Archive for the ‘Scouting Report’ Category

Friday notes: Is Shon Coleman the best tackle in college?

Friday, October 16th, 2015

Shon Coleman is having a fantastic 2015 season

You hear a lot about Ronnie Stanley, Taylor Decker, Jack Conklin and a few others.

Not enough people are talking about Auburn offensive tackle Shon Coleman.

That’s a surprise given his amazing backstory (Coleman beat cancer before winning a starting job with Auburn). He’s certainly making up for lost time in 2015. For me there’s no doubt Coleman warrants a high first round grade and he might even be the best offensive tackle in college football.

He has everything you want in a NFL starting OT. He’s too powerful for college defensive linemen — when he locks on it’s over. He doesn’t get beat with the bull rush. He drives people off the ball in short yardage situations. He has that nasty element to his game you want to see — and he LOVES to get to the second level. He can kick-slide with fluidity, takes good angles and he isn’t troubled by speed off the edge. He has a very natural shuffle and mirror and he maintains balance at all times.

I’ve watched several Auburn games this season and I’m struggling to find many flaws.

He’s a monster.

Last night against Kentucky it was more of the same and another masterclass. He played both left and right tackle (and showed no trouble transitioning between the two). For the first two drives he began protecting the blindside and moved to the right side in the red zone. On both occasions Auburn ran to the right and scored touchdowns. On one red zone block he drove a defender deep into the end zone and stuck him on his backside (and let him know about it too).

With 8:39 remaining in the first quarter Kentucky’s #91 shapes to stunt inside from the edge but goes on the outside. Coleman’s kick slide at left tackle is excellent, judging the angle perfectly. If #91 went inside Coleman was just going to stand up and shut him down. He goes on the outside and Coleman doesn’t break sweat with the counter. He engages at pad level and it’s over. He stones #91 dead and finishes the block. He’s just too powerful — #91 can’t get away. He can’t even get his hands up to offer a counter. It’s an absolute pasting as a 1v1 match-up. Auburn’s freshman quarterback has all the time in the world to stand in the pocket and throw downfield for a 41-yard gain.

With 3:21 left in the second half Coleman is lined up at right tackle. From the snap he darts to the second level and connects with the middle linebacker, creating a canyon sized hole for the running back to convert a 2nd and 4 into a first down. On the same drive with 3:05 left in the half, Coleman again explodes to the second level and hammers the middle linebacker, driving him backwards ten yards. The rest of the O-line gets minimal push and it’s a short 2-3 yard gain for the running back. It was funny to see one white Auburn jersey so far downfield, having destroying the linebacker.

His overall technique has improved every single week. He’s delivering a powerful jolt to the chest on most blocks, keeping the defender in front. The footwork is masterful — he’s the prototypical dancing bear. There’s plenty of attitude to his play — he chirps at defenders after successful plays. Coleman frequently puts a guy on the deck, finishing the block.

I’m convinced he can play anywhere on the line. He might start at right tackle and move to the left. He’d be a superb guard. Shon Coleman could be the best 2016 eligible player nobody talks about. He could be the best O-liner in next years class. Coleman is the real deal — and has to be on the radar for any Seahawks fan interested in the draft. They’ll be lucky if they have a chance to select this guy.

Tomorrow’s game to watch

The game of the day for me is Ole Miss at Memphis. This is a major opportunity for Tigers quarterback Paxton Lynch to show he’s the best in the 2016 eligible class — superior to Jared Goff and co.

Lynch has really impressed so far this season. He’s yet to throw a touchdown (he’s had a couple of close calls) and he’s been generally very accurate. He has the kind of arm you’d expect for a 6-5, 235lbs quarterback but he also throws with nice touch and varies his throwing speed. Most impressive is his mobility — he runs the read option with relative ease and is a threat in the running game.

Teams will look at the quarterback class overall and pick holes with every prospect on the board. There’s no Marcus Mariota here, or even a Jameis Winston (sound tape but with character flaws). Every prospect is a project or just average.

Lynch has a skill-set, however, that a team can work with. He can be the big pocket passer but he’s not a statue. He can be elusive, he can run the read-option. It’s not unfair to suggest he could be a poor man’s Cam Newton.

Like Shon Coleman he’s not generating much publicity — but a big performance against a team filled with future NFL players will change that. The only chance Memphis has in this game is if Lynch keeps them in it. Memphis are unbeaten but their defense has conceded a lot of points. Their quarterback has simply scored more.

Ole Miss are a threat to put +40 on the board with Laquon Treadwell back to full speed and a supporting cast good enough to make up for an average quarterback. Lynch will have to be at his best to put pressure on the Rebels and keep this from getting out of hand. He’s good enough to do it, even while facing the likes of Robert Nkemdiche.

He doesn’t have to win the game to make a statement. He just needs to play well. Continue to make big plays, continue to throw accurate passes and try to avoid turnovers. If he makes this a game it’ll go a long way to cementing his place as the top QB for 2016. Don’t be surprised if he’s the toast of social media on Saturday afternoon.

Why not also watch LSU vs Florida? Compare cornerback Tre’Davious White to Vernon Hargreaves. One will be a top-15 pick (White). One will not go in the first round (Hargreaves). My prediction.

2016 NFL Draft: Updated top-31 watch list

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015

Why 31? There are 31 first round picks in the 2016 NFL draft.

#1 Joey Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
His production is down on previous seasons but he’s still the best overall prospect available for this draft class. Endless motor and converts speed to power with ease. Similar to Chris Long who went #2 overall.

#2 Robert Nkemdiche (DE, Ole Miss)
A freak of nature who earlier this year scored a touchdown on a catch and run down the right sideline — moving like a tight end. Nkemdiche also scored a rushing TD. Ignore the production. He will destroy the combine.

#3 Laremy Tunsil (T, Ole Miss)
He’ll be allowed to begin his 2015 season on October 24th vs Texas A&M after the NCAA sanctioned a seven-game ban for accepting benefits. A very rounded blindside blocker if a little sloppy in the midriff.

#4 Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU)
The complete package. Excellent athlete, adept technique and wonderful character. Was awarded the coveted #18 jersey by the Tigers for this season. Has scored a TD on a punt return. Highly underrated and teams will love, love, love Tre’Davious White.

#5 Jaylon Smith (LB, Notre Dame)
Rangy athlete and the modern day NFL linebacker. Can play multiple positions, fly to the ball and go sideline-to-sideline. Very few limitations and will prove to be a safe pick at the next level in a draft without major star power.

#6 Paxton Lynch (QB, Memphis)
Teams will assess this quarterback class and ultimately could decide Lynch is the best bet. He’s 6-5 and around 230lbs but runs the read-option effectively. He’s accurate. He doesn’t turn the ball over. He throws with touch. If he continues his 2015 form he will be the guy.

#7 Laquon Treadwell (WR, Ole Miss)
Ignore the naysayers — Treadwell is the real deal. Crisp routes, competitive in the air, capable of the spectacular and a reliable #1 target in the making. He’s bounced back effectively from last years serious leg injury and looks every bit a future top target.

#8 Cameron Sutton (CB, Tennessee)
While the Vols have had an agonising season for the most part, Sutton has been their shining light. Teams daren’t take him on. On the few occasions he’s been tested, Sutton has looked as smooth as silk in coverage. He’s a great athlete with ideal size and length.

#9 Taylor Decker (T, Ohio State)
The Ohio State O-line hasn’t dominated as much as people expected and I’m going to adjust expectations for Decker as a consequence. At the very least he’ll be an accomplished right tackle in the NFL. Can he play the left side? How athletic is he?

#10 Shon Coleman (T, Auburn)
Having fought cancer, teams will do the necessary health checks. They won’t need to check his heart, determination or love for the game. Coleman puts defensive ends on their ass. Like Decker he might not play left tackle — but he’d be tremendous inside.

#11 Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State)
He’s had a couple of rough outings but still managed to make plays. He has the entire skill set to be a very productive starting NFL cornerback. He will take chances — but he’s a playmaker. You can iron out the creases.

#12 Jack Conklin (T, Michigan State)
Another player who might move to the right side like Decker — but he’s Michigan State’s most talented player. Good enough in pass protection at the college level — Conklin has also improved in the run game. Former walk-on with basketball roots.

#13 Michael Thomas (WR, Ohio State)
Very accomplished receiver with size and speed to burn. The big playmaker for Ohio State this season. Embarrassed Kendall Fuller in the opening week with a stunning stop-and-go route. High-points the ball, gets behind a defense. Superb talent.

#14 Reggie Ragland (LB, Alabama)
Physical, pounding inside linebacker born to play in the AFC North. Hits hard and does a better than expected job at the line and working through traffic. Another big-time linebacker off the Alabama production line.

#15 Will Redmond (CB, Mississippi State)
Talented senior cornerback at 6-1 and decent size. Reads a quarterback well with good instincts to play the ball. Willing tackler but more of a coverage specialist.

#16 Tyler Boyd (WR, Pittsburgh)
Percy Harvin-lite. Not the same kind of athlete as Harvin but could be used in a similar way. Just get the ball in his hands. Has a chance to be special in the right offense. Keep an eye on him.

#17 Su’a Cravens (S, USC)
Every week he seems to find a way to make an impact play. Not many safety’s record his volume of TFL’s. Has the size to play strong safety but the instinct and coverage skills to be more than just a physical force.

#18 Emmanuel Ogbah (DE, Oklahoma State)
It’s difficult to ignore his production (7.5 sacks in 2015) but there are still parts of his game that need improving. A little raw like Ziggy Ansah and perhaps a little less freaky — but he has a shot at round one.

#19 Kendall Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)
Would be higher but for the injury. Fuller has the bloodlines and looks like the more talented brother. His college debut was a sight to behold, flashing his natural talent. If he heals properly he will be a first or second round pick in 2015.

#20 Germain Ifedi (T, Texas A&M)
A mountain of a man but similar to previous A&M left tackles hasn’t always looked settled in his new position. Could easily be a big riser in the post-season.

#21 Darron Lee (LB, Ohio State)
Perhaps Ohio State’s most underrated big talent. Lee roams around the field like Ryan Shazier used to. He isn’t close to Shazier’s unreal speed and athleticism — but he has enough to go in round one.

#22 Jalen Ramsey (CB/S, Florida State)
I’m not the big fan a lot of other people are. He’s playing as a tweener, lining up at safety and corner. The tape at corner isn’t fantastic. It’s OK. I think he ends up at safety full time.

#23 DeForest Buckner (DE, Oregon)
Not the same kind of upside as Arik Armstead but possibly a more accomplished player. He had a couple of sacks against Washington State to establish some momentum. Let’s see if he can finish the year strongly.

#24 Braxton Miller (WR, Ohio State)
The best player in space? Possibly. The Buckeyes aren’t using him as much as they could — but Miller is a genuine playmaker and a threat to make major gains on every snap. Watch his juke against Maryland. Watch his spin move against Virginia Tech. Watch him catch the ball. Miller is just getting started.

#25 Jared Goff (QB, California)
Capable of beautiful, surgical passes — but also capable of ugly turnovers and decision making. He has a shot at the next level but is he going to go very early or in the Teddy Bridgewater/Derek Carr range?

#26 Eric Striker (LB, Oklahoma)
People knock Striker because he’s small for a linebacker and big for a safety. The guy makes plays. He has the record for sacks by a Sooners linebacker. He gets everywhere. He’s physical and an athlete. Teams will love him. Players will love playing with him.

#27 Adolphus Washington (DT, Ohio State)
He scored a touchdown against Western Michigan and just draws attention up front with an active motor. He has the versatility to play end or tackle. He defends the run but also has the first-step quickness to penetrate.

#28 De’Runnya Wilson (WR, Mississippi State)
He has some character flags and the production isn’t enormous — but there just aren’t many human beings that can do what De’Runnya Wilson does. He’s a basketball player at receiver who makes the tough grabs. Has some concentration drops but so did Kelvin Benjamin.

#29 A’Shawn Robinson (DT, Alabama)
Hasn’t been anything more than average so far. Defensive tackles fell last year and you have to wonder if he’s anything more than a solid starter? Robinson and UCLA’s Kenny Clark could easily be judged as second round options.

#30 Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)
The thing that maybe hurts Elliott? The loaded class of RB’s expected in 2017. He’s averaging 6.9 yards a carry and does everything well. Whether he’s a feature runner at the next level remains to be seen. He might fall to a good team.

#31 Myles Jack (LB, UCLA)
I think he will go in the top-45 despite the injury. There’s a lot to like about Jack — who played some running back as well as linebacker at UCLA. If he heals well pre-draft he can go earlier than this projection.

The overrated four (in my view)

#1 Vernon Hargreaves (CB, Florida)
Like several previous high-profile Florida cornerbacks, there are some questions. His play can be erratic, especially his tackling, and there are just better cornerbacks available in this draft.

#2 Ronnie Stanley (T, Notre Dame)
At no point have I been truly convinced by Stanley and from what I’ve seen this year — he’s trending downwards if anything. I just don’t see a competent NFL lineman. He has time to show more.

#3 Cardale Jones (QB, Ohio State)
The last thing he should be thinking is ‘NFL’. Go back to Ohio State. Mature. Get some games. You’re not ready.

#4 Connor Cook (QB, Michigan State)
A thoroughly average passer without any special traits. Throws too many contested passes and rarely throws a guy open. Has mediocre games against sub-standard opponents. ‘Big’ win against Oregon now looking a little more routine.

Two new prospects to monitor — Lynch & Hill

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

Paxton Lynch (QB, Memphis)
A player who has really grown into a productive passer. Excelled in a recent televised game against Cincinnati. Lynch is listed at 6-7 but is nearer 6-5 and a sturdy 230-240lbs. He’s incredibly mobile despite his size and runs the read option. He’s making difficult throws all over the field and passing with touch and venom equally. He’s yet to turn the ball over in 2015 (although he’s had a couple of close calls). In a down year for quarterbacks teams are going to be looking at the options and working out who is the best projection. In 2013 the Bills decided it was E.J. Manuel. In 2014 the Jags plucked for Blake Bortles. Any team needing a quarterback is going to look at the collection and Lynch might be the guy who ends up going a lot earlier than people realise today. It could easily be between Lynch and Jared Goff. Connor Cook is distinctly average, Cardale Jones shouldn’t even be thinking about the NFL and Christian Hackenburg needs to go to a team where he can sit and develop. Lynch will also need time — but he’s a prospect teams will be excited by. He has incredible upside and very few limitations.

Demetrius Hill (DE, USF)
6-2, 270lbs end or tackle — Hill mysteriously disappeared from spring training and it’s still not clear what happened (he mentions a family issue). After a solid first season after transferring from the JUCO ranks — a pro-career seemed a million miles away. Thankfully he returned and while teams will do their homework on his mindset — Hill’s on-field performance has been impressive. He’s mobile enough to work the edge and win with athleticism but he’s also got the size to dip inside and work at tackle. He’s even been dropping into coverage and acting as a spy for mobile quarterbacks. He’s notching TFL’s and has a knack for collecting fumbles. Don’t expect him to reach the early rounds but there’s plenty to work with here and he’ll provide a nice rotational cog for a pro-team with the added versatility of being able to play multiple positions.

CFB weekend notes: Fournette #1 in 2017

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

– Leonard Fournette (RB, LSU) could be the #1 pick in the 2017 draft. Who cares if he’s a running back? We’re talking about a generational talent with zero flaws. He runs away from DB’s at 6-1 and 230lbs. He has brilliant vision, a second gear, the power to drive through and break tackles and the hands to be an effective force in the passing game. He’s 20-years-old and already looks like he’s pushing 30. Against Syracuse he was unstoppable — recording 244 yards and two touchdowns. He had another +80-yard scoring run called back on an illegal formation penalty. Physically there just hasn’t been a player entering the league with this amount of talent in over a decade. He’s on a different level to even Adrian Peterson. Whoever has the #1 pick in 2017 will need a good reason to pass on Fournette.

— Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU) is already the best corner in college football and was given the coveted #18 LSU jersey this year. Against Syracuse he showed he’s a special teams threat too with a 69-yard punt return for a score. The Tigers have quite the production line for CB’s. White is the next great one and should be a top-ten pick in 2016. Water-tight coverage, a good enough tackler in the open-field, fantastic athlete, incredibly respected by his team mates. NFL GM’s and coaches are going to want to work with this guy badly.

— Vernon Hargeaves III (CB, Florida) on the other hand is tremendously overrated. A highly touted prospect who started early, Hargreaves is living off reputation. In Saturday’s flukey win over Tennessee, Hargreaves missed several open-field tackles and became a liability. Florida is developing quite a reputation for over-hyped corner prospects (with Joe Haden the obvious exception). Hargreaves’ future is likely as a slot corner project and unless he impresses during interviews at the combine (and runs well) he might be fortunate to go on day one in a loaded class for corners.

— Robert Nkemdiche (DE, Ole Miss) has 0.5 sacks in four games so far — but he should still secure a place in the top-10 of next years draft. Teams will salivate over his athletic potential. If Ziggy Ansah is a top-five pick, it’s safe to place Nkemdiche in that bracket. He’s already scored a tight-end-esque catch-and-run for Ole Miss this year. On Saturday he added a rushing touchdown against Vanderbilt. A bit more production would confirm he’s place among 2016’s elite — but there aren’t many human beings with Nkemdiche’s size and athleticism.

— If Leonard Fournette is the best player in college football and a shoe-in to go very early in 2017 — Myles Garrett (DE, Texas A&M) will be right there with him. Also a true sophomore, Garrett had a crucial sack against Arkansas to force overtime before the Aggies eventually won. Last week he had 3.5 sacks against Nevada and he’s on 6.5 after just four games. He is lightning quick off the edge with ample size (6-5, 260lbs). It’s way too early, but Fournette and Garrett could go #1 and #2 in 2017.

— There were two injury scares this weekend. Darron Lee (LB, Ohio State) left the Buckeyes game against Western Michigan with a leg injury. At the time it looked serious but he did return. Jack Conklin (T, Michigan State) suffered a knee injury playing special teams and it could be serious. Mark Dantonio, a well known misery guts, refused as usual to discuss any injuries after the game. Hopefully it’s just a sprain. Both players are possible (probable?) first round picks in 2016.

— We discussed Jared Goff (QB, California) this week. If he’s going to propel himself beyond comparisons to Brock Osweiler (not unflattering by the way, Osweiler had many plus points) he has to win games against Washington and perform well in the process. Job done this weekend. His first touchdown pass was particularly impressive — off balance, thrown into a tight spot and perfect accuracy. If you want to throw your lot in with any QB eligible for 2016 — this is the guy.

— Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU) and Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State) could be the first two corners off the board in 2016 — but they’ll be well supported in round one. Will Redmond (CB, Mississippi State) showed good instincts to pick off Auburn’s freshman QB in a key SEC win. Cameron Sutton (CB, Tennessee) was tremendous against Florida and the Gators tried their best to avoid throwing his way. Kendall Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech) has the bloodlines and talent to also push himself into day one.

— After a frustrating day against Toledo, Alex Collins (RB, Arkansas) is showing why he could even usurp Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State) to be the top running back in 2016. He ran with purpose against Texas A&M for 151 yards and a score. He has good size and speed — but his best aspects are a physical running style and unmatched cut-back ability. You won’t find a better cut in college football. Given Seattle’s love for one-cut runners, he has to be on our radar as possible Seahawks targets.

Thoughts on Jared Goff & Carson Wentz

Friday, September 25th, 2015

Even at this early stage it’s shaping up to be a draft where linemen dominate the early picks. The talent on the defensive and offensive lines is strong — and there’s a very real possibility there won’t be a quarterback drafted in the first round. Not unless a player emerges to fill that slot, much in the way Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert barged their way into 2011’s top ten.

I spent a bit of time today looking at Cal’s Jared Goff — and he’s probably the best bet for a first frame QB. He has a very natural throwing motion and plenty of arm talent. One of the first things to look for in a quarterback is how comfortable and natural they look throwing the ball. Does it come out nicely with a tight spiral and the necessary velocity? Can they vary the pace and throw with touch?

Seattle’s quarterback opponent on Sunday — Jimmy Clausen — was a classic example of a player with a funky motion who didn’t tick any of the necessary boxes. He had a slingy side-arm release point. Most of his throws were one paced — the downfield stuff was catchable but lacked any real punch. He benefitted a lot from Golden Tate’s ability to high point. Even so — most of Clausen’s throws were screens or extended hand-off’s to the receiver.

It doesn’t always have to be a conventional over-the-top release and the technique doesn’t have to be spot on — but you can usually see when a passer has a very natural throwing style. That’s really the first thing to look for. Then you go into things like the ability to go through progressions etc.

Ryan Tannehill is a good example of a player who threw very naturally but struggled in the next stage of the game — he made two many errors at the line of scrimmage — failing to identify the coverage, throwing blind, turning the ball over. He still makes the same mistakes today.

Goff is a very natural passer who can vary the throwing speed. He can fit it into a tight window in the short game but also has the touch and arm strength to get it deep. He looks comfortable and refined. He’s also surprisingly athletic at 6-4 and 215lbs — he’s elusive to avoid pressure but also a nifty runner in the open field. Goff isn’t Russell Wilson, but if there’s a chance to scramble into space and make a first down he’ll do it.

Is he accurate? Sure. He doesn’t force anything and avoids turnovers. He seems to understand the offense — he doesn’t bail on the call in the face of pressure and know how to be patient in the pocket. There’s a lot to like and very little to quibble about.

He reminded me a little bit of Brock Osweiler. It’s easy to sit here and assume Osweiler is a failure considering he hasn’t played any meaningful football in three-and-a-bit seasons. He was, after all, taken in round two ahead of Russell Wilson who’s been to two Super Bowls in the same period of time. However, Osweiler has been stuck behind Peyton Manning with zero chance of supplanting the incumbent starter.

He may get his chance next season (although he would require a new contract in Denver). John Elway liked him enough to draft him in the early second round as a project and he played pretty well in pre-season.

Like Goff he’s tall and thin with surprising mobility. Osweiler frequently avoided pressure and made gains with his legs. He threw with poise and accuracy in the face of pressure and made several ‘wow’ throws for Arizona State. We’re yet to see Goff deliver some of those same money throws — but there’s still time in 2015. Osweiler threw some of the prettiest passes you’ll see — right into tiny windows under pressure. It’s easy to forget three years on.

Both players also failed (so far in Goff’s case) to propel their team to a new level. Osweiler constantly flashed talent and then made costly mistakes in key games. It wasn’t always turnovers either — drives would stall unnecessarily. He wasn’t a room-tilter or a game-changer in college. He was simply a really talented individual with huge potential.

Goff’s Cal career has followed a similar path — although the supporting cast hasn’t been great. They’re currently 3-0 in a wide open PAC-12 and maybe he’ll be able to elevate his team and therefore his own draft stock in the process? Osweiler was a second-round pick in a year for quarterbacks that included Luck, RGIII, Tannehill, Weeden and Wilson. Goff won’t have that level of competition and could, even by default, find himself in the day-one mix with a good season. Right now a safe second-round grade seems appropriate, just like Osweiler, with a chance to rise.

Keep an eye on North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz. We highlighted him at the start of the season as one to watch. He’s a small school prospect who could really propel his stock (much in the way Joe Flacco did at Delaware or Jimmy Garoppolo at Eastern Illinois).

He’s 6-6 and 235lbs but runs the read-option. Like Goff he’s a surprisingly nimble runner and the QB-keeper is a regular feature in the NDS offense. There’s an awful lot to like about his throwing style — again it’s very natural. He has a good arm, throws with touch when necessary and makes a lot of plays.

There are some issues too. He doesn’t always scan the field like he should do — in the tape below there’s a play where he throws underneath with a wide open receiver streaking downfield for an easy touchdown. Wentz never even looks at him and just goes to his first read. This is the type of thing he’d need to work on at the next level — but it’s fixable.

In a down year for the position don’t be surprised if Wentz ends up being the top rated senior QB.

2016 draft first round candidates (weeks 1 & 2)

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

Tre’Davious White is a special player destined for round one

Some thoughts on the players showing first round potential in the first two weeks of the college football season…

(We also discussed some of these prospects in this weeks edition of the 3000 NFL Mock Draft podcast)

Michael Thomas (WR, Ohio State)
Very quick into his breaks for a big receiver. Combines size (6-3, 210lbs) with plus speed and fluidity as an athlete. Destroyed one of the best cornerbacks in college football (Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller) with a superb stop-and-go move for a long touchdown in week one. Won’t put up gaudy numbers (Urban Meyer’s teams never have a go-to receiver) but very much a first round candidate.

Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU)
The latest top corner off the LSU production line. Jalen Collins headed for the NFL despite an excellent 2014 season because he feared losing his job to the other talented corners at LSU, including White. He was awarded the #18 jersey during the off-season, given annually to the LSU player displaying a selfless attitude while representing the Tigers in a first-class manner both on and off the field. At 5-11 and 191lbs he’s not huge — but he shows great hip flexibility in back-pedal, water tight coverage skills and he plays the ball. Good in run defense and a sound tackler in the open field. He could end up battling Ohio State’s Eli Apple to be the first corner taken. NFL teams will fall over each other for White.

Braxton Miller (WR, Ohio State)
He’s made a smooth transition to receiver. He’s being used in the backfield, in the slot, split out wide. He’ll throw the occasional pass this year. Urban Meyer’s using him in the same way he used Percy Harvin. His first catch against Virginia Tech was a fingertips-to-the-turf snag, he added a terrific sideline grab for a score and had that spin move on a run. Good frame yet tremendously athletic — a genuine game-changer. If he keeps developing there’s no reason why he can’t work into first or second round contention.

De’Runnya Wilson (WR, Mississippi State)
There just aren’t many players with Wilson’s skillset. He’s 6-5 and 215lbs. He’s lean and fast. He’s a typical box-off receiver who uses body control and size to shield cornerbacks. He’s a great weapon to have if you need a short third down conversion, a red zone score or a downfield shot. He’s shown inconsistent hands at times (so did Kelvin Benjamin) but he also has a knack for big plays. There are some off-field question marks but he’s a basketball star playing in the NFL and teams are starting to covet this type of safety net. Impressed against a rock-solid LSU secondary making one acrobatic catch in tight coverage against Tre’Davious White (see above).

Shon Coleman (T, Auburn)
Coleman battled cancer to take his chance at Auburn and against the odds he’s back on the field and performing as well as any offensive lineman in college. Inspiring backstory and never gave up despite combining fighting for his life along with trying to forge a football career. When he gets his hands on you it’s over. Smothering pass-blocker who loves to get to the second level. Can improve his kick-slide technique but there’s a lot to work with. If he isn’t playing left tackle in the NFL he’ll fit anywhere else on the O-line. Occasionally shows a similar aggressive edge to Ereck Flowers.

Jack Conklin (T, Michigan State)
Consistently moved the Oregon D-line to create running lanes on the left side. Worked very well with the left guard. Whether he converts to the NFL as a left tackle remains to be seen but he could easily transition to the right side with plus size and mobility. MSU’s best pro-prospect on a top-four caliber team.

Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State)
Ideal size (6-1, 200lbs) and very competitive. Has a nose for the ball and consistently gets into position to make a play. Another very smooth athlete who can mirror speed receivers and defend against bigger wide outs. Tackling can be a little suspect at times — especially on a weak attempt to bring down the Virginia Tech full back in week one (the play led to a touchdown). He should perform well at the combine and could easily be a top-15 pick.

Jaylon Smith (LB, Notre Dame)
Watch the Texas game. He’s a thoroughly modern, explosive linebacker who can play multiple spots, has the speed to cover and work sideline-to-sideline. With the game moving towards a quicker pace including a lot of stretch runs and inside short-passing — Smith can do it all. There’s every chance he will be a very early pick much like Ryan Shazier in 2014. Has a chance to go high in round one.

Quarterback thoughts

None of the quarterbacks have impressed enough so far to warrant first round talk. Connor Cook (QB, Michigan State) is the same player he was last year. He throws too many contested passes, tends to be wildly erratic at times and has no mobility. Against Oregon he had one ugly interception (overthrowing an open receiver) moments after hurling into double coverage for an incompletion. It seems desperation is forcing people to put him in the first round mix. He is not a day one talent based on what we’ve seen so far.

Cardale Jones (QB, Ohio State) has probably the best arm talent of all the quarterbacks in college football. He throws a pretty spiral with good arm strength. Against Virginia Tech he had a couple of fantastic throws with almost no back-lift. When he’s on form he looks like a very early pick. He’s also surprisingly mobile for his size. However — he remains extremely inexperienced and it shows with some of his decision making. He had a lacklustre game against Hawaii with some wondering if J.T. Barrett would replace him as the starter. Ideally he’d have another year starting in college in 2016. Teams will also ask questions about his maturity and ability to handle the pressure of being a NFL quarterback. Putting your finger to your lips to the Virginia Tech fans from the sideline isn’t a good look. Teams pick up on little things like that when there’s so much focus on the QB position.

Christian Hackenburg (QB, Penn State) is incredibly toolsy and looks the part of a pro-QB. He’s also the victim of a shambolic few years for Penn State. To his credit he didn’t walk away from the team after committing despite all the scandal and then Bill O’Brien’s departure. Even so, it’s not done his career much good. It might be preferable for Hackenburg to get into the league as soon as possible and just sit for a year or two as a developmental quarterback in a pass-friendly scheme. He has the talent. It just needs to be harnessed in the right way. Any team expecting to draft him in round one and have him start right away will be doing even more damage to what is clearly a very talented prospect. He is far from ready for the NFL. If he goes on day two to a team with an ageing franchise quarterback — that would be best for all concerned.

There’s always time for a quarterback to emerge (Dak Prescott? Jacoby Brissett? Jared Goff?) but at the moment this looks like possibly a draft class without a first round QB. As is often the case during a down year for quarterbacks, the shortfall will be made up with multiple first round offensive linemen. It looks like another good class of receivers and there are several cornerbacks with first round potential aside from the two highlighted here.

Strong safety thoughts

It feels almost necessary to look at big strong safety types given the current drama involving the Seahawks. I’m not sure how high USC’s Su’a Cravens goes but there’s some intrigue there. He’s big at 6-1 and 225lbs with a sack and a pick to his name already in 2015. He’s being touted as a possible linebacker covert — much like Kam Chancellor was at Virginia Tech. Eric Striker (LB, Oklahoma) and Vonn Bell (S, Ohio State) are two other possible targets. Striker in particular intrigues me. He’s a fantastic playmaker at linebacker for the Sooners but is a little light for the position at 6-1 and around 225lbs. A move to safety makes sense in the right scheme. One to monitor for sure.

2016 NFL draft: The early watch list

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

Harold Brantley (DT, Missouri)
The next great pass rusher off the Mizzou production line. Brantley is an ideal three-technique who really started to shine at the end of the 2014 season. He’s 6-3 and 290lbs and has the ability to take over a game with a top-tier get-off, superb technique and the ability to finish. He’s no slouch in the run game either. Comparisons to Sheldon Richardson are not totally unfair. They impact games in the same way.

Joey Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
Clearly the most exciting talent in college football. Bosa posted 13.5 sacks last season as Ohio State won the National Championship. He’s the perfect compliment of size (6-5, 275lbs), speed and technique. His father John Bosa played in the NFL and his brother Nick is a top 2016 recruit. Teams are going to fall over themselves to get at Bosa. He’s well know for the Bosa ‘shrug’ — he celebrates every sack like he’s been there before. It’s hard to find any flaws.

Tyler Boyd (WR, Pittsburgh)
Gliding receiver who finds another gear and explodes. Great catching technique. Not the biggest but only needs a crease to take it the distance. Plus kick/punt returner with the ability to be used conventionally and on trick plays. Snags the ball at its highest point and loves to compete in traffic. Sprinter speed downfield and makes the spectacular catches too. So difficult to cover. Exciting.

Robert Nkemdiche (DE, Ole Miss)
So far he hasn’t lived up to the extreme hype. Back in the day Nkemdiche was being compared to Jadeveon Clowney as an unreal defensive lineman who can play across the line. He’s 6-4 and 280lbs but played mainly a supporting role in Ole Miss’ flirt with SEC glory in 2014. His ability to play inside and out, 5-star athleticism and a strong Rebels team can help him max-out his talent in what amounts to a contract year.

Laremy Tunsil (T, Ole Miss)
He’ll need to bounce back from a serious injury like his team mate Laquon Treadwell. Tunsil broke his ankle and fractured a fibula but there’s optimism he’ll be good to go in 2015. Ideal size (6-5, 305lbs), a solid kick-slide and ability in pass protection and the run game could push Tunsil into the top-ten — provided he can stay healthy.

Laquon Treadwell (WR, Ole Miss)
Just a fantastic, competitive, athletic, gritty talent that suffered one of the more unfortunate injuries you’ll ever see. In the process of trying to make a superb game-winning touchdown against Auburn he broke his leg when an opponent fell on top of him. Will he ever be the same again? Fingers crossed he can make a full recovery because he’s every bit a #1 receiver in the league at around 6-3 and 230lbs with speed to burn and great hands.

Vernon Hargreaves (CB, Florida)
A class act from the minute he arrived at Florida, it’s been a waiting game for Hargreaves to become eligible. Florida’s best product at any position since Joe Haden. He plays above his size, has a nose for the ball and is really competitive. He’s been a NFL corner playing in the SEC for two years.

Kendall Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)
Of all the Fuller clan, Kendall has flashed the most promise. In his first start in college football he looked like the best player on the field. He clearly has the NFL bloodlines and good enough size at 6-1 and 190lbs to register with teams wanting a presence at corner. He had two interceptions last season including a 47-yard touchdown return.

Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)
Two players stood out for Ohio State in the college football playoffs — quarterback Cardale Jones and this guy. He ran for 696 yards and scored eight touchdowns in the Big-10 Championship and two playoff games. He has everything you look for in a workhorse back — bulk, breakaway speed, the ability to break tackles and vision. He isn’t Todd Gurley but he could easily be a first round pick.

De’Runnya Wilson (WR, Mississippi State)
He was one of four people arrested in March for marijuana possession. On the field he was a basketball player at receiver last season — claiming nine touchdowns and providing a legit outside threat for Miss State. He was particularly effective against in-state rival Ole Miss. Providing he avoids any further issues off the field, he’s a first round level talent with plus size at 6-5 and 215lbs.

Shawn Oakman (DE, Baylor)
Coaches will love him. He’s the heart and soul of the Baylor football team. He also has freakish size (6-8, 280lbs). If Arik Armstead goes in the top-20, Oakman will do to. He doesn’t dominate enough for the size he possesses — but he makes enough plays to hint at extreme ability. Can he keep the motor running none-stop to truly max out his potential?

Taylor Decker (T, Ohio State)
Could’ve been a first round pick this year but chose to stay at Ohio State for another year. He’s around 6-6 and 315lbs, a tenacious blocker and a great team mate. Comes from a Military family. Former basketball player. Has a tattoo of a gorilla on his arm and plays with that level of intensity. Another prospect teams will love. He’ll be viewed as a safe pick at either tackle spot.

Duke Williams (WR, Auburn)
Another player who could’ve declared early. Former JUCO transfer and lined up to be the top receiver in the SEC in 2015. Had an immediate impact for the Tigers in 2014, usurping Sammie Coates as the top target. He’s Mr. Reliable with plus size. Providing they find a capable quarterback next season he has every chance to make major headlines and thrust his stock into the top-20. Williams was video’d delivering a stirring speech to his team mates in the JUCO’s. Similar body type to Dez Bryant.

Carson Wentz (QB, North Dakota State)
He’s 6-5 and 222lbs but he’s not a total statue. He ran for 642 yards and scored six touchdowns. He stands tall in the pocket and throws well. Doesn’t force things. Arm could be stronger but he can work on that. He has a frame that can take a bit of extra bulk. He’s not a big name like some of the others but he’s one to keep an eye on.

Ronnie Stanley (T, Notre Dame)
Continuing the theme of players who could’ve turned pro this year, Ronnie Stanley deliberated for ages over his decision. He was a bit hit and miss and a little overrated in my view. However, there’s a premium for this type of player and provided he avoids any Cedric Ogbuehi-style setbacks he could enhance his stock at a school that has churned out some decent O-liners recently.

DeForest Buckner (DT, Oregon)
Seen by many to be superior to Arik Armstead, he could be on the fast-track to the top-20. This class could be dominated by offensive linemen and big, hulking D-liners. Buckner is 6-7 and 290lbs. Unlike Armstead he’s playing his best football in college and lacks the next level upside to take his game a further notch. Yet he’ll also be considered a safer projection. He’s scheme diverse and a terrific prospect.

Cardale Jones (QB, Ohio State)
If he plays anything like the playoff games over the course of a full season, watch out. Of course he has to win the starting job first. Questions remain why he was #3 on the depth chart to begin with. Yet when given a chance he led his team to a National Championship. There are some character and work ethic questions but the talent was obvious at the end of last season.

Derrick Henry (RB, Alabama)
He resembles a mountain that has somehow grown legs and discovered how to run. He’s 6-3 and 242lbs and moves like a 220lbs back. What a fun player to watch. Henry was the best running back on Bama’s roster last year, not T.J. Yeldon. It’ll be interesting to see if he takes his game to another level as the feature runner in 2015.

Rashard Higgins (WR, Colorado State)
He led college football in receiving yards last season. Losing his Head Coach Jim McElwain to Florida and his quarterback Garret Grayson to the NFL could have a damaging impact in 2015. If he continues to perform despite the changes, it’ll really boost his stock. He’s not a big receiver but he’s shifty and dangerous in the open field. Competes for the ball.

Marquez North (WR, Tennessee)
Tennessee has been stuck in a rut for some time and constant question marks over the quarterback position has severely hampered Marquez North’s development. Talent wise there’s no doubting his pro-credentials. He’s 6-4 and 221lbs with the deep speed and penchant for the spectacular to be a top NFL receiver. And yet he’s coming off a 320-yard season. He needs to improve — but he also needs help.

Alex Collins (RB, Arkansas)
He caught my eye against Texas A&M last season with breakaway speed, the tough running style to get the hard yards and good hands. It helps that he’s playing behind Arkansas’ monster O-line but he’s a talent in his own right. He might not be an early pick next year — but he has pro-starter potential.

A’Shawn Robinson (DT, Alabama)
Big body, big talent. Robinson is 320lbs and 6-4 and anchors the Alabama run defense. Not only that he does enough in the passing game (pushes the pocket, gets his hands up to tip passes) to interest teams using both schemes. He’s not a fantastic athlete and that will limit his ability to go very early — but teams looking for a cornerstone DT will be interested in Robinson.

Corey Robinson (WR, Notre Dame)
Part of an intriguing double-threat with William Fuller, Robinson’s size (6-5, 215lbs) really stands out. His father is NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson. He’s still growing into his role with the Fighting Irish but took a step forward last year. If he can become more consistent and use his size/speed to dominate on a weekly basis he could be set for a Kelvin Benjamin style rise.

Scooby Wright III (LB, Arizona)
I’m not sure what he is at the next level or the kind of range he can realistically go. I’m not even sure he declares. But every time you watched Arizona last season this guy made big plays time and time again. He had 14 sacks, 163 tackles, 29 (!!!) TFL’s and six forced fumbles. They aren’t career stats. That’s in a single season. His motor never stops, although he is undersized.

Jacoby Brissett (QB, NC State)
Showed enough against Florida State to suggest he has potential and appears to be toolsy. Can he take the next step in 2015? If you’re looking for a come-from-nowhere quarterback prospect who goes higher than expected this could be your guy. Will the supporting cast at NC State be good enough to support him? Or is a wide open ACC there for the taking?

Cameron Sutton (CB, Tennessee)
Like Marquez North, he kind of got lost in the wash as Tennessee struggled for relevance. He too impressed in 2013 as one of a crop of young corners entering college football. He has similar size to Kendall Fuller and similar upside. He’ll be tested plenty again next season. He recorded two picks in 2014.

Other notables: Devontae Booker (RB, Utah), Jalen Ramsey (S, Florida State), Miles Jack (LB/RB, UCLA).

A few players who need to show more to live up to the hype: O.J. Howard (TE, Alabama), Christian Hackenberg (QB, Penn State), Connor Cook (QB, Michigan State), Leonard Floyd (DE, Georgia), Shilique Calhoun (DE, Michigan State).

Tomorrow I’m doing a post-draft Google Hang Out with Kenneth Arthur and Zach Whitman.

Breaking down Seattle’s picks in rounds 4-7

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

Terry Poole (T, San Diego State)
At the combine he looked like an ideal guard or center with his body shape. The Seahawks love tackle converts to move inside. Pure guards in college usually aren’t great athletes. The ones who are (eg Mark Glowinski) get a shot in Seattle. Otherwise they’ll look at the tackles and find a guy who can slot inside.

Poole can probably play at +310lbs comfortably. What always stood out was his body control. He keeps defenders in front and rarely loses position. First and foremost you have to be able to contain and counter. His hand technique is good and won’t need much work — that should mean he’s able to start quickly if required. He’d never make a tackle — his kick slide is almost as funky as Ereck Flowers’ but with none of the effect.

He can get stronger and if there’s one thing likely to hold him back in 2015 it’s that he could probably use a year in a pro-weight program. He’s a JUCO transfer from Monterrey Peninsula College and didn’t start playing football until his junior year at High School. Until that point he focused on basketball — and it was still his priority as a senior. Importantly he’s never suffered any injuries of note and he was a team captain in 2014.

He’s not a great second level blocker and that’s probably why he projects to the left side where Seattle has focused on size and power. They leave the pulling and progression to J.R. Sweezy on the right side. Poole always plays to the whistle and I suspect that’s one of the big plus points for Tom Cable. Not a SPARQ star (ranked as the 42nd most athletic O-lineman in the draft according to Zach Whitman).

The Seahawks do like to focus on size at left guard. He isn’t the longest either — +33 inch arms. It’ll be interesting to see if he can beat out Alvin Bailey to start. At the very least he’ll provide adequate camp competition and push Bailey.

Mark Glowinski (G, West Virginia)
A very different prospect to Terry Poole and immediately dubbed a right guard by Pete Carroll. Glowinski is ultra athletic with a reputation for being a gym rat. He’s another tackle convert (box ticked). It makes you wonder if he’s being groomed to replace 2016 free agent J.R. Sweezy. Carroll’s relentless praise for Sweezy last season hinted at a long term future in Seattle but can they afford to give their right guard big money? He’ll be 27 next year and hitting his prime. It’s hard to argue against trying to keep things cheap at right guard. Glowinski’s round four salary would enable them to do that for three more years if Sweezy departs.

If they weren’t looking for a replacement — why draft him? Especially with the hole at center. Unlike Poole he’s a SPARQ demon (ranked fourth among offensive lineman according to Zach Whitman). On tape he does a really good job at the second level. He’s very productive on screen plays and was asked to do a fair amount of pulling. He flashes tremendous footwork — looks like a tackle in that regard. Articulate and well spoken during interviews, tough as nails on tape. He’s a lot more polished than Sweezy was (obviously, given the defense-to-offense conversion).

If he’s given a year to red shirt he could make an immediate and telling impact in 2016. He’s been compared to Zane Beadles (who was also compared to Jordan Gross) — a former second round pick in 2010 who went on to sign a $30m contract in Jacksonville. Glowinski topped Brandon Scherff for overall athleticism — but Scherff is an absolute monster and a brutish run blocker. Glowinski is no slouch but Scherff will be an immediate impact player for Washington’s run game and a perennial Pro-Bowler.

He played well against Alabama. There are no obvious flaws on tape, just a few technical things that should be easy to fix (stance, winning with leverage). He’s better than a fair few interior linemen who went earlier in this draft class.

Tye Smith (CB, Towson)
He’s 6-0, 195lbs and has 32 inch arms. Seattle isn’t budging from what it looks for in a corner. There are no concessions here. They want a specific minimum length, minimum size. And they want toughness. He ran a 4.51 and a 4.61 at his pro-day. They’ll work with that. They aren’t necessarily looking for 4.3 runners.

As you can imagine it’s hard to judge Smith given he played for Towson and tape is limited online. He did compete against Kevin White and West Virginia and he struggled (no surprise) in a beat-down defeat. He appears to be a rangy press corner (shock horror). I’ve seen an interview with him where he describes his upbringing. His parents had to work late and he had to look after his sisters. The Seahawks look for prospects who’ve had to fight a little, had to do a lot of growing up early. He credits his parents for his work ethic, stating his father gets up for work every morning at 3am. “He’ll text me when he wakes up and I’ll text him back at 6-something and say ‘I’m up!'”

John Schneider said in his post-draft press conference that Smith reminded him of a superstar corner but wouldn’t share a name. In watching the highlight video below the one player I could only imagine is Richard Sherman. He’s not the most physically gifted corner — or the biggest — but in nearly all the plays he gained position, read the quarterback and played the ball. He was jumping routes and making himself the receiver. He also has a little bit of Sherman’s gangly running style. It might be a bit obvious to make that comparison — and he’s certainly not as tall as Sherman. But that’s the only name I could think of.

They were always likely to add another developmental corner in this range and there’s no pressure on Smith to start. The addition of Cary Williams will give him plenty of time to create an impression. ESPN says he could be “one of the bigger steals in this year’s cornerback class.” That’s exciting to consider given Seattle’s track record with defensive backs.

Obum Gwacham (DE, Oregon State)
In reading up on Gwacham two things are clear — he’s a fantastic, explosive athlete and a big-time character guy. What he isn’t is a particularly accomplished football player right now — and that’s why he’s a sixth round pick. In terms of measurables he’s 6-5 with 34.5 inch arms. That’s incredible length.

He did the high jump and triple jump at Oregon State. He only has a year’s experience on defense having previously acted as a receiver/tight end. He’s pretty much the next Jameson Konz project. What is he? Can he make it stick? Can the football qualities develop sufficiently so that he can find a defined role? Can he show enough in camp and pre-season to warrant an early role on special teams?

Like Konz he could be a slow burner — bouncing on and off the roster and spending time on the practise squad. To make the final roster he’s going to have to beat someone out and that won’t be easy. He moved to the United States when he was seven years old from Nigeria. He ran a 4.72 at the combine and managed a 36-inch vertical jump. As we discuss how athletic Gwacham is — remember that Frank Clark ran a 4.64 carrying nearly an extra 30lbs and jumped a 38.5 inch vertical. Doesn’t it just show off how rare Clark is?

On tape there’s very little evidence of hand use or any sense for counter-attacks. He looks like a guy making the switch from offense in his final year. He had four sacks in his first four games in 2014 but failed to register a single sack in the next eight games. He had a sack against Stanford where he just ran round the tackle and worked to the quarterback. It’s that kind of flash of talent that gets you excited about his long term potential. Yet he faces almost a similar learning curve to Kristjan Sokoli with greater competition to make the roster.

It’ll be fun to see how he operates in pre-season. He can also dunk a basketball as you’ll see in the video below. Even more impressive is Ryan Murphy’s effort to follow (Murphy was drafted in the seventh round by the Seahawks).

Kristjan Sokoli (C, Buffalo)
It’s impossible to project how he’ll transition to center and we can only comment on his skills as a defensive player. Buffalo had him play nose tackle — an ill fit at a lean-looking 6-5 and 300lbs. More often than not he just got drilled off the LOS. He had very little stoutness at the point and he struggled against power blocking. It’s not the most encouraging sign for this switch to offense. He’s still going to be lining up in the middle but he’s going to have to learn to hold position and not get shoved around.

In the very limited tape I’ve seen he showed no sign of the athletic freak he truly is. According to Zach Whitman he’s on a different level completely to pretty much every other player currently in the NFL. While he doesn’t have the pass rushing skills to have any shot on defense, they might be able to coach him up to hold position, snap a football and occasionally break to the second level. He ran a 4.84 forty, jumped a 38-inch vert and managed 31 reps on the bench press. He’s not a regular human being.

The greatest pitfall might be the necessity to learn the offense, make vital calls at the line and do all the little jobs a center has to do. It’s hard enough for a college center to make the transition — let alone a defensive player switching sides. Miraculous things have happened during the Pete Carroll era (Mike Williams making a comeback, J.R. Sweezy starting in week one of his rookie season) but Sokoli starting this year seems like a stretch too far. No doubt he’ll give it a go but he’ll need to prove he’s capable of taking the field even as a backup to warrant a roster spot ahead of Patrick Lewis and Lemuel Jeanpierre.

He might be a safe stash on the practise squad for a year if he can’t make what would be an unprecedented transition and Tom Cable’s greatest success story. If it works out at any point over the next few years the Seahawks would have a J.J. Watt-level athlete controlling the likes of Aaron Donald in the NFC West. That’ll help.

He was born in Albania and moved to the United States aged nine. His father applied for political asylum — a three-year process that eventually succeeded. A humble individual and clearly well respected at Buffalo — who also introduced Khalil Mack to the league a year ago. Sokoli says he wants to work on Wall Street when he finishes in the NFL.

Ryan Murphy (S, Oregon State)
He’s 6-1, 214lbs and runs a 4.45. That’s pretty much all you need to know. On tape there were some missed tackles — some sloppy ones too. However after the pick was made there was a lot of talk about how respected he was at Oregon State and he’s considered a heart-and-soul type player.

He was the second best SPARQ safety (in a mediocre class) according to Zach Whitman. They would’ve been looking for options to replace Jeron Johnson. Certainly some of the injuries on the back end exposed a lack of depth at the end of last season. They need guys who can fill in. You’re always going to suffer a major drop off if you try to replace an injured Kam Chancellor — but at least you’re limiting the damage if you’re putting another physical freak on the field.

Huge hitter in the open field. Big enough to play up at the LOS and have an impact. Had a kick return touchdown in 2014 and averaged over five tackles a game. Managed 6.5 TFL’s for the season plus a forced fumble and eight pass break-ups.

Murphy lost his best friend a few years ago and used it as motivation during his college career. He is also Marshawn Lynch’s cousin and stayed in his house as a 16-year-old. He has a decent shot at making the final roster given his added special teams value. He could be a gunner or a returner.

UDFA of note: Austin Hill (WR, Arizona)
It’s not that long ago that we were looking at Hill as a possible first round pick. He was a semi-finalist for the Biletnikoff in 2012 and destined for big things. Then in April 2013 he tore his ACL, missed the year and returned a different player in 2014. He lacked the same level of explosion, he was visibly slower and he faces a battle to deliver on his unquestionable potential.

It’s unclear whether he’ll ever be able to regain his 2012 form but he was an interesting UDFA pickup given some of the other options available. He’s 6-2 and 214lbs and incredibly strong. He plays even bigger than that size. If he can regain another gear and impress in camp he has every chance to be Seattle’s next rookie free agent find. He certainly has the character and attitude to make a good fist of it.

Why Tyler Lockett could be a “legitimate game breaker”

Monday, May 4th, 2015

In 2013 the Seahawks ranked #1 for defense, #7 for offense and #5 for special teams according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA system. Cumulatively it put them at #1 overall. The most complete team in the NFL.

Denver came in at #2. They had the #1 offense but only the #15 defense and the #21 special teams unit. Stop the 2013 Broncos offense and you’re facing a league average team. Seattle exploited that in the Super Bowl.

The Seahawks were perfectly balanced in comparison — capable of beating you in three different ways.

In 2014 Seattle again ranked #1 overall in FO’s final DVOA rankings. They had the #1 defense, the offense improved slightly to rank at #5 but the special teams slumped to #19 — a drop of fourteen spots.

While the offense and defense remained consistent and actually showed gradual improvement, Seattle’s special teams performance dropped off significantly last year. With fair catch specialist Bryan Walters manning the returns — there wasn’t any threat. They were totally ineffective the moment Percy Harvin was traded to the Jets.

The defense hasn’t lost any key personnel (they replaced Byron Maxwell with Cary Williams) and actually added talent through Ahtyba Rubin and Frank Clark. The offense gained Jimmy Graham. There’s every chance that both units will once again rank in the top five according to DVOA.

Improving the special teams ranking of #19 is distinctly achievable. If they can get back into the top ten the Seahawks could return to 2013 form overall. But it wasn’t going to just happen. They needed to do something about it.

Welcome, Tyler Lockett.

Back in March I asked Draft Insider Tony Pauline to give me a name to look out for as a specialist returner. If you fast forward to 7:20 below you can hear his response.

I’ll note it in word-form underneath:

“The top guy would be Tyler Lockett of Kansas State. He would add some speed at the receiver position… he’s a threat to score any time the ball is in his hands. He is a legitimate game breaker at receiver or as a return specialist. So if they’re going to take one or they’re looking at one in those first three rounds — Lockett might be the type of guy they have to take in the second round because he may not be on the board when they select in round three. But that is the guy if you’re looking for a return specialist.

He is head and shoulders above everyone else and what else he’s going to do is loosen up that interior of the defense because all of a sudden when he steps up to the line of scrimmage your safety can’t come up to the box and play Marshawn Lynch. He’s not going to be able to defend the run because he’s going to have to move five yards back to guard against the deep pass to Lockett so that’s a guy that if they’re looking for that type of player late in round two or if they trade back from two or trade up in round three — that’s somebody they would look to.”

Not only did Pauline correctly project the range where Lockett would go, he noted Seattle would have to trade up in round three to get him.

He also called him “head and shoulders” above any other return specialist in the draft and a “legitimate game breaker”.

Are you still wondering why Seattle traded up for this guy?

Included among Lockett’s many records at Kansas State is the tally for most kick return yards. In 2014 he led the nation in punt return average. He had six career touchdowns on returns.

He isn’t Cordarelle Patterson or Percy Harvin. Few players are. He is, however, an accomplished returner who will start immediately in 2015. There won’t be any debate over Earl Thomas fielding punts this summer. It’s Lockett’s job from this day forward.

Was it worth giving up a package of picks to get the best return specialist in the draft? Arguably yes. Again, this is the one area a loaded roster can realistically make a big jump in 2015. Lockett is more than just a returner and we’ll get onto his receiving skills shortly. But it should be no surprise Seattle prioritised this role. This is the team that made a move to acquire Leon Washington to be a specialist returner. Part of the motivation to add Harvin was his ability as a return man.

If they’d waited until pick #93, Lockett would’ve been gone. That’s why they moved up. Ty Montgomery — another appealing kick returner — was taken right ahead of Seattle’s original third round choice. If the intention was to add a dynamic return man, sitting and waiting until the third round wasn’t going to get it done.

You also have to match up value. If you want to argue that they could’ve taken an offensive lineman in round three and another kick returner in round four with the extra picks — that’s an argument. But it’s unlikely Seattle had a return man ranked as highly as Lockett and there’s every chance the O-line value wouldn’t have matched up in round three either.

So what makes him such an effective kick returner? Patience, setting up blocks and enough athleticism to exploit opportunities. He’s more of a Leon Washington than a Percy Harvin. He isn’t going to fly past everyone and attack holes with the same aggression as Harvin. That doesn’t make him any less effective.

See for yourself:

You see the patience to find the crease and then he’s gone. He’s going to need a little help at times to make the truly game-changing plays but he does have the talent to exploit an opportunity. He runs hard too and is surprisingly tough to bring down.

Personally I think Montgomery is a more creative returner in the Patterson style. Lockett is a little more opportunistic. The pressure is on Seattle’s entire special teams unit to take a step forward now. Their blocking has to return to 2013 form. If they achieve that, Lockett can be very successful.

As a receiver there’s no getting away from the fact he’s undersized. He’s 5-10 without any great length (30 inch arms). He has 8 3/8 inch hands and only weighed 182lbs at the combine. What he achieved in college despite the lack of size — and his performances on tape — is really the exciting part.

I was guilty of writing off Russell Wilson as a college prospect because I never thought a 5-10 quarterback could work. That’s what conventional wisdom told us. My perspective on smaller players totally changed after making such an ignorant mistake on Wilson. When I watched Lockett for the first time properly it was a game against Oklahoma in 2013. I didn’t know his measurements. I was surprised when I went online and read his size and height. He dominated with three touchdowns and 12 catches for 278 yards.

I remember thinking he had a little Golden Tate to his game. He isn’t Tate — and it’s by no means an exact comparison at all. Yet he has a little extra size in his lower body. It enables him — like Tate — to make the explosive high-point grabs. Lockett had a 35.5 inch vertical at the combine. Tate managed 35 inches. The Seahawks missed Tate’s ability to play beyond his height and size last season and Lockett has some of those traits.

At 1:11 in the video below, this play just felt so ‘Tate’ to me. Tough down the field grab in double coverage, playing beyond his size to make the key play:

He’s very capable of these kind of chunk plays downfield. It’s been said many times over the last 48 hours that he’s nearly always open. Technically he’s very assured. He sells routes perfectly before working over the middle. He’s got a terrific double-move. He varies his play-speed perfectly, lulling the DB forward before exploding into space. He’s a perfect combination of suddenness (Seattle LOVES sudden receivers), technique and intelligence.

It’s unclear whether Lockett will ever be a prolific outside threat due to his lack of size. That doesn’t mean he won’t make the occasional big play down the sideline or breaking over the middle. What he will provide is some of the shiftiness Tate provided on the screens and working underneath. Remember the touchdowns against Carolina and Chicago in 2012? Seattle pretty much lost that when Tate departed for Detroit. It’s back on the table with Lockett.

He’s not a ‘catch everything’ type of player. He’s certainly not unreliable — he’s just not automatic. He’ll let the occasional high throw slip through his grasp. He’ll fail to bring in a low grab. There aren’t any worrisome concentration drops. He’s not as frustrating as Breshad Perriman or even Amari Cooper at times. His catching technique is sound and he certainly knows how to high point. Playing with a more accurate quarterback will help — just don’t expect too much if he’s on the receiving end of one of Wilson’s notorious ‘safely too high’ passes. Leave those for Jimmy Graham.

One of the big plus points of Lockett’s pre-draft process was the Senior Bowl. He shone during work outs and eventually the game. In our live in-game thread I noted at the start of the third quarter: “Tyler Lockett — perhaps the most impressive player so far — makes another eye-catching play. Quinted Rollins (CB, Miami, OH) should get an interception here, but he loses concentration and tips the ball kindly towards Lockett — who taps his toes to make a big first down.”

You can see the play at 1:33 in the video here:

In my closing notes I added: “The most impressive player in the game outside of the running backs (Varga, Abdullah, Cobb, Johnson) was Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett. He looked smooth, crisp and made several impressive grabs.”

I think the touchdown at 4:21 below highlights exactly why he can be so effective, especially 20-30 yards from the end zone. There’s still enough room to work a conventional route. He knows how to win 1v1:

He uses a head fake to the outside before darting inside on the hard slant. He totally sells this at the top of the route. It’s a terrible throw, truly horrific. Even then he tracks back to the ball and makes a difficult grab. Any NFL quarterback worth his salt throws this in stride and it’s the easiest touchdown of the season. All because he wins with the route.

If you watch a lot of Lockett you notice he’s adept at working back to the quarterback. He eats up a cushion quickly before breaking back to the QB. He’s already doing this at a pro level. He’ll pick up the quick 6-7 yards and the occasional first down with a quick release. There are several examples of this in the Texas Tech tape above — including a touchdown at 5:49. This type of receiver play makes the back-shoulder throw so easy to execute. He just makes life easy on the quarterback.

Kyle Posey talked about how Lockett wins at the top of his route in a lot of detail in this article.

He’s compared himself to Antonio Brown. That’s the go-to comparison now for any undersized receiver. Brown is 5-10 and 186lbs and only ran a 4.48 forty. Lockett says his premium weight is in the 186lbs range and he too is 5-10. He ran a 4.40 at his combine.

The thing is — Brown is so rare. There aren’t many players like him. Pittsburgh’s tendency to lob the ball around under Todd Haley also helps. Lockett is never likely to get the same number of targets as Brown. Yet this is the first time John Schneider has made a really aggressive move in the draft to go get a specific player. He didn’t even do it for Russell Wilson. They’re not making that move for a pure kick returner only. They see something in Lockett. His ability to get open gives him a shot.

He certainly doesn’t lack confidence. When asked by Steve Mariucci who he’d like to score a touchdown against, of course his answer was Richard Sherman:

Note the “My dad taught me…” quote in that video. The references and respect to his father sounds extremely Russell Wilson-esque. Lockett in many ways resembles Wilson. He’s a highly productive, record breaking football player despite being undersized. He’s extremely positive, competitive and dedicated to the game of football. He has NFL bloodlines. He’s probably been written off a few times because of his size.

He’s considered a film rat. Is it any wonder this team coveted him?

His initial role will be to provide a special teams boost to a slumping unit. His long term role could be much greater. We talked about finding a receiver Wilson could grow with over the next 5-6 years. Don’t be shocked if it ends up being an undersized, highly competitive production machine. Just like the QB.

Seattle’s Frank Clark flashes first round talent, explosion

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

Frank Clark was taken by the Seahawks at pick #63

Frank Clark could’ve been a first round pick. The character flags and his dismissal from Michigan made him available to the Seahawks at the end of the second round.

Let’s look at how he compares to the first pass rusher taken in the draft — Dante Fowler Jr (#3 overall).

Clark’s a shade under 6-3, he’s 271lbs and ran a 4.64. Fowler Jr is 10lbs lighter and ran a 4.60 at the combine. Clark beat Fowler Jr in the vertical (38.5 vs 32.5 inches), broad (118 vs 112 inches), three cone (7.08 vs 7.40), short shuttle (4.05 vs 4.32) and the 60-yard shuttle (11.22 vs 11.89).

They’re virtually the same height but Clark’s arms are an inch longer at 34.5 inches.

The most important measurable might be the 10-yard split. Clark ran a 1.58 while Fowler Jr managed a 1.59. Anything under 1.60 is considered excellent.

Statistically Fowler Jr managed 15 TFL’s in 2014 compared to Clark’s 13.5 — although he played two more games due to Clark’s dismissal.

PFF ranked Clark as the third most productive pass rusher in college football last season and the sixth best versus the run. Fowler Jr came in at #8 in terms of pass rush and wasn’t in the top-20 for run defense.

Is it fair to contemplate how much better Dante Fowler Jr actually is — the #3 overall pick? It makes you wonder how high Clark would’ve been drafted without the red flags. That’s not to underplay Fowler Jr’s tape (which is excellent). He showed he could rush from any spot (D-end, inside, linebacker). He’s much more nimble working in space and there are times where he just sidesteps blockers and it’s over. Fowler Jr has cat-like agility and that is the one big separating factor.

The thing is, Clark’s tape isn’t half bad either.

Fowler Jr was the best defensive player in the draft (Leonard Williams was a little overrated, but that’s another story). Clark isn’t a million miles away. It sounds absurd because it hasn’t been talked about. With a clean off the field record it’s almost certain Clark would’ve been one of the biggest risers. He certainly wouldn’t have been available for the Seahawks.

Whether this team should’ve capitalised on that situation is a debate that will dominate Seattle sports media this week.

Cliff Avril ran a 1.50 split at 253lbs. Bruce Irvin ran a 1.55 split at 245lbs. Clark is nearly 20lbs heavier than Avril and 26lbs heavier than Irvin. He’s in the same ball-park for short-range quickness.

We’re talking about an exceptional physical specimen with a rare combination of length, speed and explosion.

So we’ve established he’s a spectacular athlete. What about his play?

Clark is a splash play specialist. A splash play is recorded any time a pass rusher negatively impacts a pass attempt. That could be a sack, knocking down the ball at the LOS, tipping a pass or hitting a QB while he’s throwing the ball.

Not all of these plays show up in the stat column. There’s a lot of focus on sacks in particular — as if it’s the greatest determining factor in how effective a player is.

In many cases it’s a red herring.

Let’s say a defensive end explodes off the snap and gets into the backfield, forcing the quarterback to move off the spot. He tries to scramble and runs straight into the arms of a defensive tackle who records the sack. The D-end makes the play but gets none of the credit.

Clark only recorded 4.5 sacks in ten games for Michigan in 2014. That doesn’t even begin to tell the story of his production. He added 13.5 TFL’s, broke up two passes, averaged 4.2 tackles a game and impacted many more snaps.

His pursuit is phenomenal and virtually unmatched in the 2015 draft class. He works down the line better than any other pass rusher, stringing out run plays and often making tackles by the sideline. He doesn’t give up, the motor never stops. If he doesn’t win initially in a 1v1 battle he keeps going, works off the block and largely holds position at the very least. These are all valuable traits when it comes to run defense. Even if he doesn’t end up being a sack artist — he’ll always hold major value for his range and pursuit against the run. He’s a tough guy to move around.

In a play against Akron he’s double teamed off the edge giving the defensive tackle a 1v1 situation up the middle. It allowed the DT to get the QB off his spot and scramble to his left. Clark disengages and chases the QB down for no gain by the far sideline.

In the same game he stunts inside and explodes through the middle to absolutely hammer the quarterback as he throws (forcing an incompletion). The quarterback limped off to the sideline.

You see everything you look for in an accomplished pass rusher too. Too many college players rely on speed to dominate overmatched offensive linemen. When they get to the next level and they take on superior blockers they are one-dimensional and become ineffective or resort to specialist roles. Clark is capable of taking on a blocker, disengaging with heavy hands and exploding into the backfield. He’s willing to mix things up — stunting inside, using the spin move. He’ll draw you in from different angles. He’s adept at converting speed to power and yet you still see the two fundamental plays — the speed rush to the edge and the bull rush.

Look at the video below and fast forward to 0:28:

Clark engages the tackle and drives him into the backfield. At that point he’s won the battle, it’s all about how quick he can get to the QB. He eventually disengages to make the sack. This is the type of play you see in the NFL all the time. At the next level you rarely beat a tackle with pure speed the same way you do against the college tackles. You have to battle, you have to work. Clark is pro-ready in that regard.

Fast forward to 1:37 in the same video. Clark uses one arm to keep the tackle off his frame (length crucial here) and just rides him into the quarterback. It takes a little while to get the QB down but the end result is a 12-13 yard loss. Speed, power, finish.

Frank Clark’s been outstanding tonight” yells the commentator after the play.

If you need evidence he can be a quick-twitch speed rusher, take a look at 0:52 below:

He glides beyond the right tackle, bending the arc and exploding. The quarterback does well to make a quick throw — but this doesn’t take anything away from Clark’s play.

Look at the same video at 1:35. Clark makes a fantastic break off the snap — he’s a split-second ahead of every other lineman. He’s straight into the backfield leaving the right tackle in his stance. If you freeze the frame at 1:38 you see a quarterback about to be slammed for a big sack. He senses the pressure and tries to escape. On another day he runs straight into a crowded LOS and probably straight into a defensive tackle. A nice double team on the DT means he can scramble up the middle for a short gain before Clark brings him down.

This is a splash play. The quarterback is trying to throw the ball downfield but can’t because Clark’s in the backfield. Just because he avoids a big loss and makes a couple of yards on the play — it’s still a win for Clark.

Look at 1:58. He engages the left tackle four yards behind the LOS. Why? The tackle knows he has to set a deep base against this guy. Clark shrugs him off and tackles the running back for a one-yard gain. It’s a brilliant play.

And that brings us to the Northwestern game. I broke it down in March so rather than repeat myself you can check it out here. Here’s one noticeable line though:

He looks like a second round talent with an UDFA character flag. If you trust him — or if you can make yourself believe you can trust him — you’re going to get a guy who can play quickly, will excel against the run and make plays even as a rookie.

He shoots gaps better than possibly any other defensive end in this class. He’s certainly among the top group. This kind of play flashes up quite a lot:

Lower body explosion and speed isn’t defined solely by a 40-yard run in a straight line. Here’s the 1.58 split and the 38.5 inch vertical showing up on tape.

Without the character concerns, there’s every chance Clark would’ve built momentum at the combine and ended up going in the first round.

Michael Bennett played 763 snaps in the 2014 season. He was always going to have a bigger role in his second season since returning to Seattle, but it’s still too many. Clark can realistically spell both Bennett and Avril. He’s somewhere between the two players in terms of speed, power and the ability to work along the line. There’s even some evidence he can play in space — he dropped on the odd occasion for Michigan and didn’t look out of place.

Seattle retained most of a defense that remained #1 in the NFL for points and yardage last season. The one player of significance they lost — Byron Maxwell — they replaced with their most expensive veteran acquisition in the open market (Cary Williams). Now they’ve acquired an explosive pass rusher to replace two-sack O’Brien Schofield.

If Jordan Hill makes a full recovery, if Cassius Marsh can force his way into the rotation, if Brandon Mebane can reach his 2014 form and if Ahtyba Rubin helps solidify the middle — you could be looking at comparable depth to the 2013 line.

Tomorrow — a look at Tyler Lockett.