You can’t argue with his production and ability to ‘wow’ with big plays. He’s a very patient runner. However, he just looks like a player with a limited role at the next level. He’s not an every down back at 5-9 and 190lbs. He’ll need to make the most of his snaps. Prediction? He’ll start as a 6-8 carry player with potential and eventually fade away.

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB, Oregon)
Not a good year so far — and he had a few tough days last season too. Can he really play outside? Or is he limited to working in the slot? Teams are willing to take slot corners early these days. He could still be a first round pick in that role, but he’s not lived up to the lofty expectations.

Jordan Phillips (DT, Oklahoma)
Another big nose tackle. He flashed rare athleticism on a big-time fumble return early in the year, sprinting the length of the field for a score (the play was called back on a lousy penalty call). He plays on a pro-ready D-line and that helps, but he’s made some key plays rushing the passer too. Phillips had injury problems last year (back).

Leonard Floyd (DE, Georgia)
Looks a bit like Aaron Maybin. Too lean and needs to add weight. Nobody doubts his potential but the best thing to do is return next year, add core strength and get another year in the SEC. He has a great get off but he can’t shake a block, he has no counter. At the next level he will be found out unless he improves.

Devin Funchess (WR, Michigan)
Ideal size to be a #1 (6-4, 235lbs) and he has experience at tight end and receiver. He does a good job working the seam, making the most of a physical mismatch and he provides a nice big target for the quarterback. However — he doesn’t really do anything well technically and he has too many mental errors. The potential’s off the charts, but he might look better than he is. You could argue it’s difficult to judge him in a miserable Michigan offense.

Marcus Peters (CB, Washington)
At times he looks physical and gritty — but he will give up plays too. He’s Marshawn Lynch’s cousin. He’s been involved in too much drama and he’s missed games as a consequence. There’s no doubting his potential and with the right coaching he could easily start in the NFL. But how concerning is the character stuff? And can he be more consistent?

Shilique Calhoun (DE, Michigan State)
I’ve watched several Michigan State games over the last two years — and at no point have I ever come away impressed with Calhoun. He just looks, well, a bit soft. He got pushed around in the Big Ten Championship last season and the same thing happened at Oregon this year. I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.

T.J. Yeldon (RB, Alabama)
Who expected DeMarco Murray to turn into a dominating power/speed back? At Oklahoma he was more of a receiving option out of the backfield. You could kind of see Yeldon developing into an effective runner over time. He’s a former 5-star recruit, there’s definitely something there. But it’s so much more fun watching Derrick Henry run the ball. Yeldon’s one to watch, but he might be a bit of a gamble.

Duke Johnson (RB, Miami)
He’s not an up-the-gut runner. It’s hard to imagine him carrying the rock with any authority at the next level. He’s more effective in space as a pass-catcher. His best role in the NFL might be as a return man or third down back. It’s hard to get too excited, even if you have to love a ball-carrier with the name ‘Duke’.

Overrated & underrated prospects so far

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Overrated

Cedric Ogbuehi (T, Texas A&M)
Unlike Jake Matthews, Ogbuehi hasn’t made an easy transition from right to left tackle. Last season he did a manful job watching speed rushers off the edge — controlling Dee Ford and others in an impressive debut season as a starter. This year Ogbuehi hasn’t been a turnstile, but he’s getting there. He’s closing in on double digit sacks conceded for the season against a modest group of SEC pass rushers. So what are the issues? Ogbuehi has a tendency to get too wide in his stance, leaving him open to an inside move. He also gets too high at times and his hand placement needs to be better to ward off blockers. Yes these are fixable technical issues, but this is the only tape teams have of Ogbuehi at left tackle. People are already anointing him as a sure-fire top-five pick. He might be the third or fourth left tackle off the board at this rate.

Leonard Williams (DE, USC)
I’m not sure how Williams has earned such a brilliant reputation. Don’t get me wrong, he’s certainly intriguing. He’s 6-5 and 300lbs and moves well for the size. I’ll happily eat my words if he explodes at the combine and shows himself to be a big-time athlete with huge upside potential. On tape, however, it’s still a real mystery what his best position is. When he lines up inside he can be a liability against the run. Against Fresno State he was pushed around on two red zone TD runs. He’s not a great interior rusher either. As a defensive end he’s certainly got that J.J. Watt act of swatting the ball down to a tee. And yet he’s not a great speed-to-power rusher. He doesn’t live in the backfield. He’s busy rather than relentless. He looks like he might be a 5-technique in the 3-4. Based on his athletic qualities, I’m positive someone will take him in round one. Yet I’m not totally convinced the tape warrants such lofty reviews (eg being touted as a potential #1 overall pick).

Leonard Floyd (DE, Georgia)
Not every tall, skinny pass rusher is going to turn into Aaron Maybin. Floyd, however, reminds me so much of the former Penn State flop. Barkevious Mingo competed with ferocity and just had a knack of making plays. In terms of undersized pure edge rushers, Mingo is the best to enter the NFL in recent memory. Even he has struggled to make an impact. Floyd is skinnier than Mingo and looks about 225lbs on tape. ESPN currently lists him at 6-3 and 226lbs. When he has to take on a block it’s over. He has no anchor against college OT’s and no way of countering when he gets blocked. Essentially he either wins with the first step, lean and speed or he doesn’t have an impact. He’s a very active player and he puts himself about — but he just doesn’t look ready for the NFL. He’d be best served returning for a junior season and working on getting stronger (upper and lower body), developing some counters and learning to use his hands.

Honorable mentions:

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB, Oregon)
Not having a great season. Might be best suited working in the slot.

Brett Hundley (QB, UCLA)
Erratic, poor decision maker who shouldn’t be taken early. Best served as a developmental prospect in the middle rounds.

Connor Cook (QB, Michigan State)
Why do people think he’s going to be an early pick?

Ameer Abdullah (RB, Nebraska)
He’s made some nice plays this year but he won’t be a regular feature for a NFL running attack and will do well to go in the middle rounds.

Nelson Agholor (WR, USC)
He’s made some clutch plays for the Trojans over the years but it’s hard to judge him as anything more than a limited pro prospect.

Underrated

Rob Crisp (T, NC State)
I’ve not watched an offensive tackle as polished as Crisp this year. Technically he’s quite accomplished and always looks in control. Combine that with ideal size (6-7, 295lbs) and he looks the part. I’ve no doubt at all that with the right coaching he has a future in the league. You can count the number of tackles who performed well against Clemson’s Vic Beasley over the years on one hand. Crisp had a sensational game against Beasley — who only managed his sack/fumble/TD when lined up, unwisely, against a tight end 1v1. Given how much praise other big name left tackles are getting, Crisp receives almost no attention in comparison. Keep an eye on this guy.

La’el Collins (T/G, LSU)
Out of all the big name college offensive linemen, Collins has shown the most progress this year. He plays with a cool authority — he’s all business. In terms of run blocking he shows the power to drive people off the ball and technical know-how to turn a defensive lineman and create big running lanes. His kick-slide could still use some work and he might not be the best athlete — but he holds his own in pass protection. He could’ve been a first round pick last year but the strides he’s taken in 2014 completely justify the decision to return to LSU. If you draft Collins early the worst case scenario is you’ll end up with a very good guard. In fact, teams might consider drafting him in the top-15 as a pure guard anyway. Don’t rule him out as a top tackle prospect though — he’s shown this year he’s up to the task.

Chuka Ndulue (DT, Oklahoma)
He won’t be an early pick, but Ndulue is already a NFL prospect handling over-matched college players. It was tough to watch him abuse Tennessee’s freshman riddled O-line. He’s a grown man — an absolute beast up front who can make plays from various positions. Put him at end in a three man front, sit him in the middle as an interior rusher. He has supreme strength and will add a great deal to a NFL rotation. He’s helped by a very talented Oklahoma front line that also includes freaky nose tackle Jordan Phillips. But this is the type of player you rely on for those key divisional games. He’s going to get out there ready for war. Great character, great leader. You could see him playing for the Ravens or Steelers.

Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)
We’ve talked about White all year and he’s finally starting to get some attention. You could argue he’s no longer underrated, but I wanted to include him on the list because he deserves all the plaudits he’s getting. There’s no other receiver in college currently playing with his attitude, grit and playmaking quality. You can’t cover the guy. Throw it up — he’ll make the play. He has the lot — size, body control, hands catcher, ability to high point the football. He’s flashed the ability to make yards after the catch. He’s an intense competitor and the heartbeat of his team. White is probably the most fun player to watch in college football this season and if he continues to perform he will win the Biletnikoff and he will be a first round pick.

Markus Golden (DE, Missouri)
Team mate Shane Ray gets a lot of attention, but Golden might be a better pro-prospect. He’s a brilliant athlete — powerful, fast off the edge. He’s capable of using his hands and fighting his way to the quarterback. Like Kevin White he’s a JUCO transfer with all the physical qualities you look for at the next level. He was slowed this year by a hamstring strain but still found a way to make plays. Ray and Golden could both land in the first round, but only Ray seems to be getting the focus right now. Ja’Wuan James absolutely deserved to go in round one this year despite a lot of surprise when Miami picked him. Only one player unsettled James throughout the entire 2013 season. Markus Golden. Do not sleep on him as an early pick.

Honorable mentions:

Jordan Phillips (DT, Oklahoma)
Could be tempted to declare after missing last year through injury. Really moves for a nose tackle. Exciting talent.

Benardrick McKinney (LB, Mississippi State)
Just a tackling machine and a significant piece of the current #1 team in college football.

Shaq Thompson (LB, Washington)
Could go in the top ten or fifteen — and I include him here for that reason.

Denzel Perryman (LB, Miami)
Really controls the middle of the field and has an impact every week.

NFL draft prospects who’ve started well in 2014

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon)
Nothing has changed here — he will be the #1 pick in 2015. He’s yet to throw an interception this season, he’s showing technical progression and he has the potential to be Kaepernick-plus. It’s hard to imagine the team picking first overall passing on Mariota. Why would you? He’s the real deal.

Eric Striker (LB, Oklahoma)
He’s an athletic playmaker and the perfect compliment to Oklahoma’s pro-ready D-line. The Sooners have plenty of beef up front and Striker flies around. He rushes the passer from the edge, he moves sideline-to-sideline. He just makes plays. He doesn’t have ideal size but if you keep him in space, he’ll impact games.

Jacoby Brissett (QB, NC State)
He had to leave Florida to get his shot — but he’s making up for lost time at the start of 2014. He can move around for a big unit, he’s throwing well downfield. You don’t need to be Russell Wilson, you just need to be elusive. Brissett might not declare for the next draft but he’s one to monitor.

Shaq Thompson (LB, Washington)
Few players have done more than Shaq Thompson to boost their stock. He already has three touchdowns on defense, he’s taking snaps on offense. The scary thing is he can get better. Thompson’s athleticism will appeal to teams picking in the top-25. He can feature in any scheme. He’s a modern day defensive playmaker.

Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)
Big, competitive and productive. White is enjoying a break-out year. He high points the ball, he knows how to get open. He’s a definite Biletnikoff candidate. In a year without a lot of quality receivers turning pro, White could go earlier than expected.

Shawn Oakman (DE, Baylor)
He’s a freak of nature. The NFL loves freaks of nature. Is there another man on the planet who is this tall (anywhere from 6-7 to 6-9) who carries 280lbs this well with such brilliant athleticism? He’s destined to go in the top-10. He’s a better prospect than Ziggy Ansah.

Markus Golden (DE, Missouri)
He has four sacks so far despite missing a game with a hamstring strain. He has it all — ideal size to set the edge, a brilliant speed rush and the ability to disengage a blocker and make splash plays. Golden is incredibly underrated and destined for the first round if he tests well. He should do.

Shane Ray (DE, Missouri)
Golden’s team-mate is the sack leader in the NCAA with eight so far. He was unstoppable in the first half against South Carolina. He’s not the biggest but he’s still effective stunting inside and working through blockers. He’s gritty, he plays with an attitude. Could we see two Missouri pass rushers in round one next year?

Jordan Phillips (DT, Oklahoma)
339lbs nose tackles who run back fumbles for 69-yard touchdowns are a rarity. Chapman isn’t just a big body who wears you down in the run — he can act as a pass rusher too. He plays on a terrific defensive line filled with NFL talent, but he’s that rare athletic big man who nearly always goes early. Missed last year with an injury waiver and is listed as a redshirt sophomore.

Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson)
He has 27 sacks in his last 24 games. He terrorised potential first round left tackle Cameron Erving. Speed kills in the modern NFL and Beasley has plenty. There will be concerns about his size and length, but expect a super-fast forty time and ten-yard split. He could be a high pick.

Damian Swann (CB, Georgia)
Georgia changed defensive coordinators this year, hiring FSU’s Jeremy Pruitt. They needed to make a change — their defense was a disorganised mess last year. Swann regressed more than anyone but he’s back with a bang in 2014. With the right guidance he can develop into a fine NFL corner. Goes after the football.

Arik Armstead (DE, Oregon)
Like Oakman, he has a rare combination of size (6-7, around 295lbs) and athleticism. He’s exactly the type of player the NFL is willing to take a chance on in round one. He’s been inconsistent at Oregon but a dominating performance against Michigan State was very encouraging. I’m eager to see the Washington State tape.

Notable mentions:

I didn’t want to include too many obvious candidates here. Clearly Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia) and Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin) have delivered on their promise and could be first or second round picks next year. Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama) is back to his technical best. He’ll get marked down for a lack of elite size/speed, but like A.J. Green he’s such a natural receiver. Dante Fowler Jr (DE, Florida) continues to make plays on a struggling Gators defense. Randy Gregory has 4.5 sacks in his last two games and could be the best 3-4 linebacker eligible for the draft. Denzel Perryman (LB, Miami) is having another big season while Devin Funchess (WR, Michigan) has made a solid adjustment from tight end to receiver. All of the big name tackles have prospered and we could see 6-7 first round offensive linemen again. Ty Montgomery (WR, Stanford) always seems to make plays.

Players I’m not totally sold on yet:

Leonard Williams (DE, USC) — is he a special enough athlete to play 4-3 defensive end? If he has to kick inside or act as a five-technique, does that limit his stock? Danny Shelton (DT, Washington) is having a massive year in terms of statistics but does it translate? Is he enough of an athlete to warrant early pick status? To me he looks like a mid-rounder. Can anyone justify putting the future of their franchise in the hands of Jameis Winston (QB, Florida State)? Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB, Oregon) hasn’t had a great start to the new season and Shilique Calhoun (DE, Michigan State) just looks like the player who struggled badly in last years Big-10 Championship game. Marcus Peters (CB, Washington) has the potential to be excellent, but can he be trusted and can he become more consistent?

Several teams will be in the QB market next year. Right now, Mariota might be the only viable prospect to go in the first frame. Unless you want to gamble on Winston. And it would be one heck of a gamble. Brett Hundley (QB, UCLA) is too boom or bust and lacks technique. Connor Cook (QB, Michigan State) is being touted as a potential first round pick by some. Why, exactly?

Most impressive emerging player in 2014? WVU’s Kevin White

Friday, September 26th, 2014

West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White stood out in week one against Alabama. The Mountaineers flirted with an upset and most of that was down to White. He had nine catches, 143 yards and a touchdown (see the video above). For a player who’s suffered with confidence issues in the past, it was the perfect start. A launchpad.

After four games only Amari Cooper has been more productive in the NCAA. White is a legit candidate for the Biletnikoff and his stock is growing. I’m not convinced he’s the 6-3 210lbs listed by ESPN, but he ticks a lot of boxes. He’s got excellent acceleration, he high-points the football, he makes difficult grabs and he knows where to sit and find the soft spot in zone. He has a shot at the next level.

The big concern, sadly, may be those confidence issues. He’s extremely softly spoken to the point of being quite shy. He’s no fool, far from it. But he’s shy. One of the big things we learnt this year is Seattle wants players who can survive in their ultra-competitive locker room. This is a question we have to ask now about every player, including White. Can they have a rocky session against the Legion of Boom during camp and come back the next day with amnesia? Can they take the talking, the physical challenge? Can they thrive in the environment of this team? Can White?

If there are questions to be asked there, you’ll struggle to find many regarding his on-field performance. Against Maryland he had 13 catches for 216 yards. Watch the tape below and tell me you’re not impressed. At the very least check out the following plays:

2:13 — An explosive catch and run on a WR screen, breaking off a 44-yard sprint through traffic.

2:58 — Competent run blocking at the perimeter, sealing his man and allowing the running back to get a first down and make a significant gain.

3:51 — Complete trust from the quarterback. On play action he steps into the pocket and throws into blanket double coverage. Against two defenders White goes up and plucks the ball out of the air. It’s textbook stuff.

5:25 — Excellent catch again in good coverage. White tracks the ball superbly and somehow makes the completion and gets both feet down.

He’s a smooth athlete, he competes for the ball and he can make big plays. It’s hard to judge his stock right now and he’ll need to maintain consistency throughout the year. He’s an exciting player though, certainly the most impressive prospect to emerge in the early stages of the 2014 season. He’s putting up numbers against good teams too — Alabama in week one, Oklahoma last week (10 catches, 173 yards and a touchdown).

I’m not convinced he’s as good as DeAndre Hopkins — a very underrated receiver who thoroughly deserved to go in round one. They share similar traits though.

West Virginia don’t play this weekend but White will get another opportunity to impress on October 4th against 2-1 Kansas.

Some thoughts on the possible 2015 draft class

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

Marcus Mariota appears destined to be the #1 pick next year

Marcus Mariota deserves to be considered the consensus top prospect going into the new college season. Despite the continued dependence on conventional wisdom by various talking heads — the game is adapting. Not in the way many people think, but it is adapting.

This isn’t about the read option and running quarterbacks. It’s about elusiveness, playmaking and extending plays.

Robert Griffin III is a classic case on how not to handle and athletic, skilled quarterback. His ability to run is an asset, but that still needs to be managed. It has to be an accent, used to extend plays and provide moments of inspiration. When Pete Carroll talks about his desire to be the best scrambling team in the league it’s with good reason. Mobile quarterbacks who make plays when seemingly bottled up are incredibly difficult to defend.

RGIII seemingly wasn’t used in such a way (aka a point guard). The read-option became a staple of the Washington offense and the quarterback was asked to do too much running — even when clearly injured. We all know the consequences of that. The injuries are one thing, the more serious issue could be Griffin’s continued preference to run after one or two quick reads. The Shanahan’s never truly tackled that.

Seattle rarely uses the read-option. It’s added to specific game-plans but only in the same way they might emphasise the tight end against a favourable match-up or offer a specific look on defense. Russell Wilson runs, scrambles and makes plays. But you never sense any real recklessness. It’s managed by the team and he knows how to protect himself. The same can easily be said for Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco and Cam Newton in Carolina.

Being able to scramble is a vital component in the NFL these days. As we’ve debated many times, the best high school and college athletes are playing defense. Fewer elite athletes are playing on the offensive line. It’s why the top offensive tackles in each draft get snapped up so quickly. It’s why teams in the NCAA and NFL are moving defensive linemen to the offense in an attempt to get better athletes on the OL. It’s becoming increasingly harder to contain all of the explosive athletes rushing the passer.

That’s not to say you can’t be an orthodox pocket passer these days, but fewer quarterbacks can survive like that. You need to buy time. You need to offer the threat to run. You need to be able to get out of the pocket, avoid the rush and extend plays.

Mariota will no doubt be criticised by the old-school brigade for being mobile, athletic and exciting and not a 245lbs statue with simply a cannon arm. In reality he’s perfectly suited to the modern NFL. He’s an accomplished passer who ticks every physical box but he’s also elusive and capable of making plays outside of the pocket.

There are other positives too — he isn’t a careless runner, he doesn’t turn the ball over and you only hear good things about his character. Yes the Oregon offense is wide open, designed to create enormous passing windows and overmatch opponents with all the speed the Ducks have at receiver/running back. He’ll need to adjust to a pro-offense at the next level, but in 2014 he’s playing in an environment that almost guarantees huge numbers.

Teams will fall over themselves to draft Mariota and make him the face of their franchise. It probably won’t even be a close run thing. I suspect he’ll be seen as a Kaepernick clone with the potential to be a better passer. He is destined to be the #1 pick next year unless a team with a newly drafted or established quarterback owns the pick, which seems unlikely in 2015.

A lot of people are talking up the running back class. I just can’t buy into running backs in round one. Not any more.

Trent Richardson looked sensational at Alabama. Big, strong, fast, decisive. He was the complete package. Nobody was criticising him leading into the draft, nobody was projecting the totally underwhelming career he’d have at the next level.

He’s been a titanic flop, costing two first round picks in the process. Here’s the top-ten running backs from 2013, along with their draft cost:

LeSean McCoy — 2nd rounder
Matt Forte — 2nd rounder
Jamaal Charles — 3rd rounder
Alfred Morris — 6th rounder
Adrian Peterson — 1st rounder
Marshawn Lynch — 1st rounder initially, but traded to Seattle for a late round package
Ryan Mathews — 1st rounder
Eddie Lacy — 2nd rounder
Frank Gore — 3rd rounder
DeMarco Murray — 3rd rounder

Of the group, only freak-of-nature Adrian Peterson and Ryan Mathews cost their current team a first round pick. Mathews, until 2013, had been a total bust.

It’s not just Trent Richardson that’ll be scaring off teams either. Doug Martin and David Wilson were both first rounders in 2012 too. Wilson has since retired from football due to injury and Martin missed the 2013 season with a torn labrum.

Remember Mark Ingram? Former Heisman winner and another fantastic Alabama running back. He’s been a total shocking bust too and another former first rounder who appeared destined for big things.

The risk factor is too high unless you truly believes you’re getting another Peterson. Equally, the value later on is too good to go digging for a running back in round one.

Melvin Gordon is fun to watch and one of my favourite players going into the new season. He has speed, he’s competitive and patient. He’s such a graceful runner and he makes excellent cuts. He’s well spoken. Yet he offers precious little in the passing game and he’ll need time to adjust in protection. His best asset is his ability to avoid contact and act as a home run hitter. That’s not quite as easy to do at the next level. A fine player, certainly worthy of a high second round grade at least. If anyone can make it in 2015 it’s probably this guy.

Todd Gurley is a beast at Georgia — 6-1 and 226lbs, he runs with authority and can be a playmaker. You just wonder though if he’ll be quite as fearsome at the next level. Has he got the speed, fight and power to really challenge teams? People compare him to Marshawn Lynch but that’s unfair. Lynch is a unique player, we’ll not see another running back like that possibly ever. Gurley is big but with Lynch it isn’t about size — it’s about Beast Mode. It’s about being tough to bring down. It’s the attitude, the skill, the patience, the cut back ability. Lynch is a marvel. Does Gurley deserve a better grade than Eddie Lacy, a second rounder? Perhaps not.

T.J. Yeldon looked terrific when he burst onto the scene at Alabama. Since then he’s suffered ball-security issues and he looks lean. I’m not convinced he’s a special athlete, so what are you really getting? Someone who won’t operate as a between the tackles threat, but can work to the sideline and cut. He can be effective in the passing game. I’m just not sure you can get behind the idea of drafting him in the first round — especially if he keeps fumbling. Ideally he comes in to work with a power guy as a change of pace player, before possibly earning a greater role.

This trio is ‘the big three’ in terms of name recognition. Will any go in the first round? You’d have to be a really good team to justify it. Hey, you don’t rule it out in August. But I think we need to temper some of the expectation. Running backs going in round one should be a dying breed.

Of the defensive players I’ve watched so far I’m most excited about Missouri’s Markus Golden, Florida’s Dante Fowler, Vic Beasley at Clemson and Washington’s Marcus Peters.

Golden will get a ton of opportunities this year given the defensive exodus on Mizzou’s D-line. He’s fast, athletic, strong and he makes plays. Watch out for this guy because he’s the real deal.

Fowler can line up at linebacker or end. He really flies to the ball and can take on a left tackle, initiate contact and release. If he gets a sniff of a gap he’ll shoot through it to blow up a play. He forces fumbles, he has such fluid mobility. He can also work through traffic and line up inside. He’s an exciting talent.

We all know about Beasley by know and while he is undersized, you just can’t match-up to his speed off the edge. It’s explosive — and he should test well at next years combine. He didn’t declare for the 2014 draft but let’s not knock him for that. Undersized, nickel pass-rushers are no longer a no-no in round one. He can work the edge and he’ll have a big year for Clemson.

Peters just looks like a Seahawks cornerback. He’ll take chances and some teams won’t like that — yet he plays with such physicality and attitude. He’s big and fast and playing on a loaded defense at Washington.

There are others too — Baylor’s intriguing (and massive) Shawn Oakman plus Peters’ team mates Hau’oli Kikaha and Shaq Thompson. A lot of people are talking up USC’s Leonard Williams and Nebraska’s Randy Gregory. I’d like to see more this year from both of those players.

There’s another crop of 4-5 good left tackle’s so expect another early rush — Cedric Ogbuehi, Brandon Scherff, La’el Collins and Cameron Erving could’ve been day one picks this year. Andrus Peat is highly rated but Stanford offensive linemen are just so difficult to grade for the NFL. It should be a better center class in 2015 with Oregon’s Hroniss Grasu and Auburn’s Reese Dismukes.

The receiver group appears underwhelming — a stark contract to 2014. Amari Cooper has natural talent but just made too many mental mistakes last season. He’s also undersized and that didn’t help Robert Woods or Marqise Lee. Nelson Agholor is a decent player but I just can’t see anything but a limited draft grade. Austin Hill is one to watch at Arizona but has durability issues. I’m not a big fan of Jalen Strong at Arizona State.

Dorial Green-Beckham is the big X-factor having transferred to Oklahoma. Will he play in 2014? Will he declare for the draft? What will teams make of his character background? In terms of talent and physical stature he’s a sure-fire first rounder, but there are so many question marks and potential red flags.

Keep an eye on Georgia’s Malcolm Mitchell and Tennessee’s Pig Howard for multi-dimensional playmakers.

And what about Jameis Winston? Wear contact lenses, keep your nose clean and hope teams can trust you. I’m not sure I could. He has the talent, but he’s a long way off being ready for the NFL.

An early look at 2015, in particular Mizzou’s Markus Golden

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

Missouri’s Markus Golden could be the best pass rusher in the SEC next season

We’ll get back into the current draft class tomorrow but I wanted to have a quick look at the 2014 college season and put down a few players to monitor over the summer months.

Obviously it’s too early to get a firm handle on who we’ll be talking about in 2015 but there is one name in particular I wanted to put out there.

Markus Golden — defensive end, Missouri.

He’s listed at 6-3 and 260lbs and had 6.5 sacks as a junior last season playing behind Michael Sam and Kony Ealy. He chose not to declare for last weeks draft because he wanted a year as a starter. Golden’s a former JUCO transfer from Hutchinson where in a single season he registered 26 TFL’s, 10 sacks, five forced fumbles and a pair of interceptions. He played mostly special teams in 2012 for Mizzou before taking on a bigger role in 2013.

He’s an outstanding athlete with great burst off the line. He can hold his own too as you’ll see in the tape below — on one play he kicked inside, held off two blockers to make a play on the running back at the LOS. He’s got a real nose for the ball and plays with a relentless effort. It’s hard not to appreciate a play like this:

It’s not just the pick six. He shoves the quarterback a good 15-yards just for the hell of it. The guys a beast and could easily be the best pass rusher in the SEC this year.

Need more evidence? Golden was the only player I saw on tape that flustered Ja’Wuan James last season. James went in the top-20 this year because he’s solid with great technique, balance and footwork. Nobody played him like Golden (#33 in the tape below).

We also know after the 2014 draft that the Seahawks are putting a big emphasis on character and the ability to fit into Seattle’s locker room. That’ll be no issue here — he’s a mature, competitive character who speaks well during interviews.

Pass rusher could be a target area for the Seahawks in a years time. Cliff Avril will be a free agent and in an off-season where Russell Wilson will sign an enormous new contract — he could be difficult to keep. Even if Avril re-signs, Seattle could use even more options up front. They’re banking on younger players like Benson Mayowa, Jordan Hill and Cassius Marsh stepping up to the plate this year.

For me Golden has all the makings of a potential top-15 pick if he stays healthy and productive — so he might not be in range for the Seahawks anyway all being well. But if you want a player to get excited about over the summer — this is a good place to start. You can see some coaches tape below and a list of suggested 2015 prospects to get into during the off-season.

Other potential 2015 prospects to study

Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon)
A good bet to go first overall next year. Mariota is a toolsy quarterback who made a big decision to return for one more year at Oregon. He doesn’t turn the ball over, he’s a thoroughly modern QB and a threat to run. Also has none of the character baggage Jameis Winston possesses.

Markus Golden (DE, Missouri)
As noted above, he could be the best pass rusher in the SEC next season. A relentless athlete with top-tier potential. A very exciting prospect and one to monitor.

Cedric Ogbuehi (T, Texas A&M)
Could’ve been a first round pick this year but chose to emulate Jake Matthews and return to the Aggies to play left tackle. Handled Dee Ford in the Auburn game. The complete package and another top-10 pick in the making for Texas A&M.

Andrus Peat (T, Stanford)
I’m not a fan of Stanford linemen. The scheme is too clinical and players get way overrated every year. Yet Peat might break that trend. He’s 6-7 and 312lbs with long arms and a great attitude on and off the field. Could be a high pick.

Cameron Erving (T, Florida State)
Converted defensive lineman who also chose not to declare for 2014. Expect another cluster of tackles to be the making of this class and Erving is a powerful, athletic OT who watches Jameis Winston’s blindside.

La’el Collins (T, LSU)
The third tackle on this list who made a late decision not to declare for the the 2014 draft. The Tigers offense lost a lot of talent this year, so we’ll see if it has any impact on Collins’ stock. Ideal size at 6-5 and 315lbs.

Leonard Williams (DL, USC)
Former 4-star recruit who can play end or tackle. Great size at 6-5 and 290lbs. Needs to break a trend of disappointing Trojan prospects who get a lot of hype but sink like a stone. He’s a playmaker but needs to get stronger, can be pushed back working inside.

Jameis Winston (QB, Florida State)
Great competitor on the field, a playmaker and gun slinger. Yet there are so many question marks. Off the field he’s a disaster zone. He needs to grow up and show some responsibility. Can he quicken up a slow release and avoid distractions?

Brandon Scherff (T, Iowa)
Typical Iowa offensive lineman. Well coached, blue collar attitude. Just goes out and plays. 6-5 and 315lbs. No nonsense offensive lineman who excels in the run game. Not quite as adept against speed but will make a great right tackle.

Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
Gets banged up too much and his personality is pretty aloof. Awkward public speaker. And yet on the field an absolute beast when healthy. Not many running backs with his size return kicks for touchdowns. Big time prospect if he stays focused, avoids injuries and matures.

Marcus Peters (CB, Washington)
Long, physical corner who played Brandin Cooks as well as anyone in the PAC-12 last season. Loads of potential and along with Shaq Thompson and Hau’oli Kikaha — could make the Huskies draft-relevant in 2015.

Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson)
Explosive first step, great burst off the snap. Not the biggest or strongest but teams love guys like this that fly around the edge. Would’ve been a high pick this year in a disappointing class for edge rushers.

Honorable mentions

Landon Collins (S, Alabama) — could easily be the next big defensive back prospect off the Nick Saban production line.

Randy Gregory (DE, Nebraska) — former JUCO transfer, 10.5 sacks last season and has the length (6-6) to be a big time threat off the edge.

Chaz Green (T, Florida) — has all the tools to be a great left tackle but injuries and inconsistent play haven’t helped.

Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama) — under sized and had a disappointing 2013 season. Natural catcher though but is he another Woods/Lee?

T.J. Yeldon (RB, Alabama) — playmaker who fumbles way too much. Ball security must improve.

Denzel Perryman (LB, Miami) — exciting linebacker who received a third round grade this year but could be set for a big rise.

Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin) — missed a trick by not declaring this year. Looks like he could be a solid player at the next level.

Doriel Green-Beckham (WR, Unknown) — kicked out of Missouri. Major character red flags. And yet immensely talented. Has time to bounce back.

Brett Hundley (QB, UCLA) — did the right thing not declaring for 2014 and needs time on the field at UCLA. Makes too many mistakes.

Cassius Marsh could be Seattle’s next day three diamond

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

Cassius Marsh could be the next big steal in Seattle

Cassius Marsh might be my favourite pick from Seattle’s 2014 draft class. We’ll get onto why in a moment. First there’s this…

Justin Britt #68

Cassius Marsh #91

Kevin Norwood #81

Eric Pinkins #39

Paul Richardson #10

I’m not sure if this is deliberate or not, but these are the roster numbers issued to some of the rookies. Britt has been given Breno Giacomini’s old number, Marsh gets Chris Clemons’ #91, Norwood will sport Golden Tate’s #81 and Pinkins gets Brandon Browner’s #39.

Richardson gets the #10 jersey — the same as DeSean Jackson. Coincidence? Perhaps not.

Obviously there’s no way of confirming if this is some kind of motivational tool to the class of 2014. Either way it’s a nice touch. It’ll be ever nicer if the Seahawks can find the new Gicomini/Clemons/Tate/Browner/Jackson from this group.

Let’s get into Marsh. I had to do him next because of all the videos I’ve watched since the draft, his play stood out the most.

He might have Clemons’ number, but he looks like a very different player. I doubt the Seahawks plan to turn him into a LEO. He can play end, but he’s really effective working inside. He’s a really versatile rusher and will probably line up in multiple different looks.

And there’s so much to like about his play.

I had to go back and double check his bench press number from the combine. Fourteen reps? Seriously? Because on tape you’d never guess it. He’s a strong dude. I’m not sure what he weighed in 2012 but he held his own working inside — more so than 2013 when I believe he dropped weight. He has strong hands, he holds his position and doesn’t get pushed around. He can disengage and work to the ball carrier. Perhaps the most exciting thing about Marsh is what he can do when he builds that core strength. If he can get even stronger, watch out.

Part of the excitement is built around his already sound hand technique. Sometimes I think it’s a major advantage to not be an elite speed rusher in college. If you just consistently beat guys off the edge with speed you don’t really have to develop your technique. If you’re jumping snaps and rounding the corner to be effective — what are you really learning? At the next level it’s so much harder to do. Tackles are quicker and stronger. You need to be able to mix it up, get off a block, counter. There’s been so many first round defensive end busts in recent years and in nearly every case it’s an athlete with little technique who just can’t adapt.

Marsh is a 4.89 runner at 252lbs, so he doesn’t have blazing long speed. He had a 1.66 ten-yard split — the same as Kony Ealy. It’s a pretty good get off but nothing special. Marcus Smith — a first rounder — had a 1.57. Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack both had 1.56’s. Smith and Mack both weighed 251lbs at the combine, while Clowney was 266lbs. You can see why he went first overall and the difference between the first and fourth rounds right there.

(Incidentally, Jackson Jeffcoat had a 1.60 ten yard split in the one forty he ran at the combine. He managed that at 247lbs.)

In college Marsh had to find other ways to be effective. He couldn’t rely on pure speed.

Hand technique is the #1 underrated characteristic in defensive ends for me. It doesn’t get talked about enough. You need a few strings to your bow. Cliff Avril is an exceptional pass rusher because he has 4.51 speed off the edge and he’s also incredibly strong with good hands. He can bull rush, he can get off a block. He can swim and rip. He sets up blockers and you really see him convert speed to power. He has a great lateral pursuit. He’s close to the perfect package.

Marsh will never have Avril’s burst but he’s well on the way to ticking the other boxes. His hand placement is excellent — whether it’s gaining leverage working inside, setting up for a club/rip off the edge or just using power to shove a lineman into the pocket. He loves a scrap — he loves to initiate contact and win 1v1 battles. Even when he over extends and stretches, he seems to generate a fair amount of power. Again, if he can get even stronger you could be looking at a really special player.

You’ve got to love his motor which never stops. When the play isn’t coming right at him, he’ll disengage and go looking for the ball carrier. He doesn’t seem to tire easily and he keeps going. You can tell he loves the game, loves the competition. He constantly plays on the edge of what’s legal — he’s pretty much the Breno Giacomini of defense. He’ll take some frustrating penalties but in the grand scheme of things he’s having an impact.

Out of all the day three picks Seattle made on Saturday — Marsh is the one that I’m most looking forward to watching during the pre-season. When he gets pro-guidance and can concentrate exclusively on development, he could make immediate and drastic improvements to what was already a pretty solid college career. It’s going to be hard work. He didn’t look in great shape at the combine despite slimming down to 252lbs. He could gain another 10-15lbs and look better for it. If he’s prepared to put in the graft he could be an exciting player.

Arizona State (2012)

There are two big plays in this game that really show what Marsh is all about. The main one comes at 3:06. He’s lined up over the A gap, initiates contact with the left guard and drives him into his own end zone. The quarterback senses the pressure immediately and panics — Marsh disengages from the guard and closes in on the sack/safety. The QB desperately tries to get rid of the football and throws an interception, turning the ball over in his own red zone.

Marsh didn’t record a stat for this play but it was all on him. Brute power to drive back the guard, the ability to disengage and force the mistake/turnover. This is brilliant, textbook interior rush play — befitting any of the top three techniques. It’s not always about pure speed and exploding through gaps — in the NFL you need plays like this where you just win in combat.

At 0:26 we see another example where he keeps his feet moving to drive back the center into the quarterback, again collapsing the pocket. He shows active, violent hands. I’m a sucker for interior rush plays like this where you drive the lineman back into his own QB. Speed’s fun to watch, but this is just a great exhibition of power and flat out wanting it more. It’s about desire.

Look at those two plays and remember this is a 14-reps guy on the bench. Now imagine what a summer in the weight room at the VMAC could lead to.

It’s not just about power either. Look at the quick hands at 4:12 and 5:03. If you want to see Marsh’s daft penalty for the game, head to 4:30 for a late hit out of bounds. He plays almost the entire game inside and doesn’t get blown up until 5:16 on 4th and 1 — a situation he wouldn’t face at the next level (not working inside, anyway).

I watched two other games — New Mexico from 2013 and Houston from 2012. It’s not all great. When he played at a lighter weight last season he didn’t appear to be quite as stout in the middle. He’s not an explosive edge rusher — he’s more of an effort and motor guy. He’s never going to be Clemons working the edge and putting up 11-12 sacks a year.

But the Seahawks have got something to work with here. Something to really develop. A player who can work against the run off the edge, who will provide some pressure at end. A player who can slip inside and hold his own while providing some pocket-collapsing ability even on early downs.

Yet more than anything he’s just a fantastic competitor. A really sparky, zoned in brawler who isn’t scared to mix it up. He could develop into another strong leader and personality for this defense. This first summer is vital though. If he can improve physically and put in some big work in the weight room — you could see an impact even in year one as part of the rotation. He has to make the most of every day leading into camp.

Providing he does this — if I was putting money on the next day three diamond this team uncovers, it’d go on Marsh.

And oh yeah, he can even take the occasional snap on offense too as a red zone receiver/tight end.

Paul Richardson — the plan, the pick & the tape

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

It’s not often a pick is tipped by an existing member of the team on local radio, but it emphasises Paul Richardson’s fit in Seattle that Doug Baldwin name checked him in an interview on Friday.

Fast forward to 12:52:

I recall hearing this and thinking, “nah”. The Seahawks needed a bigger receiver, not another lithe 5-11/6-0 type. This was all about a jump ball specialist with a great wingspan — and a red zone threat.

That’s where I/we went wrong this year. And it’s why Baldwin wasn’t disclosing any inside information in that piece — he just knew better than us. As a Seattle receiver he knows what they want, what they look for. He admits they’d like to get a bigger receiver, but they also want rare athleticism, shiftiness and a lack of stiffness. Pete Carroll made the same point himself in Friday’s press conference. They love size at receiver, but it’s tough to match up size with quickness.

With hindsight — and every draft is a learning curve — that would’ve almost certainly made Cody Latimer a much less likely option than we thought. Latimer is big and athletic, he makes tough catches and he run blocks superbly. John Elway admitted in an NFL Network interview that Denver loved his run blocking. In many ways he did fit Seattle.

But he isn’t shifty or smooth. He is a little stiff. He doesn’t glide like Paul Richardson.

Any big wide out they’re going to take better be able to move. They can’t take an age to get up through the gears. It has to be initial explosion and not gradual acceleration. They need to be able to explode out of their breaks and get open. It’s clearer now that they’re looking for guys who do it all — not just high point the football and compete.

Ultimately size doesn’t matter. Being something akin to the complete package does. Speed, hands, length, routes, big plays. Even then you need to match it all with the character, drive and determination to fit into Seattle’s intense locker room. The weak won’t survive. Schneider’s said it. Baldwin said it in that KJR interview. Carroll’s taking the ‘always compete’ mantra to a new level. I’ve never heard a team talk so openly in this way before. Multiple warnings that you better go hard or go home.

Schneider pointed out before the draft that they used a lot of visits this year to see how players acted in the VMAC. How did they approach the staff? They had meetings with the club psychologist to test whether they were mentally strong enough to deal with being ‘all-in’. This goes beyond thorough. Schneider suggested it was in part due to mistakes made in the past on players who didn’t have the will to succeed in this ultra-competitive environment.

Again in hindsight you look back and recall listening to certain players speak. Martavis Bryant is shy and awkward in interviews. Cody Latimer isn’t too dissimilar — he’s not a confident public speaker. Then you put on an interview with Richardson. He’s focused and willing to talk. Confident without being cocky. There’s a determined look in his eye.

He appeared on the NFL Network hours before Seattle took him at #45:

You might ask whether it’s too difficult to judge a man’s character based on media interviews. I’d suggest if you’re uncomfortable talking to a middle aged journalist on a practise field you’re unlikely to ooze confidence sat in front of a NFL Head Coach, a GM and several scouts. Richardson filled every criteria — including the character test — and that’s why, according to Schneider, they were willing to take him at #32 without the Minnesota trade.

That’s not to say the pick will necessarily be a roaring success. Not all of Seattle’s ideal fits have panned out. They’ve had some major success stories (obviously) but also a few misses too. There’s a danger sometimes in placing too much faith in what you believe is a perfect fit. Tim Ruskell was so zoned into what he wanted (senior, big school, zero red flags) he forgot the most important thing — adding good players to your team. You can lose sight over what essentially makes a good roster. Pure talent. Seattle’s current front office aren’t anywhere close to Ruskell in terms of vision — but it seems they too are starting to become quite restrictive in terms of what they’re looking for.

The approach to the offensive line is a good example of this. It appears Tom Cable has the ultimate say on who he wants/doesn’t want. And that’s why you see a guy like Justin Britt going in round two. Cable likes his wrestling background, attitude and upside. He likes how he matched up with Jadeveon Clowney. But he’s a player Mike Mayock had in round five based on the tape. If Britt succeeds it’ll validate the plan. If he fails, an offensive line that ranked poorly over the last couple of years could get even worse having lost Breno Giacomini to the Jets. And some would argue there appeared to be more talented players on the board.

It’ll be fascinating to see if they can keep the hit rate going over the next few years.

Yet at the same time, they’re only going after what has worked so far. Ruskell’s vision wasn’t built on a foundation of success. It was just personal preference. Schneider and Carroll are being restrictive because guys like Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner, Doug Baldwin and others are so amped, driven and focused. They live, breathe and sleep football. Searching for more of the same, in this instance, is totally justifiable. Not that they need any seal of approval from me.

*******************************************************

Let’s get into the tape.

Richardson didn’t have much impact against USC in what ended up being a convincing blowout victory for the Trojans. But there is one area I want to touch on.

He’s an excellent route runner as we’ll see later on. But in this game two snaps were a little frustrating. At 0:51 he runs a laboured route, giving it away too easily and almost jogging into the break. The defender has an easy read and he needs to do a better job here selling the deep route before snapping back inside. Get the corner turned. Otherwise he’ll break passes up like this all day.

At 2:09 we see a similar issue. He fails to get separation over the middle and ends up well covered on a crosser. These routes always give an advantage to the receiver if they can sell it in the break. Once again he fails to do that. The quarterback hits him in stride but the presence of the defender behind Richardson leads to a soft incompletion.

This is better:

He engages the route and almost gives the impression he’ll be run blocking. He then darts inside leaving the defender on his heels to get a first down. More of this, less of the routes we saw above.

Cal plays a really soft coverage on Richardson in this game — allowing him to make four easy catches in the first five minutes. The cushion’s too big in zone (see 0:21) and when the corner plays up at the line (0:29) they don’t do anything to disrupt his route. It sets up a deep shot at 1:08 where he gets separation with pure speed down the middle the field. If the quarterback puts a bit more on this it’s a touchdown. Instead it’s just a big gain. But again it really is an appalling coverage job. Enormous cushion, watch him run past you and struggle to recover. Poor defense.

We’ll see later on in the Arizona tape that you just can’t afford to do this against Richardson. If he gets a cushion he’ll just run away from you and find the open spot downfield. This won’t change in the NFL and he’ll draw attention from the free safety on many snaps as a consequence. His big task at the next level will be dealing with press — but there’s also enough evidence on tape where he’s shifty enough to stutter-step and elude contact.

The best play on the Cal tape where he actually wins vs being gifted an easy catch comes at 2:55. Colorado lines up two receivers to the left including Richardson. They both run downfield with #87 getting passed off to the safety by the outside corner. Richardson sticks his foot into the ground and drives to the sideline really doing a good job selling the deep ball. He’s wide open when he makes the catch — and this time it’s on technique and not a terrible defensive scheme.

He also makes a nice sideline grab at 3:53. Good route, nice catch in a tight spot. Just gets one foot in. It follows a failed deep shot on 3:43 where Richardson runs away from the safety and the QB just misses. He can certianly take the top off a defense that’s for sure. Russell Wilson won’t miss shots like this.

There are two plays that really stand out against Oregon (three if you count his touchdown throw at 0:43) and one ugly drop.

First the positives. Richardson’s first catch is another example of solid route running. He starts in the slot and shapes to run to the right sideline. He then turns and runs a go-route downfield. The corner completely bites on the outside move and he can’t recover. Richardson’s wide open when the quarterback throws for a big gain. This is a very technically accomplished play.

At 2:11 he makes a superb one-handed catch. Not only does he track the ball over his shoulder and secure it while leaping in mid-air — he’s also being dragged back on a clear pass interference by the corner. I remember watching this game live and thinking it was a catch-of-the-season candidate.

Sadly there’s a bad drop to even it out. At 3:14 he does the hard part — shaking off the corner with ease and rushing down the right sideline. He’s wide open. The throw this time is on the money. It’s an easy catch for a huge gain. And he drops it. Whether he takes his eye off the ball or hears footsteps I’m not sure. It’s a poor drop. On the plus side the little stutter-step to get open was textbook receiver play — but you’ve got to have that one.

He does have a second drop in the game at 4:08. The QB is hit while he throws and the ball loops kindly to Richardson. Again, he just drops the ball. There’s no excuse because he’s under no pressure.

There were two issues in the USC tape running over the middle. Not so here. At 0:25 he runs a much better route inside creating separation and making a difficult grab. It sets up the kind of play that warrants comparisons to DeSean Jackson.

At 0:38 he’s given a huge cushion and he just explodes into the open space downfield. As soon as the corner turns (his cousin as it happens, Shaq Richardson) it’s over. He has to turn because he fears the go route down the sideline. As soon as Richardson sees the switch he cuts across the middle. The corner can’t recover. This is the D-Jax style play. It’s what he’s famous for. And when he makes the catch he finishes it — running clear into the end zone. Hopefully Richardson will force pro-corners to respect his deep speed in the same way. If he can get them turned, he’ll work the middle. If they don’t turn he’ll beat them in a foot race and compete for the ball. This is a great example of technique and explosive athleticism working together for a big play.

This was a pretty spectacular game for Richardson. At 2:24 he makes an acrobatic one handed catch similar to the one Percy Harvin made against Minnesota last season. It’s tight coverage, he palms it up in the air with one hand and comes down with the grab.

He also hurt his lower leg/ankle in this game and didn’t play most of the final quarter.

*******************************************************

I’m not big on posting highlight videos to show what a player is capable of — it’s a small sample of extremely positive plays. But I also think the four games available online don’t really do his playmaking quality justice.

As you can see he’s a big play artist. The Seahawks love that, along with the speed.

*******************************************************

I can see why they wanted to add a deep threat to the offense. For all his athletic brilliance Percy Harvin has never been a true downfield receiver. He does his damage with YAC and getting the ball in his hands quickly. He’s going to operate mostly in the slot and the backfield — getting the ball on a quick hitter and going to work or using the jet sweep/end around’s.

By adding Richardson you’re adding another weapon the defense has to account for. You’ve got Marshawn Lynch running the ball so do you drop the safety into the box? You’ve got Percy Harvin lined up in the backfield drawing attention. Russell Wilson’s running ability adds another dimension. And now you’ve got a genuine deep threat to keep a defense honest. Until now the Seahawks never really had a true field-stretching playmaker.

He’s probably not going to be a 1000 yard receiver — in the same way Baldwin, Tate and Rice never topped that mark in Seattle. Harvin will get the opportunity if he stays healthy because you’ve got to feed him the ball. Richardson isn’t a production machine in the waiting. But he will make chunk plays and his mere presence on the field will make life easier for the other weapons on the offense.

It’s a thoroughly understandable pick. Not the orthodox split end we expected but the thinking behind the selection is clear.

Positives

— Fantastic speed, glides downfield and has similar physical skills to DeSean Jackson

— Technically gifted, knows how to get the corner turned and use that to his advantage, explosive out of his breaks most of the time

— Catches the ball away from his body with relative ease

— Despite a lack of size he competes for the ball, good leaping ability and clear evidence on tape that he’ll try to high point the football

— Driven personality fits the team

— Even if he’s not making a play, his presence can help keep a defense honest

Negatives

— Doesn’t drop many passes but the ones he does spill tend to be easily avoidable

— Will need to show he can avoid press at the next level, might have games where he’s shoved around and can’t back down, quick feet and shiftiness will help him avoid contact

— Very little experience as a return man so immediate impact could be limited

— Small hands (sub 9 inch) that aren’t the strongest, good ball skills but doesn’t absorb the football

— Even beyond his rookie season, Richardson’s role could be fairly limited if he isn’t making big plays or acting as a decoy

Kevin Norwood could be a consolation prize for Seattle

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Kevin Norwood could be a target on day three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fast forward to 1:41 in the video below:

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

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

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

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

Fast forward to 2:48 in the video below:

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

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

Norwood ticks two big boxes for the Seahawks.

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

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

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

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

The case for the Seahawks considering Dominique Easley at #32

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Dominique Easley -- leader, pass rusher, explosive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron Donald — 32 5/8 inches in length.

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

Ask Russell Wilson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*** Update ***